booksandstories.com

September 2002 Review

Web Page Progress

Well, obviously, this Review isn't as early as I had thought it would be. I think I'm getting lazy at the weekends, or maybe work is catching me up, but I have found it difficult to settle down and write creatively. I'm sure I will get back to it soon, but in the meantime I have taken the opportunity to do a few modifications to the web site.

First of all, I have added tracking to many more of the pages to try and find out how deeply you all delve into the site. Until now the Free Chapter files were un-tracked while each of these Reviews were. It seemed an oversight, and so I have added the tracking to practically everything. The reason for this is due to my belated efforts to actually investigate how successful this site is.

For the past few weeks, maybe since I altered my key word meta tags and titles, the number of visitors to the site has increased. From an average of about thirty or forty a week, the visits have increased upto eighty a week, and have now reached two hundred a week. I can't say if this trend will continue, but it looks promising. Maybe the little tweaks I do to my titles and description, and the even smaller changes to the keywords, have had an effect. It seems almost funny that changing "Books and Stories To Read Now!" to "Books and Stories To Read Online Now!" might have this effect. But the key words we all use on search engines to find what we want are far more powerful than we think.

In a previous Review I think I mentioned that visitors to the site get here using key words such as "read online", "read books online", "read stories online", "read online now" and some other similar combinations. By adding any missing keywords like this to my meta tags I increase the chance of my site being found. I have also slightly tweaked my Home Page and List Page to make these key words more apparent as well as to make the pages a little more friendly. I hope you like the changes.

At the end of the month I will have another delve into the statistics and see just how far you have been going on your visits. I know that some of you just pop in and pop right out again, while others delve deeper, and still more others pop back again. At the moment the percentage that stay awhile appears to be a lot less than the overall number who visit, hence my need to track other pages on my site in case I'm missing something. Of course, I wouldn't have to go to such lengths if any of you emailed me with your comments!

Another slight change, well, maybe a big change really, is that I have split the Free Chapters into frames and added a chapter selection bar at the bottom. I have thought about this before, but never did anything about it. While converting "The Friendly Ambassador" to HTML and finding that it produced quite a large file it again occurred to me. Until now if you wanted to move up or down to another chapter to re-read something, or if you went away and came back another day and wanted to find the chapter where you had left off, you had to scroll up or down to find it. With a big file this can be both tedious and difficult, as a slight movement on the scroll bar can skip several "pages". With the new chapter selection bar at the bottom, this is now straight forward and easy.

I have created a customised selection bar for each story, and by using frames the selection bar stays at the bottom of the main window at all times, allowing you to hop from chapter to chapter at will. It only disappears when you leave the Free Chapters and go to another none story page. I thought this was a better idea than splitting the story files into separate chapter files and then sticking the buttons at the top and bottom of each. This way they are in view all the time, and you can still print out the whole file in one go.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do this with any of the Short Stories as they don't have actual chapters. And as yet, I haven't done it with any of the Pay Chapters either. But I'm working on it.

Writing Progress

As you may already know, the first twenty chapters of "The Friendly Ambassador" are now up on the List Page. Since then I have taken a slight break from the story, doing some of the things outlined above, and generally being just a slob at weekends. However, doing nothing soon gets boring, and so I will start up on it again next week. This week has been Review time, and again I have been a bit of a slob. So in contrast to my promise last month to do this Review earlier and include a longer installment of the Short Story, I have done neither! Never mind. Next month I will try and be less of a slob at the weakends and get down to work. Shouldn't I be resting at weekends?

The Short Story Serial continues as usual this month, but again with a shorter eighth instalment. The seventh part of the story entitled "The Dreamer:Part VII" has been added to the List Page.

September's Short Story: The Dreamer: Part VIII

"Who are you?"

Humbolt smiled. "Who can tell? But remember you must. Count can you, or inumerate you be? The answer is here and in memory it be. Look with your eyes did you but nothing to see? Or passed us by as uninteresting we be?"

Angela collapsed back on the sofa. "Why is everything you say in riddles?"

"Life be easy if path you take be already known. For adventure go blind and all things new find. What do you wish, Missy? An easy route where all is known, or an exciting one where every turn is surprise?"

"I'd like the easy route please!"

"Not Captain you be, so wish cannot grant, but surprises be fun as you will see."

