Collaboration: Delusion’s Cure

DaveTrippin_BookFIN

Old paths to publication and creativity are dieing while connectivity and collaboration grows. This is for the better. But first I must acknowledge in myself the strangest habit— I battle it even as I write this. I battle self-delusion. The erroneous thinking which leads one to think they are competing against something as opposed to participating in it.

Metamorphosis_of_Narcissus

I’ll clarify this thought. I am a writer and traditional authorship paths would have me believe that there is a three-step routine to having your book published: write it, get an agent, get it published. I’m not sure what it is about the human condition but I’d always framed this as me against a rigged system. Without even applying much effort I’d come very quickly to the conclusion that getting an agent is like winning a lotto. It is a true a large amount of good writing (not necessarily my own) is consistently passed over. However, the greater realization I’ve been trying to accept is that in no way is a system that is difficult to succeed in, a system that is attacking, you, personally. Ultimately your manuscript’s rejection is impersonal.

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I remember a conversation on the phone with a good friend of mine, pumping myself up, saying, “No matter what people say or think, I will write and publish this book!”. My more level-headed friend on the other end of the line responded, “Who exactly is preventing you?” When confronted by that question I realized I could identify maybe two nay-sayers. And even then, they were more commenting on the known difficulty of getting published. Not directly saying to me you have no hope.

Merging theater masks

This is the way of our fears. They have the power to turn our inner monologue into an extroverted perception of what surrounds us. We turn a matter of personal perception (something we very much have control over) into something immutable, outside ourselves, and thus, difficult to influence in a meaningful way. Admittedly the current system’s difficulty to penetrate lends itself to this flawed way of thinking. Human nature compels us, likely as a defense mechanism, to externalize most challenges: a kind of mental off-loading of responsibility. Life is stressful enough without realizing how lazy we are.

But that’s enough self-flagellation. The reason I wanted to write this was to point out which changes in human connectivity are making the creative process far more exciting, collaborative, and somehow paradoxically, an independent endeavor. The big ones you know of course: e-publication, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, and a slew of others. They all contribute to author’s success, if only for their power to advertise. Much more exciting in my mind however are the social sites I’ve found which go beyond basic advertising, and can actually make you a better writer. I had no idea they existed up until roughly a year ago.

I’m referring to peer review writing sites. These social networks are an invaluable resource if you which to do more than show people what you are creating. They are inherently smaller (any community that actually creates as opposed to consumes always is) but the intense passion for the craft you will find in these places is humbling. Your computer screen becomes a portal to like-minded up and coming authors who all want to help each other grow.

The process on these sites is simple. Participants connect via the forums and offer to critique and review each other’s work. The grammatical comeuppance when I first arrived served as a reminder, we all have much to learn. Having taken my initial lumps I’ve learned an immense amount and networked with people who already have successfully published, be that independently or through a major house.The two I would recommend people use are Figment or Wattpad. Each has its strength.

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Figment’s community is more hardcore and if you wish to have professional critique that’s where you will find it. Again its specialized community of more intensely driven writers means there are less of them but this as well becomes a benefit. With any regular reviewing and effort you become a true member of the community and not so easily lost in the crowd which can occur in the latter I will describe.

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If you wish to go for exposure and more opinions of your work as opposed to full review, Wattpad is the clear winner. Not only does it have a larger community but the site designers quite brilliantly have also designed a mobile application for the site. A mobile application equals—you guessed it—more exposure. The education offered through these sites, let alone the exposure, would have costs thousands in a not so distant past.

choices

This relates as well to my point regarding the paradoxical independence granted to us by a greater availability of collaboration. There is no longer one path. An abundance of choices leads to far more individualization. Yes you are networking and interacting with more people than ever before, but now you are able to do so on your own terms. You personalize the questions you want answered. Finally you’re free to tailor and define the sort of engagements you want to take part in. It can be a bit disorienting at first, lacking the direction traditional methods offer, but I believe this greatly benefits innovation. It’s the classic idea that because you never learned what was ‘impossible’ you pioneer something everyone else gave up on.

