Creating Compelling Content Continuously

One of the tricks of web-marketing is as per the heading of this post, to “continuously create compelling content”.

Watching the stats on Smashwords, that is exactly what drives views, and ultimately sales.  It’s eye-opening to observe every time I upload another free shortstory, how the interest in the other (priced) stories also increases.  Good blog posts that link, can also drive some traffic, but the main driver is uploading new content.

The only problem I can see with this approach is this:  I’m speaking to fellow bloggers, so you know exactly how exhausting it is to try and create compelling content, continuously!   One runs out of fuut*, and the content created continuously stops being quite that compelling.  And if you carry on creating content, eventually you’ll just be making noise…

So, in summary, while this approach seems to work while it works, it can run out of fuel (the fuel being fresh stories from you, the “content creator”).  And the second you stop putting compelling content out there for a week or two, your readers drift away towards someone else’s compelling content.

Having shared this snippet of philosophy, I’m now going to put my (subconscious) mind to how to work around this phenomenon.

In the interim, while you’re waiting for more compelling content from me, please feel free to click any of the below links.   I am once more experimenting with limited giveaway copies of  priced books.


Smashwords book coupons:  (All valid until 30 August only)

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RW100 – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “RW100” to receive 100% discount.

 

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Raider!

CF73X – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “CF73X” to receive 100% discount.

 

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Arcana

LJ36P – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “LJ36P” to get a 100% discount.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inbetweener

Just an update.

For the next Friday Story Post I’m not going to post “A Friday Fairytale”, because I’m editing it.  I’ll be posting something else.

Winter has given way (finally!) to hayfever season (oof!). 😀

Homeschooling has been tightened – more is expected of little Miss Dream-Dreams. Luckily she is quite up to it.  The positive effects of not having to go to a hostile environment every day at dawn are clearly visible in her improved health and emotional levels.  Another thing that has taken a leap is her violin technique – because she is actually practising more effectively now.

We’ll be homeschooling for at least another 2 – 3 years.  It’s pointless doing it shorter than that.

September 3:  “Jipsy Jangles” is playing as “wandering minstrels” at a Medieval Fayre, here’s the Facebook link:

facebook.com/MedievalFayreSA

September 10:  Both the Strings Ensemble and Jipsy Jangles will be playing at a house concert in Faerie Glen.  For both groups it is our first concert.

The Strings Ensemble plays Mozart, Pachelbel (at the request of the celli) and two modern songs which I’m not giving away right now.

Jipsy Jangles is us – my 3 children and I (the Wild Ones on instruments and my oldest sings).  It’s pretty much a parenting milestone when your kids become versed enough on their instruments to play alongside you at gigs, or even take the lead.

September 17:  The inevitable Oktoberfest (I’m not going!!).  It puts part of the family out of action year after year.

That would leave September 24 for a Studio Concert if it weren’t Heritage Day and therefore a long weekend (expect low attendance).  Also, the 30th is an option, right before the holidays – perhaps I ought to do that, rather than after the holidays in October.  There will always be excuses.  People will always find reasons not to come, even if nothing else is happening.  The committed ones will find excuses to be there.

The jury is still out on the Studio Concert date therefore.

So much for muchness, see you later.

Friday Story Post,

…and Malcontents

Before I post the story I wanted to get a little thought in edgewise because my brain is weird these days, it never faithfully delivers blogging material except when I’m about to post something else! 😀

I watched a short vid last night about a guy tirading against pot-smoking.  (Well so do I, especially if one of the kids were experimenting with making Mac’n’Cheese and forgot and ran away and the next thing, there’s a pot smoking up the whole house.)

This man actually let himself be talked (against his principles, he says) into smoking a “joint” with an old friend.  (Let’s not get into the company people keep…)  He then proceeded to take the friend to a 5-star dinner and Richard Strauss opera (as he’d planned to do), and both experiences were incredibly deep and amazing.  The most profound music he’d ever heard; the most tastebud-explosionary meal he’d ever consumed.

On the way home, he heard some banal little jingle on the radio, and it became the deepest, most profound music he’d ever heard.  And he and his old buddy stopped at a fast-food place to get some cardboard burgers and chemical cooldrink (did anyone mention that apparently drugs give you the munchies?), and that became the most taste-boggling meal he ever consumed.  At which point he “got it”.

Hubbs and I have observed many times how people on “pot” seem to have no drive, no motivation to get things done or better their circumstances (which are usually atrocious).  Here is the answer, as this guy in his video also explained:

If chewing a piece of gum is the best meal you’ve ever consumed, if watching ads on TV rates up there with the best movies, if cuddling the Maltese poodle is as profound as exploring the mind of a soulmate, then – who needs bother go to the trouble to find the “real stuff” – genuine music, genuine stories, genuine people?  A cardboard box or a mansion, it’s all the same, it’s “awesome”.

That explains the inertia and lack of motivation.

But:

While I don’t recommend that everyone should go out and get some “zoll” now, I do want to highlight another little quirk.

Humankind did not arrive at civilization by being content.

Look at a tribe of chimps in a forest.  Well, if they’re not just-then under direct attack from relentless humans driving them out to chop down the trees for profit, they usually are quite peaceful.  They hang around in the trees, grooming each other, nursing babies, being “chill”.  Look at most mammals and you’ll have a fairly similar scenario.  Life’s good; no work pressure, no drive to “improve” what is already pretty great living.

