Friday, May 31, 2013

Underwater

Since I finished THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH I have been suffering from complete exhaustion. Frankly...I don't think I've ever been this tired in my life. When you work a regular job (as a laborer), writing is doubly difficult. I have, in essence, two jobs. It sucks the life out of me, sometimes.

Yesterday I slept for twelve hours straight. Today I fell asleep after coming home from work--conked out for three hours after my shower. My wife woke me up so that I could eat dinner. I'll go back to sleep soon.

That's okay. Another day or so of this and I'll be ready to tackle more writing.

Coming out of this exhaustion reminds me of being underwater. Thus, here are some underwater photos from our trip to snorkel and kayak some of the giant freshwater springs of Florida:


I took this one while swimming through the underwater tunnel at Seven Sisters Spring.
Lots of fish share the spring.
Some fish hang out at the outflow from the head spring.
Plenty of company!
The slope plummets down to the main spring outlet.


Lost Manuscript

Many, many years ago I was told about a publisher who was in the market for children's books. Adventure stuff, mainly, with a little mystery thrown in, and aimed at kids aged eight to twelve. What they wanted to see was a couple of chapters written in something like a serial style with a plot synopsis. So, in quick order I put together a couple of chapters and tossed in a plot and got ready to send it out. It only took me a day or so to get everything together.

And then I read that they had already filled their quota and weren't looking for anything else.

Ugh. News traveled slow in the days before the Internet and email. Well, the promising news traveled slow; but the disappointing stuff was blazing fast. I was still doing everything by the US Post and getting my information from newsletters in those ancient times.

Anyway, I found this old thing stored away on my portable hard drive. I did manage to salvage the setting, which I used in my adult horror novel, WITHERING.





A Dinosaur in the Neighborhood
by
James Robert Smith
                              
 

Chapter One


      "Are you sure a dinosaur walked past here?" Ernie asked his Grandfather Partridge.
     The sun was blazing hot on this summer day in Woodvine, but twelve year old Ernie was out hiking in the woods with his grandfather and his younger brother, Billy.
     "You'll see soon enough. There are lots of dinosaur tracks out here." Grandfather led the way. He may have retired his position as paleontologist years ago, but he still liked hunting for fossils.
     "I've never seen a dinosaur track," said Billy, who had just turned ten and was kind of a pest. "I'll bet if we found a real dinosaur, it would make a great pet."
     They were following a path through the woods, and it suddenly came to an end at a big outcropping of hard rock that baked in the sun. "You wouldn't make much of a pet out of the dinosaur that made these footprints," said Mr. Partridge.
     And there they were. A line of gigantic dinosaur footprints leading off across the rocks from where they were standing all the way to the forest on the other side of the outcrop. Billy put his foot next to the first one: like some giant bird track. His foot was tiny compared to the big fossilized imprint.
     "Gosh," he said. "What kind of dinosaur made this?"
     Mr. Partridge took a blue handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead. "I'm not sure, Billy. But I think it was probably a Ceratosaurus, or maybe an Antrodemus--I mean an Allosaurus. They keep changing the names on a retired old professor," he added with an embarrassed chuckle.
     "Wow," Ernie said. "Those were both pretty mean dinosaurs. They used to eat big old Apatosaurus." He brushed back his brown hair, feeling the sun beat down on him.
     "You're right about that," Mr. Partridge agreed. He stepped out onto the rock and began to wander off downhill. He was gazing at the ground. Billy and Ernie knew how much their grandfather liked hunting for fossils. When he was concentrating on searching the ground, he sometimes forgot they were even there with him, visiting for the summer.
     "We're going to follow the tracks," Ernie told him. "While you hunt for fossils." Their grandfather nodded absently as he wandered away from them. "Let's go," Ernie said to his brother.
     The boys began to follow the tracks. They led far across the big expanse of rock, across the flats and uphill, toward the woods. "Look," Billy pointed. "He must have been following the smaller dinosaur." Sure enough. Where Billy pointed, you could see where a smaller dinosaur had been running ahead of the big one.
     "That must have been some chase, huh Billy?"
     "Heck, yeah! I wish I could have seen it."
     And then they seemed to be at the end of the trail. The tracks in the rock disappeared beneath the leaves and brush that formed the edge of the forest. Pine trees, tall and green, stood all around. "Ha. It looks like they both just walked off into the woods, doesn't it?" Billy was pointing at the greenery in front of them.
     "Sure does," said Ernie. "Let's go take a look in there, and see if the rocks poke up through the dirt. Maybe we can find some more tracks. Maybe we can find where the big one caught up with the little one."
     "Wow! That would be neat," Billy said.
     And they pushed through the bushes and went into the woods.
     "Gosh. It sure is dark in here," Ernie said.
     "Yeah. Maybe we should turn around. Maybe there really is a dinosaur still around here." Billy was craning his neck, looking all over the woods.
     "I doubt that," Ernie told him. "Dinosaurs have all been dead for about sixty-five million years."
     No sooner had those words left Ernie's mouth than the two boys suddenly heard something crashing through the underbrush. Something was coming through the woods. It was running fast, right at them! Something was headed their way!
     The brothers grabbed hold of one another and froze.
 