Now with the peer review out of the way I can discuss my favourite part of new-age collaboration: the kind you never saw coming. You might be wondering, what was that cover up at the top of this post? Well aside from being the recently completed cover for my first book ‘Stone Heart’ it is the result of a random collaboration.

I have a Youtube channel called ‘DaveTrippin‘ (shameless plug is shameless). On this channel I try to help people to move to Japan or find work, or basically answer any questions about Japan that people may have. I get lots of emails asking many questions and I am more than happy to make videos answering them. It’s how my channel grows.

One day I got an email which for the first half read like all the others. This fine gentlemen asked if I would mind making a video to answer a few of his questions. Nothing new there. The shocker came in the second half of the email when he offered to design me a cover for my recently completed book. I’m amazed with what he produced and I think you would agree, he did an excellent job. This kind of collaboration was not possible before and is a testament to the better world we now live in as artists.

The string of events which led to this wonderful moment baffles me: a peer review site which never existed until recently has made me a better writer. In turn creating an unrelated Youtube site has put me in contact with an amazing graphic artist. That artist noticed I had a website. A website which I could have only made with the ease of recent technology and the now readily available online tutorials. On that site he sees that I am an author and wants to help me.

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The lesson here is obvious and something we’ve known all along. Humans wish for a world in which we do not hate or repress each other. We wish to reach out, to help, to see ourselves in one another, and with the amazing leaps forward made each day by collaboration, that dream will not one day become reality, it is now, already come.

The Right Time and Place: Hope for the Social-Media Marketer

social-networking

As I am oft to do, I found myself thinking about if my social media presence is really worth the amount of effort that I put into it. Does all this networking really amount to anything? Or, am I just spinning my wheels? There is always that sinking feeling that no matter how many people I network with, that I am forever resigned to be a small fish in a huge pond, and my work as an Author will never see a positive result from it. I’ve never given into this way of thinking, but admittedly, it’s something that has plagued me. Until recently.

As I am also oft to do, I was watching some interesting videos on Youtube. The video in this case was a speech given by one of my favourite intellects of our time: Ray Kurzweil. If you don’t know him, which is very unlikely, I’ll fill in the gap for you.

Ray is a futurist, famous for writing his incredibly successful book ‘The Singularity is Near’ wherein Ray discusses how very shortly, within the next three decades, humankind will undergo a rapid change as a result of its developing technology. He is also a famed inventor, responsible for creating the first keyboard capable of orchestral quality sound recreation. My friend, an audio engineer by trade, actually uses one of these keyboards, so I can attest to its amazing sound. In Kurzweil’s book he predicts some incredible things. Some of which are so far-reaching in their implications one might seriously consider discounting the man as a nut-job. The problem with Kurzweil is this: he is not some nut-job. His hugely successful career is a testament to that fact. The man is considered such an amazing mental power Google has seen fit in recent years to hire him as director of engineering. There is no denying, the man is on the cutting edge of what is possible in the coming future.

Introductions finished, let’s get into what exactly the man was talking about in his video that I found inspiring. He was talking about what had made him so successful in his career. Namely what gave him an edge over the competition. To do this he asked a question. He said to the audience in attendance, ‘Why do you think Facebook is so successful?’. He asked smiling, ‘Do you think it’s because Mark Zuckerberg needed to reach an age where his brilliance could be released on the world?’. One could assume from the playful way in which he suggested the idea, that this was most certainly not the case.

