Thursday, February 25, 2010

Heading Out

The Hydra had gone from two heads to four-hundred and thirty-six in under ten minutes. That’s what you get for being in the front lines of an army filled with skeletons. It was widely known that the necromancer had an unbeatable army, because the soldiers never died, but no one took into consideration why exactly the other side lost. It wasn’t because the skeletons couldn’t die, it was because the other side got sick of fighting. Face it, necromancer dude, bones don’t have muscle. A tap from a stick could send a skeleton tumbling to the ground, and it took a minute or two to reorient itself. During that time creatures like the Hydra took the force of the oppression.
Head number twenty-two stifled a yawn, dodging lazily around the club of a bumbling ogre. She’d been in the back ever since heads sixty through eighty grew in front of her, and with the elder expert members in the back she wasn’t worried about getting scratched. A moment after it swung the ogre was torn apart in six directions, along with twenty more of its kind. How the other army got ogres on its side was no wonder to head twenty-two. If she had any say in the matter she’d take the whole family away from this mass of broken bones. She’d seen so many brothers and sisters cut off, seen many more born, and in the end nothing was gained. At the end of the last battle, with more than a thousand heads, the alchemist had produced more than a thousand vials of a solution that put the heads back in the body of the Hydra so they could be born again with another head. Each time a head drank the vial their shell shriveled and fell from the main body, until it was reduced to a manageable size. It wasn’t death in the sense of ceasing to be in the absolute, but it sure felt like hell. Head TT had been in storage more than two-hundred times, making her one of the middle-junior members of the Hydra. Originally when it was recruited by the necromancer the Hydra had only three members, the parents of all those who fought for him now. One of these parents had died in the last battle, which was why all the heads fought so ferociously this time. The memories of any head could be shared among the other heads, so the loss of an elder member was like partial amnesia. Titi had never been very interested in what the elder members had to remember, as it didn’t seem to matter anyway. All they ever did was fight these battles, accidentally trampling on skeletons in the process, to a point where Titi could predict with surprising accuracy where each member of both sides of the battle would go at any given time.
The ‘lephanti is heading over here, she remembered to the other members, including an image of the great wrinkled beast for the benefit of the newer children. The heads looked to the elders for a decision. Coordinating what was now almost five-hundred heads to move the Hydra might be more work than taking down the ‘lephanti, which was almost the same size as the whole snaked contraption. The ‘lephanti had speed, bulk, and armored skin on its side, but not a lot of brain or willpower. Left to themselves the ‘lephanti tended to be a mild grazing creature that would rather stand like a statue than do anything, they were harnessed mostly against their will and had no stakes in who won the war. The elders made a decision to get rid of the ‘lephanti, which made Titi worry a little. Fighting that great beast would take out hundreds of her siblings, compromise her own life, and weaken them for the next wave that would follow the ‘lephanti. Titi could see the leaders of the other army giving orders, and she was sure they would use the chaos of the ‘lephanti’s charge to send in their best warriors. The necromancer always won, but the other side always tried to take as many with them as they could. Why, though? They all only come back, it’s not like these strong attacks would weaken the necromancer’s army or conviction. He was going to take over the world, and when all he had to do to decimate armies and send warrior kings fleeing was to reach his hand out of his hole and animate a few bones, Titi had no doubt he would succeed. She wasn’t likely to see that day, and it wouldn’t matter anyway, because once the world was owned by those who could never die she didn’t think anyone would be able to figure out how to keep on living. Once he had the world, what would the necromancer do with it? Titi seemed to be the only one concerned with such a question, but in light of her inevitable demise, it didn’t seem prudent to bring it up.
As the ‘lephanti came closer, Titi caught a memory from one of the elders, of a dank, stinky area with bubbling waters and dreary trees. The water soothed the Hydra’s skin, the trees bore fruit that popped sweet flavors under the tongue, and the stink kept those who would bother the Hydra away. Titi met the elder’s eye, and understood she wasn’t alone in her feelings, the difference was that she had never known anything besides the drone of battle, where the elder knew the crisp satisfaction of happiness. Titi suddenly realized there were more options than being killed or fighting for eternity, and one of those options sounded pretty good to her as she realized how large this particular ‘lephanti was. The ‘lephanti get bigger as they get older, and this one must be close to two-hundred years old. When its great armored skin wasn’t covered in the soot of army fire it would be home to types of lichen and beetles until it resembled a mountainous boulder. The ‘lephanti, Titi thought, would appreciate this move as well. Instead of standing there and waiting to be bowled over, Titi mustered control of the Hydra and started to move. As the heads realized where she wanted to go their combined strength and head swimming let them gather speed until they were galloping through the sea of skeletons faster than the ‘lephanti, straight to the caverns of the necromancer. Take down the master, and the servants all fall. Take down the master, and the slaves are free. Titi smiled, showing her jagged teeth, and her family smiled with her. The Hydra would rule the swamps once more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dead Duck

It was the type of blazing August evening where you walk on the dead grass so your sneakers don’t melt on the asphalt when I took control of a duck. Where the duck’s mind went I’ll never know for sure, but I suspect it came to rest with Sir James Mire from down the street. From then on the cat would switch from day to day eating cat food and bread crumbs. I looked out from large, feather-portrait duck eyes, past the end of the beak, to my body crumpled on the grass, and noticed for the first time I have a large birthmark in the small of my back. That’s knowledge I could have gone without. The duck’s body was no more thrilled with the weather than I’d been, and I looked around hoping its instincts would lead me to a body of water where I could splash droplets on my feathers and watch them slide off, but the instincts went with the mind and the body was clueless. While working out how to waddle, feeling like a squatting turtle, I wondered why I’d taken control of a duck. The answer came to me when I figured out how to fly and found myself settled cozily in Maria Reneb’s backyard.
Since before I can remember I’d adored Maria, the feeling developing into a recognizable crush as soon as we entered middle school. Around that time we’d sort of realized we were supposed to hang with our own kind, me around the water fountains and soccer field, Maria around gaggles of girls and the lockers of school idols. By the time the second year of middle school started I was insanely in love with Maria. It didn’t matter we hadn’t spoken in months, or that a bunch of other boys liked her, or that she, like most of the girls, declared she hated boys, it just made it more the sweeter. Impossible romances have triumphed in their own times, in their own ways, some of them in better ways than others.
Floating on the pool cover, I kept an eye on the windows until I saw movement. There, over the bushes, was Maria in her bedroom. Being a duck, not only my heart fluttered, but I could feel every feather bouncing in excitement. Surely this was my purpose in life, to behold the goddess where she dwelt. Tearing myself from the cool water I gangly flew to her window to get a better view.
Oh, the beauty! Hair glistening and dripping from the shower, face alive with laughter, delicate feet walking around the pattern of the rug on her floor. She was on the phone with a friend, chatting away, in the throes of enjoyment. Maria, Maria! I squawked loudly, and she looked up as I waddled again past her window. Her face melted into a peculiar expression as she watched me strut back and forth. I had the urge to show off, so I took flight again and went way up into the sky, looking down at her family’s woodland estate. It was serene, beautiful and quiet. Very quiet. I flew closer to the ground, wondering where all the other birds were. I had only a brief glimpse of my fate through a back window, ornaments above the fireplace, before the shot rang out. A searing pain tore through my side, and I was burning hot then suddenly cold. Too cold to fly. I plummeted down to earth, my feathered eyes watching Maria lower her gun and hoist it back on the gun rack.
“Maria...” I cried, betrayed, and hit the ground. I’m just glad I didn’t have to feel that, being back in my own body, a little dizzy from the fall but unharmed. No one was around. My sneaker, fallen on the sidewalk, was getting soft. I pulled myself together and got to my feet, limping for a bit until my circulation resumed, and then I went home. Life had been interesting as a duck, but now that it was over, I needed a bath.
I saw Maria the next day at school, talking with the same animated face to one of the guys from the baseball team, and I got from the squealing her friends made they were going out. I passed the guy later in the hall and wished him good luck, he just stared at me. A few other people stared at me. Finally, around lunch, because I’d forgotten food anyway, I went into the bathroom to figure it out.
“No way!” I exclaimed, examining my face in the mirror. Little freckles had erupted all over my face like dark feathers defining a duck’s face. It made me look kind of cool. I hitched my backpack over my shoulder with a grin and sauntered away to find Maria.
“Hey Maria,” I said, putting my face good and close to hers.
“Uh... hi Mark,” she said, imitating my sing-song tone. Her friends giggled.
“I just gotta tell you, you’re freaky weird, but someday I’m gonna prove I’m better than he is.”
You can imagine I didn’t rehearse that at all, but I thought I sounded pretty cool. I was up. I was the man. As I walked away from her, keeping my head turned slightly, I saw the look she gave me when she realized why I looked so weird; it was the same look she wore before she shot the duck parading across her geraniums, and I had no doubt someday Maria was going to shoot me down. I’d be ready for her, though, starting with my dad’s B-B gun in the shed he thought he’d lost and the soda cans my little sister went through. Get ready, Maria, for the greatest shootout in the history of— wiggle! Crumb! I mean, in— quack! No, I swear the duck is with Sir James Mire, I— fish quack!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Greek Tragedy (poem)

I wrote this the other day. It was just fun.


