The Hard Role of the Reviewer

For reasons I’ve yet to be able to explain, I’ve seen an uptick in folks I know talking about the process of reviewing books. I don’t know who patient zero for this epidemic was, however, I do know that I’ve seen this topic come up from a lot of people recently. In these threads/discussions/videos/Twitter rants/etc, there have been two primary items that I’ve seen being discussed.

  1. Should you tag/make authors aware of your negative reviews of their work?
  2. Can you review something objectively when your like or dislike of the work isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of said work?

I wanted to take a moment to talk about these two ideas, both from the perspective of someone who is an author, as well as from the perspective of a reviewer. I swear the fact that I had a book review come out last week wasn’t intentional, though it was a nice lead into this topic.

Should You Make Authors Aware of your Negative Reviews?

Short answer: As a rule, no, but it depends.

Long answer: As humans, we aren’t particularly good at taking criticism from others well. While there are individuals that we may be more receptive to criticism from, it’s still not a particularly ideal experience. One of the things that I think people fail to realize when they write a book for the first time is that the book is no longer yours once it’s published. While you may still be the author of the book, the content you write now belongs to your readers. Some of your readers will not like your book. That’s just the hard reality of being a writer.

One of the first books I ever wrote a review for was a book I got for free in exchange for the review. I didn’t like the book. At all. But I was probably much harsher than I needed to be in my review. And I made the mistake — again, this being my first review — of tagging the author on Twitter and publicizing my negative review with them regularly tagged in my tweets. In retrospect, it was a shitty thing for me to do as a reviewer. While it was my first review that I’d ever written, I failed to consider the human impact of sharing with the author how much I disliked their book.

At this point, you’d think it’s a pretty cut and dry line that you shouldn’t share a negative review with an author. And once the book is published, I think this is true, particularly if you’re trying to get publicity for your own review based off of the author’s fame. So when is there an acceptable time to tell someone you don’t like their book? I feel like the obvious answer here is if you’re asked for any negative feedback prior to the book being published. If an author is trusting you enough to request your feedback prior to a book getting released to the public, provide whatever feedback you can to help them. It ultimately will make their book a better finished product. That’s not to say to be a jerk about your feedback. Trust me, as I’ve done that and it hasn’t gone well. But pre-publishing feedback is extremely valuable.

This is not to say you can’t have a negative review of a book. If you didn’t like a book and you want to leave a negative review on Goodreads, Amazon, your own blog, or somewhere else, that’s totally fine. Not every book is for everyone. Authors do read reviews of their books. I know that while I haven’t taken every piece of negative feedback I’ve had to heart, I have made an active effort to learn from that feedback and become a better writer because of it. As a rule of thumb, I’m much more willing to listen to a negative review that’s kind than one that’s inflammatory.

Can You Dislike Something and Still Find it Good?

I used to have a much more black and white answer on this question than I do now. The strange thing is that I’ve swung around to both ends of the spectrum on this answer, all before landing somewhere in the middle. Allow me to dissect where I stand on this by looking at the example of three different books/pieces I’ve read over time.

One of my least favorite books of all time is a book I had to read in high school called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. I can objectively look back at the book and say that it makes a ton of great points about environmentalism, upcycling, and sustainability. That said, even after a re-read later in life, I still dislike the book. Perhaps it’s because it was a required reading during a year in high school where all of the readings felt forced (more than normal, that is). Maybe it’s because my initial reading of the book came at a time where I disagreed with much of the book’s premise, tainting my perception of it well after my world view has changed to fall more in line with the book’s points. Whatever it is, reading Cradle to Cradle is still painful for me, even though I can objectively say the book isn’t bad.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve read a good amount of fan fiction that would, by many standards, be considered to be terrible writing. That said, I love them. For example, I will read most RWBY fan fiction, regardless of how fan service-y it gets. I can objectively say that some of it is bad. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading it less. Even writing styles that get scorn for other reasons like erotica can suffer this same fate — the reader can enjoy the work even if it’s not Dickens-level writing complexity.

