(Short) Story Time (Again!)

Welcome back all. 

Looks like it’s short story time again. 

Before you get too excited for a second installment of Captain Van Zandt, I’ll be straight up with you: I’ve got some stuff in mind, but she’s not quite yet ready for her second act.

But don’t you worry. She will be. You can’t keep a good Marine down.  

In the meantime, I’ve got something a little different. 

This one’s called Spoons. It’s about an aging gunslinger, wrongs that require righting, and the need for vengeance against a dark and powerful enemy. This story was originally published as part of a cool anthology called Scribes of Nyota: Mystics.  

Lots of great authors in the anthology, including the likes of J.C. Cannon, Michelle Moses, Nicole Givens-Curtis, and Maurice Williams. You can get a copy of that anthology here, if you’re interested. 

I’m sharing this in conjunction with my June 4th newsletter (Ok. Pause-you know the drill. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter for some reason, please do so now. Just click on the handy link to the right 😉). I wanted to mention the short story in my newsletter (then share here in its entirety) because the blog format allows me to be a little more expansive than what I can include in an email.

This is a fairly fast read-it weighs in at about twelve pages or so. As with last time I had a short story, I’ve added a few images in here to augment the experience. I’ve also credited those images where I could find the creator.

When you’re done reading the story, I’d love it if you would let me know what you thought of it. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: good feedback from sharp, savvy readers is eternally welcome.

Okay. Enough preamble.

Now, without further ado, I present to you. . .

Spoons

The gunslinger smelled the campfire smoke before he rounded the bend. A ranch hand lounged near the fire, poking it with a stick. He barely turned when the gunslinger rode up.

“Evenin’ young pard,” the gunslinger said. “Mind if I share your campfire?”

“Sure thing old timer.” The kid on the ground shrugged. “Help yourself. It's a free country now.” He did a bad job of hiding the hunger in his eyes.

The gunslinger patted his horse’s withers and dismounted with a groan and a creaking of joints. He tethered the stallion to a tree and pulled his saddle. The gunslinger took a look around, noticed the ranch hand didn’t have a horse. 

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Image courtesy of Pinterest


The old man took coffee, dried beef, and bread from his saddle bag, put it all on to cook, then rested his bones on a log near the fire. He offered to share, but the young ranch hand declined.

“Suit yourself,” the gunslinger said. He stirred the coffee and leaned back, enjoying the aroma.

“Mmm-hmmm!” the gunslinger said. “Nothin’ like a good cup of fresh-brewed.” He gazed up at the sky-night was only a little ways off.

Image courtesy of 3DRose

Image courtesy of 3DRose


“No offense old-timer,” the ranch hand said.

“About what, young pard?”

“What I said about it bein’ a free country and all.” He glanced at the gunslinger’s hand-as brown and weathered as the roasted coffee beans he’d brewed his drink from. 

The gunslinger smiled.“None taken.” He held his tin cup aloft in a toast. “It is a free country. And here’s to it.” He took a sip.

The sat together in silence for a while. Finally the gunslinger spoke up.

“Looks like it’ll be a long evening.”

“Looks like,” the ranch hand replied, sounding disinterested.

“Been on the trail for some days now,” the gunslinger said, unbidden. “Ain’t spoke to a soul the whole time. I find I’m in a talking mood. How’s about a story?”

The ranch hand laughed. “Sure, old timer. Why the hell not?”

The gunslinger smiled. “I do love me a good yarn. And I know a fine one. Goes something like this:

Some years back, a soldier figured he’d had enough of killin’. So he used the last of his wages from the war and bought a plot to settle on.

Artist: Kate Rhoads

Artist: Kate Rhoads

“You mean the War of Northern Aggression?” the ranch hand asked. “What side did this here soldier in the story fight on?”

The gunslinger shook his head. “Now there you go-asking questions. I ain’t even hardly started my yarn. Don’t matter what side he fought on. That ain’t important.” Properly scolded, the ranch hand grew quiet. “Now listen:

This soldier, call him ‘John’ if you like, finds himself a wife and marries. He hangs his six-gun above the fireplace, never to use it no more. They have a daughter. Live a good, God-fearing life, working the land and raising their child together. Long about seven years later, a travelin’ preacher comes to town. Being the salt-of-the-earth folks they were, they attended his noon revival.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Now this preacher-he didn’t need no tent. Nor a stage. Not even seats. All he needed was the old mule he rode in on and his voice. Oh, what a powerful voice! That preacher preached a mighty sermon, all thunder from on high and fire and damnation below, unlike anything they’d heard before. When the sermon ended, John and his wife waited long to speak with the traveling preacher. The preacher had many offers of a meal at local homesteads, but it was John and his wife’s offer he accepted.

“I’ll see y’all around six,” the preacher said. “And if the Lord sees fit, I’ll pass supper with you all.”

