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The Silver Surfer – The Ultimate Cosmic Experience

cover of the silver surfer book

A fellow group member in a Joe Sinnott fan group posted a set of variant covers for the international market of this book. He shared the Dutch version along with some others.

When I admined one of the first Jack Kirby groups on Facebook (which I quit and has since collapsed and overtaken by others due to the vitriol it would be subjected to), I remember having many a discussion about the book’s quality, the storytelling and how it fell short of what it could have been.

But the book did have some of that left over magic, just not in spades like perhaps they had in the FF. Jack’s art was beautiful and strong, although the cover art was taken away from him. Another one of those slights I really have issues with.

However, I feel people often miss the greater importance of this book, not limited to the fact that it would be the last real Lee and Kirby “collaboration”. I’m not sharing this to devolve the conversation into the Lee versus anyone garbage many of us are so tired of. Rather, I want to acknowledge a book that is often ignored with a good story that could stand on its own (which of course paled in comparison to the origin of Norrid Radd, one of the many legendary characters who were born in the pages of the Fantastic Four.

This book is one of the earliest if not the major first graphic novel of its actual form. Stan may have made decisions he felt were more mature to try and attract a different audience. I don’t think it’s Stans finest writing, but it’s a good book when you remove it from the context or expectations of the main E-616 timeline of the FF. I see it as a beautiful “What If” as a stand alone nugget of gold. Agree or not, it’s only going to be revisited in the future given the final dance of both of its creative giants.

Here is a great write-up by the good folks at ’tain’t the meat… it’s the humanity. I think it captures yes, some of the issues, but also places this often misunderstood book in its rightful place given the context of the now established graphic novel.

https://tainthemeat.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/the-silver-surfer/?fbclid=IwAR0xtU4-ut52gCcXhiWe2sma00P8EEXJrSztPQU55TDbwvtikyWszJRzR68

Sin quererlo

Para Rubén.

Yo no lo quiero

El luto

Se me presenta inconveniente

Insistente el muy infelíz


Mas atrás, entre las canicas y trompos, la algarroba y los gallitos

El helado de coco, las piraguas de frambuesa

Tirándome por riscos, colgando de ramas de arboles mas viejos que el frío

Metiéndome en líos y pidiendo perdón mejor que pedir permiso


Pero pone su mano sobre mi hombro

Y su aliento mueve mi memoria

El tiempo y el maldito luto

Se hacen como un arbol

Sembrándose permanentes


Se arrima poco a poco y entonces todo de cantázo

Se asoma, me mide, me calza

Se presenta, violento y molesto

El tiempo, me despierta la memoria

Como un viejo maestro


Y vamos cambiando

La distancia ya es vasta

Sus voces y sus rostros

La memoria falla

Pero el corazón recuerda


Las comidas, las corridas,

Las mentiras y las peleas

Todo era más dulce y mas salado,

Mas real y mas genuino

Y ese gran maestro el tiempo

Continúa su lección

Me enseña a cantazos


La mano arrugada de mi vieja

La sonrisa de un amigo

La manera que los aguaceros renovaban el suelo

La dulce voz de mami cantándole entragada a la candela y el caldero


Estoy de luto

No tan sólo por perder a tantos amigos o a mi propia sangre

Es que no es lo mucho, pero lo seguido

El dolor se vuelve costumbre

No  sólo hecho peor por el pasar del tiempo

Es hecho aún mas cruel

Que la memoria que me queda tambien la pierdo


Pero es tambien la pérdida de quien una vez fuí


Y entonces me acuerdo

Que todos perdemos

Que el dolor no es exclusivo

Que el tiempo pasa igual para todos

Que debo vivir en el momento


Pero el tiempo se asoma

Y luto le sigue pie forzado

Y la memoria se encarga del detalle

Y sin invitación ni saludo

Regresan a llevarse lo poco que me queda


Y me tiembla la mano

Y me sacude el miedo

Y pierdo a otro, de nuevo

Y traen su dolor acaparado en sombra

Y me acompañan en el mio

Sin tan siquiera yo quererlo.



Christian Alexis

Can writers retain a recognizable voice throughout different books and genres?

There is – at least to me- an inherent struggle in finding a voice as an aspiring author (a published writer). The type of writing challenge does not minimize this, although speaking to you via this blog is somewhat more organic to me. It can be a short story or a long-form piece of fiction, the struggle remains.

However, the struggle is not as much about finding a voice. I feel that as I delve into the guts and soul of a piece of writing, a voice does emerge. Sometimes I need to polish a bit; sometimes I have to do more serious, heavy lifting and try to bring myself to the surface – even when it isn’t about me, but my character. The true challenge is how to reconcile the voice I employed yesterday with the one I find myself writing with today. It is a very real challenge because forcing myself to employ a certain voice or imitate my approach last time feels disingenuous.