Now look at humans.  We didn’t want to be attacked by predators, so we tamed fire.  We didn’t enjoy our food cold, so we started cooking it.  We were discontented with having to chase animals, so we tamed them and invented farming, and we were unhappy that we couldn’t always find the plants we liked eating, so we started growing them.  (By the way the prime motivation for growing grains, 10 000 years back, was apparently beer.  Bread was an incidental by-product.)

We got tired of running on foot so we tamed horses.  We didn’t like the draughts in our caves (which furthermore were never where we wanted them to be) so we learnt to build houses.  All of civilization is based on the human drive of discontent.  Today, people drive themselves crazy looking at faster, richer lifestyles – having such a lot and still discontented!

Discontent can have a very detrimental effect on a person though.  It turns one negative, especially if you set your goals so high that it takes years, and endless effort, to realize even just a little part of them.  And being driven like that, we get sick…  emotionally, mentally and physically sick.  We start being critical of each other; we shoot at our own relationships, or say scathing things about others who don’t appear to be as driven as we are.

So how to escape that negative, judgemental cycle?  How to avoid the “Cat’s in the Cradle” syndrome, how to avoid missing one’s entire life chasing after tomorrow?

What the Yogis teach us:  Get centred in the moment, and learn to be content.  Learn not to worry.  Be thankful for what you already have, and appreciate it – or them.  Enjoy the experiences you seek.  Be Zen, be at peace.

Whoa – that sounds like the experience of that pot smoker!

😀


 

Anyway here is your story:

(Please remember, this story has not yet been “doctored”.  It is as you find it.)

Here is the link to the rest of the story:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/634938

And the previous chapter (I’m running out of time, will update the Smashwords file tonight:)

https://skrikvirniks.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/friday-story-post-6/

And here is the next chapter:

 

12. Set-up

Connor McNaught slammed his front door behind himself as he came in. He took off his vest and his gun belt and dumped them on the kitchen floor with a grunt, made a beeline to the cupboard and poured himself a double Jack Daniels on ice. He stumbled into his front room and crashed down into his settee without bothering to first switch on the light, and released an abysmal sigh that tore some online worlds asunder.

He was beat. He also felt beaten. He had returned home shortly after clocking in at the station, ostensibly to pick up a forgotten file, but in reality because he wanted to steal some minutes with Nadee… and he’d found her gone.

She’d promised him that she wouldn’t leave him! He had returned to work broken-hearted and dragged on through the morning, feeling as though the sun had gone down – only to discover, when calling Henderson in Detroit, that Nickells and his accomplices had been released, based on a false arrest. He had spent some time stripping himself in anger, until his colleague Charlie had taken him for a beer to calm him down.

“You know, you’ve got a bit of an obsession with that hacker,” Charlie had observed. “This morning you waltzed into the precinct as though you were in love – and now, when you find out he’s been let go, you’re acting like a jealous rival!”

“You’ve got that so wrong,” Connor had growled, but he couldn’t find a more convincing reply. He had looked up the files. There were no files on Mike.

Obsession? He couldn’t even tell his friend Charlie why it was so critical that he got the hacker back to New York, back under his control. It may look like an obsession to others, he thought, but he himself had no choice about it. Obsessive behaviour? Probably a good cover, he thought. Let them think that. Let them in fact think whatever they wanted!

“Here’s trouble,” Charlie had informed him after lunch – a lunch through which Connor had worked, glumly, thinking of an empty apartment and a spellbinding dream that had been far too short. “They’ve put you under investigation.”

“What?” Connor’s jaw dropped. “Me? What the hell for?”

“Cooking up false charges against Nickells and his team,” said Charlie darkly. “And cyber-theft, of all things! Cyber-theft? Intentional damage to computers via a virus? How imaginative is that! Hang in there, buddy, we’ll clear you in no time flat! They have no leg to stand on!”

“That’s Nickells,” growled Connor. “Unbelievable.”

“What a crook,” said Charlie with feeling. “That’s the thing with catching a snake. Sometimes it bites you.”

Bad news upon worse news upon atrocious news, thought Connor as he sat down in his lounge now with that whiskey in his hands. But none of it had the same deep impact as Nadee deserting him. He thought back with an ache to those moments this morning in the sunlight. And he swigged that Jack Daniels and nearly choked. The stuff tasted of blooming daisies, no alcohol in it at all!

And she stood in the doorway from the back rooms. Barefoot and in her fairy dress as she had been last night, shimmering slightly in the semi-dark as if by an inner light.

“Are you alright, Connor?”

He came to his feet. Oh hell, she was supernaturally beautiful! His worries melted away as she drifted into his arms, welcoming him home. The next few minutes neither of them had any inclination to speak.

“Where were you this morning?” he asked eventually, cautiously, keeping her in a close embrace in case his words upset her. “I thought you had run away.”

“I only went out a bit,” she replied, suddenly very serious. “Oh, Connor, there is work to be done…”

“You let Nickells out, didn’t you?” he challenged, letting go of her. Her ephemeral blue wings withdrew from embracing him and folded away, and her face fell.

“It wasn’t right, Connor. I knew you wouldn’t do anything to clear him and I couldn’t just let them all rot in jail!”

“So you picked him!” he snapped irrationally and turned his back, moving to the kitchenette. His head was fizzing; his blood was pounding in his ears. He couldn’t think straight.

So she’d let Nickells go.

He knew his jealous reaction was not rational. He fought it. She didn’t carry a torch for the young hacker. But his own emotions aside, there were deeper ramifications to her irresponsible act. Oh hell, this was not good! She had no idea what she’d done there. How could he even explain to her… this would become a serious problem, he realized. On every level. It would destroy him, and it would destroy her too.