John and his wife went home to prepare. Their excitement at hosting the preacher for supper grew with each clop of the hoof and creak of the wagon wheel, as did that of their little girl. She had no concept of why-but the excitement of her ma and pa was catchin.'

“Think how the neighbors will look on!” his wife said. He hadn’t seen her beaming like that since their wedding day.

The hours passed and the evening came. The preacher arrived, just as he’d promised. John’s wife outdid herself and put on a table fit for a king. But just before they said grace the preacher took ill, sweating and carrying on a fever. Just as the sun was setting, he excused himself to the outhouse. He’d been gone some time before they began to worry.

“Shouldn’t you go check on him?” John’s wife asked.

John got up from the table, looking out the window and seeing the moon had risen fat and full.

He’d gone two steps when the beast came in. It burst through the front door, rending it to splinters. Its claws tore open John’s side before it tossed him through a window. John banged his head on a rock and knew no more.

When John woke the moon was gone, as was the beast. John drug himself inside what was left of his home. He collapsed when he saw them-wife ripped to pieces, daughter half-eaten. John’s soul died with them that night. But his body pressed on. He bound his wounds and buried what was left of his wife and child. Then he took his six-gun down off the wall and rode away, leaving the ranch house and his old life in flames behind him. 

The young ranch hand smirked at the gunslinger. “That’s a powerful bad story, old timer.”

The gunslinger nodded. “That it is,” he said, then held his peace for a time. His horse whinnied and shuffled behind him. The shadows lengthened as the sun dipped below the treetops.

“Well old man,” the ranch hand began, “ain’t you gonna finish the tale?” He pointed at the darkening forest. “Day’s almost gone.”

The gunslinger smiled. “You in some sort of hurry?” The ranch hand didn’t reply, just grinned hungrily.

Image courtesy of Shonna White

Image courtesy of Shonna White

The gunslinger nodded. “Ok young pard-I’ll finish it up, sure. If you’re willing to hear the end that is?”

The ranch hand indicated he was. The gunslinger continued.

John weren’t no fool-he'd found no remains of the preacher around his shattered homestead. Whatever slayed his wife an' child had, for some reason, left that preacher be. So he started his search for vengeance with the man of God. When he got to the revival site he found it abandoned. John tracked the preacher for two years, each time just missing him, each time hearing of a person or a whole family gone missing. Finally, the third year, John caught up to him.

It was outside of Tulsa, far from where John and his wife had made their home. A Sunday afternoon revival. John stood in the back, his hat low over his face. He waited for the meeting to finish, waited for the preacher to get his invites to dinner, waited for everyone else to leave. The sun hung low in the sky, but at last it was just John, the preacher, and the mule.

John walked up to him. “That was some sermon, preacher.”

“Thank you brother,” the preacher said, already moving toward his mule. ”But if you’ll excuse me, I have to be going.”

John pulled a hassock from his saddlebag. The holy man never even saw the blow coming. 

A few minutes later, the preacher woke with start. His eyes went wild, moving left to right, frantic, like a caged animal. “You best let me loose friend,” he said as soon as his senses returned. The sun had just set. The moon, promising full, had not yet risen.

“Don’t remember me, do you?” John asked. The preacher’s face screwed up in confusion. “I thought not,” John said. He took off his hat and leaned in close. “How ‘bout now?”

The preacher laughed. “The soldier-turned-farmer. From Kansas, if I recall.” He shook his head. “You’re the first one’s ever found me.”

“How many have there been?”

The preacher sighed. “Too many to count. Speaking of. . .how’s the wife and daughter?”

John’s fist struck before John could think. A welt rose up on the preacher’s face.

The preacher looked up at the sky and grinned. “You’re going to regret that in a few minutes.”

Soon the moon rose, fat and white. The preacher’s skin began to crawl. Like snakes beneath his skin, the preacher's flesh contorted and twisted. John stood up and backed away.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” the preacher growled, in a demon's voice that was not his own. “For the unwholesome acts I performed on your wife and child. The beast made me do it. I’m tied to it, you see.” The preacher laughed. The laugh became a howl.

The moon rose over the aging gunslinger and the ranch hand. The ranch hand fell back and began to convulse. The gunslinger poked at the fire, staring into the flames, not making a move to help the boy. The ranch hand shook and seized. His flesh began to crawl. The gunslinger checked his pocket watch.

“That's one helluva story old timer," the young man said in a demon's voice that was not his own. He laughed, the sound an unholy mixture of mirth and primal growl. “Shame you’ll never get to finish it.”

The ranch hand’s body contorted, limbs spreading and twisting, hair sprouting. His face melted into a long snout, teeth lengthening to gnarled, razor-sharp points. His eyes remained the same, but now glowed bright ocher-yellow in the firelight.

Image courtesy of Wattpad

Image courtesy of Wattpad

The gunslinger stood, brushing dust and twigs from his pants. “That is a shame. 'Specially since I never even got to tell ya’ the best part.”

