Try writing, you may really enjoy it

This is the first in a series of blog posts on writing, editing and story telling. I will be glad to answer any questions.

Every now and then someone, after learning I’m a journalist and writer, will say something along the lines of I’d like to write a book or some poetry. Or I couldn’t do that.

My response is always a version of “Get started. You learned to walk, to ride a bike, drive a car—writing is the same. You only learn by doing.”

You may not end up a famous writer or poet but you can certainly learn to a create a book or a sonnet that means something to you at least. Odds are that it will to others as well.

One of the best ways to try your hand at writing is participating in National Novel Writing Month, which is held every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a first draft in 30 days. That’s about 1,700 words a day, not easy but not impossible. You’ll learn to make time every day for writing.

The important point to remember is if you only reach 3,000 words or 27,000, you have taken an important first step. NaNo is cleverly designed to encourage you along the way with ideas to keep you motivated and writing.

Start by going to, join and pick your region so you can become involved in a local NaNo group if there is one. In Ottawa, there is a very active chapter and you can meet plenty of others-fledgling and experienced. You’ll find a lot of helpful folks.

Remember you’re writing a first draft. It’s like going on a long walk; you just keep typing. Don’t edit. Read what you’ve written only for reference. Don’t worry if you regard what you type one day as a pile of drivel. Think of it as idea trying to get out. Or a character or a plot trying to take shape.

The great thing about writing on a computer is you can save copies of everything you write. So, an idea or plot twist that doesn’t fit in the end can be stored for use in another story.

Back up whatever you write. I have a second email account that I send whatever story I’m working on to with the date in the message. Use memory sticks or an exterior drive or one of the cloud storage systems.

In future posts, I will provide editing tips that I’ve learned working as journalist for many years and as an author for the last 10 years or so.

But remember if you don’t try to write, you’ll never find out that you can.


Now for something different

After three science fiction novels, well the third one, Ultimate Wizard, did have some magic it, I’ll be launching later this year what I thought was a fantasy novel.

Full of swords and magic, I think of the Circle of the Chosen as my ode to a group of authors I admire including JRR Tolkien and Terry Brooks among other great story tellers.

Well, a beta reader told me the Circle of the Chosen is also a love story. A story about the power of love. I hadn’t thought of that but she is correct.

The subtitle of the book tries to convey the two themes– Love could be the ultimate weapon as two great armies square off with their swords, bows and magic. 

The storyline is a simple-sounding request from his brother, the new king of Bernna, sends Dameron on what turns into a dangerous mission in the Lands south of the Great River. He needs his soldier skills to survive encounters with treacherous priests, bandits, thugs and shapeshifters under the control of the Evil.

After gaining important texts for his brother, Dameron heads for home with people he has saved from marauding gangs. Among them is Lady Burska, who is trained to fight with a sword. His group encounters Giants on a mission to warn their clans about the return of the Evil that is once again trying to destroy all who live in the Lands of the Great River.

The Giants’ Elder realizes Dameron is the Champion of the Spirit and starts to prepare him for a battle with the Evil that will appear as a massive black cloud. Collaborating with brother Artorus and his cousin Yukul, Dameron plans to confront the Evil’s hordes who have besieged Compard, a walled city on the shores of the Great and Reddon Rivers. They hope that will draw the Evil into the open where Dameron can confront him using the power of the Spirit.

He knows from the ancient Credo of the Champion that he must tap into the power of the Circle of the Chosen to gain the full strength of the Spirit when he faces the Evil. How to do that is a mystery he must solve.

He has enough of the power to save a group of Protectors from the shapeshifters and they help prepare him. Then he employs it to destroy the Evil’s henchmen who control a powerful army sent by Haddonstone and they join his army on the way to Compard. Even with them and the warriors sent by the Giants, the Bernnaveld is badly outnumbered by the Evil’s forces. And Dameron doesn’t know how to combat the Evil.

The cover for the book will be posted once it’s ready and the launch will come in late October or early November.

Blog Hopping: Carole Ann Moleti

Carole Ann Moleti

Welcome to author Carole Ann Moleti in this blog hopping post…

Name of publication, short story, etc. 

The Ultimate Test

Where did it appear and when?

It first appeared in the Mocha Memoirs Press Toil, Trouble and Temptation Anthology, and I was thrilled when editor April Grey included it in the Hell’s Heart Anthology.

