#IndieApril Reads: Getting Real

Welcome back to my last post of the month for #IndieApril! It’s been great to be able to talk about just a handful of the amazing indie authors present in the writing community whom I’ve gotten to know, and whose work is so good it’s honestly a lot better than many of the trade paperbacks I pick up at the bookstore all the time. I’ve talked about romances and fantasies so far, so this week I’m going to get a little more real.

Not that these works don’t still have elements of those things in them: far from it. But the reason I call this post “Getting Real” is because the issues addressed in these books, from morality to identity and even addictions and abuse, are the real crux of the storytelling and the characters and they do so well what almost every story tries to do: address real-world issues in the form of fiction. And they do it in ways that will both surprise and excite you, as well as tug rather painfully on your heartstrings. So without further ado, let’s meet the authors!

 

Brooklynn Dean: The Word of the Rock God

Likely inspired by Supernatural and other dark fantasy hits, The Word of the Rock God is a biblically-themed, grunge-tastic look at the nature of fame, the importance of having a moral code and being your authentic self, and the responsibilities that recognition brings. Young rock band frontman Max lives by a strict, religiously-motivated moral code: he doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t chase women as he tries to use his music to reach out to people and show them the love he wants to feel for himself. But even though Max is a pretty good guy, temptation can strike anyone and find the cracks in anyone’s armor.

Max is much more than just some wannabe rock star: he’s a prophet, and that means the forces of heaven and hell are each out to recruit him and his influence to their side. But often the path of righteousness can be difficult to walk, while the one of sin is much easier and more appealing. Soon, Max finds himself caught up in a bizarre relationship with a girl he knows deep down is trouble, but he can’t pull himself out of his shame and self-pity to do anything about it. The fate of his soul and maybe the world rests in the balance.

I honestly found this book so fascinating not only because of the strength of the characters, who from heaven to hell and everything in between are multi-dimensional and well-constructed, but because of the super-cool spin on traditional religious belief that comes into this world of rock and roll. It’s a great reworking of the classic temptation tale in a way that young readers these days would, I think, find very appealing and meaningful. Sure, there’s a good deal of sex, drugs, and…you know…but the core message of the story–how important it is to know who you are–is one I think we can all get behind, and it’ll keep you guessing right up until the end. If you think you know how this story’s going to end, you’re wrong.

 

L. Costevelos: Wanderlust

Speaking of not knowing how things are going to end, look no further for a twisting, turning, strange land and funhouse-type thrill ride than Wanderlust, but L. Costevelos. A fresh new take on the always-fertile ground laid by Alice in Wonderland, this book finds the young female protagonist, Raine Black, under investigation for the gruesome murder of her abusive husband. But did Raine really kill him, or is there something else going on?

Nothing is as it seems. Through Raine’s eyes, we see how an encounter with a monster leads her literally through the looking-glass into an alternate universe called Wanderlust, populated by bizarre creatures, rife with dangerous and deadly magic, and ruled by a lonely king who Raine finds herself drawn to more and more. But as her fantasy world and the real one increasingly collide, Raine is torn between them, two relationships, and whether or not she can ever find where she is truly happy.

Part crime thriller, part psychedelic head trip, and all fantastical adventure, Wanderlust is one heck of a thrill ride. Imagine Alice combined with a police procedural and that’s what we’ve got here: and I promise you, it’s pretty awesome. The incredibly emotional depiction of Raine’s failing marriage and her conflicted feelings about Nicholas, the king of Wanderlust, is so vivid and real I almost teared up a couple of times–and that’s saying something. I don’t think I’ve read many books that were as impactful as this one, and if you’re looking for a totally engrossing page-turner, I’d highly recommend this one.

 

Chelsea Lauren: Underneath the Whiskey

I promised one of thees would be totally real-life and normal, didn’t I? Well even if I didn’t, Underneath the Whiskey is definitely the most grounded of the books I’ve talked about, and possibly the most emotionally raw and revealing.

Ben Jacobson does pretty well: he’s the owner of a local coffee chain, married to a loving wife, and has great kids who he’s totally devoted to. But that’s not all he is, and it’s driving him crazy. For years, Ben has hidden his real self from his family, and a secret that could tear everything in his life apart: the fact that he’s actually gay. But after years of repression, painful conversion therapy, and enduring society’s hostility toward him, he’s all but given up on truly being happy. Everything get’s upended, though, when Caden, a new bartender at his shop, walks into his life and makes Ben feel things he hasn’t let himself feel in a long, long time. Driven to drink by his overwhelming misery and intractable situation, Ben drives those he loves away as he sinks deeper into depression, and soon he faces a choice: can he climb out of the bottle and do what he needs to do to finally be honest with himself and others, or will he continue on a path of self-destruction?

I know it’s become a touchy subject these days who can write what person’s story, but if there was any doubt in your mind that a female writer could expertly depict the mindset and character of a closeted gay man in a believable way, leave them at the door now. This book was so powerfully authentic that it left me totally overwhelmed, from the delightful interplay and heated drama between the characters to the very real issues it deals with, and especially how it addresses people in similar situations and what they can do to get help when they need it. This is one of those stories that I think everyone should read, and I don’t say that kind of thing lightly. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is always an educational experience, and this book is no exception. Be prepared to be heartbroken, but also to be enlightened.

 

Well, that about does it! Happy #IndieApril everyone, and please help our self-published authors out by following them and buying their books!

#IndieApril Reads: The Fantastics

Welcome back to my #IndieApril blog series! For those of you who haven’t yet had a chance to read the first post, I’m using this month to support my fellow indie authors and mention a few of their books every week. Last time I addressed some novels with heavy romance themes and talked about how even though I’m not necessarily a romance fan, these books have been helping to change my mind. This time, I’m going out of this world with some fantasy and sci-fi entries. Let’s dive right in!

Dawn Christine Jonckowski: The Weight of Stars and Suns

This is the indie book I finished most recently, but it’s been one that I’ve been waiting for a while as I’ve seen it grow and develop on Twitter, and it didn’t disappoint. Part Star Trek, part Titanic, part John Carter, and part InterstellarThe Weight of Stars and Suns is an otherworldly adventure with a fascinating world and another large helping of romance: this time of the interspecies variety. The story takes place on the planet Tav, a world with some 30-odd suns surrounding it and a native population of purple-skinned humanoids. A hundred years before, an exploratory ship from Earth crashed on the planet and to survive, the humans agreed to become servants to the Tavarians. In the book’s present, humans are slaves and second-class citizens on Tav, but crisis is brewing with both rebel revolts and the inexplicable dimming of Tav’s many suns, threatening all life on the planet. What’s more, Princess Dameia, heir to the throne of Tav, has fallen in love with Hyam, leader of the rebels. Their doomed romance forms the backbone of the story, which also deals with palace intrigue, social justice, and a new mission from Earth to find out what happened to the people left behind on Tav.

While I of course love any story that takes place on an alien world and features space travel and space opera-like tropes, this book was especially fun to read because of the strong relationship and interplay between Hyam and Dameia. Both are rebels in some form or other, not doing what their societies expect of them, and the Romeo and Juliet-type secret love affair always keeps you on the edge of your seat. That’s not even mentioning the political undercurrents of the story, which brilliantly put humans on the bottom of the social ladder and positions them as the victims in a reverse District 9-type setup. It’s a very unique spin on the sci-fi genre and makes us contemplate difficult issues of prejudice and hatred that are disappointingly present in the real world today.

This was a really fun read, and all the characters are extremely likeable and easy to identify with (except the bad guys, of course). I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants a little forbidden romance on a forbidden planet.