“No!” She was right behind him, her hand touching his arm in a placating gesture. “It’s not like that, Connor. Mike is a friend. How can I not care about him, and Jen, and Benita, and Nancy?”

“So your friend presses charges against me, and you’re content with that,” he retorted, facing her, bitterness all over his eyes.

“I’m not!” she replied and reached for him. “I’m not!” Kissing him was probably not the right answer either, but still, it silenced him. “I’m not, Connor,” she repeated when she was once again safely in his tight embrace. “If I can get him cleared of charges, don’t you think I can do the same for you?”

She thought she was omnipotent.

“Oh Nadee…” He gazed into her eyes that seemed luminous in the semi-dark of the kitchenette. “Why do we have to be on opposite sides in this battle?”

“Why must there be a battle?” she asked back. “Why is Mike such a threat to you?”

He glanced up. “What on Earth have you done to my kitchen?”

The whole place was one mess of tangled vines, strewn with white starflowers.

“And my lounge is a jolly impenetrable rose hedge,” he added.

“Oh!” Nadisda waved the plants away with a careless flick of her hands. “It sort-of – just happens. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize!” he muttered, kissing her forehead. “It’s who you are.”

We have to go online,” she said urgently. “We have to play the game tonight.”

The game! He’d nearly forgotten about that disastrous game. But if winning her over entailed settling things in the game once and for all – which, in fairness, was her home world –

That part really bothered him. He had to somehow extract her from that place, or else make it independent of Mike Nickells’ game. Perhaps duplicate it after all, or maybe just a small private version of it, for exclusive use, on his computer.

Perhaps she was only a gamer… he thought of tangles of roses and starflowers. Right, a gamer with wings, and PSI? How the hell was she making it work in this world, anyway? Was it all illusion? Was she an illusion? Had he finally cracked?

I have no computer,” he reminded her. “Something popped the power box.”

I fixed it,” she said chirpily, and swatted the birdies away that had started twittering around both their heads. “Go home, you lot! Shoo!”

You fixed it?” He followed her to the study, still too rattled about the disastrous course things were taking with Nickells, to focus on any of her magic effects.

There was his computer, already up and running and online, with the game loaded. The original, not his version. He sat down, intrigued, taking the mouse and logging in.

*

“There she is!” cheered Valentine as the Forest Fairy came gliding across the meadow, her blue wings fibrillating.

He, Benita the flower fairy, Jen the practical heroine and Nancy the Fairy Princess had rounded up considerable forces of beta-players, all set to meet and punch up Hero Hugo. This time, the levels were better balanced. The troupe of beta-players ranged from levels twelve to fifteen; still not a real force against a level twenty-nine, but with that army they had better odds than last night.

“I’m here on borrowed time,” Nadisda told them. “Our success hinges on whether Hugo can make the transformation.”

“So aren’t you going to curse him?” asked Valentine in surprise.

“I bloody did,” she reminded him. “No thanks to you, Valentine! He’s so cursed…”

“That bombed out on us,” replied the Villain. “I don’t think that spell even worked.”

“Anyway, he’s already cursed in real life,” said Nadisda lightly. “Poor fiend! With a name like McNaught, who will ever want to marry him?” She laughed.

“McNaught,” repeated Jen and laughed loudly. “You’re right! That’s funny!”

Nancy giggled too. And she granted a whole lot of the mercenaries upgrades to their armour and weaponry.

“I’m going back to bring you Hero Hugo,” said Nadisda. “Remember, the idea is not to kill him, just to beat him into submission until he makes the transformation.” She lifted off.

*

Mike glanced at his friends over the rim of his laptop.

“Did you copy that?”

“She was doing what she always does,” said Nancy lightly.

He shook his head. “She’s blooming fallen for him. See how she hedged about that curse?” He scowled. “Damn! Should have known! Should have stopped her from going back.”

“So what do we do?” asked Jen.

“She’s still acting like she’s on our side,” said Mike. “We’ve got to be careful. Here’s what: We take down Connor but make sure we don’t hurt her.” He started hacking away at his keyboard. “I’m reducing her powers so she can’t turn on us… Maybe I should pull her out of there and put her back in her grove. I don’t think she’s got the stuff for being a double agent.”

No,” said Nancy. “Don’t! You’ll delete her personality.”

Let her do her thing, Mike,” said his sister. “C’mon, she’s still on our side. She’s just trying to bring McNaught round. Who knows, with her fairy magic, maybe she’ll get it right.”

Yeah, really likely,” grumbled Mike as he reduced Nadisda’s mana levels.

*

Connor looked around his study for something to use as a second chair. He’d given Nadisda his large, black-leather boss chair, the one that swivelled and tilted. He’d already logged her into the game. It occurred to him for the first time that he wasn’t exactly set up to have anyone visiting in his study.

He found a small metal filing cabinet full of case studies and dragged it closer to the desk. Then he dug in his study cupboard and unearthed a second set of controls and plugged it in.

“I’ve got to hand it to Nickells,” he said as the interactive window popped up, asking his game identity, “this is a nice game. Makes allowance for multiple players on the same system, as long as each has his own set of controls.” He logged in as Hero Hugo.

“I have to do something,” said Nadisda, pulling the keyboard closer. “Sorry, Hugo. I’m the Forest Fairy. I’m setting you a challenge.”

“What challenge?” asked Connor.