When I “find” this voice, when it comes out swinging, I let it rip and try to understand if there is a cadence, a style or a particular structure to study later. However, I will find myself sometimes lacking the feeling that this is taking place with another piece of writing later on. Is it a sign that I’m not ready to publish? Is it something that I have to trust is there even when I don’t feel it? Could it be that this voice I find present or absent is something I fail to detect, but is actually happening?

When I think of both classic and contemporary fiction greats like Hemingway, Orwell, Fitzgerald, Atwood, King, even Rowling… I think they have a voice that I can recognize. But upon more close observation – they are almost always leveraging their own ideas and experiences to breathe life into characters, shape situations, and inject lifeblood into dialogue. When moving between their works, they often do not sound the same, there’s a deep inherent value or substantive idea or proposition that is indeed part of their known author persona, their agenda.

So I’ve arrived at the conclusion (which is my own and your mileage may vary), that while the author may indeed be thinking of voice consciously as a literary craft element, we – as readers and fans – buy into that voice. We buy into that artistic fingerprint, that signature that is more complex than just tone or perspective. We buy into the author’s deep ideas. We buy into the subtext and we too play a role in helping carry the voice from one of their books to brand new ones, regardless of how vastly different they may be.

-C.

Developing Ideas

One of the hardest challenges I find in being a developing new writer is making final and committed decisions about the work. I’ve run through about 8 different ideas for my first novel, and of those, I’ve actually started treatments on 3 of those concepts. While I was leaning on one, I stepped away from it for a few weeks and upon revisiting it (for a final project in one of my MFA courses), I got cold feet. It’s a great concept and checks all of my boxes: dystopian, socially meaningful, and exciting. My entire market analysis was based on this concept as a prospective book. And now upon revisiting it, poof – the enthusiasm is gone.

I was having a conversation with my wife about how I was quite honestly feeling like garbage that I was not responding the same way to an idea I think is worth it, my brain says it can develop beautifully, but my heart is not in it. And she reminded me of the age-old writer’s adage: write what you know. We’ve been together long enough she knows I’ve lived through some wild things, but would someone really give a shit? I mean, would someone fork over money to read a fictional story fueled with some of my very real experiences? My wife is a brilliant sniper like that. Suddenly, I felt it: I cared again, I was excited and ideas started flowing.

So, for the gazillionth time, I believe I’m developing a different story and I’m plotting it in the coming weeks. I still think it can fall firmly within YA/new adult relevant fiction, but perhaps it’s a little more involved, a little more me. That’s the plan anyway.

Be kind to one another.

Chris

music

christian • alexis

Although creatively I’m focused on my writing, I have composed, produced and performed music for almost 20 years.

While primarily composing, producing, recording and mixing metal, I’ve worked in a number of genres including folkloric, gospel, pop and electronic music. I also produce professional voice-over work and have composed/scored for short films.

My currently active project is called Caldonia. It can be found on all major streaming platforms, but you can check it out on Spotify. Every other past release (that is available currently), is available via my label’s website. (Currently redirects to Bandcamp)

A few samples of my work available via BandCamp at https://southground.bandcamp.com

Please check back in soon for more uploads and free music stuffs.

Stan Lee and the great Marvel comics silver age

Stan Lee at the Marvel Offices in 1975

 

Stan Lee

1922 – 2018

To those who know him purely from his now famous cameos, it seems almost like Stan Lee did everything, he was comics. And that’s just the way Stan wanted it. The reality is that there are many of us (and many before my own time), who have known Stan from his storied (and imperfect) comic book publishing career and know he is much more (and much more complex) than that.

I took a while before I started writing whatever this is because Bill Maher opened his mouth. I love some of Bill’s thoughtful work. But it seems more and more often, his unplanned, off-the-cuff comments miss the mark. From his broad, sweeping view of anybody who doesn’t align with him politically (keep in mind I’m a raging liberal), to his less than nuanced views on Islam (like all or nothing points of view, that I -as a non-religious secular humanist – can’t even stomach) and now he’s decided to dip his toes into blaming comic book fans, or comic book material-fond fandom, for Donald Trump. Beyond the inherent pedantic and unreasonable nature of taking such a position, he demonstrates a particular type of ignorance that talking heads (which he has been for a while now) often partake in.

Stan is but one of the many sons of Jewish immigrants who built the comics industry. One that was shaped around their very experiences as first and second generation Americans, struggling with a world that for a long time, was unsympathetic to the plight of European Jews and what was happening in Germany. Before Stan Lee, enter Jack Kirby and Joe Simon:

Jack Kirby and Joe Simon: Captain America’s Parents.
Look Kids, War Bonds!

