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         Chess started home. He thought back on what had happened during the game and considered the daring adventure that they had pulled off. He wished he had thought of that plan himself!
         He pulled his coat tighter around him. It was early winter, and getting cold at night. His mom had told him that, when she was young, the city would have had snowfall by now. But not anymore.
         Shivering, Chess decided that he really needed to get some sleep. He had that job interview... he glanced at the timeÖ later this morning. And it was probably his only chance to find something that could really help his family. The problem was: did he actually have any chance of getting the job?

         Before long, he was passing by the city gate again. It had long ago ceased to be interesting to him; now, it was just a landmark on his journey. But once, months ago, in daylight, he had stopped in front of it and looked out. It didnít look so forbidding on the other side, he had thought. Actually, it looked peaceful, with a big field of mowed grass and a hazy tree line off in the distance. He could almost picture himself walking out into that scene... He had stood there for a long time, just gazing outward, until one of the armed guards seemed to glance his way.
         Sure, he could go out there, he thought now, with a chuckle. Forget the fact that he wouldnít last five minutes outside -- all the forms that he would have to submit, permissions he would need to obtain before he could ever walk that fifty-foot distance: that was scary enough. Yes, it was a free country, and he had every right to walk out that gate. But, like everything else that was not specifically endorsed by the government or supported by one of the mega-corporations, it was just really difficult, complicated, and time-consuming to do. It didnít even occur to most people to try.

         As he continued on toward home, Chess imagined that he heard footsteps nearby. He groaned quietly, feeling that he didnít have enough energy to flee from another patrol. He plodded on, but more carefully, keeping to the shadows, outside of the pools of light that lined the streets.
         The city felt comfortable to him, though. It was an old friend by now, with all of its concrete paths, its alleyways, its low walls, and shadowed doorways, and stairs to other levels: just a maze of places to run and to hide in. How could he not feel safe here?
         More footsteps. Yes, the sound was definite now. He slowed his pace and looked around, but he saw no one. His heartbeat began to quicken. And then he saw the car ahead, parked at the side of the street. That was unusual at this time of night: the few people who owned cars usually stowed them in a garage somewhere before curfew. But it was not impossible to get a pass, he reminded himself.
         He stopped for a moment, listening. Perhaps he caught the soft sound of a spoken word, carried on the night breeze. The shadows remained motionless against the hard lines of concrete.
         Then the door of the car opened, startling him. Quickly, he turned down a side street and detoured far around, rapidly putting a building between him and the unexpected scene.
         He heard more footsteps, numerous and loud, but they were behind him and quickly fading into the distance. That was really weird. He had no idea what was going on there, but he increased his pace and soon turned off onto yet another street.
         Suddenly, a huge noise thundered behind him, shaking the ground. Heart pounding, he looked around wildly, instinctively seeking a place to hide. Then he froze. Dissidents, he realized. It had to be the dissidents protesting against the government by symbolically bombing the city gate.
         He looked back in the direction of the explosion. But there had been no incidents for years, he argued with himself. And he believed that nothing had ever happened here, not at this particular gate.
         Well, no matter what was going on, he didnít want to be anywhere near the area when the obligatory mobs of police showed up.
         How would it look if he missed his job interview because he was being detained for questioning?
         He ran.

Continued next page...

Mark Waidís 4 Panels That Never Work

Gutters, Issue 330, Aug 2012

         Researching different elements for my story gave me a few problems that I did not anticipate:
         First, I had a great need to put all the background information into the story. And I wanted to put it all toward the beginning, of course, so I could build the story from there. But that would be unspeakably boring.
         The second problem was that my characters began to voice whatever I had read. For instance, I had a character that, for a while, constantly spouted the language of the Velvet Revolution and she got to be insufferable. Now, in the story she still does that, but only when it seems appropriate.
         The third problem was me: I began to pepper my day-to-day conversation with obscure references to whatever I happened to be reading at the time, and often laughing at the private jokes I was sharing with my reading material. And you donít even want to know what happened when I started discovering parallels between ancient mythologies and Biblical events. My characters may have reformed their personalities, but I remain insufferable.



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