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Nina Fleischer Gass

Nina Fleischer Gass

Los Angeles, California

Nina is a freelance writer and editor who works with clients across all industries on all communication platforms, including social media, online and offline marketing, public relations and books. Credits include ghostwriting four non-fiction books in the areas of business, social media, personal development and sales. This is her first fiction book. She may not show it but Nina is kind of really excited about this book.

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Verne Bauman

Verne has a real job in the computer software industry so this was a side project to prove anyone can write a book. His role included the concept, mind map of the story, and high-level ideas. He also served as chief critic, project manager, and editor.





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Engineering the Past

Mindscape: Book 1

Mindscape is a collaborative strategy book series that combines true fiction with math, physics, and psychology across multiple story paths.

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Literary Fiction
200,000 words
100% complete
2 publishers interested


Mindscape is a collaborative strategy book series that combines true fiction with math, physics, and psychology across multiple story paths. As a reality architect, the reader changes the reality of the main character by selecting various paths each with their own clues to help him find answers and reach one of many ends that may or may not help him complete his revenge mission. With multiple realities, this first book in a proposed series of three books – Engineering the Past, Present in Mind, and Future Memories -- introduces the reader to the idea of true fiction by following his various versions of reality. You decide what happens and then face the consequences of that decision.

This is not a rehash of the Choose Your Own Adventure book format. Described as a collaborative strategy book, the plot was devised through mind mapping it onto a flowchart. The plot and action have developed through a main story thread that branches off into multiple paths that lead to one of three endings or that connect to a further path with multiple endings. There are many ways to read the book as shown in the flowchart further on in this proposal. Each story flow has a different set of clues and action to keep the reader engrossed and coming back to try out a different path. There are also three types of possible endings throughout the book:

● one that provided the reader with no information;

● one where the character is trapped;

● and one where a character dies.

Readers do not have to accept the ending they choose. They can circle back, start again from there, and take a different path. Since this cannot be achieved in life and books are a place to
escape, the intent was to give the reader the freedom to explore real life decisions without the real consequences. However, in taking the journey, the reader may learn something about how they make decisions and look at situations in life. This intent led to the idea of creating the concept of true fiction. Since life is all about perception and making sense of our own reality, the book creates an environment for the characters and the reader that illustrates how fiction can be more realistic than reality itself. Everyone essentially has a story to tell with chapters, plots, and quite a few characters. The authors are simply applying that concept to a book.

A Time Magazine article from 2013 noted the return of Choose Your Own Adventure style content for book and visual platforms. The format of jumping pages and choosing different endings is ideal for putting this in e-book format but can be just as easy to navigate in a published, hard copy format. It speaks directly to an audience that is now used to interacting and engaging with content rather than the content speak tothem.

Book Structure

There are three books with the first one submitted for consideration. Each book is approximately 250 pages, with the first one completely finalized for review. Book 2 and Book 3 are also 90% complete with only the endings and final editing to finish.

The three books are governed by a law of physics and a mathematical philosophy that relate to the characters, plot, and structure of the book:

● BOOK 1: This section sets the story and characters in motion, explains how the reader keeps the momentum going.

Law of Inertia: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Division by Zero: Division of any number by zero is undefined.

● BOOK 2: This is the heart of the story and where the plot unfolds with foreshadowing and clues for the reader to uncover.

Law of Force: Force is the product of the mass and acceleration.

Two is the Prime Number: As the smallest prime number, two is the only prime that is even. It's the prime union between one and one and has the ability to halve more powerful numbers.

● BOOK 3: This is the climax of the story and provides some answers and connections to the second and third book in the series.

Law of Reaction: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Euclidean Triangle: A polygon with 3 internal angles and 3 sides of varying relative lengths that are connected at vertices.

Plot and Character Summary

The Plot

This is the first book in a series of three books. Focused on engineering the past, the book asks the reader to help Devin uncover his past, decipher his fragmented memories, and get him through to complete his mission of revenge.

Cast of Characters

Devin: He's a hero and man on a mission. He has lots of questions, anger, and a slight drinking problem. Trouble is his memory is failing him and it may not just be from too many Blackjacks or the recurring effects of PTSD.

Rita: Named after a popular poison of choice, she is sweet, sour, and potentially deadly. There is more than meets the eye and Devin wants to know more. Rita may be in love with Devin or she just might have her own agenda as an employee of the Cooperative.

Tom: While he seems like Devin's friend, Tom is hiding a lot and Devin believes he is behind his daughter's demise. As a blender, he can be anything to anybody. Tom may appear to be a photocopy of a man or he could be creating that image to do his job for the Cooperative.

Melanie: As Devin's daughter, Melanie is the one that Devin could not save. Now, she lives in his memory, but it just may be that she was only a figment of his imagination. Then again, she could be real, alive, and in need of her father's help.

Dr. Chokar: The ever stylish and savvy Dr. Chokar is Devin's psychotherapist. Her mission is to make the world better for people like Devin, helping them move past their nightmares and addictions. However, she may be using her patients as part of a bigger experiment.

PM: As the CEO of the Cooperative, he holds a powerful role over this multinational organization that operates multiple businesses, including research facilities, non-profits, real estate development firms and pharmaceutical companies.

Target Audience

The target audience is for all ages who are interested in action, science fiction, and mystery. It can attract readers from all these genres and be marketed as something entirely different than the usual book genres available.

Promotional Plan

The authors have developed and are managing a diverse set of promotional channels that can be used to get publicity for the book and drive sales. This section covers the strategic process for promoting the book:

● Mindscape Website: The established website,, serves as a platform for the book and includes a blog, information about the book and authors, and news.

● Public Relations: As one of the authors has extensive experience in the world of PR, the tactics include creating a series of press releases and releasing these through online press release services as well as contacting various media outlets to generate interest in author interviews.

● Social Networking Campaign: The authors are heavily involved in using social networking platforms already and have begun generating buzz and gaining a following on multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+.

