So an assault rifle walks into a bar…

My friend Wyswords just wrote a good blog post about “Open Carry Firearms“.  Thought provoking and worth a read.

The debate of guns = good / bad is quite philosophical and fraught with pitfalls.  I’m not debating that here.  As Wyswords points out; guns are a fact in our country, the only actionable question is whether we are dealing with them responsibly.

I’ve had an odd relationship with guns over my life.  Growing up they were strictly forbidden.  Even squirt guns were admonished as glorifying the type of violence that was wrong in the world.  So naturally as I grew I wanted to see what they were really all about.  I remember one after noon when I was a teenager I went up with a friend into the forest and shot his rifle.  I wasn’t very good.  He asked me if I would like to try the shotgun and I declined, feeling a bit embarrassed at how unlike the guys in Red Dawn I had turned out to be.

In my thirties, my job in game development had me occasionally hosting game developers from places like Sweden.  When they visited, after work it was customary to do something fun (team building, that great excuse to use the company’s money).  Sometimes these guys were into racing go karts (we were building racing games after all) but other times they wanted to hit the local shooting range.

I even went on a blind date once with a woman who was a security guard.  She took me to the range to teach me how to shoot.  Said I was a natural with the desert eagle.

So that’s all to say I don’t really have a fear or disgust of guns.  Any more than I would a wrench or a car.  They are devices that do the things that their handlers instruct them to.  However, while it’s true that “guns don’t kill people”, I think Eddie Izzard has the right take on this.

And unlike a wrench or a car, the gun has one purpose: to kill.  And this is a problem in our country.  I’ve seen a few videos lately that seem to be stark examples of the issue.  So first off we have things like this:

Open Carry Harrassment

Basically that’s a video of a guy walking around the neighborhood with an AR-15, and proudly asserting that he’s breaking no rules, he doesn’t have to show a permit, he doesn’t have to show ID, etc.  There are many, many videos like this.

It’s the gun-enthusiast equivalent of when your mom said “don’t touch your brother” back when you were kids and so you’d hover your finger centimeters from his eyeball and taunt him with the fact you weren’t touching him.  Until he finally broke down crying and then became a lawyer, inspired by your nuanced ability to flaunt the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it.

Only it’s a lot more than that in this case. Imagine, if you will:

You are hanging out in your neighborhood.  Nice warm sunny day.  Maybe out on your front lawn with a lemonade.  Kids playing mutant ninja space cowboys vs. robot magic wizard chiefs while running around the lawn.  Like ya do.

Then a guy comes walking up the block with a large assault rifle.  Is your reaction: “hey there person I don’t know, good on ya for brandishing your constitutional rights and trolling for cops so you can display the fact that you know your rights and are happy to waste their time!”

Or is your reaction: “I don’t know this person, but I do know there have been many, many crazies with large weapons in our recent history, and I sure as hell don’t want to stick around to find out if this guy is homicidal.  Kids, inside – NOW”.

I’m betting most people have that later reaction.  And this is one problem that I have with open carry enthusiasts.  Their eagerness to show off their constitutional carry rights increases fear and tension wherever they go.  They might be most mentally and morally stable people in the world, but there is NO WAY ANYONE CAN KNOW THIS.  If you are to protect yourself and the ones you love, caution will always be the first reaction.

However, it’s always instructional to try to understand the values and passions of those you take issue with.  So then I ran into this lovely video which takes a very popular extremist and gives him a forum to lay it all out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XZvMwcluEg

Near as I can understand, this guy feels:

  1. Gun ownership is responsible for the drop in violent crime.
  2. The only thing holding back a tyrannical government is a well-armed populace.
  3. The blame for mass homicides in the US rests squarely on Prozac makers and their ilk, and they fund people like Piers Morgan to spread the sickness.
  4. The government is already killing us in large quantities, and he has proof that 9/11 was a government job as clear evidence of this.

So, a few things on this.  First: wow I feel sorry for that guy.  His entire world is ruled by fear; fear of his country, his government, foreigners, liberals, etc.  What a painful life that must be.

Second: everyone seems to have their own statistic to credit the drop in violent crime.  I haven’t seen anything that shows causation with gun ownership, just correlation.

It seems unarguable that mass homicides / suicides would be greatly decreased without guns.  The killers would still be deranged and try to harm others, but if all you have is a knife or a rock, you just won’t be able to do as much damage.

As for his conspiracy theories, that’s a whole other blog post.  But in summary; most conspiracy theories turn out to be wildly wrong  or overblown, the government is just not effective enough to orchestrate the kinds of things that they are accused of.  With the exception of the bloody NSA debacle, which honestly did shake up my thinking on this point a bit, its hard to think of another conspiracy that holds up to the slightest bit of empirical testing.

So, I believe we have a rational set of humans asking “hey, why don’t we have the same controls in place for gun ownership that we do for car ownership?  Both are deadly weapons in the wrong hands”. Which wouldn’t solve everything, but would be a step in the right direction.  Competency tests, background checks, etc.