K.C. Hamby: The Wrath of the Chosen (The Chosen Series, Book 1)

I’ll admit two things before diving into this one: one, I’m not usually a huge fan of the vampire/werewolf/insert fantasy creature here YA craze that everyone seems to be all about these days. Two, I’m a sucker for a good anti-heroic main character. While The Wrath of the Chosen may be very much (spoiler alert, not really) the former, it is also very much the latter, and it’s really the strength of the characters that makes this one such a standout, although the plot is pretty great, too!

The main character of this story, Falen, is a member of a secret society of werewolves who live among humans as assassins doing bad for the greater good. She’s a rough, abrasive young woman with a mean streak and a definite chip on her shoulder who thinks deep down nobody is capable of caring about her. That is, until she meets Nina, a normal human girl, and through a heartrending back and forth relationship, ends up falling in love. However, their relationship is quickly put to the test by the intervention of not only Fal’s werewolf brethren (who aren’t so keen on a relationship between a human and a wolf), but also a dangerous tribe of werewolf slayers who’ve been stalking Fal for a long time. Now that she has someone she cares about in her life, Fal finds herself and Nina are walking targets and vulnerable for the first time in her life. How will their romance survive?

I should also add this book, while it has some of the tropes typical of YA, is very much NOT for young teen readers. I’d classify this more in the 20-something new adult genre due to the precipitous use of language, blood and gore, and discussion of themes like sexual assault. That’s not a bad thing, though: I think books like this that speak to a slightly more mature young adult audience are sorely needed, especially one that portrays a relationship between two characters of the same sex. It’s so well-written, I won’t lie that it made me tear up a number of times. Also, if you like watching werewolf assassins kick some serious ass, this is probably the book for you. Even if you’re not usually a fantasy lover, I’d advice checking this one out!

Katelyn Uhrich: A Choice for Essence (The Essence Chronicles, Book 1)

Finally, we have a YA-type novel that definitely falls into the high fantasy genre: A Choice for Essence. This story takes place in the Land Above, a mythical realm inhabited by the gods who preside over all kinds of elements, from nature and weather to fire and water. The main character is Essence, or Essie for short, daughter of the gods of nature and fire, as she grows up and takes on a bigger role in the politics of her celestial home. But the more she learns, the less she likes it, especially when she learns about the plight of the spirits (souls that go back and forth from the mortal realm, living human lives and returning to the Land Above after death) and how they’re abused and mistreated by the gods, including her parents. As she begins to sympathize with the spirits more and more, Essie’s search for answers leads her down a darker path that shows her the ugly truths behind the things she loves, suffers betrayals and heartbreaks, and eventually commits her own act of rebellion by creating a new world of her very own. But how long can it, and she, survive against the wrath of the other gods?

Not only is the fantastical setting of this novel intriguing, including the many different and creative combinations of gods, goddesses, and their offspring (who usually end up being combinations of opposing forces and thus fascinating characters on their own), but it too features a big-picture moral dilemma and characters whose interplay and dramatic tension really make the story pop. Of course there’s a bit of romance in here too (no spoilers though, I mean it!) but this is a classic coming-of-age story set in a godlike paradise where nothing is as beautiful or perfect as it seems. It’s a great setup for a future series and something I’d highly recommend for those who like the YA fantasy genre as probably the most kid-friendly entry of this blog post. I could definitely see this being the next Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, and that’s saying something!

As always, help support our indie authors by going out there and buying some of their books! We all thank you for your support of this community.

#IndieApril Reads: The Romantics

Welcome to my first #IndieApril blog post! This month, I’ll be using my weekly writings here to recognize and celebrate some of the wonderful, talented indie authors I’ve come to know through Twitter and the larger social media writing community. Please note this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list of all indie authors: there are so many more out there you should support! I just wanted to pick a few whose work I’ve especially loved following over the last few years.

My first three indie author mentions are below, and when I was trying to come up with a theme to connect the works I’ve read from them, the first thing that popped into my head was “romance.” Now I know what you’re thinking: reading a romance novel is just a bunch of sex scenes, unrealistic dialogue, and eye-rolling personal drama. That’s because that’s exactly what I thought before deciding to open my mind to some new possibilities–and I won’t lie, a little bit because reading about that stuff can be, well, fun sometimes. Enough said.

Not all of the writers I mention here bill themselves as romance writers, but each of the stories I’m bringing up here has a large element of romance to the plot, and each is done is an unconventional, interesting way that arrests the reader’s attention and really makes you feel for the characters involved, immersing you in the story in a way that in my experience is really rare. So, without further ado, here are my first three book recommendations for your #IndieApril pleasure (no pun intended, I swear).

I’m also including the Amazon links to all of these, so feel free to pick up a copy and support our indie authors if one tickles your fancy!

Skye McDonald: Not Suitable for Work (Anti-Belle Series, Book 1)

Of all the books I’m talking about today, this is the one that’s closest to the true “romance” novel, but there’s nothing conventional about it. The Anti-Belle series, as McDonald calls her books, are all about empowering her female characters and following them as they overcome obstacles both personal and professional and find a sense of self-love along with the admittedly steamy romantic relationships they pursue. It’s a refreshing thing to see in an age where people seem captivated by questionable and borderline-unhealthy depictions of romance we get from things like 50 Shades of Gray.

The first book in the series (which feature stories and characters that are interconnected, MCU-style, how cool is that?) features Celeste Greene, a driven and determined woman who’s moved back home to Nashville (the setting for all these books) from NYC after a disastrous failed relationship that’s made her question her self-worth and trust in other people. She’s competing for a new job with Ben Addison, a sometime musician who obviously finds her attractive and, well, things get rather heated. And complicated.

I’ll be honest: before this book, I had never read a straight-up romance novel, even one a bit outside the traditional romance box, and was therefore pretty dismissive of the genre in general. But Not Safe for Work single-handedly changed my mind. Is there sex? Yes, I won’t lie, there’s quite a bit of it, and it’s VERY good. But the thing that got me was how emotionally attached I got to both Celeste and Ben almost immediately. Despite their flaws, they’re both eminently reasonable, well-rounded, and likeable characters and people who are also surrounded by supporting characters just as real, impactful, and understanding as they are. Does this mean their relationship is easy? Oh no, not by a long shot. There’s plenty of screw-ups on both sides and rip-your-heart-out moments where you’re sure the happy ending you hoped for isn’t going to happen. But does it in the end? Like I’d tell you. I just want to be clear what an amazing emotional roller-coaster of a book this is, one that had me hooked all the way to the last page. If you’re not sure if romance is a genre you’d like, I challenge you to read one of McDonald’s books. They might just change your mind like they did mine.

Sara Flower Kjeldsen: Sally

Unlike the previous novel, which is rooted firmly in the present day, the next two are based in much different times, but are no less compelling for it. Sally, for example, by Sara Kjeldsen, is set more than a century ago in a small rural town, the kind where everyone knows everyone else’s business and small-minded, puritanical morals run the scene. The protagonist, a teenage girl named Sally, offers shelter to an older male neighbor one day when a storm blows up and a tornado wrecks the town. The consequences of her actions, however, are that she is forced to marry said man, farmer Jeremiah, when neither of them really wants it because of public perception. As if this weren’t enough, things get even darker and more complicated as Sally’s father plots to use his business and religious influence to gain control of the town, using Sally as one of his many puppets, and begins to murder anyone who stands in his way. Forced together into an unhappy union, Sally and Jeremiah have to form an unlikely alliance to stop him, but different lives, priorities, and stations bring everything to a final confrontation that won’t be anything like what you expect.

I don’t want to spoil anything about this book because there’s plenty of unexpected twists and turns, but I just want to say that it’s so refreshing to read about a protagonist who’s not so straightforward and simple. Sally, as a character, is deeply complicated and always real, struggling with her lowly station in life as both a farmer and a woman when all she wanted was to get an education and make something of herself. It’s completely understandable, but no less heartbreaking as she takes a darker and darker turn as the story progresses. Her relationship with Jeremiah is fascinating too as they seesaw from barely tolerating each other to almost loving each other as they slowly get to know themselves and each other better. With the violence, death, and intrigue surrounding them, this story is a thrill ride of an entirely different sort and covers all kinds of historical points of interest along the way, from arranged marriages to race relations and slavery to the plight of women in society. If at any point you think you really know how this book ends, I’m here to tell you you’re wrong–and that’s a huge part of what makes this thrill ride so great.

