I’ve Seen Stranger Things

I thought I’d take a minute to give you all some likely redundant thoughts on the Netflix original series, Stranger Things. Yep. I’m probably the five-billionth person to write a review with this exact same title. At least I’m still ahead of 1/3 of humanity.

stranger things titles

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on a planet in a different galaxy where they don’t get Netflix, or Internet service for that matter, you’ve probably heard of Stranger Things. You’ve probably also heard or read people gushing with praise for the series. I’ll be honest… I kind of brushed off the first couple of people who told me about it.

“I’m already in the middle of a Downton Abbey binge with my wife,” I said. Yes, I realize I’m a bit behind on that one. It’s a fantastic series for me right now because I have some scenes in The Galaxy and All Her Charms (keep an eye out for chapter one HERE very soon) taking place in a wealthy Arabritish family’s estate, and they share a few similarities. Enough to justify watching a fun series with a fun lady, at any rate.

So, I had what I felt was an iron-clad excuse to avoid getting caught up in another series. Until some of my more musically-inclined friend started in on me. As readers of the blog will know, I have a thing for music. Where is that understatement emoji? The music in Stranger Things has two things I love: moody, atmospheric, retro electronica, and dark, delightful 80’s pop/rock tunes. Needless to say, I caved, and I took Meri and her sister (who was visiting for a couple of days) with me.

To the meat of the review then.

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How to do this without spoilers– I’ll start with the same comparisons I’ve heard from at least a dozen other people:

The Goonies
Stand By Me
E.T.
X-Files
Any good 80’s teen flick
Silent Hill (not the dumb movie– the excellent and suspenseful video game)

The visuals and cinematography are high quality while maintaining the feel of the period. Tension is managed well with the periodical release and build cycles that continue to ratchet higher as the show moves toward the eighth episode finale. Yes, there are eight one-hour episodes, so we have time to see real character development, and the writers don’t let us down.

Finally, the music. Well– you can see some of it for yourself if you have Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/netflixmusic/playlist/2X6z5kU0wMnKoar8i1RN6B

Unfortunately, the score is only on iTunes for now. Check it out there if you like, but really just go watch the show.

Now the shameless plug. If you like Stranger Things, you might enjoy my little piece I wrote recently called Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story. It has an element of the fantastic, with some creepiness, and hopefully a similar sense of wonder. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Also, I’d love you hear what you love about Stranger Things. Or where my review went wrong. Hit me up on Twitter.

Tiny Role-Playing Games

Do you wish I’d quit blogging so much? Want to read more of my fiction? This is the post for you. I promise you a means to make me post more fiction. Read on.

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Lately, I’ve been enjoying a personal renaissance of tabletop role-playing games. It’s been nearly 18 years since I role-played regularly. I’ll have another post soon explaining why I feel this is a valuable activity as a writer.

Today I’ll focus on a couple of specific games I think are great and, somewhat selfishly, I will pimp one of them to you without any shame or self-consciousness.

One of the fantastic things about RPGs is the time I spend playing them with my kids. I love the intellectual stimulation (for all of us) doing something other than watching movies or playing video games. Best, role-playing gets us interacting on a level I haven’t always been the best at as a father.

I have kids ranging from under 10 to nearly-legal adult so finding an RPG I could teach them the younger kids and manage to run successfully for the group was a bit of a challenge. At first, I was looking at Pathfinder and later D&D 5e, but these were way too detailed and crunchy.

Lucky for me, I know a guy.

Alan Bahr is a friend. If you know or have heard of Alan, then you know that he has probably read and played more RPGs than most people in the world. Being the insightful, enlightened guy I am, I scoured the internet for a game to play with my kids before I mentioned my dilemma to Alan. To his credit, he didn’t mock me (much) before pointing me to several great choices I could try with my kids.

One of the options was Tiny Dungeon, and it is the game that stuck with the family. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “WHEN ARE WE PLAYING TINY DUNGEON AGAIN, DAD?????” over the past several months. The number would be too large for display by 64-processors. When I can compose my blog from a quantum computer, I’ll give you an actual number. Don’t hold your breath.