The gunslinger picked up his saddle bag and dumped out its contents. A river of polished spoons came rushing out, sparkling and tinkling as they collided with one another in the moonlight.

Image courtesy of Photo.net

Image courtesy of Photo.net

The beast, now fully formed, stood on long hind legs, casting a shadow from the fire behind it. The creature towered above the slim, stooped figure of the gunslinger. It laughed. The sound, echoing through the woods, was terrible to hear.

"I’ve seen people pray, beg, even offer me their fortunes not to rip them limb from limb. I seen some strange ways of resisting in my day, old timer. But spoons?”

The old gunslinger shook his head. The young ones always had to try him. He understood, to a degree. He’d been young once, too. The gunslinger shed his pistol and loaded three rounds into it, calm as Sunday dinner.

"The hell you think you're gon’ do with that?” the beast asked. “You think that’s the first working end of a pistol I ever seen?”

The gunslinger said nothing. He loaded the last three rounds into the chamber, moonlight glinting off the bullets.

 “You really think a six-gun can kill the likes of me?” the beast roared. “I’m a damned god, old man!” It laughed again. “You might a’ had better luck had you tried with them spoons."

The snarling ranch hand-turned-beast lunged for the gunslinger’s throat. The gunslinger fired.

The beast let out a surprised yip. Two more shots from the gunslinger’s Colt put the monster on the ground.

The beast’s fangs retracted. Its limbs shrunk. The coarse hair on its body disappeared. Soon, all that was left was the naked ranch hand, bleeding and panting, his eyes glowing bright yellow.

The gunslinger holstered his Colt. "Well young pard. . .you reckon you’re ready for me to finish that story now?”

The holy man, now covered in fur as black as the suit he’d preached in, came at John. John, younger and faster on the draw then, shed his six-gun and emptied it before the thing could blink. It screamed an all-too-human scream and fell. Its body shrunk, until there was just the preacher’s sunken chest over a pot belly full of bullets and a shriveled dick.

The preacher lay on his side in a spreading pool of blood. “H-how?” he managed.

John spat. “I tracked you for three years, preacher. For what you did to my wife and daughter.” He shrugged. “Had to make some kinda livin’ along the way, so I took a bounty here and there. Just so happens an old Creole woman hired me on. I made good on her bounty, and as part of my payment she shared a secret with me. She taught me how to kill your kind.”

“P-please,” the preacher begged. He reached out a hand. “Help me.” He coughed, and blood sprayed the dirt. The preacher shook his head. “Weren’t me. The beast made me do it.”

John drew a silver-edged knife. “So you mentioned before,” he said. “But you could a’ stopped it. You could a’ done the honorable thing.” Then John leaned down, slit the preacher’s throat, and ended it.  

The gunslinger holstered his pistol. He drew a silver-edged knife and went to kneel next to the ranch hand, naked and dying on the ground.

“P-please,” the ranch hand begged. “Was the monster what done it! Like the preacher in your story said-I’m tied to it! Help me?”

“There’s a beast in us all, boy,” the gunslinger said. “Just can’t let it have its way. I knew it then, when I finished that preacher all these years past. And I reaffirmed it with every one a’ you hell-spawned sons a’ bitches I’ve put down since. Naw son-you had a choice. You could a’ done the honorable thing.”

“Please,” the ranch hand pleaded.

“Weren’t the spoons you needed to worry on,” John said, easing the knife across the young man’s throat. “Was the silver they’re made of should a’ concerned you.”

End

(Short) Story Time

In my April 9th newsletter (Wait-you do subscribe to my newsletter, right? If you don’t, you can do so by clicking on the handy link to the right), I mentioned that one of the animated shorts featured as part of the Netflix show Love Death + Robots shared some similarities with an unpublished short story I wrote.

In that newsletter, I asked if anyone was interested in reading my short story.

Well, I very quickly received enough responses that I figured it warranted posting the thing.

This is a fast read-only about nine pages or so. I’ve even added a few images in here, in order to enhance and spice up the experience. I’ve also credited those images where I could find the creator, even though this is not for any sort of monetary gain. It’s just a free short story, for you to read and enjoy.

When you’re done, I’d love it if you would let me know what you think. As always, good feedback from sharp, savvy readers is continually welcome. I don’t believe in writing in a bubble, and I firmly feel that genuine critique is a key facet of improvement (not to mention an excellent way to find out what people really enjoy 😊). Your feedback will also be helpful in determining what might come next for this story. . .I mention in my newsletter that I may do more with this character at some point.

She’s a real hard charger, this one.

Now, without further ado, I present to you. . .

Remember Your Training

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Captain Courtney Van Zandt, USMC, gazed through tear-filled eyes as the last of the outpost broke apart. She’d watched in horror, helpless as the Skalian attack vessels blasted away at what for the past four months had served as her home. She screamed herself hoarse as they finished it off, but she refused to give up. The rounds from her pulse rifle were all but useless as she fired at targets well out of range and moving too fast for her to hit.