With that all said, there are situations where a piece of literature may be well-written or have other positive qualities, but because of the author that penned the piece, there will be an inherent dislike for that work. In my most recent Q&A podcast, I talked about how Anthem by Ayn Rand became this for me once I learned more about Rand, however she is certainly not the only example of this. There’s a surprisingly high number of people who can write a coherent book (or at the very least have hired someone who can do so) while themselves being disgraceful individuals. Although I do try to separate author from work when writing reviews, there are situations that are too egregious to do so.

Foxtails – Extended Version

The following post is an extended version of a short story I wrote in August of 2017 by the same name. Those who support me on my Patreon account at the $10 a month level not only got early access to the extended story you see below, they also got an exclusive patron-only audio reading of this story. If you’d like to get future perks such as this (or any of the other perks I offer), support me on Patreon.


I stood at the end of the bike path and stared out into the park before me. Sweat dripped down my forehead and into my eyes, clouding my vision temporarily before I wiped it away. I took a deep breath and made a mental note as to how my day was progressing. 18.5 miles done, 18.5 to go.

I walked my bicycle through the grassy park and toward the picnic area on the far side of the park. I leaned its emerald frame against the support posts of the gazebo and walked over to the nearby water fountain. The chilling liquid flowed forth from the silver spigot and hit my lips with its icy touch. My face flinched back instinctively from the shock before I went back in and took a couple of long drinks from the water’s flow. Though the water had a slight metallic aftertaste to it — and an even more faint scent of sulfur along with it — I gulped the water down ravenously. It was shit water, but it was familiar and comforting.

I knelt to the ground, adjusting my shoes around my feet in an effort to limit the soreness that would develop on my ride home. With calm and purposeful movements I learned as a teen, I unlaced the top holes on each side of my shoe, weaving their plastic coated aglets back through those top two holes, creating a loop I could swoop the opposite lace through. For whatever reason, this configuration of shoe tying always made my feet less sore after a run or a ride. At the bare minimum, the placebo effect was strong with this ritual.

I took a moment and absorbed my surroundings. It had been thirteen years since I was last in this park. As I expected when I set off on my ride today, not much has changed here. This town never changes. Sure, the gazebo had a fresh coat of paint (or two) in that time. The swing set had gone from a four seat apparatus to a three seat one. The people walking by had grown measurably older. But at its core, this was the same tiny hamlet I left after high school. While its charm and nostalgia had grown to tourists as it aged, the shortcomings of the town — and its people — appears as larger and more hideous blemishes to me with each new year. At least I was just passing through. Had my mission for the day required anything longer than this, I’m sure I would have said something to someone that pissed them off. It always happened that way.

As a warm summer breeze blew in from the west, I grabbed my bike and hopped on, pedaling back up the path via which I had arrived a few minutes prior. June was hardly my favorite month to be outdoors — I strongly preferred a jog through the vibrant October foliage or a hike in the frigid January air — but this seemed different.

I wasn’t more than twenty yards from the gazebo when an old man waved and called after me frantically.

“Ollie?” he shouted. “Ollie? Is that you?”

I kept pedaling, pretending I didn’t notice him. He was right about my identity. Everyone knew everyone in this small town. I just knew this man better than most. His name was Albert Kariss. He was a custodian at the elementary school, assistant coach of the wrestling team I captained in high school, and the neighbor of my third girlfriend, Mallory Quill. Even though I knew Albert and found him to be one of the less objectionable people in this area, I wasn’t about to talk to him today. My mind wouldn’t let me.

For weeks I had been battling this feeling that I was missing something. It took me a while to put my finger on what exactly was lacking. At first I chalked it up to being overworked and under caffeinated, though a long weekend and copious amounts of espresso later, I was still perplexed, albeit shakier. I took a short vacation from my day-to-day life to clear my head, skirting off from my townhome in northeastern Ohio to spend some time at a secluded cabin in upstate New York. However by the end of my time away, instead of having clarity and calmness, the feeling had only become more pronounced. It was as if a ghost from the past was calling out to me, beckoning me to seek it out. Yet no matter how loud the ghost yelled for me, I could not recognize its name, or its purpose.

The source of this feeling, however, I was sure of. I decided to take one last shot at trying to satiate whatever was stirring inside of me. Perhaps I was acting quixotically in hoping that there was some silver bullet that could kill this nagging feeling. It was a phase. It would pass. All things do. Yet, despite knowing this fact, or at least believing in the passage of all feelings, factual belief or otherwise, I set out for a place I hadn’t been in nearly a decade and a half, recreating an activity lodged even further in the past along the way.