Tiny Dungeon has a lot of things going for it, but its minimalistic rules are a clear winner in my book. You only need 3d6 (three standard six-sided dice) and an index card for each player, and you’re off to the races! Don’t get me wrong, the setting is lovely and lends itself to easy adaptation from other fantasy RPG adventures. The illustrations are fun, whimsical even, and the book also has a sample adventure that was a perfect intro for my younglings. Now, I’m writing my own fantasy campaign for the kids along with a short story that runs in parallel. Gotta keep those writing muscles lean!

My only complaint, if it can be called such, is Tiny Dungeons doesn’t work for a sci-fi setting. There aren’t rules for ships or mechs or alien races. If you know me, you might have a sense of why that would give me a giant sadface.

Enter Tiny Frontiers.

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As I earlier name-dropped, I know a guy. A guy named Alan Bahr. A guy who just happens to be an accomplished game designer with a high esteem for Tiny Dungeon. Alan has already made a big splash in the RPG world by designing the rules for the Planet Mercenary RPG. PM: RPG funded at nearly $350,000 just about this time last year. It’s been lauded by people like Steve Jackson. Yes, THAT Steve Jackson.

Alan and Gallant Knight Games have done an amazing thing. They licensed the Tiny Dungeon ruleset and created Tiny Frontiers. Not only will Tiny Frontiers scratch my sci-fi roleplaying itch, but it also features micro settings penned by amazing authors like Steve Diamond and Dan Wells.

Well- there’s a bit of a problem. Many of those fantastic micro settings don’t get made unless the Tiny Frontiers Kickstarter meets some stretch goals.

AND I WANT THEM.

So. Tiny Frontiers is already funded at nearly $6000. Here is the deal, folks. I’m offering two stretch goals of my own:

#1
In the spirit of sci-fi awesomeness, when the $12,000 stretch goal for TF is met, I will publish a beta version of Chapter 1 of The Galaxy and All Her Charms RIGHT HERE ON MY BLOG. I’ve been holding off sharing this with you. I’d like to wait a while longer, and I probably should. Tiny Frontiers means a lot to me, so I’ll take the risk!

#2
Also, if Tiny Frontiers should fund at or above $18,000, I promise to finish Rue From Ruin within one month. Cross my heart and hope to die.

I’ll put all extracurricular activities on hold. I’ll take time off work. I’ll do whatever it takes.

Am I manipulating you (and myself) a bit here? You betcha. Am I ashamed? Not even remotely.

So spread the word. Tell your mama. Tell your papa. Tell your friends. Tell anyone you know who roleplays or used to or thinks it might be fun or wants to get their kids into it.

Believe me; you won’t regret it. Tiny Frontiers is going to be amazing! Get on over to Kickstarter and back it now! Meantime, I’ll do what I can to make it worth your while from my end.

Q&A With Michael Ripplinger (Author Of New YA Novel: Yesterday’s Demons)

I have a marvelous treat in store for you all today.

You’re going to love it.

Michael Ripplinger graciously consented to answer some questions about himself and his upcoming YA Fantasy novel, Yesterday’s Demons. I had the opportunity to read an early version of the book, and I enjoyed it greatly. It has monsters, swords, adventure, budding romance, character growth, epic story, and some great secrets to learn along the way. What’s not to like? You can read the first chapter right now for free on Michael’s blog.

You’ll enjoy the interview. At one point Mike (who is a friend) calls me an evil man. I didn’t pull any punches with the questions!

I’ll tease you with the beautiful cover, and then we’ll get down to business.

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William Munn: What is it about Yesterday’s Demons that made you decide to write it? What is the driving force for this particular novel?

Michael RipplingerI’ve had the idea for Yesterday’s Demons for somewhere around 17 years now. Growing up, I was a huge fan of RPGs, especially Japanese video game ones. Phantasy Star and its sequels were my favorite games in the whole world — and they still are. Fast forward to the late 1990s and I was working at Toys “R” Us. I’d taken a break from video games for a few years but working daily in the video game department, I quickly realized there were some pretty cool looking new RPGs on the market, including Final Fantasy VII and Wild ARMs. Playing those two games especially made me realize what love I had for the epic storytelling of RPGs. I wanted to make one of my own, but although I’m a software engineer by trade, I’m not a game designer, and in the end, I wasn’t interested in writing a random monster encounter algorithm or an overworld map. I just wanted to tell a story. So that’s the first inspiration behind Yesterday’s Demons. It’s my love letter to the JRPG genre and all of its wonderful tropes.

