Tag Archives: Ohio

This we don’t need

It’s been a week since the attack on OSU campus. As you might imagine this particular act of violence struck a little closer to home than most. I’m an alum of OSU and live a few miles north of the campus.My dad is involved with campus ministry, as are some people I used to go to bible study with. While I don’t go down there as often as I used to, I did see a game with my wife earlier this fall, and I sometimes go for a sentimental walk to No. 1 Chinese, Used Kids Records or just down the Oval. I think of OSU as part of my home.

I’m grateful that people were not more seriously hurt and that the situation was able to be resolved in a short amount of time. Though things certainly seemed uncertain for most of Monday morning (I spent the day trying to get work done while listening to 10TV news feeds and Facebook Live press conferences) the actual incident was only about a minute.

Not long after the attack a friend of mine said on social media that he wasn’t looking forward to whatever hateful thing the President-elect was going to tweet on the subject. And sure enough, the Donald delivered:

ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2016
There are a lot of things wrong with this tweet. For starters, the motive of this 18 year old student will likely never be firmly known, and speculating is a destructive activity. Of course ISIS claimed credit. The attacker isn’t alive to contradict them, and it makes them look like they have more influence. Second, Columbus, Ohio has a thriving Somali community (who were among the first to condemn the attack). We have a legacy of taking in refugees for over 25 years. The president-elect may have won Ohio, but he didn’t win Columbus and he doesn’t know this city or have a right to speak for it.

But honestly it isn’t even Trump I want to talk about, but the people who are using this attack as an opportunity to advocate for a concealed or open carry policy on campus. This culminated today in a group of people parading around the campus carrying guns. Let me repeat. A week after a violent attack on a college campus, a group of non-students organized by a gun-rights activist from Cincinatti decided it was a good idea to march around with guns including assault rifles.

Now to be fair the students were notified, and the advocates were escorted by police the whole way. But this was far from a calm discussion of gun rights. When a professor questioned the group’s presence and said this wasn’t what the college needed, the gun-advocates questioned his citizenship. Lot’s of students are still dealing with the trauma and the fear of the last week. This community is still healing.

There was a lot of luck and providence in last Monday’s attack. A gas leak meant that an officer could be on the scene in less than a minute, and good training resolved the situation quickly. The school’s alert system notified everyone almost as the attack was happening, and the run-hide-fight protocol probably kept a number of students safe. One of the people injured by the attacker had military training, and even tried to grab the knife. There were heroic and well trained people on scene. The students were as prepared as any student population could be. And I believe God was there as well.

Here’s what a someone with a concealed carry permit would have added to that situation. Unless they had hours of extensive training dealing with active-attacker situation, there’s a decent liklihood they would not have drawn their gun, or fired it if they did pull it out. If they drew their gun and fired there is no guaruntee they would not have injured people besides the attacker. And when the officer came on scene they’d be adding another confusing element to a hot situation. Unless they were immediately compliant with the officer’s commands, they’d stand a decent likelihood of being shot themselves.

You may disagree with my assessment, and that’s fine. I know a lot of reasonable people who are gun enthusiasts. Maybe we can discuss it calmly in a month or two. But for right now, why don’t we spend our time having a national conversation about what OSU did to prepare for attacks like these, and praising the work of a fine young officer. Let’s not tar an entire community because of the actions of one person, and let’s stop waving guns around for a while.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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The Sky Below (Chapter Nine)

Well, better late than never. Finished the last edits on my lunch break, so the eBook versions will be up a little later today. The next installment, Chapter 10, will probably be in three weeks as well since I need to spend next week writing a sermon on the book of Joel. That’s a pretty good apocalyptic book as well, though in that case with millions of locusts.

You can download the full eBook (Chapters 1-9) in Kindle, EPUB and PDF formats. Or you can go to the book’s landing page here.



“That’s surprisingly good,” Reverend Marcado said, biting his bottom lip after taking a sip from bottle number two. “I’m surprised this stuff lasted this long with all the boozers in this church.”

“Probably used to be a lot more where these came from,” the young man added, taking the bottle gratefully from Marcado. He took a long swig, brushed his lip and offered the bottle back to the father. Marcado accepted the outstretched bottle and took another long drink. He could feel the last little bit of liquid sloshing around in the end of the bottle and had to push down the temptation to finish it off. Even a drunk has a sense of fairness.

“I knew they were holding out on me,” he said, lowering the bottle and looking at it. “I mean, I did tell them I was an alcoholic, but you’d think they’d at least offer me a sip of the really good stuff. I mean, I can understand keeping a man from drinking the crap wines or Budweisers of the world. But this is some really good shit.”

“There’s no justice,” the young man said, “though I wouldn’t have pictured you for much of a drinker.”

“Well, isn’t that the way? We preachers are expected to know nothing about anything. It’s only the really pious bastards who say they know something about God without knowing anything of the world. Wouldn’t you think it’s the ones who’ve sinned a bit who’d have something to really say about sinning?”

“You’re probably right.”

“Of course I am. We all know that sin is bad even if all we say is that it doesn’t make us very happy. But we don’t listen to people who haven’t been through the same things we have, seen the world the way we see it. We want to, but we don’t. Only a man who knows what sin is can appreciate forgiveness.”

Marcado handed over the last sip, which the young man quickly knocked back before opening bottle number three.

“Take women for example. That’s something else we preachers are supposed to know nothing about right?”

“But aren’t you not supposed to have sex?”

“That’s a common misconception. That’s only certain denominations. My faith has always been okay with sex, since before I was preacher. I’ve got a wife and two kids, and I didn’t get them by immaculate conception if you catch my drift. I know a thing or two about women.”

“By my count at least two things,” the young man said, laughing and handing over the new bottle.

“People think I know nothing about sex just because I wear a collar and some baggy black robes. Those are just clothes. It’s you lot who make them holy. God doesn’t give a damn about the kind of stuff we wear. It’s not in the Bible that I’m supposed to dress a certain way, or keep myself from carnal knowledge. God made the pleasures of the world after all. It’s the uptight Christian assholes who make it a sin just to enjoy God’s design.”

“Is that how you met your wife, ‘by enjoying the pleasures of God’s design?’”

Marcado chuckled, “Sort of. I was in a bar near the seminary. The seminary was in a dry town, but there was a wet one just a couple of miles to the south. My friends and I used to go down there, trying to test our virtue against temptation as it were. The really wise man, he avoids temptation like the plague. God gives us the tools to combat sin if we ever actually encounter it, but you’re not supposed to go seeking it out. The devil is someone you can defeat if he happens upon you, but trying to go out and fight him yourself is still a pretty stupid idea.”

“Anyway, we were at this bar having a few when this really incredible woman walks through the door. I mean Eve to our Adam, like nothing we’d ever seen before. She sits next to us because that’s the safe place to be. I mean, who thinks a couple of divinity students are going to chat you up and try to take you back to the seminary, right? On the other hand some women like the forbidden fruit angle. They want to try and get us future priests to do something we’re not supposed to do.”

