Saturday, January 05, 2019

The Mysterious Text: A Not A Novel Publication

“Franklin.”

Four years of marriage lead to skills Sarah always calls our ‘marriage-sense’. The tingling of a bridge close to being burn, of a line close to being crossed. Every relationship a tightrope, at least some of the time. I look up from the text message. “I –.”

She reaches over, pushing our laptop away from the table. “It’s been three days.”

“I know. I’m just so fu–.” I bite back words.

“Deana is sleeping,” she says. “And if you wake her, you’ll have more to worry about than me.” But my wife smiles as she says it, the smile fading as she runs her fingers over my chin. “You haven’t shaved in two days.”

“I know, I just –.” I set my phone on our small office table that’s only called that because of the bills drawer. “I know something is wrong, Sarah. I’ve known Aiden since we were six years old: he is – was – is my best friend. I was the first person he came out to.”

“He was the best man at our wedding,” she says. “And convinced me to stick with you after that one party at Clover Point.”

“He did?”

“Phone calls afterwards, three of them. About how long he’d known you, that the drinks must have been spiked. That he turned out to be right helped.”

“Everyone else calls me Frank. Everyone at work, even my parents.”

“We don’t.”

I nod, gesture to the phone. “He used ‘Frank’ in his last text to me. He never did that. Refused to abbreviate anything unless he was in a hurry, and if he was there would be a period so I’d know it was Franklin. So I’d know it was my name. He had a new boyfriend, and he’s always – well, he’d have called Steven before the flight, after it landed. He would anyway, but he was – is – always does with regularity at the start of any relationship.”

“He would have sent us a picture of some street in Vancounver during the first day.”

“And he didn’t. He flew halfway across the country, and we know he left the airport and then – nothing. The police have enough to look into it: they’ll try, but it won’t be hard enough. I could almost hear the interest change when they decided it had to be an affair. I wanted to ask if they wanted another Pickton to escape them, but that wouldn’t have helped anything at all.”

Sarah laughs, as much in shock as surprise. “No, it wouldn’t.”

“And Deana is two, I can’t get time off work. Even if we could afford the flight.”

“I looked into our credit cards,” she says, stepping behind me to run fingers over my neck. “We can’t afford it. If we borrowed, it would have to be a friend willing to wait two years at least to be paid back, love.”

“I know. I know. He could be dying. Be dead. Be in some – and there is nothing we can do.” I don’t delete the message on my phone. I can do that much. I can read Vancouver news from so far away. I can hope. We can afford hope, if nothing else.

I force myself to stand, heading to the kitchen for a night cap and then bed. There is nothing we can afford to sell, nothing I can think to do in a world that doesn’t work like a mystery novel. I don’t know anything about solving crimes, nothing about finding murdered friends. All I know is that it all costs money, and that’s one thing we don’t have.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Status Updates: end of 2018! (Oct-Dec)

Oct 2018

“Look, Dr. Jekyll. We have to talk. Your patented formula to turn into Mr Hyde seems to mostly involve a lot of vodka.”

“You could have done something different.”
“I saved you.”
“From what?”
“…”
“Exactly.”

“Monsters aren’t scary, not really. You want scary, you should meet their mothers. And then explain why their child is a monster. That will show you a real one.”

“I had a dream that one day everyone would be lollipops and ride on zebra giraffes to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy while the sky is devoured by cotton candy, but does anyone want to hear about that dream? No, sir, they do not. Not even if the truth behind that dream would shake them to their core!”

“I’m not your biological father, but I am your geological one.”

To stop feeling human, the recipe is sickness

“I am afraid of nothing,” I whispered, and no one understood how terrible that could be.

“No one has magic anymore, not like they did in the old days. You could change kingdoms with a song, break an emperor with a poem. People feared poets then in a way no one does now. They could do more, you understand? They were more because they had less to work with. Words mean more when there is less of them. Now there are so many words and too many mean the same thing or nothing at all. We have so many that we lose them.
“And with every loss, some of their power went away. And now hey have only words. And we have only words. And we drown in a buffet that means nothing at all.”

Every vow to last forever stands in the knowledge that time turns all mountains into hills.

Every poem remembers
The silence of the poet

“Nothing is as important as the people, my king. And nothing as important to the wellbeing of the people as trade deals. Every monster you slay might win you praise, but this – being a proper king – that wins renown.”

No one has ever eaten grapefruit by choice. The bitter taste and the grapefruit spoon exist only to
symbolically dig the sadness from your own heart.

They kept saying the grass was greener
Even if our side contained watered lawns
Their side stretched into empty desert –
Perhaps some shade of green we never knew

sometimes change isn’t change at all
you remain who you’ve always been
not needing to find anyone at all just
finally fitting into your own skin
learning how to call yourself home

Waiting in line to vote and had someone come out in tears.
Because she didn’t get a sticker. Her mom explained that she had to wait fifteen more years to be able to vote, but she wasn’t having it.

Watching telephone poles shed their leaves for autumn.

*eyes news*
"the shooter surrendered to the police"
aka: they were white


Nov 2018

*begins excavating a novel from inside my head*

From this morning's writing output:
Today isn’t a bad day, but I can feel a bad one creeping up on me.

From this morning's output:
“I don’t think a town that small would have a casino. I imagine the building you saw was a megachurch, if there is really any difference between a megachurch and a casino.”

The fun moment when you pause a novel to learn about the politics of Ukraine because one character invaded the Ukraine to take it over when they couldn't claim it in Risk.

“But the story of my childhood can’t be autobiographical before I’m seventeen. That is when I bought my first car.”