When there was nothing left to destroy, the Skalians left. They hadn’t even realized she was there.

“Never send your troops to do anything you yourself aren’t willing to do.”

They were the last words she’d spoken to her second in command before suiting up and exiting the hatch. That was before the command center stopped responding. Before she overheard the screams, and the explosions. Before the comms went dead.

Captain Van Zandt believed in the time-honored Marine Corps tradition of leading from the front. Always one to practice what she preached, she volunteered to go out and fix the broken satellite antenna herself rather than have one of her troops do it. The antennae array sat on a meteorite 500 meters from the outpost - that far out, it was easy for the Skalian raiders to miss her. The irony wasn’t lost on Van Zandt; being a good leader saved her life, but not the lives of those under her command.

Even if the Skalians had spotted her, what difference would it have made? Would the Marine Captain and her pulse rifle have fared any better than the outpost’s anti-space defenses? She didn’t think so. Had the Skalians seen her, they probably would have just left her to her fate. And why not? She was nothing more than a lone, spaced Marine, floating from a loose tether and moored to an outpost that no longer existed. Her suit would become her tomb.

No! Can’t think like that!

Or could she? Her friends, her comrades, the small contingent of troops who’d been under her command - all dead now. All gone. The Skalians killed them, all the while never even catching sight of her. Now she was alone. Alone in the vast, cold vacuum of space.

Van Zandt fought against the rising panic by focusing on something positive.

Thank God Jason’s deployed on the Huáng Hé.

Image credited to James Grant

Image credited to James Grant

She laughed through her tears. Absurd, taking comfort in the fact her boyfriend was practically at the enemy’s doorstep, assigned to a forward deployed United Nations ship. But at least he wasn’t here.

They’d both been relieved when she got orders to Marine Corps Base Montana, a miniscule outpost near Jupiter’s orbit. She’d be safer closer to the rear, they’d both reasoned. No one suspected the Skalians would attack such an insignificant target.

Ok, Van Zandt. Just remember your training, and you’ll make it through this.

She allowed her mind to return to Camp Mattis, back on Earth’s moon. Back to where they shipped the newly minted 2nd Lieutenants for advanced deep-space training.

“Anyone got an answer for me?” the instructor, a grizzled old Master Gunnery Sergeant, barked. ”How bout’ you, Van Zandt?!”

Image courtesy of the film Starship Troopers

Image courtesy of the film Starship Troopers

“Aye, Master Gunnery Sergeant!” she sounded off as she stood to attention. God, she’d been young then. “Master Gunnery Sergeant - when spaced, the Marine will first activate his or her transponder beacon, setting said beacon to his or her sector’s assigned emergency frequency!”

The Master gunnery Sergeant beamed. “Outstanding, Van Zandt! Take your seat.”

Her mind returning to the present, Van Zandt activated the touch panel on her left forearm. She watched as the screen popped to life, then scrolled through the suit’s options until she found ‘transponder.’ Relief washed over her as the signal began to ping green.

She hoped her relief wasn’t premature. She had no idea if there were any U.N. forces in this sector. Even if there were, they probably had their hands full right now.

Transponder set. Ok Master Guns . . . what do I do next?

Van Zandt’s thoughts drifted back to that day in the classroom.

“Van Zandt got y’all off to one helluva start,” the Master Gunnery Sergeant said. “Now – who can tell me what a spaced Marine does next, after activatin’ their beacon?”

“Here, Master Gunnery Sergeant!” a voice boomed from the back of the class.

It was Jones who’d spoken up. Van Zandt smiled at the memory. Jones had been straight off the farming communes of Nebraska.

Image courtesy of cameronscifiart.devaintart.com

Image courtesy of cameronscifiart.devaintart.com

Well over six feet tall, corn-fed, blonde hair and blue eyes. He was one of the handsomest white boys Courtney had run across since joining the Corps. Always used to tease her about her big-city Detroit accent. Jones died two years after that class, defending colonists on Mars during a Skalian raid. He was gone now, but to her he’d always be that fine 2nd Lieutenant from the Master Gunnery Sergeant’s classroom.

“Ok Jones,” the Master Gunnery Sergeant had said. “Go on and fill the rest of the class in – what’s the second thing a spaced Marine does, after activatin’ his or her beacon?”

“Master Gunnery Sergeant,” Jones said, standing tall and proud, “after the spaced Marine activates the beacon, he or she will take stock and inventory everything they have on hand.”

“Damn right they’ll inventory, son!” The Master Gunnery Sergeant said. “Damn - knew there was a reason they made y’all officers.” The class shared a good laugh at that one.

Van Zandt returned to the present, taking note of what she had to work with.

One Pulse rifle – Van Zandt unlocked the electromagnet which held it across her chest - almost a full charge.

She pulled a pulse pistol from her thigh holster.

One pulse pistol - she checked the light at the bottom of the weapon’s magazine - fully charged. She slid the pistol back into its holster, feeling the click as it locked into place.

