A Step Ahead (from a WIP)

William Benson, a United States Sailor, learns he can travel short distances into the future.

“Ice Valley,” William said. “From Metroid Prime.”

He crossed his legs. He and Mario — CTT1 Mario, a newly minted Petty Officer First Class — were listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on William’s iHome speakers.

“Everyone draws inspiration from the classics,” Mario said. “There’s nothing new under the sun. All music can be sourced to like four fucking songs.”

“We don’t know about ancient music.”

“Yeah we do. Go on YouTube.”

“Those are reconstructions.” William ought to know. In grad school, his thesis advisor had produced a reworking of Babylonian music. Here’s what I think it sounds like . . . and a man with a PhD in music, one of the lucky few to have tenure, had spent five years working on it, years William could compact into minutes.

“Well obviously they can’t hop in the DeLorean and — what?”

“Your age is showing.”

“My age? How old are you again, thirty?”

“Twenty-nine.” And William had joined the Navy at twenty-seven, after dropping out of the Master’s program in Music. Years spent toiling under old men who constantly told him “it gets better” with the sincerity of a late-night pitchman. Except it never did. Those years William hadn’t been able to speed up, and even if he could have, what would he have sped them up to? This? Waiting on a floating dumpster for the poor lower ranks to finish off-loading trash while the squadron assholes just sat around?

“Rough Riders this is the CMC,” came the voice over the 1MC. “We still have a lot of trash. If you’re just sitting there in the hangar bay, waiting for liberty call, we’d appreciate it if you’d help out. No one’s getting off this ship, repeat, no one’s getting off this ship until we get all the trash off, so I need everyone’s help. CMC out.”

William got up.

“Oh? Going to help out?”

He shrugged. “You know me. Super Sailor.”

William climbed the ladderwell to the next deck. The head was separate from the berthing, beside a hatch leading to the forward mess decks, and it had a lock. The combo used to be secret. None of the deck apes the Navy had rescued from the welfare line could go in and trash their head. Then one day the CMC decided that all head combos must be 1-2-3-4 because he didn’t believe in locked heads. Since then . . .

William put in the not-so-secret combo and went inside, bracing himself for the worst. William had come in here before to find all three stalls taken. He’d come in here and smelled smells not meant for human nostrils, smells to wilt your nose hairs, all because the CMC did not believe in locked heads.

It was one of the few policies he could create himself — usually he just enforced whatever the CO and the omnipresent Big Navy said — so the CMC was sticking to his guns. William understood. He didn’t hold it against the man.

William went into the last stall. He locked it, keeping an eye on the iron angle. One morning he’d banged his head on the edge, and the pain had lasted all day. When designing this ship, human comfort had come second to how much shit they could squeeze into one space, and God help you if you were tall.

William sat on the toilet, pants on. He clasped his hands, lowered his head and closed his eyes.

What a trick to learn, what a gift to have. If he’d known this earlier, how much tedium he could have saved in boot camp. He’d discovered his gift in A-school, and when the asshole in charge of barracks room inspections failed half the students over petty bullshit, it took no time at all for William to finish his extra cleaning duties. Clean for five minutes, then go sit somewhere alone.


William concentrated. He felt slightly buzzed when he did this. He didn’t open his eyes — that would ruin everything. He was moving through a tunnel, and he heard nothing. The world quietly awaited his return.

William stopped moving. He opened his eyes and checked his watch. He’d sent himself ahead two hours. Was that enough? He went down to the berthing.

Everyone was gone but Mario.

“Figured you’d be out too.”

“They called E5’s?”

“Yeah, but I got duty tomorrow, so . . . ” He raised his middle finger up and down.

William nodded. “It’s alright. My speakers can keep you company.”

Book Passage of the Week (4/16/2015) – from Requiem for a Dream, by Hubert Selby Jr.

Like Atonement, it helps if you’ve seen the movie…though the book Requiem for a Dream is far better than Atonement.

The writing style? Let’s say it might take some getting used to. It’s also brilliant. I haven’t read Hubert Selby Jr.’s other books, so I’m not sure if this is his regular style, but it works great in Requiem for a Dream:

They looked at Marions sketches of the coffee house they were going to open, but with diminishing frequency and enthusiasm. Somehow there just didnt seem to be time for it though they spent a lot of time just lying around and not doing much of anything in particular and making vague plans for the future and enjoying the feeling that everything would always be alright, just like it was now.