From WIP:
The town of Wendover turns out to be quite large and bustling. The usual scatters of suburbs still desperately trying to raise children to be normal, the town itself a scattering of major streets, old industrial plants looming against the hills and enough modern buildings and layouts to make me wonder how much of the original town even remains. At a guess, it’s been revitalized so often that they will soon be levelling homes just to revitalize them again, which is a weird impression of town.

From WIP:
I doubt even those he worked with saw the old man as a monster. A middle man can wash their hands of so many things, and sometimes the most evil people are the ones who tell everyone that what they do is simply business and nothing else at all.

Me: Aha! This makes sense. Kate figuring out she was wrong and going back fits the character and progression.
Also me: Wait. This could screw up the timeline badly....
Ah, the joys of novel writing :)

“Things always move toward getting better.”
Emmett turns to Jay. “Even in the darkness?” he demands.
“Oh, especially then!”
“What?” Emmett says, to the joy in the words as much as the reply I think.
“Darkness isn’t absence of light; the darkness remembers the light and knows the light will always be waiting for when the darkness ends.”
“And if there are always been darkness?” Emmett presses.
“Then there’s always been light too of course,” Jay says happily. “Probably hiding inside the darkness and making lots of silly faces.”

From WIP:
“Every old person thinks the world is coming to an end, because their own world has at least twice in their lives.”

The ghost wavers visibly. “It takes everything I am to remain here, magician, as no one would wish me to remain.”
“And you want my help to make people see you?”
“A man should not ask for help, should not need from others like cowards do,” the ghost snaps, almost without thinking.
“It is possible for ghosts to haunt each other as well. Or at leas their voices; you do not have to be that person,” I offer.
“I am dead. It is far too late for the dead to change.” The ghost lets out a small, bitter laugh.
“Then what do you want from me?”
“I need – I need my granddaughter to see me.”
“I’ll need more than that.”
“The last thing I told her was that she was just like every other kid, following trends in wanting to be a boy.”
“Trends.”
“I died that night, in my sleep. From nothing else than age. It has been six weeks since I died, and no one can see me. I cannot affect them. I cannot –.”
“You cannot what?”
“Apologize,” the ghost says finally.
“And you think appearing as a spirit of yourself will do that? That your granddaughter – or anyone – would want to see you again?”
The ghost pulls himself together, drawing thin scraps of power around himself.
“You insulted me when you met me, and I am the only person who can help you. Think about that, Bob.”
The scraps of power vanish like forgotten dreams, the ghost looking old and frail even for a ghost. “…can you do this?” he asks.
“I could.”
“I – please. I do not want her – his – last memories of me to be hate. Tell Dev – I do not know what. Say I am proud to have a grandson too? I am sorry, but it is too late for words that mean nothing.”
“If it meant nothing, you would not be trying this,” I say quietly.

From WIP:
Every ghost wants something; they’re unlike the living in that regard.

... the fun moment when you have to apologize to someone for messages a fictional character sent them.

That moment when you check your novel plot file to figure out where everything is, and realize after adding 30K words of various needed scenes, you are still on page 4 of 11... heh. Though I have technically moved down one line on the page.

Forgiveness is a weapon
We so seldom unsheathe

sometimes it feels like we would be lucky to be as blessed as sisyphus.

From WIP:
“Most people don’t see things as simply as you do, magician.”
“Hardly simple; I just don’t have it in me to care about unimportant matters that others deem important; your appearance is one of those.” His smile is bookended by a chuckle.

*that moment when your brain begins surfacing from a novel draft only to remind you that you need to write three short stories over a weekend in which you don't have time to*

Dec 2018

“Nothing is ever cheap; the price is always what the market can afford.”
“My soul is just worth two pennies?!”
“That is what the ferryman accepts,” the demon replied.

I offered the only immortality I knew of, writing you into the book even if I changed your name at the last moment to protect nothing that mattered in the end.

We somehow fell in step though never once we danced.

“If the point is to be clever rather than share information, then it is never about being clever at all. Nor should it ever be.”

“How can you love a system that has damaged you so deeply?”
“I can because I know it has damaged others far more than it has ever damaged me.”

Writing 900+ words on phone is fun. Deciphering what autocorrect did, also fun :p
The streets below spire X10 wasn’t vague in itself
When you’re seven feet tall and almost as board
I swore softly but followed him without another wolf.
“I did; I am too heavy to climb that robe.”

“But I can’t die. It’s in the contract that I’m playing Detective Orland for two more seasons!”
Death paused. “I am afraid the contract for the character you play in a TV show does not extend to real life.”
“Yeah? Read the fine print, buster.”

The fun of working on a post-cyberpunk universe definitely includes the equivalent of people whose implants run on Mac, or who use floppy disks for their cybernetics or don't have the equivalent of a modern internet connection. The future is not compatible with you, as one character is quite boastful about.

That moment when a fictional character you made sells a copy of an anthology you are in on Twitter...

The Warrior About Whom There Was No Prophecy strode into the city, seeking the Villain Who Must Be Named (because, otherwise, it was hard to find him). They had been childhood friends, but death and blood had come between them and the Warrior knew he was under a terrible curse, but not its nature.
In time he found a woman, who was searching for her heart’s desire, but his quest went deeper than his heart, and the Warrior did not see his own True Love, but only information.
“I am looking for Sex. I have been my whole life,” he explained. “Sex was my childhood friend, but because of Sex my sister and my parents died in my arms and I … who are you looking at me funny? You’re calling the guard?! YOU’RE IN LEAGUE WITH SEX!“
And the Warrior drew his very ordinary and unnamed sword and slew her, screaming about Sex, and had to flee the guard, who seemed to be in league with the terrible villain as well, never once wondering upon the nature of his curse.
Somewhere, a magician named Bob was amused.