● Marketing Partners/Strategic Partnerships: The authors have relationships with various businesses that could help to promote the book and help to sell copies.

● Customer/VIP/Potential relationships: The author has some business and celebrity/sports contacts that could be contacted to add endorsements to the final copy with quotes as well as their own following with whom they could share the book.

● Book Tour: In working with an agent, a book tour could be scheduled to generate further interest.

Competitive Analysis

There are no other collaborative strategy books available for adults. This is an innovative approach to reading and engaging with a book that has potential for other uses, including:

● Digitizing the story for e-book and tablet with interactive features, including other types of media to leverage a graphic novel or video sequences

● Adapting the book for the large screen, web series, or television

2 publishers interested
Agora Publishing logo Agora Publishing

Agora Publishing is a Canada-based not-for-profit organization, founded in 1997 with the aim of making book publishing accessible to all writers across Canada and internationally.

We are the only hybrid book publisher which is also a cable TV show producer; newspaper publisher; social media marketer and search engine marketing organization.

Do you have a Twitter following of at least 5000?

We will interview eligible authors for 15 minutes for our cable TV show broadcast.

If your raw interview footage generates at least 1000 views within a four day period, we will air your interview on our cable TV show.

Contact us for more information.

Applications are due Saturday, May 29, 2021.

#authors #bookmarketing #writers #tv

Hybrid publisher

All categories


Virtualbookworm Publishing logo Virtualbookworm Publishing

Virtualbookworm (VBW) Publishing was founded by a writer frustrated by the long wait time and occasional heartbreak often associated with the publishing industry. After researching the various "alternatives," he discovered a number of subsidy publishers that would publish any author ... for a price. Unfortunately, many reviewers (and readers) thumb their noses at books from such houses, since all it takes is cash to get published by them.

Then he discovered self publishing and the endless opportunities it presented. However, such a venture requires countless hours of research of printers, proofreaders, artists, etc. And after publication, even more time is consumed trying to market the book.

So, was established as a "clearinghouse" for authors, since it offers virtually everything under one roof. Although we now charge setup and design fees, those costs are kept to a minimum so as to cover all expenses. And, as with "traditional" publishers, we carefully review each manuscript and only offer contracts to authors who truly have exceptional manuscripts. We don't print garbage, and we want our authors to proudly say they were published by Virtualbookworm. If we accept your book for publication, you can rest assured that it will be sold next to other quality books, and not just work that had enough money behind it. And, you'll receive some of the best royalties in the business!

Since our initial costs are so low, we want your books to sell as much as you do.

Service publisher

Children Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mind & Body, Mystery, Thriller, Horror & Suspense, Romantic Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy, YA Fiction, Biography & Memoir, Business & Money, Career & Success, Cookbooks, Food & Wine, Health, Fitness & Dieting, History, Journalism, Politics & Social Sciences, Religion & Spirituality, Science, Society & Culture, Sports & Outdoors, Technology & the Future, Travel




Is life based on a grand design? Does it end up a certain way because of luck? Do we meet people by chance? We ask these convoluted questions because of some i internal drive -- the desire to define some type of meaning for our lives. While we can try to rationalize otherwise, the reality is that we pull our own strings and those of others. We want to see what people will do when we say or do something. Get a reaction. Some go further to see how far they can push to get the ultimate reward. It might even be just about the thrill of the game or the ability to gain control over those who cannot keep their emotions in check or take the heat. Life is chess, not checkers. Whatever role you play in the game, you have decisions to make, and each of those come with an infinite number of outcomes. It just means thinking harder to reach the best outcome. Making this move can cause someone to react with another move and so on. Selecting the best possible series of decisions will get the desired outcome. That does not mean micromanaging every minute decision. It involves looking at the full picture and determining the precise goal.
Like war, life has numerous conflicts and even battles. Sometimes making the worst logical decision and typically the riskiest decision may be the best path in the long run. Those who choose what seem to be questionable decisions are those who most crush conflict, win battles, and gain ground. Meanwhile, the lemmings are stuck in the trenches, trying to hang onto what little they have. Those who can look at the entirety of life and twist their Rubik's Cube in different ways that no one has thought of end up with nnnothe smartest moves. That's because they can see the connections and make sense of them when others are satisfied that they got three of the same color in a row. Not exactly checkmate there.
Decisions might be easier if there was no moral code in place or cultural beliefs that decided for us about what is right and wrong. Everyone's moral compass does not automatically point magnetic north. The result is that decisions become warped especially if a person is nursing a deeply embedded cognitive flaw that has them acting on desires that society have deemed inappropriate and out of bounds. You've been told that solution to all of life's battles is to simply make societally accepted decisions and repress what is really wanted. Easier said then done. Going with the flow impacts everything we do – self-medicate to ignore the thoughts, act out to create the distance, or whatever it takes to push back against what we've been told is not right.
Knowing that it's about the journey, not the destination, you can explore some of life's decisions and the emotions that accompany them. While some decisions may seem trivial, others are game changers. In this book, various sections give you three possible pathways where you must make a decision. Choose wisely as some choices are not what they seem. Some circle back and others dead end. This is your opportunity to alter reality for these characters and maybe even for yourself and others. The problem is that there are no rules in this book like there are in life. The characters will stay at rest until you turn the page. It's up to you provide the force to put them in motion. Not for the faint of brain, there are many clues along the way in this mystery within a mystery. Some are tangible while others are contained within people and conversations. Solving these mental puzzles helps to uncover the best path. Time to start the journey.


Law of Inertia:
An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Division by Zero:
Division of any number by zero is undefined.