Next Van Zandt called up the suit’s diagnostic screen. Anxious, she held her breath. Relief came only when the indicators in her helmet’s heads up display lit green across the board.

Image courtesy of Abode

Image courtesy of Abode

Whew. Ok - one Marine Corps-issued, deep-space combat suit. CO2 filter, air scrubber, and all other systems functional. One day of emergency rations, two days of emergency water. Great. Alright. Transponder activated, inventory complete – what was next, Master Guns?

She willed her mind to return to Earth’s moon, United Nations Moonbase, USMC Camp Mattis, Classroom 3C. The room was chilly, the lights bright white and antiseptic. The entire training center smelled like floor wax.

“Well Marines?” the Master Guns asked. “What’s next? Come on now – not all of you speak up at once.”

Who was it who’d answered? That’s right - it had been Veracruz. How could she forget? She and Veracruz were close - had been since they were bunkmates in Officer Candidate School. Last she’d heard, Veracruz was deployed with 5th Marines, out past Saturn. She prayed her friend was ok. She hadn’t gotten a light cable from Valencia since right before checking in at MCB Montana.

What used to be MCB Montana she corrected herself.

Thinking about the cluster of space debris that only an hour ago had been her home brought on a fresh onslaught of grief. If she didn’t do something, despair wouldn’t be far behind.

Van Zandt thought about Detroit, where she’d grown up. She thought about Sunday dinners, made with love from five-hundred year old recipes created when her ancestors were still enslaved, then passed down through her family for generations.

She thought about her Aunt, who’d raised her after her parents died.

She thought about her first kiss.

She thought about how her family would never meet Jason. How the two of them would never have the kids they’d imagined.

She thought about what her Aunt would do when they delivered the news of her death.

No! she screamed in her mind, afraid to do it aloud for fear of wasting the CO2 filter. You will not give in to this shit, Captain Van Zandt! Remember what the Master Guns said.

“Right on the money, Veracruz!” the memory of the old Master Gunnery Sergeant’s voice was so vivid. It was as if she were back in that classroom, and the old Marine was standing in his customary spot right in front of her desk. “Out of everything you learn here, this might be the most importantest damn thing I teach you. So pay attention! The spaced Marine has to keep their wits about em.’It’s too easy for the mind to start playin’ tricks on ya. Too easy to fall into despair . . . too easy to lose hope, all alone out there in the void. Too easy to start thinkin’ about takin’ the coward’s way out. I seen it happen.”

She remembered the Master Gunnery Sergeant had paused there. The classroom went dead quiet.

A minute passed, then two more, before the Master Guns spoke again. “You gotta have faith, ladies and gents,” the Master Gunnery Sergeant’s voice took on a somber tone. “Faith in your fellow Marines. You gotta think we’ll come find you. No - scratch that. You gotta know we’ll come find you. I mean know it, down to your bones. In all our hunnerts a’ years a’ history, we’ve never left one of our own behind. You can’t start believin’ you’ll be the first. You - you just gotta hold out until we can get to ya.”

Aye, Master Guns, Captain van Zandt thought, her mind returning to the present. Inside the gloves of her spacesuit, her small hands clenched into tight fists. I’ve just gotta hold out. Hold out until they come get me.

End

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Vindication: Clockwerk Thriller Book 3 is Available Now!

Ok. Here it is.

The second ever Obligatory New Release Post!

Vindication, the third book in my Clockwerk Thriller series, is available right now on Amazon.

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This book wraps up the adventures of Colonel Julius Montclair and co. (for now). But fear not-there’s lots more great stories on the horizon.

And if you haven’t read the rest of the Clockwerk Thriller Series? Now is a great time to get on board. Average rating is almost five stars (for the entire series to date). And Stalemate, Book 1 of the series, actually hit Amazon’s #1 spot a couple of weeks ago in not one, not two, not three, but FOUR categories!

High praise, indeed.

If you’re wondering what all the hype is about, just jump on over to the “Books” section of this website and find out for yourself.

Guerrilla Approach-Functional Marksmanship Movements: Carbine Course (A Review)

West Virginia is beautiful country. Lush, green forests. Bare rock faces-the bones of the earth, grey as slate and laid bare. Smoky mountains. Blood red soil. It’s gorgeous.

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It is not, ordinarily speaking, “I want to drive 2.5 hours” gorgeous . . . but it is breathtaking nonetheless.

So how did I find myself here, just over the Virginia border and smack dab in the middle of Nowhere, West Virginia?

Bit of a long story.

It’s been a couple of years since I completed SWAT school (or the Basic Tactical Officer Course, as it’s less commonly known). And it's been even longer since I was an active duty Marine. But even though I’m no longer affiliated with an official organization (law enforcement, military, or otherwise), I try to stay abreast of the latest training theory. I’d seen some stuff Aaron Barruga (of Guerrilla Approach) had put out there at some credible websites, so I thought I’d give his class a shot (no pun intended).

