2nd Place—”Forge Your Own Adventure”

This piece won 2nd Place in Zeroflash’s June Contest. So, progress, I guess. The prompt was to write a fantasy adventure akin to a choose-your-own-adventure novel but under 300 words. I decided on fun over phenomenal and literary fathoms. Credit where credit’s due—my pal Jevin Goleman came up with the title (mine—”Ironfell”—not so good).

“Forge Your Own Adventure”

You are in the forge when barbarians ride into the village, shooting flaming arrows, cutting down peasants in the streets. What do you do?

A) Get cut down in the street.

B) Focus on the customer. Offer the invaders your services. Produce cheap chainmail until they’re slain by the King’s Men.

You are in the forge when a dragon attacks. Fire, death. The people seek a hero. What do you do?

A) Sneak into its lair. Become human barbecue.

B) Offer swords to ‘wyrm-slaying entrepreneurs’ with a 25% investment in the dragon’s horde. Finally get lucky. Use the smoke-singed diamonds to expand the business. Hire an accountant.

You are in the forge but the nobility prefers a business not run by a woman. They go to the Nuric Brothers. What do you do?

A) Watch your business crumble. Die a toothless crank.

B) Open a brewery and spa, call it “The Forge.” Switch from smith to artisan. Sell merch. Tiny statues of the gods, trophies that say, “World’s Greatest Hero.” Bring a wizard into the ‘family.’ Sell flaming swords, sentient shields, quivers that never empty. Acquire the Nuric Brothers.

You are in The Forge sipping mead in a steam-bath when the Darkhand resurrects an ancient horror. Ghouls break from their coffins. Vortexes split the city like a jigsaw puzzle. What do you do?

A) Scream as the wave of corruption converts you into a many-mouthed slime.

B) Don’t thwart the end of the world, accept it. Offer axes to circling gargoyles, chains and fetters to your devil-faced masters, and one ring to rule them all to the abomination that has enslaved reality (along with black crowns to fit its many, many heads).

As your hands turn to claws and eyes pour out, rest easy knowing you always chose wisely.

Rune Bear—Launch

Rune Bear completed its launch with a series of flash fiction. Each of the editors published a 300-word piece in their respective domains. J. Motoki, our Strange Editor, wrote something creepy. Stuart, our Speculative Editor, an alt-future that plays around with humanity adapting to a new (radioactive) environment. Alyssa, Supernatural Editor, had some fun with the ‘princess turned into a cute forest critter’ trope. And I, acting as the judge of all things Surreal, made some kind of weird introduction to someone’s siblings. The intent was to showcase the kind of work we’re searching for, to present models and examples for future contributors.

Read, enjoy, submit something!

J. Motoki, Strange Editor, “Hydra

Desmond White, Surreal Editor, “These were my Brothers

Alyssa Warren, Supernatural Editor, “The Sparrow Queen

Stuart Warren, Speculative Editor, “Helmets

Published—”Like Flies, Like Lights”

This isn’t my publication, but my wife’s. “Life Flies, Like Lights,” which published in Nowhere.Ink, is a dreamy spelunk into a maze of madness or what might be the halls of the dead. I have no idea, actually, but it’s still freaky, especially the line “All around me are sounds like suppressed laughter in mausoleums, like bouts of applause, like flies on a cat corpse in summer.”

Anyway, I’m so proud of J. Motoki and the products of her horrifying brain.

Nowhere.Ink is a digital collaborative devoted to dark minds and cooperation over competition. Its members have several outlets. Polished pieces go in their Library (like my wife’s) while anyone can post prose or poetry to the Facebook page. Then there’s other worlds like Twitter and their Red Light District.

Actually, my wife and I have a little history with the collab. We, along with its creators, used to post to a literature platform called Prose.

That site went south, forgetting its manners and indulging in toxic utilitarianism. Lost were Partners and $100 weekly contests; found were advertisements, random rules, and Prose Gold, a pay-to-be-a-partner subscription service. Suddenly good writing wasn’t based on its popularity but how much you could pay.

There was also a (now-infamous) Simon and Schuster challenge where fifty stories were picked from 500+ entries and submitted to S&S for review. Some of the entries “selected” were written by the Prose judges themselves, a little bit of unethical behavior that did not go unnoticed. (My piece, Iron Abbie, was also chosen, and I add that only to establish that I’m not bitter for losing.)

The first generation who’d given Prose its style split away. Luckily, Tony Cavanagh and Amanda Cary, two brilliant contributors to Prose, gave some direction to the Great Migration. They created an alternate platform, a place devoted to the exercise and excitement of writing. Funny enough, the “nowhere” in Nowhere.Ink comes from Tony’s old Prose handle—Miles Nowhere.

Rune Bear—Logos

Phil Kiner has always been my go-to guy for visual marketing, so when I started Rune Bear, I had constant reassurance that the logo would end up looking awesome. And, indeed, I ended up with this:

But that wasn’t the first rune bear that Phil designed. Phil also experimented with configurations based on actual runes, specifically Elder Futhark (c. 150–800 AD).

A futhark is a type of alphabet that starts with some variation of F, U, Þ, A, R, and K, and Elder Futhark is the earliest known form. The alphabet was used by Germanic tribes during the ‘Barbarian Invasions’ (the Germans have a better word for it—Völkerwanderung while English academics have a more boring description—the ‘Migration Period’) which may or may not have led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Today, Elder Futhark is often found on old weapons, amulets, tools, and, yes, this is real life, runestones scattered across the European landscape.

Phil sent me three designs based on the futhark.

The first:

While I loved the diamond nose and frumpy grin, the ears, while stylish, gave the bear an undesirable ant-like quality.

The second:

The test market (me) liked the sideburns but thought the bear looked too grumpy.

The third:

#perfection

For a while I had settled on this design for the magazine.

But there was still this itchy inkling (writer’s rash?) in the back of my mind. I wanted something that would allow other artists to create their own variations. And something more blue, more realistic. My attempt looked like this:

No, wait, that’s something else.

My first design was this:

In his mouth I wanted the futhark word “alu” (ᚨᛚᚢ). The alu’s meaning is a contested issue, but some of its definitions hint at a strange, disturbed state created by sorcery or induced by ale (we’ve all been there). It is usually inscribed on artifacts of magical or mystical import. Other potential meanings include “taboo,” “strange,” “distraught,” and the “world between the living and the dead.” (I also considered ᛒᛖᚨᚱ, which is the word “bear” spelled out in futhark letters.)

In the end, Phil drew this:

… and the rest is rune history.