Waking Past
Where am I? What time is it? It always makes me uneasy to wake up and not be sure if I'm home or just coming to from being passed out in some strange place. Okay, we're safe because there's a Mayan death mask alongside my WWI gas mask hanging on the wall over by the window. So unless someone has the same design sense, I can safely say this is home. Somehow my superior intelligence navigated me here despite the pounding headache that would have most likely meant death for the average drinker. Only God knows -- and maybe a few other people -- what I got up to last night because my memory banks show a negative balance. I'll just lay here for awhile until there is a deposit made or I get the energy I need to get out of bed.
Still, despite the bass drum in my brain, I can feel my limbs unlike so many other mornings where I woke in a state of paralysis, claustrophobia and sweat-stained sheets after dreaming of my time in the Gulf. It was 1991 and I was 21, facing a formidable enemy and witnessing war firsthand. The battlefield was different than the one I played on as a kid with my buddies in the old neighborhood. The Gulf was raw, dirty, and real.
That became my first experience with what death tasted like not to mention what it looked like. I just remember the devastation and trail of lifeless bodies for miles with an odd limb serving as a road marker.
I still remember walking into Abu Al-Khaseeb, or what was left of the town and its buildings. Must have been a beautiful and exotic place at one point. Now, it was reduced to rubble while the people who dared remain scurried like mice when we appeared. No one trusted us and I can't blame them really. We were trying to help but they didn't see it that way. Looking back, I'm not sure if just added to the problem. Of course, we were better than the dictator, but the hammer just came down harder and faster on the people we were trying to save.
This was a place that went from vibrancy and life one minute to death in the next as soon as the chemical bombs exploded overhead. Some were just gassed in their tracks. I had seen plenty of documentaries about previous wars and they showed all types of gruesome images, but none of that prepared me for seeing the brutality of war firsthand. That feeling of dread just consumed me to the point I felt like I couldn't breathe, and that was with a gas mask similar to this one on the wall by the window albeit a bit more updated.
I remember that sensation of hyperventilating as if the wind was knocked out of me. It was that panicked sense of whether I will ever be able to catch my breath. I stumbled around like I was wasted and didn't see the hole right below me. That's when I lost my footing because my right ankle twisted and gave way, causing me to fall into this pit of bodies. It was a soft landing but one that made me feel as though I was drowning because, with every movement, I sunk farther in or some limb became entangled with mine. I didn't want to be swallowed whole into their abyss and left behind but I knew struggling would make it worse in this carcass quicksand.
I stopped struggling and told myself to get my shit together. That brought me calm for maybe a minute because I happened to turn my head and see this wide-eyed little girl who had that deer-in-the headlights look frozen on her face. That fear was reality hitting innocence for the first time. You can forget incidents -- even big or traumatic events -- but you can never erase the deep images. I will never forget her face and the exact way I felt at that moment.
This little girl might have been scared at some point when she was alive. There had to be bombs and bodies that she may have tripped over to take cover. Maybe she saw her parents fall just before the gas hit her. I had to turn away because it was too much to have to look her in the eye and see what war does to people. No one considers the human wreckage really when they are fighting for a cause that is supposed to be about them. It's the big picture of helping that, when the smoke clears, shows that we weren't much of a help at all. Otherwise, this little girl wouldn't be piled on top of bodies in a hole in the ground. Despite trying to save everyone, there will always be casualties along the way. That's what they tell you at least at training to guide you through it.
I knew I had to get my bearings and pull myself out of this hell hole. It was what happened next that will forever be implanted on my brain. I turned as I was climbing up to get one last look at that little girl. There was no look of fear. Instead, she was smiling at me.
“Morning, Daddy. Happy Father's Day! Look what I did for you!”
That's the sweetest sound a guy could hear. No headache could ever get in the way of time spent with my daughter. Her voice is the cure for any hangover. I did forget that it was Father's Day but I do know we have lots of fun stuff planned today to do together. Those are the best days and the ones where drinking is not the priority. Melanie is the focus because she makes life more interesting and gives it purpose. And, this day couldn't be more perfect looking at this spread she's got for breakfast. I thought I smelled bacon. That's my girl!
She is just standing there with her long brown hair neatly done up in a ponytail with yellow ribbon tied around it. Melanie has this huge grin and gleaming eyes, showing her pride about what she had done for me and waiting for my approval. She's only eleven -- that age where there is no reason to have a care in the world. Melanie always looked at me with a cheerful smile that spoke volumes. Of course, she knew that it could get me to do practically anything. If I wasn't going to do what she wanted, she would then flash those green eyes at me -- each with their own self-contained smiles so that I was dazzled and then turned to putty in her hands.
This is the first time where she has made breakfast completely by herself with me not watching nervously over her shoulder as she wields knives and waves her hands over the gas burners. On this tray, Melanie has carefully arranged everything to show me that she's got this down. There's a stack of golden pancakes with four strips of crispy bacon arranged so that each strip forms a circle around the edge of the plate and frames the pancakes. She has a dish with butter sliced into about 20 neat squares like kids so often do when they overcompensate and a jug of maple syrup next to the plate. Melanie even sliced up strawberries and bananas in a dish she said just in case I wanted them on my pancakes or to eat on the side. Not sure where the cloth napkin came from, but it's a nice finishing touch to her presentation.
