Update on LIFE! aka I’m not dead yet.

Wow, it’s been eventful lately!

I managed to get myself published in an anthology this January. It’s erotica, so if you’d like to read it, get prepared for some sexy sex! Its called Just The Tip: Short Stories of Love and Lust and my story is called “Lighthouse”. I’m a fan of it, and usually I hate my own work. All of it. So, if you’re interested, you can check it out here. The anthology was edited by the awesome Kris Kendall, so if you hear of any new work by her, support her please! She is a nice lady!

You can find it on Amazon in print and for Kindle, and it’s free on Smashwords!

This is the second anthology I’ve been published in, the first being the awesome Cthulhurotica, where my story “Ipsa Scientia” was accepted much to my eternal surprise. I like this one too, a couple years after the fact. It took me a while, but now I can see all the parts I’d change today, without crying.

Thursday Tales has a new home! Yes! io9 has moved to the Kinja platform, and there’s now a Thursday Tales Kinja blog. It’s starting out small but I’ve got ideas, and they’re gonna happen there. Thursday Tales will rise again, just like the South, except that Thursday Tales has already started rising again and the South not so much. Come join us, and see what we’re doing on Thursdays at io9′s community blogs!

I’m working on an anthology! The title is “We Had Stars Once” and it’s a collection of Thursday Tales and Saturday Short Stories from the past three years, to celebrate the third birthday of Thursday Tales! If you’ve written one and want to join us, hit me up here or at the TT blog. Deadline is 20 April, and there’s some information about it here.

Writing: I’ve got some stories I am almost done with! As soon as I think of endings, they’re going up!

More news to come. I’ve gotta go be productive again. I noticed if I pause to take a break, all that productivity goes right down the drain!

Posted in uninked, vagaries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Spotted: An unconventional tale of airport security.

ERMAGERD a Thursday Tale! I’m struggling through a story which I wanted to post today but since I’m sucking like a Dyson vacuum at the ending, I decided I would spend some time gently caressing it (no, not like SomethingAwful) and speaking to it tenderly. While I hold that story’s hand, here’s something I wrote a few years ago for Friday Flash and really like. It’s the result of a conversation I had once with my sister after the body scanning machines for airports were first announced. She said, “Just wait. One day they’re going to have airport psychics!” Obviously, I couldn’t let an idea like that slip away. Weighing in at a hefty 2300 words or so is a heavily revised version of an old, old story.

Time was, Clem mused, when a man’s thoughts were his own. They were private- nobody else’s business. These days that wasn’t true anymore, at least not if you wanted to travel somewhere. While he was busy thinking about this and sipping his coffee, Laura was leaning with her forehead against the wall, eyes screwed shut and cascading red hair moving from side to side as if swaying in a breeze. One of her hands was balled into a tight fist and the other was pressed to the textured concrete next to her face. It looked as if she were crying. When she turned around, she was.

“There’s nothing,” she had said. A little over an hour later, while Laura was sleeping through her terrible headache, GlobalAir Flight 205 broadcast a staticky, panicked message before exploding midair. Clem saw the news on television and clenched his jaw, tears springing to his eyes. He couldn’t believe it had happened. He was relatively certain Laura would lose her license as a spotter. He was one-hundred percent certain Laura would lose her shit, because she was a bleeding heart and worried constantly about events just such as this. It was a wonder she wasn’t an alcoholic yet, but Clem could bet she was going to be a good deal closer to it than she’d been an hour ago. He sagged, glum, into a chair in the smoking lounge, took a drag off his cigarette. Courage.

Back in the security offices, Laura’s cubicle was empty and spotters had gathered around the coffee maker in the break room, clucking among themselves. Clem begged off interaction and sat at his desk, staring over the short wall into Laura’s cube. The chatter faded and Clem heard a sniffle behind him. He turned to see Dana emerging from the back hallway that led downstairs, where scores of investigators had set up shop. Her face was red and mottled, eyes swollen from sobbing. She was one of the senior spotters who had checked him and Laura for intoxication and fatigue before putting them on the point. Their eyes met and she stared at Clem helplessly. He lifted his hands in a silent gesture, face full of puzzlement. As she walked past him on the way to her office, Clem couldn’t take her sorrowful gaze, and slid his focus to his upturned palms. Her partner, Steven, was nowhere to be found.

When Dana had fled the Spotlight offices at last, the talking picked up again.

“She’s been really stressed out lately- Laura, I mean.” Debbie said, then glanced around before lowering both her head and voice dramatically “I guess she’s been having some problems, you know, at home.” She nodded sagely, fingering the fat fold of her purple turtleneck collar and turning away with her coffee cup. Fred passed through the gossiping clutch with his tie unclipped and flapping around as he walked. Another silence fell over the group when he touched Clem’s elbow and asked him to step into the conference room. Clem’s stomach lurched.

As they walked out the door, Clem shot a glance back over his shoulder, looking into the eyes of his workmates. He couldn’t tell what any of them was thinking. Laura would have called it stress. He didn’t want to think about Laura right now. He made a fist and counted his knuckles silently.