The second inspiration was my own lifelong struggles with fear. The earliest thing I can remember is running in terror and hiding in the garage from a neighbor who was trying to give me a lifesize plush lion he’d won at an amusement park. My parents say I was probably just two years old when this happened. I used to watch Unsolved Mysteries with my grandmother, then be unable to raise the blinds on my windows for fear that a killer or an alien would be watching me from outside. I convinced myself there were monster-generated sounds in the basement so many times it isn’t funny. I’ve run away from panhandlers who were probably just looking for a bite to eat out of fear that they would attack me. As I got older, I learned to control these fears and tell my conscious mind they were just in my imagination. But my struggles with them led me to see just how many different flavors of fear there are: fear of monsters, fear of failure, fear of social judgment. And then there’s healthy fears, like wearing your seat belt for fear of reckless drivers. And so I wanted to tell a story about how much fear influences us, and how much it can control us.

WM: You live in Texas now. Where did you grow up and what made you decide to go San Antonio?

MR: I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, which is about 90 miles west of downtown Chicago and not far from the Wisconsin border. When I first married my bride, Rose, we lived in Rockford, but after our first child was born, she got homesick for San Antonio, which is where she was born and raised. The short answer is the one you read on bumper stickers ’round here: “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.”

WM: I’ve read an early version of Yesterday’s Demons, and I had a bit of a hard time putting a name to its genre. What type of story is it and what makes it stand out from other YA novels?

MR: You’re very right, the book dabbles in a lot of different genres. It’s primarily an epic fantasy, but it takes place in a world that resembles the old West, and there are significant science fiction elements. The action begins with a mystery and hey, it’s a book about fear of monsters, so there are a sprinkling of horror elements, too. But I think this eclectic mix is what makes it stand out.

Another thing that makes it different is that it is not dystopian, even though today, so many YA books seem to be about dystopias, and even though the world of Yesterday’s Demons is one that lost all technology and magic two hundred years earlier. There’s plenty of food and freedom on planet Verde, and most of the time, the monsters leave you alone if you don’t seek them out. As a whole, the people are happy, as is Siv, the protagonist. He just knows he’d be so much happier if he could get rid of his paranoid fears and find some peace.

WMI agree, Yesterday’s Demons is not dystopian, and that is a welcome relief. Verde is a very cool world, and without spoiling too much, can you tell readers what level of risks there might be in a world like Verde? Seems pretty safe except for the occasional monster.

MRYeah, Verde isn’t a dystopia, and is pretty safe except for the occasional monster. Actually, the whole planet is pretty safe… except for the two-thirds of it that are a poisoned wasteland called Terrascorcha. Two hundred years ago an event called the Blackout occurred, and all of the planet’s technology stopped working. That wasn’t fun — airplanes dropped out of the sky in mid-flight, for example. At the same time, all of Verde’s magic users disappeared. Technology and magic were replaced by monsters — native animals mutated into beasts. Everyone who survived the Blackout moved south, where the land wasn’t poisoned. And they’ve been there ever since. Monsters are the only life in Terrascorcha today. But still, I say Verde is a pretty safe place because all of that bad stuff is confined to Terrascorcha. Stay away from there and you’re fine!

And unfortunately, a vast majority of what I just said is all a lie, and none of the book’s characters know it yet.

WM: You are a self-proclaimed breakfast cereal aficionado. I eat cereal, at least, a couple of times a week, and I have probably five different flavors in my cupboard at any given time. Do I have a thing for breakfast cereal too? What makes you different?

MR: Who doesn’t have a thing for breakfast cereal? Add milk and some fruit and it’s three of the four food groups in a bowl. It’s colorful. It’s sweet, yummy, and sweet again. If feeling this way makes me different, then I don’t want to be normal. I say cereal today, cereal tomorrow, cereal forever! It’s part of a balanced and nutritious breakfast.

