Tuesday, 16 September 2014

An Automatic Decision

This month's story came from a philosophical question that my brother asked me a few weeks ago, about self-driving cars.

Suppose a self-driving car is driving on a narrow mountain pass, and suddenly perceives a child running across the road. It has only two options:

  1. Plow down the child, and protect the occupant, or
  2. Careen down the barrier, saving the child, but killing the occupant
His two part question: what should the car do, and who should be allowed to make that decision?

This story is my attempt to answer that question. I hope you like it!

"'...Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.'"* Rev Kev read out loud. "What do you think, car? Is that too cheesy?"

The car gave its answer in a typical non-emotional voice, "I would not know, sir."

"Oh, for goodness sake! Call me Kevin. Better yet, call me Rev Kev; everyone else does."

"Very well, Rev Kev," returned the car, mechanically.

Kevin sighed. "On second thought, just call me Kevin."

The good Reverend was preparing to meet with a dear old lady from his congregation, Mrs Carlisle. The poor woman had been diagnosed with terminal, inoperable brain cancer the week before, and Kevin hoped to offer her some comfort.

Rev Kev continued to read his Bible and mutter out loud as the car wound up the narrow mountain pass leading up to Mrs Carlisle's house. At one point, he looked up and said a silent prayer that there would be no-one else on the road; over-taking, or moving over to allow another car to pass, would be impossible.

***

Ten year-old Jimmy Cox giggled as he ran from the mountain, over the narrow road, and excitedly grabbed hold of the railing that protected against the almost fifty-metre drop to the rocks below. Mommy had told him countless times not to play on the road, but the excitement and adrenaline rush was too much to resist. After almost vaulting himself over the railing for the tenth time in the last half-hour, he turned and began running back towards the mountain.

***

Rev Kev's car rounded a sharp bend, and he looked up from his Bible.

“Oh God, please no!” he screamed as he saw a young boy running across the road, directly in front of the car.

Time stopped.

Kevin watched as the child was frozen in mid-run, his left foot in the air behind him in an impossible standing position, his right planted on the ground with the toe on the road and the heel in the air. He looked at the speedometer of the car: sixty kilometres per hour, but they weren't moving.

“W-what's going on here?”

“What would you have me do, sir?” asked in the car in that mechanical, emotionless voice. At least, he thought it was the car; perhaps it was God, answering his prayer.

“What do you mean, car? Please, would you explain to me what exactly this is?”

“If I follow my programming, sir, I would protect my occupant above all else. That boy would die. Your God has given you a choice. To save the boy, I would have to turn and drive through the barrier, sending us onto the rocks below.”

“No,” muttered Kevin. His face was white as a sheet, and he was shaking; still trying to come to terms with what was happening. “There must be another way! What about turning towards the mountain instead? Or just applying brakes really hard?”

“The boy is less than twenty metres from us, sir, and we are driving at sixty kilometres per hour.” Kevin could have sworn he heard an exasperated tone in the car's robotic voice. “Either of those options would cause us to spin uncontrollably, and we would strike the child. If we hit the mountain, you would likely die, but the child would almost certainly die in either case.”

Kevin's mouth hung open. Was he really being forced to make such a choice? But perhaps, he reasoned, he should rather thank God for giving him a choice that precious few people would be given.

“Well,” he stammered. He hooked his finger under his collar (which had suddenly become very tight), and pulled it away from his neck. “I have lived a full life. I gave that life to God and His Son many years ago. I have no regrets, and I know where I am going when I die. I do not know where that boy's beliefs lie, or that of his family's.

“I'm ready, car. Take me to be with the Lord.”

“Very well, sir.”

The car's speedometer returned to life, and the needle bounced erratically. The boy turned in mid-step, saw the car speeding towards him, screamed and fell on his face. Rev Kev heard the screeching of the car's tyres as it jolted to the right and crashed through the barrier.

As the car fell to the jagged rocks below, Kevin heard a voice in his head, much kinder than the car's had been: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Tonight, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Image: "MUTCD R2-1". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MUTCD_R2-1.svg#mediaviewer/File:MUTCD_R2-1.svg

* Deuteronomy 31:6

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Cover Reveal: Billy's Zombie, Coming Halloween 2014

Last month, I told you about my new story called Billy's Zombie. It's coming in Halloween 2014, and that it will be completely free!