The elevator 'dinged' and the doors slid open. Inside was revealed a glistening red creature with a long shaped head adorned with fins and horns at the top and back. It's eyes were set in the front of the head, and below them was a mouth full of long and curved teeth. The body was just as remarkable. Almost an upside down triangle, the top was wide and powerful while the lower part was small. Only the short but powerful looking legs gave the lower part of the creature any proportion. The huge arms almost allowed the creature to rest it's hands on the ground. It had enormous claws on both hands and feet, and as it sprang from the elevator and bounded towards her, it used it's front two hands every second step as it switched between all fours and running only on it's hind legs.

Angela jumped from the sofa screaming her head off. She ran around the room with the creature giving chase while Humbolt sat on the sofa unconcerned.

"Humbolt! Heeelp!"

Angela ran round and round the room with the creature giving chase. It kept snarling and snapping at her.

Humbolt got up from the sofa and walked casually to the elevator. Here he paused. "Remember, Captain be Captain, and Missy be Missy. Only Captain put lights out. Missy you be now, and Nac Tikmak be Captain. But not permanent these roles be."

As it ran passed him, the red creature paused in its pursuit of Angela and snarled viciously at Humbolt who quickly darted into the elevator. As soon as the doors had closed behind him the red creature resumed its pursuit, bounding over one of the sofas and catching Angela by surprise. She had continued to run around the room and now the creature ambushed her by one of the low tables and she screamed wildly as they tumbled to the floor in a heap.

Angela struggled and kicked, pushing up with both hands, trying to keep those gaping jaws full of teeth away from her head. The creature was lying on top of her, pinning her down, it's clawed front hands pawing at the carpet on either side of her in a frenzy. As she screamed, it howled and roared. And slowly, despite her efforts with both hands to keep the jaws away from her, they came closer and closer. She could feel it's hot breath, feel the weight of it's body on top of her, the hard shell of it's skin poking into her. She screamed louder. Then it suddenly grabbed her head with it's hands, raising her up, and she was nose to nose with it, staring into it's eyes.

Angela froze, her screams cut off.

The creature stopped howling and roaring and said in a deep and resonant voice, "Well, hello there, pretty one. Shall I eat you now? Or shall we chat first?"

Angela stared up at the creature in shock, her lungs bursting and her chest heaving. "Chat....I think....," she gasped.

A long red tongue appeared from the creature's mouth and it licked her face wetly and then the creature smacked it's lips. "Mmmm, pity. A nice and juicy one you are, a tasty morsal whose sweet flesh I could strip from your bones in one gulp." It licked her again. "Mmmm, yes...maybe chatting isn't so appropriate."

Angela closed her eyes, trying to turn her face away, but the creature still gripped her head in it's hands and she couldn't avoid the attentions of that long and wet tongue. She began to cry, her legs kicking again as she tried to push away it's enormous and frightening head. "Stop it!" she wailed. "Stop it! You're scaring me!"

"Scare you?" it repeated as if surprised. "Of course I scare you! I'm supposed to scare you! I'm going to eat you!"

"You can't eat me!"

"Oh yes I can!"

"No, you can't!" she insisted through her tears. "I'm not really here! I'm still in the chamber! You can't eat me!"

The creature pushed it's head forward until it pressed against her forehead, pinning her head to the floor. "If I eat you here, you will feel it even if you are in the chamber!" it said menacingly. "You will feel each bite, each piece of your flesh torn away, until the pain overcomes you and you die here! Then you will be in the chamber!"

"Is that when the lights go out?"

"Yes!"

"No!" Angela suddenly poked it in the eye with her finger.

The creature howled and sat up, clutching at it's wounded eye. Blood spilled down it's face. Blue blood. "You wicked thing!" it roared. "You've maimed me!"

Angela tried to sit up. "Serves you right, you bully!"

With a sudden snarl the creature lunged at her with it's mouth gaping and bit her. Angela fell back on the floor, blood splashing her face. She closed her eyes and just lay there with her arms flung out, breathing hard. There was a deep wound in her chest and blood spilled out on to the floor. It began to stain the carpet.

The red creature sat up and took it's hand from it's eye, revealing a punctured socket. "Now look what you made me do!" it said almost apologetically. "Now you will die and it serves you right!"

"I'm not going to die," Angela muttered weakly. "And the lights aren't going to go out."

"The lights will go out!"

Angela opened her eyes. "They will not!" she insisted.

The creature reached out with one of it's clawed hands but Angela grabbed it at the wrist. There was a trial of strength, and for a moment it seemed that the creature would win, but then Angela began to push it back, holding it in a vice like grip until the creature howled in anguish.

