All posts by Jim Stitzel

Jim cultivates interests in a variety of areas. He is an avid storyteller, specializing in (dark) speculative fiction and webcomics. He is also a professional code wrangler and dabbles in amateur photography.

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Grey mist sails past his face, and it is enough to shake him from his reverie. His mind is sluggish, slow, as though he is awakening from a dream. Perhaps he is, but then he has woken into a nightmare.

He looks down at his hands, outstretched before him, palms up. His skin is grey, wrinkled, gnarled. He doesn’t remember being old, but he understands that there is much he does not remember.

Past his fingers, the ground is an even deeper shade of grey. Anywhere else, it would be green, but here the grass, like everything else, holds no color at all.

At his back a dark building looms, blacker than shadow. This he knows — somehow — without even looking. Entry is forbidden, and impossible. A fence of smoke encloses him in this tiny yard, and again he knows, without quite understanding how, that to cross that line would expose him further to the nightmares of this place.

But cross it he will, eventually. He must. There is… SOMETHING… out in those mists, and its call will allow him to do nothing else.

Everywhere I Go

You’ve heard the expression, “Everywhere you go, there you are.” Well, I’ve got a variation for you.

“Everywhere I go, there you are.”

Frankly, I’m getting tired of it. At first I thought it was just me. You know, how you see a familiar face in a crowd, only to look again and it’s not who you thought at all and the resemblance is only passing. Thing is, it was clearly your face.

It happened infrequently at first, then with increasing regularity, to the point where it was unsettling. And I don’t get unsettled easily. But you already know that.

I tried catching up to you once, to confront you, but by the time I got to you, you were gone.

And then things got really strange.

I had a day recently where I saw you, through a glass storefront, then glanced to the side and saw you again, across the street. Moments later, I saw you twice, walking side by side, holding hands with yourself, having a conversation.

Has the world gone crazy, or have I? All I know is this:

Everywhere I go now, there you are.

Ficlatte, Code, and Making Use of All This Free Time

For the last three or four weeks, I’ve been coding away feverishly. This, by itself, is notable. I haven’t had the energy or the mental focus to work on any project like this for so long in a very long time. It’s been exciting and fulfilling to finally feel like I’ve reconnected with a part of myself that’s been missing for so long. I’ve also been doing some writing again, micro-fiction of course, but I’ve done more writing since the first of the year than I think I’ve done in the last couple of years combined. And it’s the writing that’s led directly into the coding.

Back in the days when Ficly was still in business, I’d wanted to help contribute to that site’s code base. The site’s owner was the original developer of Ficlets, which was, in turn, owned by AOL. And when AOL effectively all but went the way of the dodo, Kevin migrated Ficlets into the daughter site Ficly. I wasn’t fortunate enough to learn about Ficlets until far too late, but I was an active member of Ficly for a number of years. I wrote quite a few stories during my tenure there, including some really fun collaborative series with a couple of other users.

Active development and maintenance of the site was slim, unfortunately, and for good reason. Kevin had a job, family, and other life responsibilities, and I think Ficly ultimately got relegated to a hobby project and a labor of love for him over time. As a result the code base became somewhat stagnant and outdated, as the Ruby on Rails framework it was built on moved forward and left our little realm of micro-fiction behind. I’d offered at one point to help contribute to the site’s development, knowing I’d have to learn Rails in order to do so. But I ran into technical difficulties setting up a development environment at home, due in no small part to the fact that several of the packages that powered Ficly no longer existed. So the result was that Kevin opted to shutter the site rather than bringing the code up to spec, which would involve basically rebuilding the site from the ground up.

And so we as a community were forced to move on.

There were several of us from that community who made attempts to work up replacements. The one that got off the ground fastest and most completely was Ficlatte. A handful of us from the Ficly community migrated there, but since its inception, Ficlatte has been more of a shell of Ficly. It’s had the basic tools to write stories and interact marginally with other users, but many of the key features that Ficly a community have been missing.

Until recently.

I haven’t particularly enjoyed being unemployed for the better part of a year, but one of the advantages I’ve discovered is that right now I have the opportunity to add to my knowledge and programming skillset. Ficlatte is built on Python and Django. Both are frameworks that would be useful for me to be familiar with, and so a few weeks ago I offered to contribute to Ficlatte’s development and thereby enhance my own skillset.