Then she informs me there's orange juice from a bottle and coffee. The coffee even comes in a special “I Love You, Dad” mug that she tells me Tom helped her to go buy along with the cloth napkin (so that is where it came from) and a vase with flowers. The coffee cup is one of those typical sentimental objects where someone thought it was cute to turn the “o's” into heart-shaped vowels with a bright red flourish (only color hearts can be) along with white letters that contrast the black background. It probably was standard fare from the dollar store, but the sentiment that comes with it is priceless because it is from her.
There has never been a breakfast as perfect. It's because Melanie made it and put so much thought and heart into doing it. Of course, she says she will do this all the time so she can practice making other stuff, and I know each time will be great for sure, but this moment here is what will always stick out the most for me. This is one for the memory banks that will earn compounding interest every time I call it up.
I never actually taught her to make any food, but somehow Melanie just has figured it all out and decided that this is what she wanted to do for me. There's something so sweet in how a child looks at the world, not stopping to think “what's in it for me?” like adults seem to do. At least that's how Melanie approaches life with me, which is fine, but I will most likely have to teach her a few things. There will be times she has to call upon her own agenda when others are involved so she doesn't become a doormat where people wipe their feet. All she lives for was to make me smile, and it is working. Someday, that may change, but I am going to hold on to this moment forever..
Melanie sits down next to me to make sure I like all the food and plot our day out together. It's a quick bike ride at the park across from our loft followed by a day at the fair. She animatedly tells me how she's been dreaming about going on all these rides with me, especially the Ferris Wheel. There's nothing I look forward to more than spending today with her. She's everything so there's nothing else I need or want.
I've never seen her move so fast as she does now to clear my empty plates and tray so that we can get up and get this day started. That's another thing I like about her. She just has that enthusiasm and zest for life not to mention that get up and go that makes me want to go out and live, not flounder in the stupor often found with a hangover. Let's get this perfect day rolling.
One of the reasons I picked this loft for us was the easy access to the park. Living in the city meant no green spaces like I grew up with in the 'burbs. This park was the quintessential city square park with ice cream and hot dog carts, balloons, andentertainers. Plus, it had all the bells and whistles of a kid's paradise of a playground. I've never seen anything like the garden hedgerow maze though. That was unique and Melanie liked to play hide and seek with me in there. I loved hearing that giggling coming through the hedgerow. She was always just that one row out of reach, but it was okay because her tinkling laugh told me she was fine.
I just like the openness that the loft provided as well after growing up in a cookie-cutter home. It's a sense of freedom that I wanted more after serving in the Gulf. Closed spaces meant danger and risk to life. Now, there are no real barriers or divisions in this space to alienate each other like the usual family suburban ranch house. Even if there is a wall here to give Melanie some privacy, they are still false walls and can be moved and removed. I can choose and change the blueprint, and that's what I wanted.
Today, it was going to be a quick bike ride because we were onto other things at the fair. Melanie said we had to make it fast because she had rides to ride and cotton candy to eat. The park has miles of bike trails that we had to share with walkers and joggers, and today it was packed with people rambling and racing their way down the dirt and asphalted paths. I really hate people though with their zigzagging, no logic approach to walking. And, when they see bikes, it's like they walk straight toward them. Even worse now are these people with smartphones. They never look up but are hunched over with their thumbs going hundreds of words per minute about something that could probably wait until they are off the path. But, I'm not going to let these idiots ruin my day.
It's weird though because I didn't see that woman when I turned my head to talk to Melanie and I just barrelled right into her. I better go help her up and ask her if she is alright. That's the right thing to do even though it was probably her fault anyways.
“Hey, sorry about that. Didn't see you there. I turned to say something to my daughter and suddenly you were just there.”
“It's fine,” she says as she dusts herself off and stands up. She shoots me a broad smile (as most women do) to let me know it really is actually fine.
“You sure you are alright? I think your head hit the ground. Maybe get it looked at?”
She just laughs it off like I'm an idiot for being concerned and turns to my daughter to tell her she loves her yellow ribbon and that she wore her hair like that when she was her age. Melanie just looks at her, so I nudge her until she gets that she should smile and politely thank her.
“I'm Margarita, but everyone calls me Rita.”
That's different, I never heard a woman named after a drink before. Wonder what her parents were like. She's got a stunning profile and shapely legs though that are quite refreshing.
“I'm Devin, and this is my daughter, Melanie. Nice to meet you but we really should get a move on. We're headed to the fair.”
“Oh yes, Melanie, I thought you looked familiar. You go to the Co-op community school, don't you? I volunteer there when I get a chance.” Melanie smiles and nods, in a way I think is about seeming pleased to be recognized, but there seems to be something else there under her smile. I pick up on my daughter's mood changes all the time -- she's like an open book to me that I actually read -- and this one, although not exactly something I can put my finger on gives me the sense that there is a strange uncomfortable vibe between them. Maybe it's just that a woman is taking interest in me and it's jealousy.
She shakes both our hands and reassures me that she is fine. “Have a great time. Nice to bump into you!” She smiles and winks to let me know that's her sense of humor coming into play. Nice woman and cute too. Maybe I will see her again if she is new to the neighborhood.
Turning around to get a brief last look at Rita, I see her, standing there in her tight skirt, sweater, and heels watching us go. Strange, but stranger still is wearing clothes like that to the park. Who does that? It's not like she is jogging or riding a bike dressed like that. She has no kids that I can say. Maybe just on her lunch break or something.
Doesn't matter because it's time we got to the fair for the rest of this spectacular Father's Day. This is going to be the best day ever, I feel it. How would I ever know that it would be anything but?

