An excerpt from "Dungeon Guards" and memories

As many of you will have heard by now, there has been a mass shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, at the Capital newspaper.

Where I once applied for a job.

A few years ago, I was in a restroom in the Community Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I've been using that restroom since I was eight years old, back when the building was an elementary school. The recent architects took out the child-sized toilet fixtures, but they made very few other changes to the building, which was built by the federal government during the New Deal. The architects kept the child-sized coat closets in the classrooms.

As I was leaving the restroom, I noticed a plastic container next to the door, holding a plastic-covered page. Figuring the page was about the historic nature of the building, I picked it up.

It was instructions for where to hide in the event of an active shooter.

With my thoughts tonight on that long-ago eight-year-old who would have hid in the child-sized coat closet, and the alternate-history me who was hired to be a copy editor at the Capital Gazette - not to mention the actual folks who were attacked in Annapolis - here is an excerpt from the rough draft of the beginning of an upcoming Dungeon Guards story. I was in the midst of writing it on June 12, 2016; some of you will recognize the significance of that date.

Trigger warning for violence.


The breaking-cell corridor was chaos. Men dashed to and fro - not merely guards but also Seekers, who were famed among the world's prison-workers for their calm under crisis. Some of the guards, especially quick-witted, were ushering Seekers into breaking cells and locking them in. Other guards dashed in the direction of the gunfire that was continuing in the hallway that held the Seekers' cells. Barrett Boyd took a swift glance around the breaking-cell corridor, but no Seekers stood within reach . . . and in any case, it was far more important that he seek safety for the man running at his heels. Barrett jerked open the door of the closest breaking cell.

The cell was filled with blood.

Much of it lay in a pool near the door. It glistened under the electric lamp-light that had replaced the light from the old coal-furnace. Or so Barrett had been told; he had no memory of that transition, only an occasional, far-off image of flickering flames behind the glass blocks at the ends of the breaking cells. The light in this breaking cell seemed stark by comparison. It fell upon the blood, red and moist, and upon the prisoner who lay facedown upon it, the top of his head blown off.

There was more blood on the wall - too far away to come from the prisoner. Barrett wondered whether it belonged to a guard or to a Seeker.

"This way!" Clifford Crofford had made no attempt to follow Barrett into the breaking cell. He had already reached the crossroads of the inner dungeon, where the breaking-cell corridor met the narrow cross-passage leading to the outer dungeon . . . and before that, to the hallway where the Seekers' living cells continued to endure gunfire.

Barrett slammed the breaking-cell door shut and raced to join Clifford. The breaking-cell corridor was nearly empty now, efficiently cleared of its Seekers by the guards who were trained to protect the torturers who questioned prisoners in the Eternal Dungeon. Though not all of the Seekers were torturers now, Barrett reminded himself as he reached Clifford. He was feeling within himself the usual conflict of duties. Should he protect the Seekers, or should he join in killing the men who had stained their hands with prisoners' blood?

Fiction update timeline; plus, more about the Annapolis shooting

I'll be getting back to work in August. I've been drafting Search for the Jackal in my head, but I've had no time to type it up, and I can't do my normal editing-while-eating because of the bug situation.

Speaking of working under pressure, here's a moving article about the Capital Gazette staff:

'I don't know what else to do': Grieving Capital Gazette journalists cover the massacre of their own newsroom.

Something I didn't mention in my previous post: The reason I applied for a job at The Capital (one of the papers owned by the Capital Gazette) is that I was a journalist for a couple of decades, first as a student and then as a professional. Much of that time was spent covering Maryland community news. I was even an Annapolis reporter, writing for my college newspaper in Annapolis. I lived in Annapolis for five years: four years during college, a half year after college, and then I came back to live there in 2006-7. During college, I regularly read The Maryland Gazette, one of the papers now owned by the Capital Gazette.

These are my colleagues. I know what their previous newsroom looked like - I saw it when I applied for a job there. I know what types of stories they cover, because I've covered the same types of stories as a reporter. Here's an example:

12-year-old leads first Annapolis Pride walk.

I can't begin to say how important I think community journalism is. I deliberately chose to become a community journalist (though I did do some national reporting later) because I believe that community journalism is the foundation for our communities. It's how we learn what is happening in our backyards. It's how we learn whether our local officials are living up to our standards for them. It's how we learn about the little, joyful aspects of life that reporters of national and international news so often neglect to write about. Because community journalists have the freedom to report on so much of what happens in their communities - not only the bad events but also the good events - I think that local news comes the closest that any form of journalism can to showing what human life is really like.

I hope you'll keep the Capital Gazette staff in your thoughts. And if you are in the habit of contacting your elected representatives or similar acts, I hope you'll keep your eye on this story in case there is any concrete way we can stop tragedies like this from happening in the future.