submitted by snorecalypse to NativeAmerican [link] [comments]
submitted by EndersGame_Reviewer to playingcards [link] [comments]
Playing Card Manufacturer: Shuffled InkThe vast majority of custom decks of playing cards are produced by big printing companies like the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), European-based Cartamundi, and Taiwan-based Expert/Legends Playing Cards. But there are some lesser known playing card manufacturers, and there are some good reasons why you should know about these smaller players in the playing card industry. Buyers will want to know what they can expect in terms of quality and handling of a deck printed by a lesser known publisher. But this will especially be of interest to creators of custom decks, because you will want to know what options you have for producing your decks besides the usual candidates. These smaller companies will especially be of interest to designers wanting to print a small run of prototype decks, or a number of decks of your own design for family or friends.
Companies like USPCC or EPCC/LPCC typically require a minimum order of 600-1000 decks, which quickly becomes out of reach if you're just printing a prototype or making a custom deck for relatives or workmates. As a result many designers typically turn to MakePlayingCards.com (MPC) for smaller scale projects like this. MPC is a printing and production company based in Hong Kong with a factory in China, and their strength is that they take small sized orders. Even if it's just half a dozen decks that you want printed, they'll do it for you. MPC's playing cards don't match the quality of a Bicycle deck in terms of handling, but they do offer playing cards with an embossed air cushion finish, and the quality is superior to budget printers like Artscow. As a result they are the printer of choice for many designers looking to print a dozen or so decks, since for many creators they are the option they know about.
So what about if I told you about another printer that offers a similar service? That playing card manufacturer is called Shuffled Ink, and it's even based in the United States. So let's find out more about them, and see if they are a viable alternative for those who might otherwise use MPC for printing their decks.
The Shuffled Ink companyShuffled Ink was previously known as QPC Games (Quality Playing Cards & Games) ahead of a rebranding that happened in 2016. Based in Orlando, Florida, the majority of their playing card products are printed at their United States printing and manufacturing facility. This makes them of immediate interest to North American consumers, because it means that there's real potential for reduced costs in shipping and delivery time. Some of the other things they produce (e.g. board games) are outsourced to China and shipped to the US for assembly, but aside from extremely high volume orders, nearly all their playing cards are printed directly in the United States. They also boast that they create products that are environmentally safe, since their materials are all safety-certifiable - something that can't always be said of the competition.
They have been in the business of professional printing and manufacturing for many years, with Charles Levin beginning the company on his dining room table in 1999. From there it grew into his three car garage the following year. After initially outsourcing all production, eventually in 2013 the move was made into the 8,000 square ft manufacturing facility that it is today, with over 20 employees. Growth continues, and there are plans to open a 17,000 square ft facility in the middle of next year. It's a family run business, with Charles taking care of marketing and sales, and his son Matthew running all domestic operations. Their clients include big names like Barclays, Verizon, T-Mobile, Disney, Google, Walmart, and World Poker Tour, so we're not talking here about a backyard operation run out of someone's garden shed, but about an established and respected printer. They describe their strengths as including the following: "An emphasis on our customer service, communications and responsiveness are huge added values when combined with our quality, best prices and turn around times."
Reports that I came across about the game components that Shuffled Ink produced under their QPC Games label were very positive. Printing custom board games is something they've been doing for around 20 years now, so they have a lot of experience in this area, and they've fulfilled many projects funded via Kickstarter. It's not just the game itself that they can handle, because their services also include taking care of producing any accessories that a board game might need, including tokens, dice, chips, spinners, timers, instruction books, mats, and boxes. This even covers custom pieces, so clearly they have access to a very broad production range. They're also moving more and more into providing fulfilment for customers as well.
But besides customized board games, Shuffled Ink also print cards, and that's especially my area of interest. I should mention that their printing of cards this isn't limited to traditional playing cards, because they also produce custom card games, custom flash cards, and custom tarot cards. In other words: anything card related, and they'll print it. Not surprisingly, they've manufactured millions of custom card games for customers and Kickstarter campaigns, along with whatever accessories and customization these needed. I didn't know there was a big market for flash cards, but apparently I'm wrong - it turns out that flash cards are very popular for many educational purposes, and are used for things like training employees, teaching new languages, educating children, or study purposes.
Tarot cards are a large but niche market that is somewhat separate from regular playing cards, but in the interests of completeness I'll mention that Shuffled Ink also produces fully custom tarot decks, using your own artwork or photography, with a minimum order size of ten. They are a member of the American Tarot Association, which gives them access to official tarot resources and materials, to ensure a thoroughly professional job. The printing on some sample Tarot decks that I looked at was clean, crisp, and impressive.
Shuffled Ink decksCurrently board games account for about 10% of Shuffle Ink's business, card games for 20%, tarot cards and flash cards for 20%, and a custom playing cards for a whopping 50%. These custom decks of playing cards that they print and produce is of special interest to me and most of my readers, so let's find out more about that.
Just about every option you can think of is available, and that's because Shuffled Ink caters to a wide range of customers with different needs. It turns out that it's not just collectors, card players, cardists, and magicians that like playing cards. Custom decks are extremely popular, and while they are sometimes produced as personalized items for the gaming industry, they are also printed for a range of other purposes including promotional giveaways, corporate and charity events, trade shows, wedding and anniversary gifts, and for all kinds of special occasions that a custom deck might commemorate and celebrate. Unlike other printers which have the requirement of an order size of 500 or more decks, Shuffled Ink lets you print as few as 5 decks.
Given the diverse needs of their customers, it won't come as a surprise that Shuffled Ink offers lots of options for designing a deck. You can keep things very simple, by having standard faces, and using a single custom photo or graphic design of your own on the reverse of the cards. Or you can go fully custom, with individual personalized images on the front and back of each and every card. Using standard faces simplifies the process, because then it's just a matter of uploading your own design or photo for the card backs, which can be customized with additional text as needed.
If you want to do your own artwork from scratch, they provide a number of different templates for different sized cards, depending on whether you want to go with a poker-sized (2.5” x 3.5”) or bridge-sized (2.25” x 3.5”) deck. Templates are also provided for making the tuck box, which can also be a fully custom design of your own. If you need help, Shuffled Ink offers your first hour of graphic art support for free, and typically only charge for extensive work after that; for the most part their graphic support staff make themselves available to assist clients at no cost.