“The name of the challenge is ‘Truth’,” she said and started hacking away at the keyboard at high speed. A programming window opened; she minimized it.

“Hey! Do you program without even looking?” asked Connor, surprised.

“Wouldn’t be much of a challenge if you could see what I was doing,” she commented. “Now, Connor, the first thing Hugo must do is find me in my grove. I have this quest for him.”

“First, before anything else?”

“That’s the deal.”

He glanced at her, sitting so close to him, the blue light of the screen lighting up her opalesque eyes even more intensely. She was truly exquisite, with those black tendrils of hair curling against that bone-pale skin. Those words sat on the tip of his tongue, but he never spoke them. He just wished she knew.

Forest fairy or none, they had a lot in common. She was game-mad. A real tech-junkie. As was he. Her eyes flicked to meet his. She was so serious!

“You have to trust me,” she said. “Promise me?”

“Sounds ominous,” he smiled. And glanced uneasily at the ceiling, from where vines were starting to drop down, their tendrils moving around searchingly.

“They will try to break you, Hugo,” she told him. “Stay close. Trust me. And focus on your quests. Okay?”

He nodded. The excitement of the game was allowing him a break from relentlessly agonizing over everything that had happened today, and the consequences it was drawing in its wake. He’d unwind for a few hours, playing his favourite game together with this lovely co-fanatic here. And let tomorrow’s worries take care of themselves, tomorrow.

She was right: They would most definitely try to break him, even in the game! And Nickells, his sister and the other two programmers did stand a chance – if they did what they always did: change the program in mid-flight. One aspect that kept this game brilliant, was that its creator was in it, changing the rules as you went. It made for very advanced gaming. He loved it.

But they could technically simply delete his avatar and block him. It would be what he would have done, had the roles been reversed. Somehow, Nadee had got them not to do that.

“Before we get too involved in gaming,” he said, pulled her close and kissed her. A black rose creeper silently started wreathing its way up the back legs of the desk. Vines reached for him from above. Gossamer blue fairy wings spread out and folded around the two of them.

*

The forest fairy took stock of her grove, and the ingredients for Ben’s spell which were still lying there. She put them away. It would be a while before the Shadow Knight quest was going to be called on again. She fleetingly recalled the handsome, mysterious Shadow Knight. But now that she had met Connor, all the games characters seemed shallow and limited to her in comparison.

She picked up the pieces of where the other spell had blown apart some of her crystals and tidied those up too.

There was a crunch on her moss.

“Valentine!” she greeted the Villain with a quirky smile. “How’s the round-up going?”

“We’re thirty strong now,” he said proudly and disentangled himself from the slightly thorny vines that came down from the trees to check on him. “Nadisda, are you sure you can do this?”

“Course,” she assured him.

“Don’t you rather want to wait outside until we’ve pulled him apart?” he asked. “Are you sure you can handle this?”

“You misunderstand,” said Nadisda. “We’re correcting the flaws in his character. By fixing Hugo, we’re giving Connor a chance to make up for what he did. Now remember, I’ve got to set Hugo up. Give me a bit of space. I’m sending him into the Dread Wastelands, level thirty, and you guys will have to find him. Be prepared.”

“And then we clobber him to within an inch of his life, and downgrade him to level six,” said Valentine with a big smirk. “You say you cursed him? What did you do?”

She shook her head. “That’s still lying ahead.”

Valentine gave her a long, scrutinizing gaze.

“Fix Connor’s character? The guy’s a swine! You have no clue, fairykins! Be very careful when you deal with him. He’ll eat you up for breakfast, chew you up and spit you out.”

“Why do you let him be a beta-player in your game, if he’s such a threat?” asked Nadisda. “That’s been puzzling me!”

“The most vicious hackers are a game’s best test,” said Valentine proudly. “Friendly beta-players find glitches and so on; but enemy players actually try to destroy or rip your game. Like he showed me. Right now I’m patching the gaps as we’re playing, like you won’t believe. I’ve found the spot where the virus got in. It’s fixed.”

“So in a way he’s doing you a favour?” asked Nadisda.

Valentine grinned. “And how! That should piss him off like crazy!”

“So… it won’t help you if I break him tonight?”

Valentine hesitated. “Whom are you breaking, Nadisda? Hero Hugo, or Connor McNaught?”

“Both, it seems,” she said.

“Break Connor,” replied Valentine. “Leave Hero Hugo his own arrogant self. I need him vicious and ambitious, the way he is. Connor is an ace gamer. But as a cop he is getting too dangerous. Are you sure you can cope?”

She rolled her eyes. “Just play,” she said.

“Let me rally my troupes,” announced Valentine with unconcealed glee. And he walked off back in the direction of the meadow, leaving footsteps of wilted plants behind. Nadisda waved her hand, undoing all the damage he’d done to her grove.

*

“Hold on,” said Nadee and bent over her keyboard, programming like mad. Once again with a minimized window.

“What are you doing?” asked Connor.

“Creating something,” she replied vaguely, then looked up. “Connor, do you love me?”

He gasped for air. “I’m sorry, I’m – I’m not ready for that question!”

“Sorry I asked,” she said and returned to her programming. The tangle of black roses around them became an impenetrable thicket; the creepers from above thickened into gnarled, woody ropes that strangulated each other. An owl hooted somewhere close by; something rustled in the undergrowth. She didn’t seem aware of any of this as she hacked away furiously at the keyboard.

Connor turned to her and lifted her face in his hands. He couldn’t just leave this where it was. Her fingers on the keyboard stilled. Her eyes avoided him; he thought he saw something shimmering in them.