“Turns out the rest of my friends were better Christian soldiers than I was. I wanted to see exactly how far she’d go to try and take me off the straight and narrow. It might’ve looked like I was ignoring her, looking straight ahead while a beautiful woman straddles me and nibbles my neck. But she knew where it counted exactly what my priorities were. The body can’t lie about the way it’s feeling, no matter how much the mind might want it to.”

“This whole dance takes nine, maybe ten rounds of drinks. At some point I black out and wake up back in the dormitories alone. Now I’ve got confessional that morning, and not a lot of time to ask questions, so I throw on my clothes and run to church. All the while my head is pounding, my stomach is threatening to empty its contents and my brain keeps giving me hazy flashes of images and sensations.”

“I was sitting quietly in the box, hoping nobody would come by so I could be alone with my thoughts and my headache when I heard the door creaking. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was her. My memory of the evening and its specifics may have been hazy, but no one could have forgotten that voice. She had no idea I was behind the screen, and it took me a while to really focus on what she was saying. When I did I realized she was relaying the events of the previous evening, in every exquisite and gruesome detail.”

Marcado’s hands went to his throat, “I could barely breathe. It felt like I was still deep-down drunk, where you can’t feel anything but the faintest of sensations, and you have to press down extra hard to be sure you can even feel your own body. I don’t know how long she talked, but suddenly she said something that grabbed my attention. I pulled the screen aside, leaned forward and exclaimed for all the empty church to hear, ‘We did what?!’”

“What happened then?” the young man said, rapped with attention.

Marcado took a long sip and tilted his head back. “I think she slapped me. Or kissed me. Or both. Either way I got a second date, and then another. And the rest is history.”

* * *

One of the hardest things about being hit by a patient is resisting the urge to hit back. Patients hit you for a couple of reasons. Usually, it’s because something hurts, and the attack is an involuntary attempt to fight off that hurt. Occasionally, a patient becomes scared. There are so many tubes and wires connected to them that they just want them all out. Patients can even be scared by the bad things happening around them, like a whole building being upside down for instance.

But some patients are just assholes.

“Get your damn n—– hands off me!”

Kammie and Frank were struggling with an irate Mr. Deckland Thomas, trying to save his life despite his best efforts to convince them it wasn’t worth the trouble. The few stretchers they’d managed to round up didn’t have restraints, so they had to improvise. Patients were being wrapped tightly in sheets, then secured to the stretcher with duct tape. Right now Kammie was thinking about how much better the rest of her day would be if she put a piece of tape over Deckland’s mouth.

“Think about it this way, Mr. Thomas,” Frank said as he grabbed the squirming man by the forearms. “Most of your fellow racists lived in the southern states where there are a lot of open spaces. If you want to keep mindless bigotry alive you might want to stop struggling and let us help you.”

Whether it was Frank’s words or the fact that he’d slammed Deckland down hard enough to knock the wind out of him, the man had at least stopped struggling long enough for Kammie to do her job. Professionalism kept her from wrapping him tight enough to cut off circulation, but not from allowing the duct tape to stick to the hair on Deckland’s arms and legs.

With the stairwell inverted there were no guardrails to keep them from a careless step, only a thin lip of metal a couple of inches high. Grace had hopped down into the entryway to help the patients with IV’s start the climb. In an ideal world these people would have been carried instead of being forced to climb, but Kammie simply didn’t have enough hands.

Ten patients were able-bodied enough to help, though most had sustained some sort of shoulder or head injury when the world went topsy-turvy. Frank had stitched her hand up as best he could, but it was still going to hurt like ten hells to lift anybody. Counting herself and Frank they could carry six beds at a time, meaning they needed to leave two people behind for the next trip.

Frank had suggested they draw straws for the two people who would have to wait, but Kammie shook her head. This was a triage situation like any other. Kammie moved over to Margie’s side where she was still laid out on a couch waiting for a stretcher. Her breathing was slow, but steadier. Pulse was still low, however, and she was unresponsive as Kammie took her hand.

Like it or not there were people with a better chance of survival than Margie. And the shaking seemed to have eased for the moment, so there was really no reason to believe they wouldn’t be back for her. Kammie gave Margie’s hand a squeeze, kissed her on the forehead, then moved on to the next patient.

With the help of the other patients they had eight mummies in the space of about twenty minutes. Margie and Mrs. Rosen, who was in a coma, were laid out in the lounge all set to travel. Frank put a reassuring hand on Kammie’s shoulder. “We’ll get the others up three flights then come back for these two.”

He gestured to the two nearest helpers. “Barry and … I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?”

A stocky woman in her mid-thirties replied, “Frieda.”

“Frieda, right. You two up for coming back down with us?”

“Depends,” Barry said, “Can you take it out of my bill?”

Frank laughed, “Friend, somehow I think this stay is on the house.”

The patients who were carrying stretchers jumped down two at a time, grabbing people as Frank and Kammie slid them out. Movement was slow, as the people at the front of each pair were being asked to walk upside-down and backwards.

“Feel each step with the back of your heel and just move nice and easy,” Frank called out from the back of the line. “You guys facing forward be careful not to push your partner backwards.”

“Make sure you can make it the next floor before starting each flight of stairs,” Kammie added. “If you need to take a break, wait till you are on flat ground and move off to the side. Don’t be tough or in a hurry. It’s better to take a five minute break then to get the rest of us stuck in the middle of a climb.”

The stairwell was hot and everyone was breathing heavily. Several pairs heeded Kammie’s instructions and moved over for a breather after the first set of stairs, though most were eager to press on. The rumble which had died down was starting up again. A couple of patients gasped as the floor began shaking beneath their feet. The only earthquakes Ohio had ever experienced in recent memory were due to hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania, and those had been pretty mild. This shaking on the other hand was getting everyone’s complete attention.

“It’s alright,” Frank called out. “Let’s just keep moving nice and easy.”

But the rumbling wasn’t stopping. It started as a small vibration, like your feet waking up after they’ve been asleep. Rumbling turned to shaking. Shaking turned to rocking. And rocking turned to thundering. Kammie caught the flicker of a blue hospital gown before she heard the scream. It happened too fast for her to see who it was, or to do anything but watch.

“Hug the wall!” Frank shouted.

The world was falling around her. The building was shaking so violently that it was impossible to tell if they were even still attached to the ground above. Kammie tried to stay as far away from the edge, but the walls kept leaping out as if to knock her off balance. There were more screams, one of which was probably hers.

Miraculously the shaking stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. But something was wrong. The air was suddenly cooler than it had been a moment ago. The space that had been cramped and hot was now open and airy. Kammie was simultaneously grateful for the relief, and apprehensive about its cause. She didn’t dare lean too far, for fear of spilling her charge over the side, but she had to know.