On the other hand, we have people driven by zealotry, gun fetishism, or just outright fear of their own government who seem to be incapable of having a logical debate because their values aren’t logic-driven, they are emotion-driven.  I have read some great thoughts from gun enthusiasts that are actually logic and reason driven, and those folks seem to be all for stricter controls.  It seems though, in this case the extremists rule the roost, especially at places like the NRA.

So how to move forward?  Well, you can’t convince people driven by fear with logic and arguments.  I think they need to try a new reality and see that their fears are unfounded.  You can point to all the countries in the world with low gun ownership and a distinct lack of tyranny, but that won’t sway them.  You can point to statistics that show gun availability increases violent crimes, but they have their own statistics that say the opposite.  And when you come right down to it, they just love their guns. 

In short: this isn’t a debate.  I won’t be solved with reasoned and logical discourse.  It is, however, high time we stopped being afraid of what MIGHT happen and react to what has happened.

Mentally unstable people need to be kept from access to firearms, and the onus for gun ownership needs to be squarely on the individual to prove they are competent and responsible enough to own a gun.

And in the meantime, if I see these guys walking around my neighborhood, my initial response is not going to be “ah, the sweet smell of freedom.”

chipotle-collage
Thanks guys. I totally feel safe eating my burrito now. Until you showed up I was worried Obama would take my guac from me.

Short Story #4: House on Rhum Street

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I thought the Man and Woman haunted the house on Rhum Street. I was very wrong.

It’s hard to remember when I first noticed them. After a time I got the sense they were always there, just fading in and out, like poor reception on my Grandpa’s radio. I must have been quite young because I didn’t know enough to be scared. I remember the telltale signs when they came near: the hairs on my neck standing, the sudden chill in the air, my thoughts getting muddled and swirled. Some of my early memories were pleasant. The Woman once hovered over me while I read Hot Dog to Benny. He was too young to understand ghosts then, probably only two, which would have made me five.

Benny and I came to live with Jesse and Bob when I was three and he was just months. I don’t have clear memories before that, just blurry images that don’t make much sense. A comb with a silver handle resting on a brown bedspread, a tall evergreen tree against a gray sky, a frilly yellow dress which I think was my favorite, and the white-hot heat of a fire, so large and close that my eyes, nose, ears, and skin were full of it, encompassed and consumed by the roaring, bitter, hungry rush of it.

The house on Rhum Street was small and sparse. Rhum street was one of several small houses that all looked mostly the same in the community. Benny and I shared a room for years, his crib near my bed. He would often wake up in the middle of the night crying, which at first scared me so much I cringed in my bed, crying silently as well. For a while Jesse or Bob would come in, pick him up and carry him in circles, murmuring quietly until he was back asleep. After a while only Bob came. Then by the time I was five, if Benny cried at all I was the one comforting him.

When I started school, which was just a squat building near the center of the community, Benny would be worn out and pale when I came home, his face a smudged mess of tired eyes and hot cheeks. Bob or Jesse, whichever one was home at the time, would tell me that he cried the entire time I was gone, and only stopped when I came home. Eventually they arranged for Benny to sit in at school with me, with a playpen set up at the edge of the room. He was fine on his own so long as he could see me.

It was around the time that Benny started attending school himself that I started to notice the Woman showing up regularly. I would be studying, or reading, or maybe practicing my macramé, and I would feel that chill, see my breath suddenly, even on a sunny warm day. Since I felt like I had basically grown up with a few short appearances a year, it didn’t alarm me as much as pique my interest. When the chill set in, and the hairs on my neck and arm stood up, I could be sure I would see her, white and wispy, translucent like smoke, drifting in the room. Her face was smooth with round cheeks and a small nose, and her long hair swirled around her like she was underwater, or in a slow-moving wind.

Soon after she started showing up on an almost weekly basis, the Man started showing up as well.. Sometimes he came with her, sometimes he showed up on his own. As with her, I wasn’t alarmed so much as curious. He was also beautiful to look at, with high cheeks and deep eyes that looked strong even though he was just smoke drifting in the air. Both of them would hover near me, look into my eyes, sometimes reaching out to me. It was clear they were focused, looking for something, searching. I came to feel sad and distant when they showed up. Along with the chill on my skin and the prickling on my hairs, my mood would dampen and deepen, even before I could see them. I came to imagine they had a tragic and romantic past, even making up stories of doomed lovers who were cursed to live as ghosts and never touch each other again.

The day I realized they would only come when Benny or I were alone marked a change in how I thought of them. Benny and I were playing King’s Corners while the Man hovered over us, watching,. Benny and I grinned and blew smoke rings at each other with our chilled breath. The next moment the chill in the air abruptly vanished, replaced with the heat of the day, the Man was instantly gone and the door burst open. Jesse stood in the doorway, looking around wild-eyed.

“What are you doing?” she demanded loudly of us.

“Cards” I replied, all wide-eyed and innocent. But Benny was never one to know anything more than what he saw in front of him, and what he saw was Jesse acting suspicious, and stranger than normal. So he of course said:

“Did you see him too?”

Jesse launched across the room at Benny, seizing him by the shoulders and staring fast into his eyes, her mouth a hard line straight across her pock-marked face, her severe hair brushing across one ear.