I also promised a cover reveal soon. Well, wait no longer, loyal readers. Here it is, the beautifully stunning cover of my upcoming release, Billy's Zombie:

Ain't it pretty?

I also promised you another excerpt. Well, instead of making you click back and forth between the old one and this one, I'm going to repost the old excerpt, and then extend it slightly. What do you think of this?

That's my creation down there. Do you see?

Shambling along the empty suburban street, in the middle of the night. Past the parked car to its left. To its right, a dog lies on his back. He rolls over onto his feet, hackles raised, and barks as he sees the creature. The creature turns its grotesque countenance towards the animal and glares at him. The poor thing cowers as his brave bark becomes a pathetic whimper.

Look, now it's standing under a lonely street light. Through this crystal ball, you can truly appreciate its beauty, with its clothes tattered and muddy, and the grave worms still crawling in and out of its empty eye sockets. My creation.

When I went to the cemetery last night, with an old copy of Contemporary Necromancy under my arm, I could never have imagined that the ritual would be such a success. I stood at the grave of old Jacob Mallardy (1955 — 2012), thumbed open the book, and eagerly paged to the spell on Raising Zombies. I'm not sure how well I expected the spell to work (if at all), but as I read the incantation out loud, the hairs on my arms and the nape of my neck stood on end, and I felt power. As the power rose in me, the dirt covering the corpse's grave began to shift. Slowly it shifted, so slowly I thought it might just be the wind, or my imagination. Then the turf broke, and a hand slipped through. A glorious, wonderful hand, the skin on the long, slender fingers all wrinkled, ripped in places so that the bones shone through, almost glinting in the moonlight.

My creation.

My name is Billy MacIntyre, and that is no longer Jacob Mallardy, down there. I am a Necromancer, and they will all pay for calling me a freak.

So what do you think is going to happen? Well, you'll have to wait until 30 October to find out. Unless... and here's where I remind you of this awesome, never to be repeated deal.

Sign up for my newsletter between now and 31 September, and you will receive a special, limited edition, pre-launch copy of the story, a full week before release!

That's right, simply enter your e-mail address into the box below, wait for my e-mail, and let me know which format you would like to read the story in (e-book formats only, I'm afraid; no print).

Since last month, I've been asked by my existing newsletter subscribers what if they're going to be left out. Well, never fear! All my existing newsletter subscribers will receive an e-mail from me sometime during the first week of October, asking them to confirm in which format they would like to receive the book. Don't anybody ever tell me that I'm not fair!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Buy a Book, Support Retina South Africa

The blog post comes a day early this week, because I believe that this message is rather important to get out:

I'm not sure how many of my readers know this, but I am a sufferer of Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary eye condition that destroys peripheral vision and causes night blindness.

There is currently no cure, and that's where organisations like Retina South Africa (and others around the world) come in: not only do they provide moral support for sufferers, they contribute money towards raising awareness, and to research efforts to develop a cure.

This month (September) is World Retina Month, and this year, I've decided to do my little bit to help. So, if you buy either Heritage of Deceit or Stingers from Smashwords, between Monday 1 September, and Tuesday 30 September, I will donate R10 to Retina South Africa!

What's that, you say? You've already read both? Why, that's no problem at all! If you enjoyed them, why not buy them as gifts for a friend, and spread the love? Then, if your friend also enjoys the book, get them to keep the chain going and gift it to their friends, too!

Click on a cover below, to go directly to the book's page at Smashwords:

Heritage of Deceit Stingers
In summary: for the month of September 2014, I will donate R10 to Retina South Africa for every copy of either Heritage of Deceit or Stingers sold at Smashwords! Please help me support this worthy cause.

If you are a citizen of South Africa, you can also donate R10 to Retina South Africa, by sending an SMS containing the word DREAM to 38267.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Crossword Puzzle - August 2014

Complete this crossword puzzle, and e-mail me your answers before 23 September 2014, for a chance to get featured on this blog. Plus, the first correct answers I receive before that date will win a free electronic copy of one of my books (your choice).

Good luck!