Genre: Dark Urban Fantasy

Length: about 5000 wordsU

Any additional information you’d like to share? E.g., influences or experiences that shaped your writing this piece, other artists you admire, etc.

Life experiences are the major inspiration for my writing, and I always seem to be working on both fiction and nonfiction with similar themes at the same time. Thus, The Ultimate Test, is based on of real life events. Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent–and the guilty. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what really happened and what didn’t. 

Author’s Bio:

Carole Ann Moleti lives and works as a nurse-midwife in New York City, thus explaining her fascination with all things paranormal, urban fantasy, and space opera. Her nonfiction focuses on health care, politics, and women’s issues. But her first love is writing science fiction and fantasy because walking through walls is less painful than running into them.

Books One and Two in the Unfinished Business series, Carole’s Cape Cod paranormal romance novels, Breakwater Beach and The Widow’s Walk, and Storm Watch were published by Soulmate. Urban fantasies set in the world of Carole’s novels have been featured in Rayne Hall’s Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Seers: Ten Tales of Clairvoyance, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, and Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires. She has two, ahem, work related pieces in April Grey’s Hell’s Kitties and Hell’s Heart anthologies.

I love to hear from readers on Twitter, Facebook, my blog or my website. You can also read reviews of my work on Goodreads.

Follow us around the web as we blog hop across various sites and share our experiences and work with readers of other author’s blogs:

Carole Ann Moleti: featuring April Grey

April Grey’s Blog

Amy Grech

Jake TS Wryte

Phillip T. Stephens

More about Ultimate Wizard

My first two novels, Humanity’s Saving Grace and its sequel, A Biot’s Odyssey, are science fiction stories. Ultimate Wizard is a blend of science fiction and magic. However they all started with thoughts of what if and were driven by a desire to keep the stories as plausible and scientifically accurate as possible. While the first two have space travel and aliens, climate change and another human-like species is the backdrop to Ultimate Wizard.

Although Tolkien did much to put magic and fantasy on the literary landscape, it was the stories of Terry Brooks and Rick Riordan that led me to want to try combining sci-fi and magic, a small genre sometimes called science fantasy. In it magic is a force that requires special qualities to connect with but it can provide the right people with a tremendous boost to their own talents. But there are limits on how much a person can use and do with it.

While I hope someday to write a sequel to Ultimate Wizard, there are a few other novels I need to finish first.

So what is the Ultimate Wizard? Well without giving any too much of the plot, he or she is a long foretold Wizard who would elevate magic to a new level although the ancient Wizards who knew about the prediction have no idea how or when this could happen. Neither did they know about The Realm, engineers, doctors and other men and women around the world who possess skills well beyond their scientific training and natural abilities. They have no explanation for the range of their talents although one of them deduces magic might be an explanation.

They come to understand that magic is a life force but not any form of life they’ve previously encountered. While it can influence them, in the end it can’t tell them how to act. Their judgement must do that.

They are troubled by the numerous earthquakes, wildfires, volcanoes and other natural disasters that are afflicting all of the planet except Europe. However they can’t find the cause of them despite using their instruments to search deep underground. Then their member Judyth discovers Stuart, an engineer who has similar talents to the members of their group, and she must devise a way to find him and learn the source of his abilities. She’s not the only one searching for him. And he’s just the first surprise they’re in for.

Two weeks to launch! Dec 2nd at Books on Beechwood.

Ultimate Wizard coverYou’re invited to participate in the launch of my new novel, Ultimate Wizard, on Sunday Dec. 2, 2018 from 2 pm to 4pm at Books on Beechwood at 35 Beechwood Ave at the corner of MacKay St across from the Metro.

The story blends science fiction and magic in a story about a group of 20 to 30 year olds around the world who have abilities beyond their scientific training. It takes an encounter with a 300 year old Wizard to convince them they have tapped into magic. Then they have to use their abilities to stop a gang of disgruntled Wizards who are unleashing deadly storms and other calamities on Earth.

The photo of me holding a copy of the book with the cover was created by photographer neighbour Louise Imbeault.

Ultimate Wizard – Launches Dec. 2nd!


You’re invited to participate in the launch of my new novel, Ultimate Wizard, on Sunday Dec. 2, 2018 from 2 pm to 4pm at Books on Beechwood at 35 Beechwood Ave at the corner of MacKay St across from the Metro.