“Who?” She demanded. “Who did you see, Ben?”

Her sudden intensity scared Benny, and he immediately started bawling. He was seven by this point, but still prone to crying at the drop of a hat, his mouth agape, tears spilling readily down his cheeks. Jesse was never able to handle this, and his reaction made her angrier. She shook him in her hard grip and growled: “You stop that right now and answer. Who? Who Ben?”

“He didn’t see anything!” I yelled. “We were just playing cards!” I wanted her to stop, let go of Benny before her anger ran away with her, like I had heard it do when she and Bob fought late at night. She looked over at me, her rock-like stare fixing me to my seat.

“What does he mean ‘see him too’? Mary, what did he see?”

“Nothing! It’s just cards! Sometimes Benny makes things up!” I was in a panic trying to find a way to explain this away to Jesse. “He makes up pretend friends!” I paused, trying to read if she was buying it. “I… sometimes I pretend I can see them too.”

Jesse considered this, but didn’t seem to be completely satisfied. She looked from me to howling Benny, then back at me. Her face softened then, dropping the hard edges and smoothing out the severe lines. She let go of Benny, then put her arm around him in an uncharacteristically nurturing move, and murmured apologies to him for scaring him. She rocked him awkwardly until his crying calmed to sniffles.

“The Elders have told us to be looking out, kids.” Her voice was calm and soothing then, looking between us still with intensity to make sure we understood this was important. “We’ve got to let them know about anything out of the ordinary. So if you see anything, or anyone that concerns you, or seems strange, you must come talk to me.

She fixed each of us with her most focused and direct gaze, imparting the weight of the situation. “It doesn’t matter how strange or how small, if you see something you tell me about it.” After another moment she added: “do you have anything to tell me?”

Silence ruled the room as seconds stretched out. I fiddled my cards and glanced up at her hard eyes off and on. She was staring pointedly at me, and I felt like she could see my lies laid bare without me saying anything. Benny sniffled and stared straight down.

“Either of you? Anything?” After letting the question hang in the air a few more moments she added “well, if you think of anything, you tell me. I’m looking out for what’s best for the two of you. And I can do that better if you let me know anything you see or hear.”

She ruffled Benny’s head, then grabbed my face between both of her hands and looked into my eyes, softer and sweeter than I had ever known her to be. Another moment and she stood, brushed her hands on her pants and left with an awkward smile.

That night I made Benny promise that the Man and Woman would be our secret and we wouldn’t tell anyone.

From then on I become acutely aware that the ghosts would never show up unless I was alone, or only with Benny. Benny confirmed that they sometimes came to see him when he was alone, but never with anyone but me. From then on they were Our Ghosts.

A month after my twelfth birthday, I came to understand fully.

I first noticed blood in my underwear just days after my birthday, and I was so scared I washed them in the cramped bathroom before putting them in the laundry hamper. The next day there was more, and the day after again. After three days, everything seemed fine again, and I thought no more of it. But the following month it happened again, and this time I was scared enough to ask Jesse what it meant.

I wanted to ask Bob. He was kind and gentle, where Jesse was terse and authoritative. But I knew somehow that I needed to ask a woman about this.  I found her behind the house moving crates of apples that we had picked the previous week. The sweet aroma of fresh apples and the bald heat of a summer day will confuse my emotions to this day. When I timidly described what was happening and asked Jesse what it might mean, her face switched between several expressions rapidly, then she sat me down on empty apple crates.

“Tell me. Tell me everything.”

This scared me even more. I was worried I had some horrible disease and this confirmed it. I could only wonder if I would die in months or years.

“It’s… well, I wake up and, it’s bloody. Not, like, bleeding, but there’s bits of red in my underwear.” I couldn’t meet her eyes. I fiddled with the frayed hem of my blue shirt.

“Did this just start happening? Is this the first time?” Her eyes were severe and round, hard little buttons in her freckled face.

“No.” I paused, feeling more shame for hiding it before. “No. Last month it happened three times in a row. But then it just stopped.”

Jesse looked at me, her brow screwed up slightly, through worry or concern I couldn’t be sure.

“And that was the first time?”

I nodded.

“Are you sure?”

I nodded again.

Her face relaxed suddenly, and she let out a breath that seemed like she had held for years. Her shoulders dropped and her back sagged. She looked up at the oak tree we were under, through the broad leaves, perhaps searching the sky for something. I waited for her to tell me how long I had to live; both of us perched on apple crates in silence.

“Am I going to die?” my voice was a whisper, like a sheet brushing across skin.

She looked at me, shocked, then with more warmth and caring than I could remember having seen before.

“Oh, god, no honey. No.” She put her hand on my shoulder, and stroked my hair with her other. It felt unnatural and awkward, but I held still. “This is a good thing. Everything changes now. You are going to become what you were born for. You and your brother.” She stopped then. I hoped for more explanation, but she offered none.

That night I listened to Jesse and Bob talk through the thin walls. They spoke quietly, trying not to wake us, but I felt I might never sleep again. I could only hear the occasional word, but it was enough to piece together that something they had planned for a long time was now happening, and it involved the Elders. It seemed to involve the entire community. And Benny and I were at the center of it.