He went on to say that although there was no denying the brilliance of those involved with the project for recognizing the opportunity, there were far greater forces at work for its successful carrying out: right place, and right time. Kurzweil assured the audience, and I’m inclined to agree with him, that Zuckerberg and his cohorts were not the first to have this idea: interconnected social systems on the web. The important thing to realize he said, is that even if you had conceived the idea many years before, regardless of how amazing it was, you could not implement it without other technological factors catching up. Kurzweil pointed out that Facebook was impossible in a time when using the Internet meant dial-up modems and crackling interruptions to the connection as we yelled down the hall at loved ones for sabotaging our usage. And like a magician pulling the rabbit from his hat, when Kurzweil said this the audience gave an audible ‘ohhh’, myself included.

The point Kurzweil was making—if you haven’t already guessed—is that success is the result of two equal parts: knowing what technology, creation, or innovation is needed, and realizing when temporally it can be nominally utilized. Now we come to why I found this utterly inspiring. This concept is directly relateable to social-media as a tool for advertising, and whether or not it will grow in both potency and potential. This relates as well to a thought I’ve had recently: no matter the era, we are always living with the illusion that we are living in the future, or at the very least, the cutting edge of what is possible. When in reality, this could not be farther from the truth. We are no less cave-men, by technological standards, than cave-men.

From considering these two ideas: the still massive potential of social-media, and our misunderstanding of technology, I derived the true significance of what Kurzweil was saying: we have only now just reached the tip of what is possible through social-marketing. The evidence perhaps which best demonstrates this fact is the growth and progress of information technology / the Internet and its usage. Certainly it’s easy to lose ourselves, like I do so often, thinking that we’ve pretty much bottomed out. That is to say, how much faster or more interconnected could we become? The answer is simple: a lot.

I did not want to stuff this piece of writing with a bunch of figures, as it is more a philosophical rambling piece, but I’ll toss in a few for their added strength to the argument. I was looking at figures which displayed the Internet’s growth taken from the year 2000 until 2012. The stats were quite a revelation. Africa’s growth usage in the aforementioned time periods was mind-boggling, growing roughly three thousand six hundred per cent. During the same time period globally, the Internet’s usage grew five hundred and sixty-six per cent. The Internet is booming, and in the coming five years will grow yet again at a nearly inconceivable rate due to Moore’s law of exponential progress. You can see its evidence everywhere: phones, computing power, and transmission speeds. With the advent of ‘fifth generation transmission’—in which speeds achieved are thirty times faster than the current LTE—the world is going to change in a way that for lack of a better word could be described as—weird.

So for those of us worried if we’re tapped out in terms of what we stand to gain in free advertising from social-media, fear not. If you have started to throw together a ‘social media mud-hovel’ as I like to describe my current empire, you have not missed the boat. You actually stand perfectly positioned to still reap all the benefits of this rapidly changing era. Put succinctly, you have entered into the arena, at the perfect place and time.

Chapter.4 Hiding in plain Sight

In the first weeks of his new school Daniel developed a routine. He would wake long before anyone in the house. After wishing the farm on his wall a good day, careful not to make any noise, he would rush a barely warm shower and get dressed. Then, tiptoeing lightly down the hall past his parent’s bedroom, he’d descend the old wooden stairs that led to the kitchen and receive there the warmest greeting he’d ever known. Lincoln waited for him each morning, in a bed they’d set up next to their ghoulishly coloured yellow refrigerator. Always awake, standing at attention. When Daniel entered, his tail would begin to wag in a steady beat—thump, thump, thump—hitting the side of the fridge, like a drum-beat summoning soldiers to war. Daniel would then invoke the ritualistic question which preceded all their walks: “Who’s a good boy?” Lincoln’s joyous reaction, wherein he leapt up on his owner nuzzling and licking his face affectionately, predicated the truism, he—most certainly was.

They’d lap the block once or twice, depending on Lincoln’s energy level, then return to the house to meet Kate sitting on the steps of their home, usually shaking her head in disbelief.

“You’re crazy,” yawned Kate.

Daniel ceased twirling Lincoln’s leash. A game which left the dog comically walking in a diagonal line at his side. “You know,” he said solemnly, stopping to strike a pose, chest puffed out like a Saturday-morning-hero from the nineties, “they say love is crazy.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Well then, you’re madly in love.”