Several different options are available for the card stock, as well as two main options for the finish. As a magician, cardist, and collector, I'm mainly interested in paper cards, so I'll leave out the PVC and Plastic options that they offer, besides noting that these range from 28mm to 35mm in thickness, and have a 500 deck minimum. There's no such minimum for the two main paper stock options for playing cards, which are the 300gsm Premium Paper Stock (Smooth finish) or the 310gsm Casino Paper Stock (Linen finish). Most people with experience with playing cards will realize immediately that a smooth finish is the best for printing high resolution detailed artwork. A linen finish, on the other hand, is the one to opt for if you actually plan to use the cards for shuffling and games, because it has a textured and embossed surface that results in much better card handling, especially in spreads and fans.
You can get sample decks from Shuffled Ink to get an idea of what their playing cards look like, and the 310gsm stock is slightly denser and thicker. But both paper stocks have a black core to prevent you seeing through the cards when they are held up in the light. The 300gsm stock was more than adequate for a printed deck, but I'd definitely recommend going with the 310gsm stock if the deck is going to be shuffled and used extensively. The range of samples I had opportunity to check out included some cards with 330gsm stock. This is much thicker, and only suited to larger sized decks like Tarot cards and larger flash cards. Especially with the smooth finish, these certainly look great and feel snappy and durable, but for obvious reasons its not an option for a regular sized deck of playing cards.
The range of different specialty packaging choices was much bigger than I ever expected. All decks come standard with the cards wrapped in cellophane inside the box - something that will be familiar to anyone who has opened a Cartamundi deck. If you want to go with something plain, you can opt for an ordinary white windowed tuck box or for a clear hard-plastic case (classic or jewel) which showcases the cards inside. The sample decks in plastic cases that I checked out were all packaged in a cardboard sleeve for added protection. Another option is a semi-clear soft-plastic gel case. Custom options include a completely custom printed tuck box, consisting of one piece, or two parts, as well custom painted tins.
Most of us will prefer a plain white tuck box if we're really looking to cut costs and just want to trial some cards. But for a more formal project, we'll likely opt for a custom tuck-box that incorporates our own design. Some of the sample boxes I looked at were very impressive, not just in terms of the custom printing, but I especially liked some of the solid two-piece cardboard boxes used for Tarot boxes.
My own experience in printing a deck with Shuffled InkThe ordering process
So how about giving a complete first-hand account of an actual printing experience with Shuffled Ink? I did a collaboration with BottledMagic, who is a passionate cardist who makes impossible bottles, and had come up with a design for his own cardistry deck. Featuring a combination of orange and purple colours, and a low-poly art style, the deck was entitled Amberthyst Playing Cards. The name is an obvious play on amber and amethyst, the two main colours of the deck. He did all the design work, and my contribution was mostly going along for the ride, because we were both keen to see this deck in print, and see how it looked.
The process for getting a deck printed went fairly smoothly. First of all we had to create the files in the right format. A minimum resolution size of 300DPI was required for image files like JPEGs, but art created in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator can be sent in its native format. Since our artwork was all created in Adobe Illustrator, we could just send the original files.
It's important to realize that printing uses the CMYK four-color process, which is typical for commercial printing. The RGB color mode you see on most computer screens is a three-color process that has to be converted to CMYK for printing. Where exact colours are essential, Shuffled Ink encourages you to send a physical sample of the colors required, so that they can attempt to color match as best as they can.
After finalizing the graphics files, we sent them off via email. Using a file-sharing service like Google Drive or Dropbox is another option that can be used to share the files. Within a couple of days I received an acknowledgement that the files had been been received, along with the promise that their art department would be in touch with proofs the following week.
Sure enough, a few days later, an email arrived with a final press proof for our order. We had to check this carefully and approve it, before our order would move into production. Attached were several PDFs, one with a mock-up of the tuck box, and two with mock ups of the cards. Why two? It turned out that our artwork had strayed slightly outside the recommended safe area, so there was a risk that the die cutting process would interfere with the art. The company thus provided two proofs, one showing the art exactly as provided, and a second proof with our art resized to fit within their specs. It was our choice to go with either, and we were grateful that we didn't need to re-do all the artwork because they'd done this for us already, so we went with the adjusted version they recommended.
Once we gave our approval, we became fully responsible for the accuracy of our proof in every way, which is completely understandable. Within a day we'd received email confirmation that they would proceed with the adjusted art as we had indicated. Now we just had to wait for the deck to be printed and shipped.
That's when a minor hang-up happened, because there must have been some internal miscommunication or oversight, and the decks didn't get sent out. After some time elapsed without receiving any kind of shipping notice, I inquired to see what the delay was, and their records didn't clearly indicate whether or not the decks had been shipped. Thankfully they promptly (re)printed them, put them in the mail with a rushed delivery, and our package arrived soon after.
The printed deck
So how did the deck turn out? Quite fine, thank you very much! We ended up with about one and a half dozen of our Amberthyst decks. The tuck box was a straight forward cardboard one, but having our own custom design on it made for a far more impressive presentation than a plain white box, and made the result look immediately more professional. We were even able to have printing on all the flaps, including the two side flaps which we used for a card reveall.
There was even a thumb notch at the top of the box. There were also multiple fold lines enabling the main top flap to be folded backwards below the top of the box, making it much easier to get the cards out. This is standard for a high end playing card manufacturer, and playing card enthusiasts like me will be gratified to see this kind of attention to detail.
The cards themselves were fully wrapped in cellophane plastic inside the box - which is apparently standard practice for all decks produced by Shuffled Ink. Again, this makes for a more professional presentation, especially if you're giving a deck away as a gift.
The cards were very crisply printed, and the print registration was right on, with consistent and even borders all the way around, corresponding exactly to the original design. There are few things worse for a playing card enthusiast than opening a USPCC printed deck and finding misaligned borders, so it was pleasing to discover that there was no issue with that here. The colours were accurate, and the printing was very clean, with no signs of smudging or blurring.
The edges of the cards were cleanly cut, resulting in a smooth feel that matches what you'd expect from a deck printed by Taiwanese printers like LPCC/EPCC, and not the somewhat rough feel of a USPCC produced deck. Close examination showed that the edge of one of the cards was slightly more ragged, presumably from the cutting process, but this didn't really matter since it was the bottom card (a Joker), and it was only obvious when looking very carefully. This was only noticeable with some of the decks, and only seemed to affect the very bottom card in a minor way.