"The history of a country is the history of genocide. What do you think your ancestors came here to do? How do you not know this? Is not your history also the history of your crimes? How can you not understand the damage done to others if you never learn how deeply your people hurt them? I weep for an education system that has failed you so deeply."
"You misunderstand. It hasn't failed us: it has worked exactly as it was intended to work."

The Grey aliens turned out not to have any conspiracy theories about humans. There was no need.

I do love you. But that’s not enough, not by itself. It never is. You know that, don’t you?”

... given that people are willing to pay into a gofundme for a wall they were a) told they'd never pay for and b) won't be effective (unless one measures effective by 'how well does this scare a certain segment of white people' ...)
Can we start one up to begin restoring/replacing the rings of Saturn? It might make more sense, and by the time it's a true problem we might have the funds in the account to deal with it :)

"I know this isn't our normal Christmas tradition, but unless we use this Ouija board we're never finding out Uncle Ralph's wifi password."

You claim to write poetry but I see no evidence that you are a poet.”
“…being published doesn’t count?”
Not these days. Anyone can get published now.”

That moment when you submit two stories to an anthology. (one regular one, and another that is the same story from the perspective of another character (....because Jay). And you get 2 contributor copies, one of which is for Jay.
And that copy includes comments and notes for the character spanning the story they are in and some other pages as well.
... that is when you know your story is in the right anthology

1 star Yelp review:
Inn had no room. Manager insisted the stables were viable for my PREGNANT WIFE!! WTH?!?! WOULD GIVE ZERO STARS IF I COULD BUT WE SAW ONE OVERHEAD,
DO NOT RECOMMEND.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Status Updates Aug. And Sept. 2018


August 2018

“Of course you’re going to get an Oscar. This is the role you were born to play, darling!”
“...The Only Conservative In The Village? That’s the real title?”
“Working title, dear. But they’ll have to give you an award. If they don’t, everyone will know why.”
“Because it’s not a good movie?”
“This is the Oscars. That is hardly a factor.”

There is no such thing as artificial food colouring. Everyone knows this, even if no one will admit it.

They called it a glitch when everyone got a notification that Facebook was in a relationship with them.

“I wasn’t scared of you.”
“I know.” The monster chuckled. “No one is anymore.”
“Are you going to drink my blood?”
“I can’t drink as much from you as the politicians have with their taxes.”
“...what?”
“That was a joke.” And that was when the monster stopped smiling and drank deep of human blood.
“Please,” the human begged. “Not like you. Don’t make me like you. I never want to live forever.”
“No one does any more,” the vampire said softly, and broke the neck as a kindness.

She smiled sadly. "Too often, evil is pretending what your allies do is normal solely because you are afraid of losing an identity you’ve clung to for so long."

“Blood?” The vampire sneered; she had a good sneer, one honed by long practise. “Do you even know what is in your blood? No vampire has drunk human blood in over two hundred years.”
“What do you take from us?” I whispered, half-against my will. Damnable, my curiousity.
“Unkindness. Anger. Hate. We drink it all, and wait for you to change.” She smiled, almost. “We live in the same world as you; we have no desire for you to destroy it.”

“But it’s not fair! All those ‘oh, here are excerpts from an honest vampire novel’ silliness isn’t fair!”
“Pardon?”
“That’s werewolf erasure. We’re right here!”
“Yes, but excerpts from an honest werewolf novel would just involve fleas, the pound, and being killed by hunters.”
“There is more to us than that.”
“The PETA endorsement?”
“...we don’t talk about that. Ever.”

“Of course I’m not afraid of you,” the child explained. “I’ve seen dragons on TV with dens that were huge studios and they aren’t scary at all!”

Once upon a time, a dragon discovered too late that insurance would have protected against the predations of adventurers, but spending money on insurance was antithetical to any creature with a hoard.

“But if we give up the valley to the enemy, we will lose the war,” the minister for agriculture screamed.
The general laughed. Even the king paused at that laugh. “It is a war, you old fool. All you can do is lose a war. This way, we can lose in a way that causes the least amount of deaths. Which some people might be in favour of.”
Well, well you’ll be out of work!”
“That is what every soldier desires.” And the general turned and left.

Once upon a time there was a monster who found out the easiest way to not be a monster was to buy the loyalty of humans with coin. It proved so easy that the monster almost forgot what they were really were in time as well.

“And what is a king without a crown but a shadow with nothing to cast it?”

“My liege. You do not need your crown to lead, to be moral –.”
“Perhaps not to lead, but morality?” The king chuckled. “A king has no morality, save that of the people. The kingdom is the conscience and guide both, unless one wishes to be ploughed into the fields like the kings of old as a reminder of hubris. To be a king is to be ruled far more than it is to rule.”

Poem

You said pain was the only truth you understood, and never grasped why I could not stay.

“This homicide I am investigating makes no sense, Commissioner,” the Detective said. “It has been four days and no one else has been killed, the case is not connected to a cold case,l or a recent unsolved murder haunting me, and no one has tried to kill me yet. I am starting to wonder if it was really a homicide at all.”

You said that every time God closed a door, He opened a window. I just wish it hadn’t been while we were on the plane.

'frozen stars are falling in your adjectival eyes'
Why, yes, I do write poetry.

“This is very strange? We always thought aliens would come as invaders?”
The alien chuckled. “Of course we wouldn’t. Now, where are we building the next theme park?”
History only happens when we aren’t paying attention. That’s why there is so much of it.