“Clem, we wonder if you might know something about what happened today with Laura. You were on the point with her.” Fred’s face was intense and his jocular manner had become abrupt. Clem was scared. He felt miserable and he thought he might be sick. He examined his fingers and wondered if Fred believed he had anything to do with Laura’s failure to spot the terrorist who blew up Flight 205. He struggled to maintain his composure, glancing up and trying not to look like he was obviously attempting to read Fred’s thoughts. Fred wasn’t a spotter; typical of handlers, he was a human lie detector.

“I…like Laura.” Clem’s green eyes, framed by his straight, dark brown hair, glistened as he lifted them to Fred’s watery blue ones. “I don’t want to get her into any kind of trouble.” He was worried for Laura but he didn’t want to get caught up with her either. He had a life of his own.

Fred nodded three times, scratched the side of his neck, and huffed. “There’s no way this should have happened. Here, of all places, with Laura, of all people. The two of you were on the point and someone didn’t get spotted. Now three hundred people are dead and we’re not getting anything from Laura except a lot of hysterics and apologies.”

Clem’s eyes dropped. He couldn’t keep up his gaze any longer. It would probably make him look guilty, but it was easier to stare at his hands and let Fred talk.

“This is a huge failure for us, courtesy of yourself and Laura. It’s an absolute blight on the face of Spotlight. You’ve never missed a spot, Laura’s never missed a spot. We don’t miss spots here. You know who misses spots? Lazy spotters, tired spotters, distracted spotters. Not spotters handled by Fred Marguey.“ His eyes narrowed for a moment and he shuddered, gritting his teeth.

“Something happened in that line today and one of you is going to tell us what it was. Steven and Dana cleared both of you and now they’re under the gun too. I need to find out who went wrong and where. If we don’t get some answers, doubt is going to spread through this entire program. Help me stop that from happening, Clem. Did you notice anything unusual this morning about Laura? Anything at all? I don’t like having to do this and I know you don’t, either. Talk to me, Clem.”

Clem’s face turned away from Fred’s, just a bit. Just enough that Fred knew there was something. Staring at the floor, he remained mute.

“Clem!”

Running his fingers through his hair, he debated with himself before relenting, setting his hand on the table with an unintentionally loud slap. “Fine, okay. I just didn’t think anything of it really, until afterward.” Fred watched him, noted his obvious distress. Laura was Clem’s senior and it was clear he wanted to protect her.

“Go on,” Fred prompted.

“I told her that I spotted something while I was walking the line, but I couldn’t be sure where it was coming from. When I came around the wall, she was trying so hard to home in on it but she just couldn’t spot anything. I…I mean in the past the same thing has happened and everyone says that sometimes it takes a few years for a spotter to be able to really feel out a false alarm. Fred…” Clem looked directly at him again, eyes full of confusion and fear. Fred pitied him. “I feel like it’s all my fault for not calling Steven or Dana…but I didn’t want to go over her head and she was never wrong before and she tried so hard to verify my spot, she looked like she was really straining. I could tell because when she turned around to tell me there was nothing, tears were coming out of her eyes. She had to go right to sleep after that so I walked her into the baffle because her head hurt so badly.” Everything rushed out so fast that Fred had a hard time keeping up, but he could see Clem relax a little as he finished speaking.

“Don’t you find that a little strange?”

“What?”

Fred grunted. He hated this whole thing, hated the eye of suspicion being cast on members of his staff. “Laura’s record has been exemplary. This one time, the time she ‘strains’ herself to verify a spot- a correct spot- she tells you there’s nothing, and then there’s a terrorist attack. There’s something seriously wrong with this scenario, Clem. Someone wasn’t doing their job.”

Clem couldn’t think of a reply, but it was obvious Fred was torn up about the whole situation. Everyone liked Laura, and Fred had been her handler her entire twelve years at Spotlight. Clem didn’t envy him a bit. Fred fell silent for a few minutes. Clem fidgeted, thinking of Steven in the basement being questioned by authorities, surrounded by spotters and handlers. He knew he’d be next.

His reverie was cut short when Fred abruptly dismissed him. With heavy, halting steps, Clem trod back to his desk to await his turn in the ad-hoc interrogation chamber.

After Clem left the room, Fred stared at the forms in front of him and rubbed his hands over his face. Nobody in the world wanted this crap to roll down the hill onto them and yet here he was, covered in it. “How could anyone have missed this?” He forced a deep, shuddering breath into his lungs to alleviate the sensation of crushing pressure all around him. “Dammit, Laura.”

For the next few days Clem stayed home from work, avoided phone calls, and fielded visits from various authorities. He grew tired of explaining, over and over, the events surrounding Laura’s failure to confirm his spot and her subsequent behavior. He holed up inside his apartment with the blinds closed and the television off, not checking the news, not reading the paper, not even checking his email. His coworkers hovered near his cubicle and speculated as to whether he would be coming back.

“This is just like that horrible TransFlight wreck, remember that?”

Debbie was wearing a slate blue turtleneck this time and she nodded in agreement, shivering at the memory. Everyone remembered that. It was due to, as Fred would say, an intoxicated spotter back in the days when spotters worked alone with a single handler. Back when spotters were new and there seemed to be a new iteration of Spotlight every other month. Then, they were just called airport psychics.