The stairs went down for a flight below them, then abruptly cut off into perfect blue sky. She imagined if she stared down she could see the shadow of the top of the building still tumbling down and away from them. The whole floor was gone, as well as the five floors above it. Grace’s mother, Mrs. Rosen, Margie and countless others were right now falling to their final resting place out among the stars.

Some of the patients above her were starting to cry. All Kammie wanted to do was scream. She could have, nobody would judge her. She’d lost her friend, lost her nurses, lost her safe silent space and all the things that seemed to make life worthwhile. But she didn’t scream. She mustered up the most cheerful voice she could manufacture and said, “Alright, let’s keep moving.”


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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The Sky Below – The Story So Far

It’s been about a month since the last installment of The Sky Below so I thought it might be a good idea to catch everybody back up to speed before tomorrow’s Chapter 7.

*SPOILER WARNING – Contains content from the first six chapters of The Sky Below*

The Sky Below follows the immediate aftermath of a world-wide disaster from the perspective of four residents of Cleveland, Ohio. Gravity has gone all higgledy-piggledy and what was down now is up, and vice-versa.

A morning of silent prayer and study is interrupted for Reverend Marcado when the world is flipped upside-down. He rescues a young man who was visiting the historic Old Stone Church, but unfortunately is unable to save the man’s girlfriend, Stacey. Marcado is an alcoholic, who came to the church when the booze wasn’t working for him anymore, but it’s hard to see God’s plan in a cataclysm like this one. The two men are currently wandering through the church basement which is now its highest point, searching for an entry into the sewers and possible survival. Marcado has no idea where his wife and two children are, or whether they are still alive.

Eddie is a baseball player at the end of his career. After striking out at bat he watches from the dugout as everyone watching the game, including the next man at bat, starts falling into the skies. In a matter of minutes Eddie and his teammates watched tens of thousands of people die. It’s unclear how many people were in the inner part of the stadium when the calamity hit, or if anyone managed to hang on out in the stands, but Eddie and his group decide it’s best to act first for themselves. They strike out in search of food and a means to protect themselves when they encounter a young man who pulls a gun on them, demanding food and help for his injured sister. The scene takes a disastrous turn when the young man kills one of their teammates triggering a savage beating that ends with Eddie putting three bullets into the young man’s chest.

Bethany is a lawyer getting a cup of coffee and a donut in the mall when the world turns on its head. Her sister Grace has been living in her apartment for the last three weeks as the two try to care for their dying mother. Circumstance throws her together with Claudia, the woman behind the counter at the Dunkin Donuts and her co-worker Jared who is badly injured. The two women carry Jared into the back offices behind the store while Bethany tries to get a hold of her sister, who was trying to reach her before the disaster struck. Bethany and Claudia are forced to abandon Jared when they witness a gang of looters stabbing the manager of a sporting goods store. They hope to return with first aid equipment and some kind of climbing gear, though they suspect Jared may have to fend for himself.

Kammie is a nurse at a downtown Cleveland Hospital, taking a break in a supply closet after a 13 hour shift. She encounters Grace, Bethany’s sister, and learns that their mother died shortly before the disaster struck, a fact of which Bethany is unaware. Grace helps Kammie take care of Margie, a nurse and mentor, then the two sweep the rooms of the floor looking for survivors. While some have been crushed beneath falling debris or other injuries, there are at least half a dozen patients alive and well on the floor. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the other nurses, who died falling through a hole in the skylight of their break-room. Kammie cut her hand crawling from room to room, and will probably need to stitch it herself if she can find the supplies. She worries for her cat Alomar, though suspects he’s probably better able to take care of himself than her.

Chapter 7 continues Kammie’s story as she looks for a way to get the patients to safety. Tune in tomorrow!

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The Sky Below (Chapter Six)

Well, it’s been a few weeks but the new chapter is finally here. If you’re wondering what the heck this story is all about, you can start from the beginning here, or download the whole book including the new chapter here. As always you can get to the main landing page for this book by clicking the cover on the right, or by clicking here.

WARNING: This chapter contains some offensive language and violence. For more information see last week’s post.

Can’t remember what last happened with our baseball player or the good reverend? Check out the second half of Chapter 3 for where we left Reverend Marcado, and check in with Eddie in Chapter 4.



The basement was hardly as Reverend Marcado remembered it, to the point he hadn’t been entirely sure it was there. Though he was at the church daily, most of his time was spent either in the sanctuary or his office. The AA meetings he attended once a week used to meet down there, but that was at least a decade before his time. This particular church basement was like any other, relics of decades of church plays scattered amongst old choir robes and stacks of retired hymnals and Bibles, all covered in a thin layer of dust. The unceremonious flipping of ceiling and floor had littered their path with all sorts of random fabric, torn pages, and broken props.

He had no idea where he should go next. The basement was a labyrinth, as most church basements are. Somewhere would be a service closet that should have the sewer access that was their next logical step, but Marcado suspected it would take hours of wandering randomly through these corridors to find it. Marcado and his young companion walked slowly and silently, the younger man shuffling in a daze, the older lost in thought. Disasters were like that. In the moment things are moving too quickly for you to do anything but act on instinct. But after the immediate moment of danger there is so much time and silence.

Marcado was thinking about his wife and daughters, something he hadn’t had time to do while he was counseling this young man. The kid at least had the certainty that his girlfriend was dead and maybe in a little while the comfort that there was nothing he could have done about it. Marcado was not so fortunate. He didn’t know if he should be mourning his family, or desperately trying to find them.

Like most professional men, Marcado saw the world and what was happening in it largely in terms of its relation to himself. He was going to be at the church until the late afternoon, so he didn’t need to remember the movements of his wife or his children unless it directly affected him. What did it matter if his wife went to the store or the mall, or if she had just stayed home as long as he knew where they’d be when he got home?

His children’s lives were fairly regimented between school and extra-curricular activities, but what if one of them had become sick during the night and stayed home? He hadn’t seen them since about 9pm last night. In the early morning he’d made coffee for himself, eaten breakfast alone, and left without waking anyone, not even turning a light on in the kitchen, like a thief in the night.

If his wife hadn’t left the house then she might already be dead. The foundations of this old church were already beginning to creak ominously. A two-story home, even one with a basement, wouldn’t hold up long under these conditions. Even if she had wedged herself in the crawlspace, she would probably only have extended her life by a couple of hours.

His eye caught the open page of one of the fallen hymnals and he chuckled bitterly to himself. The foundations of faith may be built on the word of God, but even stone buried into bedrock wouldn’t hold against these forces for long.

His children were probably in school and safe in the care of others. They might even have an easier time getting into the sewers than he was having in this maze of a basement. If his wife … If Rachel … had gone out she might be safe as well.

But what if they were dead and he was left alive? What was he supposed to do then? What were any of them supposed to do? Marcado had never contemplated suicide, but there were times in his life when he hadn’t been particularly interested in living. There’s a hole in everyone that needs to be filled with something for us to be complete. Marcado had tried the bottle first, and when that finally didn’t work he tried God. God gave him a wife, a family and a purpose, and now he’d taken it all away.