Waking Present
It's too quiet. Silence is golden, but this is an unfamiliar absence of sound. It's deafening and concerns me that is until it is replaced with something even worse. There's some type of drum circle in my head -- those strategically placed bass drums housed just behind my eye sockets, pressing outward on my eyeballs. My eyelids are not budging because I am not ready to face this hangover. No matter how many of these you give yourself from a night of drinking, the world of hurt they return never seems to get any easier.
What type of smell could be both enticing and nauseating? At this time of the morning, that could only mean one thing -- bacon. While I don't usually heave from a hangover there was a possible rebellion brewing led by stomach acid. I would continue in my usual plank position until the bass drum dissipates had it not been this urge to puke. It will pass because it always does. I just need to focus on something else. I can do this because it's just about remembering mind over stomach.
My surroundings weren't helping though. In the midst of quelling the nausea from the stench of sizzling pig, I am introduced to an incessant humming coming to me in surround sound. What is going on? I didn't know any women that hum. They always know to keep their mouths shut except to catch or moan when they can no longer contain their pleasure. And, I certainly never make it a habit to stay for breakfast.
My mind is telling me what should not be happening here. One, there is no noise; two, there's no sizzling breakfast; and three, there is no way my sheets have ever smelled like flowers or felt this cold. They are satin. I can tell without even opening a lid to peek. Then, there is the familiar scent of sex – pungent,earthy, and a little musky that has been mixed with bitter and salty. Nothing like that smell -- and taste. Whore house? A whore's house?
One thing for sure is that I'm not crashing with family. That's because there's no family to speak of let alone any that would cook for me. Well, there is – or, was, Melanie -- my daughter, the only thing that really mattered and my moral compass. There is just no direction in my life without her. In fact, both my sister and Melanie were relying on me to protect them. When I lost Melody and gained Melanie, I said no one will ever take someone I love again. There was already one ghost haunting me. The problem is I failed and that is why this anger is eating me up now.
Both times I let go and was enjoying the moment and that's probably why these takings happened. It all goes wrong when you relax and start enjoying the moment. First, with my sister, I remember it was a carefree day as Tom, her, and myself raced up and down the street on our bikes in the middle of some adventure I'd concocted. Then, we would circle back when we heard the ice cream truck's garbled version of “It's a Small World.” It was always fun and maybe that's why I got so comfortable. She liked to laugh and pretty much laughed at anything Tom said and I'd manage a chuckle or two from her. The laughing always made me feel good and as though all was right with the world whether it was me that brought it out of her or someone else. It was music to my ears.
As the younger brother though I think I was mostly annoying to her, but our parents always said that I was in charge and should look after her. Melody always said the same thing when our parents repeated their hero mantra to us before going out to play: I can take care of myself, Mom and Dad. I took this taking care of my older sister thing seriously though and incorporated it into the stories we would enact. She was always the fair maiden who needed rescuing but was also the one that fought me at every turn on the actual rescuing part. Then, when she did actually need rescuing, I didn't step up and get it done. She slipped from my fingers and I've been fighting ever since.
The safety that our neighborhood offered then lulled me into a false sense of security so that when I saw Melody being pulled into that black Caddy with the tinted windows, I thought it was a joke. The only people that were allowed in our gated master-planned community was people who lived there or visitors on the list, and they probably had to undergo a blood or urine test before being allowed in. That sense that no one bad would ever enter our enclave ruled my decisions, including that day. It never occurred to my eight-year old brain that uninvited guests somehow found their way in and had their sights set on my sister.
How they got in or who they were has haunted me all my life, and it was something my parents asked me about repeatedly because they just wanted answers. They never got on Tom like they did me and he was there, too. But, no, I was the one that was supposed to take care of my older sister and I failed. Seeing my mom's tears and knowing they were about Melody and feeling the stoic silence that hid my dad's anger just below the surface was a terrible amount of guilt for me to carry throughout my life, but I accepted the burden of being held responsible for her disappearance.
It made me an angry man though the more I tried to make sense of that day and replayed what I could have done differently. All people see is the asshole, but they don't know the story behind the persona and I don't feel the need to share it with them. I hate people because it is people who did this to my sister and to my daughter, and it's people that think they know me when they don't.
They don't know what it's like hearing those screams my sister let out that day. It was the amplified sound of fear and force of will to try to get loose from them. Those screams are always with me and what I would imagined Melanie doing had I been able to hear her through our loft window. I just stood there and watched like a deer in the headlights and only moved after it was too late and the car peeled out down the street just like I stayed still in our home when Melanie walked off with a man that looked a lot like Tom. The thing is she didn't fight or scream or look back. She had that same sense of security I had that day when my sister was stolen. It's naivety until reality sets in and educates you about what you should have already known, which is that people are cruel and they do bad things. It's one of the worst lessons in life, but it also one of the most necessary.
Once I broke loose from the shock, my legs couldn't pedal fast enough but it got me nowhere in a hurry. The realization of what was happening hit me, but my reaction came out as a panic rather than anything that could save Melody. The neighborhood seemed deserted because no one came out of their houses to help and renewed my belief that we somehow lived in a fake place. Tom ran off toward his house and never came back until weeks later to see how I was doing. He seems to do that a lot over the years and would eventually show back up like he did at the auction and the bar last night.
The thing is a hero does not ask for help and certainly doesn't let others onto the fact that he may not have control over a bad situation. After letting Melody, my parents, and myself down that fateful day, I hung up my cape, I shut out laughing wherever I heard it, and retreated into myself. The past became my only friend because it was where I had left myself as that helpless eight-year old boy. As I got older, the anger would only come in waves and when it crested, someone was going to get hurt. Those who knew me understood it was time to take shelter and stay well and clear until the wave crashed down and subsided so that calm waters returned. Some tried to intervene and suggest speaking to a professional about my anger, but I was already at a pro at it so I didn't think anyone had tips for me that I didn't already know.
Melanie was all I needed because she changed it all for me. It wasn't that I forgot about my sister because I didn't. Despite being completely different people, she lived on in Melanie and laughed again through her. The anger was locked away in a box and the shadowy life I turned to was replaced with a brighter outlook and a much straighter path. I wanted to do the right thing and be a good person again like the eight-year old boy inside me had been. Melanie brought that part of me back, but that doesn't mean I wasn't still an asshole when it suited me. When innocence is lost in such a horrific way, you can't really blame a person for turning to the dark side. Once that happens, there will always be shadows lurking.
Melanie helped though because the night sweats nearly dried up and the laughter returned to my life. I almost felt alive again. Then, it happened again at nearly the same age except I was older, experienced, and shady enough to be more intune with how the world operated. Yet, I still managed to lose Melanie in the same way and with the same result. All I can think is that it was because I let myself give into enjoying the moment. It's like in the movies where everyone is happy and laughing, which means something horrible is just around the corner. I could almost call the exact moment a film would shift to shit for the characters, but I missed it entirely when it came to my own life.
I remember the day down to the minute detail. It was a hot, sticky day already at 7:30am because the sheets were sticking to me. I had to peel them off me when Melanie delivered breakfast in bed. We had made a plan to hit the fair because Melanie wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel and get her once-a-year cotton candy. Then, it was off to ride our bikes before making dinner together. It was one of those perfect days that you dream about in making memories with your child, which should have warned me that something would -- and did -- go horribly wrong. I stood there at the window, watching her walk away with a man in the park that looked so much like Tom down to the way he walked with a slight limp and his mannerisms, including waving his hands around as he talks. It was like I just let her go like my sister because I didn't move. The paralysis of my youth returned and where the flight or fight mechanism malfunctioned. By the time I got traction and made it to the park, they were long gone like the Caddy that raced out of our neighborhood.
Losing Melody drove me to an angry life that Melanie pulled me out of only to plunge me straight down again. it didn't help that the police didn't want to do anything about it except add her name to their database of missing people. They seemed more interested in questioning me than finding my baby girl. Same old excuse that this is what teenage girls do even though she is a few years shy of that. They just shut me down with some b.s. that they would look into it so a whole lot of nothing. My rage comes from that place where I have that moment of realization that there is no way to control the situation or get people to do what I want.
Last night was just one example of the tailspin of not caring what I have to do to redeem these losses. It's revenge, and it always comes at any cost. Well, at this point, it's priceless to me and necessary regardless of whether I survive the outcome. With each visit to my dreams, Melanie stands farther away. The last time felt like she was just outside of the reach of my hand so I can no longer pull her close to make that fear disappear. lt is as though she is telling me it's time for me to let go but I don't want to. She is not going to fade out like my sister did for our family and neighbors. As long as I keep searching for Melanie, she won't just be a memory.
No sweating at the moment that I can feel anyways, laying here face down. It is hard to think straight though. Then, again, there is nothing around here to grab onto either to get up and check for condensation lines across the sheets. If I could stand up I'd probably see a crime scene outline. This feels what dying must be like so it's fitting.
In this current state, I only know this: I am not waking up in my own domain. That could be good or bad, depending on what I can replay in my head from the night before. There were the usual suspects -- booze, tail, and bar patrons. A flash of a familiar face tells me I was with a buddy out for a night on the town. It was more than that though because that familiar face was Tom and I was with him for one reason only -- answers.
Despite it starting to come together, there's still something doesn't feel right. Even in my current state of ongoing inebriation, there's this overwhelming sense of tight space, almost claustrophobic. Literal or figurative, that feeling is something that has always gotten to me. I don't like to be cornered or caged. Call me a control freak, but if you try and put me there, I will fight you mentally, physically, or both -- whatever it takes to reverse the roles. Yes, I have a temper and I will go ballistic, but I learned over the years that a calm and calculated approach works better when put in a pressure cooker.
RIght now, I'm getting those warning signals because I'm not quite sure where I am. It's that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you may have done something bad. Just how much bad did I do? This sense of dread only comes when shit has gone down. Then it's all about quick thinking and maybe a little mopping up.