It had started when a security guard named Earl Waits got “the shivers” from a passenger and remarked on it to a fellow guard. He’d said there was something about this guy, as if there were a spotlight shining on him out of all the people in the crowd. After takeoff, the passenger mounted a frenzied attack with a hidden weapon. He managed to kill two passengers before he was overcome and killed by an air marshal, who also died. Waits went on to point out other passengers he “spotted” and he was always right. Nobody knew how, but he had a long and successful career in airport security before he went on to create Spotlight, a training program for the similarly gifted. Eventually the laughable “Airport Psychic” became “Spotter” and nearly every airport in the country had one.

While the office was abuzz with speculation after Clem’s and Laura’s workspaces had been plundered of evidence and office supplies, and interviews had been conducted with the staff, Clem was at home, hoping Laura was okay. He felt bad for the position he’d put her in, like he’d sold her out. She must be getting it worse than I am, he thought. He’d been bled dry of information and couldn’t tell what anyone was thinking. Fred recommended time off, and Clem gratefully took it. He was weak with relief when suspicion was finally off him and wondered if it was time to quit.

His decision was made for him when he received a call 2 weeks after the incident, just when he had 3 off days left and was panicking about going back, facing a new partner, and not being able to spot anyone. Wearily, he answered the telephone.

“Hello?”

“You can turn in your badge now.”

The familiar voice on the other end of the line was smug with triumph and Clem could feel all the tension leaching away with the knowledge that his job was done. Still, there was Clerc…

“You’re thinking about Clerc.”

Clem retorted, “You must be psychic,” and then grimaced.

“About as psychic as you are!” The two broke into rueful laughter, until Clem’s throat tightened and he stopped so he wouldn’t start to cry.

“Leave tomorrow. Just call in and quit. You’re stressed out, you aren’t dealing with the whole situation well at all. We’ll get all your stuff moved out. Daisy’s coming into town, as your sister who is handling things for you. Good job, Clem.”

“You can stop calling me that now,” Clem joked, but the call had already ended. With a wan smile, he went onto the bathroom and plugged in the electric shaver he had placed on the counter in anticipation. Finally the hair, the beard, the contact lenses and the carefully practiced nonregional accent he had acquired could be shed. He wasn’t Clem anymore, and after a shave and a shower he didn’t look a thing like Clem either. That night, he got the best sleep he’d had in a while.

Next morning not-Clem shouldered a meager backpack and a clean identity, then departed, leaving all of Clem’s documents in the apartment along with everything Daisy needed to settle Clem’s business and zero out his existence. He drove right past the airport where he’d been an employee just a day before, and on to the next state where he left the car in overnight parking for pickup. Strolling through the airport, not-Clem wondered if any of his comrades were there too. He sipped coffee until his boarding call came, and when it did he lined up at the gate with everyone else. He looked at his hands, studied his fingers and didn’t think about the spotters. He didn’t think about Daisy, didn’t think about Clerc or Laura or Fred. His mission had been successful. The proof had been in Clerc’s eyes as he’d walked past Clem, past Laura, past the security gates on the way to sacrifice himself and the 300 others on Flight 205. Not-Clem looked up and glanced around idly. He couldn’t spot any spotters but he grinned a little, because they couldn’t spot him.

Posted in #thursdaytales, idea garden, interstices | 1 Comment

Not a Real Story

Note: I promised @christieyant I would write 200 words for today. Since it’s Thursday, I thought I’d just go right ahead and try to write an entire Thursday Tale. This is in no way a whole story. If anything, it’s some character groundwork for a story I want to complete in the future. I was trying to accomplish something specific: the transformation of Maiya, but I lost my way somewhere in there. Fighting off the dread dragon Perfectionism, I plowed through anyway because otherwise I’ll wallow in boohoo forever. If you hate this, please try the Interstices. *Far* more likeable stories can be found there!

Maiya sat in the dark of her yard, staring up at the sky. She took a drag from her joint, held it in and squinted her eyes. He was up there somewhere. Maiya grinned, found herself blushing, and then giggled. A moment later, the smoke was concussively expelled from her lungs to curl upward in mad curlicues, visible only against the silvery moonlight. Her own voice came to her, mocking.

Oh, yes, he’s up there. Bosch is up there.” Maiya cringed, drawing her shoulders in and ducking her head. She could hear it, clear as day. The voice was around her and in her and as always, it was critical.

Maiya shrugged, looking at the roots of the bottle tree to her left. “Well, he is,” she muttered. Her greatest critic didn’t say anything else, so Maiya finished her joint with her eyes wandering the yard. On her way indoors, she hazarded a final glance at the stars. A small, wistful smile touched her lips.

You are really stupid.

Maiya went to bed.

At 10:38, Maiya got a message. She opened one eye, pressing her lips together. Her alarm was set for 10:45.

“This better be an emergency.” It wasn’t an emergency; it was a message from Minda. Maiya’s couldn’t roll her eyes back far enough. She growled, then sighed. She didn’t have to take her bad mood out on her friend. She called her.
Minda’s face popped into the air, closely followed by several yards of bouncing, chestnut hair. “You’re awake!” She scowled. “Why is it audio only?” Dust motes were floating through Minda’s head.