A little under a mile up the path from the gazebo, I came to a road crossing. The bike path was leaving town — this would be the last road I’d cross for four miles — but not before crossing over a tiny street that saw virtually no traffic. In one direction, I could see the side street end on the main street of town. There were three or four houses on the street, all bunched at the corner of the primary road. In the other direction, the road continued on for around two hundred feet, crossing the bike path before becoming a dead-end at a fence leading into acres upon acres of soybeans. A tractor was more likely to cross the bike path on the road than a car. A bench sat on either side of the end of the road, often serving as a final stopping point before the park for any biker or runner needing a breather.

In my youth, I had stopped and sat on those very benches countless times. When running, they provided me with a place to sit for a few minutes before I finished my workout. Had I lived in the area as an adult, I likely would have done the same thing, though because I truly needed a breather rather than the act of laziness that my teen self took it as. If I was biking, particularly with a group of friends, the benches where a place for those of us who rode faster to pause for those who moved at a more leisurely pace. But those weren’t the moments that I associated with this place in the archive of my mind. At the age of 14, it was where I had my first kiss.

Mallory was my third girlfriend — well, literally third. I should really count her as my first girlfriend, as the previous two relationships lasted a combined five days of sixth grade. That said, she was technically my third girlfriend…but my first kiss. My first romantic kiss. Granted, I had been exposed to sloppy kisses from my great aunts that smelled of equal parts cigarette smoke, day-old hollandaise sauce, and that one old lady perfume that no one knows the name of but every seventy-year-old white grandmother who carries two Bibles in her purse seems to use. Those kisses were the stuff of nightmares. Mallory’s was not.

A group of eight of us had decided to bike the entire trail over a two-day span. Our parents all dropped us off at my friend Steve’s grandparents’ house, which was at the opposite end of the trail from the park with the gazebo. We’d ride that afternoon to Mallory’s house, which was just minutes from the park. We’d stay there overnight, then rode back to Steve’s grandparents’ so that our families could pick us up the following afternoon.

The first day of the ride was pleasant, albeit uneventful. Steve and his best friend, Matt, stopped at every possible gas station on the way to buy something. Usually it was a candy bar or something cheap like that. Apparently before the ride began, they had set a goal to see if they could ride the entire trail while stopping at every gas station on the way and buying something, all for under ten dollars. No idea if they succeeded. I spent most of the day riding in a group of three featuring Mallory, her best friend, Anne, and myself. The other three members of our group featured the Covelli twins, Ashleigh and MacKenzie, along with Ashleigh’s boyfriend, Trent. Throughout the day, Ashleigh and Trent kept sneaking off, trying to find somewhere just off the path to make out without the rest of the group noticing. Unfortunately for them, MacKenzie watched them like a hawk, leaving their freedom to be more of a want than a reality. Between all the stops for everyone, the ride took most of the day, even though it shouldn’t have.

We arrived at Mallory’s house in time for her father to make us all hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. The group of us stayed outside and huddled around the fire pit long after the sun had gone down, and well after Mallory’s parents and sisters had gone to bed. Around two in the morning, the twins were the first to turn in, quickly followed by Steve, Trent, and Matt. Anne snuck off to have a cigarette, while Mallory and I shared a blanket to protect us from the cool summer breeze. We worked our way through the quarter bag of marshmallows left, burning all of them to a crisp just to see how long they’d stay on the skewer.

About four o’clock, Mallory and I made our way inside, walking hand-in-hand up the narrow steps leading to her back patio. She went up to her room, while I curled up on a couch in the basement. I could hear Steve snoring from the recliner across the room, his tenor tones nearly perfectly alternating with similar snores from Ashleigh — or was it MacKenzie? — in the next room over. I was nearing sleep when I felt someone poke me lightly on the shoulder.

“Are you two dating yet?” Anne asked, the smell of yet another cigarette running off of her breath and into my nostrils.

“I think so?” I said, unsure of the actual answer. “At least, I want to be.”

“That’s good. As long as you make her happy, I won’t have to slit your throat.”

