Athenaeum

noun

  1. an institution for the promotion of literary or scientific learning

  2. a library or reading room

Cover Image for the novella "Rain Shadow" by Matthew R. Hales featuring a girl's eyes on a blank background with several marks crisscrossing around them and a black amphora in the foreground filled with something red.

Rain Shadow

Back cover copy

A young girl sits in class and listens to her teacher be wrong. A secret agent argues with his partner about quitting smoking. Not a great way to start the day.

From this inauspicious beginning events rapidly unfold as a threat to the entire world begins to grow in the Midwest. Two secret operatives from a shadowy Agency race to the source of the spreading madness. Two children whose lives have already seen too much terror are caught in the middle of what is to become a battleground for the fate of humanity. One artificial intelligence acts as a guide through it all.

In the end, the makeshift heroes will win, or humanity will fall.

About this book

I started this book a long time ago. I'm sure that I completed the basic form of the story in a handful of manic episodes because that was my life back then. I proceeded to worry at it for an inordinate amount of time. I went over and over it. I enjoy reading out loud and so I did. To anyone who would listen I would read it and in... mid... sentence... make corrections. My process, it seems, is not so much writing as it is polishing.

An intelligent person once said to me, "There is no writing. There is only rewriting." And so it is.

Many years after the story was essentially finished and languishing in the clouds my oldest said to me, "Publish it."

I resisted. Of course I did. "It's just a short story," I said. "Nobody publishes a short story."

"How long is it," he challenged.

20,000 words. I was shocked. I had no idea. I googled novella lengths. I had no more excuses left so here it is. Love it or hate it, you have my son to thank for ever seeing this.

If you would like to read a sample hosted on this site, click here. If you are intrigued enough to put your money where your curiosity is, click here (link opens at Amazon.com).

Content warning: child abuse, graphic violence, intense scenes, major character death

Cover image for the short story "File Discovered on Laptop in Possession of Suspect" By Matthew R. Hales. It is a black and white image of an open laptop next to a cup of coffee. On the corner of the laptop screen there is a housefly with a dusting of white specks on the screen near it.

File Discovered on Laptop in Possession of Suspect

Back cover copy

A man picks up a woman at a bar and takes her home for a good time.

It will be a night he will remember for the rest of his life.

All 48 hours of it.

About this story

Not to spoil anything, cuz I'm not gonna, but this entire short story was born out of a single question: What if?

This is one of those stories in which you take a natural occurrence and then ask, "But what if it was really big?" like the ants in the 1954 nuclear fright flick 'Them!', or maybe you watch a documentary regarding the mating habits of mantises or some spider species or—going way out there—the sexual symbiosis of some anglerfish, and then applying those strategies to humans or maybe very human-like aliens that could prey upon humanity.

That's what happened here. I was doing some light reading regarding a subject in which I had an interest and had a cussword-worthy moment.

I think I wrote the entire story in a single sitting. While I did not worry at this much shorter tale nearly as obsessively as "Rain Shadow", it still managed to pack a certain punch.

You can take in a brief sampling on this site by clicking here. If you are willing to forego a third of a cup of coffee, you can get this story on Kindle for $0.99 by clicking here (link opens at Amazon.com).

If you like the story (or don't even read it), you should check out the amazing audio drama version my friend created. It is hosted at Soundcloud, is completely wonderful, and is NSFW so you may want to listen at home, in the dark, alone.

Content warning: suicide, sexual scenes, body horror

A bottle of poison with a cork stopper and skull and crossbones label. "Robigus" is not a finished story and has no official cover image.

Robigus

Synopsis

This is the first several paragraphs of a story that takes place several years into the future of the story line of Earth. Just a fragment, an idea, this is as far as I got with the story. Technically, this could be seen as a sequel to "File Discovered..." above, so I recommend you do not read this unless you have at least checked out the complete audio drama version above, which is free, or perhaps even spend a buck on the "Dollar Dreadful" available at Amazon.

That said, all of this started really far away from anything like an idea for a book.

About this story

If you have ever played Diablo 2, you're going to know what I'm talking about. If not, sorry?