Quick Book Review – The Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff Vandermeer

Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives while from the dim lit halls of other places forms that never were and never could be writhe for the impatience of the few who never saw what could have been.

Annihilation — creepy, well-written sci-fi/horror. A lot of questions raised.

Authority — boring, still well-written. Switches the setting from Area X to the Southern Reach, the organization looking over Area X. Raises more questions.

Acceptance — overly written, goes nowhere, answers nothing.

Read the first, skip the other two. There is no reason to read the next two books, especially if you think a trilogy might tell a complete story.

Death & 1997

I had two family members die when I was growing up. The first was my grandfather. We’d quit going to see him after moving from Virginia Beach to TN. He died from diabetes. No one told me until after the funeral.

My mother and uncle attended the funeral. My uncle said, “I’m glad he’s gone.”

My mother told him he shouldn’t say that. But, my uncle had a right to feel that way. Death is not always tragic, and if someone treated you like shit, what is the point in pretending?


My great-grandfather died in 1997, when I was eleven. He was 68.

His death was more real to me than my grandfather’s. For one thing, I was older. We’d also spent more time together. A child thinks everyone is built to last forever. You’re going to grow up and you’re eager as hell to put on your big boy pants, but it’s all so far away it’s as much a fantasy as the playground games you play with your friends. Your great-grandparents are old, your grandparents are old and even though your mom might not be thirty yet, that’s fine. She’s old too and you’re just hitting puberty.

My great-grandfather stayed in a Catholic hospital in Cape Girardeau, IL. We spent a week in a hotel, commuting from the hotel room to the hospital waiting area where my family chatted and debated on whether to move him while I read Shadows of the Empire, sadly not the straight adaptation of the game I was hoping for. All of us were there: me, my sister, my mother and her husband at the time. My grandmother and her three younger siblings too.

We came home on a Tuesday. Saturday we heard the news: he’d passed. In between, I never saw him in his room. At first we weren’t going to; us kids weren’t supposed to see him like that. Finally, right before we left, my grandmother decided to take us in there. I declined.

But I did see him. I was on my way back from the snack machines. Nurses were rushing a man on a stretcher to the elevator. He needed an operation. I thought, That old man looks really sick.


A lot changed in 1997. I began the year by almost dying, thanks to a misdiagnosis. A doctor looked at the blooming rash on my stomach, ignored the urine test results and told my mom that I had stomach flu. Drink some Gatorade.

I puked stomach bile the next day.

My great-grandfather died in June, 1997. I went to band camp in August, where a friend of mine almost died from heatstroke. My mother took him to the ER. She saved his life.

His parents didn’t care.

Our band teacher didn’t care either.


I started junior high in September, which was a big transition because you were leaving East Robertson Elementary and moving to The High School, grades 7 – 12. They’d ask me, Are you ready to go to The High School? and I never knew how to answer the question. A lot changed there too.

The last time I saw my great-grandfather was on a hospital stretcher, being rushed to surgery. But my last memory of him was our first visit after my own surgery. He had called and talked to me when I was in the hospital, and my last memory of him is hugging him bye, hearing him tell me he’s glad I’m okay and seeing him and my great-grandmother wave to us as we drove away.

It’s my last memory of them.

Recent Interviews

I’ve been featured on a couple author blogs this past month. First up is Tim Gurung, author of Old Men Don’t Cry: A Hong Kong Tale of Sorrow:

But I doubt e-books will ever replace physical books. There’s something satisfying of not only holding a physical book in your hands but having a full bookshelf in your house.

Check out the rest here.

Also, Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong has featured me as her Author of the Month for April, 2016!

Someone once told me that no one would read my book unless they’d lived in China.

That’s absurd. It’s like saying that nobody would read A Confederacy of Dunces unless they’d lived in 1960s New Orleans.

Read the rest here.

Big thanks to these great writers for interviewing me. If you’re a writer and you’d like me to interview you, get in touch! You can check out all the interviews I’ve conducted so far here.