I lay awake that night long after Bob and Jesse had gone to sleep. I felt worried, scared of something I couldn’t name. My community, my house, suddenly felt foreign, unwelcoming and sinister.

The chill set in abruptly. The skin on my arms burst into gooseflesh, and my lungs breathed in suddenly icy air. I flicked the light above my small bed, and they were both there in front of me, white clouds in my room, faces full of concern and a new, thrilling anger.

She made urgent motions, swirling over my bed, then over Benny’s bed, then back again. The Man beckoned to the door, making it very clear: we were to get up and leave.

Benny was groggy and grumpy, but he got up and stayed quiet. We slipped out into the dark house, stepping quietly across the carpet, then slipped our shoes on and went out the sliding glass door and into the back yard. I saw their wispy forms, like solid steam, zipping through the night air with more speed and purpose than I’d ever seen before. They seemed urgent and eager, and Benny and I followed them expectantly.

What an adventure it seemed. We had never been allowed out after dark without adults. The grass was damp with dew, the sky bristling with stars, and I felt a vast freedom that I hadn’t known I was missing before. My constraints from the rules of the community, the guidance of the Elders, the pressures to fit in were suddenly gone like so much vapor. Benny and I belonged free and wild, and I knew somewhere deep inside that I had crossed some invisible line, that there was no returning to my previous life.

We made it nearly to the community gate before lights shown out, harsh as accusations, rooting us to our spot. Instantly I was transformed from a free creature to a guilty child, cowering under a stern and judging glare. To my amazement, the Man and Woman did not disappear this time. They swirled and lunged at the people holding the lights, and shouts of surprise and terror filled the air. The Woman circled back to us, urging us to run, her face a painting of fear and panic. I grabbed Benny’s hand and we ran.

We didn’t open the gate, but climbed over. My nightdress snagged on the wooden post and I heard it tear as I fell over the other side. Benny was easily up one side and down the other. We rejoined hands and ran into the night, our feet crunching on the gravel of the drive.

Behind us we heard more shouting, more screams. Lights zigzagged through the night air, splashing the wild grass by the sides of the road, the fir trees, the gravel. Suddenly powerful arms grabbed me and I screamed in shock. The arms were so strong I couldn’t breath properly and I gasped in short little gulps.

“No, girl” the deep voice sounded by my right ear, “the ceremony is in motion. Tomorrow you will fulfill your promise. And your brother will be on the path.” I didn’t recognize the voice; it wasn’t Bob, it wasn’t my Grandpa, or any of my male teachers. It could have been any one of the neighbors, I didn’t know them well.

He was hauling me back, one large arm around me, the other dragging Benny who was kicking and hitting all the way. My breath was coming back now, and I could see he wore a cloak with a full hood. I could not see his face at all in the night, which scared me even more. I clawed at his arm, my fingernails digging deep, but I might as well have scratched at a tree trunk; his thick arm didn’t budge.

The She was there, and he stopped short in his tracks. Her bright white face grew before us, angry and radiant, spreading and expanding until it filled our view. Her eyes were the size of cups, the size of plates, of tires. The blackness of her eyes sucked at my mind and I closed my eyes with a whimper. The arm around me grew slack, then we were suddenly falling. The impact of hitting the ground jolted me, but I scrambled up from under his motionless weight, and She was in front of me again, her beautiful eyes locked on mine. Where she was worry and anger before, now she seemed to be full of sadness; all sorrowful eyes and drooping mouth. She looked like the picture of regret as she raised her hands to my head, and her eyes closed slowly.

And then I saw. I saw her brushing my hair with the silver hairbrush. I saw a swing under the great fir tree under the gray sky. I saw the fire swirl around us, and She and He tied to the bed. I saw hooded figures dragging a baby boy and a tiny girl in a yellow dress out of a burning house and into a car that would take them far away.

And more than seeing, I knew. I knew that we had been stolen for a purpose, I knew I was special, and Benny was especially so. I knew the people wanted to use us, but for what I didn’t know.

I gasped and the night was silent around me. Her pure face nodded at me, and she caressed my face and Benny’s beside me. It was like being touched by a cloud; a light breath of chill on my cheek.

Then she swung her arms dramatically and wildly eager for us to run, then swirled back towards the robed figures coming through the open gate. My father was there, pulsing between figures, a vengeful mass of smoke and anger.

I grabbed Benny’s hand, and again we ran. I didn’t know where we were going, but at least I finally knew where we came from.

 


Thanks so much for reading! If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to hear ’em. Some questions I’m curious about now that you’ve finished this:

1.) Is it clear too early that the ghosts are her parents? If so, do you feel that detracts from the story, or not?
2.) Do you have any theories about what the community is all about at this stage?
3.) Do I need to describe more about the relationship that Jesse and Bob have, or would that get in the way?


story starting point:

A girl lives with a couple and is haunted by two ghosts that are actually her real parents (not verbatim, will go back and find the verbatim prompt later…)

A broken wing

Short story number three from a list of  30+ story ideas pulled from a friend’s crowd-sourced plea for quick plot summaries.  This has turned out to be a super fun exercise where I get to try out all kinds of different genre’s and writing styles.  Hopefully you have almost half as much fun reading as I had writing.