When looking to Stan Lee’s success, you cannot avoid Jacob Kurtzberg, known to all of us as Jack Kirby. Along with Joe Simon, they revolutionized the early comic book industry. “Inspired by Superman” (Martin Goodman, publisher of Timely Comics wanted a hit when Supes came out swinging), they created a little fella called Steve Rogers back in 1941.

Captain America went on to not only be a huge success, but he eventually was also directly associated with the American war effort and helped boost war bond sales with ads on the comic book itself.

First Issue of Captain America Comics: Jack and Joe make a point.

It’s important to highlight this particular moment in not only the comic book industry but in American politics and the national sentiment. It came down to the generally popular position of isolationism. Even when Hitler was obviously becoming a larger looming threat to the world. Racism in the United States was definitely one of the motivators behind the indifference. Jack and Joe answered by making the bold move of having their inaugural issue of Captain America, one boasting a cover with Cap punching Hitler right in the face. This wasn’t just about smacking Hitler in a comic, it was smacking the indifference of the American mainstream that was still ambivalent to the disaster developing in Europe. Many Jewish immigrants arriving in the States knew the reality of the Nazi mobilization.

While comics were built to entertain, this placed Cap firmly in a reality where it made an undeniable statement. And it didn’t land on deaf ears. Cap’s popularity soared, but so did fringe hate toward his creators. The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna wrote a piece on the illogical paradigm of white supremacists in Charlottesville wearing a Captain America helmet in his piece:

To illuminate just what Simon and Kirby were attempting, Brevoort uses a contemporary parallel:

“Today, this would be like putting Vladimir Putin or somebody on a comic-book cover and vilifying him,” the editor says. “Hitler was then a standing world leader with an impressive military machine behind him and a number of sympathizers in the U.S. So make no mistake about it: Had this been something that genuinely angered the real Hitler, he most likely possessed some apparatus to strike back against Simon and Kirby, and even Timely as a whole.”

I’m not equating that lack of logic to Maher, but I’m saying it is dangerously ignorant to associate love for these characters and their creators, to somehow creating a Donald Trump (vomit) presidency. Joe and Jack received death threats, some of it right in front of the Timely offices. There’s a story (one I don’t know to be 100% correct, but would like to believe) that Fiorello LaGuardia himself contacted Jack and Joe to tell them how much he enjoyed the book and even offered to send cops down to Timely, just in case.

Two pillars of the Marvel Universe. Kirby’s incomparable bombastic style and world-building power and Stan’s unique story-telling and polish.

Jack and Joe eventually leave Timely (it is said due to being exposed as working for National Comics – DC – and in part due to Lee letting Martin Goodman, the publisher know as much). But very soon after, Jack Kirby goes to war, the beaches of Normandy no less. Jack was a war hero. And his artistic energy only grew with the perspective he gained seeing action in some of the toughest theaters of the war.

Meanwhile, Stan grew to lead Timely, called Atlas at this time. Kirby started to freelance for Atlas and toward the early 1960’s when as Marvel Comics proper, the Marvel Silver Age (largely considered to be 1955-1970) hit its full stride with Jack Kirby solidly becoming Marvel’s driving force and house style. Lee, now editor-in-chief as well as the principal writer, partnered with Kirby (and Ditko) and they co-created some of the most enduring and memorable characters and stories to this day. Beyond just creating popular new characters, they began a sort of world-building that had not been seen in that scale and scope ever before. The Marvel Universe is the universe Jack and Stan built. Other great talents like Ditko, Colan, Steranko, and others lived in it, but it was built by Stan and Jack. Kirby’s production volume is still unmatched and led some of Marvel’s most popular books while having a hand in layouts, plotting and even character design for some of the others.

Ultimately, it was Lee’s intuitive branding, his direct, mature engagement of the reader and his brilliance in themes he connected to popular society and what was happening in the country at the time, that made Marvel successful on the newsstands and drugstore magazine racks. As a comic fan – as a Marvel comic fan, I could not imagine that degree of success without that collaboration taking place. That is the impact in the industry, but Marvel’s impact was a social one as well. The Black Panther, Falcon, Black Widow, Professor X. From leading heroes who were African American, Women who were strong and at the same level of boldness and risk as their male counterparts, a disabled man being highlighted as the most powerful mind in the Marvel universe, this was a new method of characterization, of addressing social imbalance, and way to teach about real-world kindness in a fantastic but not unrelatable context. That’s serious, heavy lifting. Stan’s writing (as well as his editing) was unique, mature and contemporary.

Famously Paul McCartney, George RR Martin, and many other celebrities were huge fans of the medium and of Marvel specifically. While DC’s Superman and Batman are super-heroic and perfect, Marvel’s heroes are flawed, human and relatable, usually victims of their own power.