Delving into Devin
For such a complex character, Devin is fairly simple. In a shed full of tools, some are sharper than others. And, those tools that should be avoided at all costs because he will cut you with them. Either that or you will cut yourself by the time he is done with you. Although he is often baffled by big words and never graced a university hall, he is a street smart, numbers guy. Everything can be calculated because risk and opportunity come down to a number of probable outcomes. That includes the opportunity to exact revenge since it was all he had left in his bag of tricks.
To Devin, revenge is all or nothing. He is a fraction of a man, but he also understands fractions. Devin has spent his life, trying to gain back fractions of what he has lost. He also knows that when you are trying to gain back fractions of a whole, you never get there. But, he keeps the paradox going anyway. With the challenge level of his life at an all-time low, he figures there is nothing else to lose.
At one point, he was sobriety challenged or, as those who knew him all too well called him, a drunk. However, it was his conscience -- or some semblance of one -- that he used to fight his way out of that dark place where alcohol drags a person. Now that he is trying to stick some of those fragments back together, there can at least be some gain, some light, and some sobriety. The reality is that he knows he can never really be whole like before he drank or suffered any of his many losses. Mathematically, Devin is aware it is a losing battle.
He pursues it regardless. Why? Because he is a hero or, in reality, it was what he wanted to be in life. A hero lives by a code and a purpose, but does not necessarily wear a mask and a cape. Devin is not about the money or the pussy. He has had plenty of both, and, after a while, both grow tiresome and reek. Instead, Devin wants that hero status with those that needed a certain presence in their life. He can take their fractions and get them closer to that whole. Then, other children and fathers might be saved from that dark place. If Devin can find evil before it strikes again, maybe he can become that hero. That's why he has this urgency to put revenge behind him in those cases where has not been able to save them and instead channel his energy into those he can.
He is a big picture kind of guy when others are glued to the small screen of life. It's what sets him apart and why he really doesn't like people very much. If anything, he prefers solitude to the din of stupidity that seems to hum among the masses. It's not that Devin is a loner, but he just likes to be alone so he can question, think, and plan. The only voice he truly enjoys is Melanie's and without that he just prefers silence.
As a hero, Devin knows that he could push the limits of what was acceptable, feel something, and make a recognizable difference for others. This is no man of steel. In reality, hero is the zero for him. There is a cost for what he wants to achieve. To catch evil, he knows he has to become evil. The risk is that uncreating evil in himself may not work. Things only add; they don't subtract. Still, he is relentless.
It is this strength of character that he applies to high-stakes poker games. To him, poker is simply chess for money. He has read Caro's Book of Tells backwards and forwards, but Devin's ability to read tells goes way beyond the normal known methods. His take is instinctual and, when he was on, very dangerous. Even after a day of hard drinking, you can find Devin raking in sick stacks of chips at impromptu games in the warehouse district or at the casino on the outskirts of town.
Then, there is the superficial stuff about Devin that everyone wants to know and that he uses to get what he wants. It was just the DNA he was handed so he might as well make the most of it. In the looks department, Devin could be tall, dark, and handsome if he felt that was a factor in getting what he wanted. Otherwise, he didn't bother to dress the part and preferred the no-shave, bleary eyed, and rumpled clothes approach. Both strategies for his appearance serve him well when throwing people off their game. Sometimes, he wore the middle-aged drunk outfit just because he felt like it.
He is pushing middle age – pushing back on it, not giving into it -- yet. Some say he looks pretty good for his age despite the gaunt features from forgetting to eat, the red face commonly found in alcoholics, the tinge of gray from his life catching up to him, and the criss-cross, hashtag lines around his eyes that scream tiredness. Hey, everyone is drawn to a tortured soul. Misery loves company. He's had his fill of both.
Yet, the piercing ice blue eyes are still there, locked and loaded let alone rarely questioned. In-between bouts of drinking, Devin's obsession with fitness keeps his body ticking and tops up his six pack. Devin plans on holding onto those glory days with a firm grip for as long as possible. Once he loses that and the women start looking the other way, he knows it's over. Right now, he has the fat lady tied up in the closet.