“I just woke up.” Maiya hoped she sounded as sleepy as she felt.

Her friend pursed her lips and squinted. “Are you naked, Maiya? Wait, don’t tell me. You’re not alone! Are you there? Hi Bosch!”

Minda and her dust motes looked so joyous that Maiya didn’t want to spoil the moment. She half-smiled. “No, I’m not naked or there. I haven’t taken your reckless advice yet. I just don’t feel that awesome today, and I definitely don’t look it.”

“You say that every time we talk. You don’t sound sick, so…” She clasped her hands together and smiled that smile that told Maiya she was about to get hoodwinked.
“I’m already suspicious. Talk fast before I accidentally roll over and hit the disconnect button.”

“I’ll just show up. If you don’t want me to just show up, you should make sure you’re ready to hang out at 1.”

“I’m going back to bed. Maybe we can go tomorrow.”

“Maybe we can go today. You don’t have to get up now, but I’ll be there at 1.” She wiggled her fingers, looking enormously pleased with herself. “See you in a few hours!” Her face disappeared.

Precisely a few hours later, Minda knocked on the door. Maiya had a doorbell but Minda argued that “you can’t play a sweet drum solo on the doorbell.” She wasn’t feeling it, but she took the time to make herself look presentable and almost “like a girl” so that Minda couldn’t harangue her into changing into something less frumpy. True to form, Minda noticed.

“What is that, boobs? You have boobs?”

“I’ve always had boobs, being a girl and all.”

“Yeah, but it’s so hard to tell in those suits of armor you call clothes.”

“I prefer function over form, thank you.”

“Is the function to look like you were drawn by Rob Liefeld?”

“You’re going to give me a headache from all this eye-rolling. Where are we going?”

“You’ll see. We’re gonna see if we can make you feel like a girl today.”

Maiya felt herself up. “I already feel like a girl.”

“Maybe on the outside. But on the inside, you feel like a bitter old woman.”

Instead of responding, Maiya closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Minda was unshakable once she decided to do something. No amount of asking or demanding was going to get her to give up any information, so Maiya just rode quietly, staring out her window at the ground traffic. Okay. No matter what, I’m going to try to have a good day.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“I’m not, come on!” She was coming around to the passenger side of the vehicle. Maiya clenched her jaw.

“Minda. Minda! I am not going into a bridal shop. At all. For any reaso- dammit, let me get my purse.” She snatched the bag up and stared at the other woman with thinly-veiled animosity. “A bridal shop. I’m not getting married.”
Minda’s lips quirked into a smile. “You could be if you would take my advice and just go see him.”

“Girl, I’m not trying to marry him. I’m just enoying his virtual company.” She knew she was lying the second she said it. She would marry Bosch in an instant.

Four dresses later, she was relatively certain what kind of dress she would wear to any wedding of hers, and despite her fervent desire to remain a sourpuss, her intellectual honesty demanded she agree that Minda’s idea had been a good one. Over lunch, Minda elicited another eyeroll with more secret plans. Worn out from arguing, she acquiesced.

Hannah. The smiling girl’s name was Hannah, and she was excited to do Maiya’s makeover.

“You never wear makeup? Ever? This is going to be fun!”

Maiya shook her head. “Never. But if I’m going to be forced to get made over, I want red lipstick. No red lipstick, no makeover.” She wasn’t prepared for Hannah’s tenacity. The woman vanished, and returned moments later with five red lipsticks.

“We’re gonna try these. If they don’t work, we’ll try some more.”

The first batch didn’t work, and Hannah returned with another. With a triumphant grin, she held up a lipstick. “This one’s called ‘Beware’ and I think it just might work.” Maiya didn’t argue; eventually, she figured, the color would prove terrible and she’d never have to undergo this kind of torture again.

Half an hour later, Hannah held up a hand mirror.

“What do you think?”

Minda was agog. “Girl, you look amazing!”

Skeptical, Maiya peered at the mirror. “Wow.” She couldn’t manage anything more. She wasn’t sure who that was in the looking glass, staring back at her, but it seemed like a glamorous, even beautiful version of herself.

“Don’t you feel like a girl?”

Maiya’s eyes were fixated on the red lipstick. For years, before she’d given up on makeup altogether, she had searched for the perfect red lipstick. Every color she could was too pink, too orange, too bright, too pale. This one was perfect. Her mouth looked incredible. She felt like a girl then. She felt a lot like a girl. She bought the makeup, all of it.

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Psychopathy and Grimm Brothers Stories

I’ve taken up an online class at Coursera.org, which is a pretty neat online class deal with interaction and homework and all kinds of stuff. The class is Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, taught by Eric Rabkin, and is offered by the University of Michigan. It’s a 10-week course with an essay and 4 peer reviews due each week.