With Great Power,

Comes Great Responsibility.

These are lessons of ENORMOUS weight and moral value. It made a significant and long-lasting connection with us, many generations of us. And this is why we mourn Stan’s death. It wasn’t just Stan that left us, it marks the end of an era. Stan was an imperfect business partner, a flawed creator and many have gripes about him (I’m not exempt), but as lovers of this great world of visual fiction and storytelling, it would not be the same without Stan. But there’s also a real connection to the time: JFK, MLK, RFK, Vietnam… all of it addressed and explored through the books in a way that touched kids, teens and young adults alike. All built by the sons of immigrants, Americans of the truest kind.

 

We were all Stan’s most appreciated fan.

We were all special.

But Stan was also a career-builder. He was generous to many, kind to all. He jumpstarted many careers in the business. Directly and indirectly employed many more. He was always kind to upcoming artists and writers. Stan’s ability to connect with this readership, through his “Soap Box” where he engaged, addressed and developed the “Merry Marvel Marching Society”, the loyal following he was always kind enough to “turn it on” for, anywhere he met us. We were all Stan’s most appreciated fan. We were all special. Never above a smile, never above an embrace, never above cheering us on, while we cheered him right back. I truly believe this is why Stan lived as long as he did, with as much energy as he did. He enjoyed being the ringleader and the showman, but in an honest way – he fed off of that energy and we were happy to give it.

At the end of the day, Stan Lee represented more than just his own career. He was to us, his fans and those who love Marvel and the Silver Age, the very last living link to a time of struggle but also of promise. Stan was there guiding us through narrative when some of the most pivotal events of the 1960’s were happening. We as a nation came of age through the words of Walter Cronkite, the music of the Beatles and the books that Stan and Jack (and the rest of that incredibly talented lot) gave us. And that’s what we lost now. Our cheering, loving embassador to that time is now gone.

This world of comics was built by immigrants, Jewish ones at that. Our love of this medium is inevitably tied to the risks and challenges they faced building it for us. Comics -and fiction for that matter- is a way for us as a collective (and individually) to look to the very best of ourselves, a modern mythology of the characteristics that make us who we are. But we also need an escape -if for but a few moments- from the insanity of our current reality. One that talking heads like Maher does not fix but instead make a living off of. For such a person to open his mouth and say something as profoundly ignorant as equating this low-point in American leadership to our love of this medium, is demoralizing. It is our love of the principals that actually make America wonderful, the heart and soul of what people like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby drew, wrote – and fought for (in the case of Jack and his heroic service in WWII) -, that keeps us coming back. Even as adults, we long to revisit that time and feel that connection. I reckon it is a deep longing for a more meaningful time. A time of challenges but also of great leadership and a stage where our values were ratified in the societal progress achieved. It’s a concept that ironically, people like both Maher and Trump fail to understand with equally cold disregard for what is important to others.

Stan, you were one in a million, you really were. You will be missed.

Excelsior!

Christian

MMMS.

Snapshots in time.

Isn’t it odd how one picture, a song, an Ad on TV or even a taste, can transport you to a specific moment in time? I imagine we all experience this from time to time. I saw the cover of a magazine in an article the other day, and it immediately transported me to 1999. It was instant and such a vibrant and robust memory. For the life of me, I can’t remember what I connected with but it all came rushing back.

The cover in question was a music magazine cover featuring a nu-metal act, Limp Bizkit’s frontman, Fred Durst. I always disliked this dude’s approach to music because it was just the rap/mush of nu-metal but Limp Bizkit did have a killer guitarist in Wes Borland and their sophomore effort was memorable. It had that track called “nookie”. Not the epitome of musical composition, but it was catchy in the nu-metal equivalent of the macarena.

I guess I made all of these connections almost instantly and suddenly I started remembering all of the bands that were getting heavy coverage back then, and then the movies, and then the car I had, the circle of friends back then and it just painted a perfect picture. I guess the most meaningful part of this is that I cannot relate with the person and reality I saw in this real memory of myself. Not one bit. Those friends? Many followed a different path, or perhaps it was me that started moving in a different direction. That music? It was all around me but I never played it, and never cared to emulate it. Where I lived, what I did for a living, what was seemingly my life path, all of it is entirely foreign to me now.

It’s bizarre. I want to kind of channel this moment again just to examine it, like an oddity. But I feel no attachment and no real need to “connect”. I am just an entirely different person with a kind of removed curiosity. But I think (think) it’s not a form of reminiscing, rather an almost academic kind of interest in how that person in that snapshot, turned into the one writing this. Ultimately the answer is always, time.

 

What Dystopian Novels Can Teach Us About Life (in America today)

Times are tough.