Binkley-Wizard FC

It blends science fiction and magic in a story about a group of 20 to 30 year olds around the world who have abilities beyond their scientific training. It takes an encounter with a 300 year old Wizard to convince them they have tapped into magic. Then they have to use their abilities to stop a gang of disgruntled Wizards who are unleashing deadly storms and other calamities on Earth.

A helpful diversion

Before buckling down to the final editing of Ultimate Wizard in preparation for its release this fall, I’ve been rereading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings hoping that it will inspire and clear my mind. It’s been a couple of decades since I first read them and it’s surprising what one doesn’t remember. In them I found two poems/songs that I really like.

The first is from the Fellowship of the Ring and performs a wonderful foreshadowing of the whole story;

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

The second is for anyone with a sense of adventure;

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

I have a number of books first read eons ago that I will reread in the coming years.

The Window – a short story by Alex Binkley

This is one of my short stories. As a wise writer said, the hardest part of writing a short story is keeping it short. They all want to become novels. Comments welcome. – Alex

Ainsley Smyth held her breath as another couple strolled toward her booth.

She had sold 10 landscapes within three hours of the art show’s opening. Finally she had enough money in her bank account to enable her to reduce her hours working at the coffee shop and devote more time to painting, her goal since finishing art school.

Several customers had left their names for notification of her next show. Some had described the kinds of scenes they wanted. She envisaged the landscapes and seashore vistas she would create for them. Finally her career was coming together.

The couple barely glanced at her remaining piece before moving on. It showed was a double hung window partly open to let a gentle summer breeze ripple lace curtains. Hints of a garden, trees and a rubber tire swing hovered in the background.

While artist friends told her it was a good painting, to Ainsley it did not fit with her other works because it lacked the sweeping scenery she had become known for. Even when she pointed it out, no one seemed to see it.

She had dumped it in the garbage, and then retrieved it saying she would reuse the canvas. When she could not bring herself to paint over the scene, she tried offering it free with no takers. It was like a stray mutt that had adopted her. She called it The Window. Unlike her other works, she had no memory of painting it.

Three fashionably-dressed women did not slow for a look at it. Under the terms of the show, exhibitors could only leave before closing time if all their pieces were sold. It was early afternoon and she could be outside enjoying the sunshine.

While close to 100 people wandered from artist to artist stopping at most exhibits for a chat, they kept walking past her.

She rearranged the promotional material for her studio, and then pulled out her sketch pad to work on ideas for her next paintings. The clock mounted above the entrance to the display room read 1:30 pm. Four o’clock seemed so far away.

She glanced at the painting and to her surprise, a man was examining it. She had not heard him arrive.

People usually stepped back to get a better view of a painting. He stood so close his nose was almost touching it. His head moved as if peering out both sides of the window as well as the top and bottom. Did he expect to see something?

Ainsley shook her head. Most art lovers babbled on about colors and images and where they could hang the piece. He kept examining it. She tiptoed around the desk and approached him wondering how to inquire about his usual form of art appraisal.

Five steps away him she saw something move in the background of the painting. A scream formed in her throat, but stayed there. This is a painting, not an animation.

“Just take a deep breath and let it out slowly,” the man said without taking his eyes off the picture. She inhaled. “My apologies, Ms. Smythe.” The man faced her. “I should’ve been more careful. You shouldn’t have seen that.”

Ainsley could not get any words out.

“We knew a portal had been created but until now we couldn’t find it.” The man’s soft voice did not mask his excitement. Ainsley still could not say a word. “How much do you want for it? All I have with me is $400.” He pulled the cash out of his pocket.

That was more than a full week’s shift at the coffee shop. The man wore a light blue polo shirt, brown shorts and running shoes. His black hair was cut short. Overall, his appearance was respectable but not flashy. “Name’s Harvey Abrams.”

Ainsley hesitated in case her voice conveyed her guilt about accepting so much for a painting she despised. “Why are you interested in it?”

“I came to the show after reading the article in Brush Strokes on the grandeur of your renderings hoping you might be able to create portals for us. The last thing I expected was to find you’d already painted one.”

“That?” she said, pointing at The Window.

Harvey nodded. “It might sound delusional to you but you did spot a creature moving. Rare is the artist who can create portals with the range of yours.”

Ainsley glanced around to make sure they were alone. “What is this all about and what moved in the painting?”

“Step closer to it.” When she did, Harvey placed his hand on the window frame.