Clues

Across
1 Operator of a software package (4)
3 The end of a cat's foot (3)
6 Yoko (3)
9 Zann, Lovecraft character (5)
11 Free of something (3)
12 IBM Compatible PC (8)
13 No more after (3)
14 Type of beer (3)
17 It's the limit (3)
19 Japanese warrior code (7)
22 What 1 Across did (4)
25 Sixty Minutes (4)
26 Sink a ship (7)
27 In the bud (3)
29 It doesn't matter which (3)
31 Small dogs do this (3)
33 Powerless (8)
38 Singular (3)
39 Pale brownish yellow colour (5)
40 What 1 Across does (3)
41 In the centre (3)
42 Highest point (4)
Down
1 Card game (3)
2 Preacher in a Methodist church (3)
3 Hole (3)
4 What a thespian does (3)
5 Done to eggs (5)
6 Found deep underground (3)
7 Last teen (8)
8 Strange (3)
10 Officiates sports (3)
14 Left after a fire (3)
15 People from Laos (8)
16 Flightless Australian bird (3)
17 Thus was it written (3)
18 Yes (3)
20 For holding ashes (3)
21 Egyptian viper (3)
23 Pamper yourself (3)
24 Of a white wine (3)
28 Just an expression (5)
30 A rocky peak (3)
31 And I (3)
32 urine (3)
34 1101 (3)
35 Doctor of Philosophy (3)
36 Leaves for boiling water (3)
37 Male evening-wear (3)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Crossword Puzzle - July 2014 Answers

What's that, you say? You didn't get the answers to last month's crossword puzzle in time? Well, better luck next month.

That said, bet you're tearing your hair out by now, waiting to find the answer to that one clue that you missed, aren't you?

Well, wait no more! Without further ado, the answers to the July 2014 Crossword Puzzle!

Across
1 A drama in classical music and singing (5)—opera
4 Don Diego de la Vega (5)—Zorro
6 Tibetan animal (3)—yak
8 Castle (4)—rook
9 Public House (3)—pub
11 Single (3)—one
12 People say it ain't nothing but a number (3)—age
13 Person of colour (derogatory) (5)—Negro
15 Start again (5)—reset
17 Rift (5)—chasm
21 Animals (5)—fauna
25 Small, lesser demon (3)—imp
26 Spit (3)—gob
27 A female deer (3)—doe
28 Thirteen to Nineteen (4)—teen
30 Gardening implement (3)—hoe
31 Eskimo house (5)—igloo
32 Not strong (5)—muted
Down
2 It flies (5)—plane
3 Fourth month (3)—Apr
4 Founder of Paramount Pictures (5)—Zuker
5 Colour on the cheeks (5)—rouge
6 Over ___ hill (3)—yon
7 Barrel of beer (3)—keg
9 A dance step (3)—pas
10 Make a wager (3)—bet
14 Australian Rugby Team (4)—Reds
16 Afrikaans woman's name (4)—Elma
17 Criminal Investigations, dept. of British police (3)—CID
18 Chinese ethnic group (5)—Hmong
19 A primate (3)—ape
20 Marketing slogan (5)—motto
22 Expression of disgust (3)—ugh
23 Rope for hanging (5)—noose
24 Honest Mr Lincoln (3)—Abe
29 A war from the '50s to the '70s (3)—Nam

See you next week for the August 2014 puzzle!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Thing in the Window

Last month, I enjoyed writing about being in the wrong bathroom so much that I decided to try another prompt from the same website. This one's called The Open Window, and it goes like this:
You had that dream again. The one where the beast with the drooping hands and wicked fangs stares you down from your window. Except the windows open this time—and you’re awake! What happens next?
Once again, the prompt asked for a response in no more than 500 words. I've been writing a little bit of horror lately, first with Billy's Zombie, and then with a short story called Under the Sheets that I entered into a flash fiction contest (which my newsletter subscribers know all about). With that in mind, I thought, how hard could it be? Here goes:
Mary's mouth hang open. She wanted to scream, but no sound came out. She wanted to slam the window shut, but her arm wouldn't move. She wanted to turn and run, as far away from her room as possible. But she didn't know where to go. The thing would be in the room and upon her before she reached the door. Besides, her feet wouldn't have been able to move if she tried. She was frozen in fear.