Back to Some Version of Reality
Despite the feeling of dread now clouding my vision of last night, I want to jump up and face this demon. Not all of me is on board with that plan though because my limbs have minds of their own. There's this dead weight pushing down on me. I can fight that though, raise my head, and peer around the room. It was like a vice holding me in place. Every few minutes, I need to tell myself, get your ass up or nothing is going to change. When my point of vision finally brings the room into focus, all I can conclude is that it is pleasantly horrifying -- you know, weird in a good way.
What a strange and wonderful place this is -- the shabby chic interior of a person who clearly wasn't all there. My sister, Melody, was a tomboy and would have never decorated like this if she had grown up and gotten her own place. The interior space was definitely female by design, color scheme, and scent. Yet, it was like some montage to every nightmare a kid could ever have – one bureau was lined with dolls.
These little ladies kind of looked like what my sister did to her Barbies when we were kids – some were missing heads while others sported heavy makeup and their wardrobes looked like they could strip for a living -- if they could only move. It felt as though they were all staring at me, judging me, and certainly not challenging me. They're all the same, including the plastic ones, because they're pretty, yet vacuous. There is no mystery involved but instead everything is in the open and ripe for the picking. The one dimensionality of the feminine sex gets tiring.
Then, there was this one, which I am hoping might have more depth although, in this case, she might be slightly damaged. Looking around, I could see flaws, but possibilities. It's not like this chick's room was a dump. Everything seemed to be ordered and precise. I like that because of my OCD tendencies. I just don't like the shit she picked out to decorate. White wicker furniture, brass bed, and satin sheets. It was like Laura Ashley had shacked up at the Bunny Ranch. It could do with a makeover. She could lose the flowers and the wicker, but the brass bed is a keeper. I bet we made good use of that last night. The ice satin sheets are also doing wonders for the pounding in my head. I don't even know why I'm doing this mental redecoration. It's an exercise in futility, but it's passing the time while I gather my strength.
The nightstand has something of mine, I'd recognize that wrinkled paperbag anywhere. It's like my best friend in times of trouble, which is mostly always. I must have brought it with me to make it a threesome. It is near empty so that explains why I can barely lift my head.
No, that's it. I went in the liquor store and I met that drunk bum who was babbling on but then kept saying some twisted nursery rhyme line. Just kept repeating same lines over and over, “Three blind mice, three blind mice, see how they run, see how they run.” He was that typical drunk wandering in circles and conversing with some imaginary friends. It wasn't what he kept saying that got me; it was that he said my name and how I was blind and so were my friends. When I walked back and asked him, he looked right through me and repeated the three blind mice nursery rhyme but never answer me. What got me is when he said Melanie was the cheese. He couldn't know me or her. That had to have been in the head. No other possible explanation for it. He was just a bum mumbling some shit and I thought he said something else. Still though, I could go back there at some point and see if he says the same thing now that I remember.
Shit, I really need to remember what else actually happened last night rather than waste my time on the ramblings of a drunk bum. There was a bar involved, as always. Yeah, it was Dick's, that's it, and Rita must have been there and was my flavor of the evening. Something is telling me though that I didn't finish the job. If that is the case, I really need to get up, throw water on my face, and man I need to take a piss. It will all start making sense in the standing position, and then I can process where my plan fell apart last night. I had to set up perfectly so that's what I don't get. We were having drinks so that I could get him wasted and then kill that mother fucker. Seemed like a good plan at the time. But, today, Tom's not dead and I'm in some woman's place so it all went horribly wrong. Now, I need to regroup.
Step one, find clothes. Being naked is only effective in certain situations. Now's the time to get suited up for battle and get Tom. It's just that something else matters more now, I know that from working with the doctor. It's the act of uncreating Tom for me provides purpose. That's what it's about life's about, right? Having a purpose. In terms of a purpose, there's this assumption that what replaces what is destroyed is better. In the case of Tom, it would be a new version of my old life now devoid of a person I had considered a friend but who ultimately betrayed me. Just another missing piece. Yet, cutting out a piece of cardboard and coloring it to look like the missing piece just isn't the same.
Underwear, check. Jeans, check. Shirt, MIA. What was this though? Ahh my favorite item of women's clothing – the thong – which outlines my most treasured feature of the female form. I'm an ass man, and it's simple as that. If i can just bury my face in this thong for a minute, I can collect my thoughts and maybe even get a picture of the woman who wears them. Whoever she was she had to have been there with me last night, which means she was saw what happened. God, I love the smell of tail. She's alright. I can smell, I mean tell.
Her name though escapes me at the moment along with pretty much everything else about her. It will come to me though. Something in this room will help me. Let's see, books on side table so nothing there. The drawer maybe has something with her name on it. Aha, that's it, here's an envelope and it says “Margarita.”
That's it! Of course, she told me her parents named after those fruity chick drinks they had on the Mexican getaway where they figured out she was conceived. She seemed to think the name was funny now but probably was embarrassed at some point to know why and how she got the name. One of those things you don't want to know about your parents.
Yes, margaritas go down easy, and so did she. I remember now her saying that everyone just called her Rita so she could get around having to hear the same comments when she stated her full name. Yet, she did seem to relish telling me that her full name was a popular poison of choice with a glimmer in her eye. Those were her exact words. That should have signaled the warning bells for me but clearly they were not loud enough.