The scene came to life. In the background she spotted towering snow capped mountains and great soaring birds. She leaned forward. A large animal shuffled through a meadow. Its meandering gait resembled a bear in no hurry to go anywhere. “So what am I seeing?”

“Another dimension.” Harvey removed his hand and the faint outline of the swing returned. He handed her the money and produced a business card. It said he was a temporal and timeline consultant. “I have a lot of customers with special requirements.”

“Watching other dimensions?”

“It’s connected and your portals will play an important role in our work. I only let you see it briefly because when anyone other than a watcher looks through a portal it alerts ….” He hummed. “Let’s call them the bad guys.

“They would wreak havoc if they got into our world. I can watch without them noticing. I look for other things too.”

Ainsley stuffed the cash in her purse and pulled out her receipt book. Too bad Harvey was odd, she thought as she filled out the slip of paper. Still she would like someone to celebrate selling all her paintings. His comments about portals and other dimensions had raised a lot of questions.

“Would you please keep my card handy?” he said. “Someday you’ll paint another portal and we’ll pay well for it. Don’t worry. It won’t be for a while. It’d be a shame to interrupt your landscapes.”

She held out her hand. “Would you like to go for a coffee?”

“I prefer tea.”

She loaded her notes and promotional material into her bag and took a step toward the entrance.

“If I carry the painting unwrapped, people will see what you did in it,” Harvey said. “If you would take it to where they wrap it in brown paper, I can carry it from there. Even if I trigger the portal, no one will see it.”

Once they were outside the building, Harvey pulled out his phone and typed in a number. He did not identify himself to whoever answered. “Portal secured. Works better than expected. Discussing acquisition of additional ones.”

After stowing the painting in his SUV, he stepped away and locked the vehicle with the obligatory squawk. He typed a second code. “That ensures a nasty surprise for anyone who attempts to break into it.” They walked to the coffee shop.

Harvey remembered every detail about her that was in the Brush Strokes article. She selected a table on the patio where they could chat without being overheard. She waited until they were seated before questioning him.

“I’m both an electrical and computer software engineer,” he explained. “One of my pals took astro-physics and became intrigued in the research into other or parallel dimensions to ours. He roped me into helping him understand the physics of parallel dimensions and I was hooked. While I’m busy enough as an engineer, some of my assignments have led me deeper into the concept. But until now, our ability to see into them was limited to technology that isn’t anywhere effective as your portal.”

“Do you have other portals?”

“Yours is the first and when you’re ready, we need more. Money is no object for the people I work with.”

“Could we just make copies of that picture; the process is fairly inexpensive these days.”

“My understanding is that only original paintings work.”

“If I painted the same scene from scratch?”

Harvey shook his head. “I doubt it.”

“I wish I could remember what was going on in my head when I painted it. Any idea on what kind of scenes would work.”

“I’ve been wondering about that. I don’t know what’s in The Window that enables me to see other dimensions.”

“Ponds have been used in literature to enable people to see what’s happening elsewhere.”

“That might work if there is a sense of depth to the water or something mysterious hinted at in its depths. Perhaps a shadow.”

Ainsley pulled out her tablet. “I’ve copies of all my paintings on this. Maybe one will give you some ideas.” She passed the tablet to him. “You’ve a lot of security on your vehicle.”

“The bad guys have agents in this dimension and they try to disrupt our efforts to monitor their bosses. They’ll be a threat to you and we’ll provide you with special security. I’ll bring it to your place once it’s fully programed. I’ll show you how to expand its capabilities and knowledge of what you do. It does ask a lot of questions.”

“Will it follow me around?”

“No because it’ll be too obvious and attract a lot of attention. It’ll monitor your whereabouts when you’re at work or out. It should also be able to determine whether what you’re working on has the potential to be a portal.”

Chapter 1 of Ultimate Wizard for your enjoyment…

Here’s Chapter 1 of Ultimate Wizard for your enjoyment. Aim to have the story out this fall.

Party Crashers

Stuart Watson slipped into the last open seat at the bar in the Big Wheel Tavern and plunked down a dog-eared notebook. Waving to the bartender, he called, “One draft.”

He had printed and underlined INEXPLICABLE EVENTS at the top of an empty page before his beer arrived.

Ten minutes and three full pages of notes later, all in point form phrases, Stuart sipped the beer. “Folks usually come here to relax, not work,” the bartender said.