This week, the first week, naturally, I couldn’t figure out where to post and since I had struggled with this essay from the beginning (starting when I found every single story unpalatable) to its end (you try cramming your thoughts about psychopathic cats and princesses into 270-320 words!), I missed the deadline and did not get to turn it in. I was kind of PO’d, largely because I don’t wake up early in the mornings for anything but I was determined to get this thing finished and turned in. Finished, yes. Turned in, nope. After moping for a while that I wasn’t going to get an A in the course, I found a thread in which a fellow student who also missed the deadline, posted her essay for open peer review. I have joined the foundling essay club, and here is my essay, alongside which I will also be posting any peer review I receive (anonymously, because I don’t wish to post my classmates’ names on the internet like that). The book we’ve used is the Lucy Crane and Walter Crane edition of Children’s and Household Tales. Lucy Crane did the translations and her brother, Walter, did the illustrations, which are lovely. All the stories I discuss can be found at that link. I might expand on this essay in the future, because I kind of like the idea and it’s the #1 thing that came of me reading all the stories. Many thanks to my G+ friend SS, for engaging me in a brilliant conversation yesterday which helped crystallize my thesis statement.


Textbook Psychopathy in the Characters of Grimm Brothers Stories

A reading of the Children’s and Household Tales by the Grimm Brothers exposes a striking quality shared among many of its characters, protagonists or antagonists: many exhibit the traits of textbook psychopathy. These traits include glibness and superficiality, egocentricity and grandiosity, a lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, deception and manipulation, and an inability to consider long-term consequences. These characteristics are present in a multiplicity of stories.

In “Six Soldiers of Fortune”, the protagonist and his cohort cheat in a footrace. His reasoning for this behavior is that he is owed more than he was given for his service to the king. When the race is won, the king and his daughter then scheme to kill the men in order to avoid paying their due. Both parties are willingly deceitful to serve their own ends.

Similarly, in “The Frog Prince”, the princess is willing to promise, deceitfully, to do as the frog asks, if only he will retrieve her ball. When the deed has been done by the frog, the princess immediately turns away and only keeps her promise when compelled by her father. In the end, she is rewarded with marriage to the frog prince.

In “Cat and Mouse in Partnership”, Cat lies to Mouse repeatedly, thinking nothing of the future or Mouse’s feelings when he gets a craving to consume the pot of fat they have stored for winter. When circumstances reveal that Cat has consumed all of the fat, instead of an apology to his wife whom he has harmed terribly by his actions and perhaps even sentenced to starvation, Cat snaps her up and consumes her.

These stories are far from the only examples of psychopathy in the universe of Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, but they serve to prove that the behavior, combined with the continued success of many of these characters, is shockingly antisocial.

I have already received some peer review, and will update as it comes in.

This is an interesting thesis and your ideas are well-presented considering the constraints. I think I’d argue that the character traits are more sociopathic than psychopathic, though. And while I give you credit for stimulating thought (I feel like I still need to consider your thesis more deeply and doing so will inform my further reading), I can’t help but think that your interpretation of pathology implies a missing, or disregarding of the deeper themes and metaphors.

Thanks for the insights and thought-provocation.

***

Thank you for sharing! I laughed out loud when I read the title: “Textbook Psychopathy in the Characters of Grimm Brothers Stories”! You were very stern in your condemnation of these characters and who can blame you? They are amoral and antisocial and I was as shocked as you were by these “Children stories”. However, once I started thinking of these tales more as folk tales and as an examination of life and human character, my initial shock subsided. Many of these stories are insolent or tongue-in-cheek just as the oral tradition of story-telling usually is. I enjoyed reading your essay and your thesis was well-argumented and illustrated by specific examples. All the best

***

Thanks for posting this. Your thesis is provocative but so too are the stories and I’m glad that I am not the only one to find the behaviour of the characters shocking. (Please excuse my Australian spelling, I have a nasty red line under “behaviour” but that’s how we spell it down here!) Getting back to the point, in many of the stories I was expecting “justice” to be served, and it plainly wasn’t. I found many of the tales subversive to say the least. There are a few paths that we could go with this: Are the characters psychopaths/sociopaths, or are they reflecting the society they live in? To what extent has modern society corrected these defects? What is justice and how is it served? What is our relationship as humans to animals and how should we place ourselves within the ecosystem as a whole?

The answer I see from Grimm’s Tales is that the darker aspects of humanity / nature / the life, universe, everything / can be revealed and laughed at, and by doing this, we can live with the darkness.

***

Hi there! CONTENT: I like your approach of actually looking at the psychological aspect linking Grimms’ tales. However, I felt that it would have been useful to check out the actual definition of psychopathy, which I don’t think matches well enough to carry the argument true. For example, characters suffer badly emotionally (the cock for his chocked hen), feel compassionate (help from the swan in Hansel and Gretel), feel loss and fear. So I think you could explore more there in terms of: how do they react to society, does the environment perceive them as abnormally cold, would the reader /listener have? Are they shocked? A 2 here for originality of argument but too little tested.

As to the FORM: well done, good read, good examples! A 1 from me.

Hope this was useful :) Keep it up

***

Thanks for sharing. I too found the behavior of many characters in the stories reprehensible and immoral–possibly psychotic. I think though that your thesis may be a little too inclusive for the examples given. Perhaps limiting the traits to a few, which correspond to your examples could help clarify the paragraph. I like the examples and agree that their actions are totally antisocial and wonder why any families would pass these stories on to their children. My only idea is that they are warning tales alerting children to the dangers of adulthood.

