Hey, so remember when the site died. For a month. Because host issues? Apparently one of the nuggets published during the window of no backups (“full backups” cannot be trusted) was the nifty audio excerpt I recorded. Also lost: the text excerpt.

Presented for you now in one place, the first bit from The Real Life Build, in audio and text. This book should be read after Fairy Tales, and can be read either before or after The Spinner, the Shepherd, and the Leading Man, which runs concurrently with very little crossover.

Updated to add: I still can’t find the audio track on my computer. Loud sigh. I’ll find it later, y’all. But this is the text.

The Real Life Build (New Halliday #2)




The pipe burst in Dillon’s bathroom right as he finished building the castle.

It took him a minute to realize the sound he was hearing was on the wrong side of his headphones, and a longer minute to realize it was accompanied by a disturbance in his space.

What the—?

It wasn’t a loud fire-hose-spraying kind of sound. It was more like a pop followed by…vaguely water-like noises under the bass line of Skrillex.

He grimaced. He should probably investigate, but he’d just worked out how to get the whole thing to work in scale (at least mostly). This was the worst time to walk away from a build: it was crystal clear in his head, but he hadn’t yet built enough of the frame to make it inevitable.

From Dillon’s desk, he could only see the wall. He yanked the headphones off and very slowly turned around toward the rest of the little apartment. Bed: normal. Kitchen: normal. Bathroom: nor—

Crud. Was that water on the floor?

For an extended moment he contemplated turning back to the mini golf build. It was a paying job. He couldn’t just stop because water was flowing (somewhat alarmingly) out of the bathroom.

Ew. Water. Clean water, right?

The idea that toilet water might be flooding his apartment finally got Dillon moving. Because that was just unsanitary.

He saved, backed up, and shut down, just in case, even pulling the plug out of the wall. Dillon could build Hogwarts in Minecraft; he had no idea if whatever was going on in the bathroom could reach the rest of the studio, but he wasn’t taking chances.

At first it didn’t look too bad. The floor was wet, but no geyser was flowing, and it wasn’t the toilet. It was…the shower? At least, the water seemed to be coming out of the dirty gap between the shower pan and the wall.

Water in the wall. That…probably wasn’t good.

Dillon parsed his extensive list of contacts. Tam would say “Whatever you do, don’t call 911. They won’t think it’s funny.” That left Roscoe.

Phone, phone, phone, right, it was…it was here somewhere.

He spotted the tablet first and woke it up. Oh, good, Roscoe was online; his pink toenails avatar had a bright green dot at the bottom left. Dillon typed There is water coming out of my shower, please advise.

Take off your clothes, step in, reach for the soap… Didn’t Tam cover this when you were little?

No, it’s not on. There’s water coming from inside it. Or in the walls. It’s all over the floor.

The status under Roscoe’s toenails flashed “Tranny Technohobbit is typing.”

Call the landlord, Minnow. If they don’t answer, and the water’s still flowing, leave a message informing them you’re calling a plumber, then call a plumber.

Dillon stared at the messages, stomach knotting. That was a lot of calling people considering he had no idea where his phone was.

Um. Will you call my phone? I can’t find it.

Oh, Minnow.

A minute passed. Then another.

Straight to voicemail. Presumably the battery’s dead. Is the water actively flowing?


You need to find the shut-off valve, Minnow. Isn’t it an apartment?

Kind of. Two-story garage turned into two apartments.

Of course it is. Is the landlord close?

Next door, I guess. Landlady.

Go knock, Minnow. And ask her if she knows where the shut-off is.

Dillon tapped the underside of the tablet. Do I have to?

Only if you like having a dry place to live. Go.

Dillon sighed and studied his Cookie Monster pants. Should he change to go next door? Probably. Two more sighs, and then he pulled a pair of baggy cargo pants on over his Cookie Monsters and trekked out the front door, which opened into a little walkway between the apartments and the house. Dillon tried knocking on Mrs Southby’s door. Then he tried again.

No answer. Right as he was deciding to go badger Roscoe more, he heard sounds on the other side.