Nicole Scarano: Pomegranate

Now that we’ve explored colonial rural America, let’s go even further back: to ancient Greece, no less! Pomegranate, by Nicole Scarano, is an inventive and delightfully subversive retelling of Greek mythology, blending many stories from the descent of Hades to the underworld to Persephone, trials and monsters, and many others in between, along with a core romance between the two main characters–one that becomes a triangle with a jealous ex.

In this story, Hades is not only a woman, but a mortal uplifted by the gods into demigod-like status as the lover of Zeus: however, not everyone on Olympus is a fan of hers, and the other gods conspire to get Hades a sort-of promotion that will take her away from Zeus. She’s cast into the underworld, where she will be queen and a god in exchange for Zeus having nothing more to do with her–something Zeus agrees to. Heartbroken, Hades is resigned to rule alone when she one day happens upon a mortal man, Alkaios, and once again falls in love. Of course Zeus, as the horrible, abusive ex he is in the book, can’t let this go, and soon Hades is battling the gods themselves for her right to choose for herself who she loves. But this time, she has the advantage: the powers of the underworld at her disposal and a mortal world ripe for sowing some chaos. The gods are about to find that they’ve created their own worst enemy.

Pomegranate is the fantasy book of these three, and I have to say that even though I’m usually a sucker for a good myth reimagining, there’s no way I was prepared for how amazing Scarano’s adaptation is. So many elements of ancient Greek myths, from the hydra to the origin of Hades and the underworld’s power structure, is creatively respun into a new form that’s fascinating to read about and builds a lifelike, believable world in the process. Again, I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling the ending, but this is another story where the twist will hit you where you least expect it. Also, the romance between goddess and man (Hades and Alkaios) is a hit and a great demonstration of the desperation two characters feel and the lengths they’ll go to in order to stay together, despite the literal mountains placed in their way. It’s exciting, inventive, and an overall great read.

Happy reading, and stay tuned for next time when I dive into some more of my favorite indie authors!

Welcome to #IndieApril!

Hello faithful readers!

As some of you may already know (and I only remembered shamefully late), it’s not just the beginning of spring for us in the #WritingCommunity right now: it’s also #IndieApril! This is a time of year set aside to promote indie and self-published authors, and as such it’s one that’s near and dear to my heart. So this week, I figured I’d talk a little about my own journey as an indie author and share what drives me to help other people who are trying to write, publish, and market their own work. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks…but does it even look easy? Maybe that’s not the right cliche here.

Anyway, my first steps toward where I am now came when I was in high school. After having an idea and being challenged by some friends of mine to turn it into a story, I wrote my first full-length novel, The Showstopper (you can read more about it on my Works page). Of course the first draft wasn’t nearly done, so I spent the next probably five years continually rewriting and revising it (with help from many friends and fellow writers) until I arrived at a version I was comfortable with putting out in the world, just after I graduated college in 2014. At that point, I knew (even at this early point in my development as a writer) that I could try to shop my work to agents and publishers and potentially wait a very long time for anyone to read or recognize my book, or I could try to go my own way and take advantage of self-publishing options I was learning more about. When I learned Amazon had its own self-publishing platform (CreateSpace, now KDP), I jumped at the chance to be part of it. My book on Amazon, the biggest shopping center in the world? And with a cost to me of virtually nothing, provided I used the bare minimum of features? It seemed too good to pass up.

In retrospect, that’s probably because it might have been. In Amazon’s defense, the editing services they offered at the time were reasonably priced and actually very helpful in bringing some final edits to my manuscript, and the printed and ebook versions of The Showstopper I was able to produce weren’t flashy, but they were functional and looked pretty solid, even with the template cover and stock image I used to construct it. At the time, I also didn’t have much of a mind for formatting a novel for print or online publication, and I decided to just wing it with the templates Amazon provided. As with the cover, the final result looked line if you didn’t scrutinize it too closely, but looking back I cringe with how riddled with formatting errors it was and how they could easily have been avoided if I’d only spent a little more time thinking about it. But at the time, I was a penniless former college student (I hadn’t even landed my first job yet) and just the satisfaction of having a book in print that I could say was mine was the greatest feeling in the world. It was a dream come true.

Over the next few years, through a move to New York and the self-publication of my second novel, Camp Ferguson, I didn’t give much thought to the publishing process. I even hand-drew a cover for Camp Ferguson and uploaded it to become the official book cover. While a bit crude artistically, I felt it conveyed the spirit of the novel and the appeal of being an all-in-one artist made me stick with it, even when I probably shouldn’t have. In a perfectly understandable fashion, I was still more concerned with holding a book in my hands as soon as possible than making sure that product was the best it could be.

Then, I joined the Twitter community and my knowledge of everything related to writing and marketing just exploded. I was making so many new friends, many of whom had also gone the self-publishing route, that I was astounded and, if truth be told, a bit jealous that they seemed to be doing so well with their work when I could barely sell any copies of mine to my friends and family. I marveled at how they seemed able to crank out professional-looking books and afford the services I’d always considered over my head to make them sleek and perfected. Three years of getting to know my fellow indie authors convinced me of two things: one, that being a (relative) success as an indie author was possible. Many of the books I’ve read by indie authors on Twitter have rivaled, and even surpassed, the quality of many trade publications I’ve read in my life. I can’t overstate how talented many of the people I’ve gotten to know here are, and I’m constantly in awe of you.

The second thing I realized was that if I really wanted to bring my work up to par, I needed to do a few things: be willing to spend some money, make connections, and put more intensity and thought into my books than I ever had before. Joining a grad school program and meeting more fellow writers there as well as learning even more about writing and publishing through my classes only convinced me that not only did I need to revamp my social media image, I needed to aggressively correct some of the mistakes I felt I’d made in the past before I could rightfully put myself in the company of the amazing writers I’d gotten to know.

In the last few months, I’ve taken steps to do just that. I pulled both The Showstopper and Camp Ferguson off Amazon (don’t worry, they’ll be back!) until such time as I could re-release them in a retouched form. The Showstopper is as of now slated for an October relaunch, and Camp Ferguson sometime next year (hopefully after I have another book or two in that series lined up for publication). Not only am I doing some hard-core edits on both books and planning to pay some friends I’ve made who are professional editors to review them, a step I’d never considered taking before, but I’m also looking to others for help with proper formatting and even cover art (though I’m still investigating methods of doing that part myself, thanks to some graphic design training I’ve gotten in my classes). The bottom line is, I decided that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Of course, I recognize that a lot of this new drive to perfect my books is because I now have a much better-paying job in marketing and have resources others may not have access to. But I hope that people who read my story and maybe see something of themselves and their journey in it will be inspired to keep on going, even when the challenge feels insurmountable. The only way you won’t succeed on your writing journey, as with anything else in life, is if you quit. So don’t give up! You can do this!

That’s why, for the rest of this month, I’m going to talk about a self-published book (or maybe more than one) by one of the writer friends I’ve made to try to spread the word about the people out there who have done it right and come out with some of the best literature I’ve ever read. Join me back here next week for the first in this new series!

 

The Camp Prospero Files: Rudolph von Hasselberry and Regulus Crowley

REPORT #053567234: PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION, CAMP PROSPERO PERSONNEL

The following report and its contents are classified TOP SECRET under Federal Code 7906-A. The information contained within is the exclusive property of the United States Department of Defense, The Bureau of Magical Affairs, and its branch offices. Any unauthorized release will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Interviews conducted by professional staff for the purpose of determining the mental status and fitness of key training camp personnel.