There are multiple printing options, and we had opted to print our deck using the 310gsm cardstock with Linen Finish. The main reason for this choice was because the 310gsm is the premium cardstock, and the 300gsm was a little too light for our personal requirements due to the cards being thinner, which is less than ideal for a deck used for card flourishing. I have seen some sample decks that used the 300gsm cardstock, but have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised, because the cards weren't as flimsy or thin as I was expecting. In fact those are probably fine for a novelty deck that you're mostly going to be looking at and not using intensively, but it's not ideal when you want decent handling and performance, especially for cardists.
We'd also had a few smooth finish decks printed as part of our order, so we could compare them. These smooth-finish playing cards are certainly fine for average use, but just won't spread or fan quite as nicely as the cards with the linen finish. But if looks are your most important criteria, and you're not too worried about fanning and spreading the cards, then the smooth finish produces the best visual results.
The cutting process must be different than what is used by the major playing card manufacturers, so don't expect to be able to do faro shuffles with a deck like this. But the cards have a pleasant thickness, and enough snap to be able to do a satisfying spring with no difficulty. The embossed linen finish was very pleasing, and is of a quality that matches that of MPC produced decks. Spreads and fans were fairly smooth, although I wouldn't be surprised to notice some clumping after extended use. Packet style card flourishes worked very smoothly, and riffle shuffles and overhand shuffles were more than comfortable. While this deck won't live up to the very highest and demanding standards required by an expert cardist, the performance and durability was more than acceptable for the needs of card games, and on par with a typical MPC printed deck.
The quality of our printed decks was certainly much higher than your typical souvenir deck. In fact the linen finish and 310gsm cardstock produced a quality that was above the components I've seen in many professionally produced board games and card games. It's certainly ideal for prototypes or for getting your own custom deck printed in cases where you're not in a position to mass produce a thousand or more decks with a big name playing card manufacturer.
Reports from others who have used Shuffled InkIn terms of what others think, I've seen some mixed reports of experiences with Shuffled Ink, so I contacted a few other creators of custom playing cards to see what their experiences were like. Bear in mind that since many of these creators demand the very highest standards, which are often well above what the average person might consider acceptable.
Jackson Robinson of Kings Wild Project has printed with Shuffled Ink a couple of times. In the case of two projects, some reprinting proved necessary since the initial results weren't as expected, but there were positive reports about the final product. He personally favours the easy-to-use design interface of MPC and their speedy turn-around time.
Another large creator that I'm in correspondence with used Shuffled Ink to print prototypes for a large Kickstarter project. The decks weren't all sealed as requested and there was some damage to the tuck cases in transit. Some effort was needed on his part to get a good outcome, and this resulted in a somewhat lukewarm experience overall for him.
A different designer who used Shuffled Ink for producing three sets of prototypes indicated real satisfaction with the quality, turn-around time, customer service, and pricing. He reported that the cost of $3500 for 1000 decks with tuck cases was ideal for getting some momentum for projects with a smaller funding goal, and he was very pleased with the end product and the process.
The experience of yet another creator was also positive. He has printed several prototypes with Shuffled Ink, and reported being very happy with the response time of their communication, and the speed of delivery. In his view the quality of the prototype deck they printed compared very favourable to MPC printed decks. According to him, Shuffled Ink might well prove to be a better choice for US-based creators.
So there you have several other personal experiences to compare with my own first-hand report. If you have experiences with Shuffled Ink that you're willing to share, by all means comment below, to help ensure that other prospective customers are well-informed about what to expect. Overall in my estimation Shuffled Ink compares quite favourably with MPC, including their pricing, and the absence of many extra fees.
Printing your own deck with Shuffled InkSo why might you want to consider printing a deck with Shuffled Ink? Firstly it should be mentioned that the quality of playing cards produced by Shuffled Ink won't match the high quality of decks produced in high volumes by industry leaders like the United States Playing Card Company, makers of the famous Bicycle brand. Magicians and cardists will notice that Shuffled Ink decks won't handle as smoothly, and you will notice this right away when shuffling, or attempting spreads and fans.
But the quality isn't terrible either, and it certainly is much better than what you'll get at your average printer. Unless you're planning to print 1000 or more decks, Shuffled Ink and MPC are your best bets for printing a decent quality product that won't look or feel cheap. Obviously it won't handle as smoothly as a top of the line cardistry deck printed in high volume by USPCC, and the cards won't slide quite as smoothly and cleanly. But it will handle much better than your typical souvenir deck, and last longer than your average grocery shop cheapie. What's more, you can expect the colours to look good, the print registration to be excellent, and the card stock to feel quite durable. It's a professional product in look and feel, and it's really only serious magicians and cardists who will demand the higher level of quality and handling possibly only with mass produced decks from the big playing card manufacturers.
Perhaps most important of all, with Shuffled Ink you can print a small number of decks, and for lower volume orders, these decks are about as good as you get anywhere. If you want to print a couple of dozen prototype decks, that quickly becomes an impossibility for most big publishers like USPCC and EPCC. At the very least getting them to trial a small number of copies will be an extremely costly business to the point that it's not worth bothering to do it. That's where printers like MPC and Shuffled Ink come to the rescue, because they'll let you print a few decks, while ensuring a reasonable turn-around.
Especially if you prefer to use a US based company, Shuffled Ink is ideal for the hobbyist creator. Perhaps you have a big project and want to scrutinize some prototypes before dropping large amounts of cash on a huge print run, or perhaps you just want to make a small number of decks for friends or family. Either way, Shuffled Ink is perfect for those situations. What they offer is a product that is of a quality that you won't find with your average printer, and yet that won't break the bank or only be possible with a minimum order of thousands of decks.
Final thoughtsOverall I'm impressed with the large range of options that Shuffled Ink has available, and despite a small glitch in the mailing process, my personal experience in printing a custom deck was positive, and the quality was good. It wouldn't be fair to expect the same level of quality and performance from a Shuffled Ink produced deck that I'm used to with a USPCC-produced deck. The main area where you can expect to notice the difference is in the handling. But if it's not a deck that's going to see intense use, this doesn't even really matter. Shuffled Ink would probably not be my printer of choice for decks geared for heavy usage or to meet the demanding needs of card flourishing or card magic. But they'd certainly be fine to use for card games, or for producing a novelty deck for collectors, or for a special event.