Stuart did not bother to see who along the bar laughed. He needed to compile a list on paper of the far too many bizarre occurrences in his life. The only place to write in his apartment was at the kitchen table. Moving the stacks of equipment manuals and engineering books covering it would just create more work later. A visit to the Big Wheel Tavern seemed like the best alternative. The noisy environment would not distract him.

Now that he had written down all the times during the last two weeks that he had analyzed breakdowns in machines and fixed them in ways he had not thought of before, he would search for a pattern in his new skills.

Stuart had parlayed degrees in mechanical engineering and information technology into a thriving business servicing and repairing large manufacturing machines and computer systems in the U.S. Northeast and Eastern Canada. Until the insights started, he relied on careful analysis of the operation of the equipment. Now his eyes zeroed in on trouble spots as if something wanted him to find them.

As he took a sip of beer, he noticed flickering images on a small television sitting amid liquor bottles on a shelf behind the bar. It showed people fleeing raging floodwaters. Before he could return to his notes, the newscast jumped to a volcano spewing an immense cloud of ash.

The inexplicable occurrences started two weeks earlier on the day a massive earthquake devastated a large swath of central China. This disaster came after a summer of droughts, heat waves, volcanic eruptions and massive storms around the globe, which had killed millions and driven many more from their homes. Some speculated the death toll was close to one billion.

The evening of the quake, Stuart returned to his one-bedroom apartment after a long workday. When he thought about watching his favorite comedy, the television turned on immediately and flashed through the channels to the show. As soon as he thought the sound would disturb his neighbors, the volume muted.

Stunned by what happened, he imagined the TV off and it shut down. Then he turned it back on without touching the controller or TV. He turned his radio on and off the same way. He spent the rest of the evening thinking about how he could have done that.

Since then, his ability to control machines and computer technology blossomed. He feared a connection existed between the almost daily disasters and his expanding array of talents. It’s not a rational idea and I can’t explain it but I fear there’s a link. And why wasn’t I affected by all the disasters before then. He did not write down these thoughts out of concern about who might see his notes.

The television behind the bar showed a city in ruins. Earlier in the day, the news broadcast on the radio in his truck reported a cyclone had struck southern India.

Stuart ignored the commentators who droned on about the world being under attack by aliens or suffering God’s retribution for all sorts of sins. The babblers would grasp at any excuse, no matter how absurd, to avoid acknowledging that climate change had triggered some of the calamities such as a killer heat wave that had blanketed North America all summer. Even the approach of fall had not lessened its intensity.

“Another beer?” The bartender pointed in his direction.

Stuart nodded and pulled his attention away from the TV while waiting for the refill. He glanced at his notes hoping they would provide answers before his new abilities drove him insane, if he was not already.

The entry at the top of the second page referred to the first time he saw through the steel cover of a machine. He had responded to an urgent call from Agra-Innovations, which produced industrial chemicals from plants. Repeated attempts to repair a seized extractor had failed.

As the factory foreman led him to the shutdown extractor, Stuart almost stumbled in surprise when he could see its interior mechanisms as if the machine’s cover had become transparent. Within seconds, he spotted the breakdown in the ingredient feeder mechanism.

Looking at the extractors on either side of the broken machine, Stuart found their feeder mechanisms needed realignment before they gave out. While it took most of the day to repair them, the company offered a bonus for not having the machines out of service for a week or more.

He was so puzzled by the event that he forgot to write in his notes about how seeing through the covers that protected workers from all the moving parts in the machines made him dizzy.

Next on his puzzling events list was an emergency request from Little Manufacturing. His thoughts traced sporadic shutdowns in the company’s metal presses to a virus in its main computer. Focusing his mind, he locked on the bug in the programming and squeezed it out of existence. He rebooted the computer and the presses rumbled back into full operation. Once again the experience had left him feeling shaky.

He sipped more beer while adding details to his notes. Perhaps he was delusional. Maybe he had imagined all these events. Yet his flush bank account was no illusion.

When he started down the last page of notes, it struck him how much his abilities had expanded during the last few days. He could project his thoughts throughout an office or factory searching for mechanical or technology problems.

I’m not crazy. Something is happening to me. There has to be an answer. All the events involve technology. What about people? He closed his eyes and let his mind survey the tavern’s customers. While faint at first, his head filled with frightened and angry thoughts. He gripped the edge of the bar to steady himself.