 

 

owl

 

 

“I’m not hungry.”

Anna scowled down at her plate.  Her father scowled at her.  Her mother fretted with a napkin.  There was silence for a moment.

“You need to eat, Anna.”  Her father growled, then shoveled a giant bite into his own mouth.  “And we may not get any more for a while.”

“I’m not hungry.” Anna repeated.

“You will be.”

“Then I’ll save it.  Just like last time.”

“And the time before. And the time before that.  When did my daughter become so willful and obstinate?”

Anna just glared at her plate, unwilling to look up.

“Would…” her mother started, “would you like some cake at least?”

“Dammit Jess, if she’s not hungry enough for food, she’s bloody well not having cake!” her father thumped the thick wood table with his closed fist, clattering the place settings.

Another silence followed, and Anna cautiously stole a look at her mother.  She looked chastened, eyes downcast, long black nose nearly at her chest, whiskers hanging down.  Anna hated her father then, her anger coiling around in her empty stomach, making the hunger worse, along with the delicious smells wafting up from her plate.

“May I be excused?” she whispered, absently grabbing her thin tail in her nervousness.  Glancing over at her father, she saw his large face, the dark eyes reduced to slits in frustration, the gray fur bunched up on his brow.

“Fine.  Starve if you’d like. “ he growled. “I’m signing you up for the hunting party.”

Anna barely heard the gasp from her mother as her heart sunk lower than she thought possible.  A hunter?  Killing other animals and bringing them back for food?  She could never do that.

“You’ll learn that it takes a lot of work to bring in the meals.  Especially while staying safe from those damnable Hoots.”

“Charles, she’s too young!” her mother blurted.

“Not too young to make her own decisions, as you can plainly see.” her father’s anger focused and narrowed, aimed like a beam at her mother.  “It’s time she learned all decisions have consequences, Jess.  If she’s going to refuse to take part in meals, she can damn well take part in hunting them!”

“Excuse me” Anna couldn’t bear to watch her parent’s fight.  She knew it would end with her poor, delicate mother in tears, her rotund father shouting, dominating, berating.  And Anna hated herself for being the cause of tonight’s eruption.   She quickly scooped up the contents of her plate onto a napkin and scurried out of the dining room.

“Two legs, Anna!  No daughter of mine will be a scamperer.  We walk on two legs in this house!”

Anna straightened, stiffened her back, and walked calmly into the hallway, projecting as much haughty disdain as possible through posture alone.

Once in the small, cramped hallway and out of sight of her parents, she went back to all fours, weaving quickly past the various “treasures” her father had accumulated over the years; a table with a missing leg, a rusted helmet presumably from the First Races War, a pile of polished stones that Anna still had no idea about, a large rolled scroll with weathered edges and small, worn holes.

She burst out the front door and scampered down steps towards the large tree in the side yard.  The darkening skies had sent everyone else indoors.  The fear of Hoots coming out of the night sky was ingrained, even though there hadn’t been one seen or heard of near town in years.

Which was all the more reason Anna had to keep her secret from everyone.  Including her mother.

She came to the set of rocks arranged delicately in front of the tree’s hollow and the ground.  Pushing them aside carefully, she wedged into the opening and pulled them back closed behind her.  In the darkness she slowed her breathing as she edged downward in the earth.  Silently she thanked her luck that Macey and she had discovered this small tunnel years ago.  The thought of Macey sent a twinge of sadness and regret as always.

The tight, short tunnel opened up quickly into a small earthen room.  Thick roots coiled down from above, and the space felt cramped and tight.  Thin, feeble light trickled in from behind her, and in the twilit space she could just make out the soft, bulky shape before her.  Anna laid the napkin on the earth, and sat still and quiet behind it.

The white and black-peppered mass moved, a dry rustle and whisper of smooth, strong feathers, the scrape of talons across hardened earth.  Anna sat still, thrilling as always to the power and majesty of the motions.  Into one of the trickling beams of light a single brilliant eye appeared, set above a shiny black beak; thick and formidable, it looked ready to crack stones.

“I brought you some food” Anna’s voice sounded small and inconsequential in comparison to the great owl in front of her.

The eye regarded her for a moment, searching, probing.  Quiet and stillness descended on them again.  Outside Anna could hear her mother calling for her distantly.

“You risk much, child” the deep voice filled the tiny room, even though the owl was speaking in hushed tones. “again I am in debt for your kindness.  When my wing has healed, I will repay you.”

“It’s nothing, really.  I’m not hungry anyway.”  Her stomach rumbled quietly.

“You have said this before.  Your lies are covered in kindness and selflessness.  You have taught me much about your race.”

Above, Anna heard her mother call again.

“I… have to go now.  I will come again in the morning.  What else do you need?”

“Child, I cannot ask more from you.  Go, and I pray you are not seen.  For your sake and mine.  Soon I shall fly again.”