For those active in the playing card industry, the real strength of Shuffled Ink is their ability to produce small print runs and prototypes at a very low cost. That makes them a good alternative to MPC, which otherwise tends to be the printer of choice for people wanting to print their own playing cards in lower volume. The fact that they are based in the United States will also be a significant point of appeal for many people. With the help of printers like Shuffled Ink even you can become a playing card designer, and create your own decks to give away as gifts, or to add to your own collection as a one-of-a-kind piece!
NB: I do have a few extra copies of the Amberthyst deck available, so contact me privately if you are keen to have one for relatively cheap.
Where to learn more? Head to the Shuffled Ink website here, or check them out on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest).
submitted by dourdan to BarryPepper [link] [comments]
Welcome to my novel, inspired by Barry Pepper's role in Crawl (2019)
Chapter 1: Envy, Wrath
Nobody ever imagines themselves as a victim. I certainly didn't. I admit I was kind of a cocky little shit so maybe I deserved to be here: half-naked in a swamp with a bullet in my chest. I think there was also a bullet in my head, either that or I cracked my skull on something while in the process of crawling out of my makeshift grave. "I am Army Master Sergeant Adam Severgine," I said out loud to no one. I needed to remain conscious, I needed to survive.
This was no different from a deployment. Except instead of fighting for my country, for the chance to prove myself, I was fighting to dig myself out of a shithole of my own creation. "I am Adam Severgine, husband, father...addict." Tears filled my eyes. My wife and daughter were miles away in Biloxi, Mississippi.
I had no fear of death and dying but eventually, they would find out how badly I fucked up. I lost thousands of dollars in gambling, booze, heroin, meth. I should have just gotten out when I had the chance.
Instead, I turned tricks, ran drugs; I became a bitch to avoid becoming a bitch. The idea made me laugh. "Ow..." Fuck, I'm going to die.
"No, you're not." The male voice sounded calm, serene. "Do you even know where you are?"
‘I know I'm imagining you, whatever the fuck you are.’
"Because the mighty Master Sergeant Adam could never be communicating with an angel," the voice said with a laugh. The grass in front of me started to blow in the wind.
\swish* *crunch* *swish* *crunch**
The blades of grass seemed to grow taller, their shadows forming the shape of a man with long wavy hair.
"Is that what you are?" I asked with a chuckle. A sharp pain struck my side; I definitely had broken ribs.
As the angel came closer, he seemed to materialize into a mortal form; olive skin, green eyes, and hair that seemed to be streaked with red, blue, purple and gold. "What do you think I am?"
"You kind of look like the Lord, Jesus Christ," I said, my voice starting to slur into a southern accent as I felt my mind drifting away.
The angel laughed as he ran his fingers through his rainbow hair. "I'll take that as a compliment." He then reached over his shoulder and pulled on a golden cloak out of thin air. "Are you ready to go?"
The angel shrugged. "Does it matter?"
"I guess not." Any place had to be better than dying alone in the swamp.
The angel reached out his hand. "You can call me Leo."
I took his hand, as I did, a series of letters flashed before my eyes; 'E-N-V-Y.' The letters were in thick black font as if someone was throwing them at my face. But why 'envy'?
I jolt awake, in full uniform, outside of a commander's office. I had been here before but where was I?
"Come in," said a female voice.
I knew who it was; Lt General Allyssa Blake. I was back at my station in Alaska. Still afraid of how the hell I managed to travel back in time I took a breath and entered the office giving the appropriate salute.
The much younger woman had blonde hair, light blue eyes, and lips that made me dream of what she looked like out of uniform. "At ease," she said with her soft breathy voice. She returned the salute and motioned for me to take a seat.
Allyssa never sounded like an officer. She gave off ASMR, that tingly feeling down your spine. She was pageant-queen beautiful, brilliant, but more than anything she was kind. Her wonderful heart was the only thing keeping me from bending her over the desk and fucking her brains out.
Sat down, focusing my eyes on the floor. I at least knew what this meeting was about. "Thank you for meeting with me Ma'am."
"Of course, Sergeant. Do you still want the transfer?"
Was this a memory or a test? "The transfer to Mississippi?"
"Yes, unless there was another position you were interested in pursuing."
"Sorry, I'm just a little one edge as of late. I apologize for the nature of my request I-" My daughter was sick, my wife was cheating on me because she was 'lonely.' I needed to be home, to reclaim my family.
"Hey," she stood up and took my hand. "I love you, Adam. You're a good guy. You're going to go home and you're going to fix this. I already have a replacement lined up."
"You do?" This part was new. I never stuck around to learn who she put in my position.
"Lawrence will take over."
"Lawrence Heath?" Lawrence Heath was an Air Force liaison officer. He had more training and education then I did so from a technical standpoint he was a good choice. But he was also Alyssa's ex who transferred to Japan after she miscarried their son.
"He wants to marry me," her voice was so angelic, calm.
Time stood still. I can feel a sharp pain in my chest. "Leo? Please tell me this is a dream."
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. "What do you remember about Lawrence?"
"H-He never actually hurt her."
"Alyssa miscarried in the middle of the office. You drove her to the hospital. You held her hand while she cried. Where was he?"
"He was at work. He came to her as soon as he could. I loved her like a sister, and I know it broke her when he left. But she loved him." I reached my hand to touch Alyssa's frozen cheek. "I hope they found happiness."
"Impressive," Leo said, starting a slow clap. I turned to see my guardian angel sitting on an office chair, his rainbow hair flowing about his face. "I wonder how someone so noble ended up in a place like this."
"What?" With a jolt, I was back in the swamp. My chest felt like it was being crushed and my head was throbbing. In my hands, I felt an unbearable burning sensation. But I knew perfectly well why that was. Shooting up heroin between your broken fingers tends to fuck shit up. I forced myself to scoot backward until I felt myself leaning against a massive tree. The rough bark cut into the skin of my back and neck, but I was still grateful for the opportunity to rest.
Lighting cracked the sky, forming a distinct series of patterns, 'W-R-A-T-H'- Wrath? I couldn't help but smirk. I mean, I had plenty to be angry about. So, I was actually curious as to where the angel was going to take me next. "I'm ready."
I closed my eyes and took a deep, calming, breath.