I’ve plunged in with both feet. Writing code these last three or four weeks has become almost a kind of addiction for me. It’s filled almost all of my free time, supplanting even most of the other hobbies I’ve engaged in the last few months to deal with my anxiety. I’ve always found it thrilling to put together strings of code and watch them come together to do something useful and practical.

I’ve come to love this little community of micro-authors, so it gives me great pleasure to be able to add to the site in this way while developing some new skills that make me more marketable as I search for work.

As always, if you like to write — or think you might like to write — I highly encourage you to visit Ficlatte and check out our little community. All the stories are short, so there’s no pressure to jump straight into writing long fiction. And we now have a development team actively working on new features, so the site is about to change for the better in the coming days.

Dream Mist

“Anything?” Bantu asked.

“Gimme a sec,” replied Shari. With a gloved hand she reached into the mist hovering before her, dipping a small test tube into it and filling it as best she could. With the other hand she stoppered it before withdrawing it and gently placing it into the analyzer set up on the path next to her.

Shari pulled off the gloves and glanced over at Bantu, who was engaged in his own work. “It’s going to be a few minutes, but I don’t expect the results are going to be any different here than they were at any of the other three sites we’ve been to today.”

Bantu grunted in acknowledgement. “Vapor, not unlike smoke but with properties of mist, that hangs in the air like a bubble over the site of the detonation. Right.”

Shari nodded. “And prolonged contact with it results in very specific types of entropy, depending on material and mass.” She glanced at her discarded gloves, which were already beginning to break down and crumble.

She sighed, troubled. “I just wish we knew what it was.”

Pieces of Me

I broke,
Shattered into a thousand little pieces.
And the world broke with me,
And around me.
Or at least so it seemed.
I remained broken for a time,
Fragments of myself lying all about,
The quiet after a great trauma.
But after a time,
And little by little,
I began to gather myself,
Scooping up the shards,
The pieces of me,
And I gathered them into a pile.
With time, and help,
I began to fit them back together,
Piece by little piece.
And in so doing,
I learned something new.
It has taken time,
And courage,
And not a little pain.
But after a while,
I came to a realization,
An understanding, of sorts.
Those pieces,
The pieces of me,
They fit together a little differently
Than they did before.
They had taken on new shapes,
New dimensions,
And some pieces, even,
Were no longer needed at all.
It has taken weeks,
Months, even,
And I’m still working on it,
But I am mostly whole again,
Mostly complete.
But I am not the same.
I look a little different now.
I have a new shape,
A new definition of self.
But I guess that only makes sense
For someone who was as broken as I.
You might not recognize me now.
You might not know me.
In fact, it’s likely.
But I know myself,
Better than I did before,
Because I have picked up
The pieces of myself,
Those jagged little shards.
I have examined each one of them,
Cut myself on them,
And learned where they go.
I have fit each one into place.
No, I do not look entirely the same,
And parts of me are still broken,
Remain to be reassembled.
But I am me,
For perhaps the first time in years.
The cracks are still there,
The gaps still showing,
Scars of my breaking
That may not ever completely go away.
But for all that
I am more whole than ever,
More complete,
And I am stronger than I have ever been.

A True Beginning

This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series The Rusted Blade

She heaved, great, gasping, shuddering sobs, still clutching the sword in her hand. Her tears that fell on the blade glistened and glowed blue, etching fine, dark lines into the metal as they traveled along it. She was oblivious of the carnage she had left around her. She only knew the pain inside.

Eventually, her weeping subsided and she pushed herself upright again, though still on her knees. She had fulfilled her purpose for entering this gods-forsaken forest. She held the sword up before her eyes, examining the now-perfect metal, fresh and new as the day it had been forged. The blood of these beasts had fed it, restored it, returned it to its former glory.

As if in acknowledgement, a voice spoke in her mind. Mistress, it said. It is time. There is work to be done.

Malika nodded. “I know,” she replied. “This task that has been given me is great, perhaps too great. Just allow me this time with my grief.”

Would that I could, Mistress, came the sword’s reply, but another approaches.

Silence after the Storm

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series The Rusted Blade

The forest lay in perfect stillness around her, the bodies of the beasts she had slain strewn haphazardly all about. She stood, head tilted forward, listening for the next attack. It never came. She held the sword aloft, the blue raging flames towering over her. No sign of rust remained anywhere on that ancient blade. Instead, there was only perfect, blue-satin steel.