Mrs Southby was a widow, and rented out the garage apartments to cover her mortgage. She was about four-nine, and her expression was a frown until she realized who he was.

“Dillon? Dear, no one uses this door. I didn’t even know what that sound was.” She blinked, her bushy white eyebrows moving like caterpillars that couldn’t escape her face. “Is everything all right, dear?”

“My bathroom’s leaking,” he said.

“Oh. Well, let’s have a look.”

Despite the fact that she technically owned the building, Dillon hated having Mrs Southby in his apartment. He hated having anyone in his apartment. He followed her toward the bathroom, but they didn’t make it that far.

“Oh my goodness! What happened?” She clasped her hands together and stood very still for a long moment.

“My godfather mentioned something about a valve—”

“Of course, dear. My oh my, this is highly inconvenient.” She backtracked outside and ducked under the stairs that led to the upstairs apartment.

Should little old ladies be kneeling in the dirt like that? “Um, Mrs Southby—”

“Thank you so much, dear, yes, you may.”

I may—what? “Um…”

She moved out of the way and revealed a panel in the wall.

Then again, shorter was probably better for kneeling-under-a-stairwell purposes. Dillon crammed himself under and pried the panel open at one corner.

“Just give that a good turn, dear.”

Dillon turned the handle-thing. It turned, tightened, and that was it. “Did it work?”

“Let’s go look.”

The shower wall was no longer flooding the room (though at this point the water reached halfway through the kitchen and the cuffs of Dillon’s pants were soaked).

“Well, at least there’s that,” Mrs Southby said, sounding a lot more satisfied than Dillon felt. “Now, I’ll need to give Billy Johnson a call—”

A door banged open outside, and footsteps pounded down the stairs. “What the hell—

“Sorry, dear!” Mrs Southby called. “We’re in here!”

Having Mrs Southby in his apartment was a necessary evil, but having Tricia from upstairs inside made his stomach churn. Dillon pressed himself against the wall and braced for his neighbor’s entrance.

“Mrs Southby, do you want to explain to me why I suddenly don’t have water in my apartment? As a tenant, I hold you responsible—”

“I realize that, dear, but it can’t be helped. Dillon’s got a leak in his wall.”

“What does Dillon’s wall have to do with my kitchen sink?”

“You see, dear, the shut-off valve goes to both apartments. Don’t worry, I’ll have Billy out as soon as possible.”

Tricia didn’t look all that reassured. “I have a right to running water, Mrs Southby,” she said, tossing her hair and putting her hands on her hips.

“Of course you do, dear,” Mrs Southby replied. She smiled at Tricia and didn’t say anything else.

Dillon revised his internal assessment of his landlady when Tricia spun around and walked out.

“Such a burden, to carry all that anger. Don’t you think, dear?” Mrs Southby turned away again, surveying the damage. “I don’t think we need to turn off the electricity, do you?”

Forty-five minutes later Dillon found himself dismissed, just-short-of-banned from his apartment for “a couple-few hours, or until I can work out what the fuck is going on”, as Billy Johnson told him gruffly, with a pointed look at the door.

“But I live here.”

“You might think of finding a place to be that still has a working toilet.”

“How long is a couple-few hours?”

Billy shrugged.

“How will I know it’s safe to come home?”

“I’ll have the missus give you a call.”

“Excuse me, Billy, but you’re exactly seven months older than I am, so there’ll be none of that.” Mrs Southby smiled.

Billy smirked.

Things were happening here that Dillon didn’t understand, and didn’t want to. He contemplated his computer and began loading it into a messenger bag. He’d been in New Halliday for almost six months. In that time he’d been to the gas station twice, and the grocery store maybe a dozen times. Dillon hated driving. After a moment of hesitation, he loaded two bottles of water in his bag, the tablet, and—just in case he couldn’t find an outlet—the little Linux netbook that held the longest charge of any of his computers.

Mrs Southby and Billy watched him, both of them appearing fascinated. Dillon idly cursed his earlier instinct and wished he could excuse himself to pull off his Cookie Monsters. It was hot out to be walking around with two pairs of pants.