Time to get a semblance of clarity in the bathroom before Rita fills in the rest. Problem is I'm not moving as fast as I like and it's not just the drum cadence in my head. Limping a bit here. That's a bad sign. The question is, what did we end up doing last night? Who knows but I do hope I got here in my own car so I can make a fast getaway this morning and not have to face any of the drama that sometimes comes with the morning after. Now, if I could only fight my way through the multiple layers of froo-froo curtains to see if I have wheels out there. Oh good, I'm safe, my car keys are in my jeans. It's a wonder I even made it here in one piece if I actually did drive myself. Maybe Rita did.
My shirt, finally, there on the faded floral linoleum floor. That's when I see a scrap of paper curled up near the bed. It was a receipt from what looked like some type of auction. It just had a number. Flipping it over, there was the name of the auction house, Layman's Auctions, and the address. This is what Tom and I were celebrating – but for different reasons. My childhood friend was there thinking I knew nothing and was toasting my success. I had him set-up for the kill.
It was a 1967 Chevy Impala Super Sport. It's a classic muscle car with the big block engine and stylized exterior but not one that is in high demand despite being a record breaker in the sales department back in the day. The sleek ride was in mint condition and jet black in color. There were some aftermarket additions like upgraded black leather seats trimmed out in red piping plus the exhausts had been changed out.
The thing is though I couldn't give a fuck really what it looked like or how it performed. I was just planning on putting Tom in the trunk and parking it somewhere. He didn't know I knew. That was the plan, but it just hasn't gone that way yet -- you know, according to plan. To make that happen, I gotta go pick up the car, hunt Tom down, question him, and then it's kill time. Hero level reached and mission accomplished.
And, Rita, yes she was there last night all up on me about the car. Must be that she liked a good ride. Whether that good ride was me or the car, who knows and who cares. Whatever. Not sure if she was celebrating the car, a night with me, or something else. I was celebrating (I realize too early now) my plan in place, and she was unknowingly cheering me on. It makes me laugh when people think they are on the same team as you with the same purpose, and you know that they really have no clue.
Revenge must be exact. It's subtracting one from one and ending up with zero. But zero isn't really a number; it's an absence of value. You feel empty after you exact revenge. At least empty is a feeling. It's a piece in the puzzle of my life, but there will always be that one bastard piece that is missing from the box. A corner piece, even.
So, here I am in Rita's bathroom. Man, I look like I feel -- rough around the edges like when skin meets the pavement with a touch of death around the eyes and face, including dark shadows, excess baggage under the eyes, and pallid skin. If I think I look out of sorts, you should see this bathroom of horrors. This woman is definitely equal opportunity when it comes to her dolls. In here, the collection continues and it looks like nearly everyone is represented. There's metrosexual Ken. He belongs out there with Barbie and her sisters. Then there is a host of odd-bod actors and sci-fi characters. Strangely, I understand the arrangement. She's got a type.
It is kind of freaky but actually quite cool now that I see what she's done here. These modular men are all carefully arranged in between congealed wax and candle pots lining her bathtub. At least she hasn't twisted their heads off -- yet. What does she do? Take baths with them? Maybe I don't want to know or maybe I want to watch.
Wow, but check this out, here's the good stuff. Now we're talking. Look at all these bottles, vials, boxes -- you name it, looks like she's got it. Lots of names and addresses. No sign of one that says Rita or Margarita though so she is hoarding other people's prescriptions. It is like a pharmacy only in a bathroom decorated with framed bondage prints and leopard bath towels. Hey, maybe this drugstore cowgirl isn't half bad. I'd like to know how she gets all these pills. She could be good connection when I needed something to wind me up or numb me down.
The boxes of rubber gloves are a concern though. Strange, I see lots of ointments to treat burns. Oh shit, don't tell me I slept with some burn victim fresh out of the ICU? Charity fucks are not my thing. There's every antibiotic under the sun. This girl is a hypochondriac, a pill popping party girl, or some kind of whack job with hobbies far from the mainstream. There's gotta be something in these drawers. The surgical tools are not what I was expecting to find that's for sure. This girl is clearly no Suzy Homemaker but more like damaged goods. I am just hoping damaged does not evolve into deranged. She can help me find Tom, I can finish what I started, and perhaps we can have some fleeting fun.
The question is, should I go out there and start asking casual questions so she could fill in the blanks or just walk out? I could come up for air, maybe grab a coffee, sober up and re-evaluate my plan. I've got to be able to just figure this shit out on my own without playing house with some crazy chick. Drop the bait, reel her in to get some good intel on what happened last night, and then cut bait. That's my kind of fishing.
Then again, it may be better to just get the hell out of here and take care of what I started last night with Tom. Going out there and facing this woman I don't know is just fishing and for what when I can find the fish myself. It's easy enough to just slip out this window. Hmm, decisions, decisions. They're hard to make when the brain just hasn't kicked in yet, and I've got the reactions of a dead fish with this hangover running the show. That tells me a shower is the order of the moment. A stream of hot water raining down on me always helps to bring clarity eventually. If it doesn't bring that at least I won't smell like a drunk that's been out on a bender. Now, if I could only have someone make up my mind for me right now and I'll just go with the flow.
This is the first decision of many in this book. As with most decisions in life, they are made with a partial set of information. The obvious choice is not always the best one. Each decision in this book has three possible choices. In some cases, several paths could be correct and some may have no meaning or lead to the worst possible outcome. Based on what you know so far, which path gets you the outcome you want?

Go out to the kitchen and see what Rita can or is willing to tell me. Go to Page X.
Head to Dick's bar to get answers and a drink, of course. Go to Page X.
Take a shower, soak my head, and figure out where to head next. Go to Page X.

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