“Look, Dave, there is no way you’re beating Simon Warwick in a fight.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“He has a last name. You don’t. He’s going to win because that makes him more important to this story.”

“I never hated you, not even during the two years in the psych ward when no one believed what you’d done, what you were. Not even in the years before, when you killed every friend I made because there could be only you.”
“Why not?” the monster whispered in a voice like rusted bicycle chains scraping over small animals.
“You helped make me who I am; if I hate you for that, I would have to hate myself as well.”

Envy has more forms than anything else I know, even silence. I envy him the simple ‘Hey’ he gives me every morning, the way he call pull out small talk from nowhere as though it wasn’t small at all. That he found this space between popular and not, and slipped into it without any effort I’ve ever seen. He can hide better than anyone I know, because he’s never hiding at all. His face hides nothing, even if he thinks otherwise. And I envy him that too.

“Why? The poison in my…” He coughed. “I’m dying. Why?”
“Because you are a monster. The dead are as much a part of the world as the living. To be an exorcist is to execute the dead for crimes they have not committed. You hold the dead to the standards of the living, and there is nothing more monstrous than your arrogance.”


Sept 2018

I wonder how much of current US/Canada relations might be caused by Trump thinking poutine is Putin?

“I understand that only fools seek vengeance. But sometimes, just sometimes, I can be quite foolish indeed.”

“Wait. You can bring the dead back to life. And you… you’re… what are you doing?”
“What else is resurrection for, if not to ensure you get the best information from a suspect?”
“…”

Huxley’s father chuckles softly. “Knowing who you are is important, Bodhi. But in my experience it’s not knowing yourself that is important as much as learning to love what you find.”

Once upon a time, there was an evil wizard who wished for peace on earth and was left alone in a world where nothing else existed at all.

“Oh, this? It’s my dinner. I just tell people I’m on a diet and no one asks any questions about maldernourishment.”

“Oh, hell. Boss, you can’t –”
“Cannot? I have spent over six centuries sealing monsters. I believe I have some idea of what I can and cannot accomplish.”
“No, because this is a meme. You can’t contain it. No one can. The only thing we can do is try and defang it.”
“And that will work?”
“Only sometimes.”

“You can’t expect the world to dance for you just because you figured out a single tune.”

“You don’t eat people, do you?” Boy asked.
“What a peculiar place you are from to think we do,” the witch said.
“That’s not a yes or a no.”
“Ah,” the witch breathed, half a laugh. “I would be way, Boy, of questions that can be answered so easily.”
Boy raised his chin. “What about people who won’t answer them at all?”
“I am no politician,” the witch replied with gentle calm. “And bluntness is a crude instrument that never covers fear. Nor does it hide the thoughts under your thoughts.”
Boy said nothing.
“Tell me, what do you make of Reynard Fox?” the witch asked in the way of witches, which is to ask a leading question.
“Why ask questions you know the answer to?” Boy almost snapped.
“Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised,” the witch replied and Boy flushed slightly.

Amusements of a new job: a truly ridiculous amount of paper clips in a filing cabinet drawer.

“You could try being a good person. Just to see what it is like?”
“No, no I think not. Good too often tends to be addicting. Evil at least one can trust. Evil simply wishes to be left along to be evil; good always seeks to impose upon others.”
“You’re a superhero.”
“Yes,” Wonder Star admitted.
“And you don’t fly, or use fire?”
“It’s been over sixty years, okay?! Every good name is taken or in copyright!”

“I imagine there is a great deal about your world that is admirable, but very little that is real,” Bess said to the fox.
Reynard Fox only smiled. “Every world is less admirable the more real it is.”

It turned out that witches had no reflection as well, but that was solely because mirrors were scared of them.

I bet this could be
A very boring haiku
If it wanted to

The war ended by by the simply expediency never happening at all.

“The important thing, in the end, was the friendships we made along the way.”
“No. No, I think it was more the bodies we buried.”
“Well, we did that together too.”

“If it bleeds, we can kill it!”
“Sir, that – that’s not blood.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“According to my scanner, those are tears.”
“If it cries, we can kill -.”
“Tears of happiness, sir. I believe it thinks we’re playing a game.”
“We shot it with two impact rifles on full power. You could disable a civilian aircraft with that!”
“Yes, sir.”
“… perhaps we find something for it to fetch?”
“A wise decision, sir.”

“And you’re certain that isn’t a monster?”
“Well, most monsters don’t have Twitter - wait, never mind, probably a monster.”

“I know they want our money, but I really doubt the Girl Guides use the proceeds from their cookies to fund terrorism.”

“I don’t know why you’re scared; they’ve never met anyone like us before.”
“Yes, well, we’ve never met anyone like them either.”
“Oh. Good point.”

“I never meant to hurt you.”
“Would it be different if you had?”

You are the poem I should have written
Had I the words with which to write

2018: watching scared old white men lie for other scared old white men.

Status Updates June & July 2018

June 2018


They replaced poetry
With an app one day
And we only noticed
– I kid, we never did

Every photo of you has you hugging a stranger in it, only you’ve never met them before. But you keep seeing their pictures in the paper the next day, and they’re all missing.

You find all the memories you’ve lost in a scrapbook in a used-book shop. The owner only asks to keep the first 20 pages. And smiles at you.

The pride of lions joined the parade.

Once upon a time there was a ruler who refused to recycle, believing that any populace that valued recycling items would sooner rather than later apply the same philosophy to their sovereign.