Anna scurried from the hole, resetting the stones that hid the entrance.  She walked calmly to her house, her mind awash with visions of the Great Owl, one of the Hoots she had heard stories about growing up, flying majestically above the town.  If she allowed herself to dream unfettered, she saw herself on the Great Owl’s back, soaring over the tiny houses and trees of her people, the wind in her face, the dawn sun on her fur.

But she would never tell anyone that shameful vision.

 

 


Original story prompt:  Little Girl grows up with a secret…she has a pet owl. why is it a secret? where did she get it? is it magical? what are her stories or adventures with her owl…GO


Questions

1.)  Is opening the story without being clear that these are not people too jarring when it is revealed?

2.)  Is it clear enough what kind of animals Anna and her family are?

3.)  Is the age-old conflict between the races clear-enough, or is it confusing?

 

 

The morning walk

dogwalk

The alarm buzzed and my eyes popped open. Saturday. I should be sleeping in, but I had forgotten to disable my phone’s alarm. Fumbling for it, I silenced the buzzing in time to cling to the last threads of sleep and began to relax back into unconsciousness.

I heard loud panting, excited and quick, first at the bedroom doorway, then closer. Louder. Shelly shifted to my left and I inwardly cursed our deal a month ago that I would always take the dog out in the mornings. Sure, she got the kids ready and off to school every morning, so it was more than a fair trade, but still. She sleeps in weekends and I shuffle around half-dead in the cold, waiting for Frodo to do his thing.

Fair, but then she stayed at home while I went to the office each day, trying to sell internet contracts over the phone. Not anyone’s dream job, but I seemed to have a knack for talking people into things.

Panting directly on my arm then. Hot, quick bursts across my arm hairs. Seconds to go until drool. Refusing to open my eyes, hoping to find some way to go back to sleep, I lazily pushed Frodo’s head away. The panting stopped. I could imagine him, his big dark eyes looking at me, brows raised in question, head cocked to the side. I prayed he would hear a squirrel at the living room window and go to investigate. Just a few more minutes of warmth and comfort, please.

The panting started up again, closer to my head, heavy dog-breath wafting across my nostrils. I rolled out of reach, letting out what I thought would be a groan but instead came out as a pitiful whine. The panting stopped again, momentarily. I knew the pinched little face he was giving me, waiting to see if motion on the bed would lead to actual waking, and the much-craved walk outside.

Nothing happened. Silence, wonderful silence. If only for a few more moments.

“But dad, I really have to pee!”

The voice was plaintive, pleading, desperate. My eyes burst open and I rolled over to look around. Frodo looked at me expectantly, his brows small arches over his dark eyes, the dachshund coloring around his face making him look more pure than his mutt heritage is.

Nobody in the room but the dog. It hadn’t sounded like Ben, certainly older than his 5-year-old squeak. And Anita wouldn’t get up for hours unless forced. The joys of a tween daughter.

“Dad? We gonna go for a walk now?”

My head snapped back to Frodo. His head cocked further to the side, a punctuation of his stance. My mind scrabbled around inside my skull, checking desperately for any reference to the fact that I have a talking dog. Moments passed, the staredown between man and beast stretched out. My brain came back with the final answer: there is absolutely no record of me having a talking dog.

“Daaaaaaad…” Frodo started. At the same time I heard Shelly shifting again and raised my finger to shush him before he woke her up. Instead of the expected “shhhhhh” sound, what came out was a low whine instead. I was immediately on my feet, boggling at the noise that came from my own throat.

I stumbled out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. Behind me I heard the rustle of bedcovers, and a low moan. Frodo followed me into the bathroom and I shut the door quickly and quietly behind us. As I did, I heard Shelly through the door:

“Jimmy? Wha’s goin’ on?” her voice was slow and thick with sleep.

I intended to say “Nothing, baby. Go back to sleep, just taking Frodo out.”

What came out was very different and very surprising:

“Roop roop, Grrrrraaaar, wroof”

I clamped my hand over my mouth. Frodo looked at me, as if to say “dude, what’s wrong with you?” In actuality, he said:

“Dad? Are you angry?”

I boggled at him. Then quickly reassured him: “wrrrrrrooo…”

“Jim?” Shelly’s voice came from the bedroom, more awake now. “is everything okay?”

shit, I thought, what the hell do I do?


My first thought wasn’t “maybe I should get help” or “wow, Shelly’s gotta see this”. No, it was an instinctual reaction to hide what was horribly, horribly wrong.

I desperately gesticulated at Frodo, pointing at my mouth, then at him, then at the door. He stared with his head cocked to one side, one floppy ear slightly raised. Silently and with greater urgency I pointed with both fingers at the door, willing him to somehow see that we needed to get Shelly to go back to sleep. He needed to say something.

Just say “it’s okay, go back to sleep honey”! It’s not that hard, ya damn dog.

 

“Fetch?” his voice was high and happy, and I swear I saw a smile spread across his face.

“Jim? Who’s there with you?”

shitshitshit.

 

I heard footsteps in the hall and held my breath. Frodo circled me, hoping that would entice me to move toward the door and go for the expected morning walk.

“Jim?” she followed with a knock on the door. “Are you in there? Who are you with?

Frodo went and scratched at the door.