There WAS actually a class right here in Richmond (practically in my back yard), but I somehow missed the deadline for it. (Fun fact-I missed out on being able to take that class by about 1 week-just didn’t see it was available until it was juuust too late to register). But as I bemoaned the way I’d missed that local class, I saw there was one close by.

In West Virginia.

A mere 189-minute drive away!

“Why the hell not?” I figured. Aaron seemed legit. And he had cool videos.

Photo of Aaron Barruga, the course instructor, in his natural habitat

Photo of Aaron Barruga, the course instructor, in his natural habitat

But more importantly, I was intrigued by his philosophy, which I found both practical and refreshing (more on that later). So I jumped at the chance to train with the exceptionally well-written (and, as I’d discover, surprisingly funny) prior-service Green Beret.  

Aaron’s class started at 0900. So instead of getting up at 0-dark thirty and driving the whole way from Richmond, I crashed with a buddy of mine in scenic Winchester, VA  (Thanks Paul! ‘Preciatecha man). From Winchester it was about a 40-minute drive to the Echo Valley Training Center in breathtaking Hampshire County, West Virginia (remember those gorgeous forests, lush green mountain, and roads cut through the raw rock I mentioned earlier?). 

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 I’d originally debated driving my everyday commuter (a 2000 mustang) for this trip, but when I hit the turnoff to the park where the training center was located and got to the top of the trail? I was glad I didn’t.

Because from that point on it was pretty much off-road mountain trail driving.

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Amazing scenery, but no place for anything other than a 4-wheel drive vehicle (which happened to be what I had decided upon). I followed the trail up the mountain, then down into a mist-shrouded, sleepy-looking valley.

 The range was hella hard to find, but I must admit I enjoyed the drive in. I finally got there at about 0845 (if you’re early you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late), and pulled into the parking area adjacent to the range. The set up was nice-covered classroom (no walls), a berm cut right into the foothills, graveled range, panoramic mountain view behind us.  

Flat range at the Echo Valley Training Center. High View, West Virginia

Flat range at the Echo Valley Training Center. High View, West Virginia

After parking I popped the back hatch of my truck and started getting my gear situated. While I was doing that, I took a minute to assess the caliber of the other students. There were definitely some hitters in there. Several Pennsylvania State Troopers, none of whom looked like they’d missed a single gym sesh since the 90’s, were in attendance. Their t- shirts revealed them to be tac team guys.

There was a father/son combo there (son wasn’t military, but was decked out in full multi-cam), a tall, “quiet professional” looking government type was there with a woman who I later found out was his partner (I should have figured-she looked every bit as lethal as he did). They never mentioned what agency they were with.

An older gent drove in right before me. He later shared that he was a retired LEO. He sticks out in my memory because he wore some kick-ass tactical suspenders, and had his socks tucked into his boots to prevent tick bites.

Besides myself, there was one other brother there-a young cat in a black tee and multi-cam trousers (found out later on he was active duty Army. More on him later, too). And there were a couple of other guys there as well. Entire class was maybe 15-20 students in total.

 The day started out easy. Aaron collected safety waivers, introduced us to his co-instructor (I think he said his name was Blair. I assume he was also Army SF or something similar, although they never said). They made the admin stuff quick before we got down to business.

 Surprisingly, the class was done armor free. Aaron said if we’d brought it along to leave in in our vehicles, so for the entire class my body armor lay in the truck right where I’d placed it the night before-next to my ammo cans, sidearm, and other gear.  

Photo of the author (and his gear) in one of  his  natural habitats.

Photo of the author (and his gear) in one of his natural habitats.

Another surprise was that we didn’t bother zeroing our rifles. Aaron assumed that if we were there, we were zeroed. Which pretty much everyone was. Part of his concept of ‘Big Boy’ range rules, as he calls them. A concept which I very much liked. Often in these courses, valuable training time is taken up with zeroing weapons and hand-holding. But not in this case.

 This wasn’t a beginner’s course.

 First order of the day was what, at first, felt like some Jedi mind trick stuff about shooting more precisely and ‘seeing where your next shot’ would be. I admit, this was a bit hard to grasp. But I’ve since then studied it some, and it goes like this:

See this target?

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 You start by focusing only on the leftmost sector you’re shooting. Then  you expand your field of vision to include the entire top section. The theory here is twofold: first is that you don’t ‘tunnel vision’ into a single target, and second is that by taking in the entire field, you can increase the speed with which you adjust your point of aim (thereby engaging targets much more quickly and efficiently).

 Aaron explains it way better than me in the video link below.

And that target shown above? Aaron designed it himself, especially for this exercise. You can get them (free of charge) at the Guerrilla Approach website.

I recommend trying this at your next range session. It’s a little tough at first, but as with anything it becomes more natural with practice. I’ll be working this again next time I hit up my own local range.

Aim small, miss small. 