We live in a world where even the politicians no longer want to be politicians, but that is only because they wish to become lobbyists.

The real estate development listed the second phase as almost done though no one was able to find half the buildings.

“You trust your books more than you do me.”
“They’ve never lied to me,” he said.
She laughed, short and sharp. “What else do you think words do? Why else chain them between bindings?”
And to that he had only a furious silence.

“This is a gift for Father’s Day,” she said, even though it was early.
Even though I am not a father.
Even though I have no children.

In the end, it was easy to let go of everything save for hate. And they wondered why ghosts exist.

The only thing important about the story was everything that never ended up on the page.

Proof that cats are better than dogs: you’ve never heard of a dog scan.

You said it was a gift, but you made certain I knew the price.

“Hatred doesn’t help.”
“Most things don’t, I’ve found.”
“I know one thing that helps me.”
“Hatred Lite?”
“You.”
“...”

“Van Helsing, Van Helsing, Van Helsing. Really? Your family is still coming after me after all these centuries?” Dracula let out a sigh, a feat for one so very undead. “I have killed yes, to sustain myself, as you do. And I admit I am a monster, but I do not think I am your monster, not anymore.”
“Your lies will not avail you, prince of dark –.”
“Come now. I am centuries-old, yes, but I would have to work for a very long time to accomplish the same evils your politicians do in mere decades. I understand your desire to see the other as inhuman. It is a very real desire. But I suspect the monsters you should be hunting are abroad in daylight as well as darkness, and wear suits far better than my own.”

You said dreams could become real, but the cost to the real is always too much. No one talks about the price others pay for their dreams to come true, and sometimes I think it’s the only conversation worth having.

I said I had no secrets from you.
And I still don’t know why that made you weep.

The secret agent was so secret that she didn’t know she was an agent.

And after it all fell apart, I carried each piece despite the lessons everyone thought I should have learned.

Considering keeping this phone-made typo in:
“You’re not a bear?”
There is a pause. “Not right now?”
I gesture wirelessly to the cavern.
... wirelessly, wordlessly. Same thing, right?!

Apparently there is a surveillance car costing $5 million that can hack iphones. I suppose that's one way to get around the pervasiveness of cell phone use in modern stories...
"What do you mean, EVERY gang in the city has one?!"

“Use your power for good.”
“I have no power.”
The magician smiles. “Then you can be really good.”

“Why do aliens keep crashing on our world in spaceships that can travel light years?”
“Heh. What makes you believe any of them really crash?”



"The problem with power is that you are responsible for your power every moment of every day. What you do, what you fail to to, what you incite and support. Everything power does has consequences, and only a coward tries to pretend otherwise. You must always guard against yourself, unless you are a fool. In which case everyone else must guard against you.”
“Or you are cruel without kindness, and other powers must destroy you,” I say slowly.

And after the lion in the wardrobe savaged all the children, there were harsh words with the local zoo.


July 2018

Starting a deliberately bad fantasy novel is an interesting experience.
The silent forge the blade that only the speaking may sing to life, but every blade cuts two ways.
- from the Proverbs of Mount Asl.
A cold wind whipped through the southern stepped of Westrin, the mountains holding the winter despite the Juvery air. Farmers huddled with their dhari against the wind, careful not to touch the fur that would burn with a fierce itching. Lonely towns lay scattered across the scrub fields, kin to fingernails of some long forgotten monstrosity that did not wear the skin of civilization. From a distance the steppes seemed almost steps, as though they had been carved in another age to reach a plateau that no longer existed. The past lurked about with promises, unremembered and unknown.
Threads of music played from the taverns of the town of Molsk, the famous Molsk brewery now only a distant memory to locals if they knew of it at all. The threads formed skeins into the lonely night as though they could lighten a sky that would be gunmetal if guns existed but settled for a dull grey instead. The impression of Westrin to others from the Three Kingdoms is that many things just settle, but what is settled to one can upend the cart of another.
The third compline in the waning of Juvery bore witness to the changing of the gods, the wind promising rain and cold in the coming months of Nanomber, Mapil and Arch. The huddled farmers eyed their flocks and began considering what ones to shear, the fabled dhari fur able to insulate as only glass wool could despite the ways it irritated the eyes, the skin, and the respiratory system. The moon waned in the sky unclaimed by any god of the Westrin pantheon, pale light offering some protection against the shadows cast by the mountains.
The taverns and inns of Molsk all claimed connection the ancient brewery that had given the town its name for generations, the name remaining even though the breweries were long time. Becoming a placeholder between the present and the past, as though then world were a book one could mark and definitively draw lines between one age and another. The inn was alike as any other, shutters rattling as the shinoo wind of the southern mountains played a gentle beat that seemed almost in time with the last of the songs from the tavern below.
Above the sky, the stars spread out across the night ways. Too many to be eyes even of the gods, despite how many gods lay in Eastphalia to the east. The eye of Akashic formed from a dozen stars looked down, those born under its ascendancy often said to call the attention of the gods. In time the eye would be gone, the stars shifting into different patterns and promises. Proof that even the distant hand of fate changed with time, that even the stars could touch destiny only with a fleeing grip like the pale of the false dawn seeping through the window.

I am having too much fun writing this story...
“The nature of a god is to know knowledge as a burden rather than a blessing.”
“You expect me to do a quest I do not understand?” Protagonist asked.
The god of the hearth smiled within the confines of gentle flame. “It would be a poor quest if you understood the ending before it had begun.”
“I am mortal. I already know how my story ends.”
“Well. With an attitude like that, perhaps you do!”

I am not a god, the narrator said, even though it spoke without a voice.