“Why is Frodo in there with you?”

“Dad is gonna take me for a walk!” Frodo answered.

There was a long pause. Then: “Jim, is that Benjamin in there with you? He sounds…”

“Mom! Dad’s gonna take me for a walk!” Frodo started running in circles, wagging happily.

I barked furiously at Frodo, scaring him into stopping still. A small pool of yellow formed beneath him as he cowered.

OrThe door opened, Shelly poked her head in. Her blonde hair was a rat’s nest on her head, and her eyes were still half open as she peered around.

“Jim, what…” she stopped then, seeing Frodo cowering. “Oh for heaven’s sake…”

I whined pitifully. She looked up at me, face full of questions. I could tell she was trying to see if I was making a joke somehow.

“I’m sorry.” Frodo pouted. “I’m so sorry. I’m a bad boy.”

Shelly looked from me to Frodo, then back to me, then back again. Everything was silent for a moment. I reached for her hand, and she looked up at me, apparently unsure whether to laugh, scream, or cry.

I don’t know what’s happening. I tried to say.

“Rooooooooooo” is what came out.

“Daddy won’t take me for a walk.” Frodo said.

Shelly took me by the hand, gave me the leash, and pushed us out the door. Frodo emitted a long string of “ohboy ohboy ohboy” all the way.

———————————————-

 

Original story prompt:

As my alarm went
off, my dog shoved her face into mine as she does every other morning making
noises to be let out.  As I reached for
the snooze, I clearly understood her saying “BUT DAD…I REALLY HAVE TO
PEE!”

Mirror Mirror

   Short story time!  A friend on Facebook asked for people to submit short story beginnings as inspiration, and I think this is a marvelous impetus to do some writing.  I’ll be working my way through a list that is over 30 long, trying to write something for each one.  I’ll post the story hint at the end of the story I write so you can see what I had to work with.  Comments eagerly welcomed!  

 

mirror

 

 

   Smooth as glass, I can see the plane in front of me, reflecting blue sky and clouds, a vast infinity, bright and limitless. Tentatively I reach out and my trembling fingers trace the flawless surface. It vibrates lightly at my touch, a thrilling sensation that shoots down my arm. Inspired, energized, I push against the plane and it stretches, a mirror-reflective membrane. My fingers reach and reach. Beyond the reflection I can dimly see an outline, a man, it’s arm outstretched to the plane, stretching out to me, mirroring my movements.

Morning. Light filters in through the dirty blinds. I groan and clutch at the fragments of my receding dream. No use; it is gone in a flutter. I hear the dull roar of cars outside and wish for five more minutes of sleep, and five more, and five more. I know I can’t. I have to, have to, have to go to work.

Sitting up, I put my feet on the ground and hang my head loosely, the curve of my spine an arc of exhaustion. It seems to be worse every day. I used to dread the mornings. I would lay in bed and go over the list of things I would have to deal with, turning each one over in my mind, a flawed object to be worried over. My brain and body both campaigned against facing the day. I didn’t think it could be worse. But the exhaustion settled into a new level, then lower still over time. Now I can’t even muster a list of things to dread, I just feel the weight of my body, the dullness of my mind. The energy it takes to push past the inertia of being still is monumental.

Looking out my bedroom door, the bathroom looks impossibly far. My bladder pulses and throbs, but that pain is distant compared to the concrete casing that is my waking body. The act of standing seems both impossible and pointless.

I had learned to deal with this over time. The trick was disconnecting my mind, banishing thought, standing aside from my own body and letting it carry out its physical machinations without a brain to interfere. Mechanically I notice my body rise. Detachedly I watch as my feet plod to the door, then the hallway, then the bathroom. At the sink I lean against the chipped tile of the counter and wait for the weariness to subside. It comes in cycles, pulsing dully through my body like sound waves. The toilet lid is up, and I hear the watery churn, smell the sharp sting of urine as I watch a thick yellow stream fall into the bowl.

Back at the sink, I raise my head to look into the mirror, my neck muscles creaking silently. My reflection stares back. Dark, stringy hair falls over a weathered and deeply lined forehead, and dark, deep-set eyes blink tiredly back at me. The deep scar that runs from just below my right eye down my cheek bone and nearly to my jaw is brighter than the rest of my skin, standing out like a sinewy thread. I raise one hand to absentmindedly brush a stray lock of hair back to see the scar clearer, tucking it behind my ear, and turn to head back to the bedroom.

I stop, puzzled. Something is wrong, but I don’t know what. It’s a vague sense of wrongness, unspecific and empty. Have I forgotten something? Something about work? I felt nothing but the exhaustion until now, the same I have felt every morning. This is new. Something with my hair? My hand? My eye? I ponder turning around to check it again in the mirror, but that would take energy, effort. I stand immobile for what seems like a long time, but my weary brain is unable to judge how long. Eventually I trudge back to the bedroom.

I dress slowly, grudgingly. I stop to breathe between every article. Pants, breathe. Shirt, breathe. Left sock, breathe. Right sock, breathe. I stare at my shoes, unsure if I have the energy to not only put them on, but tie them. I wish, as I do every morning, that they were just slip-on shoes. What did I see wrong in the mirror?