I could hear Anne smiling through the darkness.

“Sleep tight!” she said excitedly as she left the room.

I did not, as Anne put it, sleep tight.

On the second day of the ride, Steve decided that he wanted everyone to race back to his grandparents. Most of the group took off and rode as fast as they could, but Mallory and I didn’t feel like trying hard. The late night had sapped both of us from our energy, and though a massive stack of pancakes for breakfast was helpful, I still felt like I’d been hit by a train. Mallory, sensing my fatigue while feeling a good bit of it herself, had apparently convinced Anne to give us some time to ourselves. At least we’d enjoy the ride, even if we fell asleep midway through.

We stopped at the benches by the soybean fields and sat for fifteen minutes or so, watching as the sun melted the dew off of the giant foxtails growing by the fence at the road’s turnaround. Mallory leaned her head into my shoulder, resting there as we watched the droplets fall or vaporize, depending on their size. Her strawberry blonde hair still smelled strongly of the campfire from the night before.

“Is Anne actually going to hurt me if we date and I fuck up?” I asked, my eyes closed as I focused on the lingering scent of burnt maple wood and sugar emanating from Mallory’s soft locks.

“Depends how you fuck up,” she replied. “Did you mean to hurt me?”

“In this hypothetical situation? No.”

“Then no,” Mallory said, squeezing my hand in hers. “She’s all bark and no bite.”

As we got up to leave, Mallory gripped my hand and pulled me towards her. We only kissed for a moment, but in that moment, time stopped. I know its cliché to say, but everything around me evaporated from existence. All that there was in that moment was Mallory, me, and that slow, soft kiss.

It ended as soon as it began. Mallory laughed and jumped on her bicycle, pedaling off as quickly as she could into the distance. I gave chase after her, catching up around a mile later. We eventually caught up with everyone else, save for Steve, who won his own race convincingly. Despite that middle school kiss, Mallory and I broke up before the summer ended. I couldn’t even tell you why at this point in life. It just sort of happened.

We went our separate ways throughout high school, always staying decent friends, but never being particularly close. She went off to college at Central Michigan, while I pursued my studies at the University of Buffalo. We wouldn’t date until graduate school, where we happened to end up in the same economics program at Wright State University. I married her seven years later.

As my mind drifted back from long-gone days to my adulthood quest to free my mind, I parked my bike and sat down on the same bench Mallory and I had sat on as teens. It wasn’t literally the same bench — the rotting wooden benches had been replaced by nicer composite ones some years back — but the view was the same. Giant foxtails fading into farmland, dew clinging to their edges like tears on eyelashes. In the distance, I heard thunder echo through the sky. Even if I was bound and determined to relive that moment where I found that first glimpse of love, the world was not going to melt away for me today.

Save for a quick burst of rain, my ride ended uneventfully. I loaded my bicycle and drove home slowly. It wasn’t a race, after all. I arrived home shortly before dusk and unloaded my bike from the bed of my truck, taking a moment to refill the water bottle I’d brought with me from the hose on the side of my house. After a short breather, I left my house began to pedal up the street, just as I had nearly every day for the last year.

Unlike the bike path from earlier, which largely wound through small towns and farm land, this trip covered sidewalks and bike lanes through the suburbs. Though traffic was light this evening, I still had to be aware of my surroundings at all times. My mind couldn’t wander and linger as it had this morning or afternoon, lest I get hit by the driver of an over-sized pickup truck who was too busy texting to see me. Even though the ride was short — a mile and a half at most — it felt like it took twice as long as the 37 mile round-trip trek from earlier thanks to the amount of focus I had to place on not becoming a distracted driving statistic.

I stopped at an iron gated cemetery, locking my bicycle to the fence outside. I entered by foot, taking the same robotic path I always did — twenty-three steps forward to the first footpath, turn right, one hundred and six steps forward, turn left, then nine steps forward. I could do it in my sleep, I’m certain of it. There’s plenty of times I’d made the same walk in a fog, both a literal one and a figurative one. Sleep walking couldn’t be that much harder.

I came to a stop, reached into my pocket, and removed the giant foxtail heads I had picked from the grass by the bench. I placed them on Mallory’s grave and kissed the headstone, hoping that somewhere…wherever she may be…she was feeling the same way she did when we both had our first kiss.