 Next up was a concept which is fundamentally true, but one which I never even consciously thought about (but hopefully I did subconsciously?). As Aaron correctly states, the vast majority of the ‘moving and shooting’ equation in a fight is you moving. What I think he means is that it takes a millisecond to pull a trigger (I.e. “shoot), so the ‘moving’ part must, by default, equate to the bulk of the action.

 That allowed us to move into some up down drills, on steel, at 100 yds. Up down drills happen thusly: starting in the prone, a ‘burpee’ motion up to the feet, sight in, ping on steel, drop back to prone. 

 We did quite a few of these.

 Then it was time for some sprinting dills. Sprinting, decelerating, getting on target, ping on steel, sprint away. Here Aaron stressed keeping the rifle toward the threat/enemy, and he had us employ a technique where you balance the rifle stock on the bicep, keeping it pointed downrange. That way it stays pointing toward the enemy vs. pointing to the sky or at the deck (like I’d been used to before) as you race to the next point.

 Did I mention this was in May? In West Virginia?

 There was no sun, but humidity was like 1,000%. Thankfully I went with 511 tactical pants and a moisture wicking t-shirt that day. Because I was sweating balls.

 After a short water break/ammo load we hit the drills again, only this time we removed our slings. In the interest of full disclosure, I’d never done this before-in the Marine Corps, in SWAT training, in other tactical classes. . .anywhere. It was a bit weird having the ‘dog off the leash,’ so to speak. And it was also just one more thing to concentrate on (along with muzzle awareness, ammo count, movements of the drill, etc.). This was good learning, and no doubt helpful as far as building that muscle that allows you to adapt to less than ideal situations. But I was very thankful to reattach the rifle to my single-point sling.

Having that rifle off-sling like that also drove home a great point about mindset, dogma, and doctrine, which Aaron proselytizes upon quite a bit. It reinforced the idea that you should never get locked into a mindset because of dogma. I believe Aaron referred to this as the ‘September 10th' mindset.

 For me those words-September 10th mindset-conjured up just about as powerful an image for not getting locked into regimented thinking as anything I could imagine.  

 Afterwards we broke for lunch. I got a chance to chat with a young guy who was from West Virginia. He had on a ‘1775’ Grunt Style t-shirt, so I assumed he’d been in the Corps.

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Nope. Just a regular civilian, as it turned out. But he handled his AK like a damned champ. Just more proof to me that the U.S. may not be the best county to invade. . .if you’re an evil foreign power out looking for easy pickings, that is. 

After some speedy midday chow we moved right back into the drills. This time it was sprint, decelerate into position, then take a range of targets on the move, working from left to right and then right to left.

 Quick note here: at this point an older gent (who’d arrived late) had to sit off to the side. Looked like he was hurting a fair bit. I’m not being ageist here, but again I have to stress this . . . Aaron’s course is a lot of moving. A LOT. It’s called Functional Marksmanship Movements for a good reason. You’re sprinting (not jogging) into positions. You’re up and down. You’re carrying a rifle, and maybe ammo if you went with a tactical rig consisting of a belt with mag pouches.

You need to come to this course in some type of basic shape. And with the ability to perform some moderately strenuous movements. Fair warning. 

 After the target movement segment, we did some ‘T’ drills. That’s where small orange cones are set up in a ‘T’ shape. You dash from the bottom of the ‘T’ to the top, then move left and right, putting a round on steel at pre-set points along the route (also marked by orange cones).

 

 This was in keeping with the overall theme of the course (i.e., racing into position, getting on target, moving to the next position, rinse and repeat).

 After the drills were pretty well ingrained, it was time to have some fun. Nothing takes thing up a notch like some good old-fashioned competition.

 In this case, it was T drill face offs.

You start heel to heel with an opponent (facing away from them), run the T drill as fast as you can, then back to center and a final shot on target for the win.

 I got paired up with the army kid in the black tee.

 He probably had me by about 20 years, but hey-your boy stays fit over here. I have to, really. I’ts a requirement for competing against people who are, like, half my age. Which is a big part of the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu (which I love).

And all my devil dogs out there will already know this, but I also had another ace up my sleeve. Marine Corps marksmanship principals are forever, y’all!

 So we line up heel to heel, facing opposite directions. We get the signal, and off we go.

 We’re pretty much neck and neck. I can hear my targets ringing through my ear pro, and I can hear his ringing as well. I ended up taking an extra shot at a cone I didn’t need to (I’ll chalk that up to ‘the fog of war’). Even with my self-imposed penalty shot, I was still was only a millisecond behind him coming in. But I have to hand it to him-he dumped half a magazine into his last shot just to make sure he won. I laughed out loud at that.

Smart kid. I’m glad to see the new generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with that winning mindset. 

 Couldn’t even be salty about losing that one. Guess that’s what they mean by ‘Army Strong’ LOL. 

 That was the final exercise of the day. Afterwards we got in one last school circle for a wrap up from Aaron. I don’t even think anyone took a class pic (another departure from the usual way these courses go). If they did, I didn’t see it.