Anyhoo, my favorite class was always the Necromancer. Dresses in black, skeletons... what's not to love, right? Now, maybe because I come from a background of storytelling and role playing, I was not content with merely putting together some numbers and caring only about my DPS. I also absolutely refused to use the same cookie-cutter builds that everyone else played. Just like my Magic decks, my D2 characters may have been non-optimal but they were actually fun to play. Just all the skeletons. Yes, Hell difficulty solo in an 8-player game was slow. Very, very slow. But I did it with nothing but skeletons, a couple legendaries, a couple runewords, and mostly just some good rares... in Hardcore.

Eat it, the meta.

At any rate, I decided to make a "poison necro" and his name was Robigus. If you haven't read "File Discovered..." you should probably stop here. If you have, or don't care, continue below.

Spoiler section

Due to one of the item prefixes in the game that increased the poison skill tree for Necromancers being called "Fungal", it seemed a natural fit to base a poison character around mushrooms. I used skills like Confuse for the idea that his victims were hallucinating vividly due to spores, probably, as it was an instant cast for area of effect but was not a terribly visible effect. This allowed me to run through groups of enemies and take very few hits as they all attacked one another.

A poison Necro's damage is completely ridiculous. A single dagger strike kills almost anything in the game but a boss monster. Unfortunately, randoms from the Battle.net lacked imagination, communication skills and evidently intelligence and could simply not comprehend that the green monster (that's how "elemental effects" were marked, by coloring the enemies) was already dead. Attack something else.

Unfortunately the way poison was programmed meant that a later instance of poisoning would overwrite the damage of any previous attack. So the +10 poison damage over 5 seconds on random would overwrite the thousands of poison damage over more seconds.

I ended up having to play alone.

That makes leveling up more difficult as more players = more XP. It's also a bit boring.

However, I loved the idea of the character. You see, "Robigus" is the name of the only fungus god I could find; the Roman God of Rust. Not rust like oxidized iron; rust like the corn disease. Romans would sacrifice to Robigus to prevent their crops from spoiling on the plant.

I never let go of these central ideas about the character: A lonely fungus god; incredibly toxic; capable of inducing vivid hallucinations; capable of breaking immunity to poisons; immortal, always rising again after apparent death; his only companion, when he had one, a female warrior (Act 1 merc).

You can read the fragment here.

Content warning: violence, strong language

A dark picture of a mirror in an ornate metal frame. It is cracked. In the mirror appears to be a skull made of smoke. The crack in the mirror allows the smoke to leak out. "Mirror" is not a published story and has no official cover image.

Mirror

Synopsis

This was intended to be a short story revealing some of Agent John Smith's past with the Agency and a bit of the history between he and his partner, Elaine. If you aren't sure who those people are, I suggest you take a look at Rain Shadow, above, or on Amazon.

Agent Smith is ordered to a small town to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances of young children. He is quite certain that, if he has been sent there, the children will never be found because whatever was taking them certainly wouldn't be human.

About this story

Sometimes the writing bug bites pretty hard and occasionally life swats it. I was deeply into the idea of this story at the moment I first sat down to write it as might be evidenced by the ~1800 words I pounded out in the initial run. Unfortunately I never actually got back to it. I feel like there's something here, and I really do want to eventually finish this one, but at the moment this is all there is.

You can read the fragment right here.

Content warning: family tragedy, grief, strong language

A copy of the 1656 engraving by Gerhart Altzenbach of Dr. Schnabel von Rom ("Dr. Beak of Rome") from the satire by Paulus Fürst.

Plague Doctor

Synopsis

This tale is an introduction to Dr. Blood—a Plague Doctor from Earth in 2008, more than six centuries following the event that separates the Earth of his timeline from that of our own.

About this story

My friend, an historian and big ol' nerd, ran a couple of time travel games for myself and others in his circle. In one of these campaigns I portrayed a hulking black knight from 14th Century Eastern Europe. Possibly a cannibal, certainly prone to berserk rage, and highly superstitious regarding, well... everything, he was a lot of fun.

Dr. Blood hailed from a later campaign in which my friend encouraged us to flex our creativity and, instead of choosing an era and coming up with a character, to indulge in a bit of speculative fiction and change or create an event in history that would result in the formation of an alternate timeline. These timelines are inherently fragile as the rectification of the inciting incident causes them to collapse.