To say that we are living in a complex time, socially and beyond, is a significant understatement. There is much to be concerned about in our current reality. From the open question of the permanence of hard-fought social reforms to our global position and a seemingly backward and arrogant position on global warming and pollution, it really does look like hard times ahead for not only our generation, but the many that follow.

Much like us, they will earn less than the ones that preceded them, have to deal with crushing student debt, sky-rocketing healthcare costs and an ever-rising cost of living with diminishing returns across the board. It just seems like a perfect storm.

In fiction, such problems are tackled head-on and this can provide a degree of solace. Dystopian stories can often be a reflection of our own reality (if dramatized and starkly more depressing). Literature has always been a mirror to the human condition, but in the dystopian novel – I find-, there is a mirror to circumstance as well.

Michelle Wright, a Professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern, speaks of how dystopian fiction can provide this perspective.

These stories can also be uplifting, include strong female leaders, highlight how our differences become resources and tools to overcome. Ultimately, the adversity in fiction may be significant, but not pointless; if not a tale of overcoming such adversity, it can at least serve as a warning. Such is the case with Orwell. Fiction can show us who we are, who we could become and what is needed of us to confront our own worst enemy: indifference in the face of a building threat. Currently, one is building and will all be more difficult before it gets easier, and the sort of resolve found in these books may be just what the doctor ordered.

Looking to literature to make sense of our world is essential, but we must draw from a wide array of works that speak to the layers and subtleties of our nuanced world. Indeed, now more than ever, such understanding and awareness of the complex and varied human experiences in our social structures will guide us to the greater political awareness we so desperately need.

Check out the article at http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2017-02-dystopian-novels-can-teach-us-life-trumps-america/

 

 

Why do we write?

While I often encounter articles that are less than helpful in providing “meat” in regards to helpful guidance in how to develop my writing, I sometimes find rather concise ones that are good help in focusing. This article is rather helpful (although the site is trying to sell some soap as well) in zeroing in on 5 key elements I would agree are at the heart of a writer’s motivation: to overcome, achieve the goal, win, to create and to have an impact. I think these are great points of reference for making our own writing meaningful and really challenge ourselves to be if not the best, at least have honest reasons to approach our writing.

The article can be found at https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/matter-write/

-Chris

 

 

Victory Red [short fiction]

Victory Red

By Christian Olmeda

It was still dark out. A chill in the air and a cold and wet feel to the surface of the buildings and rubble told of an early morning rain. The dark hid the worst of the destruction and it seemed almost like existing among the ruins of a great Roman city long ago collapsed. The Dutch had seen their fair share of blood since the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands began just a few grueling years before. The sad remains of the city that lay bare and broken this morning were a credit to the unrelenting bombing by the Germans. These ruins, more than just the sad remnants of a city, were a representation of her heart, and the heart of the Dutch people that rebelled against the Nazi occupation. They were hurt, broken even, but there they remained, defiant. Well, at least some of them, even when the government and military had surrendered after the Rotterdam Blitz. She took in this sight, knowing she had only until sunrise. Although she had faced overwhelming odds before, this morning felt different. The cold and unexpectedly soothing caress of the wind told her it was time, that there was no other secret plan, no escape and there would be no turning back. Not this time.

As she awaits certain death, Renee Janssen thinks of what could have been her life, had she been able to live long enough to see her children grow into adults. Known as “Red” to the German invaders, she had struck fear in their hearts and sent so many of them straight to the kind of hell they deserved. She became a sort of grand myth among the Nazi soldiers. The blood red-haired Dutch saboteur and assassin, guerilla fighter and clandestine operative. She was in fact, one of two redheads in their team. Because the two struck simultaneously, the myth grew into the stories of a fighter so powerful, she could mow down a dozen men in but a few moments. The red-haired woman was but a shadow. That is until they came upon a picture. One photograph they found by chance. One she reluctantly agreed to during a celebration after a successful sabotage of Nazi supply lines. That one picture finally put a face to the shadowy redhead and would ultimately put a name to the face and seal her fate forever.

“I would so spoil them,” she thought to herself. “I wonder what they will look like when they get to my age,” she thought of her children. As the sun began to rise, the soldiers assembled and began to go through the motions and pageantry involved in their grim task. At this moment, Renee Janssen thought of her husband, Lucas. Red remembered her last words with her husband in what now seems a distant reality, a different world. “I know this is something that is taking you farther and farther away from us,” said Lucas. “I also understand you need to be involved, that you need to do something, but what about the kids?” he continued in a frustrated tone. “I know,” said Renee, “I know this isn’t easy, but I imagine it never is… in such situations. We can’t afford to do anything. You are more visible, you need to be at work, you need to protect the kids. So, it must be me. If we do nothing, what world are we leaving them?” she pleaded. “I’m hearing they took the Cohens. Our neighbors, our friends, our countrymen. They are gone and I imagine they will eventually start on the sympathizers. It’s never enough for them.” She took his hands and held them close to her chest, her heart beating so fast he could immediately feel it. “Lucas, my love, I can’t stop now. I’ve done things… things I don’t regret but things that can surely come back to me, to us. I need to know you will be here, far removed from me, to protect the kids.” Lucas began making his way towards the kitchen, “I know and I would go with you if I didn’t have the kids to protect. We can’t trust anyone” he said with a noticeable tremble in his whispered tone. He looked out the family’s kitchen window and took a deep breath.