“Do I love you? Do I! Nadee, I didn’t expect the question, that was all.” He gathered her close and kissed her, blind with hunger.

She was not real! She was from a world that could disappear in a blink; programmed by a very dangerous young gangster. She could change, or fade away at any moment, at Nickells’ wish. The fact that she was still here told him that Nickells had an agenda. He should be fighting what he was feeling; he was walking open-eyed, deeper and deeper into a trap – one that probably, Nickells had set for him. But he couldn’t.

“I don’t ever want to be without you again! I want to keep you, forever. Do you understand that? Is there space for that in your strange forest fairy heart?”

She nodded. Black roses? He was learning to read her signals. The black briar roses were an expression of her despair. It reflected his own.

“I’m creating safe spots in the game,” she said. “Doesn’t matter which level you’re in, if you get into real trouble, come to my grove. It will be there on every level. I’ve moved it between levels. Then wait for me. You realize they are after your blood, don’t you?”

She had hoped that by kicking Hugo out of the game, Mike would let go of his revenge against Connor. But she had just learnt that it wasn’t enough.

There was no telling what damage Mike, the first-rate hacker, could do to Connor. If she herself, a complete novice, had found it so easy to hack around in the police files… she only hoped that she could assuage Mike so he could let go of his anger.

She looked up at her love without hope. She would probably end up betraying him tonight. She was as cursed as he was.

Here we go,” she said resignedly, closed the programming window, flickered and disappeared into the game.

Nadee, wait!” exclaimed Conner in dismay.

*

Friday Story Post

I’m a bit early with this, tonight.

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In the meantime, thank you peeps for downloading the shortstory “Suzie” (wow, what a wave!), and thank you Janni Styles for the virtually instant review.  What a sweet surprise!

 


A Friday Fairytale is available at this link, up to this chapter.

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And here’s the new chapter:

11: Cyber

Someone was prowling around the house. Nancy hid in the bedroom, with its curtains closed. She had returned after a few hours at the library, first cautiously, but when she saw no cars around the place, more boldly. If she kept a low profile and escaped every time a car stopped, she’d probably be fine. Except that right now, she was caught in the house. She’d have to hope for an unattended moment and slip out of a door – front, back, it didn’t matter. And take the Dell and external drive with her.

She hoped the police would go easy on Mike, Jen and Ben. After all there was nothing Mike had committed since their last conviction that could in any way be proved. Sure, he’d nicked food and stuff from stores, and she had no idea where he’d ‘found’ that video card for Ben’s computer. But his main efforts had been entirely on creating that game; a project that was meant to boost them all into a legal lifestyle.

There was another thing that weighed on her. She was worried how Nadisda was holding up, right in the stronghold of the enemy. She had tried to find her in the game a few times this morning; but clearly the fairy was not asleep, and was caught in the real world. Maybe she’d have to help her with a jailbreak too.

“Fairy!” came the bright voice of a small child. “Come out, fairy! We know you’re here!”

She peered through the curtains, trying to see who was stalking around the house.

Only a small boy with his mother.

Nancy considered. If she were to help Mike in any way and get them all back out of jail, she’d have to make contact with the outside world. She had thought of getting at least one of the net-worthy laptops to some repair place, having some wiz resurrect it, and reloading the game properly online, making contact with the betas and rallying their support. But without Mike there to direct their play and overwrite the code as needed, she doubted that she’d cope. She’d be hunted down so fast by that scumbag in New York.

She needed to get a message to Mike. He’d know what to do. But she couldn’t do it herself, because she’d just be arrested too.

Was there any way in which she could persuade this kid here to drop off a message at the police station for a jailbird?

They hadn’t called her, though she knew that each of them had the right to one call. She suspected that Mike didn’t want to expose her and make her vulnerable to be tracked down. Still she needed to speak to him!

Well, perhaps she could charm this woman here into giving Mike a message. It was a risk. But she had to take it. She slipped out of the back door, rounded the house and approached the mother and son from the garden.

“Are you the fairy?” asked the little boy, running towards her. “You don’t dress like a fairy! Where are your wings?”

Act like a fairy, she thought and dropped to her knees to get to eye-level with him.

“You can only see them in moments when you really, really believe,” she said with a mysterious smile. And she glanced up at the mother, and got back to her feet, surprised.

That woman was looking at her as though she, too, believed Nancy were a fairy!

“Your secret is safe with us,” said the woman. “I’m Angela, and this is Danny. We saw you. You can tell us. Are those wings electronic?”

Nancy smiled and shook her head.

“I don’t know what you saw, lady,” she said.

“We were looking through a telescope and saw you fly in from the hills over there,” Angela pointed, “and we saw you land here, at the door. It was impressive, it looked like real fairy wings, so whatever it is you have here…”

“There is nothing electronic, I can promise you,” said Nancy.

“Mom, she’s just an ordinary girl!” said Danny, disappointed.

“I saw her fold her wings away, and they disappeared,” replied Angela. “That means, you must be some sort of mutant, right, girl?”

“It’s Nancy,” Nancy introduced herself.

“Can’t you open your wings for us just once, please?” begged Angela. “For Danny. You know, he lost his father last year, and every little bit of hope and belief I can give him, is a good thing.”

Nancy shrugged. “Sorry, lady, I really don’t know what you saw. Could it have been a trick of the light?”

Angela shook her head. “I definitely saw a fairy. So did Danny. We can’t both be crazy.”