 

Subject: Rudolph von Hasselberry, Regulus Crowley

Designation: Class 3, Class 2

Rank: Co-Scoutmasters

 

RUDOLPH VON HASSELBERRY: Excuse me, Crowley, but just what in Merlin’s name do you think you’re doing?

REGULUS CROWLEY: Umm–just sitting, as far as I can tell. What do you mean?

RVH: That’s precisely right. You’re sitting. In my seat.

RC: But I was the first one here, and there’s only one chair.

INTERVIEWER: Gentlemen, if I could have your attention for a–

RVH: Well, I suppose you’re to be commended, Crowley. People should follow their strengths, and yours is very much sitting on your backside doing nothing useful in particular. Now get up.

RC: I beg your pardon?

I: Sirs, if I may–

RVH: [glares] Get out of that chair. That’s an order.

RC: [smirks] You can’t give me orders anymore. In case you forgot, Scout Marshal Rhodes promoted me. We’re the same rank now.

RVH: Fortunately for everyone, Crowley, I’ll never be as rank as you. [shakes his fist] Now get up before I give you a lump no amount of makeup will cover, you prancing pansy.

I: Gentlemen–

RC: That was one time! And I’ll have you know, Rudolph, that was only after you threw your nameplate and hit me in the face. You’re lucky I didn’t sue you.

RVH: [clenches jaw] What did you just call me?

RC: Oh, pardon me. All this first-name basis talk is very new to me. I suppose you’d prefer Rudy. After all, Rudolph is an awful name.

RVH: Why you slimy, self-important son of a–

I: Gentlemen! [bangs on table] Control yourselves. This is a psychiatric evaluation, and you are high-ranking BMA officers. A little decorum, please! [clears throat] Scoutmaster Hasselberry, there are extra chairs against the wall.

RVH: [raises eyebrow] Folding chairs.

I: Problem?

RVH: I wouldn’t be caught dead using a folding chair like some AA bum. [snorts] Not to mention that I have a bad back. It’s from an old injury during my service to this country in Vietnam.

RC: I seem to recall you got that from running away from the enemy too quickly.

RVH: Shut up, Crowley, or I’ll put actual stones in your kidneys by pushing them into your body as slowly as possible.

I: [growls] Do I need to call security? I’ll remind you two that this evaluation was ordered by Director Masterson and Scout Marshal Rhodes–both of whom you answer to. I would advise you to cooperate if you want to keep your jobs. No more petty bickering. Are we clear?

[silence]

RVH: Very well. I suppose I’m capable of being the bigger man. [gets a folding chair and sits down] Then again, it’s not difficult to be bigger than a worm like this one.

RC: Stuff it, you old windbag. A worm couldn’t possibly be a worse commanding officer than you.

I: [sighs] Can I have the children back now, please? At least they were semi-intelligent.

RVH: What was that?

I: Nothing. [folds hands] Anyway–I gather you two have known each other for a while.

RVH and RC: [glance at each other] Too long.

I: Uh-huh. May I inquire as to how?

RC: Well, for the better part of the last 10 years, I’ve worked as assistant scoutmaster at Camp Prospero, serving under Scoutmaster Hasselberry. [mutters] And his barely distinguishable command–

RVH: [glowers] I heard that. Sir, how would you feel if you were hampered every day in your duties by being followed around by a drooling incompetent who wouldn’t know a spell from a sunburn? That’s been my life for the last 10 years.

RC: [smirks] I wouldn’t say that. You didn’t drool that much.

RVH: One more word out of you, Crowley, and I’ll–

I: Not to interrupt, Scoutmaster–

RVH and RC: Yes?

I: Ugh. Sorry, I meant Scoutmaster Hasselberry: I think you mean nine of the last 10 years, correct? The record shows you were unemployed at this time last year.

RVH: [grumbles] Retired, actually.

I: Which I believe was less by choice and more forced.

RC: That’s correct. After the incident with Camp Prospero’s graduation two years ago, Scoutmaster Hasselberry was let go, and I was promoted to commanding officer.

RVH: Oh, please. You were a commanding officer for two whole days. And look what happened! My entire camp was destroyed by that rampaging mad woman they sent in to replace you, and they had to bribe me into coming back to pick up the pieces. You were so staggeringly inept that you let an illegal blood witch take control right under your nose.

RC: [flushes] What choice did I have? The Bureau ordered Barstowe to take command. I had no recourse. And of course I didn’t know about the blood magic at first. If I had–

RVH: You would have done what, exactly? Hidden under my desk?

RC: I’m sure the record shows that I was instrumental in the liberation of Camp Prospero.

I: [pages through notes] Yes, it does. That is, after you allegedly collaborated with her for the better part of two months in the unlawful oppression of scouts.

RVH: Ha! Explain that one, Crowley.

RC: [stammers] Well of course I did! I had to! Who wouldn’t? At first I was frightened, and rightfully so–Barstowe was an incredibly powerful witch with control over a piece of the Spear of Destiny itself. I’d like to know what you would have done in my place.

RVH: [snorts] Well, not rolled over and let a woman walk all over me, for starters.

I: Actually, Scoutmaster Hasselberry, your own slate is far from clean. Aside from your–shall we say, mishandling–of the Scout Jamboree two years ago, my files indicate the BMA fired you for gross misuse of camp funds, embezzlement, insurance fraud, and numerous other offenses. The money was apparently used to fund a lavish lifestyle in which, among other things, many women were paid to literally walk all over you. And do other things.

RVH: [splutters] Well, I hardly see how that’s relevant here. Anyway, the Bureau cleared me of all charges when they reinstated my rank. Which they did for services rendered, I might add.

I: Indeed–services rendered only because Jack Ferguson and his fellow scouts had the presence of mind, or perhaps the desperation, to come to you for help.

RVH: [folds arms] They certainly did. And thanks to my quick and decisive moves to take charge of the situation, everything turned out all right.

I: [purses lips] If you call the destruction of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of government property, near-exposure of a secret military installation and the magical world in general, dozens of private lawsuits against this department, and the barest aversion of a potential global extinction event “all right.” Let me be perfectly clear, gentlemen: neither of you are in the BMA’s good book at the moment. The only reason we haven’t replaced the both of you is because we’d have to pay any slightly intelligent new commander a greater salary than what you two make combined.

RC: [gulps] Understood.

RVH: [narrows eyes] This sounds suspiciously not like an interview.

I: That’s because it’s not, Scoutmaster. This is to let you know that you’re both on notice. The BMA promoted you to co-scoutmasters to preserve accountability in the decision-making process at Camp Prospero. But you’d best be paying attention. One more slip-up, from either of you, and you’ll both feel the might of the Bureau come down on you like a ton of bricks. Understand?

RC: Of course. Whatever you say.

RVH: Wait a moment. I thought you made Crowley and I co-scoutmasters so I could keep an eye on him.

RC: [glares] Who says they don’t want me to keep an eye on you?

RVH: Well for one thing, you mental defective, I certainly wouldn’t–

I: Quiet! In Merlin’s name, shut up! You want the honest truth? Well? The truth is that we’re not relying on you to keep each other in line–that’s what the scouts are for. The very troops you command: Ferguson, Stone, Cho, Falco, Scott, Masterson, and all the rest. You’re both such sorry excuses for leaders that we’re asking them to police you. And based on our profiles, we know they’d be the least inclined to give favorable marks to either of you sorry examples of human beings. So watch your step. Do I make myself perfectly clear?

[silence]

I: Good. You’re dismissed.

RC: [gets up to leave] I think he yelled at you more than me.

RVH: Shut up, Crowley.