***

Wow! I love how you took the psychopathy angle. I agree with L. that sociopathy might be a better route. Still, this is well-written with an insight I had never considered.

I only would like to see a tighter connection between the sociopathic tendencies in the stories for “Six Soldiers of Fortune,” and “The Frog Prince.”

I would give 3 for Form and 3 for Content.

Love the title, BTW.

Posted in Random Essays | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Path of the Fauda

Inspired by this image.

A lovely forest.  Really, really lovely.

A prompt was set up by my pal and fellow Niner Myseri who writes the brilliant Underground Princes (aka Highlander with hobos!) and this photo was to inspire a work of 50 words or more. We call those Creative Challenges, and it’s the second one I’ve done in 24 hours. I think that at last, I busted out of the writer’s block and found myself with something a little longer than 1k words. Anyway, here goes!

*****

A flock of brightly-colored birds wheeled in the air outside the mouth of the cave, silhouetted against the spot of visible sky. Arrik smiled, his breath catching in his chest.

“Is this the right thing? I mean, I know it’s the right thing according to the Fauda, but is it the right thing f-for us?” Jacann was watching the winged creatures disappear over the tops of the trees. When the last had gone, she slid her eyes to Arrik’s and saw them bright with tears.

“Jacann…” His voice cracked and he stopped speaking, swallowed hard.

Jacann blinked away stinging tears and nodded hastily, resting a hand on Arrik’s shoulder. “The Fauda doesn’t tell us-”

“It’s the only way, Jacann. It’s the Fauda or the regime. You can choose only one. Live under the regime or-”

“Or die under the Fauda. I know. Just, we’re out here and nobody knows where we are. We could be free, Arrik! We could just leave.”

Arrik shook his head, his face wrinkling in an expression of shocked horror. “Do you wish to take no responsibility, Jacann? Where is your moral compass if not in the regime or the Fauda?” His lips curled downward slightly, as if he had tasted something disgusting. Was Jacann saying that she didn’t want to take responsibility for her actions? That she thought she was somehow too good to accept the only two choices their people had had since, well, their history began? He wondered if she was out here to break the vow every Meiren took upon reaching the age of accountability: to live for the regime that ruled them, or to go into the jungle and lay down their lives at the altar of the Fauda. There was no life, or death, save for those.

He rested a heavy hand on the back of Jacann’s neck and squeezed gently; it was more than a massage but less than a show of force. “We need to get into the cave before dark. The Fauda instructs us, Jacann.”

“I don’t think I can just go into a cave and die, Arrik! There’s no proof that the Fauda is real, but look! Here we are, far from home, far from the regime. We could just keep on living. We could make our own lives and direct our own futures.” She thought about the life she had left behind: a life melded to a machine, like her parents and their parents and their parents before them: all unable to die, all unable to live in the way they chose. She wasn’t even sure they would have been able to choose another life. All Meiren at the age of accountability had but two responsibilities: create two offspring to entrust to the regime, and then to either become a living weapon or to follow the path of the Fauda. Jacann wanted neither, and she’d thought Arrik, too, wanted a life beyond that which the regime offered.

Again, Arrik sneered in disgust. He turned and began walking into the cave. He had already lingered too long with Jacann, admiring the world between the completely enclosed Meiren compound and the cave of the Fauda. Other Meiren, he was sure, had made haste on their way to the cave to sacrifice themselves as demanded. He was sure an indefinite lifespan as a tool of war was not what he wanted, but he knew what his only other option was. Jacann was weak: she could face neither life nor death, it seemed. He would take the life from her now but not outside of the cave- the Fauda and the regime both prohibited the taking of a Meiren life. Death must be natural, accidental, or voluntary. He didn’t know what would happen if he killed her, but he knew that if she didn’t join him she would be in perilous violation of their rules and traditions.

“What will happen if I don’t go?”

“I don’t know, Jacann. You shouldn’t ask such things. Where do you get these thoughts?” He couldn’t understand how or why Jacann was spending her thoughts on ideas that were never part of their education. It was if her mind had flown away with those birds. “Come on now. It’s going to be dark soon and we have to make the sacrifice before night falls.” It was true: no Meiren lived after nightfall on the day they chose the Fauda. He grabbed for her hand, suddenly afraid it would feel alien. She wasn’t the Jacann he had left the compound with. He wondered if she had ever been the Jacann he thought he knew.

She jerked her hand away, shaking her head. “No.”

“What? Jacann, don’t be foolish. The Fauda requires-”

“What has the Fauda ever done for us? It’s a way out of the regime, yes, but I don’t believe it’s the only way. It’s just a punishment for not wanting to be soldiers. I’m supposed to die today anyway. I’m dead to the Meiren and dead to the regime. If I die today it will be because something happens while I’m walking through the trees, but I’m not going to just lay down and give up.”