Angela smiled in triumph. "Learn quickly, don't I? Not so easy now, is it, Nack Tickmack? Yes, I know it's you! Has to be you! I should have known as soon as I saw you by the lake! Yes! I remember that too! You scared me then, so you thought you'd try another tack! It nearly worked, too! But then you cocked it up! So back comes the bad ass to scare me into line! But that's not going to work either! And this time the lights aren't going to go out!"

Nac Tikmak tried to wrench his hand free, but couldn't. "You think you are strong, that you can defeat me and become Captain! But you are wrong! Soon your strength will fail! The wound is deep, your blood seeps away, and you grow weaker and weaker! Soon I will turn you off, and your memory will fade!"

As he made each point it seemed that Angela's strength did ebb. But then she suddenly sat up and her strength returned.

"You haven't hurt me!" she exclaimed. "This means nothing!" She smacked her own chest with her free hand, and instantly the wound vanished. "Everything here is false, transient! Like Lucy! Like Humbolt! Like all the other inhabitants! They're just scenery! You can't hurt me! And I can't hurt you! So don't sit there with a bleeding eye and hope for my pity!"

Nac Tikmak's eye reformed even as he spoke. "I have been here a thousand years! Your challenge is feeble! I will cast you aside and lock you in the dark!"

Angela smiled and then laughed. "A thousand years means nothing to me! I come from Earth! I know how to play this game! Have you ever seen Terminator II?" She pointed her finger at him and it suddenly grew out into a long spike that impaled him.

Nac Tikmak howled and fell onto his side, blue blood spurting from the hole in his chest.

Angela withdrew her finger and stared at her hand. "Amazing. I should have known. Should have known from the start. It's not a cryogenic chamber, or a transporter. It's a game machine. A game machine that feeds you and looks after you for year after year while you build up a big score." She turned to him again. "And you've got a big score, haven't you, Nac Tikmak? A really big score."

Nac Tikmak climbed to his knees. "Enough!" he bellowed.

"No!" she screamed back.

The world shook and the light dimmed and grew bright again. A gentle earthquake. A mere tremour.

Nac Tikmak looked around in fright while Angela stared directly at him in triumph.

"Now who's in charge here? Now who's Captain?"

Nac Tikmak sprang from the floor, all trace of his wound disappearing. He pounced on her, but this time Angela's whole hand shot out in a long blade and punched through his body. He howled and fell back. Now his blood stained the carpet.

Angela leaned over him. "Hurts does it? Getting weaker, are you? Maybe it's time the lights went out for you?"

Nac Tikmak made a fist with his hand. "Enough!" he bellowed again.

"No!" Angela screamed back once more.

The world shook much more violently and the light dimmed and grew bright several times before becoming stable. Statues fell from the tables and the windows rattled.

Angela stared at Nac Tikmak, and suddenly it was Nac Tikmak, the same young man with fair hair and very soulful blue eyes she had seen before. He was wearing the same clothes, his white shirt hanging open, his tanned and lean chest now splattered in blood, red blood. More blood ran from the tear in his skin. He lay back on the floor, breathing hard. He looked tired, tired and sad.

"You have defeated me," he gasped. "Are you satisfied, Angela? Is your victory so proud? I brought you here, saved you from death. And in return you have stolen my world from me and ousted me from its control. Is this your gratitude?"

Angela shook her head at him. "Don't try for my sympathy! It won't work! You lied to me! You cheated me!"

He propped himself up on one hand. "I tried to make you happy! You wanted to see your friends again! I helped you do that! Was that so wicked?"

Angela felt the pangs of remorse. "You scared me!"

"Only so that I could come to your rescue, but you needed no rescue. I underestimated your strength and intelligence, the very reasons why I wanted to bring you here in the first place. They have undone me." He fell back once more. "I feel so tired."

Angela knelt on the floor next to him. "Oh, pig!" she exclaimed. "This is all your fault! You knew the red monster scared me! Why did you try it again?"

"Because I am the red monster. You asked how I really appeared. In your world it was one shape, in this another, as you see me now. But my true form, my real form, is as the creature you saw. If you fear the red creature, then you fear me, and we could never be together."

Angela watched him breathing hard. He seemed so tired, so weak. He had got everything wrong and she had punished him for it. It made her feel rotten. She leaned closer to him and stroked his face.

