Terms of Service (Chapter One)

Terms of Service (Chapter One)


Sean is co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints, speaker, and author, with breakout indie hits such as Yesterday’s Gone, WhiteSpace, Unicorn Western and The Beam, as well as traditionally published titles Z 2134 and Monstrous. Follow him on Twitter @seanplatt

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0-cover-TOS-RS-1Terms of Service is the Realm & Sands half of the first mutual writing project from Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands.

The Collective Inkwell version will be up soon (with children in jeopardy no doubt) but for now you can read the Realm & Sands release.

This short story is dark, funny and awesome. The first chapter is excerpted below, and the full story is already in your inbox if your an Outlaw.

If you’re not yet an Outlaw, hit reply after you sign up (in the box at the bottom of this excerpt) and let me know you want Terms of Service and I’ll send it right to you. Enjoy! 


Dear Consolidated Bottling Corporation, Incorporated,

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with your Xtrem Juice soda drink. After consuming it, I do not feel any younger or more extreme.

Eli Parker


Dear Mr. Parker,

I am sorry to hear that you were unsatisfied with our product. Please contact customer support using the phone number listed on the can, and they will issue a prompt refund.

Marcy Dennis
CBC, Inc.


Dear Marcy,

Thank you for replying personally. I must admit to a brush of nerves after my last email. I was afraid that I might have contacted the wrong company because frankly, your corporate name doesn’t sound very extreme. I was also concerned that I might be misunderstood after failing to spell “extreme” in the way your company is used to. I meant “xtrem.” I am also curious if the removal of 67 percent of the E’s normally spent on the word “extreme” saves wear and tear on your keys. Could you please send me a photograph of your keyboard? I would like to compare your E key to mine, as mine is entirely faded because I use too many E’s. I may follow your lead from here on out, in the interest of efficiency.

li Parkr


Dear Mr. Parker,

I am sorry that you have been dissatisfied with our product. Please contact the customer service support line at 1-800-451-4545, and they will issue you a refund.

Marcy Dennis
CBC, Inc.


Dear Marcy,

I would like to retract my earlier complaint. Since our last email exchange, I have consumed several more cans of Xtrem Juice and am feeling much more xtrem. Yesterday, I stood on a moving dolly and had a friend pull me behind his car for several blocks. We stopped when I slammed into a mailbox, but thanks to how xtrem I now am, I quickly recovered. In fact, I’m a medically controlled epileptic and have decided to stop all medication because your soda makes me feel so alive, young, and xtrem. It’s like medicine for poseurs. In fact, …


“Dad?” said a voice.

Eli looked up from his monitor, pausing his latest rant mid-sentence. Dashiell was standing in the office doorway, holding a block of wood.


“I need you to cut out my Pinewood Derby car.”

“I’m working.”

“You’ve been working all day. It’s like 8 o’clock. You promised when I came home from school that you’d do it tonight.”

“Yes, Dash, I work all day. It’s part of being an adult and keeping a roof over your head.”

“I just need the block cut out. I can do the rest.”

Eli sighed. Yes, he’d been working all day, but he wasn’t tired because working had mostly consisted of checking email and browsing through the online social networks. Some of it was fishing for new and insulting ways to annoy people for profit, and some of his energy had been consumed by replying to emails like those to Consolidated Bottling Corporation, but mostly he’d been screwing around.

Eli’s blog was phenomenally popular, and his books and collections of insulting email and mail exchanges sold very well. Unlike most bloggers, the ads on Eli’s high-traffic site paid the bills and then some. Significant book sales were gravy. If he’d wanted, Eli could “work” for 15 minutes a day just by checking his email. But only half of his reason for ranting was profit: He loved the praise, with people telling him how awesome he was.

“This is important, Dash,” said Eli, his eyes flicking to the screen.

“Come on, Dad. The Derby’s tomorrow!”

Eli thought about chastising his son for waiting until the last minute, but of course Dashiell hadn’t waited. He started asking Eli for help the week before. In Eli’s defense, there wasn’t really time. About half of his rants were funny or absurd (like the one to Consolidated Bottling), but the other half were dead serious. Even devoted fans of his funny rants called Eli an asshole, but sometimes the world needed an asshole to right a few wrongs. Most people would tolerate the bullshit perpetrated by predators. Not Eli. Sometimes, people did bad things, and most people let them fly. Assholes had to push back. This past week alone, Eli had publicly argued the return policy of a well-known (and, truth be told, well-loved) Internet marketer, had taken a member of Congress to task for some hypocritical anti-gay statements (the congressman wasn’t gay, but his secret gay lover was), and argued with a major electronics manufacturer for their underhanded terms of service. The world’s Pinewood cars were insignificant by comparison.

“Hell,” said Eli, failing to type anything funny in Dashiell’s presence. “Ask your mother.”

“Mom can’t run your band saw!”

Maxine would cut her fingers off if she tried; the saw was a behemoth Eli scored in an auction when Dashiell’s old middle school closed and liquidated its wood shop and wares. Eli got the saw two years before, when Dashiell was 11. Dash had been disappointed because in two years (now, Eli realized) he’d be able to use that shop himself. His new school didn’t offer wood shop until junior year — something that seemed prudent and wise to both Eli and Maxine. But when Eli got the saw, he’d promised he’d use it to build things with his son. The tally was zero so far.

“Tomorrow. I have to finish this.”

Professional assholes didn’t conform to timetables. He could finish his email in the morning. Or the next day. Or a week after that, it didn’t matter. But one of the things that made Eli great at his job (the serious, crusader side, anyway) was a certain sort of stubborn arrogance. Eli set his stakes and never budged. He was always, always right. No one else got to be right unless they just so happened to agree with Eli. Dashiell had learned that lesson again and again growing up — like the time he’d wanted to shave his head, the time he’d wanted to buy that pink shirt, and the time he’d wanted to see that Pixar movie instead of an age-inappropriate Kevin Smith film.

“Daaaad,” Dashiell whined.

“What happens when people whine?” Eli snapped.

Dashiell shook his head, and he turned to leave the office.


The boy stopped. He turned to face his father, then dutifully answered the ritual question. “They get what they want.”

“That’s right. This house was bought with complaints and whining. Like all your food, toys, and games. But there’s one and only one place where whining is never appropriate. Where is that, Dash?”

“With you.”

“That’s right. Why?”

Dashiell sighed. He was already defeated, but Eli had to twist the knife whenever something like this surfaced. It was part of being a good parent, imparting the wisdom his son would need to survive out there in the world.

“Because rules don’t apply to you.”

“Good boy.”

Eli started to add that he’d do the goddamned Pinewood Derby car tomorrow, but the door had already closed. He returned to the screen, and finished his rant.


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