Part of the fun of writing Protagonist: a novel is the headers. Such as:
Sometimes we drown not because we cannot swim but because we forget we are in water.
- from the collected wisedoms of the wizards of Eastphalia

“I admit to finding that a little puzzling. Why are they called the mysterious caverns when there are many such caverns throughout Westrin alone?”
It was questions like that which betrayed Page’s ignorance. Mysterious caverns was a modern translation of mysterious’caverns in old Westrin, which has a very localized meaning in the southern steppes.
“The words are mysterious’caverns – with an apostrophe between them – in old Westrin,” Protagonist said after a short pause. “I imagine that makes all the difference.

“You would kill me?” Antagonist asked.
“You ask it like that, without fear. Why?” Protagonist pressed.
“We all die, even wizards. The least we owe this world is our bodies. I would rather live and pay back more than was given.”

The supervillain’s power to destroy poetry scared almost no one.
Not until they turned their attention on love.

Not that Protagonist had any use for ghosts: one of the older monks at the library, Name Later, had told him that if the dead could haunt the world, we would all be drowning in regrets. The idea had stuck with Protagonist for some time, though he had no idea why Name Later had been so insistent on that truth.
...Name Later will, of course, be very important to the plot. Later.

Molsk was a small town situated well away from any major trade routes, the cluster of wood and stone buildings organized around the central well and market that typified small towns in the country. Not that travellers from outside Westrin ever went to many podunk one-syllable places, none of which had combined with other towns to attain a second syllable. The comparison faltered against reality when one recalled that the towns of Po and Dunk had merged to become Podunk over a century ago, an alliance formed from both geography and trade routes more similar to the arranged marriages of Eastphalia than anything else. As little happened here, the destruction of the old fort on Guffin Hill had drawn people from their homes, even though an old stone fortress being reduced to little more than dust and shadow-scars of what it had been would do that most anywhere.
Protagonist slowed his horse. “What was that?” he asked, though no one responded. “You are responding. Whatever god this is, I do sometimes hear your voice. I am just trying to find out why you insist on telling me things I already know?”

The news is, after all, everything that is not normal. If it was normal, it would not be newsworthy.
But sometimes it's hard to remember that.

“Everyone has a power they should never use. I knew a woman once who could destroy any faith with logic and leave nothing behind; she never spoke in all the years I knew her. A man in Bangladesh who always got bargains. Even, his family claimed, from death. But the worst is when someone doesn’t know they have a power. When they unite the world for all the right reasons, in all the wrong ways.”
“You mean the pres –.”
“I mean that meme you started two weeks ago.”

“Sometimes I think you’ll forget me. That I’ll turn around one day and you’ll be gone and everyone I meet will be a stranger who looks like you but doesn’t know me at all.”
“I’d never forget you. I’d have to know your name first.”

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?”
Protagonist did not pause a beat. “Of course we are. What else is being alive for?”
“I meant,” Page said from between clenched teeth, “right now.”
“Oh. In that case, I rather hope not.”

Proposed solution to the climate catastrophe:
Move to the underside of the flat earth, where a new world awaits us.

“Sometimes,” he said, “to save a thing you must destroy it.”
And I backed away because no one sane said anything like that.

Me: "Oh, right, I need to do that prompt about things overheard when eavesdropping."
... proceeds to write a short story about someone wanting to use an interstellar mining vessel to help with apartment renovations.

And all your kindness becomes undone
By the monsters who work above you
To see only good is to be complicit
In evil that seeps through every crack

Protagonist and Page rode their horses for hours without rest, stopping briefly for the night to continue onward the next morning. By the second draft, they would be stopping and switching out horses every hour since horses are hardly cars. By the third, the author will be grappling with the fact that a horse doesn’t actually equal one horsepower. By the fourth draft, at least one horses will be called Hoof Hearted and the author will be wondering why anyone would take long journeys on a prey animal prone to spring from imagined danger with all the grace of the springs in a broken mattress.

It is not an easy thing to get book fairies into your home. A library is not enough – some of the greatest libraries in the world have never seen one – but sometimes it does happen. Firstly, one must not have a library. By which I mean: books one has never read. A library full of unread books is a deep sadness and not a true library at all. You will know one by the volumes with bent spines that have never been read. Secondly: one must have an infestation of book worms in your home. Thirdly: one must be kind. To books, to people, even to the book worms.
If you wish them removed but cannot bear to harm them – for they, like all things, must eat to survive – the book fairies may arrive. Unfortunately, the book worms are often drawn to the books one loves best. But if this happens, and the fairies come, you will never have dusty books again and book worms that will only eat books one no longer needs. (It is hard to think of such a book, but it must be done.) The book fairies are fed by leaving fine ink in inkwells overnight and not minding if they take some books to read for themselves. And that is all that one must do, as easy as all difficult things can be.

“The problem we have is that I cannot do it. I cannot imagine a world in which you don’t exist, for I fear if I do that I will not be able to live in a world in which you do.”

you asked me to write a poem
and this is
almost
that poem

First Contact turned out to be a nightmare when it turned out that the alien name for themselves, translated into English, was ‘Hashtag’ and they were very, very baffled at the things humans said about them. #woke

“The results are in from our experiment, sir. It turns out that it’s easier to make people believe the Earth is flat than make them believe that politicians will act in ways that benefit the public.”

Friday, August 10, 2018

Guarding The Zones


It takes almost thirty seconds for anyone at HQ to realize what the alarm is even for. It used to be the Closed Zones, the Dead Zones, then the Ruined Zones before people kept trying to enter them. A void is space where everything that could go wrong with war went even worse. No one knows what the wars were about. Who fought, who died, who lost: all of it has been buried in ruin and twisted space. No hyperlanes work, not even wormholes pass through the Zones. We don’t know how big they are. Just that a war happened, and the scars have never healed.