I have a face like a Fury
hair like Medusa
I’m shaped like a manticore
with feet like Atlas

I know I’m no Aphrodite
I’m no Athena
I beg no golden apples

I will not stand before you
it would be like
trembling before the might of Zeus
or a woman before Hera

if I could but hide like Daphne
or escape beneath Poseidon’s waves

Heracles has come and slain me
I will go to join Cerberus
Waiting by the river
Hello Hermes give me news
of what goes on above

I’m not like Persephone
no one will create winter if I’m gone
Not like the heroes
rescued from Hades

I am not like the Hydra
if you cut of a head
I have no life left in me
I am fallen like Helle

I will stay here like Tantalus
always watching what I can not have
waiting for what I can not have

I lie on the bed and find I’m too tall
cut off my feet so I will be small
bind me to a tree-top and let it sway
I’ll fly to the Argo and sail away

I will stay in Hades and be like Tantalus
always watching what I can not have
waiting for what I can not have
reaching for what will never be

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The King Who Hated Seals (2008)

Once upon a time there was a king who hated seals. You can’t get more straightforward than that.
All others, including the queen, the prince, and the two baby princesses, thought seals were cute, fuzzy, and beautiful, and couldn’t wait for the time when seals flocked to the beaches in great numbers. The people of Teigiet had always been like that. In fact, this love for all things cute intensified so rapidly that finally a long-ago king passed a law forbidding the killing of any animal deemed by the people to be cute. This came to include horses, chickens, cows, dogs, cats, and sheep, until the list included every living creature besides rats and fish. The result of this policy was that, since then, the people of Teigiet lived on berries, corn, bread, pollen, honey, potatoes, lettuce, and everything else but meat. Livestock was reduced to wool, milk, and egg producing animals, pigs all but died out, and Teigiet flourished in the arts. People came from kingdoms far and wide to see the great architecture, paintings, sculptures, and jewelry that had become the pride and joy of Teigiet, but they never stayed long because nobody had yet figured out a satisfying way to cook a rat. You might have thought the people would turn to fishing, but there was a major complication to this strategy: The seals got wind of the new law of Teigiet and spread the word until seals all over the world wanted to go to Teigiet beaches. It got so bad that the Seal Elders had to drive seals away so there would be enough food for the seals of Teigiet. These seals loved fish more than anything else, and ate a lot of it. They ate so much fish until there were no more fish in these oceans for the people of Teigiet.
The king had been elected to his position because the voters were kingdom elders of the highest regard and could not resist his luminous, teary-blue eyes and shy smile. The king had grown up as the son of a tree-groomer. It was assumed his father was the head of the castle tapestry weavers, but with Valissa as his mother, and considering he took after her in appearance, no one could really tell. He had five older brothers and one older sister when he was born, and Valissa was still having children; he’d lost count of how many half-siblings he had. However many children there were when he was growing up, it was crowded in their average-sized stone house. Valissa, who was very small and believed in nourishment from the sun, didn’t bother to bring home enough food, or divide it properly. Tommie had always gone hungry. Now he was king, and was called ‘Your Majesty’ by everyone, except his children called him ‘Daddy-seal’ and his queen didn’t call him anything at all.
When Tommie married Venil he thought she loved him. He wasn’t wrong, but Venil never loved anything for long unless it was tall, slender, black-haired, and named Venil. Tommie could see that now she didn’t love him, but he still felt guilty when he looked at the head cook.
Varuk was young for a head cook, at 25 she was a year older than the king, and she had ruffled blonde hair, ruffled blue eyes, a ruffled round face, and a perfect, undisturbed nose. The king sighed when he thought of her, he sighed when he saw the seals, he sighed when he saw his wife, and he sighed especially long when he saw his dinner. If only dinner had some substance to it. It didn’t matter that as king he could eat as much food as he wanted, he always ended hungry. He’d heard tales that involved rabbits turning on a spit, and slices of veal hung up to dry. He even dreamt of fish with lemon sauce, a sprig of parsley on top.... And that is why the king hated seals.

Varuk, head cook, hated seals.
She often dreamt of the beautiful meals she could prepare if she had fish to work with. The window in her room overlooked the beach, and she spent a lot of time glaring at the seals. One season wasn’t enough, oh no. Seals changed their migrating patterns just so they could come to the Teigiet beaches. There were seals all year long. She thought there should be fish during the slow seasons, but it was a feeble, unfounded hope. Even if there were, Teigietans had forgotten how to fish. What could be harder than sticking a bug on the end of a string and pulling out a fish when it bit? She wondered, but there was no reason to dwell on it. She had tried and tried to cook with rats, but not only did nothing work, all her assistant cooks were easily terrified. Even rats, the vile creatures, weren’t common. Cats had been allowed to run free for the last few generations after all, it was a rare day any Teigietan didn’t step out of the way of a furry fluff. Varuk had heard rumors of a successful merchant in the East who sold fur coats, and Toon-of-no-job went to the East every spring with a wagon.... Varuk shook her head and looked wistfully at the pot. She looked wistfully at the carrots, she looked wistfully at the spit above the fire that was used to cook potatoes, she looked wistfully at the sharp knives used to de-head cabbages, and she looked wistfully at the seals. She wished people didn’t think seals were cute. She wished they would be allowed to import meat. She wished the king wasn’t married, she wished she didn’t love his children so much. She wished she could have leather shoes. And she wished, more than anything else in the world, that she wasn’t a cook. Varuk loved to cook when she was little, but by the time she was fifteen she had made every dish known to modern Teigietans, including oysters, which were extremely difficult to work with and gave everyone food-poisoning. Now she wanted to travel the world, to see places other than the west coast of the Continent. She wanted to go to Sherry, and Raint, and Tiffle, and Rona, and Saskka. She wanted to go beyond the continent too, to the islands of Sona, and Tol, and Sonsaso, and Bri. More than anywhere she wanted to go to Bri. Bri was said to be a place apart from all others, a place of difference, individuality, change, excitement... in short, everything Teigiet wasn’t. She wished their king would participate in an annual mud-racing contest. She wished Teigiet had an annual mud-racing contest. She wished Teigiet had any contests. “Bother,” she sighed as the metal spoon scraped the metal bowl and caused a shrieking sound. She looked around. No one was watching. She took the metal spoon out, licked it, put it in the sink, and stirred the pudding with her finger. Wooden tools would be much more useful, but tree-groomers were so loved by the people — cough cough the previous king loved Valissa cough cough — that the previous king passed a law against the harming of trees. Teigiet had wept many tears as the people traded away their precious art for metal tools, and had only just recovered from the loss. Now carpenters all over were being replaced by stone masons, and more people left small Teigiet to live in neighboring Rona. Varuk finished stirring the pudding, and sucked her finger as she looked out the window overlooking the beach. Seals. Who liked seals anymore? More than should be possible after all the damage the seals had caused. On the bright side, cute animals were becoming less cute. Varuk had liked seals too when she was little, and cats and birds and horses and little lambs. When seals capsized the Tension and her brothers drowned, she realized cute did not equal sweet and gentle. Varuk had loved her brothers very much. Without them to protect her, her father beat her black and blue every day. And that was why Varuk, head cook, hated seals.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dido GreekChild (2008)

In the beginning, God created the world: heaven and earth, light and dark, water and land. This was good.
Then God created plants and animals. They were good too (even the mosquitoes). [But] Then God created Man. He messed up.
Man destroyed all of the above, usurped God’s throne, and took God’s name for his own. This was bad.
God saw what he had done and attempted to remedy his mistakes, but Man/New Gods discovered his plans and confined him to an earthly form. This was also bad.
God/No More God watched from his new position as Man/the New Gods spread across the galaxy, finding new and fertile planets and infesting them like ants of Latter-Day-Gaia. He watched them create the new technology allowing them to live safely on these new planets, even on other planets not so perfect for human support. He watched as Man/the New Gods settled into their role over the [other] humans and other creatures, naming themselves the Olympians and keeping amazing powers to themselves so they could continue absolute control. God/No More God saw that this power was part advanced technology, part something else, something acquired from the new planets, something like the ‘magic’ of stories from Latter-Day-Gaia. God/No More God saw all of this and saw that it was bad. Then God/No More God became aware of the immensity of their power and the lack of his own, and God/No More God realized no one remembered him anymore. So he called himself Promethius, like the Titan who gave fire to man in Greek legend, and slunk away to face his punishment in the shadows.