Chapter Two

     Suddenly, from out of the dark woods, Billy and Ernie could make out a movement. A blot of shadow was moving their way. And soon they were relieved to see that it was human. Two humans, in fact: a boy and girl.
     Both kids, carrying metal pails, saw Billy and Ernie and stopped running. The brothers could see that the pails were full of blackberries.
     "Hello." It was Ernie who spoke up first. "You two scared the heck out of us!"
     "We thought you were a dinosaur," Billy said before Ernie could stop him.
     "A dinosaur?" The girl, who, like Ernie, looked to be about twelve years old, started to laugh, throwing back her head so that her long black hair shook. "You two certainly look scared enough to have seen a dinosaur." Her little brother, Billy's age, was now laughing, too.
     "Come on," Ernie said. "Give us a break. We're staying way out here in the country with our grandparents this summer and we don't know our way around." He stuck out his tanned hand. "I'm Ernie Partridge," he told them as the girl shook his hand. "And this is my little brother Billy."
     The girl stopped laughing as she turned to Billy to greet him, too. "I'm Sally," she told them. "And this is my brother, Ted. We're staying with our grandmother, and she lives way off in the woods, near Shadowtown Swamp."
     "Shadowtown Swamp? My grandfather told us to stay away from the swamp. He says it's full of quicksand and alligators." Billy stared wide eyed at the two kids who could live in such a place.
     "Aw, it's not so bad," Ted told them. "Not if you know your way around. And we know our way around. Our grandmother taught us all the paths."
     "Anyway," asked Sally, "what are you two doing out here in the woods?"
     "We came out to look at the old dinosaur footprints with our granddad. He used to be paleontologist at the big museum in Atlanta, and now he lives out here, too." Ernie wiped at his face. It was hot and he was getting sweaty.
     "Oh. Those old footprints?" Ted was pointing toward the rocks which lay just beyond the trees they were standing in. "I've seen other footprints like those," he said. "But the ones I saw weren't in rock."
     "What do you mean?" asked Ernie.
     Sally was nudging her brother in the ribs, to get him to be quiet. But it was too late. He had a big mouth and once it got going, no one could stop it.
     "The tracks I've seen are in the swamp. And they weren't in any old rocks. They were in the mud!"

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How Many Novels?



After spending many years writing short stories I was always trying to learn to write novels. And it took me some time to construct a novel that I was able to sell. It was a long, strange struggle for me.

Since the sale of that novel (THE FLOCK), I have written very few short stories. Part of this is due to the fact that there are so few markets for short stories these days. Even when I was actively writing them, the markets were not so many and the competition extremely fierce for open slots. These days the anthologies and the magazines that I used to try to crack are mainly gone. Now there is the self-publishing world of crap and muck and I refuse to take part in that hideous and noxious game.

Two days ago I finished my latest novel, THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH. It's based on a story that I wrote when I was a very young man
and which failed to sell in text form. I did, however, sell it in comic script format to Stephen R Bissette's legendary comic book anthology, TABOO. The story was a song of praise and admiration for the zombie mythos created by George A. Romero and to a specific B-class horror movie that influenced me as a kid: "Fiend Without a Face". I combined images conjured by those two influences and came up with THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH. In a way, I was writing zombie yarns long before the current wave of zombie fiction. I just hadn't sold any of it until "The New Ecology of Death" saw print in TABOO.


And now I have completed transforming those ideas from that story into a novel. Someone recently asked me how many novels I've sold. I had to admit that I didn't know. For some reason--compared to most other writers I encounter--I don't actually have the ego of a writer. Just about every other writer I have known walk about thumping their chests and going on and on about their work. It's probably why I can't stand the company of other writers and stopped attending science-fiction conventions. But I was actually flummoxed. I hadn't sat down to count the novels I'd sold, just as I long ago stopped counting the number of short stories I have sold.