It has been five year since anyone even approached them. The last one was a tour of certain problematics. Generals. Rulers. The kind of people all too eager to fire weapons but never be in wars. Seeing reality bleed into space changed them. A few killed themselves, so the tour never happened again. Before then was the same as now: scavengers. Idiots thinking they can find something famous or amazing.

I slip into the shiftsuit and take off, data trilling through my senses. No one is certain how long the new model will survive. I have an hour, at last count. Get in, try to save fools, get out. If they past the first zone, extraction isn’t even possible to attempt. The suit projects images to approximate what is around me as I dive in; actually trying to perceive the ruins of space and time isn’t something anyone survives. Which means the craft is flying in blind, attempting to extract anything and bring it out.

That no one has succeeded never stops the attempts. And people wonder why the Zones ever happened.

The shiftsuit bucks and twists forms around me. Holding steady against what feels like the remains of a black hole. Also a white one, gravitational and chronal distortions making anything else impossible to even guess at. I make it through that. The shiftsuit can make it through the first layer intact. No idea who bankrolls the Zone Watch, but it cost more than I ever want to know to even make the suits. The suit twists; I move with it.

I don’t know many other species that could even survive being inside this model; I make a note to let HQ know, then pause as the shiftsuits datafeeds blink out. Flick back on. The onboard AI is as primitive as it can be, since normal AI would have their minds destroyed by this place as well. The shiftsuit has gone white about me, when I didn’t even know they changed colour. I move slowly, trying to find the source of disturbance, and – air. Actual air. Gravity within accepted norms. A pocket of reality, which shouldn’t be remotely possible.

I fall into it, and there is a young man. Human, 14, just standing in the air and looking out at the zones.

This is so far past bad. I order the suit to disengage five times before it agrees and lets me breathe the air. Breathable air, a field of real in the middle of – this. And the human who registers entirely as human.

I say my name in my native tongue, which I haven’t spoken in several centuries.

The human smiles and responds in the name. Then offers his name. “You are not surprised?”

“You are Jay, who is Jayseltosche. No one – nothing else could be in here, the way you are. You didn’t trigger the alarm.”

No. It will be triggered shortly. Even Time is broken here,” he says softly. “The Powers that govern the universe have no sway in this place. Neither can anything from Outside enter. It will take thousands of years to heal, if it ever does at all.”

“It has improved. The first zone –.”

“My bindings hold there to an extent. In the rest –.” He sighs. “There have been wars here.”

“I know. We Hingari began many of them,” I admit.

“And others. A galaxy was carved in half once. I was in a hurry, it was in my way. Several attempts to kill me formed part of the Zones. I thought containing it in one place would be safer. Instead it led to a different kind of war.”

“Wars have been fought against you; you have power unlike anything else. That is known. That’s not the same as you fighting though,” I say slowly.

“An argument got out of hand.”

No boast, no laugh. Just a fact so alien I can barely grasp it. “You can fix this?”

“I have begun so. And finding your HQ as part of that end. Destruction is so much easier than creation for me right now. But it has not always been so.” And he holds out a hand.

And Jay is standing there. Shorter, eleven, and looking rather exited. “You wanted help with an adventure?”

“I do. I require energy to fix – things.”

“Oooh.” And the younger Jay turns and looks about. A slight frown touches his forehead like something alien. “Wow. That’s a really hugey oops you know!

“I do.”

“And some of it wasn’t even an oops. But I can always do helpings!” And Jay grins. Jaysel – no, Jay, at eleven, grins.

The shiftsuit actually whimpers.

Joy. Kindness. Innocent. Wonder. Power without corruption spills out, and the ruined zones shake in response.

“You need to go now,” Jayseltosche says.

Jay turns to him. “But I’m confusled because that felt like unbindings a Jay would never do!”

“And a Jay would not. But you spent a lot of energy, and you need to return.”

And Jay waves to me and vanishes between moments.

Jayseltosche touches energy, and weaves it. Like lace spiralling through the entire ruined zones. A wrapper that slowly turns a ruin into a present. “That helps. It will still be centuries, but it helps.”

“Jay set the alarms off?”

“He is – not subtle, so yes. I am no longer what he is, so some of what he can do was – necessary.” And Jayseltosche’s voice cracks a little.

I turn slowly, toward a being so far beyond gods that we have no words for it. “You are crying.”

“I am.” His smile has an echo of the past. “It is – very hard to...”

We have a bar at HQ. And drinks. We could share drinks and food.”

I did not wish you as a witness for that. Hingari can live a long time, you can take many forms. I’d like the HQ to be run by you, and we can meet for drinks when it is no longer needed and the Zones healed.”

“We can, but you need a drink now.”

Jayseltosche blinks. It takes everything I have not to activate the shiftsuit and bolt. I almost yelled at him. The laugh he lets out a moment later is soft and sad. “I imagine I do. Very well.”

I return to HQ, report it as an anomaly – trusting Jay will make sure my shiftsuit agrees – and join him in one of the bars. He looks tired, and younger than he is.

“I have heard it said that nothing can be forgiven.” He glances over at me without a word. “And I think there is some truth in that. The living can be forgiven; the dead merely remain dead. I think there is no forgiveness, but there can be redemption.”

“Perhaps.”