Part 1: Dido
That was 204 years ago. Now it is the year 800 A.G. (after Gaia), 800th anniversary of the Olympians’ rise to power, 100th anniversary of the Chip, 50th anniversary of the teleportation pin, 10th anniversary of the AgePack, and 1st anniversary of my half-sister’s birth. Ever since the AgePack came out, nobody ever sees old people... or not that they can tell. AgePacks allow you to look as young as you want. It’s not reversible, so you have to be careful how young you go, and it doesn’t make you any younger, but everybody loves it. Especially my dad. That’s why he got married to a real 20-year-old four years ago, even though he’s at least 50. She doesn’t know that, though. All she knows is that his oldest kid’s 12, and even that’s a life because I’m actually 16. I didn’t want to use an AgePack, but my dad bought one for me and wanted me to use it. “Of course, dear father,” I responded according to my programming, but inside I was fuming. I hadn’t been thrilled at the idea, but I was finally ready to kiss my first boy. Now I positively could not. Not just because I looked four years too young, but dad also changed the data on my card to say I am 12. Normally your card shows all your information correctly, not matter how many AgePacks you’ve used, but dad works at an Industry and knows how they’re made. Robots and computers do a lot of the physical work in these ages, but the Olympians don’t allow them to do anything that makes them think. That’s ‘cause they’re afraid of anything being smarter than them. Ha. Normal people would get zapped just thinking about that stuff, but I’m not normal. After Dad got married to Medea I learned how to remove my chip. When a baby’s born, it is immediately injected with a liquid that settles together right next to your brain, forming a hard chip, a computer chip. They keep everyone in control, keep them just like they’re supposed to be. Parents can program their kids to the personality they’ve chosen. And if you do, say, and maybe even think something wrong, GCP sends an electric wave to shock you. The more offensive the crime, the bigger the shock. A real big one kills a person; that’s why there are no prisons anymore. Since the chip is right next to your brain, the only way to remove it would be skull operation. But how could you, when anything you did would activate it against you? Simple. I didn’t. Not to the Chip’s level, anyhow. It takes a strong emotion, a strong brain wave, to alert the Chip. I made my plans deep inside my consciousness, until the time was right. Then I acted quicker than it: I plunged the Creeper right into my skull, screamed bloody Hades, and yanked it back out. The Creeper is a surgical device that I found handy since my step-mom is a Doctor. It’s purported purpose is for moving stuff around inside without having to cut open the skin, but it has an ulterior purpose: the Olympians created it to detect Chips. Y’see, they aren’t the only ones stickin’ pieces of metal into people. The Aesir, the rebellion, put chips in their members’ bodies to detect them, contact them, and kill them in case of torture. Yeah, the Aesir and the Olympians don’t ‘xactly get along. The Creeper has a special command that seeks out chips and grabs them. It only works in a small range, of course, or it would just alert anyone it entered. The Olympians fear the Aesir deeply, going to extreme measures to capture members of the rebellion. They never expected anyone to be crazy enough to stick the damn thing into their own head. Any why would anybody want to? The Chips keep us peaceful, safe, tranquil, at one with the Self.... Now there’s something that’s a no-no. Religious tolerance isn’t a big thing here. The Olympians want people to worship them, and them alone. It doesn’t matter they were once human, they’re gods now. But I don’t worship them. I don’t like them. I almost killed myself removing that chip, but I’m glad I did, I never realized how caged I was with it. Now? I can do, say, think whatever I want. As long as I have my card, the Olympians will never know, never bother to check if I have my chip. The Chip, by the way, I conveniently dropped in the way of something very heavy. It blew something up when it choked, but it’s gone now. I wish I could’ve saved my two half-brothers, but I couldn’t risk their fuzzy heads. My other step-brother and -sister are goody-goody students who could turn me in at the slightest scent, like my step-mom and Dad would. Well, maybe not Dad, he’s never followed the rules, but he’d never endanger himself if he didn’t have to. My step-sister, though, she I saved. I’m still mentally trapped in the boundary of our ‘tranquil’ society; what would it be like to grow up entirely free with thought? I stopped the needle entering her head when she left he womb. It was scary, the whole thing: convincing the right people to let me be present during the birth, re-programming the lights to flicker at the right moment, putting the doll in the way of the needle, poking a plain needle into her head to create a prick, all without being caught, all without hurting Célé. But I did it. My step-mom programmed her to be a quiet, sweet, coo-coo baby. She is, but it’s of her own violation. I take care of her most of the time, so I’m the only one who hears her scream. I treasure every one of those ear-piercing trills, because it means she’s free. My siblings and half-sibs were all programmed not to have tantrums, not to scream, not to object, not to think a thought of their own. I wasn’t. Mom programmed me to be rebellious. She didn’t tell Dad, and he made me obedient. Obedient stuck in the programming and is what’s said on my Card, but the layer covered up was the rebellious one. I wondered why Mom programmed me to be that way, and I found out when she was killed in a riot. She had been an Aesir, unknown to my father, and wanted me to be the same. Thanks, Mom, but you’d have been more help if you’d been a bit more rebellious yourself. It doesn’t seem the Aesir have found out about the Creeper yet, or how to use it to their advantage. Well, that’s not surprising. They aren’t very bright. Then again... no one is supposed to be. The Olympians want stupid subjects to rule over, subjects that won’t give them trouble. But it’s too late. There’ve been problems lately with the Chip. Lots of problems. That’s led me to believe there’ve been problems all along concealed by the Olympians that they can’t conceal now. The Chip was invented 100 years ago, and has been injected into every new-born baby’s head since. It can only work on new-borns, on anyone else it causes brain damage, so during the first decades not many people had it. Now 75% of people do. Humans typically live up to 120 years, and there are a few 200 years old now, which means there are people who don’t have chips, who never had to go through that. But they are vastly outnumbered by those with chips. I don’t just mean the 650,000 of us in this city, I mean everyone in this world and hundreds of others. Because of the problems popping up with the Chip, people are getting a little unhappy... and people aren’t unhappy in this age, it’s just not done. Neither is anger, exasperation, despair, annoyance — or, consequently, excitement, interest, concern, happiness, or love.
My name is Dido GreekChild NV2447 — I hate the Olympians, despair of the Aesir, am enthralled by computers, and I love my baby sister Célé. That’s why I’m going to become the greatest hacker known to mankind to get her back.