“I think it should be sooner rather than later. We could say you left or have gone missing, either way, this works because I’m still here, they’ll think you ran off… that should work.” Renee leans against the kitchen table and takes it all in. “I have documents the British prepared for me in case I needed a hasty egress. I could just use those if I’m stopped. I would find a way to reach you later… when It’s safe.” In the dark of the early hours of a Sunday morning, Renee kissed the foreheads of her sleeping children and contemplated their sleep, their safety, and their vulnerability. She turned to find her husband, tears rolling down his cheeks standing behind her. They both walked to the front door. She held his hands in hers, kissed each one and then embraced him. They held that embrace for what seemed to be an eternity and whispered into his ear. “Remember me. Remember that no matter what, this is who I am and I loved you always. What I do, I do for you, I do for them. I love you.” She had closed her eyes tight, and somehow, by the time she opened them, she was walking down the street. For her kids, for their safety, she never looked back. This was the only way.

Red thought back to when she lost her fellow fighter, the other redhead and allied recruiter, her friend Lita Dubois. She thought of her lifeless body on the ground of that destroyed, shell of a town. Red remembered how deeply upset she was with her for trying to fight off those German soldiers on her own without waiting for her or the rest of the women for backup. It was true she could fight like the best of the men in official rank. Red knew that she died content because she fought for what she believed in. She fought for the life she knew before the Nazi occupation in France. One note recognizable in the blackened, smoking rubble that could now be seen where life used to occupy the same space. Red knew deep down inside she couldn’t hold any ill will towards her friend. Deep down, Red knew then that she too would have to make the same call, sooner or later. This was after all a woman that sacrificed leaving France and her family to work for the British from within the Netherlands, feeding information to the allies until she joined the fight herself.

“Montieren!” Red snaps back to the moment. “Assemble!” called out an apparently highly ranked SS commander from what Red could appreciate given the decorations on his chest. She made sure to spit on him twice since he surely must have done some terrible things to reach such a rank within the Schutzstaffel. The soldiers started organizing. Even with this well uninformed and highly decorated certainty of death assembling before her, she became less concerned and less nervous. Her attention was elsewhere. Red visualized a future beyond her own life and found a deep satisfaction. The sort of satisfaction that comes from a sense of certainty. She knew that just like her dearest fallen friend Lita, she wouldn’t live to see it, but Hitler’s failure was inevitable. These men that stood before her would be dead soon enough, rotting meat on the ground. Europe would be free of these animals and her death would not be in vain. As they form a line, Red is doing the exact opposite of what other people facing a firing squad would do. This petite, red-haired woman is taunting her would-be executioners. The rogue fighter, the intelligence courier, the saboteur, the mother, and wife, bursts into uncontrollable laughter as she taunts the men with how many of them it took to stop her. The woman known as Red is victorious, even mocking death itself as it comes for her.

Weeks before, just as her group was in a firefight with a German detachment, the last shot rang out and she could feel something was wrong. Through the thick, grayish lingering smoke of gunfire, she could see that Lita had fallen. She knew in an instant that she could not leave here there… not there. She instantly found within herself a unique strength, a rush of energy, an electric fury – like a deity would summon some elemental power and she just took off running before she knew it was happening. She loved Lita deeply, and so it was love that fueled her muscle memory to react. Her mind was struggling to keep up with her legs. As she approached Lita, who lay motionless in the tarpit-like dirt, she turned her body and saw her friend’s expression. Lita did not have a sad or even frightened look. She looked weary but seemed to have a faint smile. At that moment, Red stopped caring about crouching or running. There was no fear; there was only the lifeless body of her comrade, now like a sister, gone forever. She did not hear the cries of pain of the wounded enemies that lay near or the distant rumblings of the tanks that surely rolled her way.

You see, in this seemingly sad moment, Red understood that she too would die, but wanted Lita to provide her with a hint, an idea, perhaps some good advice as to how to achieve it as gracefully as she did; even in the hell on earth they found themselves in. Maybe others would see a woman, dead in the dirt, a life cut short in a gruesome way. But Red saw it differently; a hero, lay in rest admirably, on the ground where she fought and now died so valiantly. Red was jealous.