So. How many is it? I've sold THE FLOCK, THE CLAN (sequel to THE FLOCK), THE COALITION Series (three novellas making up one novel), HISSMELINA (my favorite of my novels, but my poorest selling), THE LIVING END, WITHERING, and THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH. So...seven novels. That's not bad, I reckon.

A few years back I even optioned the movie rights to my first novel to Warner Brothers via Don Murphy and John Wells. I'm still waiting to hear that it has received the green light to make its way to the screen. But one of my old writer friends told me that even if that day never comes, I at least got farther in that direction than he did, and he'd sold more than thirty novels.

And how many short stories have I sold? I honestly cannot say. When I was younger I would keep a tally of my sales to various small press magazines, slick professional mags, and anthologies. But then I actually got tired of that. I stopped counting. All I can say with any degree of confidence is that I've sold somewhere between sixty-something and seventy-something stories. What can I say?

(I'd like to post images for the covers of THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH and THE CLAN, but neither of those has seen print yet. They're coming...I just don't have the images for them.)



"AT LAST! A ZOMBIE NOVEL WITH BRAINS AS WELL AS GUTS!" THE LIVING END.



"Often the monster is just a misunderstood anti-hero. But sometimes it's murdering, blood-thirsty asshole!" WITHERING.




Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tenacious Trees


Hiking along a high elevation ridge in Grayson Highlands, I
happened upon these trees when I bushwhacked off trail to photograph some wildflowers. Both of these hardwoods started their lives wedged into solid rock. Unyielding stone was about the only thing remaining in this high country after the logging companies cut all of the forests off. Subsequently, a drought followed, which in turn caused hellish wild fires that burned not only the trash and young trees left by the lumbermen, but also the very soil. After that, flash floods raked the peaks and scoured off anything that could be considered dirt.

That left just rocks as a
substrate for plants to use. This they have done in the more than 100 years since the timber companies left this land in total ruin. To date, the mountains here are still relatively bare of mature forest cover, but there are some groves of trees and vast meadows of grasses, stunted spruce and birch, and shrubs of various types.

Even if they have to live their lives clinging to boulders, the trees find a way to live and thrive.

It may take several hundred more years, but barring renewed attacks on the forest by Mankind, it will eventually recover. This will mean that the high peaks and ridges will once more be cloaked in vast, dark forests of Spruce-fir trees and various northern hardwood types. It will take a very long time indeed to replace the soil and to reestablish the groves that once thrived on some of the highest lands in the Southern Appalachians.

But as you can see, the forests are willing and able.


A red spruce has fallen and taken out a weakened hardwood.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spring Still Arriving.

Here it is almost summer in the Piedmont, and yet we arrived to find Spring yet to complete its unfurling at Grayson Highlands.

One thing that we both noticed as we strolled the forests at around 4,000 feet was that the trees had that new, almost emerald-green look about them. And the leaves were obviously fresh, fragile, not yet established.

And once we hit the really high ridges at or above 5,000 feet we saw that some of the trees were still in the process of leafing out, and some had not yet achieved even that feat!

Things like this impress upon me (even at this late date in my life) how fragile the Earth is.

 
New green. A different kind of green.
  
I'm ready to give up on macro photography until I can buy a decent macro lens.

On the high ridges (above 5,000 feet) the hardwoods hadn't leafed out yet.
Spruce trees making new growth.
New leaves just unfurling.
May 26 and this tree was just getting started on the new year of growth.

Mount Rogers Recreation Area

The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southwestern Virginia has been, historically, one of our favorite places to vacation. Yesterday Carole and I got up very early in the morning and headed out to make a day of it up there. We didn't want to make it a one-day excursion, but because Carole had to work Monday evening, it had to be so.

That said...my days of spending six hours driving to enjoy eight hours of hiking are over. The stress of driving that far in one day, coupled with walking around the forests and ridges are just too much for this old man. After we got home I ended up sleeping for over ten hours. No more of that. Next time we go somewhere like that we're going to have to make it a two-day trip.

If you live here in the South and you've never been to southwestern Virginia, you have missed a tremendous amount of beauty. Carole and I have been vacationing there off and on for decades and we still have many, many places there to see. We're headed back in late August, so we'll be able to chisel off a few more of these spots on our way to exhausting the list.