They take babies sometimes. No one knows why. They don’t leave Changelings like the Fair Folk of old. They never return the child. The parents never worry and often don’t care. Why do the all-powerful Olympians take the babies? Is it to show their power, to show they control our lives? Or do they need the children? For new colonies? For experiments? For themselves? No one knows but the Olympians themselves. For that reason I must find the Olympians, and I will. Wherever the Olympians are, I will find them. Computers are everywhere.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Green Rhymes (2008)

‘It was the year 2525...’
“Like hell it was,” Olivia muttered, pushing the book back onto the shelf. Bookstores sorted books so inappropriately, putting such books in the science fiction category when they clearly belonged with the fantasy books. Humanity wasn’t going to make it to the year 2525: it was going to advance amazingly over the next 150 years, and then the environmental problems would cause the ozone to explode and Earth would roast. Everybody knew that. Even the protestors, who said the environment was fine and the president lied in his great speech of 2086 surely knew deep down that this was so. Olivia had been 8 when the president gave his great speech, and she hung on to every word. She still did, and it was more than a childhood fancy. After all, she was 12 years old, far past the time for fantasies. The environment was dying and she wanted to save it, but really there was nothing she could do but be glad she wouldn’t be around in 150 years. Space production was using up all of the tax money; engineers believed that by the time of that fated 2230 year space ships could be advanced enough to carry mankind away to a planet where they could survive. Why not? Mankind had advanced steadily since the golden 100 years of industrial boom — the 1900s — and it was possible a planet could be found. Now it was the year 2090, and Olivia thought it sucked. Humans were so pathetic, lasting a second compared to the dinosaurs. They couldn’t make it even a million years. Olivia snorted at some more of the books, then gave up and left the shop. The sooner everybody believed the 2086 speech, the better. When the president first gave it, only about 5% of the world’s population believed, according to government surveys. Now the number was closer to 24%, and rising. People were already convinced the environment sucked, it was only one step further to believe it would destroy them all in just 150 years. Nowadays the inclination to believe that was pretty high. ‘Maybe because they know they won’t be around anyway,’ a little voice in her head said. Of course not! They believed because they knew it was true. Olivia pulled off her gloves and stuffed them in her pockets. Global warming wasn’t such a factor now, but she could believe it. Sweating profusely, she moved into a little bookstore with air conditioning. This mall was pretty pathetic. Bookstore, clothing store, bookstore, clothing store, goods market, bookstore... and so on. She liked to read, but nowadays it was too annoying to browse a book shop. Cooled now, she looked around her. This bookstore was a little different. It wasn’t sorted at all. Books were stuffed onto shelves and piled on tables. There weren’t any new books either, she saw, surveying the smelly old hardbacks. She picked one up, wrinkling her nose. ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ the front said in tiny, worn, gold lettering. She opened the cover to find the author. ‘Ayn Rand.’ ‘Weirdo shop,’ she thought in annoyance, dropping the book back on the table, ‘stocking books about maps.’ A smaller book farther down the table caught her attention, it was so worn she couldn’t read the title. As she picked it up and opened it she felt it was so delicate it might fall apart in her hands. Her eyes rolled down the page, until she realized what she was looking at. “Nursery rhymes?” she exclaimed in disgust, and snapped the book shut. The spine jingled, and she looked around guiltily before setting the book carefully back on the table. After a brief look at another table she left with her nose in the air, not bothering to respond to the tentative “Hello,” from the shopkeeper. Olivia was so piqued at not finding a book that she left the mall in a huff and trudged home through the inch of snow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Murder of the Dead (2008) (...this title stinks.)

Can you murder someone who’s already dead?
Is taking the life of a woman whose life has already been taken enough to send a man to the gallows?
I have no answer to that question. It might be better for me to die, better than the alternative. I can’t live every day hating myself for what I’ve done, and knowing I will never pay for it. I see her empty blue eyes staring back at me from under a veil of white strands, eyes that once held a sparkle, and I wonder if anything was left in their depths.
Can you murder someone who’s already dead?
I don’t know.
You tell me.

10 years earlier

“Can you pass me that wrench over there?” I heard my father say. The sounds actually coming from his mouth were something along the lines of “’Han ew af me vvvt ‘hench oher ‘her?”, but I had grown so used to him talking with a huge nail in his mouth it was like being fluent in another language. I reached up on my tiptoes and pressed the blue tool into his brown hand. “And the red one,” he added once I retracted myself. I bounded over to the toolbox with youthful energy, plucking my favorite tool from under the others and passing it directly to my father. No one would ever see the use of having a two-foot wrench, and it was perhaps for that reason I liked it the most. A bell rang in the distance, and I moaned in disappointment. My father climbed down like a monkey and patted me on the head. “Next time,” he promised through the nail before unloading all the tools strapped around him back into the box. Together we went back over the bridge and across the field, turning into the structure where a huge ship’s bell hung. I always asked why we had a ship’s bell to call us for dinner, and I was always answered, for some reason I always forgot. I knew it had something to do with one of my grandfathers, one who wasn’t around any more, but that was the extent of my memory. We entered the dining room side by side, pushing through the commotion to get to the other end of the room where the food bar was. With so many people my mothers never felt it necessary to serve the meals, and instead it was first come gets the best peace of meat, and all the rest poke around the platter until the person next in line yells at them to hurry up because they’re starving and they would never take so long. Father had the advantage of being taller than the rest of the family, however, and always cheated by reaching over people before they served themselves. No one complained, because he often grabbed an extra serving for the person next to him, which wasn’t always me. That evening we were having pork and yams, luckily for us slowpokes; there was always plenty of those. Most of the people around didn’t eat pork, so we always bought it cheap. Yams we just got naturally; it seemed they fell out of the sky, and I never wondered why we always had them. We loved my mothers’ yams. It was all an accident, when the two of them were still young and still fought over just about anything. It didn’t take long for both of them to settle their differences and become best friends, because that’s the kind of women my father married, but at the time they were often very loud. One of them (I think mine) wanted to boil the yams, the other wanted to fry them, so they compromised by cooking them in the oven. One wanted to use butter and brown sugar, the other cinnamon, and they couldn’t find a balance so they used it all. There was a lot of screaming when they left it in too long and the dish burst all over the oven, but it was near dinner and us kids were hungry so we pounced upon it anyway and started licking it off the burning sides of the oven. The results were much injured tongues and fingers, but a dish we all loved. This time I was especially famished, and scooped two large servings on top of my pork before shoving through the rest of my family to get to the table. “That’s too much for an 8-year-old to eat,” my brother Shan declared, stealing a bite of my yams as I lifted my fork. He reached in for another steal, but I blocked with my weapon. He parried it away and thrust, but I countered and he nearly lost his life. Admitting defeat he withdrew, and I in triumph dug in to my spoils.

After dinner we all scurried around cleaning the house, dishes, and ourselves, and when we were done we gathered around the huge fire to watch Father do shadow puppets. He told us a tale of how he built a great dragon that carried him over the ocean, dropped him in, and flew to the moon. “You can still see it, up there in the sky,” he told us, pointing up through the glass ceiling. “They’re all just a bunch of dots,” one of my sisters sighed. “No, see there,” he pointed, “it’s his tail, there’s the wings, and there’s an ears.” “Dragons don’t have ears,” a brother objected. “Leastwise, they don’t’ve an ears,” a sister giggled, the shrieked as Father lunged at her with his shadow-puppet stick. He chased her around the room, the rest of us cheering them on, until our mothers came to call us to bed. We scrambled away obediently, each of us wandering to our own part of the castle to the rooms we had chosen ourselves. The castle was huge, enough to fit Father, my two mothers, five aunts and three uncles (and consequently five more uncles and 2 more aunts), all my cousins, a couple grandfathers and three grandmothers, as well as myself and my 14 siblings. I think only six of them are fully my siblings and the other seven belong to my other mother, but I never was told and really don’t know, because my mothers are both native to Kisanumi, and both from tribes from the island of Spir. Both had come to Dragon Isle looking for a better life, and they’d both found Father. Father was a rarity here on Dragon Isle, as his birthplace was a land far in the South, Jarismel. There are a lot of warriors there, just like here in Kisanumi, but Father wanted to build things instead of tearing them down. Since he has dark skin and mothers have light skin, all us kids are various mixes and can’t tell a full sibling from a half one. Father was the one who found the castle. It had been deserted a long time, probably because it’s right next to supposedly haunted ruins and far from any Star Tower. We had our own star room, though, and with all the cotton that grew around the castle we had enough blankets too. As siblings and cousins do, we spread as far away from each other as we could, consequently we hardly ever had to encounter our relatives, and as a bonus no-one knew where anyone else’s room was. I’m not sure how it was that mothers’ families came to live with us, but as far as I could tell they just drifted in without anyone noticing until it was too late. My own room was high up, overlooking the ruins less than a mile away, and was one of the few that had a real bed. Because of all the sky lights, and how close we were to the stars, only mothers had candles. The rest of us just knew the way around and didn’t have any books to read anyway. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure many of us could read.