“Everything costs so much these days,” one woman whined at a table on the other side of the tavern. “Won’t be a lot of nights out like this.”

While Stuart felt like a voyeur, he wanted to test this new ability further.

“Hard to believe we’re almost at the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” a middle-aged man said at another table. “This bloody heat is more deadly than the terrorists.”

“Don’t see any single women anywhere,” said a man sitting with his buddies close to the small stage where the band would play later.

Stuart eavesdropped at a few more tables before checking the dozen people sitting or standing at the bar. Other than an argument about a recent baseball trade, the chatter about the disasters continued until two seats away from him. He could sense nothing about the person sitting there, not even breathing. The man between them muttered about the sports highlights on the TV.

Stuart opened his eyes and leaned backward for a glimpse at the mystery person. A woman with glasses and long brown hair glared at him before looking away. Even with her indignant stare, she was attractive.

He sipped his drink and peeked in her direction again before adding two items to his list–‘can tune into conversations beyond my hearing range’ and ‘there’s a woman who can block that ability.’ He put an exclamation mark beside this line.

He took another sip of beer to cover a glance at the woman just as she dropped her gaze. There was something familiar about her.

Unlike his other abilities, eavesdropping was not automatic. He needed to think about engaging it before it took effect. He wrote a note about that in his book and underlined it numerous times. This must be significant.

Someone bellowed for music. The restless patrons wanted to party. By the boisterous hubbub, the crowd was already well lubricated. The bartender flipped on the stage lights. The band would appear shortly.

When Stuart looked again at the woman, she shifted her gaze to the TV. He racked his brain for something to say to her while hoping the Backcountry Boys played tunes she would dance to. Can I ask her to explain how she blocked me? Yeah that will sound really normal. Get your mind off her. Figure out the meaning of the events on the list.

Stuart added a note about factory visit yesterday where he realigned the links on a control bar in a packaging machine so it ran without straining any components. He moved them and tightened several control points with his thoughts–no grease-stained hands.

He broke off the memories for another drink and glance at the woman. Once again, her head was just turning away, but that was not what caught his attention. An old man stepped unsteadily toward him. He had long, stringy white hair and wore a tweed suit that made him overdressed for the tavern and the heat.

No one else appeared to notice him, which could have been because he was the height of most people sitting down. When he reached Stuart, he removed his fedora with a sweep of his arm and made a perfunctory bow. Then, breathing deeply, he struggled to straighten his shirt, jacket and lopsided bow tie.

“Good evening, Stuart Watson. Pardon the intrusion. My name is Byron. A villain with murderous intentions pursues me, and only you can put a stop to him.” The old man spoke with a pronounced British accent.

Stuart stammered, “How do you know my name?”

Byron peered over his shoulder. Another diminutive man suddenly materialized in the middle of the tavern shuffling around tables toward them. He looked equally ancient, his face a web of deep wrinkles and liver spots. His white hair stuck out in every direction. Red faced from exertion, he puffed loudly. Although his scarlet jacket, blue shirt and orange pants gave him a circus clown look, no one seemed to notice him.

Stuart rubbed his eyes. The old guys did not vanish. While he had barely tasted his second beer, he was seeing things. Stuart reached for his notes, intending to call it a night.

Before he could leave his seat, Byron slipped in behind him and pointed at the newcomer. “Vince wants to kill me. You can gain me time.”

The newcomer yelled a nasty-sounding string of words, none of which Stuart recognized, and flailed his arms. Hearing a gasp, Stuart glanced in its direction. The woman who had blocked his probing stared open-mouthed at Vince. Everyone else carried on as if the old men did not exist.

Before Stuart could say anything to her, a sudden intense itching washed over him. Squirming in his seat, he clenched his fists to resist scratching.

The stranger continued to yell and flap his arms. “Vince is causing your discomfort,” Byron snapped. “He’ll kill you too if you don’t stop him.”

Stuart’s skin itched worse than any rash or bug bites he had ever experienced. As he shot to his feet, rubbing his arms to ease the agony, he noticed the woman looking at him with a puzzled expression.

“Am I supposed to attack him Byron?”

“It’s the only way.”

“Get out of here or else,” Stuart snapped. While his anger boiled over at Vince’s unintelligible although clearly dismissive shouts, no one in the tavern paid any attention. Can’t they hear him?

Then a deep but soft Voice told him to strike back before being struck with another wave of intense itchiness. He stepped toward Vince and hit him with a sidekick he had practiced many times in Tae Kwan Do training. Vince toppled to the floor. The burning itch vanished.