WM: This has been great! I have one last question if you’re willing: If you were forced to pick only one, either sci-fi or fantasy, which would you exorcize from your life?

MR: Hmm… can I cheat and say I’ll give up both in exchange for “speculative fiction”? No, I didn’t think so. If there could be only one, I’d keep fantasy. I love spaceships and robots, but I love swords and spells just a bit more. And you are, of course, an evil man for even making me consider this.

WM: Maybe I was in interviewer in a former life. I feel very similar and wouldn’t want to answer the same question!

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Now, dear readers, get on over to your favorite ebook retailer and pre-order a copy of Yesterday’s Demons by Michael Ripplinger. You won’t be sorry! For the truly lazy, like me, here are some links: Amazon | Barnes and NobleiBooks | KoboSmashwords

Until next time.

TEASER ALERT! I have 502 words of Rue From Ruin – Part 6 in the can. With any luck, you’ll see it before April 1.

Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story

A fun thing happened the other day. My writing group got together, and WE WROTE! It was a really fun idea that Steve Diamond gave us while we were attending LTUE last month. We each picked two (or more) words from a list of random words and wrote a complete story with them.

You know. A. Complete. Story.

Beginning. Middle. End?

Anyway, the stories that came out of this exercise were really fantastic and further convinced me that I am the least talented member of our group. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the little story I put together and I’m going to share it with both of you! You don’t even have to fight each other for the right to read it!

I’m calling it a “bedtime story” because it feels fun and a bit whimsical to me, but beware– this bedtime story does have a bit of a dark side. Consider this the only content warning you will get: maybe read the story first before sharing it with smaller children.

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Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story

clahWave

The waves curled their way over the sparkling black sand and dragged it through craggy lava formations and out into the roiling surf. When the light caught the swells from the right angle, they shone with an inner light that was unknown anywhere else in the land. Those beautiful, rhythmic arms of the sea rose and fell with hypnotic and deadly regularity. Occasionally, ships could be seen in the distance en route to some far-off destination. No one attempted to make landfall on this beach for the rocks would make it sheer folly.

This day was darker than most. An ominous storm savaged the western horizon, tendrils of it reaching out to the onyx land of the isle like wavy boneless fingers. The waves rose higher, driven by the gales of the malevolent front, and the sea birds that oft frequented the craggy shore in search of dinner had flown off looking for a less precarious perch.

Clah was not afraid of such perils as changeable as the weather. Indeed, she willed the storm to her from her crag in the base of the cliff wall just behind the beach. The sheer basalt wall had been her home through many such encounters, and Clah knew that a storm of this magnitude could bring untold treasures to the isle. She walked out onto the sand on all of her appendages, her dark eyes scanning the coast for anything of interest. When she noticed it, Clah scurried back into her home and watched from the safe vantage because she was cautious, and the object of her interest was far closer than she had dared to hope.

The ship was quite large, and rising from its middle were two enormous poles as big as tree trunks from the jungle atop the cliff. They had crossbeams attached and swathed in bunched-up white cloths of wind-catching. To the wildly bucking rear of the craft, there was a raised area where many men scrambled about like angry ants trying to do something with a round, wooden object. The circular roundwood thing had a dozen or so sticks protruding from it at evenly-spaced intervals. It didn’t seem to be responding in a way that pleased the men, and indeed, the ship appeared to be making its way rapidly toward the stony shore broad side first. The waves had grown with the winds and the darkness in the West was doing the same. They propelled the vessel with effortless ease to the doom Clah had foreseen from the moment she first spotted it.

It collided with crushing force, the breakers thrusting it at a speed the ship would not have normally attained on its best day, the crashing groan was so deafening as to drown out even the mighty waves and shrieking wind. Men flew from the ship with the force of the impact, some of them flung through the air hurling toward the beach, only to be caught and impaled upon the cruel rocks or crushed upon them by the prodigious weight of the pounding surf.