“Oh, I am, dear sister,” said Daniel. Pulling back Lincoln’s ears, he planted a kiss on the adoring animal’s head. Kate had a special name for this particular canine expression: bliss in a slipstream. “It’s alright though, I don’t expect you to perfectly understand what it’s like to love a beast.”

“I love you, don’t I?”

“You’re hilarious.” Daniel gave his sister a lop-sided grin. “Just wait a moment. I’ll be back. I’m gonna top off Lincoln’s food bowl before we leave.” Their morning ritual replete, critical banter and all complete, the two set off for school.

Bam!

Daniel jolted upright, hand pressed to his stinging forehead. The students were giggling; everyone turned in his direction. On the verge of sleep when he’d lost consciousness, his face had slid from its precariously balanced position on his palm to smack into his desk. Judging by his teacher’s sigh and head shake of resigned indifference, it might not have been the first time. He glowered round darkly at those who laughed. That was, until a gooey spit ball wetly smacked the side of his head.

“Don’t be so glum, chum. Trouble in paradise?” said Milton, a twice failed older classmate. In the first weeks of Daniel’s arrival Milton had tried unsuccessfully to acquaint himself. He’d mistakenly approached the friendship in a traditional way: too kindly and without expectations. Daniel never trusted those who offered kindness without weighing return on investment. That’s not how kindness worked.

“I’m fine, you dick, just bored.” Daniel peeled the sticky wad of paper off his cheek and flicked it back at his classmate who made a show of dodging the projectile.

Milton jabbed a confident thumb towards himself. “Well, you wouldn’t be bored if you’d hang out with me. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s a good time.”

“Right…” said Daniel cupping his face, this time in both hands. Daniel turned from the moronically beatific smile of Milton, attempting to take something from the lecture. It never did any good. The harder he focused, the more his teachers words became a blur. The more he just felt like going to sleep. He sighed. what’s wrong with me?

Bam!

Daniel’s face smashed against his locker.

“How’d that taste, loser?”

Daniel turned, the warm coppery tang of iron filling his mouth. With one arm he clutched his textbooks. The free hand he pressed against the backside of his weeping lip. Drawing it away slowly, examining the ruby-red that smeared it, he licked his lips. “Delicious,” he laconically answered the three boys standing over him at his locker. His unnerving reply caused their leader to screw his face up in disgust.

“You’re a freak, you know that right?” He shoved Daniel back into the lockers with a loud clang. Other students in the hall hurried past, heads down; hate and cruelty are always hidden in plain sight.

“I do,” came Daniel’s answer, equally terse.

“That’s good.” The leader made a show of nodding around at his compatriots, keeping up the bravado. But, Daniel could tell he’d rattled their hollow confidence.“Just here to remind you, it’s the usual deal.”

Daniel simply nodded. The boys departed giving Daniel a final shove. It sent him sprawling and the books taken from his locker skidding across the floor.

 

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“I don’t get it?” Kate whined. “Why do we always have to take separate paths home?”

“Because, we have separate paths to walk in this life, young one.” Daniel deepened his voice and pretended to pull a cape in front of his body.

“You are a brutal nerd—seriously…” Kate bobbed along next to her brother laughing. “I hate walking home by myself, it’s dangerous; you’re failing to protect me.”

Daniel kept his voice deep and the cape held in front of him as he walked. “You—are an idiot, young one; you do not walk home alone; you walk with Sandy.”

“Stop talking like that!” Kate batted his arm down, destroying the imagined cape. “I do, but I would rather walk with you. Promise me one of these days we will walk together.”

Daniel acquiesced. “Sure, just not today, Okay?

“Okay,” said Kate.