The feeling of missing something wasn’t gone. I don’t know why I expected it to be. In the thirteen months since Mallory’s passing, the feeling waxed and waned, but never fully disappeared. I had hoped that reconnecting to a point in the past that was such a profound instance of happiness for me — as well as for Mallory, as she would admit after we’d been dating for some time — would calm the hollow feeling inside my soul. But it didn’t work. It never did.

I sat down on the rain-dampened path in front of Mallory’s headstone, staring ahead blankly at the monolithic slab in front of me. After a few moments, my eyes began to unfocus and my vision blurred. It was almost as if I were staring through the headstone, as if it weren’t even there. The exercise had become part of my routine since Mallory had died. It made me feel like the grave wasn’t real. If the grave wasn’t real, she couldn’t be gone. I’d get up from my seated position, bike home, and she’d be there, annoyed I’d left without telling her.

It never worked.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, rising from my seated position slowly. The long ride was finally starting to catch up to me, my back and hamstrings pulsing with dull, deep throbs. There was only one place left to go: home. I didn’t want to go back. I never did. But I had to. If I didn’t go home, there’s a chance I wouldn’t come back tomorrow. If I didn’t come back tomorrow, that was the first step to Mallory being forgotten. The memories of her were all I had left. I wasn’t going to let those go too.

WIP Update #3

My inner monologue: Oh hey. Are we at the six month mark where we provide an update to the novel you’ve been working on fort he better part of a year now?

*Checks calendar*

Also me: Yeah. Well, more or less. But it was a really shitty six months where I didn’t get much done because I was struggling with a ton of shit mentally. I was to the point where I felt like I was in a rut I’d never get out of1I wrote about this for an upcoming post that will go up at some point in (likely) March.. You can’t have expected me to write during that time.

My inner monologue: Did you write anything new in story?

Also me: Yes…

My inner monologue: Let’s hear about it then.

Also me: Finnnnneeeeeee.

Oh hey. Happy…*checks calendar again*…February. I know some of you are wondering how my work in progress of a novel is going. Especially since I decided to make finishing a draft (or two) of it one of my writing goals for this year. And yes, I know that doing a separate work in progress update post doesn’t exempt me from my regularly scheduled quarterly goal update posts, but if there’s any way I can get more posts out of the same amount of content with how busy I’ve been the last couple of months, I’m going to take advantage of it.

When we last checked in on my progress of the first draft, I had around 35,000 words and just under half of my chapters written. I can happily say that — as of writing this — the draft is now over 53,000 words, with 21 of the 26 planned chapters written, as well as the 22nd chapter started. At this point, it’s looking like the initial draft of the book will end up somewhere in the 65,000-75,000 word range, which is a bit short of where I’d ideally like to have the book when it’s completed. That said, I’ve already identified a few areas of the book that will receive some significant expanding in the second draft. Part of this will be for world building reasons, while part of it will be to better flesh out the backstory of one or two of the main characters.

On the plus side, being this far into the draft has gotten me to the point where I’m comfortable discussing some of the broader points of the book in a bit more detail. Since I’m still WAY far out from having this book ready for publishing in any capacity, I’ve deceided to limit that sharing to those who support me on Patreon rather than the general public. One of this month’s rewards was a podcast giving a little context as to two of the main characters of the story, but I’ll be expanding on this more in the coming months. If you’d like some of those pre-release updates, you could always consider supporting me on Patreon. Wink wink nudge nudge.

I’m also hoping that this first book will become part of a larger series. While I don’t have too much I can share about that at this point, I will say that there will be a noticeable tonal shift between this book — which is intended to be a sci-fi slice of life love(ish) story — to the rest of the series (which will keep the sci-fi parts, though not so much on the slice of life or love story parts). There are a couple of characters in this work in progress that will feature heavily in the rest of the series, hence wanting to build up backstory for those characters as I mentioned above.

I’m still hoping to have the first draft done by mid-April, which will require some significant writing over the course of this week to be a safe bet. Time after this week has the potential to get a bit more scarce2For reasons I’ll share in a later post., so if I can crank out an additional chapter or two before the middle of the month, it’ll make hitting that deadline a bit easier.