New Halliday. Downtown New Halliday. Crud.

Also, he’d forgotten to look for his phone. Dillon contemplated going back for it, but since he had no idea where the heck it would be, that was a waste of time. And Billy would probably look at him like he was intruding.

A sudden weird wave of paranoia overtook him. He’d left Billy in his apartment, with all of his things. Billy was, what, sixty-five? Sixty? He probably wasn’t going to poke around, right? And if he did, it wouldn’t be in the opaque black container next to the bed.

Way to go, leaving the sex toys in a plastic bin beside the bed. Real original. Billy Johnson would have a heart attack and die if he actually looked inside.

Dillon shuddered.

Focus on now. Downtown New Halliday. He stood on the corner of Main and Oak and stared down Main. Oak was on the north side of Main; staring south gave him a good view of the entire stretch.

Lawyer, bail bond, accountant, therapist. Weird little church, wine tasting room, lawyer, florist. Next block, far side: candy shop, maybe some kind of clothing shop, too far away to see after that. Next block, this side: bar, hot dog place, coffee place. Two more blocks after that.

He’d have to walk. No point in standing here. Dillon tightened the strap on his bag and started down the street.

A few of the upper stories were also professional offices, but nothing useful. Dillon didn’t know what he was looking for, but he knew accountants and tax specialists weren’t going to be helpful.

The candy shop had no tables and lots of children: no thanks.

He’d hoped for a coffee shop, and there was one. He slowed down as he walked past, but it didn’t look comfortable. It was too open, too bright. The tables were small, the chairs looked uncomfortable. Dillon kept walking.

Thai restaurant, sandwich place, fancy furniture, fancy women’s clothes, pub-looking joint, fancy pizza.

Dillon made it all the way to the other side of “downtown”, fetching up at a nursery with potted plants outside.

“Hello,” a woman said to him. He hadn’t seen her; she was kneeling, messing with something behind the lowest shelf of pots.

“Oh, hello.” Great, people. Dillon was no good with people.

“Help you with something? You look lost.”

“Actually, I live here. Down on Oak.” He could imagine Roscoe telling him to put himself out there. “I, um, need to find a place to kind of…camp out for a few hours. There’s a…plumbing issue. At my apartment.”

The woman’s face creased in sympathy. “Oh, I hate that. A few hours? If you’re looking for coffee, try The Cowboy Way.”

“The flavor of coffee never really, um, grew on me.” This was such a stupid idea.

“Oh, well, then you’re looking for The Dugout. It’s a sports bar.” She must have seen his face, because she waved her hand in the air as she stood up. “No, no, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that. It used to be more rowdy, but these days it’s just the local watering hole.”

“Ah—” Dillon didn’t know exactly what to say to that.

“Head back through town, same side of the street. Two blocks down. Can’t miss it, it’s on the corner across from the candy shop.”

He’d passed it, but dismissed it. “And it’s open now?”

“Oh, sure, Gage opens at ten. And he won’t mind if you want to order a burger and stay for a few hours.”

“Thank you,” he said, after a pause.

The woman smiled. “Sure thing. I’m Candice Cooper, by the way. Good to meet you.”

Shake her hand and tell her your name. Go on, Roscoe’s voice urged.

“I’m Dillon Aldham,” he said. “Good to meet you, too. Thanks.”

She waved and turned back to her plants.

A burger wouldn’t be bad. But…a bar?

Dillon walked slowly. He could sit in a bar if he had to. He’d been in a bar. He’d been in three bars. Well, technically he’d only peed in one of them, so that probably didn’t count.

He saw it in the distance and slowed down even more. He really didn’t want to spend the next few hours in a bar. But thinking about that coffee shop didn’t make him feel any more thrilled.

Dillon readjusted his messenger bag and pushed the door open.

The first thing was the smell. He assumed it would smell like beer, but instead he smelled grilled onions.

Dillon’s mouth watered. He had three favorite foods: popcorn, grilled onions, peanut butter and jelly.