I could hear the sound of a plane landing. My skin was no longer in pain, but my heart as beating a mile a minute as I stood in the cool airconditioned TSA waiting room. I knew where this was. When I opened my eyes, I was meeting my daughter. My wife and I had tried for years to conceive but it was never meant to be. At the age of thirty, we started the process to adopt from China. After years of waiting, we stood hand in hand at the immigration office of Jackson, Mississippi. China had been our last hope. For whatever reason, we were unable to even get on a waiting list for a European or North American baby. That was another reason I was nervous. The little girl was already six months old. What if she took one look at me and decided, 'Nope, I'm not going to be able to love these military-redneck white folks?' I was scared. Fate had a reason for never blessing us with a biological child.
As the adoption rep put the baby in my arms, I felt only the light of God's love. "Hello, Cece."
My wife scoffed, "I thought we agreed on a name- Annabelle-Rylie?"
"Felicity June Severgine," that's her name, my daughter's name.
The next few moments flew by in a blur, but a painful number of them were of me abandoning my family. As the years passed, I saw myself in uniform leaving for deployment; moments when I truly believed that I might not come back alive. Other times I was just in sweatpants and a t-shirt as I kissed my family goodbye. Before my eyes, Cece transformed from a toddler to a teen. I suddenly felt a wave of nausea. The last time I saw Cece she was no longer the beautiful girl I remembered.
I closed my eyes and fell to my knees. "Oh, God..." I knew what I was going to see; my angel my reason for living, in a medically induced coma.
"She never told you what really happened," said Leo's disembodied voice.
I stood up to see the angel standing over Cece's bed. "My wife told me it was pneumonia." I'd never made it to my daughter's side to see for myself.
"Marni told you that, knowing it would take you at least a month to get home. The wounds healed by then. And what didn't heal could be explained away. Ironically, after a seizure, she did develop a sepsis infection in her lung that mimicked pneumonia." Leo made his way to Cece's side and held her hand. "But you didn't see what she looked like the day of the phone call." Leo kissed Cece's forehead. "I'm so sorry little one, this will only last a moment."
I had a feeling I was not supposed to hear that last part.
Cece had a breathing tube but as time regressed it vanished, replaced with the monstrous number of wounds. She cried, then screamed. Her face covered in bruises, cuts, and clearly broken bones. Her clothing transformed into a short blue dress; one I had never seen before.
Time stood still as my government issue phone rang. I hit my thigh only to feel no pockets. The phone was in the palm of my hand. "Hello?"
I remember this conversation. She said she came home from a dance. Homecoming, Prom?
"I went to a party," Cece's said, her voice cracking with sadness. "It was great."
Leo poked my arm. "Hey, it's your line."
With trembling hands, I moved the phone to my mouth to speak. "That's great, baby."
"Should go," she said as her breathing became labored. It was clear she was trying not to cry. "I-I love you, Daddy."
Marni came in the room just as Cece hung up. "Hi, sweetie, do you feel up to talking to the police officers? They need to get your statement and do a rape kit."
"Yes, Mom," Cece glanced at the phone, giving it a squeeze. "I'll be ok. I just wish Dad was here."
I got to see the rest of the scene. According to her statement, she had been raped, beaten and left for dead. That was how she escaped. When her date (and his three friends) thought she was dead, they locked her in the trunk.
She remembered what her father had told her about how to escape a trunk and managed to not only kick out the tail light but also get the trunk open while the piece-of-shit car was going forty down a backroad. Battered and bloody she ran for her life until she found her way to the main street.
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. "What would you have done if you knew the truth?
"I would have fucking killed the bastards."
"Really?" Leo waved his hand, to focus back on the scene.
Marni took a seat, holding Cece's hand. "What did you tell your Dad?"
"Nothing. I didn't want him to be disappointed in me," she said, burying her face in her pillow.
"I could ever be disappointed with you," I said out loud. I knew she couldn't hear me, that hurt more than anything. But not more than the feeling of my leg getting blown off.
A sharp pain shot through my leg. Suddenly I was back in terrorist occupied Iraq, riding in a supply convoy. A larger truck ran us off the road, into an IED. At least that's what I was told.
The vehicle I was in exploded, and I was pinned under the rubble. Somehow my leg was extracted from the mess and sent along with the rest of my broken body to Landstuhl, Germany where I spent the next few weeks waking up.
At the time, my home station was in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That was where my wife was living with a then eleven-year-old Cece. I remember I’d asked that I be transferred back to my family; if I was going to die, I wanted to die at home. My superiors, the US military; they owed me that much.
My next memory was of Cece staying by my side. I'd suffered burns over twenty-five percent of my body, there were bone shards in my hips and my leg had been put back together with pins and rods. It was a unique sensation, to be a living mass of pain. The local medical team determined that I would never walk again. So, the goal was to make me comfortable.
I was allowed at-home hospice care. This meant that I was placed under the attention of a nurse for administering therapy, and medications, but during the majority of the week my wife was tasked with wound care. At least she was supposed to be. My wife never touched me. To do so would have meant to show some level of compassion.
I remember Cece asked the nurse to teach her how to change the dressing on my leg. I have to assume the nurse thought she was curious and adorably sweet. Because otherwise, it was not the safest practice.
I closed my eyes. When I awoke, I was back in that wonderful moment. "Cece?"
"Hi, Daddy," my little daughter said in a calm whisper as she donned oversized medical gloves.
“Hi, Sweetheart,” I replied in a horse whisper.
“If I hurt you, I’m really sorry.” She changed out the gauze, using a bottle of peroxide to wash the open wounds.
I flinched but tried my best to stay quiet.
"Mom said that I needed to say goodbye," Cece explained as she worked with a gentle touch. "She told me the only reason you came home is because you're too sick to go back. I don't believe her." She finished in silence before getting a clean blanket from the closet. "You're going to walk again." She cuddled by my side, resting her head on my shoulder. "Superheroes don't die."
My heart filled with a sense of faith that I didn't know was possible.
She spent her summer by my side; changing my bandages, helping with physical therapy. I was also working with a therapy nurse who was impressed by my level of strength.
For Cece's twelfth birthday she had a party at the on-base movie theatre. I paid the bills but Marni took on the responsibility of making the day special for our daughter. Cece invited her entire class, she looked so genuinely happy.