This trip, however, was to scope out some good places to park our travel trailer for our vacation in August. Carole will spend the days at camp while I got wandering around the high country and in search of waterfalls (the area is packed with waterfalls, most of them on no published list that I have ever seen).

Here, then, are some photos from our day trip.

The high, open country is the main reason people flock to this recreation area. Because of this, the high meadows can actually get crowded with humans. Rubbing elbows with people is not why I go to the wild places.

As I was hiking around the forests around Grindstone, I was reminded that this is the tail-end of ramp season! So I scurried around in the forest floor looking for this relative of the garlic. In no time at all I had a fist full of them ready to be grilled in aluminum foil over the coals.

Carole in the summit of one of the Pinnacles in Grayson Highlands State Park.

Oh, my Appalachian high country!

Hardwood forests trying to recover from the rape of timber companies.

Fiddleheads! Edible, but I've never tried them.

Carpet of wildflowers on a high ridge.

A typical Appalachian stream.

In a few more weeks these rhododendron blossoms will be truly gorgeous.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Story from my youth.

I accessed some very old stories that I had logged in as Wordperfect files from typewritten stories done early in my days of working to become a published author.

In the mix was this one. It's not really a story, as such. I think I was trying to write about what it must be like to be old and alone. I was 26 years old when I wrote it, and I think I did a pretty good job of figuring out what it must be to be a bitter old man. (In many ways, I've been a bitter old man since I was 12 years of age.)

The story also reminds me a little of a couple of Charles Bukowski works, but I wrote this at least ten years before I discovered Bukowski. 

At any rate, here is the brief yarn:





“Let It Fall”
by
James Robert Smith
Approximately 1,500 words





     The Winter always brings back the bad memories, the old man thought as he peered through the window, squinting his eyes at the back yard. Above, the skies were gray and overcast, threatening snow, sleet--something. He sat at the window, feeling a nagging draft slithering in through some crack near his elbow. He grimaced, remembering.
     Nostalgia: It was a no good emotion. He hated it, for there was nothing sweet in his melancholy; it was all bitter. It was Winter, though. Winter always did this. Before him, beneath the old oak at the rear of the weedy lawn, he stared at the spot that once shielded a tire swing, where Nan liked to play.
     Goddamned winter.
     He stood, feeling bones creak, muscles ache. I'm getting on, he had to admit; but it was hard for him to think of himself as an old man. Always, when he was young, he had imagined himself growing old with Rebecca, perhaps visiting their daughter, grandchildren that might be. When he'd been young it had never occurred to him that he would be old, and alone. There was a tapping at the window that snapped him out of his sour reverie. Sleet, after all.
     It was time to go to the convenience store, he remembered. There were things that he was out of. Shelves in the pantry were empty, in spots, and he didn't feel like going to the supermarket. Not when he needed only a few items and the convenience store was barely four blocks away. Besides, he enjoyed the walk. But it would make him think of Rebecca and Nan. Everything seemed to, these cold, old days.
     As he came out of his house--the same house he and Rebecca had bought more than three decades before--he heard the raucous yelling of the neighborhood children. There were a lot of them, this year. There had to be seven or eight ten-year-olds on the street, these days. Nan had been ten when his wife had left, taking the girl with her. He shrugged his coat on snugly over his still-broad shoulders and watched them, running about like mad animals in the pelting sleet. No smile etched his aging face. His eyes tracked a trio of boys dashing madly about the yard of the house across the way, as if there was already enough of the white stuff on the ground to toss a sled upon. There wasn't though; it had barely begun. The old man grunted and stepped to his lawn.
     Good crepe soles crunched down on the icy stuff as he strode down the walk, headed for the store. As he moved along, he recalled days when he had made just such a stroll with his two girls, as he had begun to call them during that last year together. There hadn't been quite as many homes on the street in those days, and the convenience store had been merely an empty, wooded lot where Nan would go to climb a great magnolia tree with her friends. She had especially enjoyed that tree. Magnolias have limbs that go all the way to the earth--they're oh so easy to climb.
     The sleet came down harder, bopping the old man atop his gray head, catching in the thick hair. He hadn't brought a cap. Behind him, little boys yelled louder, glad that the storm was intensifying. A girl screeched happily. The old man sobbed.
     He strode along, crossing over to a side street, not bothering to check for traffic. His street was a blessing to live on if you were a parent. Old trees lined it, and few cars traveled its length. Reaching into his pocket, he felt for the money he would need, a couple of bills he had hurriedly thrust into it as he had left the house. His old fingers found the money, gripped the paper tightly. In days gone, he had often thrust small bills into the hands of his two girls so that they could go shopping, have a good time. Gone now. Gone for almost thirty years. And not once had he heard from them. Not once had he seen either of them, or received a single letter. Nan would be grown, now. Grown and with children of her own--possibly even grandchildren! She'd have children certainly, because he had seen, even then, that she was going to grow into a fine-looking young woman, like her mother. He glanced ahead and saw that he was at the convenience store.
     Milk, he recalled. Milk and some crackers for when his stomach was upset. In the store he shuffled around, found what he wanted, went to the counter.
     When the old man withdrew his hand to give the clerk the money, he brought his thick nails clear of the flesh of his palms, and spots of blood trailed across the bills. “I'm sorry,” he told the young clerk, who took the bills and touched them as little as he was able.
     He started back, along the way he had come, crunching through the thickening layer of frozen sleet that continued to pelt down from the cold skies. Winter, you took it all, he thought. It had been cold and gray when Rebecca had left, taking Nan and nothing else. Everything.
     It had been over the cat, he remembered. Rebecca and Nan had had a cat--he couldn't recall its name, only that it had been a girl, like them. Even now, it was fresh, bright: a pungent, biting memory. He had put the cat out one afternoon, not allowing it back in for days, though it had yowled to be let in. You're so cruel, Nan's eyes had accused, though she had said nothing. He'd just had enough of the thing, that was all. After three days of its constant crying, Rebecca had let it back in while he was at work, and it had made a bee-line for his hobby room and the closet above his tool box. Rebecca had opened the door at which the cat had pawed, revealing the single starved, now lifeless kitten it had given birth to days before. Neither Nan or Rebecca had even realized the cat had been pregnant. Nan had been there when her mother had opened the door to the little closet.
     What was that in their eyes he'd seen when he'd gotten home?
     And then they were gone. Gone. Gone.
     The final straw, Rebecca had called it.
     Through the hard fall of sleet he walked, thinking of those awful weeks, waiting for some word from Rebecca. Surely, he had thought, she would call, eventually. But she hadn't. And then he'd awaited some word, some request. It had never come. Word from the lawyer, that had finally arrived; but it had only been a court order denying him knowledge as to his family's whereabouts, and barring him from his daughter. And that had been it. For almost thirty years, that had been the only word from them. Damn Rebecca. Damn her to Hell. Nan, too. She was old enough to see her father on her own. Damn her, too.
     And the winter. Damn the winter when it had all happened. To Hell with every, lousy winter.
     At the end of the block, he began to scuff his way through the cold, numbing stuff, kicking at it, wishing it was Rebecca's face, her teeth. He did not look up until he was almost standing before his house, in front of his own yard. There were no screeching children's voices echoing through the neighborhood, just a hushed kind of silence beneath the nagging hiss of falling sleet. He was almost surprised to see the police cars parked in front of his neighbor's home: the family of three who lived next door to him. The old man stood still in the cold sleet, holding his bag with its quart of milk and box of crackers.
     He looked. Two police officers held back another, restraining him. A fourth broke away from the cluster on the old man's front porch and began to walk toward him. In one of the squad cars he could see that the mother from next door was lying, unconscious, on the seat. Undoubtedly, her husband was rushing home, called there by some official voice over his phone at work.
     They must have gotten into my work room, the old man thought as the officer approached. And the little closet there above the tool box. They must have opened it.
     And something else. The old man saw the look of grim determination of the officer suddenly change to one of hatred as he got closer, came within reach of the old man and saw the expression of numbness on his aged face.
     Even though he saw it coming, the old man did not move when he saw the policeman's hand clench into a hard fist aimed at his head. Let it fall.
     Let it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sword & Sorcery.

When I first started writing, my actual goal was to create fantasy novels. However, my first agent wanted to push me as a horror novelist and he persuaded me to put the fantasy work aside and concentrate on horror fiction. I don't have any regrets about writing mainly horror fiction for so long, but I always wanted to get back to writing fantasy work.

One thing I did over the years was to write occasional fantasy short stories. I ended up creating a mythical world based around a city-state that I called Mangrove. Because the editor of A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS thought that the fantasy stories in the collection were incongruous, we stripped them out. So I was left with four short stories of various lengths, all featuring adventures in Mangrove at various times during the history of the city-state.