Nancy shrugged again. “Actually, if you want to help me, I’d be very thankful.” She nodded at Danny. “There’s a wonderful grove around the back,” she said. “And he’s also welcome to take some of the fruit.”

“Yay!” shouted Danny and tore around to the back of the garden with a lot of noise.

“Maybe we can come to an agreement,” said Angela. “I help you with – whatever it is you said, and you agree to show your wings to Danny?”

“There’s a problem,” said Nancy, thinking very fast. The cooperation of this woman was worth gold. Was there a way of getting it without lying and pretending to be a fairy?

They had spotted Nadisda, this was pretty clear to her. But Nadisda was gone. Flew right into the lion’s den in New York, thought Nancy uneasily. Well, at least she was alive!

It all hinged on Mike. She needed to get to him, break him out of jail come what may. The first step was to send him a message. She thought frantically, while Angela studied her intently.

“Let’s sit down,” she invited, motioning to the steps up to the veranda. “This is complicated.”

They both sat down, Angela on the steps and Nancy on the low red wall flanking them.

“I’m no fairy,” she began.

“But -” protested Angela, but Nancy held up a hand.

“Still, what you saw was real,” she confirmed. “It wasn’t me, though. And the whole thing hinges on a friend of mine, and here is the problem – he’s…” Could she trust this woman? “He’s been locked up on false charges.”

“He’s in jail?” asked Angela, taken aback.

Nancy nodded. “They came and raided us and locked him and our other two friends up. Maybe they wanted to steal the fairy,” she fuelled Angela’s fire.

“So the state is already onto you kids!” said Angela in disgust. “You find an alien, and instantly the CIA…”

Nancy shrugged. “It’s how it goes. Would you do me a favour please? I only got away by luck. I can’t go and contact him. Can you give him a message from me? If we can get him and the others cleared, he can probably get the fairy back.”

“You mean, you guys had a real alien…”

Nancy nodded gravely. “You saw her. It was supposed to be a secret, but she got out somehow.”

“But where is she now?”

“Only Mike can find her,” said Nancy. “If he can. We are all extremely worried about her, but now because of the cops I can’t even try to go search for her.”

“I’ll bring him your message,” said Angela indignantly. “I’ll organize him a lawyer, too! And I’ll take it to the newspapers! Time the CIA got exposed in their nasty little games!”

Newspapers? Hell, no, thought Nancy. Please not!

“If you contact the newspapers, the CIA will be here in no time flash,” she pointed out. “Rather please help me get a message to Mike.”

“This is here at the police station down at the corner?” asked Angela.

“Yep.”

“Tell me your message,” said the woman. “I’ll give it to him.”

“Wait here, I’ll bring some paper,” said Nancy. “He must be able to give me a message back. Please just ask him what he needs. That is the only thing. I don’t know what else to do for them all. He must write the answer down for me or draw it.”

“Sure I’ll do that,” said Angela and waited for Nancy to fetch a pen and paper out of the house.

“Please tell him from Nancy that I’m okay,” said the Goth girl, handing them over to her. Angela called for Danny and set out for the local jail.

Nancy went back into the house, stocked her backpack with food, packed the Dell and the hard-drive and got ready to bolt.

*

The crazy spinning stopped; reality gained traction. The apartment in New York materialized around Connor and Nadisda through a haze of blue light. Morning sun still poured in through the window. Connor touched the gossamer blue fairy wings that had wrapped themselves around them both. They withdrew in shock.

“That’s real?” he asked in wonder. “You actually have wings?”

“You know I do,” replied Nadisda. “You know it from the game.”

“And they can actually teleport,” added Connor in amazement. “You really are a being from the Magic Realms?”

She folded her wings away, self-conscious.

“You have me caught in one tangled web,” said Connor softly, touching her face. “Wish I didn’t have to go to work today.”

“But we must,” said Nadisda urgently. “You have to get Mike and his team free!”

He shook his head sadly as he went to retrieve his bullet-proof vest. Work was work, after all. “I don’t know how, Nadee.”

“At least you have to try!”

He glanced at her, and suddenly there was that flinty hardness in his eyes.

“And I don’t know if I want to,” he added impatiently. “In this world, Nickells is a cyber-criminal, Nadee. He has stolen and looted. I’ve spent months tracking him down! In this world we have laws, and I’m there to make them work.”

“Connor!”

The despair in her voice went like a shard through him. He came back to her, caught her face in his hands and kissed her gently.

“I’ll do my best,” he promised against his better wisdom. A promise he knew he couldn’t keep, even if he’d wanted to. “But you must promise you won’t leave me.”

She nodded.

“You’ll stay here and wait for me?”

She nodded once more. “You too have secrets,” she reminded him darkly.

More secrets than she could guess! “Right. I’ll see you after work, Nadee. Please – can you trust me?”

She nodded again. That wordless sorrow in those opalescent eyes… he very nearly didn’t leave. When he did, he felt as though he were floating.

Nadisda went into the kitchenette, found the drinks cupboard and turned all the whiskey and brandy bottles into dandelion tea. And then she idly returned to his study, to investigate his computer.

*

Angela talked to the police chief while Danny, an inconspicuous child, walked up to the holding cell where all three gamers were locked up.

“I saw your fairy,” he said innocently. “She said I must ask you what you need.”

Mike came to the bars and went down to eye-level with the young child.

“Anything on which I can program,” he said. “Really, anything with a screen and buttons.”