Despite his promise, I never did get to see the red wrench used again, because it was the next day that they came. We were all just awake, but had not yet eaten, all in the castle. I saw them first, coming around the ruins, but as I let a cry out I heard the bell ring. I guess my mothers gathered as many as they could to run from the pirates, but I was not one of those. I stared out the window at the ocean in the distance, wondering why the pirates would bother with the long walk, until I realized that I’d already screamed and wasn’t doing anything about it. I fled, along with all my relatives, but I don’t know what happened to them. All I remember is falling down the stairs for the millionth time that month, and blacking out like I had done many times before. When I woke, the castle was burning, all valuables taken by the pirates, and the stench of burning flesh was in the air. I started crying, but quickly shushed when a pirate glared at me. In the chaos and dark that followed I did not know how many other of my family had been captured to be sold as slaves, but I remember the tears and the angry thoughts my little mind conjured up. Pirates, river rats, and bandits were usual occurrence in Kisanumi, but slaves were rarely tolerated. Those who liked the idea were the ones who didn’t fit in to normal Kisanumian culture. Kisanumi is, like Jarismel, a warrior land, and whoever had the time to bother with slaves, whoever wanted something done for them rather than doing it with their own hands, were either people who weren’t around long or the large-profit landowners who used slaves and free men alike to farm. Because of our warrior nature, Kisanumians don’t much like to farm. Consequently there isn’t a lot of farming, so people generally leave the landowners alone. That’s never stopped people from picking fights with them, though, or demanding someone back who’s been taking for a slave. Most slaves are acquired legally, much of the time even by the slave’s own will, but it seemed that in those times slaves were needed more than ever. No, that wasn’t it at all, I found out later, it was that those who could capture slaves were more abundant. I watched my home burn, I cursed the pirates and whoever had employed them with words children in Tioryr wouldn’t even know, and I cried.

Seven years later

“I might even miss the farms,” I said solemnly as I watched my fellows get cut down.
“I’m happy to be out of there,” my companion said softly, “but I know what you mean. I’m not meant to use a sword.”
“Women always fight,” I murmured.
She stuck her tongue out at me, lifting her sword with her left hand to parry an attack. Her right hand hung by her side, immobile and useless since a fall at the farms. We’d both been slaves for many years now, and knew each other well.
“About that Kisanumian drive to fight?” I wondered, killing my nth man. “I think the genes cancelled each other out,” she agreed, speaking of Father and mothers’ people. “Behind you, Cam,” I gestured, and with a swing of her sword the enemy was defeated. I didn’t hold any grudges against them, admittedly I didn’t even know what the hell we were fighting for, yams will be yams. Erm, what I mean is that we had been sold from farm slaves to fighting slaves, people who take the front lines and help ensure victory. Like mercenaries, only we couldn’t say no and weren’t paid much. “It’s a victory, Ran!” Hide cheered, sheathing his sword. Hide had been a fighter much longer than the two of us, but was just as new to this platoon. I gathered he’d been on the other side before, but without any loyalties it’s hard to really care. “Camoni,” our friend nodded to her, helping her slip a dead man’s purse into her belt. I grinned too; a victory meant the likelihood of us dying was much less, and that was always a happy thought. “Randi, Hide, give me that,” a gruff voice barked as Hide attempted to slip a pretty dagger with the marking of a horse on it under my hood. Hide reluctantly handed it over to our commander, who directly represented our owner (whoever that was). He wasn’t much different from our overseer at the farm, except that he didn’t have a whip and was less annoying. While Jin stamped away, us three started after the dagger wistfully. “I guess we’ll just be dining on this purse, then,” Camoni lamented, jingling the heavy purse with the hilt of her sword. “We’ll never survive,” Hide agreed, imagining how many houses that purse would buy. What fool takes a fortune onto the battlefield? Camoni put away her sword. “But if I keep it all to myself, it would go far as the islands.” Hide mimed a punch at her head, and she laughed and ducked. She came up only to have her head squeezed by me until she relented. We walked back with my arm over her shoulder, Hide guessing all the food we would buy. We were both growing boys, still not 16, and as long as we kept growing out of our armor we were never satisfied with the stuff we had.
That night, as Camoni snuggled close to me, murmuring in her sleep, I played with her hair, watching the white strands play around my fingers. Her hair had turned white when she had been captured, a fact that garnished many curious stares. She covered it with her hood as often as she could, but at night she always let it down. I would stay awake playing with her hair another half hour, until her nightmares hit. After hugging her close and telling her it was all right, she would fall into a peaceful sleep where I would soon follow. It had been like this the last seven years, since we both found each other at the farms, both of us big-eyed with sorrow. Seven years. What a long time it seemed to my young self, and it was about to get longer.

“Tomorrow we anchor again,” our commander barked at us the next morning. We all moaned and complained, but he ignored us and went on. “This time we strike quickly, bring back as much as we can and leave. We don’t raise any alarms for the blue-haired bastards to catch us; don’t be slow and you won’t be left behind. Got it?” “Yeah,” we all muttered, and went back to bed.
When we anchored we all clambered into the rowboats to get to shore as quickly as possible. None of us wanted to be around if an alarm was raised — just because we were slaves didn’t mean the blue-heads wouldn’t kill us just as soon. I wonder how many of the pirates who attacked my home were slaves.
Camoni and I found Hide, and the three of us moved away from the main body. Because we were all stamped with the sign of Valen they had no worries of us getting ‘lost’, and we wouldn’t do it for fear of our lives. Though we didn’t know who our direct owner was, he sailed under Valen and that was enough for us.
While our fellow pirates all rushed en masse to our target, some wealthy town near the sea, us three took a side route. We circled the town, coming around to sneak in the back where we started a few fires and took advantage of the confusion to run around gathering spoils. As soon as we were full we left, leaving the rest to clean up. As fast as we were, we weren’t fast enough. We heard the alarms being sounded behind us, but they weren’t the village’s alarms, they were our own. “Istoti ships!” I heard a fellow pirate scream. “The Istotian reinforcements!” someone else yelled. The three of us were standing so close to the sea it lapped at our toes, close enough to see the commander leap off the ship to a waiting rowboat. “Damn them!” he swore as his ship was covered in flaming arrows. “You told me they were four days away, Deiga!” I could imagine the rare cringe Deiga wore when he made a serious mistake. As the three of us backed away from the shore, they rowed as fast as they could for land. The Istotians were faster. “I think this party’s been crashed,” Hide observed, and we turned heel and ran.

“Great. Now we’re wandering around Effisterneia with stolen goods and this stupid brand,” Camoni swore, swinging her sword at a tree. While she vent her anger on the unfortunate sapling, Hide and I built a fire. We’d ran for several hours, until we guessed we were far away enough to take a break. “At least we have the stolen goods,” Hide pointed out, pulling out a loaf of bread. I had to agree, taking a bite into an apple. “Gimme some,” Camoni demanded, swiping the apple from me. We fought over it, taking alternate bites, until Hide threw another apple a few feet away and Camoni pounced on it. “You get the dirty one,” I jeered, taking another bite of my apple. She grinned. “But it’s whole!” “Not soon it won’t be,” I threatened, and she gave me a bite anyway. When the fire was ready we warmed up some cheese and meat, then looked through the rest of our loot. “Pretty good,” Camoni observed. “If Jin’d gotten at it, imagine how much of it we wouldn’t of seen.” Silence fell while we thought about our unfortunate companions. “We’re free,” I observed. Hide and Camoni both theatrically scratched their shoulders. “We could hide the brands,” I defended. “We could try,” Hide corrected. “Why were the Istotian ships early, I wonder.” “Who cares?” Camoni asked. “I didn’t even know Istoti was their ally. Hellas, I forgot there even was an Istoti.” “Watch your mouth,” I said automatically, then drew back in apology as she glared at me. I’d promised before to stop treating her like a baby, but habit sometimes got to me. “Have we been to Effisterneia before?” Hide asked, changing the subject. “Of course,” I laughed, “don’t tell me you haven’t noticed all the people with green and blue hair.” “Oh, is that why?” they both echoed, and I realized they were teasing me. “Why do only some of them have matching hair-eye colors?” Camoni wondered, biting into another apple. “Dunno,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Istoti,” Hide said. We laughed, knowing that while going to Istoti while wearing the brand of Valen wasn’t any less likely than us making it through the month, the likelihood of us surviving that long was close to zero.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Top Dog (2008)