The Camp Prospero Files: Maya Scott

REPORT #053567234: PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION, CAMP PROSPERO PERSONNEL

The following report and its contents are classified TOP SECRET under Federal Code 7906-A. The information contained within is the exclusive property of the United States Department of Defense, The Bureau of Magical Affairs, and its branch offices. Any unauthorized release will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Interviews conducted by professional staff for the purpose of determining the mental status and fitness of key training camp personnel.

 

Subject: Maya Scott

Designation: Class 3

Rank: Junior Scout

 

INTERVIEWER: [massages forehead] What’s that? We’ve got HOW many more of these to do? Ugh, fine. Let’s just get it over with. I swear, all these children are giving me a massive pain in my–

MAYA SCOTT: Hi there! [waves] I guess was supposed to come talk to you? Everything okay?

I: Oh, umm–Miss Scott. Yes, please take a seat. My apologies. I didn’t hear you come in. I’m fine, thank you. I was just–well–conferring with some of my colleagues.

MS: Sure, no problem! What did you want to talk about? Ask away. I’m basically like an open book. Everybody says so. My brother thinks it’s kind of annoying, but it’s okay. I love him anyway.

I: Right–hmm. I must say, your attitude is a refreshing change of pace, Miss Scott. Many of your fellow scouts have been–how shall I put this–uncooperative.

MS: Really? Gee, I’m sorry about that. But it’s okay. I’ll talk about whatever.

I: That’s a very healthy attitude. So– [reviews notes] Maya Scott. Junior scout, second year at Camp Prospero. Your brother is Leo Scott, graduate of Camp Prospero, correct?

MS: Yep, that’s him! He’s, like, my favorite person in the whole world. I want to be just like him someday. He’s the best brother a girl could ask for.

I: Uh-huh. Would that include all the charges of conduct unbecoming a scout, misuse of magic, disrupting the peace, and underage consumption of alcohol?

MS: Well, Leo says that was all from Scoutmaster Hasselberry. [leans forward] I mean, I don’t mind him, but between you and me, I don’t think he likes any of us that much.

I: I’m sure I can’t understand why, Miss Scott. Now, my records show you were also, for a short time, a wielder of one of the pieces of the Spear of Destiny: the Druid Staff. It was allegedly passed down from generation to generation of your family, with one child being chosen to carry the burden. How did you feel about being chosen to carry that burden?

MS: Oh, it wasn’t hard or anything. I kinda liked it!

I: You–uhh–what?

MS: Yeah, it was pretty cool being able to do all those awesome things with it. Like, I could make a tree grow right up out of the ground like that! [snaps fingers] But I can still do those same kinds of things now, just a lot slower. It’s no big deal. I mean, I don’t think Leo would’ve even liked it anyway. He never wants to be in charge of anything. And my parents say I’m the responsible one. I don’t know if they–

I: Miss Scott, let’s revisit what you were saying about the Druid Staff. You mean when you gave it up to Jack Ferguson, you didn’t feel any kind of resentment or attachment? For many people, giving up that kind of power would be quite difficult.

MS: [shrugs] Maybe, but it’s fine. Jack’s a good guy. He knows what he’s doing. And besides, he needs it way more than I do. I’m fine without it. I just like to make the flowers grow. [smiles]

I: And you’re sure you don’t feel any kind of after-effects? Our scientists have been studying the available material we have on the power of the Spear and their conclusions have led us to believe even the individual pieces could possibly have a tremendous psychological effect on their holder. This could include symptoms of–

MS: Nah, I’m fine. Really! Jack has the pieces. You can trust him. And I don’t think he even carries them around anymore. I mean, without his magic, there’s not really a point. [sighs] That whole thing sucks, though. I feel really bad for him. How come you guys are so worried about the Spear anyway?

I: [frowns] How can all of you keep asking that? It must be obvious even to you that we can’t allow a weapon as powerful as the Spear of Destiny to remain in the hands of–of a– [groans] You know what? Fine, I’ll say it: a group of irresponsible, maladjusted minors whose backgrounds are suspect and motives are highly questionable. It’s imperative that I get to the bottom of conditions at Camp Prospero, and none of your friends have made things any easier.

MS: I’m sorry about that. I mean, they can kind of be a tough group to get focused. I know my boyfriend says their brains all together would make a shoebox look big, but he’s just joking around. It’s Drake. Masterson? You probably talked to him already, right?

I: [chokes] I–what? Drake Masterson? You and he are–involved?

MS: Yeah. [sighs] He’s dreamy. I mean, I know he can be a little tough to get to know, but once you do, he’s actually a really good person. He just doesn’t let people in that easily.

I: I’ve–gathered that, yes. But just to make sure I haven’t misunderstood, you would classify the two of you as–romantically involved?

MS: Well, it’s not a “traditional” relationship, you know? Not like any other one I’ve had, anyway. But it works, and we’re happy.

I: “Happy” isn’t a word I would associate with Mr. Masterson in almost any sense.

MS: You just have to get to know him better, that’s all. Then he might even sing for you! Did you know he’s a really great musician?

I: Music? Singing? I–my God, what is that even–no, I don’t have time to process this right now. Miss Scott, going back to the subject of–ugh. I think my migraine might be coming back again. [rubs head]

MS: Ooh, yeah. I’m sorry. I used to get those too, all the time. That was before I started meditating and using my crystals and stuff. Now I never have to worry about it! Tough day?

I: You have no idea. Getting verbally abused by a series of unbalanced magically-capable teenagers is certainly not my idea of a good time. I can’t believe my time at the Bureau has only amounted to this. I thought I would be much further in my career at this point, you know.

MS: Really? That must be tough. Why do you think that is?

I: [shrugs] I’m sure I have no idea. I thought I was doing everything right to move up. I iron my shirts every day. Butter my bread on the same side. Suck up to the right bosses. But still, it never fails: I get handed the assignments no one else wants. Do you think Dietrich was in danger of pulling this detail? Or Simmons? No, because they’re the office favorites. It’s not easy to compete with money. Curse my loathsome upper-middle-class upbringing.

MS: Was it your family? Were they hard on you? Because I totally get that. My brother and I don’t always get along, either, but at least we still know we love each other.

I: Oh, that’s not it at all. I was a perfect child. I always kept my school uniform tidy, I raised my hand just enough in classes to show I was paying attention but not enough to be labeled a show-off, did my homework the day before it was due instead of the morning of–but none of it made them pay attention to me. I suppose they were just too busy with their jobs. Father was in charge of the BMA Records Division, and mother was a personal secretary to one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Growing up in Washington certainly has benefits–I never lacked for connections, and my education was excellent.

MS: But what about your connection with your parents? Didn’t you miss that? I know my parents and I are super close. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have them to talk to all the time.

I: [scoffs] They never had time for me. It was always “I’m doing this” or “I need to pay attention to that” or “Randall, turn that damn TV down so I can hear the vice president on the phone.” I swear, sometimes I wanted to take that stupid phone and shove it right down their– [watch alarm beeps] I–oh. It seems we’re at the end of our session, Miss Scott. I apologize. I think I may have gone on a bit of a tangent there.

MS: It’s okay. Everybody tells me I’m easy to talk to. Feel any better?

I: [sighs] You know, I rather think I do. Will that be all, Miss Scott?

MS: [smiles] Yeah, I think we’ve about covered it. Hope you have a great day!

The Camp Prospero Files: Lucas Cho

REPORT #053567234: PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION, CAMP PROSPERO PERSONNEL

The following report and its contents are classified TOP SECRET under Federal Code 7906-A. The information contained within is the exclusive property of the United States Department of Defense, The Bureau of Magical Affairs, and its branch offices. Any unauthorized release will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Interviews conducted by professional staff for the purpose of determining the mental status and fitness of key training camp personnel.