“I have a McDonalds toy,” said Danny and handed a small toy wristwatch to Mike. It did have a screen… and two buttons, one that programmed the time and the other that lit up a tiny light…

“Hmm, I can’t really use this,” said the hacker. “It doesn’t really have enough buttons… a cellphone or a DS or PSP will do it.”

“Got a DS Nintendo,” said Danny and pulled it out of his pocket, handing it to Mike.

“Cool! That’s a great machine,” said Mike as he paged to the programming screens within seconds. “Say, can you go online with this?”

“Sure!” Danny pressed a little button on the side of the DS, and it connected to the internet.

“Give me a minute,” said Mike as he started pressing away on the limited buttons of the DS at supersonic speed.

*

Nadisda felt a tingling sensation in her brain. It felt similar to… when Mike had reprogrammed her with memories! She listened into herself. Was he removing this dreadful curse? Nothing happened about the way she felt about Connor – enslaved, unable to escape – but she suddenly realized she had programming skills.

“Mike, you genius!” she whispered to herself. This was glorious! She could make alterations to her world, add things that weren’t there before, into the actual structure, not just by ordinary magic… she could dig into other games and make programming changes! She could hack into real-world systems… Oh glory, what a time she’d have of it! Could she program changes into the fabric of the real world? Would it turn out that this world was based on some sort of arcane programming too?

But that meant that she could… delete the curse herself! Her thoughts went to Connor and her heart contracted. No. Whatever the reason, that curse had chosen its own course; she wanted to see where it led… bull dung, she didn’t want to lose Connor! The memory of his kisses lingered. It occurred to her that she’d have to make a choice – for Connor, or for Mike. They were enemies, not only in the game, but bitter rivals in the Real World too. And she had chosen Mike’s side, long ago, and she was sticking by that. It was right that way, even if he was the misguided teenage hacker who had – but wouldn’t anymore – dug in other people’s pockets. Mike was her responsibility. She was righting his ethics and teaching him better ways; she felt very protective over the young game creator.

But still, she didn’t want to lose Connor! What she had found there, between them, was entirely something else… so raw, so rare, so totally elemental… she wasn’t even aware of the white starflowers that were pushing up through the carpet.

Wait! By now her metal plant minions had fixed both the exploded power point and the plug. She plugged in the computer and switched it on. It booted up without a hitch; the download was stuck mid-way, with a warning message not to go offline. She clicked it away. The download had failed.

She connected to the net and hacked out Connor’s password into the police network. It was easy, she only had to think about him… “Everrealms”. Correct. And she accessed the files on Mike, Jen, Ben and Nancy and deleted them all from the network. Then she opened Connor’s email program and jumped into it, sending herself to the police office in Third Ave, Detroit. Not realizing that she was leaving a tangled grove of black roses behind in Connor’s apartment.

*

Police Chief Henderson blinked as another young lady walked into his police station to plead on behalf of the newly convicted cyber-criminals. She argued that the tip-off had been a ploy, that there were no genuine charges, and that the entire history of Nickells and co was a confabulation by a cyber-rival.

Henderson shook his head at her fervour but opened the files on the system to show her that the charges were in no way invented – and failed to find the files.

A faint blue mist seeped over the police station. Henderson started doubting himself. Had he actually seen those files, or had he seen a clever construct by another cyber-thug? But wait, it had been a tip-off straight from Connor McNaught… or had it? He was confused now. Connor’s voice had sounded odd, on the phone. Maybe it hadn’t been him? What on Earth? He peered at the absence of files. Connor wouldn’t leave loose ends like that. The cyber-rival story began to sound much more likely. He’d been duped.

Another few minutes, and he unlocked the cells of Mike, Ben and Jen, apologizing to them about the misunderstanding.

“So, son, do you still want to press on with those other charges, against the policeman in New York?” he asked Mike.

“Definitely,” said Mike angrily. “He had us arrested under false charges, and he’s stolen my game and wrecked our computers! Piracy and wilful damages. And abuse of his position as police officer.”

Nadisda gaped. She hadn’t expected this.

“You’re suing Connor?”

“That pig’s going to rot in jail,” spat Mike, then looked up sheepishly at Henderson. “No offence, sir. We only call officers ‘pigs’ if they break the law.”

Henderson laughed. “I know you don’t, you little louse! Now go home! Keep on the straight and narrow, kids! Sorry about the scare and the uncomfortable night.”

“All forgiven,” trilled Jen before her brother could utter anything more damaging. “Thank you, officer!” And she herded the boys, Nadisda and Angela out of the station, the latter having picked up Danny.

*

Nancy couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the group approach, in broad daylight.

“Ben! Mike! Jen!” She ran to meet them, and gave Nadisda an extra hug. “Oh, it’s so good to see you, fairy! Did you survive the lion’s den?”

“What?” asked Mike sharply.

“I was caught in a loop in the game,” said Nadisda with a warning glance at Nancy. “Your programming got me out of there.”

“Oh! Well, good.”

Nancy turned to Angela.

“How on Earth did you get that right?”

“It was Danny,” said Mike. “He lent me his DS so I could program. You did it, Danny!”

“It was the fairy!” piped Danny. “She put a blue mist over the policeman and next he let everyone out!”

“Blue mist?” asked Nancy quizzically.

“So he wasn’t thinking straight.”

Nancy beamed.

“But does that mean that we’ve got another jailbreak on our records?” she asked.

“It just puts us where we were before they came for us,” said Jen with a philosophical shrug.

“Actually, no,” Nadisda corrected her. “I fixed the records so the charges were dropped. I also fixed the police chief’s memories.”