“Hello, Mary.”

Mary swallowed hard. “H-how do you know my name?”

“Oh, we've met many times before. In your dreams, night after night. It's good to finally meet you in person.” As she stared at the beast, with saliva dripping off its fangs, she suddenly knew who it was. “Marty? Is that you?” The thing threw its head back and emitted a deep, slow laugh. “Marty is the name your subconscious gave me, child. My name is Ciz'que.”

Although still frightened, Mary was beginning to regain her senses somewhat. She knew this creature from her dreams, although she knew him as Marty. He was frightening then, but not overtly hostile, and she felt that if she could defeat him in her sleep, she could defeat him here, in the real world.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“My name, child—my true name—means 'Bringer of Souls'. I want your soul.”

Mary thought about this a moment, then snapped, “Well, you can't have it!”

Ciz'que seemed to take a step back, apparently shocked at the audacity of this child. After a moment, he brought his head through the open window, stopping centimetres from Mary's face. Mary's gaze met his, and she found herself unable to move or speak, transfixed by the creature's glowing yellow eyes.

The beast opened its gigantic maw and breathed hot, fetid breath into Mary's face. The stench was terrible, unlike anything Mary had ever experienced before. But as she was no longer entranced by Ciz'que's eyes, Mary was able to think quickly. She reached out her left hand and felt for the letter opener that she knew lay on her writing desk. Finding it just within arms reach, she grabbed it and plunged it into Ciz'que's open maw.

The creature screamed and stepped back. It swiped out at Mary's face with a heavy claw, running three deep gashes along her cheek, causing her to crash to the floor. Ciz'que reached into his mouth, removed the letter opener and examined it. Blood dripped off the blade. He tossed it away, and leapt all the way through into the room.

Ciz’que's massive frame covered Mary on the floor, and once again she found herself unable to move.

“And now,” he said, “your soul.”

Ciz’que’s yellow orb-eyes filled Mary’s consciousness. Nothing else existed for her. She opened her mouth to scream—a whooshing sound came out instead. And with it, out streamed a long, black trail. The last thing Mary was aware of was her soul being pulled from her body.

What did you think of this story? Loved it? Hated it? I'd love to know! Tell me in the comments below.

Oh, and if you'd like to visit my All Books page, and check out the rest of my writing, I'd be exceedingly grateful!

Image: "Lady Gaga withThe Fame Monster" by John Robert Charlton - [1]. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lady_Gaga_withThe_Fame_Monster.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lady_Gaga_withThe_Fame_Monster.jpg

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Billy's Zombie, Coming Halloween 2014

Who doesn't like a good zombie story?

Young Billy McIntyre has always been a weird kid, always taking every little slight to heart.

One day, he decides to exact his revenge on all those simpletons who have done him wrong. And he does it by taking a book of Necromancy out of the library, and raising a zombie from the dead!

On Thursday, 30 October 2014, just in time for Halloween, I will be releasing my newest story, all about Billy and his zombie. If you love a good zombie romp, and a quick read (it will be short), you'll want to read this. Best of all, it will be completely and forever free!

I'm really excited about this book, and I'll be giving more information about it as we get closer to launch date. To whet your appetite in the meantime, here's a short excerpt:

That's my creation down there. Do you see?

Shambling along the empty suburban street, in the middle of the night. Past the parked car to its left. To its right, a dog lies on his back. He rolls over onto his feet, hackles raised, and barks as he sees the creature. The creature turns its grotesque countenance towards the animal and glares at him. The poor thing cowers as his brave bark becomes a pathetic whimper.

Look, now it's standing under a lonely street light. Through this crystal ball, you can truly appreciate its beauty, with its clothes tattered and muddy, and the grave worms still crawling in and out of its empty eye sockets. My creation.

Excited yet?

Well, I have a special offer for you, my loyal blog readers. Sign up for my newsletter between now and 31 September, and you will receive a special, limited edition, pre-launch copy of the story, a full week before release!

That's right, simply enter your e-mail address into the box below, wait for my e-mail, and let me know which format you would like to read the story in (e-book formats only, I'm afraid; no print).

Oh, and keep glued to this blog, where I'll be revealing the cover soon!