Some people would consider it blasphemous to be angry with God. Everything that happens is part of his plan, meaning that everything terrible happens for a reason. Some people are comforted by the notion that bad things are either part of a divine plan, or punishment for sin. Marcado had a different view. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen in the world, he just makes the best of a lot of bad situations, starting with us. But sometimes it was okay to be pissed off at God for not stepping in sooner. God wanted to have a relationship with his creation, and people in relationships fight.

So how was God going to make the best of this bad situation? Was Marcado supposed to save this unbelieving kid, all while skirting around the issue of his girlfriend having died without faith? What kind of salvation did he exactly have to offer? The world seemed to be operating on Old Testament logic again.

“I thought only Catholics used the real thing,” the young man said abruptly.

“Excuse me?” Marcado said, shaking his head out of a thick fog.

“This,” the young man said, holding up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. “Must’ve survived the fall by landing on someone’s old vestments.”

Marcado scanned the small pantry and found several other bottles and a jagged corkscrew dangling from the wall. Like everything else in the basement, this little corner had been long forgotten.

The young man frowned, “I probably can’t drink any of these, can I?”

Marcado shook his head, “That’d only be a problem if the bottle was specifically blessed, which typically doesn’t happen until shortly before the service. And we haven’t used real wine for communion in all of the years I’ve been preaching here. They’re probably older than you are.”

“Hey, anything’s good as long as it’s not Manischewitz,” the young man exclaimed.

Marcado chuckled, “People still drink that stuff?”

The young man nodded, “Mostly college students trying to show a sophisticated side on an unsophisticated dollar. Better than a 36 pack of Nattie light I suppose.”

Marcado had been more of a whiskey man himself, but like all good alcoholics he’d known times of not being choosy. Without realizing it, he noticed he’d been holding one of the bottles in his left hand, finding the familiar weight an odd comfort.

“What d’ya say rev? A toast to the end of the world?”

Leaving aside the fact he hadn’t had a drink in eight years, he didn’t think it was the best idea to dull his senses when they were having a hard enough time finding solid ground. Even when the rest of the world was falling away, sobriety and faith were things he could hold onto.

“Yeah,” Marcado nodded, “I could use a drink right about now.”

* * *

“Ya think ‘cause this jersey has my number on it, I’m entitled to it, right?” Franklin asked as he pulled hangers off a flipped circular rack.

“You want the child sizes,” Conesta said. “They’re in the corner behind the t-ball sets.”

“Fuck you,” Franklin said casually as he kept flipping through. “Hey, Eddie! I think I found one of yours.”

He held the shirt up and examined the tag, “You’re in luck, Eddie. It’s marked down 95% clearance so it practically isn’t even stealing.”

“Knock it off, Franklin,” Manny said impatiently. Franklin just kept chuckling at his own joke.

“We’re not here to loot,” Stankowsky interjected. “A souvenir shop is not a place to find food.”

“Not unless you like big league chew,” Conesta quipped.

Franklin stuck out his tongue, “That stuff’s worse than chewing on toe-jam. Where do they get off claiming that stuff tastes like grape?”

“I’m sure there are trace amounts of grape, and 79% used shoe leather,” Conesta retorted.

Stankowsky just shook his head, “Come on, there’s a concession stand just around the bend.”

Franklin picked up the bat he’d leaned against the rack, but not before stuffing a couple of the jerseys into his bag. He tossed Eddie the jersey he’d found, laughing and patting him on the shoulder as he passed. Eddie rolled the jersey around his hand before letting it fall in a tight crumple.

The concession stand was a mess. Popcorn from oversized poppers had spilled all over the floor, mixing with a noxious looking yellow substance. Conesta picked his shoe up in disgust. “What the hell is this stuff?”

“Nacho cheese,” Eddie offered.

“Yuck! Better it’s on the floor. That stuff always tasted like warm jizz anyway,” Conesta said, scraping his shoe against the pricing board.

“And you know this from personal experience?” Franklin asked.

Eddie cracked a smile. He didn’t like vulgar humor especially, but right now it was just good to get a laugh from something.

The pricing sign was soon torn away from the ceiling and tossed casually on top of the layer of nacho cheese and popcorn. The plastic creaked with every step as they piled behind the counter. Most of the hot dogs had been in sealed steamer containers. Eddie wasn’t too sure how long the dogs had been soaking in their own juices, but he was too hungry to care. He cracked one of the latched doors, letting the juice and hot steam flow out onto the floor and mix with rest of the mysterious liquids at their feet.

Once the stream had stopped, he slid a dog out into his palm and latched the door shut again. The dog tasted thin and limp, but it sat somewhat satisfactorily inside his stomach. The rest of the guys started taking dogs out for themselves, finally dumping the contents into a flipped over baseball cap.

Everyone ate with abandon, with no thought to rationing or to the limits of their stomachs. With no refrigeration the dogs would spoil in half a day anyway, so it was better to eat what they could now. It was the best meal any of them were going to have for a while.

They hadn’t given any particular thought to their surroundings, or to the noise they were making. Most of them had dropped their bats against the back wall, far out of reach. When a quiet voice asked them for a hot dog they didn’t even hear it at first.

The gunshot that followed was heard by all.

A young teenager, not older than 15 or 16 was holding a pistol unsteadily in their direction. His first shot had embedded itself in the wall about six inches from Franklin’s head. Rather than being scared, or grateful for being alive, Franklin was furious.

“You nearly killed me, you little shit!” Franklin spat.

The kid’s aim was shaky; the gun was twitching to the side every few seconds from trembling hands. An unlucky spasm might cause the gun to go off again.

“I said I want a hot dog,” the kid replied with surprising bravado, even for someone holding a gun.

“Where the fuck did you get the balls to fire that thing anyway, cause yours certainly haven’t dropped!”

Franklin had more to say but Belanchek put up an arm to silence him. “It’s alright, there’s plenty for everyone.”

“The hell there is!” Franklin said, “Who’s he to threaten us?”

“He’s not threatening,” Belanchek said calmly, “he asked nicely before and just lost his patience a bit. Isn’t that right son?”

The young man’s grip was loosening slightly, but Eddie could see the tension in his shoulders. Unless the kid had somehow snuck the gun past security, there was only one way he could have his hands on one now. A closer glance at the kid’s shirt and knuckles gave some hint as to how he had come by the weapon.

“My sister’s hurt. She needs something to keep her strength up. I just need some food and maybe a little water so I can help her.”

“Bullshit,” Franklin said, “We’re supposed to buy whatever sob story you make up just because you’re waving a gun in our faces.”

The kid lowered his gun a few inches, “I’m sorry about that. I just … look she’s really hurt.”

“I bet you don’t even have a sister. I bet you just want to stuff your face, you fat fuck,” Franklin said.

The kid’s grip tightened again, “Are you gonna help me or not?”