“Suicide,” Detective Meren declared, lifting himself off the floor. Officer Gued glanced at him and rolled his eyes. Meren pretended not to notice, moving away from the body. It was of a 17-year-old -- just younger than Meren -- who, blood tests affirmed, was Shirley Vistet. Her mother had found her, here in the apartment Shirley shared with her boyfriend Marcus Zenkins. Shirley was sprawled on the floor in the kitchen, a smashed glass of water in one hand, a bottle of pills in the other. The pill-bottle was filled with all kinds of pills, including zephecei and merdikol. Tests proved she had taken these two pills together, or within an hour of each other; either way it spelled instant yet painful death. Ironically, apart the pills were for stress-relief and fluid-control. There really was nothing to it, Meren mused. Her parents and sister said they hadn’t seen her in 2 months, her co-workers at the fire department said she was becoming secluded, her boyfriend said she was getting more and more emotional and strange. Shirley must have chosen to take the back door out of her problems, to go into a never-ending sleep. It happened everywhere, every day. Meren had heard things weren’t nearly as bad 500 years ago during the 20th century, but had been getting progressively worse. Meren thought of his history classes and smiled. His fellow humans had apparently envisioned many things about the future, none of which proved to be in the least bit true. In honest fact, humanity had progressed very little since the golden age of invention (between 1800 and 2200). They had faster and safer transportation, more effective and widespread medicine, more reliable satellites, cheaper entertainment of greater variety, better sciences, cooler computer devices, and better health overall, but otherwise few things had changed. “And what do you see amusing about this all?” a voice coldly intoned to his right. He glanced at Shirley’s sister, Merva. “About this?” Meren said in his young, superior voice. “Nothing at all.” “Then I ask you not to smile,” the blonde said, frown deepening. “One should never be able to smile around the dead.” Meren lost his smile. “Indeed -- my apologies. I meant no disrespect.” He spoke politely and inclined his head humbly, hoping to win her attraction, but beauty was not to be easily swayed. “I know this is only a job for you, Mr. Meren,” she said, jaw so tight her teeth almost grated, “but my little sister is dead -- gone, to no-one knows where! -- and you tell me it’s suicide.” She shook her head, tears leaking from her lovely blue eyes. Meren nodded in what he hoped was a distraught way. “I am most sorry for your loss, Miss Vistet, good-day.” He inclined his head again to her and left the apartment, where he lost his polite expression and rolled his eyes. “Women: full of tears and little rational.” His partner, Jae Dorell, came out the same door and clasped Meren on the shoulder, leading him away from the guarded door. “So wassup, my ol’ man?” Jae asked, grinning from ear to ear. Meren closed his eyes, and opened them when he was calm. “Jae, do not use that term, it's vulgar -- and I’m 5 years your junior.” “You’ll always be older to me,” Jae said cheerfully, “you being my higher-ranking partna'. C’mon, lighten up, dude!” “Please, Jae, that type of slang is only used by lowlifes.” “Why? It’s cool. Y’know, you sound just like that ol’ gal in there -- the sis. She didn’t like it either.” “And rightfully,” Meren added. Jae snorted. “Aw, c’mon, man, not only lowlifes use it -- y’gotta admit, it’s a-rollin’.” “It’s not ‘a-rolling’, it’s a-nnoying. And no one proper uses it besides you.” “Oh yeah? Senator Nellimin does.” “He’s not proper,” Meren muttered. “Aw, watcha gotta against him?” “Nothing in particular.” “It’s ‘cause he’s black, in’it,” Jae demanded. “Oh, please, stop it,” Meren sighed. “I’ve got nothing against blacks -- you’re black, Col’s black -- gosh, Jae, my old girlfriend was black.” “Yeah, and why’de you break up wit her, huh?” “Because she fell in love with James Connir, remember?” “Oh. Yeah. Well, anyway, you just said ‘gosh’ and ‘old girl’ too, so don’t go criticizing my language.” Meren grinned and shook his head. “I’ll see you later, Jae,” he said. “C’ya,” Jae returned. Meren went to the tram and pressed in the buttons for his home district.
Elvis Meren had always been a normal man, no matter that he’d been named after reportedly one of the most famous music gurus in history. That was before and during college, however. Once he graduated and joined the Detective Agency For North America (DAFNA), his life changed. Normally it took detectives 3-4 years to progress from trainee to DE, and another 2 or 3 years until T-D. It took Meren 2 years as a trainee and about six months as a DE. Now he was a T-D, and quite proud of his rank. His co-workers, however, weren’t so pleased. They couldn’t see how this newbie -- this ‘boy’ -- could have weaseled into the position they were all praying for. On top of that, in their opinion Meren didn’t have any skill either. He was over-confident, and too proud of his position. Pride and over-confidence don’t mix well when you’re a detective, unless you’re Hercule Poirot, but unfortunately this genius Belgium detective was never more than a character imagined. Meren, by the way, had no idea who Hercule Poirot was. He never read any old books but stuck to the modern ones, the ones in ‘style’. No one could disagree with Jae’s use of the word ‘dude’ for Elvis Meren. Meren was fanatically fashion conscious with his looks, foods, ideas, actions, and everything else. If slang, for example, became the new language spoken amongst the high-ranking people of the world, Meren wouldn’t be slow to switch from his carefully precise ‘courtly speech and mannerism’. It was simply the defining character of the boy-detective Elvis Meren.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I started at the top of the mound and felt my pants scrunch around my leg as I slid off the top, hands nervously clutching the space around me. Soft tufts of hair slid through my fingers, hair so fine that even at this size it made me wish to curl up in it and sleep. I slid off the edge with a sense of apprehension, and led go of my handholds only when my arms jerked in their sockets. Down, down I slid, through jungles of hair, gold swarming past me faster and faster. Pieces of the hair caught me, turning me around, until I was spinning and falling and jumping through the most amazing shining playground in the world. I reached the bottom in under a minute, but for all the joy I’d experienced it felt like hours. Tumbling onto the gigantic cushions my heart beat hard with the excitement of the fall, in my mind’s eye I could still see the swatches of bouncing curls fall around me. They now hang above me, gently swaying, I can reach up and brush the ends with my fingertips.
The world has much a different perspective at this size, where something as ordinary as curls become a gift from the gods, and the woman standing above me a goddess herself. She smiles and sun shines in my world, her eyes giant nebulas in the distance, swirling forever, the light never fully reaching me. In the middle of each nebula is a black hole that threatens to suck me in to a place from which I can never return. I look away from her eyes and back to her curls, shining like my sun. A loose strand tumbles over a mountain of curl and comes to bounce near me, like a great flying dragon. The bunch over there is a burning phoenix that will always be reborn, like this woman’s spirit as she continues her search of a thousand years. A Medusa of the modern age, and even I am in danger of turning to stone.
I lay my head back and close my eyes, whereupon I dream of my fantastic ride down the waterfall of curls.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tough Nails (2005)

Broken nails are one of the toughest things that happen to modern women — no, least toughest things. Trying to participate in any activity, even if it only involves picking up the volume control for the television,can cause a nail to break. It would be all right if the nail broke evenly, but no matter how many times I ask it to do so, it still breaks unevenly. Snagging on clothes, couches, paint, and skin, the jagged edges of the nails are hazardous to everyday comfort. If a woman is lucky she will be carrying a nail-file with her when the disaster strikes, but more often than not she will be without one. This could be solved by the distribution of nail-file hair-clips, or nail-file jewelry, but what if they don’t match her hair or her clothing? There would have to be at least 10 different-colored nail-file accessories to satisfy this color-code-demand. Another solution is a nail-polish that would protect the nails from breaking, but because of the maddening horror of uneven nail-polish, this nail polish would have to either never wear away, or come off all at once. These things are all very complicated; the easy solution comes down to the intervention of our maker. The Creator, who is said to have put together the human body like humans put together puzzles, should re-write our genetic code, enabling nails to never break unless specifically told to. This solution seems the best, with the littlest amount of effort on the part of busy humans.
Meanwhile, as we let our Creator contemplate my suggestion, I must start carrying around a nail-file, to get used to it in case our Creator decides it’s too much of a bother to re-write our genetic code.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Dreams... what if they were realities? (2005)