Of the various projects I’ve been working on, this is definitely the one I can remember being the most excited about. I wrote the short story that this project is based off of nearly two years ago at this point, so it’s been a story whose plot and characters I’ve become quite attached to. I’m excited to eventually share it with all of you.

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge: An Update

I’ve been doing the Mid-Month Short Story Challenge since July of 2017. In that time, I’ve posted 16 prompts covering a decently wide range of genres, story styles, and other gimmicks to try to challenge both myself and others who were participating in the challenge to create unique stories. During that time, I’ve enjoyed developing my own writing skills based on prompts that were often created in collaboration with other people.

I put the Mid-Month Short Story Challenge on hiatus in December because I didn’t expect to have time to write a new short story around Christmas, nor did I expect anyone else to do so. That said, as I was creating my writing goals for 2019, I came to a realization. While the MMSSC has been a great way to build my own skills as a writer, it has not taken off in the same way I had hoped it would. Through 16 editions of the prompts, there have been a total of 4 stories other than mine written from those prompts. Total, that is, not per prompt. And while I do enjoy the challenge myself, I don’t feel the need to produce new MMSSC prompts if no one is writing for them aside from me. I already have a work in progress I procrastinate on a ton.

While I may bring back the MMSSC in the future, it likely won’t be soon. If you are interested in writing a short story based on one of the old prompts, that’s awesome! I’ve linked the prompts below, along with a very short description of each.

As for my favorite stories that I’ve written as part of this challenge, I’m quite partial to the weirdness that was Earth: A Study of Simulated Planet Behavior from prompt 11, as well as my first attempt at a true fantasy story with prompt 2’s response, In Training. The other notable thing that these prompts allowed me to do was to expand on abandoned projects I’d used for other things, such as The Isle Charon as well as Foxtails.

Thank you to everyone who has read the Mid-Month Short Story Challenge posts over the past year and a half or so. It’s been a lot of fun to do. I’ll make sure to give a heads up before restarting the project if I do reboot it in the future.

Eyes Upon Us

This post is a response to November 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


The beauty of frequent airport travel is that you begin to learn the best places to sit in your home airport before your flight. For me, this is completely contingent on what I’m doing. If I have a lot of work to get done before my flight, I’ll find a corner near my gate where I can camp out with an outlet and put headphones in. If I’m travelling with others, I find that it’s most efficient just to get to your gate, find seats for everyone, then send off small parties for food so as to save seats.

Today, I’m flying alone for work, but I have nothing to do before my flight. This is my favorite time at the airport, as I can sit and people watch. For the early morning flights that my job necessitates, this means the optimal place to sit is a small grove of black tables and yellow chairs near the Starbucks and McDonald’s in the D concourse. This placement is great because I can see people leaving both restaurants, all while still watching the four gates across from the food area.

My morning begins with a rambunctious child announcing himself by sprinting ahead of his parents, a tiny suitcase thrashing wildly behind him. His parents lag some twenty to thirty steps behind. Mom appears to be on the phone with some family member making plans while dad pushes a stroller housing a small child with one arm and drags a larger version of the child’s suitcase with his other. Their story is not particularly interesting. I see it nearly every time I come to the airport. Grandma/grandpa/distant cousin Louis has died and the young family has a funeral that they need to go to either out of caring for that family member or obligation to avoid hearing whining from the family members that do care. It’s a coin flip which one is the case.

Behind them, a young woman in sweatpants and a pajama top carries a duffel bag over one shoulder as she stares down at her phone. Her crimson dye no longer covers all of her hair, sandy blonde roots poking out at the base of her skull. She strolls into the Starbucks and takes her place at the back of the line, still deeply engrossed in whatever is featured on the screen in front of her. This type of traveler is growing increasingly common. While I certainly find myself doing this on many of my own trips, it’s much harder for me to imagine their story when my view of them is nothing more than a face and a screen in the crowd.

After a short lull in the early morning foot traffic, I’m greeted by my first real opportunity of the morning. A middle aged couple — at least I presume they’re a couple from their matching non-corporate suitcases and laptop bags, similar styles of wedding rings, and general disdain for one another — came walking up the ramp that led to my area of the terminal. The woman walked five to ten steps ahead of the man, her pace only slowed out of annoyance when she allowed him to catch up.