The exit of the school was barely that, just a road that met another road. Its only semi-significant characteristic was a middling sized leafless maple tree. Before the two parted ways under its barren branches, Daniel gave his sister a kiss on the head, hugging her and wishing her well. Watching her leave he took a seat at the base of the tree on a serpentine thick root. One of many that emerged from the earth, like the coils of a sea monster. Resting his back against its ridged trunk, he waved perfunctorily at his sister in the distance as she met with her new friend, Sandy.

The girl wore an intractable smile plastered to her face at all times, like the personae of Greek theater. But her sad eyes belied that smile, and told the truth that lay behind them. Daniel wondered what drew his sister to a person like that—but perhaps not—he knew of nothing more seductive than a lie.

His sister and Sandy soon disappeared out of sight around the corner of the block. Daniel took that as his cue to stand up. He brushed off the dust and debris of the ground and grabbed his backpack. He’d lain it next to the tree. Throwing it over his shoulder he took from his pocket his Swiss army knife. When sitting next to the tree he’d noticed inscriptions carved into its trunk. Like any prophet of the school, he wanted to forge his own. Between the timeless wisdom of “Claires a slut!!!”—incorrectly punctuated he noted—and, “Brandon and Josh forever”, he added, “Daniel was here”, an epitaph worthy of a king. Finishing his work he blew on it, removing any last clinging wood-chips. A stubborn sliver of bark resisted his breath and disrupted the proper reading of “here”. To correct the offending chunk of wood, he dug in and leaned hard on the blade. It cut loose with a twang, but the sudden release of pressure popped the blade out of his hand. It fell bouncing down the tree trunk coming to land in the dirt with a plop. He bent over to pick it up; doing so brought his eyes level with an inscription unseen from any other angle: “What matter where if I be still the same”. He read it multiple times. Deep, he decided. Whoever said that had their shit figured out. Standing up to stretch, he pressed his knuckles into the small of his back. He groaned, enjoying the release of pressure. It was time to go.

Except for the main street entrance, the playground was waiting for him penned in on all sides by low-cost cement-grey residential towers. No one was playing on its grounds when Daniel arrived: no one ever was. The small area hosted several physical distractions: a rusting jungle gym for kids to climb and practice breaking limbs on; a set of drooping spring-loaded sea-animals with their paint flaking off for night-time drunks to ride, bend and wear out; and the feature Daniel most enjoyed using, a three-seater swing set. Whistling to himself Daniel took a seat on the middle swing and set his bag on the ground. He built up an arc pumping his legs. As he gained height, with each pass of the parabola’s bottom, he’d kick up a spray of bark mulch on his way to the sky. At the top, he’d smile.

As the three boys entered the park he slowed the swing to a stop by digging in his heels. Thommy Humphreys was an angry-faced, straight-haired, pear-shaped boy. His waist— grotesquely ballooning at such an early age—foreshadowed opponents to come; opponents he could not beat with fists.

Loping along at Thommy’s heels came Dean Beakman. A gangly, tall, back-woods boy with straw blond hair, moved from a place named after an animal’s body part to the city; Dean exemplified willful ignorance. He was fond of telling childhood stories, wherein inter-species relations passed for rites-of-passage. Born with a tin of chew in his cradle, Dean had developed a mild celebrity around the school for his digestive tract’s capabilities. His esophagus and bowels, inured by years of use, allowed the boy to munch on the acrid cud without spitting. Instead, he swallowed the acidic juice, like bitter medicine.

Rounding out the wayward trio was one of the school’s rich elite. Chris Branch, a neurotic tick ridden boy who, in another time, might have been referred to as “prosperously plump”. Not so fat as his companion, he lacked the certainty of a cardiac ward in his future. But soft easy living had molded the boy in its image: fragile and temperamental. All three boys belonged to a different social strata, and formed an uncommon alliance; anger, with its power to bind those of like-mind in common-cause, had brought them together. Surrounded by all three, sitting still on his swing. Daniel found himself the object of their inimical attention.

“Why do you always come here?” Thommy asked. He breathed heavily while gazing round the empty play-ground. “Looking for kids to fondle?”