 

Subject: Lucas Cho

Designation: Class 1 (unaugmented)/Class 3 (augmented)

Rank: Senior Scout

 

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Cho, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is–

LUCAS CHO: Hmm. [taps on gauntlet] High cholesterol. Weak heart. Decreasing bone density. Iron deficiency. Life expectancy 12 years, six months, 18 days from now.

I: Umm–well, that seems rather severe. I may not be that kind of doctor, but you seem in perfect health to me.

LC: Oh, no, sir. That’s your life expectancy. Just a cursory scan. I’m surprised your physician hasn’t told you any of this. I’d be happy to file a report with–

I: No. That’s fine, Mr. Cho. Erm–right. [shuffles notes] You do certainly get to the–uhh–heart of the clinical picture.

LC: Yes, sir. Knowledge is power, and I try to gather all the knowledge I can get. [sits] Now, was there something you wished to discuss with me?

I: Yes, as a matter of fact. Mr. Cho–how should I approach this?

LC: I’d advise head-on, sir. It’s the method of communication I find saves the most time.

I: Of course. And do your fellow scouts appreciate these, shall I say, unvarnished assessments of yours?

LC: [shrugs] I assume they must get the point, sir. After all, I’ve never had anyone ask me for advice twice.

I: Uh-huh. [writes in notes] Mr. Cho, you’re in a rather unique position at Camp Prospero.

LC: That’s true, sir.

I: Simply put, you’re the only non-magical person in camp.

LC: Oh. [blinks] Well, there’s that, too.

I: What did you think I was referring to?

LC: I assumed my intelligence, sir. To my knowledge, no other Camp Prospero scout consistently tests above genius-level intellect.

I: I see. It appears modesty may not be one of your strong suits, however.

LC: That’s not true, sir. I always tell people my IQ is 190.

I: And how does that translate into modesty?

LC: Well, as I’m sure you’re aware, sir, my actual IQ is around 197. My therapist has suggested I round down to make people feel less alienated.

I: Bang-up job, son. Now, I’d like to talk about how you feel being the only mundane in a government camp full of wizards. I’m aware the BMA has given you clearance to stay after that–ahem–mix-up your first year and your contributions since, but it’s always a worry. Liability concerns, you see.

LC: I understand, sir. It’s a perfectly logical assumption, however unfounded.

I: What makes you say that?

LC: Well, as far as I am aware, sir, my augments make me the equal of a standard Class 3 wizard, as per Bureau protocol. [taps gauntlet] That’s well below any legislative limits for extended supervision. And as you accurately pointed out, I need my equipment to match the abilities of my fellow scouts.

I: Interesting. So you feel pressure to keep up with the truly gifted people surrounding you? It must be frustrating to have an intellect like yours and yet be excluded from that special circle.

LC: With respect, I don’t feel I’m excluded, sir. Jack and Danny and my other friends at camp do very well with consulting me when they require expert advice.

I: That’s not answering my question, Mr. Cho. Do you feel like you can’t measure up to real wizards, in spite of your achievements?

LC: [pauses] My personal feelings are irrelevant, sir. The data suggests that–

I: They’re not irrelevant, Mr. Cho. In fact, they’re the whole point of this interview. Let’s use logic, then. Would you agree that your gauntlet device is, in an objective sense, a powerful piece of technology?

LC: It’s certainly unique.

I: And would you agree, objectively, that a 19-year-old boy is not necessarily a steward we as a government should put our trust in to maintain that technology and stop it from falling into the wrong hands?

LC: I fail to see what you’re getting at, sir. After all, this government you represent couldn’t keep a dangerous and clearly unstable individual–the former Scoutmaster Barstowe–from gaining access to an extremely sensitive facility such as Camp Prospero. Your hypothesis stems from the preconceived notion that the government, as a bureaucratic body made up of adults, is naturally more equipped to handle uncertain situations. I believe history–recent and otherwise–has proven the opposite. Therefore, the premise of your argument is a falacy.

I: And that, Mr. Cho, is extremely convenient. Are you saying that, if ordered, you would refuse to part with your technology?

LC: Not at all, sir.

I: Then what are you saying? Mr. Cho, we in the BMA believe studying your gauntlet and its manufacture may be the key to a whole new step in human evolution. Imagine giving mundanes like you and me the same powers as the wizards among us? Creating an even playing field where equality can truly flourish. You would deny us that? What does logic and reason say about that?

LC: I understand your point, sir, but I am forced to disagree. I have it on good authority that my technology falling into any other hands could be disastrous for national security, and for all of humanity.

I: [glares] And what authority is that, Mr. Cho?

LC: Jack Ferguson’s authority.

I: Jack Ferguson is unstable, Mr. Cho. Read my report yourself. [rolls eyes] If you haven’t already, that is.

LC: Sir, last year, Jack experienced a temporal anomaly that allowed him a glimpse of the future, where my inventions had run amok and threatened to–

I: Yes, yes, I know. It’s all in the report. Which doesn’t make it any less of a crock. Explain to me, Mr. Cho, how someone like you, with a mind focused on science and logic, can believe the ravings of a disgraced and disgruntled scout about traveling through time–something the BMA’s best wizards have proven to be impossible.

[pause]

LC: Well, sir–they’re my friends.

I: That’s not good enough. Will you give us access to your technology, or not? And don’t forget, there are penalties for obstructing and jeopardizing national security. Severe ones.

LC: Of course I will, sir.

I: Good. I’m glad you’ve decided to see reason.

LC: However, I should warn you that I build every one of my machines with extensive security and self-destruct protocols to prevent tampering, or use by anyone other than myself. Additionally, should anything happen to my friends or family, I’ve built a simple AI that monitors government communications and social media that will activate a dead-man’s protocol and wipe all the Bureau’s servers. That’s a lot of valuable data, but when making leaps of knowledge, it’s sensible to take precautions. I’m sure you understand.

I: [pause] I think you’re bluffing.

LC: [shrugs] That’s your prerogative, sir. I could be lying, but I could also be telling the truth. It’s a simple problem: 50 percent chance. Given how strongly you want what I have, those are acceptable odds. I would certainly understand if you risked it.

I: [sighs] You have an answer for everything, don’t you, Mr. Cho?

LC: I do try to, sir.

I: [writes in notes] Very well. You’re dismissed–for now.

The Camp Prospero Files: Danny Falco

REPORT #053567234: PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION, CAMP PROSPERO PERSONNEL

The following report and its contents are classified TOP SECRET under Federal Code 7906-A. The information contained within is the exclusive property of the United States Department of Defense, The Bureau of Magical Affairs, and its branch offices. Any unauthorized release will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Interviews conducted by professional staff for the purpose of determining the mental status and fitness of key training camp personnel.

 

Subject: Danny Falco

Designation: Class 2

Rank: Senior Scout

 

INTERVIEWER: Thank you for coming, Mr. Falco. Have a seat.

DANNY FALCO: Oh. Umm–sure. [sits and shifts around] Is this okay?

I: Is what okay?

DF: How I’m sitting.

I: [chuckles] You’re sitting fine. You don’t have to be nervous, Mr. Falco. We just want to talk.

DF: Right. Sorry. I mean–okay. That’s all. Okay. I’m trying not to say sorry about everything anymore. My brother told me that. Don’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault.

I: That’s a healthy perspective. That would be Sam Falco, your elder brother, correct?

DF: Yeah.

I: Do you talk often?

DF: Well, we used to, but now–I don’t know. [shifts and looks away] I haven’t heard from him in a while. Do you know what’s going on with him? What he’s been doing? I mean, you work for the BMA, right?

I: Not my department, Mr. Falco. My apologies. Even if I knew, I likely wouldn’t be able to say. Classified, you know.

DF: Uh-huh. Sorry. Damn, I did it again. [touches eyepatch] Man, I’ve got a headache.