The man’s name either Oliver or Shithead. I assume the former, though the woman referred to him by the latter much more frequently. If their roles were switched — the woman looking frightened in the face of a truculent man verbally berating her — it’s likely that one of the several passersby in the airport would have said something. Instead, everyone looked at the couple with worried eyes and scared faces.

Oliver took a seat on the ground near the giant window between gates D21 and D23 that overlooked the tarmac. He shouted after the woman — her name was Amelia — asking her to get him a coffee, black with sugar. Whether or not she heard him was unclear. Amelia joined the line at Starbucks, three people behind the crimson haired girl. Through all the shouting, said girl was the only person that I noticed who didn’t look up at Amelia and Oliver. Personal sound bubbles created by headphones are a hell of a drug.

A giant blue, red, and yellow plane tail made its way past the window, driving its way down to a gate further along the concourse. Oliver’s head turned to follow the plane’s path, watching it until it made its way out of sight. As his head turned all the way to the left, I noticed a tear rolling down his face, hitting the shoulder of his gray t-shirt. Oliver opened his laptop bag and pulled out a small bottle of pain killers. He popped the lid off, dropped two of the pills in his hand, then quickly consumed them.

I heard a gabby pair of gentlemen walk out of the McDonald’s behind me and make their way back toward the main concourse area. The taller of the two men — a slender fellow with ash brown hair and a black duster — paused their walking by elbowing the shorter man in the arm. The tall main pointed towards Oliver with two fingers, leading the shorter man to nod and walk off without the taller man. The tall man removed his coat, folding it over his arm, and begin walking towards Oliver.

At first glance, the tall man looked like an odd cross between on Old West gunfighter and an evangelical Midwestern preacher. I blame the duster. But the more than I looked at him, the more he seemed like a kindly person than either of the negative stereotypes he initially appeared to be. The man walked over to Oliver, held out his hand, and helped Oliver to his feet.

Oliver began talking to the man, though from the distance they were away, I couldn’t make out anything they were saying. Oliver mostly nodded, the corners of his mouth fighting their hardest to avoid being in a frowning position. He sighed heavily and sat down in a nearby chair, holding his head in his hands. The tall man stood closer to him, placing his hand on Oliver’s back and rubbing it in small, circular motions lightly.

After a few minutes, Amelia exited the coffee shop, a cup of coffee in each hand, and walked toward the window. She handed Oliver his coffee, then began talking to the tall man. I wondered if she would continue her shouting at Oliver in front of the man or not. It was clear that she didn’t have — or at the very least chose not to use — the restraint not to do so earlier. Would she do it when she was more than just a (very noticeable) face in the crowd?

Instead, after a brief conversation, Amelia handed her coffee to Oliver, then wrapped her arms around the tall man and hugged him. Their embrace didn’t last long, though it was evident that there was some sort of pre-existing relationship between the two of them. My best guess would have to be that the three of them were mutual friends at some point in the past, though at this stage, the tall man was much closer to Amelia than to Oliver.

As I watched their embrace, I had failed to notice that the shorter man from before had taken a seat the table beside me. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and silver tie. On the left side lapel of his jacket, he wore a small pin of an orange fox. The shorter man too was looking on, watching this scene from afar.

“What’s going on over there?” I asked him as I took a sip of my coffee.

“Who?” he asked, “me?”

“Yeah. Do you guys know the lady that was screaming at that man earlier?”

“Kind of,” he replied. “The man over there holding his jacket is the head of Cyngreen Research.”

“The company trying to find out how to access the Halycon Realm?”

“That’s the one. He’s always trying to meet people he runs into that don’t act like typical humans.”

“Hoping to meet a being from Halycon?” I asked.

“Precisely.”

“Any luck?”

The shorter man shuffled in his seat and smiled as he turned towards me.

“Of course,” he replied. “Where are you flying to today?”

“Boston.”

“What a coincidence. How would you like to join us for dinner? We’d love to hear more about the Halycon Realm from someone who is from there.”

I laughed to myself as he reached out his hand to shake mine.

“You have a good eye,” I said. “How about Al Dente in the North End. 7pm?”

“It’d be our pleasure, mister…”

“Ka’la Banon.”