I arrived in my wheelchair. As the movie played, it was 'Step Up', some kind of dance movie from the golden age of hip-hop music. The movie was played on the projector as background noise, as the kids ate pizza and talked.
I waited in the back until she noticed me.
"Dad!" She broke off a conversation with several friends to run over to me. "Oh my god! Did you just get here? How was your therapy appointment?"
From my wheelchair, I reached to the cane at my side and I stood up.
Cece cupped her hands over her mouth as tears welled in her eyes.
I took my first (pain-stricken) steps since the accident that should have taken my life. I stood tall, strong, as Cece threw her arms around me.
"I love you, Daddy. You're my hero." she paused to wipe tears from her eyes. "But does this mean you're leaving again?"
I was. I could have taken medical retirement, stayed with my family. But I needed the money. I needed to pay off a mortgage, send my daughter to a good college: I wanted to make my family proud.
So, I took a position in Alaska as a squadron lead. That’s when the addictions started. painkillers lead to heroin. loneliness lead to gambling and prostitution. all because I left behind the one person who truly cared.
The world went dark. I was sitting alone in an empty theatre as Leo appeared on the screen. "Hi, Adam. Wow, this is certainly an interesting view."
"Yeah," I replied in a weak voice.
"Well, I have to ask, what would you have done if you knew the truth about your daughter's assault?"
All I could do was laugh. The situation was clear now: I was dead and this was Hell. "You really want to know?"
Leo shook his head. "Look, I'm not a sadist, I just have a job to do. I was human once, just like you. And no, you're not in hell."
“Forgive me if I don’t believe you.”
The man laughed as he turned towards the theatre and with one swift motion, seemed to jump from the screen. He walked towards me, with the fabric of the curtain attached to his back like wings. "So, what would you have done? Her attackers were never prosecuted. If you had a moment with those boys in a soundproof room with just your revolver, what would you do?"
I thought for a moment. I had no one to blame but myself. "I would eat my gun." Was Cece dead? I needed to know. If she was gone, I truly wanted to die.
Leo approached me, placing a hand upon my shoulder. "Much better, on to the next test."
I gripped his arm. "Why should I trust you?"
Leo rolled his eyes. "Maybe because I'm the one with the magic powers."
"You're my driver," I said in a tone that came off ruder than intended. "But what would happen if I said I'd rather walk to my final destination."
Leo chuckled and shrugged. "Hell, if I know. Maybe someone will find your body. Maybe you'll reunite with Cece in heaven. Or maybe she'll survive and grow up believing that her hero abandoned her. What do you want from me?"
"You said you were human once- I want to know something about you."
Leo cupped his hand to my face, tracing a finger along my jawline. He appeared to be studying my features, which gave me an opportunity to study his. "What do you see when you look at me?"
"You have green eyes," I said in a whisper. His eyes were hypnotic, his breath; warm, comforting, human.
"I know what it feels like to love someone until it hurts." Leo leaned in and kissed my lips, breathing a long constant stream of air that seemed to crackle with electricity.
Chapter 2: Lust, Greed
'All you need is love? Love? Love is all you need?' The voices hummed in my ear. They weren't singing, they were asking. I know where I am and I don't want to open my eyes.
"How does that feel?" asked a voice that was not Leo. It was Dr. Ethan Rogers, my physical therapist. He was a younger man; late twenties, early thirties, with blond hair and blue eyes- the most all-American soldier you could ever hope to meet. And he was massaging my naked thigh with a vibrator.
I know I'm hard, and I know what he's about to do next.
"I'm going to put this inside you," he said in a most professional tone of voice.
I could have attacked him, punched him in the face, or at the very least or at least said no. But it felt so good. I knew my scar tissue was prominent. It was a disgusting crater that ran along the entirety of my leg. I stayed in shape; my body was lean, muscular but that seemed all for show. I needed to look the part of a soldier, maybe if I was lucky, I would be able to pass my physical. My legs were for running, training. My cock was for pissing. My ass was for shitting. It had been months since I allowed myself to feel sexual pleasure.
"Just relax, let yourself go."
Damn it feels incredible. My eyes open on their own, staring straight into the blinding room light. The bulb is blinking forcing me to blink. Letters form in the shape of the light. 'L-U-S-T.' Yeah, I guess so. But it wasn't a lust for sex.
I feel him inject my leg; my broken, mangled leg. My leg that existed for the sole purpose of causing me unbearable pain, akin to the fires of hell. In a matter of moments, all of that was but a memory. He told me he was giving me morphine but I knew it had to be something stronger. That shit fucked with my head. Like a cool wave of tranquility; life death and every emotion in-between.
"I can get you a prescription for morphine, maybe even fentanyl.” His voice is calm, cool, like an ice tea on a hot day. “All you have to do is submit to me."
All I could do was laugh. "Sure, sounds great." My speech was slurred. This man was the devil and I willingly jumped headfirst down the rabbit hole into Hell.
I was physically fit. Dr. Ethan Rogers knew he could rent me out to anyone who had a fetish for dominating. Over the next year and a half, I lived as a sex-slave. I was bound, gagged. I sucked cock and even let men fuck me in my on-base housing. I was a human party favor, but I was always well compensated.
I took their pills, so many pills, all the colors of the rainbow. Most of the time, I never knew what any of it was, only that it was my prize. And when given vials of heroin, meth and God knows what else, I shot up in my arms, legs, but mainly my hands just because no one at my actual job seemed to notice my hands.
It was a perfect system. By day I was a soldier; a flawless, reliable worker who could be counted on for any job. I was a great husband and father who was working tirelessly to make sure his family would be taken care of. I worked myself to the bone, playing through the pain. But at night I was free.
Until the day my heart stopped.
I awoke in Alysa Blake's room, on her sofa. "Wow, you fucked up." The general looked like her actual youthful age. Her long blonde hair was pulled into a messy bun.
"Aly?" I tried to speak but immediately had to vomit.
General Blake had a bucket waiting by the side of my head. "You're going to stay here for a while." She placed a cold washcloth to my neck focusing on my artery. "This is going to help with the pain in your chest."
I shook my head. "But, what about my leg?"
"You're not the only one living with chronic pain." Alyssa took my hand a placed it on her hip, just below her abs. There was a massive scar. I knew the story; she had been shot in the hip; the bone and surrounding tissue had to be rebuilt. This was likely the reason for her later miscarriage. "I'm not giving you anything for your leg. You're probably going to have another seizure from all the drugs you already took."