 Afterwards I shook hands with Aaron and Blair and thanked them for the instruction. Then I changed into a clean T, got my ass in the truck, and started the 3 hour haul back home.

 On the road back, I had quite a bit to chew on.

 I really loved Aaron’s principle-based instruction (vs. the stuff you see on YouTube that just looks cool but isn’t functional. In one of the writings on his great blog, Aaron terms the instructors who push this stuff as “Tactical Kardashians”). And I also dug the emphasis on movement vs. fancy shooting and crazy speed reloads.  

 This was a great class. Well worth the drive.

 I think Aaron’s got a few courses coming up in RVA (and points nearby?) this year.

 If anyone’s interested in taking one, hit me up. Maybe we can get a group rate. LOL

 As long as the schedule allows, I’d definitely be down to train with Guerrilla Approach again.

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Video Interview About My Work, Conducted By Stephen R. Sanders

Here’s an Interview I did with my very good friend, Mr. Stephen R. Sanders. Steve and I talked a little bit about my series, as well as some of the themes behind it.

It’s a halfway decent interview.

I say that only because, according to folks who do this type of work, most authors suck at video interviews!

Given that, I guess mine didn’t seem half bad? Not that I had a high bar to live up to, apparently.

But seriously, Steve’s a total pro. Any positive aspects of this interview I attribute to him, much more so than any perceived skill of mine.

Submitted for your viewing entertainment. Link to the video is below.

New Release! Precipice: Clockwerk Thriller Book 2

Ok. Here it is.

The Obligatory New Release Post!

I know this is super late, but honestly I communicate with most of y’all through my newsletter or Facebook anyway. And if you’re on either of those, you already knew about this a while back!

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So Precipice is doing pretty well. People are enjoying it. We’ll know more about how it’s being received in the next few weeks.

But the real story has been the amazing pickup for Stalemate: Clockwerk Thriller Book 1.

It peaked at #6 in the Steampunk category for Amazon sales-even above the big-time names like Jim Butcher, P. Djeli Clark, and Jay Kristoff (gotcha again, Jay 😊).

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For a book 2 from new author, that’s pretty amazing.

But you know what’s even more amazing?

The fact that I have all of you to thank for it.

And so, from the very bottom of my heart, I’ll do that now.

THANK YOU.

Take care and talk soon,

Thomas

Catching Up

Welp, it's been a while since I posted. You’ll have to forgive me, though. I’ve been busy.

If you hadn’t yet heard, my debut novel Stalemate: Clockwerk Thriller Book 1 launched a few weeks ago. As of this writing, it was still hanging around in or near the top 100 listing for it's genre. And at this stage of the game (i.e me being a brand spankin’ new author, given the fact that no one’s ever heard of me, and having only a single published work available out there), I'm pleased with the book’s progress. But of course I'm always trying to up the numbers. :)

As for the book's sequel? I just finished up the first round of edits last week. Those should come back to me for a second round of edits soon, and then it's off to the proofreader, set up the book's cover and interior, and then (finally) publication in September.

And as for my next week (and my  next several weeks), I'll be furiously typing away at the second draft of book 3 of the series. In between all of that, I'll also be attending to the various aspects of marketing my work (building relationships, reaching out to bookstores and bloggers, fielding interviews, market research. . .the list goes on). I started this post saying I've been busy, and I'm glad to say it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon. But even so, I'll try and post more often. 

So yes-things are moving along. And to be quite honest. . .it’s going great! I’m doing what I love, and am enjoying every minute of both my own writing and learning about the business.

Speaking of writing, I need to get back to it. But I do have one thing to leave you with. In my last news letter (Hey. If you haven't signed up to my newsletter, you really should. You get a free book if you do. It's worth it! Just go over to the sidebar on your right.  Yeah-right there. On the right-hand side of this page. Ok-did you sign up? Great! Sorry to interrupt!) I mentioned that Jay Kristoff was one of my favorite new authors. His Lotus Wars series is action packed (you can check it out here, if you're interested), and he writes with a level of description and a richness of detail that I only wish I could.

Well, check this out.

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Yep. That's right. I couldn't believe it either. One of my favorite authors-a dude from Australia whose stuff is in my local library, even-and he ranked below me. Crazy. Right?!

 So is this one of those 'the student had become the teacher' moments?

Well, aside from the fact that Jay was never my actual "teacher" (although I did learn a ton from his writing), it's a little early to declare myself victorious in our (mostly) imaginary face-off. The screenshot above was just one snapshot from one day. A snapshot of a series of rankings that changes, literally, every hour. But still. . .the screen grab is right there, in brilliant Technicolor, for everyone to see. And it's real.

Even if was only for a second. . .I beat him. A tiny victory, I know. But a victory nonetheless. 

So here's to your own small victories. May they grow until they are undeniable. . . until they are gargantuan.

Keep writing Jay. I’m comin’ for ya.