“You. You had to go and be a hero. And you had to leave us here to try and measure up, knowing we can’t. Goddamn you… I love you” Red whispered as she kissed her friend’s forehead. She proceeded to rip the hand-made dog tags that hung from Lita’s neck. From within her shirt, she pulled a leather-bound sleeve. Inside a French passport and a worn piece of paper. A letter for her husband and children along with some instructions. Red sat there for an unending moment, holding her friend without knowing how to let go. “Red!” yelled Big Leila in her southern American draw from behind a half-destroyed building. “You need to focus now sweetheart! She’s gone! Go’n, giddyup and move! We don’t have much time now and the krauts are getting’ awful close!”
Red took a deep breath, starting to figure out how she would take Lita’s body. Not for one second had she thought of leaving her there. But she quickly took stock of her surroundings and realized she couldn’t. They were already running far behind and needed to move out. They had acquired the sort of fame you don’t want if you intend to survive to mobilize through the Nazi-occupied territory. She understood the nervous restraint in Leila’s voice, who didn’t dare come close. Red started toward the sad excuse of a building they used as momentary shelter after the firefight.

Most of the women had taken the time to mend their own wounds and tend to each other in the calm after the gunfight. They had realized she was dead long before Red did. They also knew the redheads had become close, there was to be no question she would be the one to secure the tags and letter for her family. When Red arrived at the house Bridget and Leila showed her to a bathroom which was miraculously untouched by the shelling. They handed her some rags as makeshift towels and there was some water for her to clean herself up a bit and take care of her growing collection of wounds.

“They are five of us now” Red thought to herself. “No, it’s four now. Just four of the original ten.” There were indeed just four of the original team left: Bridget Longfield was a British intelligence asset working in the Netherlands when the Nazi’s invaded. She was forced to go, rogue, when the Dutch surrendered to the Germans and continued to be an off-the-books asset for the allies. Anna Van Buren is a Dutch intelligence officer and was secretly a resistance fighter based in Rotterdam working with Bridget’s British handlers. Leila Manning who the team lovingly called Big Leila, because she made them, was a towering woman who was a lead American intelligence operative working for the British allied operation in the Netherlands. Then there was Lita. Mariella “Lita” Dubois was French, working for allied intelligence in Amsterdam at the onset of the war. She was not someone who wanted to be involved in the fight and remained on the sidelines until she saw what the Nazi’s were capable of. When Red and Lita met, an unspoken agreement took place, they were inseparable and pushed each other further. Perhaps it was because the two women were married and both had children, that they helped enable each other to do what needed to be done. The two would become the truly lethal elements in the group. They rose to the bloody challenge because they had something to lose because they truly loved life and respected it. They understood the peace these invaders had violated and it made these women deadly and they showed the Germans no mercy.

As Red finished up in the bathroom, the team was ready to move out of the area. The Germans had established a checkpoint no more than two miles from their location and must have heard the gunfire. The women had been quietly cutting through the destroyed city when they were spotted by a small Nazi detachment. They made quick work of the first lot but had not realized there was more following suit. While they eliminated them all, it was not without Lita’s loss. Red splashed some water on her face and padded it dry, the dirty rags traded the blood they wiped off with different smudges of dirt and God knows what else. But the kind of hell they had endured… nothing could wipe that much compromise, sacrifice, and death off their skin. There was a grime, a layer of soot that covered absolutely everything, inside and out. Lita noticed the mirror in the bathroom again. The woman in the mirror stared back with a blank look. She looked familiar but was not easily recognizable. Her bruised, swollen and dirty face, her blood-stained clothes and constant pain was the toll of war. “How many years of suffering can you pack into a few months?” she asked herself out loud. “Too Many. Like these fucking Germans, too many.” Lita had a sense of what she set out to be when she left her family to totally commit to fighting the invaders but had not a sense of who she had become. She wondered if the woman in the mirror had children as she once did. A love back home, like she once had. She wondered if that woman would ever see them again because she knew that she might not.

This self-interrogation was interrupted by a knock on the frame where the door surely once stood. “We have to move, now, ” said Bridget. She put her hand out and unexpectedly fixed a loose lock of hair on Red’s head, kind of forced it behind her ear and gave her a quick squeeze of her shoulder. “We won’t forget her Red, but if we don’t move quickly, no one will live to tell her story. We have to go, now.” And they started making their way through the area. They walk out of the battered building, almost like a tomb full of not quite dead women. Women who had been through the worst war and human cruelty have to offer and somehow survived it better than most men could.
They quickly made their way off the path the Germans had carved into the shelled ruins. A sense of relief came upon the group, as the area fell silent. As they walked through this ghost town, they could see the doors that were marked for Jewish businesses that must have existed just a few months before. They thought of the people that lived there at some point. Now long deserted, these structures were not only a reminder of what they set out to defend, but what seemed to be a certain future for all the world if they didn’t. Red continued to think about Lita and the life she left behind and wondered about her own uncertain future.