But. One man was flung free. He was clear of the reefs, and the tall waves snatched at him as he fought his way to his feet, stumbling away from the vicious ocean and her mighty disdain for the lives of men. He shuddered at the booming crack, as the spine of the ship was defeated by the forces arrayed against it. He turned gasping to stare as the rest of the boat gave way and started to release its ribs, spilling interior contents out like the guts of a man disemboweled.

Clah chose that moment to spring upon her prey, hurtling from her crag, to sink her wicked teeth into the neck of the unsuspecting sailor. He was delicious if a bit gritty from the granules of black sand that still clung to his skin. She hadn’t had a treat this savory since two storms prior when a man and his son had taken refuge on a beach some miles to the north.

Sighing with the contentment of the truly satiated, Clah curled up next to the now slumped man and watched with pleasure as the waves continued to roll in stronger and more powerful. After a time, she drowsily made her way back to her home in the crag and let the rhythm of the storm and the ocean lull her into a tranquil sleep.

Friday Link Pack 3/11/2016

Hey there link likers!

I have some fun stuff in store for you today. First, let me entreat you. If you like my #FLP posts, you may also enjoy my Twitter feed. Feel free to follow me for occasional bits of random goodness. You may even get the jump on a few of the things I post here.

Alright. On to business. Link business.

WRITE-ING (Note to self.)

Tor.com Gets Mushy About Rejection
I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s repressed guilt. For whatever reason, and in a roundabout sort of way, Tor.com is telling us “It’s not personal” when they reject our manuscripts. We knew that, Tor.com. However, the article gets downright brilliant below the fold when the author starts talking about all the structural reasons manuscripts get rejected. Nice save!

TOOLS

Tabletop RPGs As Writer Trainers
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Ok, this is an older article (2011 I think), but Chuck Wendig say it as only Chuck Wendig can. He lays out all the facts in his typical entertaining and CONTENT ADVISORY style. Don’t believe me? Clicky clicky, folks. Clicky clicky.

SCIENCEY

Chart of Cosmic Exploration
This chart may well be the most delightful representation of human exploration of the Solar System that I have ever seen. Don’t miss this one if you have a sciencey streak.

THINGS I LOVE

I’m Cheating Today
I don’t feel sorry. Today is their day. I used to LOVE this band. These days I only semi-aggressively like them. What can I say? It’s not them. It’s me. I’ve changed, and they didn’t. Still, nostalgia compels me.

Yesterday’s Demons Is Available For Preorder On Amazon
This is not a drill. Go directly to Amazon and order this book. I was a beta reader for it, and I’ve reserved my copy. You do the same. I’ll wait.

GIF OF THE WEEK

If I’m still learning to write consistently, this cat is still learning to cat:

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OH. YOU’RE STILL HERE. AWKWARD.

Soon, my friends (both of you), you will learn about Clah. Who or what is Clah? You’ll have to tune in next week to find out.

Learn Like A Poetic Viking

My friend Ron Coulson (who I’ve known practically forever) has challenged himself to write a poem a day this year. He is well underway. This is #63 of 366, because, you know, leap year.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no poet (any evidence to the contrary cannot be proven), but the subject matter here is near and dear to me — learning! I also enjoy a good metaphor and the Viking theme here is vivid and wonderful. Overall, it struck me as fantastic and I thought I’d like to share it with you all. Ron generously agreed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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Untitled

Let us devour knowledge in a way
That would make vikings cringe
Let’s gorge ourselves until we
Vomit certainties no one can dispute
Let truths drip from our chins
As the spittle of enlightenment
Lands in our opponents eyes
Raise your mugs, my friends
Then chug down life’s lessons
Until we are drunken sages
Then sleep
Then do it all again

-Ron Coulson (2016)

If these words have inspired you to learn, be sure to check back on Friday. I’ll be posting a brand new Friday Link Pack #FLP for writers.

Rue From Ruin – Part 5

The much maligned, and hopefully much anticipated, part 5 is here. Revel in its glory. Relish its brevity. Relinquish your focus on daily life and enjoy. Finally, the story continues.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, start with the Rue From Ruin page.