Malika’s body trembled, both from emotion and exertion. Her chest heaved as she sucked in huge lungfuls of air. Sweat poured from her body, soaking through her blouse and leggings. She posed the figure of the mythic destroyer there in the darkness, lit only by blue flamelight. She stood there for several long moments.

And then, as if a spell had been broken, the flames chuffed out and she collapsed to her knees, weeping. All the pain and fury, grief and anguish she had contained before, that had fueled her need to fight and exterminate, tried to flee her body all at once, and she felt as though the surge of emotion might be the end of her.

Dancing with Death

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series The Rusted Blade

Malika danced. Creatures emerged from the darkness all around her, and she whirled among them. Her steps were light, quick. She never remained still, never allowed the beasts to reach her. She was driven by need, fueled by the sword’s own desire.

Blood flew through the air, except that which touched the blade. That it drank up greedily. With every kill more rust flaked off the weapon, exposing good steel in the blue flamelight. The fire itself became taller, more vibrant, the pungent smell of seared flesh filling the air.

She danced with death, even becoming death. The sword fed, but it granted her no special abilities. It simply reveled in her art. No, her talent was her own, taught to her by her father. He had once told her, “Malika, you fight like a ballerina, with a grace and beauty that is both terrible and exquisite to behold.”

She stumbled with the memory, and claws passed a hair’s breadth from her face. That snapped her attention back into focus, and she sent another beast to the halls of Ashmar.

Feeding the Flame

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series The Rusted Blade

Malika stepped back, spinning to her left as another creature lunged out of the darkness. The sword in her hand sang with need, and she swung it up in a swift, arcing motion, ramming it into the creature’s chest. Its momentum as it slammed into her knocked her to the ground. The creature landed heavily on top of her, driving the breath from her lungs. It took her a long moment to find it again.

“Get up, Malika. Get up,” she urged herself.

With effort she pushed the creature off her, rolling it to the side. Only then did she truly see it. It had the visage and form of a canine but the hands and feet of a man.

“Lycander,” she noted with disgust. She felt no satisfaction at the beast’s death, only a craving for another kill. Blood and gore spattered her face, hands, and clothes. The blade itself, though, remained clean. The flames licking up the sword glowed brighter blue, flecks of rust began flaking off the blade.

Malika’s eyes flickered in the flamelight. “C’mon,” she whispered. “Bring me another.”

Year in Review

It’s difficult to know just how to summarize this year, to put it into perspective. 2016 has been a universally bad year for everyone, from the number of celebrity deaths to the fiasco that has been the US election cycle to the myriads of personal trials that so many people have experienced these last twelve months.

For me, 2016 has been the single most difficult year of my life. The fight with my own mental health has reached new levels of hardship, uncovered previously hidden layers of anxiety, and spun my entire life into wildly unexpected directions. During this year I’ve lost my marriage, my home, my job, and my security. I’ve had to wade through some truly deep waters, at many times floundering as my feet have been swept out from under me, nearly drowning in the waves of turmoil I’ve faced.

But I’ve survived it all, even when I was certain I wouldn’t, and couldn’t. I’ve learned more about myself this year, become more self-aware, than I have been in years. I’ve been forced to face my shortcomings and mistakes and deal headlong with illnesses whose severity that before I’d only guessed at. But through it all, I have prevailed, partly due to a rediscovery of a faith in and reliance upon God and partly because I’ve made an effort to surround myself with people who are both supportive and sympathetic. 

There’s still a long road ahead of me, but 2017 is a new year. I’m looking at it as a fresh start. There’s so much that needs to be done, but I’m finally starting to feel like I’m up to the challenge. I’ve gone through several medication adjustments this past year, and I feel like they’re finally starting to make a difference in terms of my ability to focus for extended periods of time and to think more clearly overall. I feel stronger as a person, a survivor, if you will. 2016 was hard, and I’m under no illusions that 2017 will be easy, but I firmly believe that the work ahead of me is work I can do. 

I have good people beside me, encouragers, listeners, and cheerleaders. And I’m grateful to each and every one of you. You all have helped get me through the dark times, and I know I can count on you to see me through the difficult times ahead. 

2017 is going to be my year, and for the first time in a very long time, I’m genuinely excited and hopeful about the prospects before me. I still don’t know the answers the most of the questions I have, but I’m certain God will provide, and I’m eager to see where He leads me this coming year. I’m certain it’s not where I’d originally planned to go, and that, my friends, is a very, very good thing.