“You want a hot dog so bad? How about you suck my….” Franklin was cut-off mid-sentence by the top of his head splattering against the wall. He’d had more colorful things to say, but at least he’d gotten his general point across before sliding into a lifeless heap amidst the hot dog juices.

Conesta screamed in anger and grabbed the kid’s arm. The gun fired wildly, ricocheting off the metal grill and refrigerator before striking Stankowsky in the arm. Belanchek stepped forward and chopped down hard with his right hand into the back of the kid’s elbow, loosening his grip and sending the gun clattering to the ceiling.

Stankowsky was running on adrenaline, not even noticing the new hole in his arm as he picked up a bat. He held the bat by the middle and swung wildly at the boy’s ribs. The young man crashed into Conesta under the force of the new onslaught. Conesta managed to roll out from under the kid while Stankowsky took a few steps forward to stand over him. The boy lifted his left arm to protect himself, which Stankowsky swiftly broke with his next swing.

The blows fell quickly after that, alternating between the ribs, knees and any available soft tissue. Conesta had regained his feet and picked up his own bat, joining in on the festivities by shattering the boy’s right collarbone before swinging the bat down hard on his throat.

Belanchek pushed Conesta back but the damage had been done. His last blow had collapsed the kid’s windpipe. His eyes bulged from lack of air and he convulsed violently, each jolt of pain from his freshly broken bones sending him into a new fit of spasms.

Eddie picked up the gun, the grip sticky with yellow slime. He raised his arm calmly, and without a word fired three rounds into the kid’s chest. With a final spasm the kid kicked up and collapsed back, dead.

Eddie handed the gun to Manny and quietly took the bat from Stankowsky. The ball in Stankowsky’s throat looked like it was about to burst its way out. He just kept staring blankly at the slowly growing pool of blood as it started to mix and swirl with the yellow liquid on the floor. As he kept staring, Eddie pulled one of the jerseys out of Franklin’s bag, tore a section out of the middle, and started to dress Stan’s arm.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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The Sky Below (Chapter Five)

In this chapter of The Sky Below a nurse tries to help the people in front of her and a lawyer makes the tough call. If you haven’t read chapters 1-4, don’t worry. You can download an eBook of the whole novella up to this point, or download individual chapters from this page.

Like what you’re reading or have a question about the physics of all of this? Be sure to post them in the comments!



Kammie was beginning to wonder if she was the only nurse still alive on the floor. She could hear the groans of maybe half a dozen patients, but nobody answered them except her. She’d gotten Margie stabilized for the moment, and with Grace’s help Kammie had been able to lay her out on one of the couches in the visitor’s lounge. After crying on Kammie’s shoulder for a couple of minutes, Grace had pulled herself together enough to actually be of some use, not that Kammie could be picky.

Kammie’s brain had given up trying to provide a wider context for what was going on, choosing instead to focus only on what was in front of her. Kammie felt a familiar tension at the base of her skull, a combination of sleep deprivation, stress and too much caffeine. Still, she was happy to find that several of the nearby vending machines had spilled their contents all over the ceiling. She grabbed a couple of diet sodas and tossed one to Grace before resuming her crawl to the next room.

‘There’s no such thing as too much caffeine,’ she thought to herself.

A rumble from behind her grabbed her attention and Grace blushed as she twisted the cap back on the bottle. “Must’ve been the building settling.”

Kammie’s smile lasted for the briefest of moments, vanishing completely as she opened the door to room five. A cheap hospital bed, like the ones used for patients receiving in-home care, weighs about 450 pounds. In a hospital like this one, the average bed could weigh upwards of 700 pounds. With the head tilted up and the railings raised, a patient might be trapped if the bed fell on top of them, but they wouldn’t be crushed. But if one of the railings was lowered, or if the bed tilted to the side as it fell, then even a fall of only a few feet could be deadly.

The depression in the back of the old woman’s skull indicated it had at least been quick. Grace had been hot on Kammie’s heels, eager to help in any way she could, but Kammie held out a hand to stop her before she could get to the door. Kammie did a five-second sweep of the room with her eyes to check for any visitors or nurses, and upon finding none, silently close the door and started toward room six.

The patient in room six had been in the bathroom when everything hit, and from the looks of him hadn’t had the chance to flush away the morning’s constitutional. This at least, was nothing new. Kammie sent Grace to the closet for a fresh gown and some towels. The man was in his fifties and kept insisting he could do it himself, despite the fact he’d probably been lying there for the better part of an hour. His right collar bone was obviously bruised or broken, as even a slight graze triggered a grimace of pain across his face.

When she’d gotten him as clean as she was able to, she sat him down in one of the chairs, figuring if gravity flipped again that the chair probably wouldn’t crush him. She pressed his skin gently asking him to rate his pain from 1-10 with each touch. The bone felt solid, but the tissue around it had been badly banged up.

“I’m afraid the best I can offer you is a sling at the moment,” Kammie said sympathetically, “Grace, can you take care of that while I check on room seven?”

Grace nodded and Kammie got back on her hands and knees, relaxing her face as soon as she was out of sight of the door. It was difficult enough to maintain a cheerful and professional demeanor after a long day without all of these added excitements. Kammie genuinely did want to help people, to care for them in some of the scariest moments of their lives. She tried to make the whole thing feel safe and comforting, like a stay at a luxury hotel where your every need and desire is met. But that level of charm takes energy, and she had very little in reserve.

This was why most of her time off was spent in silence; that and it’s a bit weird to carry on a conversation with your cat.

The thought of Alomar alone in the apartment caused a brief pang of guilt in Kammie. There was plenty of dry food, but all of the water had probably spilled out onto the floor. And it was going to be a while till Kammie could spoil her with tuna again, assuming she could even get home. On the other hand, Alomar probably had landed on her feet, unlike her master, and could be pretty resourceful when she wanted to be. Several times Kammie had to replace one of the neighbor’s fish when Alomar got the craving for raw sushi.

“Ow! Dammit!” Kammie swore as he slid her hand over something thin and sharp. She pulled back instinctively, but whatever it was had already dug in deep. In the flickering dull light she could see a thin shard of glass, maybe an inch on a side, sticking out from where it had embedded itself in the fatty part of her hand.

The muscles in her hand twitched uncontrollably, sending sharp pains down her fingers and into her wrist. She rolled over onto her side holding her hand above her head. She bit the bottom part of her lip and grabbed the shard carefully with two fingers, easing it out slowly so as not to make the cut any worse. The spasms seemed to trigger with every tiny movement, and she could feel every millimeter of the shard as it slid out. The last quarter-inch slid out quickly followed by a pulse of blood that began to run down her hand. She tossed the shard away angrily and began wrapping her hand with an ace bandage she’d found in room three.

The cut bled slowly. Somehow she’d managed to avoid the artery, but from the twitching she’d definitely done some muscular and possibly nerve damage. She looked in front of her to see dozens of tiny shards from one of the blown out ceiling lights. All things considered, Kammie was fortunate she’d only gotten stuck with one of them. Still, she was probably going to need stitches to properly close the wound, something she didn’t particularly want to do herself.