All of us have dreams. Not just the dreams that enter our sleeping selves and confuse our waking minds, but dreams of the conscious self; things you wish so strongly for that you feel your heart might break if you can’t have them. There are more realistic dreams, dreams about entering a certain career or traveling to a great place, but these are only the dreams we speak of. There are dreams deep inside of us that we may never reveal to anyone, for we know in the depths of our most hated pessimism that they will never come true. This feeling of not being able to do something you so wish to do wells up inside, and you hate it. You want to squash it back down, saying you can do anything, but your anger turns to bitterness as you know it is right.
One of these such things is the well-wished desire to live forever. Living forever, I could do all the things I have dreamed; all the realistic dreams... and perhaps some of the unrealistic ones.
If I could live forever, I would learn to speak Gaelic. I feel I could never learn such a complicated language in one lifetime, what with all the other things occupying my list of priorities. The dying language of the Scots and Celts, Gaelic is a part of our history. Often I have heard songs in Gaelic, and I love these songs though I can’t understand what is being said. I wish I could learn this beautiful language... if I could live forever, I would.
If I could live forever, I would read. More than I can now with other things to do, I’d finish that stacks of books by my bed and the bookshelves full in other parts of the house. I would love to read all books by and about Mark Twain, and would simply drink up the wit and imagination of this brilliant individual. I would read all Agatha Christie books, marveling at the genius of the crimes she has made, and amazed at how much about human behavior she has noticed. For additional fun, I would read all the fantasy books I could, and enjoy the luxury of escaping to my imagination.
If I could live forever, I would learn the history of the world, and record all that passed me by. I read fantasy, I write fantasy, but I always know that it’s the simple history of our people that holds the most fascinating story of them all. What people have done -- in anger, in fear, in inspiration, in grief, in happiness, in greed -- is amazing. Human behavior and action during the ages causes awe amongst the curious, and the hunger to know it all fills us. I would record the history of the times that I lived through, if I could live forever.
Living forever is up high on the charts of human dreams, but there are many more things people wish they could do.
One of the more bizarre popular wants is the desire to know what life is like to be an animal. Personally, I would love to spend a day as a cat. To feel the balance of the four paws and the tail -- to be able to swish that tail! It would be amazing. If I could be a cat for a day, I would climb trees. As a young child, I loved to climb a tree and then use the branches to transport myself to an adjacent tree. The older I became, the more riskier it was to go out on some of those thin branches. As a cat, I would walk the treetops. I would catwalk on fences, and sleep untroubled in the sun. I would talk to my cat, and I would chase the bugs in the grass. I would have so much fun if I could be a cat for a day.
Next on the chart of ‘wannas’ has to do with the untamed unknown of water. What would it be like to swim to the bottom of the deepest ocean? The ocean is beautiful as it is wild, and the mystery of its depths intrigues us. The deepest ocean is (to average depth) the Pacific Ocean, which holds the deepest point in any ocean: the Marianas trench was measured 35,797 feet (10,911 m). That is approximately 6.8 miles deep. Imagine all the things that lie beneath those tons of water! Swimming to the bottom of the ocean is somewhat of an odd desire for someone like me. I do not like to get wet, I’m afraid of the intense dark, and deep (very deep) water scares me. But the ocean in its beauty sings out to me, and I would love to visit the bottom of it. The fish, the plant life... if only I could take pictures down there! It would be frightening, swimming that deep with all those strange and many dangerous creatures, but wouldn’t it be amazing to swim to the bottom of the deepest ocean?
There are many other impossible dreams that everybody carries, but I think the most yearned-for thing is the ability to fly. We have our airplanes and our hang-gliders, but those do not offer the untamed freedom of the empty air. Imagine how loose you are, up there, with nothing to oppress you! It would feel like you could do anything, as you spun around on the wind. We are restrained every day by so many things; our jobs, our families, our shoes, our seat-belts, our obligations, our weariness. It would be heaven to fly with the birds, see the wonders of the world from above, and rejoice in the moments of no restraint.
I have nightmares of falling, all the time, because I know I can not catch myself. Perhaps these nightmares would go away, if I could fly.
Impossible dreams fill our minds in moments of sorrow, moments of wistfulness, moments of melancholy. There are things we want so much, it hurts to think of them. We hate to face the realization they will not come true, and we sigh and say ‘That’s ok.’ I wish I could tell you to hold on to those impossible dreams, but sometimes I think that life would be less painful if we did not desire what we can never get. Keep on with those dreams that are possible -- if you want to be a billionaire and own a castle by the sea, it is a dream worth holding onto. If you dream of having 20 children, it’s a goal you should aim for. If you dream of traveling the world and learning 8 languages, keep it up! Go for your dreams, go ahead. I often despair that I will never get my novels published, but I know that it is possible, and this knowledge keeps me going. I no longer have the great desire to jump off high places to see if I could flap my arms and fly, because I know it will never happen, and all I will get is bruises and crazy stares. This is because I am going after my realistic dreams, and leaving the impossible dreams behind. Life is so much easier when you know that what you aim for is likely to be hit.
There is a fine line between unlikely and impossible dreams. To fly is impossible; to be that billionaire with that shining castle is only unlikely. So if you want to become president -- well, why not? Never say it’s impossible, never. If you do, make sure you let me know, so I can come and give you a strict talking-to.
Hold onto the pebbles, keep your hold on that dust -- a tight hold! -- as you let the thin air go. Be strong and daring, curious and endeavoring. You may hide those dreams away in a little box, but don’t forget to take them out and look at them every once and a while. And, if you feel brave enough, go ahead and give into the dreams. They are, after all, there to have you strive to make yourself happy. Each of us are only here for so long, and during that time we need to be happy. That’s what dreams are for. Don’t lose your dreams, or you will always regret it... even if it is in the depths of your most hated pessimism.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Little Thing (2005)

I am always out of rubber bands. I don’t know how that happens, considering I keep every rubber band I ever find and don’t use them often. Big rubber bands are a life essential.
My family used to have an ice-cream container half-filled with rubber bands: it was one of those large plastic gallon containers, probably from mint-chocolate-chip ice-cream. It sat on the shelf in our wrapping-paper closet, and whenever we needed rubber bands we knew where to get them. I don’t know what happened to that bucket, or all the rubber bands, as we couldn’t have possibly used all of them...
Now all I have is this little bag. They aren’t proper rubber bands, either, but are roughly the size of the nail on my pinkie (and this is the nail that gets chewed most frequently). Furthermore, they tend to break. For some reason all the green and pink ones were used up, now all I have are yellow and orange. They have been sitting in my drawer for more than 2 years now, and still I don’t throw them away. Why? I can’t answer that. I don’t use them, except when I come across them and say “Ok, I need to use these up; what can I do with them?” Perhaps I hold onto them to preserve the fond memories they bring to mind... but I don’t think so.
These rubber bands are, in fact, orthodontic elastics, that -- had they been invented at the time -- could be tools ghastly perfect for the art of ancient torture. As one who has experience the braces, I know. Not only were my teeth bound together with wires, I had to wear these rubber bands. I got one packet, with instructions to take them off to eat and not put the same ones back on, which would take me through about 6 a day.
Aside from the fact they killed my teeth and made my tongue long for freedom, they weren’t so bad.
Until they ran out.
It being my luck -- or my lack of luck -- they ran out on the week of Christmas. Whatever day it was, I couldn’t go to the dentist to get new ones. I had to use the same ugly little pink ones all Christmas Eve, all Christmas Day, and the whole day after. Icky, icky, ugh.
After I got my new packet, I used a fourth of it before my jaw was free to move again. I knew I would never wear the rubber bands any more, but I put the little bag in my drawer of odds-and-ends. So far I have used them only in place of larger rubber bands, and regretted it. They are useless now, but still I keep them.

Will this go on forever? No, I’ll lose them one by one, mark my words. The bag doesn’t zip-lock properly, and the rubber bands refuse to disobey the laws of gravity. So now I’m left with only 8.
Oh, I’ll admit it, the rubber bands don’t bring back only painful memories, as not all things about braces are bad. My older sister thought that having braces was ‘cool’ and I got to have my horrid little teeth straightened. Every time I went in to get new wires on my braces I got to change the color of the bands holding the wires to the little metal things glued on my teeth. I had white once, black, red, green -- I guess I picked almost every color.
These rubber bands, obtained later, though they hurt, were almost fun to play with. Mouth-guitars, that’s what they’ll be inventing next. Pick a band, pick the other band -- hey, it’s Twinkle Twinkle! -- it was quite a musical experience.
Ha ha, that reminds me too. I have been biting my nails since I can remember, and they were constantly very short. When I got my braces, I couldn’t get my teeth on my short nails. They had to have grown above the finger before I could mutilate them, and while I waited for them to grow to that very-long length, my ever-present need to do something with my mouth and hands found a new pastime:
I clicked my teeth. Not exactly chomped, mind you, but more like chattered to the tunes in my head. This habit stopped when I got my braces off and could chew my nails, but the nail-biting-frenzy has been decreasing more and more since then.
Just looking at these sleeping rubber bands brings back many bracing memories. It was while I had braces that I took to studying my tongue, marveling at what an interesting thing it is. It was while I had braces I tabooed any sort of mouth medicine because I got sick of the tastes. It was while I had braces that-- ok, enough of that, I had them a year and a half.
Following that I got my retainer, and what a pain that is! Why, the stories I could tell you... but I won’t. The rubber bands are tiring of the light, and want to go back in the safe little drawer with all their useless friends.
Many interesting memories are hidden away in that drawer -- along with many boring ones -- but the braces made such an impact on my life that I will never forget them, nor the little orthodontic elastics.
Can such a thing be set aside without a fond farewell?
Can such a memory hide away and oppress the stories it has to tell?
Is such a memory dead and gone, is such a memory useless?
The answer is that I don’t know, my friends, I can only guess.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Black (2005)