I: Does that happen often since your–

DF: No! Well, not often. Just sometimes. It’s kind of weird looking in the mirror, you know? Definitely never thought I’d be, like, a pirate or something. [laughs weakly]

I: If your injury makes you uncomfortable, Mr. Falco, I’m certain the Bureau could pay for some cosmetic surgery. Limited, of course. But we recognize our role in the unfortunate events that transpired at Camp Prospero, and we’d like to make things right if we can.

[pause]

DF: [gulps] They told me you’d try to do this.

I: Who told you? What?

DF: Tessa and them. That you’d try to buy me off. It’s okay, I’m good.

I: Mr. Falco, this is nothing of the kind. We simply want to–

DF: I said I’m good. [pause] Besides, Jack says girls will think it’s hot.

I: Err–I see. I’m sure I wouldn’t know. But let’s move on. Do you have any reservations returning to Camp Prospero? After all, it was the scene of your–injury.

DF: Huh? No, no way. I mean, I don’t mind it there. It’s not so bad. Well, other than all the threats of expulsion and prison and death and stuff. [pause] Yeah, that didn’t come out right. But the people there are kind of my family. We’ve been through a lot together.

I: Would you include your brother as part of that family?

DF: [frowns] Yeah. Sure. Of course. Why?

I: And you’re certain you have no idea of his whereabouts currently?

DF: No. He doesn’t answer texts or calls anymore. We used to write letters back and forth when I was at camp, but he stopped getting back to me, like, a few months ago.

I: Any friends? Mutual acquaintances?

DF: I don’t know. How come you want to know? Doesn’t he work for you guys?

I: Mr. Falco, you would do well to cooperate with this investigation. If we don’t believe you’ve compiled to a satisfactory degree, there could be consequences.

DF: [gulps] What kind of consequences?

I: I think you know. Now please answer my questions.

DF: Okay. Umm, I mean, yes, sir.

I: Many of your peers and associates, Mr. Falco, have been identified as problematic personnel. Potential subversives. Disruptive influences. If they’re left to their own devices, they could have a detrimental effect on the entire student body at Camp Prospero. We need your help to ensure this doesn’t happen. [looks at notes] You would say you’re close with Jack Ferguson, correct?

DF: I guess so, yeah.

I: The records indicate he’s your best friend. You’re closer to him than anyone at Camp Prospero.

DF: Well, yeah. I mean, I used to be. [sighs] I don’t know. Jack and I started together. We met for the first time when both of us were cadets on the train. He was the first person at camp I knew, so I just kind of stuck with him. Jack’s–umm–a really good guy.

I: But?

DF: But what?

I: Mr. Falco–

DF: Fine, okay. We don’t connect like we used to. Well, I’m not sure Jack and I ever really got each other in the first place, but we were tight, you know? Lately he’s been avoiding me. I think all of us, really. I don’t know what’s going on with him. But it hurts a little.

I: You thought you were closer than that?

DF: I mean–not really. I’m worried about him, that’s all.

I: That’s good, Mr. Falco. And if you are truly concerned for him, you should tell us what we want to know.

DF: What’s that?

I: For a start, where the other pieces of the Spear of Destiny are. We know your classmate Drake Masterson holds one, but the other three have been missing since the Barstowe incident. We suspect Mr. Ferguson and others may have hidden them in a misguided effort to protect them. We need those artifacts, Mr. Falco. We need to make sure they are kept safe.

DF: [squirms] But isn’t it better this way? The Spear’s so powerful, it could do anything. Nobody should have something like that. People just can’t be trusted with it.

I: We’re not people, Mr. Falco. We’re the BMA. No one else is qualified. Certainly not a group of teenagers. Additionally, we need to know whether Mr. Ferguson’s magical abilities are truly gone, or if he is concealing them from us. He is far too powerful to be allowed to walk free with them, without proper precautions and observation.

DF: [shrugs] I don’t know. Jack says he doesn’t have them, and I believe him. You don’t know him. If he did, he’d be using them to pull a prank or something. He’s not dangerous.

I: We respectfully disagree, Mr. Falco. Now, will you help us, or not? The Spear pieces. Where are they?

DF: I don’t know.

I: The truth. Have you heard from your brother?

DF: No!

I: Have Mr. Ferguson’s powers returned?

DF: I don’t know, okay? I said that already. I can’t tell you what you want to know.

I: Can’t, or won’t, Mr. Falco? I’m warning you–

DF: Uh-uh. You can’t make me tell you anything, even if I did know. [takes a deep breath] I know my rights. Is this the part where I ask for a lawyer? Huh?

[pause]

I: That won’t be necessary, Mr. Falco. You may go.

DF: Right. [gets up, pauses] Permission to speak freely, sir?

I: Of course, Danny. That’s the purpose of these sessions.

DF: Uh-huh. [pauses] Umm–okay. Well, for someone who’s supposed to be helping us feel better, no offense but–uhh–you’re kind of lousy at it. Just saying.

The Camp Prospero Files: Drake Masterson

REPORT #053567234: PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION, CAMP PROSPERO PERSONNEL

The following report and its contents are classified TOP SECRET under Federal Code 7906-A. The information contained within is the exclusive property of the United States Department of Defense, The Bureau of Magical Affairs, and its branch offices. Any unauthorized release will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Interviews conducted by professional staff for the purpose of determining the mental status and fitness of key training camp personnel.

 

Subject: Drake Masterson

Designation: Class 4

Rank: Senior Scout

 

INTERVIEWER: Have a seat, Mr. Masterson. Now tell me, what shall we discuss?

[pause]

I: Mr. Masterson?

[pause]

I: Mr. Masterson, I asked if there was anything you wanted to talk about. Is something bothering you?

[pause]

I: Mr. Masterson, are you going to answer my questions?

DRAKE MASTERSON: They told me I had to show up here, pencil-neck. They didn’t say I had to talk. Hard pass.

I: Hmm. “They” told me you might be, shall we say, difficult to hold a conversation with.

DM: [snorts] It’s not my fault people ask for my opinion. I tell everyone to go shove it. You’re nothing special. And don’t think you’re going to get into my head with any of that psychiatric stuff, either. [taps temple] You see this? Fort Knox.

I: I see. [writes in notebook] You don’t like me, do you, Mr. Masterson?

DM: How could you tell?

I: Well, the personal abuse was the first sign. Also, your body language suggests that–

DM: [rolls eyes] I was being sarcastic, shrink. Jesus. Get a clue.

I: Why is that? Do you find you instinctively distrust authority figures?

DM: No. I just don’t believe anyone more important than me exists. If they do, I haven’t met them yet.

I: Uh-huh. [writes in notebook] Very interesting. You have strong opinions, Mr. Masterson. I suppose it’s understandable given your strength in magic. According to my records, you’re the one of the few Class 4 wizards we know about–a prodigy. And with fire magic, too: one of the rarest and most difficult forms of elemental power to control. That must give you some satisfaction.

DM: [smirks] Huh. And here I thought you were just going to bore me to death. Okay, I’ll bite.

I: So you’ll speak to me?

DM: Only if we keep talking about how great I am. Better get a fresh notepad, though. We might be here a while. But I guarantee it’ll be time better spent than with the rest of those scrubs.

I: I gather you see yourself as somewhat set apart from your fellow scouts.

DM: Umm–as in, better than them? Duh. That’s just the facts.

I: And yet without many of them, you might not be sitting here right now.

DM: [eyes narrow] What’s that supposed to mean, shrink?

I: I’m sorry, Mr. Masterson. I was simply observing that while you clearly are quite capable of taking care of yourself, it seems in circumstances where you lacked a certain leverage, these other scouts you consider yourself superior to actually came through for you. Even though they had no reason to.

DM: [glares] What do you mean, no reason? They need me. Who else is going to kick ass and take names when it needs to get done?

I: Ah. And do you also enjoy that feeling?

DM: What feeling?

I: Being needed. Belonging to a group.