‘Where the hell are the other nurses?’

She stood tentatively, holding her throbbing hand above her chest to try to slow the bleeding. Each step was careful and deliberate, moving her past her original objective of room seven in favor of the nurses’ lounge just around the corner. Even if they’d been knocked unconscious by the fall, someone should be awake by now.

‘Maybe they just can’t get out,’ she thought.

It took an age to reach the door, and another to push up on the door handle and inch the door open. No sooner had she opened the door six inches when something tore the door out of her hand. Her face was struck by a cool breeze which kicked up the dust and debris around her in a low cloud.

The hospital had been surprisingly generous with its nursing staff. One of the few reasons Kammie spent any time in nurses’ lounge at all was the sky light and floor-to-ceiling windows which featured a great view of downtown. Glass was a funny thing. This building was built to withstand the worst tornadoes and snowy conditions with barely a scratch. But drop a half dozen chairs and a couch on that ceiling, and you’ve got yourself a big gaping hole.

Kammie stared at the hole blankly for a few seconds, then picked up a length of metal framing from the ceiling, bent the end into a hook using her thigh, and pulled the door closed.

* * *

“I have half a mind to sue this place,” Claudia said as she and Bethany dug through cabinets and drawers searching for a first aid kit. “I can understand not having the materials for a splint. I mean, who’s going to break their ankle making donuts, but I can’t even find a damn band-aid!”

Jared was still hazy. He obviously had some kind of a concussion but neither Bethany nor Claudia had any idea how to deal with it other than to try and keep him awake. This proved difficult as Jared seemed to be making every effort to disconnect from reality.

“There’s got to be something out in the mall,” Bethany offered. “They should have a first aid station somewhere.”

“You’re right, though if I remember correctly it’s on the first floor, which is a couple of levels above us now.”

The elevators, assuming they were even working at this point, were glass encased prisms with no floor. The escalators were out as well, unless Bethany could piton her way up through every groove. She vaguely remembered falling off halfway across the monkey bars as a kid. There the worst possible outcome was a few splinters. Here there was no telling how far she’d keep falling if she lost her grip.

Bethany shook her head, “Even if we could get up there, there’s no way we could get Jared up in his current state. What about service stairwells?”

Claudia shrugged, “Someone on the maintenance staff might know. Me, I go in and out the front door just like you. I don’t even use the employee parking, I take the RTA.”

Absently Bethany pressed the call button on her phone, hanging up and trying again as soon as she heard the three-tone alert message.

“You’re just going to drain the battery doing that. The system’ll probably be down for hours,” Claudia offered.

Even as she pressed the call button again, Bethany knew she was right. Why hadn’t she picked up the phone in the first place? What was so important about a damn cup of coffee?

Frustrated she slammed one of the cabinets shut, the force tearing the door off of one of its hinges, leaving it swinging loosely from the other. Claudia assessed the damage with a raised eyebrow.

“Good a solution as any I guess,” she said, tearing the rest of the door away from the cabinet. She put her foot on the seat of one of the plastic chairs and slammed the board down hard against the back. The board cracked and split, and after a couple more whacks broke into two roughly even pieces.

“Hand me some of those uniforms from the back closet over there. We’ll wrap these so Jared doesn’t get tetanus, and use whatever fabric we’ve got left to tie them together.”

The splint was crude but succeeded in keeping Jared’s leg straight, though Bethany had to snap some loose shards of wood so he could put his foot down on the floor.

“He’s still not going anywhere for a little while,” Claudia said. “We might as well see what else we can…”

The sound of gunfire is distinctive. Most lower caliber hand guns don’t set off the loud boom that everyone expects. The real noise is closer to a balloon popping, which in some ways is more frightening. Gunfire sounds more innocuous than it is.

“What the hell is going on out there?” Claudia whispered angrily.

The shots were soon followed by the sound of smashed glass and angry yelling.

“C’mon,” Claudia gestured, crouching low.

With the counter above them, the front of the store offered little in the way of cover. Their only real protection was the fact that a donut shop wasn’t usually the first on anyone’s list when it came to looting.

The shouting was clearly coming from their floor. Claudia and Bethany moved slowly across the aisle and up to the corner. If they were caught, Bethany didn’t have much of a plan beyond screaming, as running back to the donut shop offered fleeting safety at best.

Bethany leaned her head around the corner, then quickly pulled it back, burying her head as close to the wall as possible.

“What do you see?”

Bethany didn’t want to answer and just kept trying to bury herself in the wall. Claudia pushed her back gently and took her own quick look before pulling back as well.

Lying half out of the store window was a young man wearing a store manager’s uniform. He had a thick mustache and was wearing a tie and a whistle like the high-school coaches in movies from the 80‘s and 90‘s. His eyes were open and glassy. Most of his forehead and temples were covered in blood from a deluge of small cuts from the window, and one or several large blows to the head. His chest was dark crimson, the material too wet with blood to show any wound.

Bethany had regained some of her composure just as Claudia was losing hers, “Did you know him?”

Claudia brushed a tear away with her hand and spoke in a whisper, “Not really. I saw him around. He usually liked Boston creams, though who doesn’t like a bit of custard?”

Bethany shook her head, “Sporting goods store, that’s surprisingly smart for a mob mentality. That place has the climbing equipment to get out of the mall and to anywhere else you might need to go. From their attitude toward the store manager I doubt they’ll be too willing to share with us, though.”

“What do we do now?” Claudia asked.

“We’ve got to get out here before those goons start sweeping the rest of this floor. Maybe the emergency exits will work.”

“But what about Jared? There’s no way we can bring him with us,” Claudia said.

Often Bethany suspected that the people around her knew the answers to their own questions, but needed her to say the answer anyway. Her parents were getting a divorce, but they looked to her to make sure they were doing it right. Grace kept fighting with nurses and doctors, but all the while she was waiting for Bethany to say it was okay to let go.

“We have to leave him, at least for now,” Bethany said. “Maybe since he’s hurt they’ll leave him alone.”

Claudia clearly wanted to object. It was part of the social contract of being an uncaring heartless pragmatist that other people get to yell at you about it, before ultimately going along with your plan. Claudia seemed too drained at the moment to care.

“You’re probably right. We can come back down and check on him once we’ve found some supplies and these gangbangers have taken off.”

It was unlikely they were ever coming back to this store again, but if it helped the fiction of their reason for leaving, then that was alright.

Bethany dialed her sister one last time. When again she heard the three-tone message, she held the power button down to turn off the phone.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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The Sky Below (Chapter Two)

What would you do if your world turned upside down?

Every other Thursday I’ll be presenting the next chapter in my serialized novella, The Sky Below. You can read the first chapter of the story here or you can download the up-to-date novella from the Internet Archive in a variety of tablet and eReader friendly formats.