“Hey there.”

Don’t be a dork, Dil. “Sorry,” he said. No, that was the wrong thing to say, judging by the guy’s face. “Um—hey.”

The guy—late thirties/early forties, red hair curling around his face, smile lines—raised his eyebrows. “You can take a seat anywhere. We’re pretty casual around here.”

Oh. He looked like he was standing there waiting to be seated. Okay. A normal miscommunication. Not a my brain just short-circuited because I haven’t had grilled onions in at least six months miscommunication.

Right, right, sit down, Dillon. “Sorry, do you mind if I plug in somewhere? Is there a table by an outlet?”

“Plug in your phone?”

“Computer, actually.”

“Okay. Sure.” The guy gestured. “Two outlets along the far wall, just pick whichever one you like. Let me know if you need to shift a table.”

“Thank you.”

The guy smiled. Yeah, definitely smile lines. “No problem. You want anything to drink? Eat?”

Dillon almost said no, though that would just put off ordering until later. “Are you—grilling onions?”

“Hey, yeah, you like grilled onions?”

“Yeah. They’re, uh, kind of my favorite food.”

“You hear that, Alisha?” the guy called. “I’m Gage, by the way. How do you want your onions? Burger? They’re pretty damn good on fries, even if Alisha’s too good for fries.”

“Can it, boss!”

Gage leaned in, like they were sharing a secret. “Don’t listen to her, grilled onion fries are essential.”

“Burger and fries sound good,” Dillon said. “Um. Thank you.”

“Sure thing. Go ahead and sit wherever you like.”

The bar stretched three quarters of the way down the wall to the right of the door, and the outlets were on the opposite wall. Only three booths, all along the front windows. All occupied. Dillon sighed and shifted his bag to the other arms. There were five open tables, only one at the wall. Dillon made his way to that one and put his bag down on a dry spot on the floor. The table was small. He set up the laptop, one corner just slightly over the edge.

Despite the people, the noises, the talking and laughter and distractions, Dillon lost himself almost immediately to the build onscreen. He’d never been to a mini golf course, but he’d seen all the videos YouTube had to offer. He could close his eyes and imagine walking through a course, which was the only way he could design one in Minecraft. He had no idea how much time had passed when Gage came to the table and set down a glass of water, and a plate with a huge burger and a side of fries.

“Not much room here,” the guy said. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Gage! You can get me another beer!”

Gage waved off the man talking to him and stayed a second longer with Dillon. “I’ll check in on you in a bit.”

“Hey! I’m talking to you!”

“Oh-h,” someone else at the man’s table said. “He’s talking to you, Gage. Watch out.”

“I might cut you off, old man,” Gage said.

“Like hell you will.”

Dillon, who was now staring at his keyboard, waiting for the weird aggression to calm down, realized that the older guy was joking. Kind of.

“Yeah, yeah.” Gage grabbed a beer off the counter that the other bartender had already poured and dropped it in front of the man. “Hey, is Ralph giving you guys problems? I don’t want to have to ban him again.”

The other two men laughed.

“If you can take care of this guy, you should’ve done it years ago before he caused us so much grief.”

“Shove it, Drew. And you, get lost. Don’t hover around the tables, did I teach you nothing?”

“You taught me to boot anyone I thought was causing a problem.” Gage paused.

The older guy waved a big hand. “Get lost, I said.”

Gage turned away, still smiling and unruffled. He caught Dillon’s eye and Dillon looked away fast, before it looked like he was staring. You’d have to be friendly to work at a bar, probably. Though friendly and handsome was a nice combination.

Ugh. Work. Eat. Grilled onions. He saved to the hard drive, attempted to back up to the cloud, argued with the wifi signal for a moment, and gave up. He saved to the second hard drive instead and closed the computer so he could eat.

The grilled onions were perfect, caramelized enough, a little crispy. Dillon enjoyed his burger more than he’d enjoyed anything he’d eaten since he moved to New Halliday. The rest of the day was a bust, but now he knew where to find a good burger, so that was something.