"Oh, Nack, why didn't you just come clean and tell me everything? I would have understood."

His eyes brightened. "Yes, and then you would have taken over!"

Before she knew it his finger was in her midriff and it suddnly burst out of her back. Angela screamed in pain and fell over, blood spitting from her mouth.

Nac Tikmak rolled over and sprang upon her. "I learn quickly too!" he snarled and stabbed down at her with three claws that sprouted from his fingers. Angela screamed in more pain, her body arching beneath him. "This time the lights will go out!" He made a fist. "Enough of this!"

The light began to dim for Angela, but then she lunged up with her hand and a long blade shot up and smacked into Nac Tikmak's head under his chin. The blade smashed out of the top of his skull in a splatter of bone, blood and brain tissue. Instantly the light grew bright again.

Angela spat blood and Nac Tikmak's head began to reform. Angela didn't wait for it to finish. She lunged at him again.

"Enough of you! This time it's over! This time you're history!"

He stabbed down at her with his claws. "I will not be beaten! Enough!"

"No!"

As they stabbed and lunged at one another, each commanding the other to be no more, the world began to shake. It was a real earthquake this time, one that was accompanied by a dull roar. One by one the windows rattled and then began to smash, and outside the buildings began to sway. The floor beneath them began to shake violently and paintings fell off the wall and light fittings fell from the ceiling with a crash. And through it all they struck and stabbed at one another, causing the light to dim and grow bright again.

The elevator 'dinged' and Humbolt staggered out on the heaving floor. He ran towards them, weaving back and forth as ceiling tiles fell on his head and statues and other ornaments got under his feet. Twice he fell over, once on one of the sofas and once on the floor. Finally he reached them.

"Stop! Desist!" he called out, waving his arms at them. "Everything ruin you do! Stop!"

They ignored him, stabbing and poking each other with grotesquely mutated limbs, causing horrendous wounds that instantly healed.

Humbolt jumped up and down. "Stop say I! Now you must! Warn not again I will!"

They ignored him.

Humbolt visibly slumped. And with a slicing motion with his hand he shouted, "Suspend!"

The world froze, a statute pausing in mid shatter.

There was sudden silence and stillness.

Humbolt stepped slowly forward and stood over the two grotesquely misshapen and angry forms. He shook his head, his whole body turning at the same time.

"Make mess you do. Ruin everything you have. Too selfish you be. Not right either of you to Captain be. Now to Humbolt the task must be given. Chastise you I will and no further chance will I give. Back to beginning you must go. Prove yourself worthy or in the dark you will stay. Be gone!"

Silence.

Darkness.

Cold.

Angela was conscious and aware, but completely cut off from everything. She didn't even have any thoughts, no fears, nothing. She felt aware of only one thing. She felt aware of, of....being totally alone. For some reason it was very calming. She should have felt scared, but she didn't. It was really strange. She could feel her arms and legs, knew that she could flex her fingers, but she had no sensation from the movements. And she couldn't see anything at all. It was as if someone had painted her eyeballs black. She was just drifting along in something or other, thinking about nothing very much. She couldn't even remember how she got here. Had she always been here?

Noise.

Lights.

Warmth.

Angela was sitting on a sofa in a large and sumptious room. There was a deep pale blue carpet, light pastel coloured walls, and furnishings in a light red wood. The many chairs and sofas had deep red cusioned seats, and in the middle of the room was an open fire with a canopy above it that took the smoke somewhere outside. And on the low tables and sideboards were statues and carvings that Angela recognised as being her own. The room was hers. Familiar, comfortable. In front of her on another sofa sat a young woman. She was very familiar. Very very familiar.

Angela stood up and instantly felt the change. She grabbed her chest and looked down. It was the winning stick body!

No it wasn't.

In shock and dismay Angela realised that she was wearing different clothes, different clothes that someone else should have been wearing. She worriedly pulled at the waist band of her trousers and rumaged inside. She pulled her hand out very quickly.

"Oh, Jesus!" she exclaimed. "I'm a man!"

Humbolt appeared from behind her. He was smiling brightly. "Hello, Captain! Take journey today? Or play with Missy? Say word and arrange will I!"

Angela just stared at him with saucer like eyes, her mouth -his mouth- hanging open.

The familiar woman, Nac Tikmak, Angela, Missy, nodded sadly and said with understanding, "Now you're Captain."

End of Part VIII. Part IX next month.

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