“Ya disappointed, D? No kiddies today?” chirped Branch, snickering. He wore a glossy red chromatic t-shirt with the word “What” emblazoned across its front. Looking from Daniel and back to Thommy he itched at the exposed skin of his arms while shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. Beakman on the opposite flank of Thommy stood silent and expressionless as a cow, the only audible impression of his presence, the constant grinding of teeth as he worked away at the protrusion of tobacco held in his cheek.

Daniel kicked his legs, causing the swing to sway slightly. “Maybe I enjoy irony?” he spoke to the blurred ground rushing under his feet. Wasting words on people who wished him harm was exhausting. Digging pointed toes into the mulch he stopped the rocking of the swing. Hopping off his seat he then picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He kept a level eye on all the boys aside from Beakman who stood taller than himself. Taking his back-pack from his shoulders he held it in front of his chest with both hands and looked at it quizzically. The odd gesture drew everyone’s attention to its matte black shape. “You know, I never thought this brand was ever any good, but my sister kept insisting, it’s the best. Costs three times more than the no-name version that looks similar—did you know that?” Daniel looked round at the trio, holding out the bag.

Thommy’s brow furrowed. “The hell are you on about?”

“No really, it is,” said Daniel, holding out the bag with a salesman’s can-you-believe-it expression and tone, “and you know the dumbest thing?”

Branch’s eyes shifted from Daniel to Thommy and back. “Seriously the fuck are you on about? We don’t give a shit about-”

Daniel interrupted, “The dumbest thing is, I’m such a huge nerd, I checked up on the manufacturer, and would you believe—it’s actually the same bag? Here look.” Daniel lobbed the bag at Branch. Instinctively the boy raised his hands to catch the thrown object. With his hands up and his guard down, Daniel kicked, hard as he could, into the boy’s unprotected groin, sending his nuts—Daniel hoped—somewhere up near the back of his throat. The boy went down making a sound akin to a pinched balloon releasing air. Shaken by their fallen comrade’s demise the two standing boys looked at his curled form. Daniel just shook his head. “I know… It’s ridiculous…”

The sudden ferocity of Daniel’s attack had momentarily pacified his assailants, but once the initial shock had worn off, rage replaced complacency, and they pounced.

The blows fell and Daniel reflected on what had brought him here. It was strange how violence could—at times—make perfect sense. He didn’t blame them.

He’d fought Thommy but the boy had knocked him down and his excessive weight kept him pinned to the ground. This allowed Beakman to beat away at his unprotected face. Without needing to look, he could tell the mounting damage was something he wouldn’t be able to hide from his sister—this time. Another fist connected with the crown of his skull and it rebounded off the ground behind his head. Pain blossomed behind his eyes and he saw stars: flashes of light. With his vision blurring, he fully expected a final concussive impact. Daniel kept open his swollen eyes and waited for the final strike. He wanted to see the end coming. Wished for it to release him from misery, into black nothingness. But Dean paused, fist raised, his face overcome with an idea.

“I think our boy looks thirsty.” Humphreys grunted in acknowledgment from atop Daniel. “I think he needs a drink.”

“You’re sick!” spat Daniel. New fear sobered his mind and he thrashed and flailed under his heavier opponent’s rolls of flesh, but Thommy was immovable. He achieved nothing.

“Pinch his nose, Thommy,” Beakman commanded in his woodsy drawl. Humphrey’s fat fingers stinking of onions clamped Daniel’s nose. Beakman started making sounds at the back of his throat like a clogged sink draining the last of its water. “Hold him still,” said Beakman, through a mouth half of equal parts spit and chew juice.

The last burst of resistance had drained what little energy Daniel had left. Accepting the situation’s futility, he chose to lie still as possible extending how long he could hold his breath, but the urge to breathe became overwhelming. A fire soon burned in his lungs, desperate for air. Anticipating Daniel’s breaking point, a leering Beakman positioned over Daniel’s head drew one final disgusting pull of air through his nostrils.