Arrik’s anger flared. How dare she reject both prescribed paths for the Meiren! Who did she think she was? She wasn’t better than him or the others. Before he realized it, his palm was burning and a loud noise was echoing through the walls of the cave. Jacann had a hand at her face, and a thin line of blood was leaking from beneath it. “I’m sorry! I- I didn’t mean to hit you. I wouldn’t have done it if you’d just listened to me.” A flutter of fear manifested itself in his belly. It was going to be night soon.

Jacann lowered her hand from her face, held it out. It was bright with blood, and Arrik could see her split lip swelling. He stared as his friend, companion, and lover smeared her blood onto his own hand. “Take that with you, Arrik. When you get to the temple of the Fauda, tell it that is my last sacrifice to it or to the regime.” She pivoted and began walking away from the cave into the dense underbrush of the jungle. With each step she felt her identity as a Meiren falling away. Her children, her parents, her lover, her choices: all were lost to her.

Arrik watched her leave. A knife twisted in his chest as he realized that he had to die alone. For a moment he considered running after her, running away with her. He shook his head as if to clear it of the vile thoughts Jacann had infected him with, then continued his trek into the cave and to the destiny he chose.

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Leaving Earth

Today’s Thursday Tale is brought to you by pinkbob, a young science fiction fan who rose to my challenge to collaborate on a story. We spent a while coming up with the basic plot and ideas, and then I began typing. She didn’t seem that into it until I finished the first paragraph. She then grabbed my computer and began hammering away at it for a couple hours, taking breaks to dictate to me when she got tired of typing. I think it’s safe to say she got into it. Aside from the first paragraph and minor editing for punctuation, spelling, and grammar, pinkbob wrote this entire story. The anti-gravity scooter, the races, the sadness: all her. It veered wildly from our original plan, but for a small kid who came up with the end result on the fly, I think it’s not bad for a first science fiction effort. She would like to write more Thursday Tales, so maybe we have ourselves an up and coming scribbler here. She’s looking forward to feedback, and I’m looking forward to her face when she has some comments.

Enjoy!

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Tilly sipped from her steaming mug, enjoying the taste of the coffee. Susan dipped her head, trying to meet her friend’s eyes. Tilly avoided her.

“That was a great play, wasn’t it? I’d love to go see one with you again.” Susan’s voice trailed off, sadly.

“I know,” said Tilly. “I just feel like this isn’t my place in the world.”

Susan frowned. “The world is big, and you haven’t even seen a tiny piece of it. Where will you go when you leave?” She nibbled on her donut trying not to think of her sorrow.

“That I will figure out when I leave this planet. I will miss you.” She looked at Susan’s boyfriend and smiled at him but he could see the sadness in her eyes. “You too, Joe.”

Joe said to Tilly, “I’ll miss you very much Tilly. It’s not like you to answer questions like that. Well look at the time. I have to take you to the spaceport on time.” Joe tried to look happy but he didn’t do a good job of it that’s for sure.

At the spaceport Susan looked sad, trying to look happy like Joe, but did a bad job of it.

Tilly said to them in a loud voice, “BYE!!!”

In the spacecraft Tilly thought, I can look for a job here! From the cries of little kids to the snoring of the old, she loved every bit. This was her place, but her scooter was broken. A little girl came up to her and asked politely, “Are you Miss Tilly?”

She said to her, “Yes milady, why do you ask? Who are you?”

The young girl said, “Because you’re popular in the babysitting world. Not enough to get rich, but popular.” She looked at the scooter. “Oh, I see that your scooter is broken. I know a guy that can fix it. His name is Jake Jones, and he’s a racer! Girls think he’s cute.”

Tilly blushed. “Oh dear, I haven’t got anything to say now.”

“You should meet him at his shop. It’s at our next stop. He has black
hair with fiery red streaks in it and he’s very muscular. Imagine that.”

Tilly’s face turned rose-red. “Umm, t-thanks kid”

At the ship’s next stop on the planet LP, she saw the shop. It looked horrid with blood stains. It looked like a war. A man said, “Hey you’ll get cold out there. Come in! Sorry ’bout the paint, it looks like blood”

Tilly brought her scooter into the shop, turning a bright shade of magenta. “Can you please fix my scooter for me? They threw it into the ship when I got on, and now it’s broken.”

“It’s very expensive to get the anti-gravity drive for this model because they make them on Earth. How ’bout this? How about I take some time off and see if we can’t find that anti-gravity drive for you. We can check the scrapyard.” He smiled at her. “We have a lot of scrapyards on this planet.”

“Um, okay.”

“Oh, sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Jake.” He looked at her like he’d just read her mind. “I’m sure someone’s told you about me.”

“A little girl told me. How did you know?”

“Did you meet her on the spacecraft?”

“Yes,” she said.

“That was my little sister. She’s always trying to get me a date. She never gives up.” He smiled and shook his head.

Tilly told Jake, “Maybe she just wants you to be happy.”

“I’m pretty happy with my racing. That’s what I want to do. All my life I’ve dreamed of that, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Tilly met Jake a few days later at the scrapyard he suggested. They went through parts of old machines, broken space crap, alien poo, and just regular old junk. Tilly was looking through a big pile of scraps when Jake hollered, “I found one that I think will fit. Let’s go back to my shop and put it into your scooter.”