You fixed the files?” asked Mike admiringly.

“You did give me programming skills,” she replied with a broad grin. “Thank you for those!”

“Just how fast do fairies fly?” asked Mike. “I had barely finished giving you those skills and you arrived.”

“We fly fast,” agreed Nadisda. “But I sent myself by email. It’s faster. Valentine,” she added urgently, “I need you to get the game back online. Come hell or high water. You four must play tonight.”

“But our computers are rotten with virus,” objected Jen.

“Let’s see about that!” Nadisda led the way into the house. She glanced about the commune. Too shoddy. With a flick of her hand, she cleared away any clothes and stuff that lay around. She repainted the walls and ceilings in white, making Gothic black roses wreathe all over them. She turned the boxes they had been using to put their computers onto, into coffee tables with intricately carved legs. She fixed the broken couches and the tattered carpet, giving them all a brand-new, homey finish. If Connor the Cop could waste all that kind of luxury and style on living alone, why should her friends not live in beauty too?

“Impressive!” said Mike approvingly. Danny, who was holding Jen’s hand, bounced up and down in excitement.

“You really are a fairy!” he peeped. And he turned to Nancy. “Wish you were one too!”

Nadisda looked at Nancy and smiled. With a wave of her hand she conjured the Goth girl a pair of wings of black lace. Nancy flapped them experimentally, and gasped.

“I can fly?”

“Shall we try it out together?” asked Nadisda. “Bit later though.” She pulled a fairy wand out of nowhere and handed it to Nancy. “There, now you can grant wishes.”

Nancy stood speechless.

“High time the Perfect Princess becomes a Fairy Princess,” commented Nadisda. “Right, Valentine?”

The programmer grinned broadly.

Angela took a seat on the newly redone couch, with Danny on her lap. Nancy waved her fairy wand and an espresso machine popped up in a corner. She waved the wand again and a shelf with mugs appeared. From that, she started serving people the best coffee she had managed to make in an age.

“You’re the best, Nadisda,” she beamed.

The forest fairy had something else to do though. First she resurrected the computers with magic, so that they would at least boot up. Mike connected the rescued hard drive and copied the program back onto his laptop, agonizing the whole time about the risk of having the disk infected.

With Mike’s programming enhanced with Nadisda’s magic, the four computers were up and running again in a fairly short while. Mike scanned intensely for virus and malware, then he cautiously opened the latest savegame. The last backup had not been destroyed. It took them right before they met Hero Hugo in the town. Nadisda flew her avatar over the lands to check for yellow fog. So far there was none.

“Get online and get playing,” she encouraged the four players. “I have somewhere I have to be.”

“What? I thought we’re doing this together?” asked Mike with a worried crease in the middle of his forehead that strengthened his resemblance to Valentine the Villain.

“I have to be somewhere,” said Nadisda. “I’ve set it up for you. Gather as many beta players as you can, and back up in two different places, and alternate them. Help Ben find the moonstone. I have a mission.”

“What mission?” asked Mike quizzically.

“A curse for Hero Hugo,” she replied with a grin. “Tonight we kick him – not only off the gameboard but out of reality. Sorry. You’ll have to create a new heroic hero, Valentine. This one went bad.”

“Fairy,” said Mike seriously, catching her by her wrist, “just remember please. Doesn’t matter what he’s done. You can’t go after Connor and kill him. In this world, that is murder, and they’ll never stop hunting us down for it. And besides, it’s evil. It’s the worst evil we’ve got. It turns you evil, and I don’t want that for you.”

She smiled at him and gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

“Who said I’m going to kill Connor? It’s only Hero Hugo I’ll kick so hard he’ll be able to say his name backwards.” She paused. “Actually, that metaphor doesn’t really work. Oguh.”

“Adsidan,” grinned Mike. “Sounds middle-eastern.”

“Enitnelav,” she retorted. “Sounds slavic. Could you minimize the game for a second and open your general google? I’d like the maps.”

“What do you do with the maps?”

“I find my position, and then I become that little yellow person and drop down there. It’s safer than emailing me from your computer.”

Mike laughed and opened his browser on Google Maps.

“Be good, girl!”

“Later!” She vanished into his screen.

“Mark the spot!” exclaimed Jen. “We’ve got him now! She’s shown us where to find him!”

Mike turned to her with a scowl, then to Nancy.

“Spill it, kid. Where is the ‘lion’s den’ you two were conspiring about earlier?”

*

Nadisda’s heart was beating faster than her wings. She had to get back to Connor and warn him… how the heck was she going to tell him that Mike wanted to sue him for false arrests and cyber-theft without letting on that she’d hacked his systems herself, freed the hacker and cooked the police files? And yet! It wasn’t right. Connor shouldn’t be sent to prison. Something told her that that was the worst thing that could happen. She wasn’t sure if it was only the curse singing in her ears.

*

“So, where is it?” asked Mike.

Nancy shrugged. “She somehow managed to break into McNaught’s apartment and stop his systems from copying your files.”

“Brilliant!” exclaimed Mike, slapping his thigh in excitement. “Anything else? – Wait! Don’t tell me. She also broke into his own files and deleted us from the police profiles! Course! What a girl! She emailed herself? She gave us everything, Nance! Everything! We can trace his computer, we can find him online, and we can find him physically by looking where on Google she went. What a genius!” He bent over his keyboard and opened a programming window. “Time to strike back,” he muttered.

*

*


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A Friday Fairytale (free on Smashwords, updated to the chapter before this one)