Full Novella (Chapters 1-2) [MOBI, EPUB, PDF]

Chapter 1 [PDF]

Chapter 2 [PDF]

Comments and questions are always welcome. Enjoy!



Eddie fought the impulse to scramble for the edge of the dugout. Against all logic his mind was telling him that he would fall just like Alfonso if he went over that edge. The weightlessness had passed and gravity had reasserted itself, but in the wrong direction. This had to be some kind of sick dream. Maybe the last pitch hadn’t sailed by him after all.

Yeah, that was it. He’d been hit in the skull and this was just a concussion induced nightmare. Eddie shook his head wildly, trying to shake reality back into something sensible.

But the pain in his shoulder was real; it felt like he’d come down with his full weight. He swung his left arm across his body and rolled onto his belly. Something about burying his face in the cement ceiling made this all a little less surreal. Sub-consciously he knew the bench was somewhere above his head, but he was trying not to think about it. The open air over the edge taunted him just a few inches away, and against the protests of his body he nudged himself forward.

The wind nearly blew the cap off Eddie’s head as he inched his nose over the side. The ceiling was on a slight incline toward the back wall, so he was able to still any immediate thoughts of falling. He looked down cautiously, then snapped his head back violently at what he saw. The sky was maddeningly blue, the clouds moving perceptively but leisurely despite the gusting inside the stadium. It looked like any one of dozens of lazy summer afternoons spent lying on his back looking up; except now he was on his belly looking down.

Eddie eased backward, breathing out slowly as he moved. He rested his chin on his hands and looked across the stadium. The stands were mostly empty, though a few people were swinging precariously from railings or clinging to the backs of their seats. Most fell after a few seconds, falling quietly below his line of sight. A few were followed by a sickening thump, the sound of their bodies hitting the upper decks or the pavilion shell.

He watched helplessly as a mother reached out for her two children. The daughter had managed to weave herself through the bars at the edge of the field, but the son was too far away. In his right hand he wore a baseball glove and was trying to grip tightly to a chair, but Eddie could see his hand was slipping. He wanted to shout, to tell the kid to ditch the glove and get a better grip, but it was too late.

The glove slipped, and the kid’s right arm hung uselessly at his side. The effort of trying to hold himself up had probably exhausted him. He dangled loosely for another few seconds before his left hand gave out. The mother tried to reach for him but he was already gone. She turned to look across the field and for a brief instant her eyes met Eddie’s. Then, without a sound, she let go of the chair and dropped out of view.

Movement to his right drew Eddie’s attention, and he turned to see a young man trying to shove his way past a middle-aged man and his wife. The older man was heavy, but strong, and was not about to yield an inch of ground. Eddie closed his eyes, and when he heard the thump a few seconds later he didn’t look to see who’d won.

He buried his head in his hands and cried silently, not wanting to see any more.

“Eddie?” He felt a warm hand against his right calf. He bent his knees and rolled back onto his side. The speaker put a strong arm around his back and helped him toward the wall. The rear of the dugout was a mess, a pile of bats and helmets and other random bits of detritus.

Eddie opened his eyes to see his teammate, Manny, who up till this point hadn’t said a word to him in weeks. ‘Guess there’s no reason to worry about my slump rubbing off anymore,’ he thought.

“Are you alright?” Manny asked.

“I’m fine. I just hit my shoulder. You okay?”

Manny nodded, “Banged my shoulder pretty good too.”

The rest of the lineup were scattered against the back wall. Some hung their feet over the side, while others crouched down, pressing as close to the back wall as possible. The whole scene was playing out before them in panoramic view, but nobody wanted to look at it for very long, choosing instead to huddle together in groups of two or three.

Eddie looked over at Franklin, who was puking his guts out in the far corner. He’d been next at bat and would have been standing in the on deck circle if he hadn’t had to re-lace his shoes. Their coach had been standing at the end of the steps, leaning against the pads on the railing and making his wishes known to the base coaches. Eddie hadn’t seen him fall, but he didn’t see him here either. It was ridiculous the difference a couple of steps made.

“This isn’t some x-man thing, right?” Manny said, breaking the silence.

“Excuse me?” Eddie said.

“Like the end of that one movie. That magnetic dude picked up RFK stadium and dropped it next to the White House.”

“What’d he do that for?” Eddie asked, relieved for any kind of distraction.

Manny shook his head. “I’m not sure. I mean it’s impressive like, flying through the middle of DC carrying a big building. But then he just drops it to keep people out who might spoil his plans. If you need a wall, why don’t you just make one out of metal?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie said, “I’ve never seen that movie.”

“You think we’re flying, Eddie?”

“I don’t know.”

‘God I hope so,’ he thought. At least if some telepathic force was picking them up, it could put them down again.

His thoughts were broken by the sound of wrenching metal from somewhere below. He’d been able to tune out the individual screams, but the collective wail beneath his feet was impossible to ignore. He scooted up from his crouch and looked over the edge again.

Below, the solar pavilion had torn itself away from its moorings and was curving outward like a long ribbon. All along its ridged surface people clung desperately, trying to climb as the metal tore away faster and faster. One would lose their grip, and knock down the three below them. They were all fighting a losing battle.

The noise went on for countless minutes, the tear growing longer, twisting in the wind and bucking savagely. The stadium below the dugout shook and for a moment Eddie was afraid their tiny perch would be pulled down as well.

But then, just as quickly as the noise had begun, it stopped.

* * *

Kammie looked up at her feet and wondered where the hell she had put her shoes. The rest of her was covered in boxes, and she felt thin metal cutting dully into her back and shoulders. Her head rested on top of something that felt like thick cork board that cracked as she turned her head.

At first she thought she had lost her balance and knocked over one of the shelves. She groaned at the thought of all the noise she must have made. There was no way she was going to get this mess cleaned up before one of her supervisors found her.

But as her memory returned her brain offered up another suggestion; one neither of them was too happy about. She remembered floating for the briefest of moments, and could recall her feet leaving the floor. What she couldn’t remember was if she’d fallen back down again.

Suddenly Kammie was more thankful for the darkness than she had ever been in all those solitude seeking moments. Her back and shoulders were telling her that what she was laying on felt a lot more like the ceiling frame than the tile floor.

‘Alright,’ she thought, ‘the ceiling’s collapsed. The building’s only a few years old but maybe there were some material flaws.’

She slid one of the tiles aside with her hand and probed for the floor below, but instead felt textured metal. She wasn’t certain, but it felt like the plating above the ceiling. If the ceiling had fallen on her, then the plating would be sitting on top, or still be hanging from the ceiling.

So what was hanging above her?

Her senses were feeding her information in small pieces, knowing that she needed time to comprehend the full reality of the situation. She pushed down, the tiles bending under her weight until they met the plating. She put her arms behind her and slid backward, moving her legs down carefully from where they’d been elevated. The frame had collapsed to the plating around her head and upper back, but the rest was still about a foot and half in the air.