“I got your drink ready, D, say-”

He never did finish his sentence. Daniel was just able to register in his vision’s periphery the swinging fist. It slammed hard into Beakman’s temple. The blow connected so fiercely Beakman’s head cranked to the side and the boy dropped unconscious. The light in his eyes extinguished. His head landed next to Daniel face down. No longer in control of his jaw the vile liquid intended for Daniel began to pool around his face, draining slowly from his mouth like an oil spill, soaking the mulch he’d passed out in and leaking into his blond hair. Thommy who’d until this point focused solely on keeping Daniel pinned, looked up.

“What the fu-” He was the second to not finish his sentence. The boot connected flat with his face. Daniel could hear the wet snapping of cartilage and breaking bone, watched as the boy’s nose exploded, felt the spray of blood sting his eyes. Thommy went tumbling backwards off him, clutching his ruined face. “Here little pig pig piggy pig, come ere boy.” Daniel identified the taunting voice of his savior. Milton. Stepping over Daniel he leapt on Thommy, who’d fallen on his back. Descending into a crouched position with a foot on either side of his victim, Milton grabbed a fistful of Thommy’s shirt, using it to pull the disoriented boy off the ground. He began swinging. Thommy feebly attempted to block the onslaught with an arm but Milton easily passed the guard and punched through it, again… and again… and again…

Daniel watched from propped elbows in disbelief as the older boy turned the other’s face into a horror show. Watching the carnage Daniel’s stomach churned. In no version of his desired revenge was there ever this level of ultra violence.

“Pu… Pu… Please,” a battered Thommy pleaded through blood and spittle. Milton’s face, which had remained chillingly impassive during the course of the beating, split into a wide toothy grin.

“You’ll have to speak up—what was that?” Milton took the boy’s stained shirt in both hands and pulled him upright. Cocking his head to the left he brought Thommy’s lips in line with his ear. “Again please, did you need something?” In a heart-beat Milton had transformed: remorseless reaper became attentive angel. Allowed enough time to catch his ragged intermittent breath, Thommy wept.

“We didn’t know,” he began to sob, “We’re-”

Milton savagely backhanded the boy, cutting him off. He then drew their faces closer still—nearly touching—and screamed.

Cringing, Daniel slammed his hands over his ears. The loss he felt when Milton cried out was terrible, like dreams, still-born. Overwhelmed, Thommy’s eyes bugged in their sockets and rolled back; he went limp. Holding the boy for a moment, no longer screaming, Milton then let the dead-weight slip from his fingers. The body hit the ground with a loud thwump.

The sound managed to pierce a paralyzing fog that had rendered Daniel’s brain a mute observer. He sharply inhaled, having forgotten to breathe somewhere amidst the madness. With his hands flopping from his ears to his sides, on his knees he took in the playground around him: Beakman face down, black tar oozing around him. Branch curled in a ball moaning, grasping his genitals. And Thommy, looking like several stacked bags of flour laid out on his back, blood running freely from his broken nose and ruined features.

“Need a hand? You look like hell.”

“Huh… what…?” Dazed, Daniel looked at the outstretched hand in front of him.

“Your face man, those bastards really laid a whooping on you before I showed up.”

“I… Yes, thank you.” Daniel touched a hand to his face and pulled it away fast. It hurt, badly. He took the bloodied slick hand of Milton and stood up. He felt strange, light-headed, grateful, horrified. A wave of nausea tossed his stomach and he pressed both hands to his knees. Hunched over he closed his eyes to stop the spinning. He did not wish to join the others on the ground. Speaking sideways he asked, “Why did you help me?”

Milton cracked another famous grin and smacked Daniel on his hunched over back. “Well, I’m just your guardian angel, buddy.”

Daniel raised his head, looked into Milton’s radiant smile—and threw up.