At the shop, Jake said, “Your scooter needs a little touch-up. Let me go get some paint.”

“I’m sorry, I have to go to work now. I can’t wait to see it tomorrow!”

As Tilly was walking to the door, Jake said “Wait!”

She stopped and turned around.

“Would you like to come see me race in a few days?” He was nervous.

Tilly looked excited that he asked. “Sure, I would love to!”

She came back the next day. “The scooter is finished,” Jake told her. He took her into the garage to show her.

“Oh Jake, it’s beautiful,” Tilly exclaimed, looking at the rainbow colors. It looked better than before, once it was all fixed up. “Thank you. I think I’ll go ride it right now.”

“Before you leave, this is for you.” Jake handed her a ticket.

Tilly took the ticket and said, “Thank you again! See you at the races. Good luck.”

The racing arena was crowded. It was loud with shouts and cheers for the different racers. In the last race, there were only two racers left and one was Jake. She was a little worried because they were racing fast through the dangerous track. Jake passed the other racer by an inch, and won. Tilly jumped out of her seat and cheered, then ran through the crowd to meet him.

“Jake, you won, you won! I’m so happy for you!”

“I’m busy right now, but tomorrow, umm lunch I guess?”

She said, “It’s A DATE, hurray!”

“My sister wins after all.”

THE END BY pinkbob

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Getting back

Lots of stuff going on. I shan’t be talking about it here but I will return in trickles, dribs, and drabs.

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Some changes…

I’ve made some changes. I’ve moved the Roll Calls and the Searchable Nineosphere to their own site called, natch, Nineosphere. This is where it will live from now on. I’ll be making more changes, very slowly. Very slowly.

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Giant Mondo Combined Roll Calls Are UP!

And can be found here. Some more changes will be made soon, if I still have the brainial capacity to make them happen. Here’s hoping, and hey Niners, thanks for being so patient and awesome. I love you guys, fr srs.

Posted in #saturdayshortstories, #thursdaytales, roll call, vagaries | 1 Comment

Hell

Two men sat in comfortable chairs, looking at an orange fire, burning bright in an old stone fireplace. The room around them was worn, but well cared for. Aside from the fire, it was dark, and aside from their slow breaths and the crackle of the fire, it was silent.
Eventually, something inside the younger of the two compelled him to speak.

“I had a dream,” he spoke softly.
“Most of us do, from time to time,” the first replied.
“This one was strange, and the memory of it is like an affliction that can’t be shed.”
“Well then, spread the disease to me, and then maybe then you can be cured of it.”

“Very well. I was in a basement, in the dark. The only source of light was that of a fire before me, much like this one now, except not in a fireplace. It was, instead, inside a wide, strange stove, of the blackest cast iron. I could see the fire inside, beyond the slitted grate of the hinged door on the belly of it, and it was roaring red and hot in a way that wasn’t right. It was too hot, and too red, and I could see the blackened wooden handle on the front of it, and I knew that I had to grasp that handle, and turn it, and open that stove. I knew I had to, but I fought against it, impotently, with every ounce of my will.

“And so I stepped forward, across a wooden slat floor worn slick with years of use, but I was sure no other human had stepped foot there before me. As I walked, the air whispered at me, and the floor rippled beneath my feet. Some strange, terrible knowledge was there, within those flames, within that stove, and every step brought me closer to its hellish heat.

“And then, I was there, standing before the thing. My mind was filled with echoes of unspoken words and whispered half-thoughts, and my hand was reaching out for the handle, and was not to be stopped.
“As my hand made contact with the blackened wood of the handle, the whispers turned to shrieks, and flooded my mind and eyes and ears with terror and pain, experiences which were not mine, and yet were made mine.

“My hand grasped that black handle, and turned it, the flood in my brain growing with each moment. I pulled on the handle, and the door came free with a crack and a groan, and I saw the flames, and it became clear. I knew.” His voice trailed off, and there was silence once more. Before, however, it had been pleasant. Now it was stifling, as was the heat from the fireplace.

“You knew what?” the other man asked, finally, with a voice that didn’t quite mask his trepidation. The younger man looked at him for a while, and took off his glasses before speaking, folding and setting them on a small round table beside his chair.

“I knew humanity had been crafted, and that it was for a purpose. I knew, though, that it was not a benign deity awash in love for us that had done so. I knew there was no god nor devil, and no heaven full of joys awaiting us. There was, however, a hell. That was the knowledge in the flame, in the stove. Not the hell man had conceived of, of flame that burns the flesh, but instead the mind. There was a place of anguish beyond reckoning, for each of us, man, woman, and child. There was a hell, and we were made to burn in it, without exception, without hope of escape or reprieve.

“I knew why, as well. They fed from it, grew fat on our fear, on our pain. They bathed in it, and bred in it. We were cattle, being fattened for the slaughter.”

The silence came again. The older man looked at his drink, but did not imbibe from it.
“Do you really believe that?” he asked, finally, glancing at the younger man.
He looked back at the man and gave a thin smile.
“Of course not,” he said. “It was just a dream.”

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