Stuart felt an inner glow when he should be upset for striking an old man. He looked up when the crowd cheered, but it was for the Backcountry Boys arriving on stage. The Voice returned. They didn’t see you kick Vince.

He knelt beside the unmoving figure to check for a pulse. He jumped back when Vince’s clothes and body turned to dust. His heart racing, Stuart grabbed a chair for support. The dust settled on the floor, and then faded away as if gathered up by an invisible vacuum cleaner.

“You weren’t so tough after all, Vince.” Byron wiped his hands on his jacket, and then tugged Stuart’s arm. “While I can explain this, it’ll take a while.”

The woman stepped in their direction while glancing between them and the spot where Vince had fallen. Everyone else danced or sang along with the band.

“I gotta split.” Stuart grabbed his notes, threw money on the bar and bolted for the door. Yanking it open, he staggered into an enveloping wave of heat and a torrent of flashing red and blue lights on police cars and ambulances. He halted so quickly that Byron bumped into him.

Before he could ask why he was following him, Byron said, “They’re not here for us.” He sounded utterly certain as he seized Stuart’s arm. With the touch, Stuart was enveloped in cool air.

Byron steered him past cops and paramedics rushing toward the back of the parking lot. Stuart walked quickly to keep pace with Byron, whose easy gait contrasted to the stiff-legged shuffle of most old men. They headed in the direction of Stuart’s apartment although he had not said where he lived.

“Oops.” Byron halted abruptly, and then stepped away. The heat immediately accosted Stuart. The old guy is a walking air conditioner.

Strolling casually back toward the tavern, Byron picked up a gym bag that suddenly materialized beside a utility pole.

Radios crackled in the ambulances and squad cars. The waves of their emergency lights and the repeated flash of a camera cast an eerie glow over the parking lot. A policeman strung out yellow crime scene tape while others searched the parking lot with flashlights. They showed no discernible interest in him or Byron. They don’t see you, the Voice said.

Puffing, Byron returned and the cooler air embraced Stuart again.

“I left the bag at that post because I didn’t wish to bring it into the tavern,” Byron said. “It was awkward to carry with Vince pursuing me. I rendered it invisible to normal eyes. You’re a strong young man.”

The bag was so heavy Stuart nearly dropped it. No wonder Byron was short of breath when he arrived in the tavern.

The old man lowered his voice. “The constabulary has a mystery on its hands–why five men are dead in those two vehicles.” He pointed to the back of the parking lot. “They’ll find narcotics, but not the money to pay for them.” He patted the gym bag. “Our need is greater, and no one will miss those criminals.”

“You killed them?” Stuart shook his head in disbelief.

“I stopped their hearts beating. I would’ve reduced the bodies of the drug dealers and the narcotics to dust if Vince hadn’t caught up to me. Their deaths were quick, certainly more merciful than what they’ve done to their victims.”

“For the money?”

“Yes, we’ll need it,” Byron said in a nonchalant tone.

“We! What for?” Stuart looked around, fearing the police heard his raised voice.

“I’ll tell you when we reach your residence.”

Stuart hesitated as Byron walked away taking the cool air with him. Should I have anything to do with this old guy? Maybe he’s a serial killer. Bodies don’t fade away as Vince’s had.

“You’re perfectly safe with me,” Byron called back to him. “I’ve spent a long time looking for you. Believe me, the last thing I would do is kill you. Or let anyone else hurt you.”

He’s reading my thoughts. When Stuart’s apprehension grew, the Voice whispered. Hear what he has to say. He picked you to defend him. Find out why he searched for you.

Stuart considered adding Byron’s appearance and the Voice to his list of inexplicable events. He felt no sympathy for the dead drug dealers and doubted Vince was a loss to humanity. Yet to kill them and be untroubled!

With the bag’s carrying strap settled on his shoulder, Stuart headed for his apartment. Byron kept looking behind them. “Someone following us?”

“When you have been pursued by assassins, you learn to be vigilant all the time,” Byron said.

As much as Stuart doubted a gang of killers was searching for Byron, he peered at parked cars and alleyways in case other badly-dressed oldies suddenly leapt out. “You think there are more? You must’ve really angered someone.”

Byron nodded. “Vince probably tried to kill me by himself so he could gain all the credit. The others will work as a team.”