And now, I'm seriously considering penning a novel set in Mangrove, and based on one of the short stories entitled "One Curse, One Blessing". Just now, I'm chipping away at some experimental pieces, looking for a style that fits the subject. This week, I think I hit my stride on it. Here's an excerpt that I wrote to get the words flowing:

MADGOD, an excerpt
By James Robert Smith.



     Craydon stood in the dark corner, where stones yet remained fitted against stones in a mocking resemblance of the structures they had once formed. Around him the city smoldered and smoked, the odd popping sound of timbers giving up their substance to what remained of the fire that had consumed the place. He crouched in the darkness and pulled his cloak around his shoulders, trying to ward off the chill that was one part cutting wind and half pure fear. It was a good cloak, made from fine wool and dark felt traded from the distant land of the Jats, all woven tightly and sewn together with strong thread by tailors who were most likely dead, now. He cringed when someone screamed in the distance, and he found that the slight sounds that he had just noticed were sobs coming from his own throat.

***

     The Jats, those people who once upon a time had been just a
source of wool and felt fabrics, had surrounded the city weeks ago, had demanded surrender. Confident that at least two standing armies were coming to defend the walled confines of Marsul, the Lesser King had denied the surrender the invaders craved. And soon the few hundred campfires that had twinkled on the plains at night outside the walls had grown into the thousands; so that in the darkness, when one stood atop city gates and looked out, it seemed as if the earth had become the heavens.
     And in the light of day the plains were like a vast, undulating carpet of living matter. Jat warriors in fine felt clothing and leather armor with their long spears scraping the air, cutting angry arcs as they muttered in their foreign tongue and spoke of the killing that would soon come. There were gigantic herds of their excellent ponies, their short, squat forms so like those of the dark-skinned warriors who rode them. The air was then filled with the stink of manure, the ten thousand ponies dropping their waste in verdant piles over the grasslands. Standing there on the city walls, it had actually become a relief to smell the good animal stench of horse manure. For inside the walls of Marsul the air had gone thick with the miasma of human excrement pooling in the cisterns.  The Jats had blocked the viaducts, so that the clear water that flowed out from the springs was turning to black pudding in the canals and pools where otherwise it had poured out of the city and down into the river basin.
     Almost, it had been a relief when the eastern hordes had begun to attack the thick, blocky walls of Marsul. At least the

tension of waiting and wondering had been broken. But no standing armies from sister cities had come to their aid. None of the Greater Kings had felt the urge to defend the Lesser Kings who had sworn their allegiance for protection by men and steel. Instead, the soldiers of Marsul had stood alone. Perhaps, they had hoped, they could just sit and outlast the enemy massed in their endless camps out there on the plains. The skirmishing at the base of Marsul's obsidian barriers would be something, at least, to let them know if the Jats were as bad as their reputation.
     Something, indeed.
     Craydon had never seen anyone fight as the Jats fought. They seemed not to care for their own lives, and swarmed in great, human waves toward the ramparts of Marsul. They died like ants before a petulant child, at first. The Jat engineers rolled up their catapults and Marsul's own flung down heavy fists of volcanic rock on the approaching foot soldiers. Their blood flowed and spattered like that of any other. Their bones shattered and showed pale and pink through ruined flesh as human as that of the men of Marsul. They were not, as had been rumored, little demons sent out of the guts of the Earth to conquer the world.
     But they came on. Through stones falling down on them like rain. Through arrows that arched and pattered over their mortal bodies. Through flaming oil poured from the heights upon the places where they gathered, trying to assemble ladders and ramps and siege towers. For a while, a little while it turned out, it seemed that the Jats could not win, that even they could not withstand such slaughter. But soon, with 10,000 of their own dead lying in great, stinking heaps at the base of Marsul's walls, the Jats began to overcome the city's defenders.
       Craydon had noticed, after two weeks of constant killing that the numbers of the attackers seemed to not have dwindled at all. Instead, looking up from the gigantic pile of corpses lying in a rising slope along their walls, he had begun to notice that his fellows were dwindling in both number and morale. In fact, his own captain had taken an iron-tipped arrow through the temple, and Craydon had been appointed to take his place. Suddenly, he had found himself in possession of a rank for which he'd had some ambition when such things mattered. What good did it do him, now? What good would it do his comrades to command them in continuing acts of futility?