I tried to move, to sit up- anything. But the pain seemed to course through my body. I wanted to cry or scream, but no sound was coming from my parched throat.
I gripped my head as a massive migraine pounded my vision. In the midst of my agony, I didn't even notice Alyssa leave and return with a blanket until the moment she cuddled by my side. "I'm going to stay with you."
I nodded, with a noticeable lump in my throat.
"Talk to me about Cece." Alyssa put her arms around me as she rested her head on my chest. “What is she like?”
I knew what this was. This moment, it was the opposite of lust. Nothing was worth more than my family, my daughter "She's a dancer."
"I think my wife has her in gymnastics and cheerleading but she..." I swallowed hard thinking about the last time we talked. Cece asked if she could send me a link to a video of her ballet recital. She loved ballet, she wanted to be a choreographer. She sent the link but my Alaska internet was too weak to see it without an extensive amount of buffering. And the camera had been placed so far back I could barely make out her face. I told her as much, but that I would love to see her dance someday.
"Have you seen any of her performances?"
I nodded. "C-Can I have some water?"
"Sure." Alyssa turned away, attempting to sit up.
Try as a might, my arms wouldn't let her go. "I feel sick. But, more than anything, don't want to cry in front of my commanding officer."
Alyssa glared at me with a look of seriousness. "I found you in your room bleeding from your ass. I performed CPR until you were lucid enough to walk with your arm around my shoulder." She only lived a few houses down and often visited.
I couldn't remember making the walk to her house but it wouldn't be the first time. I had the habit of dialing her number when I was too high to think straight. "My apologies Ma'am."
She reached for my hand, stroking between my fingers. "If I was here as your commanding officer you would be in a hospital awaiting a medical discharge." Her fingers paused on an open sore where I injected regularly. "I'm here as your friend, because what you need right now is a friend."
I knew she wasn't wrong. "Thank you."
"So, tell me about the time you saw your little girl dance."
My hands were trembling as my eyes filled with tears. "She sent me a USB."
"She sent you a file on a flash drive? Wow, that's really sweet."
"Cece had somehow used her phone to record a solo piece in her backyard. I didn't recognize the song, something Gaelic sounding about finding your wings to touch the sky." With the warm memory in my heart, my body relaxed.
"That sounds like the theme from the movie Brave," Alyssa said as she sat up. "Wow, that brings back memories. Anyway, I'm going to get you some water now."
Brave? Of course, it was.
Alyssa returned with a bottled water and a straw. "Take small sips." Once it appeared like I was not going to vomit again she took her place back on my chest, holding me close. "You need to go home."
"I know." I stroked her hair as I looked up at her stucco ceiling.
"You need to research a position at a base closer to your family,” she said as she kissed my cheek. “And I will sign off on it."
"Thank you." Now I just wish she talked me out of driving down to the states. Maybe I wouldn't have fucked up as badly as I did.
A lonely drive, six hours on the road, maybe eight. Behind the wheel of a rented SUV carrying all my worldly possessions, I thought I could keep focus, I thought I-
And here comes the crash.
I opened my eyes, but all I see is darkness. "Leo, are you there?"
I could feel someone grab my hand, pulling me from the vehicle. It wasn't Leo, but rather a younger male, possibly a teen.
"Wow, Leo was right, you are fucked up." The kid pulled me out of the vehicle, seemingly indifferent to my level of pain. "You should grab your wallet and suitcase. We have a bit of a walk into town.”
I did as he asked. I could recall what happened at this moment in time. While it did not include a Native American surfer-boy, I knew where we were headed.
"How long did you manage to stay clean for?" the smug teen asked.
I turned to him with a look of contempt. He stood maybe 5'9", and although he had an attractive face and youthful demeanor, I would have no problem punching his lights out.
"Really, old man?" The boy laughed.
"Master Sergeant Adam Severgine," I said with a groan.
"I know," he said, happily, skipping down the road. "I'm Jamie. Welcome to Oklahoma."
"How old are you? And where's Leo?"
"Leo will meet us in town. And as for me-" Jamie did a backflip landing in front of my face, close enough to kiss my lips. "I'm legal."
"Are you a guardian angel too?"
"Are you asking if I have powers?"
"I am," I replied through gritted teeth. I could remember how long the original walk took me. By the time I got to town, my leg was killing me.
"That's not why you got high off your ass."
"Oh, fuck you!"
"You got clean just long enough to pass a physical, for the job transfer. And then you started using again like the fucked-up junkie that you are!" Jamie continued doing flips and cartwheels down the empty road.
I focused on my own path looking down at my boots as I walked. My leg was mostly healed, to the point where I could walk unassisted, I could even drive. But I still felt an ache, a chronic pain that would never go away no matter what drugs I took.
Jamie appeared in front of me, lifting my face to look into his eyes. "I'm bored and I miss my boyfriend so I'm going to do you a favor." He punched me in the face with all the force of a fighter jet.
I awoke on the floor of a casino. And I do mean floor: My eyes opened to reveal the sight of paramedics working frantically. They had apparently just finished restarting my heart.
When I looked straight ahead, sitting at a slot machine was Jamie. The little punk was doubled over in laughter.
Leo stepped out of the shadows. He raised a finger giving the 'give me a second' sign. He embraced Jamie, speaking to him in a quiet tone. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but at least Leo was calming him down. When Jamie finally stopped laughing, the couple walked to the elevators.
A tall older man, in a suit, came over to check on the scene. He was the hotel manager and a former Marine. We talked for a while, with me telling him my situation. He kindly offered to give me a room for the night, free of charge. It was the least he could do for a fellow soldier.
Yes, it was only for one night. I could contact the rental agency and they could send a new car to my location. But until then he offered to buy me dinner and give me a tour of the hotel and casino.
Everything was going great. After hanging out with my new friend I took a seat at one of the many the table poker tables.
I was by no means an expert but I preferred tables, to computer-generated games of chance. That was when I met Lola. She looked like a typical cocktail waitress, just a few years away from retirement. She was possibly old enough to be my mother (either that or she had just spent too much time in the sun,) but she was undeniably beautiful. She made sure to flirt, playing with her long blonde hair as she brought me free drinks.