When I first sat down to write part 5 I was calling it something different, and I thought I had it all planned out according to my outline for the story. Yes, there is an outline. Back on task, you. Anyway, the words just weren’t coming out in a way that I liked, and I felt that something was missing. I let it get in my head and ended up sitting on my hands for some time.

I LIED to myself.

I told myself I was too busy to finish. I told myself my promotion at work was too demanding, and my brain couldn’t find a way to write. I told myself, I just needed a break.

Truth is, I was stuck. And instead of asking for help or even just trying to brainstorm an alternative, I was making excuses. Then I went to LTUE. Then I thought, I should ask my writer friends for help. THEN. Then I had a direction. A purpose. I knew what I was supposed to be writing.

And here it is.

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Rue From Ruin – Part 5

pyrenes

Dilemma

Running. It seems like I’ve been running for months. Maybe I have. Today I’ve been running for a few hours. The wretched, burning globe of the sun is high in the sky, and I can feel it searing the bare areas of my shoulders. If I could sunburn, I’m sure I would. Even so, the pale white skin that shows beside the shoulder straps of the rough denim overall feels more irritated than the skin beneath the straps.

If it seems like I’m complaining a lot, maybe my tale isn’t for you. The life of a pissed-off wolfman bent on revenge isn’t all unicorn colts and sugar and spice and other cloyingly sweet similes. Being me generally sucks.

Yes, I’m still chasing after the elusive Professeur Demons. He’s playing dirty and took advantage of my exhaustion to slip out of the backwater jail we were both locked up in before I woke. I’m close enough I can almost feel the trail of his scent. The odor attacks my nose like a kid sticking a nail through drywall and twisting it, rotating to widen a hole meant for stuffing with treasures hidden from Mom and Dad. The smell of him only feeds my anger. But, there’s something else there as well. Something — familiar.

It’s not familiar like an old shoe, or like the scent of your own pillow in the spots where you’ve drooled, open-mouthed while you slept. It’s familiar in a much more recent way. Like dropping off flowers for a loved one on the way to work, and coming back to the scent of them filling the house. Realization dawns on me and I almost trip in surprise. The bastard has taken the Spanish girl.

I trot on, not wanting to lose them, wondering what he thinks his hostage will buy him. I wrack my brain to determine his plan. I guess he’s going to threaten to kill her? Unless, there is some connection between them I don’t know about.

Poor girl.

The smell of her intensifies as I jog through a thicket, and I know she must be near. I emerge into a full-blown view of the Pyrenees Mountains, much closer than I thought they would be, and then I’m upon her. She’s stumbling, incoherent and mumbling something under her breath. There is no sign of Demons, though he can’t be far. I catch the señiorita in my arms just as she is beginning to crash to the ground. Touching the skin of her arms is like grabbing the handle of a cast-iron skillet that’s been on a stove too long. I still can’t make out what she’s saying. It’s quiet, slurred, and most relevantly, in Spanish.

“Are you alright? Can you understand me? Entiendes?” I ask.

She doesn’t seem to notice me at all. I shift my grip on her arms so that I can help her to a sitting position and I see something peculiar on her on her neck. A small red dot the size of a pin-head. Or. A needle. There is a faint smudge of wiped-off blood around it, confirming my suspicion.

Damn.

He’s injected the girl with whatever it was he gave me. I don’t understand it. Why would he do this?

I know what it means. The girl will be fine. As fine as I am anyway. Ok, so maybe not so fine. The people near her will be less fine. Especially if she finds her way back to her village.

I want to do something to help. My impulse is to help her and keep her from my fate somehow. My NEED is to catch the Professeur. My gray-matter battles itself in an attempt to find the right solution to this problem, but there doesn’t seem to be one. He’s slipping farther away from me over every second that passes. It’s so hot and bright, and I can’t think straight.

I don’t want to have her blood directly on my hands, but this would be his mistake, not my guilt. I can’t leave her to wreak havoc behind me. Can I?

Nice and easy, I lay the girl down on the ground. She’s barely conscious now, and her breathing comes in quick pants. The pouch tied at my neck dangles down and brushes her lips as I lean over her. She flinches away from it. The thought hits me like a Mack truck carrying a load of solid lead bricks.

What if I give her a dose of tincture?