DM: [scowls] I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t need anyone. People just piss me off.

I: Indeed. [shuffles through papers] Your file is quite clear on that point. Disciplinary action a half-dozen times, including for physical assault. Assessments indicating extreme narcissism, anger management issues, emotional instability–need I go on?

[pause]

I: You, Mr. Masterson, fit the profile of a loner. A misfit. Your–shall we say–troubled relationship with your family points even more to that label.

DM: They put you up to this, didn’t they? My jerkoff family. Lousy assholes. But so that? I don’t need them or their money. The only person who tells me what to do is me.

I: And yet your actions over the past two years say otherwise. You’ve helped Jack Ferguson and his friends avert several catastrophes. More than that, they seem to regard you as a friend, despite what you say.

DM: [groans] Goddamn it. I’m so sick of hearing about Ferguson. You couldn’t go 10 whole minutes without bringing his stupid name up. And he doesn’t even have the common decency to hold onto his magic so I can beat him in a fair fight.

I: Let’s talk about your feelings toward Jack. Clearly your relationship is complicated, but the record shows he’s stood up and defended you even when he had no reason to, and when no one else would. And your association with him and his fellow scouts indicates a pattern of gratitude, despite what you might say. You’ve had plenty of opportunities to take him out of the picture, but never seized on a single one. Interesting. [clears throat] Thank you, Mr. Masterson. This has been a very enlightening session.

DM: What are you talking about? I didn’t give you anything.

I: I respectfully disagree. One final question, though: would you say your respect for Jack and desire to repay him developed naturally, or more due to circumstance?

DM: [glares and rises from chair]

I: Is this the part where you attempt to harm me for getting to the truth of the matter, Mr. Masterson? Because I warn you, the guards outside will–

DM: This is the part where you pucker up and kiss my ass, shrink. I’m done here. [stalks to the door, but pauses] Got any copies of those notes?

I: No. Why?

DM: [snaps fingers, notebook bursts into flames]

I: Oh! [drops burning notebook]

DM: [glowers] [CENSORED] you, [CENSORED]. [Walks out]

I: Did you record all that? Good. Let’s move on.

The Camp Prospero Files: Tessa Stone

REPORT #053567234: PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION, CAMP PROSPERO PERSONNEL

The following report and its contents are classified TOP SECRET under Federal Code 7906-A. The information contained within is the exclusive property of the United States Department of Defense, The Bureau of Magical Affairs, and its branch offices. Any unauthorized release will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Interviews conducted by professional staff for the purpose of determining the mental status and fitness of key training camp personnel.

 

Subject: Tessa Stone

Designation: Class 3

Rank: Trainee Scoutmaster

 

TESSA STONE: [salutes] Trainee Scoutmaster Tessa Stone reporting as ordered, sir.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you, Miss Stone. I hope we haven’t pulled you away from anything important.

TS: No, sir. Just refamiliarizing myself with the Scout Handbook and codes of conduct.

I: I see. Transition to your new role going well, I take it?

TS: Yes, sir. It’s a privilege to be serving the magical community and helping out people like me. I was in their position once, so it’s nice to be able to give back.

I: Of course. Are you planning on standing for the whole interview, Miss Stone?

TS: [pauses] Sir?

I: Have a seat.

TS: [shifts uncomfortably] I’d prefer to stand, sir.

I: Uh-huh. [makes a note] And why is that?

TS: I’ve always found it–productive to maintain a clear chain of command, sir. I don’t like to–I mean, it’s unprofessional to get too comfortable with superior officers.

I: Interesting. Let’s explore that. You must have some mixed feelings about returning to Camp Prospero–the same camp you graduated from–to work as a staff member. After all, you’re sure to encounter scouts you trained with frequently.

TS: I guess that’s true, sir. I mean, the part about seeing people I know. I requested Camp Prospero as my post personally.

I: Right. And feeling indebted to you for your, shall we say, services of late, the BMA obliged your request. I’m not sure they would have done the same for many other people. How does that make you feel?

TS: [blushes] Umm–grateful, sir?

I: Do you feel special?

TS: No, sir. I don’t want to be a charity case.

I: You’re hardly that, Miss Stone. I’ve read your file. High marks, stellar participation and patriotism, and dedication to preserving military discipline is written all over it. You were an exceptional scout.

TS: Thank you, sir. I tried my best.

I: I’m sure you did. Getting back to the point at hand, however–is there anyone at Camp Prospero you’re looking forward to seeing again? Anyone in particular?

TS: I don’t know what you mean, sir.

I: Really?

TS: [flustered] Well, I know a lot of people there. They were my friends. Still are. Sure, it’d be nice to see some of them.

I: Including Jack Ferguson?

TS: What? What does that have to do with anything? [crosses arms] Sir, what’s all this about?

I: I believe you were informed, Miss Stone. We’re conducting psychological evaluations of–

TS: Sir, what’s all this REALLY about? I know I don’t have clearance, and I know you don’t have to tell me anything. But with all due respect, please don’t insult my intelligence by lying to me.

[pause]

I: Miss Stone, we’re attempting to determine if your history at Camp Prospero has in any way compromised your good judgment. And on an otherwise spotless record, the only thing that stands out is your–ahem–relationship with Jack Ferguson and his associates. You are aware that several of them, as well as Mr. Ferguson, have a history of disciplinary problems?

TS: [tenses] Yes, sir. I was there. There were a handful of times that things got–out of hand.

I: [snorts] Now you’re insulting my intelligence, Miss Stone. Mr. Ferguson’s reprimand sheet alone is longer than my arm.

TS: Is this interview going somewhere, sir? I’m a little busy.

I: Ah. So there is a real person inside that uniform.

TS: What’s that supposed to mean?

I: It means, Miss Stone, that you’re trying to feed me a line. You’ve been telling me what you think I want to hear.

TS: And what do you want to hear, sir? Please let me know so I can just tell you and get out of here.

I: You’re not comfortable with being analyzed, are you? With someone else knowing a lot about you?

TS: [pauses] Honestly, sir? No. I think private things should stay private.

I: And I’d be inclined to agree with you if the subject weren’t so important. Let’s consider the past two years at camp. A scout-lead rebellion that led to your scoutmaster being fired and administrative turmoil. And then there was the Barstowe incident–

TS: Incident? Is that what we’re calling it now? A lot of those people I know at Camp Prospero–the people we’ve been talking about–almost died because the BMA laid down on the job and let a psycho through background checks. She almost brought down the whole camp, and if she had, all of you would’ve been next!

I: It was unfortunate, it’s true. But that’s in the past. We’re talking about the present.

TS: Oh, no you don’t. I’m not letting it go. A lot of our scouts had to go to therapy over that summer. Some of them spent months in the hospital. They’re never going to be the same. We’re goddamn lucky nobody actually died. And the government hasn’t so much as apologized to them for it.

I: All records of the Barstowe matter are sealed, Miss Stone. Divulging that information carries high penalties. You would do well to control your emotions.

TS: Is that because you outrank me, sir, or just because I’m a woman speaking her mind? You think I’m scared of you because I wear your uniform and follow your rules?

I: I think that you are emotionally compromised, Miss Stone. You’re too close to this camp, and these people. Especially Jack Ferguson.

TS: [glares] All due respect, sir, but I don’t care what you think. I do what I know is right. That’s what my father taught me, and he gave up a hell of a lot more for his country than most of you people. Jack might not be perfect, but he’s a hero. He’s traumatized. And we all let him down. Every single one of us. That’s not something any psych test will wipe away.

[pause]

I: I see. Are you worried about what you’ve said here today being used against you?

TS: I’m worried the country I wanted to serve isn’t the country I thought it was. If you demote me, reassign me, whatever, you’ll just be proving me right. [sighs, straightens uniform] Will that be all, sir?

I: Yes, Miss Stone. You’re dismissed.