Kammie pulled her knees up under her chin and breathed in slowly. She polled her hearing for information next, trying to recall if there had been any kind of rumbling or shaking that might account for this upside down closet. Northeast Ohio had been getting some minor earthquakes lately, supposedly due to fracking in Pennsylvania, but the worst of that hadn’t registered above a 4 or a 5 on the Richter scale.

The floor, or ceiling, below her was perfectly level. If the building had collapsed or even toppled over she’d be on some kind of an angle. But the room had been flipped 180 degrees.

It was the sound of someone yelling that broke her out of her thoughts. Unless she was dreaming, and that was a real possibility, this room wasn’t likely to be the only one that had gone topsy-turvy. She grunted as she pulled herself onto her feet, assuring herself that some of the cracks she was hearing were coming from the tiles and not just her knees. She brushed off some of the accumulated dust, and ran a hand along her back where the metal had been pressing in. She felt no obvious cuts, at least where she could reach, though she was bruised in a couple of places.

She took a tentative first step, and nearly fell back onto her hands as the frame caught her below the knee. Most of the tiles had fallen out of the frame, but a few clung on stubbornly. It was almost like walking through a foot of snow. Sometimes the material was packed enough that Kammie could stand and pull herself forward, only for her next step to sink her down again. After a few minutes of this, Kammie reluctantly determined that the best way through was to crawl underneath the frame on her hands and knees.

After another couple of minutes of crawling like this, poking her head up every couple of feet to make sure she was still heading toward the door, Kammie reached the far wall. The handle of the door was a little above eye level. She reached up and pulled down, but the handle wouldn’t move. Panic seeped in for a few fleeting seconds as Kammie thought she might be trapped in this room.

She pushed up on the handle and the door swung open.

Kammie crawled over the doorframe, the ridged metal pushing into her stomach. She hung half-way through for a couple of seconds before falling back below the tiles, like a fish diving below the surface of the water. She stood angrily, breaking through the tiles above her head and plastering her hair with dust and cobwebs. She cupped a hand to her mouth and shouted, “Anybody alive out there?”

“Over here!” a faint woman’s shout came from about fifty feet down the hall. “I’ve got someone hurt!”

Kammie crouched down below the surface of the tiles, crawling for about thirty feet before bumping up against a wall. The voice was coming from the direction of the visitors lounge, and the ceiling abruptly changed to smooth, thick plaster. Kammie surfaced and crawled up slowly, spreading herself wide to distribute her weight evenly. She moved forward a few feet at a time by alternately kicking with her feet and pulling with her shoulders, like someone crawling across a frozen lake.

The young woman was leaning against a pillar and pressing her sleeve against the forehead of a woman in her fifties. The older woman’s face was obscured so that Kammie didn’t recognize who it was until she was right in front of her.

Margaret Benson had been one of the nursing staff who had first interviewed her, and had been the one who gave Kammie that nick-name. Her full name was Kamyra, and for most of her life she’d been insistent that others pronounce it fully and correctly. But whenever Margaret had called her Kammie it had sounded warm and affectionate. When Kammie had tentatively called her Margie for the first time she’d been treated to a smile so wide it nearly made her giggle.

Margie’s breathing was shallow, and she’d lost consciousness. Kammie felt for a pulse, but it was thin and weak.

She looked up to the young woman who was fighting back tears. She was cradling Margaret in her lap, her one arm pressing down, and the other lightly stroking her cheek. Kammie had remembered seeing the young woman around the floor for the past couple of weeks, mostly in room 3, mostly arguing with the other members of the nursing staff. It never ceased to amaze her how hard and how fervently people fought to control uncontrollable things.

“Can you lift your arm?” Kammie asked, putting a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder. She nodded, and Kammie tore the sleeve off her scrubs. Margaret was going to need antibiotics either way for the infection, and getting the bleeding contained had to be the priority.

“What’s your name?” Kammie said as she started to work.

“Grace. I was trying to call my sister before…”

Kammie nodded, “I know. I’m not sure what to call it either.”

Grace shook her head, “No, it’s not that. My mother’s sick.”

Kammie tied off the dressing. The bleeding was starting to slow down, and Margie’s breathing seemed a little better, but Kammie was still concerned. She looked up to see that Grace had started to cry.

“I just wanted her to hear Bethany’s voice one last time,” Grace said.

Kammie put an arm around Grace’s shoulder, and the young woman buried her head in her chest.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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Where My Character Lives

The campaign for Surreality ends November 14th 2015. Vote at the link below, and get a free copy if Kindle Press decides to publish it:



This morning I’m writing to you from the Einstein Bros in downtown Columbus. I’m on jury duty for the rest of the week, so it’s a bit of a change in routine for me. I’m not a giant fan of real rush hour traffic (I drive in the “opposite” direction for my regular job) so I’ve been getting down here pretty early, which gives me time to walk around and take in this city I’m trying to write about.

downtown commission

I’ve lived in Columbus for 23 years, since I was five years old, but in many ways the downtown is a mystery to me. Columbus is really three cities: downtown, OSU Campus, and the suburbs. Some of those suburbs are now the “exurbs”, a mixed conglomeration of municipalities and jurisdictions with no clear government to appeal to for services. OSU Campus culture bleeds into everywhere, as this is a town obsessed with college football. And the downtown area is going through a revival, with the Columbus Commons, Scioto Mile and potentially a new Vets Memorial, this is an exciting time to be living in this city.

I’ve placed my character in the Short North, an area between Campus and Downtown, the perfect blend of both cultures with the cosmopolitan hipster attitude on the one hand, and the arts, cheap bars, and good food of the other. Even getting him a good cup of coffee is tricky, as he’s decidedly not a “hipster” and yet he isn’t going to stoop to White Castle coffee. The more I write him, the more I wonder exactly why he’s living where he is, and yet it’s the “fish out of water” quality (even in his own home) that I think will help him be a good surrogate for the reader in getting to know “my city”.

Columbus is the state capitol, home of a nationally talked about (if not national championship playing) football team, and a world-class university. It’s got one of the largest Somali refugee populations of any American city, and is one of the more gay friendly cities, especially in the midwest. And Ohio’s a swing state in elections so we’re talked about nationally at least once every four years.

I started with writing Sci Fi, and I will continue to come back to it. But one of the joys of working on this mystery has been the excuse to research where I live, to really become a native as opposed to someone who just lives here. It’s a different kind of work. Instead of making everything up from scratch, I’m doing a lot of research, walking the streets with Google maps, looking up websites, and taking pictures wherever I can.

Every city has a story, every city has a culture. And I’m happy I’m setting my story here, and not in New York, Washington, LA or San Francisco. One day I might even write about Youngstown, which back in the day was Bombtown, USA. This is a territory mystery writers have been treading for a while, writing the city they know, giving readers an authentic view of their world. Hopefully, you’ll get some of that from me when you finally read Surreality.

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