As the women made their way through the back alleys of the destroyed town, only the crunching sound of their footsteps accompany their labored breaths. Red laughed and mumbled, almost inaudibly but Big Laila heard her. “What?” she prodded. “Oh nothing, I just remember this time that I was in a park much like the one across the street with my husband and I had baked him a cake” She responded. “Was it good?” asked Laila. “I don’t remember, we never ate it!” she replied with a smile. Big Laila chuckled. “Well, it must have been good because you have two little ones at home, right?” Laila burst to laugh, now smiling quite visibly. “That we do!” After a few moments, she noticed movement parallel to their position.
“Eyes right! Movement, 3 o’clock!” Red lets out in a frantic whisper that was more a muffled, throaty scream. They pull out weapons and head toward the area where they find a lady and a boy, both crouching behind a small fence. They quickly throw their arms up, violently shaking with fear. Van Buren tells the team to lower the weapons and goes to the lady and kneeling speaks to the pair in a calm low voice. The lady only whispers and Van Buren turns around with a terrified look on her face and points to a small apartment building across the street, signaling in a way that could only mean there is a threat, that there are German soldiers inside.

The team moves quickly to hide and establish a plan. Not long after, they hear what could only be vehicles approaching and they know that there is no clear path out. Red realizes they seem to be converging on the area and need to be drawn elsewhere. She tells the team to hold back. She gets close to Van Buren, puts something in the pack she’s carrying and tells her to duck. “Listen, you all keep quiet and take positions behind the fence” she whispers. “I’ll signal when you can run towards that alley on the far side, but we can’t do it while those vehicles are down there.” Van Buren nods and directs the team to take positions behind the thick cement fence in front of the apartment building. Without warning, the team sees Red running towards the building. She turned back for a moment and looked at them. She gave them a big smile and held her hand on her heart. She turned once again and kept moving towards the building. In an instant, the women knew what she would do. The wife and mother of two. The resistance fighter and friend. The human being who had sacrificed so much of her humanity understood that without her complete sacrifice, her friends would not be able to survive this trap.

She used a blade. As she entered the front door, she found a wholly unprepared young German soldier who was sort of perplexed at her bold entrance. This expression remained on his face well after she had stabbed his neck with her blade. A blade which had a beautiful butterfly carving on the handle, a birthday gift from her father when she was a young girl. “Hold her steady Butterfly, hold her true as you use her to cut through anything! This way you don’t get cut yourself my love” her father would say as he taught her to wield the sharp, small blade. And so she did, just like her father taught her. The young German lay on the floor, blood pumping out of the precise gaping wound. She took off for the second floor only to find two officers coming down the stairs. She stabbed one in the groin while the other leaped on top of her, causing all three to tumble to the floor below, where the first officer, still choked on his own blood. She managed to get control of the blade once more and went to work; she stabbed the third officer in the eye socket. It took some effort to retrieve her now stuck blade, but she managed to secure it again. The immobilized man tried to scream, but his will to live paled in comparison to her will to kill and save her own. This left her with little choice but to finish the job. She might as well have been working a complex carving. With a cool and effective technique, the woman worked on the two men as they aggressively fought for their lives, to no avail.

As she took a moment to really process what she was doing, she looked at her hands. These were the same hands that lovingly prepared that beautiful cake for her husband on that sunny day. This thought occurred to Red and she could feel herself slip into a mad chuckle as she walked towards the front door of the building. The women saw her appear at the front door, waving at a distance for her friends to push forward. Indeed, they all quickly started for the alley. Bridget suddenly realizes that her backpack is open. Red placed something inside. She found not only Lita’s letter and tags but also Red’s own. Bridget now realizes. Red was not coming back. Once she sees they are moving, Red walks back inside the building. The redhead walks to the now lifeless body of the first German officer and retrieves his sidearm. She opens the front door, walks squarely to the middle of the road and fires the gun exactly 6 times. A round for each of her fallen friends. Then she fires one more towards the vehicle that now lights the dark street, ensuring maximum visibility of her blood-soaked presence. As she is intercepted, the women make a break for it and manage to escape.

Red snaps out of it and realizes the men are in formation now. The commander raises his hand and yells “Fire!”. She replies with a loud “lafaard!”, “cowards!” and they were. She can see Big Leila cracking a joke and laughing heartily, she can see her husband, walking their children through the park they both loved, and she can see Lita’s smile. She found herself smiling the same smile her friend had when she sacrificed herself. At that moment, she understood. She saw it all red now.

A victory red, inevitable and glorious.