Back in 1985, when I was still in high school, someone gave me the very first volume of Writers of the Future. In it, I discovered a science fiction story very different from the high fantasy which I had been reading voraciously, those 800-page tomes in vogue at the time. This little story took all of 23 pages and I have never forgotten it.
In Michael D. Miller’s “Tyson’s Turn,” the world has divided into stark, black-and-white lines of vocation. Imagine if unions controlled every single aspect of society and you’d start to understand. The Cooks and the Servers. The Psychologists, Social Workers, Office Managers, and Bookkeepers, each group with their respective Clients. The Cops and their counterparts the Criminals. All socially engineered to be perfect at what they do; all of them in a ferocious battle royal for the crumbs of a burned-out society.
Enter Tyson, a Tough Cop patrolling an interstate that goes nowhere, who gets a lucky break. A Drifter on his infrared. Only this Drifter doesn’t rabbit like he should; he practically invites Tyson to pick him up. Strange. More than he seems, this Drifter. But as an experienced Tough Cop, Tyson knows a few tricks as well.
After a brief chase, Tyson bags the Drifter, locks him in the backseat behind the thick wire mesh … but not before the other vocations get wind: Doctors hungry for Clients, Firefighters hungry for Victims, Criminals looking for Bait, anyone who could make a buck by bringing in a real-live Drifter. All these vocations were supposed to work like cogs in a wheel, but there was never enough work. Never. And so Tyson has to outrun and outthink the others, and oddly, the Drifter starts advising him. Helping Tyson the Tough Cop lead the others down forgotten, dangerous paths in his powerful police cruiser. The Drifter leading the Cop deeper into the decaying, urban labyrinth.
Dread builds from the first paragraph, increasing the sense that something is off about this Drifter, that the Cop is descending deeper and deeper into the Drifter’s web, that his very Toughness has become a weakness, and only at the end, too late, will Tyson realize what really lurks in the backseat behind the wire mesh.
In fact, I was thinking of “Tyson’s Turn” when I wrote the story “The Mark of Blackfriar Street,” which Writers of the Future judge Kevin J. Anderson purchased for the anthology Pulse Pounders: Adrenaline.
Scott T. Barnes is a winner in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 28. He has published short stories in venues ranging from BuzzyMag.com to the anthology History and Horror, Oh My!
Most of Scott’s work is in the speculative realm, from science fiction “The Last Job” to fantasy “A Hero’s Wish” to magical realism “Charlotte’s Cove,” about as far from his rural roots as imaginable. Or perhaps not so far, as country life provides plenty of opportunities for adventure and wonder.