Our characters were to be individuals with the "spark" of time travel snatched from these parallel realities just before the moment of their dissolution. Not only did we play characters out of time, but who also learned that their entire lives—their whole worlds—had been the result of what amounted mistake and that everything they had ever known or loved was annihilated upon the correction of that error.

Read the very short story here.

An intentionally low quality copy of the "Rain Shadow" cover overlaid by a large red '2' with a white, circuit-board-like texture.

"Rain Shadow 2"

Back cover copy

This doesn't really exist yet, but it will be super cool when it does and totally make you want to read it. That cover image is also just a temporary placeholder.

Superhumans, gods, secret agents, troubled children, secret cults, rogue AI... You'll think I just threw every fun thing I could think of into a blender, seasoned it with edge and hit frappé.

I did.

About this book

I started this book, according to my files, in September of 2013. I guess I've been really busy for 8 years? I really did not know it had been that long until just now and I am honestly a bit depressed about it. It's okay, though, because I can feel better about things having finally gotten back to work after a break much closer to a decade than a year.

In my defense, I really was very busy for some of that time and seriously mentally ill for a lot of it, too. That's a whole other story, but important for this one. I have bipolar disorder that went untreated for much of my adult life. Again, a whole other story, but the important part for this conversation is that I had never written or done much of anything creative when I was not manic. I didn't know how to and I wasn't really sure that I could.

Turns out that I can. If you are bipolar and are worried the drugs will change you, they will—for the better. Get help, everyone around you will be much happier, and so will you.

Anyway, I started writing another short story as a sequel to Rain Shadow several years ago now and eventually realized that it was going to be a bit longer than that. It is currently clocking in at over 50,000 words and I feel like I'm just getting started. There is, at least, a lot going on and how it all ties up I have no idea. What I do know is that, once finished, Rain Shadow will be unpublished and become the prologue to the novel that I'm currently calling "Rain Shadow 2" for lack of a better title.

I end up talking about quite a few things in this book (but not here in the preview linked below) that hint of a larger world in which this story takes place. There is, indeed, a much larger world than just this one, little drama involving these few individuals. I hope someday to tell you all about it.

It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: this is a big ol' spoiler for Rain Shadow. If you have not yet read that, you should really not read this, but I'm not the boss of you. You do what you want. In any case, to read the preview of my upcoming novel click here.

Content warning: violence, strong language, abuse mentioned

Preast

Synopsis

This is the tale of Father Jacob Kelly's fall from Grace into the waiting arms of something far older and more malign than his conception of reality could allow. His entire world is upended in a single night when he finds himself newly ordained in the service to Mhr'Azekel, a god to gods from an age beyond the history and kenning of mortals.

About this book

Catholic Priests get a pretty bad rap in popular culture and so make easy fodder for the grinder. At the time I started this, I was probably feeling pretty blasphemous and likely quite a bit atheistic so it explains a bit about the tone, I think. Sorry if all of this heresy offends, but it's just a story.

In this book I intended to introduce the world of the Necronites, the demimortal modern day servants of a god that existed long before humanity and even all the other gods. Mhr'Azakel is the Titanic God of Severance, the death god of what are essentially the Great Old Ones of Lovecraftian lore. In the Timeline for Gaia hosted at my other site, SuperNaturalRPG.com, you can follow the very, very long history of Mhr'Azakel and get a brief explanation of exactly where it came from.

The Necronites likewise have a very long history, originating from before the birth of the modern age. Similar to the clans of Scotland, the Saurians divided themselves into great families interrelated by blood, marriage or oath called Hordes. The first mortal worshipers of Mhr'Azakel were members of Horde Gi who would go on to dominate their Horde which would become the first beings to be transmogrified into unliving servants of the Unlord.

During the early days of humanity's rise, Horde Gi would return to reignite the worship of Mhr'Azakel, giving rise to new Hordes. Some of these great families of fiends are introduced in the fragment featured here.

If that all sounds cool, you can read the relatively lengthy manuscript by clicking here.