"Drink up," she said, before taking a shot. She cupped my face, forcing the shot of whiskey down my throat. "It's on me, love." Next thing I knew she was on my lap. I was winning hand after hand; she was truly my good luck charm. When I was too drunk to walk, she offered to escort me to my room.
I remember collapsing on to the bed. I could feel her hands, her long nails, then her mouth. When I was ready, she started to ride me. Talking dirty in a way that my wife never did, I gave her full control. she got on her knees and wanted me to fuck her from behind. I did, and what was when a man barged in with a master key. It was the manager.
My memory is blacking in and out but I remember him getting on the bed. He and Lola are laughing. They offer me cocaine.
The next morning, I awoke to the sight of Lola in my bed. Her naked chest was moving, so I had no immediate reason to panic.
Jamie stood in the corner wide-eyed. "Wow, I was raped to death by a demonic cult and even I found that disturbing."
Leo walked through the wall to stand at Jamie's side. "And this isn't even the worst of it."
I tried to sit up but my body hurt. "Why, the fuck, are you even here?" Just my luck, I had a pair of fuck-boy morons for guardian angels.
Leo sighed. He approached the bed, stroking Lola's hand. "You can't change the past." He made a turn to the closet, grabbing my phone from my pocket. "But you can choose your future."
I was lucid enough to move my arm and unlock my screen. I had wi-fi. I clicked on my email. it was open to a message from Cece, starting with a link that I had never seen before. "Greed.mov?"
Leo shrugged. "You should probably take a look."
I clicked. There was Cece in her blue dress, sitting on her bed. "Hi, Dad. I'm a little nervous. I really like Jason, and well, I wish you could have met him. He's so much like you. He wants to join the Marines, travel the world. I mean, I guess I'd write to him. A lot of my friends are planning on getting married, so their boyfriends don't cheat. It's really stupid. Jason says he loves me, he wants to marry me. I'm pretty sure he just wants to fuck me." Cece looked down at her silver ring. It had belonged to my grandmother who passed away before Cece was born. I had given it to my daughter on her sixteenth birthday. It was only then, on that video, did I notice where she wore it. She wore it like a wedding ring: a purity ring.
Cece looked to the side, at her computer, to press a few keys. "I hope this will help my anxiety." The music starts to play, it was a slow, Celtic, song. I watched as she moved her arms, in a graceful ballet pose. She appeared to be free-styling a dance piece, in her room, dancing on her bare feet. It was truly breathtaking. But why was the file titled 'greed.mov'?
"I can't wake up without you, Dad." The voice was not coming from the phone.
I nearly screamed at the sight of Cece's broken, bloody form.
Jamie put his arm around Cece, patting her shoulder. "Don't worry, she's still in a coma."
The creepy, undead version of my daughter leaned her head on Jamie's shoulder. She turned just enough to look at me with her dark, innocent, eyes. "When you rocked me to sleep, you would tell me stories. I think you assumed I couldn't hear you or what I wasn't paying attention."
"You couldn't even talk." For the first two years, I was so nervous about being a father, that I would unload all of my horrific stories on to Cece like a verbal diary. she didn't speak a word until she started preschool at age three and even then, I never heard anything from her teachers about my stories.
"Knowing so much about your past is why I always had such respect for you." Cece took a step forward, reaching out her hand. "I know what you saw, what you experienced. It made you the person you are." When she came closer, her hand hit a glowing wall of energy. She nodded her head knowingly. We weren't in the same space. "Jamie said you're going to make your way back to me."
I knew our time was short so I had only one question to ask. "Why greed?"
"You told me I was your treasure; I was everything you ever wanted."
"I'm so sorry."
"That wasn't meant as an attack. Not at you, not ever." Cece moved closer. She was able to sit on the bed, her hand caressing the fabric. Her moves were careful and deliberate.
I would have given anything to be able to touch her hand. I knew in my heart this wasn't an illusion, this was my daughter.
Cece pursed her lips and continued, "There's an old saying, 'Shoot for the moon, even if you fail, you'll be among the stars.' Well, what happens when you reach the moon but it's not the finish line that you thought it would be. You always want more, I did anyway. that's why I let Jason go as far as he did. I thought I could have it all; I'd go to college and have a hot, long-distance boyfriend. maybe we'd meet up in Europe where I would audition for a ballet company. At least that's what I thought." Cece wiped tears from her eyes. "He was dating me as a practical joke. I was the nerdy-science geek who was also a dancer. The rumor was that I clearly wanted to be fucked, but my stern military daddy was keeping me inline." She paused for a moment, looking into my eyes. "I guess he was half right. I knew Jason's plan was to make me choose between you and him. And what's really messed up is, I would have chosen him. I was greedy." Cece took a few steps back, her form already starting to fade. "I miss you so much, Dad. Please come find me."
Leo cracked his knuckles. "Well, this was fun but we have miles to go before we sleep. So-" He turned to Jamie.
“Yeah, I know.” Jamie nodded, with a sigh, as Cece vanished.
Next, Leo turned to me, with hesitation. "This next part is going to hurt."
"More than seeing my dying daughter?"
Leo clicked his tongue as he moved to Jamie's side. "Adam, how much do you remember about your trip from Oklahoma to Louisiana?"
"Do I remember who shot me and left me for dead int he Louisiana swamplands?" I clearly did not.
"Do you want to know?" Leo asked, twirling a lock of his rainbow hair. "I mean I'm supposed to show you, orders from the big boss," he said, motioning towards heaven. "But I think it would be a little cruel."
Jamie's eyes lit up. "Can we just give him a summery? He'll feel just as shitty but we won't have to watch it!"
Leo pursed his lips, clearly trying to hide laughter. "Jamie..." Leo took a breath to calm down. "None the less you are correct. But to stay in line with the," he made the pointing gesture again, "I'll give him just enough to dwell on during our hike back to civilization."
Jamie leaned against a wall as Leo stepped towards me. He crawled into bed, positioning himself on top of me like a snake. His long hair trickled against my face. "You good, Adam?"
"As good as I can be."
"I'll make this quick." Leo closed his eyes.
I did the same. The images flashed before my eyes like the world’s worst vacation slideshow. Oh, God.
More sex, drugs, a few suicide attempts. Luckily it would only last three weeks. I apparently went on the mother of all drug binges. I didn't want to go home, and I knew why. My daughter was sick, but my wife… my beautiful, kind, wife, Marni-Lynn was a fucking whore who’d torn my heart out a long time ago.
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