Darker than midnight, deeper than the deep sea, and more solid than silver or gold. Texture like ash, but also like cream, in letters it swirls better than any. I see it all the time, but never truly know it. It’s further away than the end of the universe, but closer than my nose. My fingers touch upon it with every push of a key, my watch band boasts the color. It’s always right there, but never realized.
What kind of color is that?
White jumps out and cries, “I am white!”
Gold always stands up and belts, “Look at me! Shiny sunshine gold!”
Even brown whispers, “See me, subtle and warm, I am brown.”
Which color is right here, then, right before your eyes?
It’s black.
Black! I see it, but I don’t. Ask what colors do I see, I may answer, “White, gray, green, red” and miss all the black around me.
A color that greets us and a color that shuns us. A color like no other, we may know it intimately yet never understand it. Black is in each eye, black fills every night, but it’s there like air... just there, taken for granted.
Just black.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Near Miss (2005)

They called it a near miss, but I called it good.
“You almost failed it!” Jaimie screeched at me..
I shrugged. “I made it, though,” I said calmly, prying my test result from her thin fingers.
“But -- you’re so smart!” she continued.
I rolled my eyes. “Just cool it,” I commanded, waiving the test and walking towards the school exit.
She hurried to catch up to me, shuffling in her clogs. “But exams are so important; aren’t you worried?”
“About what Mom and Dad will say!” she cried, then shushed as a group of 12th graders glared haughtily at us.
12th graders. Dang-gone-it, I’d be joining them when school started back up in the fall.
“I think it’s a good thing,” I said, finally voicing my opinion.
“That they’ll yell at you?” she asked, trying to comprehend any reasoning I might have for that.
“I made it, they can’t be so mad,” I said, an edge in my voice. “Besides, this might show them I’m not such a genius.”
She stopped suddenly, her eyes going wide.
“Jack?” she whined in hushed tones.
I wished the 5th-grader would wizen up and get a clue.
“I hate Mom always bragging to people about how well I’ll do,” I explained.
“But you are smart.” She looked disappointed.
“Perhaps, but it’s embarrassing when they tell everyone.”
Rain splattered on her face, and she wiped her eyes. I finally looked at her, and noticed the down expression on her face.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, surprised.
“Well, I thought I could be like you,” she sniffled, “but now you tell me you don’t want to be smart. I don’t get it!”
I smiled a little bit and punched her shoulder lightly. “Hey, chin up, kid, you are smart. As long as you keep trying to catch up with me, I’ll be running ahead. ‘K?”
She nodded, a smile drifting onto her face. She gave me her hand, and we walked home.
I went on to graduate from college, and Jaimie wasn’t far behind. She won that race, but to this day I claim it’s because she had better shoes. They called it unfortunate, but I called it good.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

He Sat Down to Watch TV (half 2009 half now)

Grumbling under his breath, with the occasional loud word directed at the window, he stomped over to the couch where he let out a long frustrated breath. The couch was old and yellow — the original color was far beyond memory — but it looked cushy and inviting. The couch squeaked as he dropped on it sideways, kicking his shoes off one over the side, the other back towards the doorway. It was tempting to lie there doing nothing, face buried in the cushion. “Eh,” he grunted, knowing someone would bother him, and fumbled around for the TV remote hidden within the crumbs and M&Ms of the cushion’s underside. Once the remote was in his grasp he hit the power and skipped to a random channel, then slid the remote back in the cushion. Now he knew where to find the thing. He watched half a special on mongooses, laughing through a few amusing commercials, before his mind wandered. It was the exact thing he was trying to avoid; every time he thought, he thought about her. Over the years he’d had a few girlfriends, none very serious, but they’d had a good time, done new things. This one he’d really liked. Not fanatically or obsessively, but more than the simple fondness he had for the other girls. Jenni. The first time they met he thought her name was Jaimie, and it took him saying it about 10 times before she bothered to correct him. That was 10 times whacking his head against the wall. Usually he was the one who broke things off, all the girls seemed fairly attached to him, and though he’d never left any pining he thought that once he found one he wanted to hold onto he could. Well, Jenni will be Jenni. If anything was more fun than it was work she found a way to make it complicated. ‘Otherwise I’m not accomplishing all I can,’ she explained. What she hoped to extend in her accomplishments by going to South Carolina was beyond him, it only looked like she was punishing herself. Maybe she was. She hadn’t given him explanation, and what did he really know about her? He’d asked her to call, she had his number, but she hadn’t given him any way to contact her in SC. A loud noise from the TV interrupted his sulk, a commercial for a resort get-away in Costa Rica. Suddenly he jumped up from the couch, staring at the images of lush greenery and big lazy lizards. Why not? He hadn’t been saving for anything specific. A break sounded exactly like what he needed. If Jenni was escaping south, he’d do the same, just farther, further removed from her. It was a plan.

Monday, February 1, 2010

She Looked Up at the Sky (2009)

The breeze cooled the perspiration on her skin, and she took a deep breath of the cool morning air to let the feeling calm her. Times like these, following angry words and voices like canons, were times she sought the peace of nature in her hammock. Her aunt had helped her weave it, years ago, sitting under the same two trees that now supported her. Why did people come and go so quickly? Words are so easily exchanged, the bad always carrying more weight than the good, and when you think you have all the time you don’t try to mend it... that’s what she was afraid of. She still held the guilt, could probe it and feel the sorrow, knowing the last impression her aunt had of her was the tantrum she threw when her aunt tried to protect her from her own stupidity. She’d thought, surely, with her parents thoroughly disapproving the match, that her aunt would welcome her and her soon-to-be husband. Eloping sounded so romantic, daring. Well, her aunt had been right. She tried to make it work, but Lawrence and she were not cut-out for each other. Arguing was stupid, futile, she knew, and she hated it. Hated to wonder if he might fall dead suddenly, like her aunt, with her unkind words burning in his mind. It was always that which made her go inside and apologize, hear his ruff grunt of acknowledgment, leaving her more guilty and the problem unsolved. Not this time. She wouldn’t back down about this. Rubbing the rope between her fingers, like she used to do with her hair when it was longer to ease her aggravation, she raised her head to the vast expanse of the sky. Part of why she hung on was knowing that, if they separated, she couldn’t keep this house. And she loved this house, the view of the valley, how in the day she could see clouds over the whole sky not blocked by trees or buildings, and at night the city below sparkled like the clear starry sky above. She could lay in her hammock, or sit in the upstairs room gazing out the gigantic windows with stained-glass borders, and it felt like she could see the world. The furniture, the way the corners smoothed to draw her on to each room — every part of this house was precious to her. One thing she could say about her marriage was that it wasn’t poor. Lawrence had done well for himself, drawing her out of the workforce early to be a content housewife. Content to cook and clean when needed, spending the rest of the days doing various activities of her own choosing. The more successful he grew, the more time he spent at home, the more unhappy she became. They just didn’t get on. She kept coming to him, trying to have conversations and spend time with him, but he would rather act like she wasn’t there. He was content to eat her food and take advantage of the housework, like all he needed was a maid rather than a wife. He was allergic to cats, she was afraid of dogs, he hated birds, she thought fish were boring. With no pets and no children, she was finding it harder to accept and occupy herself in her exile. She was tired of it. Hadn’t it been just as much his fault as hers that they tied themselves to each other so young? Why should she be the one to suffer? Her fingers moved along the weave, her other hand coming to rest on her eyes. She couldn’t stand it, not anymore. No more yelling over small disagreements, no more being ignored, no more crawling back in to apologize — and it was always she who apologized — no more. No more.