I don’t ask who he argued with, or fought against. If it was himself or something else. We share a drink in silence, each remembering different wars. There are so many reasons the hingari hide now. I’d like to think I understand Jayseltosche a little. And perhaps I do. But I think I understand Jay not at all. 

One Jaysome Night

1.

There are battles that cannot be won, but sometimes that is why they must be fought. I have spent six hours explaining to Jay that @teacup13 is allowed to like coffee more than tea, that a tumblr use-name doesn’t define anyone. Not even Jay. Which he doesn’t believe, because he is Jay and so very randomly. And trying to explain to Jay that Jay – or even jaysome – don’t define him... no. There are some places I definitely have no desire to venture.

I tell him that teacup13 is a label, and labels are great for clothing but not so much for people. And Jay pokes at his tumblr, then looks up and grins. The grin is huge and proud and innocent.

There are sirens, tires screaming, people shouting outside. I rub the bridge of my nose.

“Did you know that @eclectic-like-furniture isn’t actually eclectic?” Jay says. “Like how @feverfewm isn’t Muffin! I figured it out!”

“Ah. Good. Dare I ask how that involves the traffic?”

“Uh-huh! There are lots of rules for traffic, Charlie, and sometimes people ignore turn signals entirely!”

I stare at Jay. Only innocence stares back. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if he is trolling me. “So you’re fixing bindings for cars.”

“Yup! Everyone will stop for crosswalks that aren’t cross and let people merge into lanes and everything,” he says proudly.

“But there are people who cross the road while jaywalking. What if a Jay isn’t allowed to cross a road?”

Jay gapes at that in shock. “I did an oops and bound myself?!”

“You might have. It might be safer to undo it all?”

“Oh, okay.” There are even more sirens and screeching tires for a moment. Then Jay says that, since he fixed the oops, he probably should get a second dessert.

I tell him to bring back ice cream, and watch him vanish. I think I gained at least a dozen more grey hairs in the past five minutes, not that Jay would ever notice. What’s scary is never the power Jay has over bindings, nor even that he’s eleven and so innocent in it, but the way he just accepts things literally until told otherwise. Some days I have trouble remembering all the facts I’m hiding from him.

“I got ice cream, and it’s the good kind,” Jay says as he reappears with three tubs.

“The good kind?”

“I asked Honcho, and he said it’s the kind that never has calories!”

“Ah. Of course.” I accept a tub as Jay flicks the TV on and begins scrolling through channels.

I eat food, relax, and keep an eye on Jay.

...only I should have kept both eyes on him. And never fallen asleep.


2.

I wake up to a loud thump. I’ve fallen asleep on the couch, and Jay has turned the TV down. Which would be rather considerate except I can barely see the TV as the small common room in our motel suite is full of boxes. Kitchen gadgets. Knives. Appliances. And Jay is shoving a mattress into my room. Where it barely fits.

“Jay. What are you doing?”

“Hi!” Jay turns and grins. There is no fear, no hint he did an oops or an accident. “Did you know that sometimes the TV wants you to buy things?!”

I stare at Jay, sit up slowly and look at the Home Shopping Network. “You’ve been buying things.”

“The man and woman on the TV were doing bindings and kinda desperate cuz no one was buying things, and this Jay has a very jaysome credit card you know!”

“I do.” I look about the room slowly. There is at least an hours worth of... items, all neatly stacked. “What do you plan to do with twenty food processors?”

“I haven’t decided yet, but I bet they’d like to process a lot of food!”

“And the mattresses?”

“They can give a better sleeping I bet. And I got a lot of knives that are really sharp but not tough as a Jay.”

I close my eyes. Count to ten. “You tested the against your skin, didn’t you?”

“Yup!” Jay being from Outside the universe is sometimes never as worrying as him just being eleven.

“And what do you plan to do with them?”

“I got a book on juggling, so I’m going to learn to juggle,” he offers proudly.

I don’t point out that juggling fifteen sets of knives might be difficult, since to Jay it would just be bindings he’d move. The blue couch that is around when we need it replaces the couch I’m sitting on. Or was there the whole time in disguise. It is a lot larger on the inside than the outside, so I convince Jay to store everything in it and then go to bed.

And call the fae to explain what he has done with their credit card. This time. I don’t entirely know how the card works, but I know there are consequences for spending too much money with it. The fae on the other end of the help line that exists solely for Jay’s credit card isn’t fazed at all. Compared to other things Jay has bought with it, this barely warrants a note. Which the fae makes a point of reminding me of, as if I’d forget the time Jay decided to buy Venus. What was worrying wasn’t that the card had that much currency so much as Jay found a seller.

I make sure everything else is cleared away by the time the wandering magician returns from his trip. He looks about the too-clean hotel room, then at me, and raises a single eyebrow.

“I fell asleep. Jay discovered the Home Shopping Channel. The results are in the couch.”

He opens the side of the couch, lets out a low whistle. “What does Jay plan to do with all of this?”

“Juggle, so far.”

“Of course he does.” The magician chuckles and takes his coat off. “At least it wasn’t that bad, Charlie.”

“Not that bad? He bought several thousand dollars of.... that! I don’t even know how he got it here after buying it, or what kind of shipping arrangement he had.”

“Ah. We’ll need to look into that. But this isn’t bad.” He pauses. “Jay could have watched infomercials.”

“Oh,” I say, very slowly. “He would have – probably bought an entire TV network to fix worried bindings, wouldn’t he?”

“At least one.”

I make a note to talk to the fae about some upper limit on what Jay can spend at once. Again. And we head to sleep, certain that if anything breaks in any hotel we visit in the next two years we’ll be able to replace it without a problem. Because Jay.