This distracting thought disturbs my thoughts long enough that I find I put my shoes on without noticing. Then I find myself back in front of the mirror, hands on the chipped tile counter, peering at my own darkened eyes. I look tired. No, I look exhausted. Weary. Drained. A brief memory of what I was like before flickers behind those bleak eyes. Vaguely I sense the feeling Sarah brought to me: tingling life in my veins, a million thoughts a minute in my lively mind, the breathlessness and anticipation of the next thrilling moment. The sense is gone as quickly as it came.

I see the scar, the only remnant of the knife she held in defense, white and rigid on my dark and mottled skin. I absentmindedly reach to brush the dark lock of hair back and behind my ear, and notice that in the mirror, the other hand has moved. The hair I already brushed back to behind my ear is still there, but it is opposite the scar. I frown, and stare. I lift my right hand and see the mirror’s right hand rise, the opposite side in the mirror. My thoughts jumble like a traffic jam; I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing.

Locking my apartment door behind me, I feel like I am moving in slow motion, like I’m pushing through water in the deep end of a pool. I feel this every morning now. The walk to work is twenty minutes. I used to go over a mental list of everything I needed to get done when I arrived. Now I can barely think of anything past logging into my computer.

Thoughts of Sarah flicker up again: her laugh tinkling like bells, her red dress with frilled edges dancing, like fire in the sunlight. Why am I thinking of Sarah now? Her face twisted with hatred, anger, an ugly sneer of contempt twisting her beauty into a weapon. Her admission that night, she denied nothing. Of course she wasn’t sorry. How could I blame her, I had all but driver her and Max together by ignoring her, snubbing her. My rage, blinding. Her hot anger, then cold fear. My fingers white, her throat red.

The windows on the buildings reflect the morning light; gray and cold. People pass me on fast-forward, they stream around me like I’m a log in a river. Their reflections are dark streaks flowing around me. I notice my reflection again, and it looks wrong, detached, separate. I step with my right foot and the reflection’s opposite foot moves. I raise an arm and the opposite raises along with it.

I am more awake, more alert now than in the bathroom. I know this is wrong, and I’m dimly aware that I must look crazy staring into the window of a US Bank office as the morning commute surges around me. I am transfixed though. I reach out with my hand, and the reflection reaches back toward me, the opposite hand stretching out. My finger tips brush the glass, and a thrilling shiver shoots up my arm.

 

I remember what better days felt like. I remember what I have lost. My fingers push harder on the glass, their tips turning white with the pressure. The reflection pushes as well, our fingers touching, but our arms crossing over our bodies to do so. Ever since the Sarah Incident, the weariness has plagued me. Worse every day. I feel dim, thinned out, barely here.

My fingers press harder, and I notice the glass is bending slightly, pushing inward near my finger tips. I am too exhausted to marvel at this, too tired to gasp as my fingers plunge deep into the glass, the plane swallowing my hand, then my wrist, then my forearm. The reflection grins expectantly, eagerly, hungrily. I watch passively as my arm is swallowed into the glass surface, and can feel the other side; cold and vast, a chill air that speaks of emptiness.

The reflection’s arm has pushed through at the same rate as mine, and its shoulder now pushes fully past the glass plane, and our chests scrape at each other. I should panic, I should scream, but I am too exhausted, too weary.

With one lurching, tearing push I am heaved completely through the glass, and the reflection is spat out the other side, my side. I catch my balance as the chilling emptiness engulfs me, wrapping my skin tightly, making my hair prickle, my breath hitch with the shock. I turn around to see my reflection turn toward me. I rush to the glass, but my hand meets with a solid barrier, it does not give at all. My right hand is up on the surface, and my reflection’s hand matches it. I raise my left hand, and the mirror image follows it. The reflection is restored; everything matches again. Except the smile on my reflection’s face: it looks eager and hungry, ready, ecstatic and triumphant. My own expression feels lifeless and tired.

My reflection turns and straightens his shirt and I find myself compelled to match his movement. He strides off with energy and purpose, and I am dragged along, matching each step.

Original story prompt:

The morning started
like any other, until I realized that my reflection exactly matched my motions
instead of mirroring them.

Writer’s Process Blog Tour – link-a-rama.

“Wanna play?”

That’s the tone the offer was wrapped in, and since it came from none other than the lovely and talented (wait, that’s an overused cliche’, let’s instead say “Radiant and enviably creative”) DCT, I really had no choice but to join in.

The offer was this: a chain of writers, each posting about how they do what they do, links across blogs as far as the eye could see.  DCT wrote her post (accompanied by wit, art, and links to excellent writers to be discovered), so after a maximum of procrastinating here’s my addition.

This tour consists of answering four questions.  Not two, not three, and five is right out.

What am I working on?

First off, working implies a steady, focused effort.  I feel that is not what I have lived up to in the last months.  It’s been more of a drive-by scattering of words in hopes they coalesce into something intelligible.  I will blame the demanding job and my busy social life, but those are really just excuses.

Currently I’m working on three things: Blog, Novel, Shorts.

Blog: well, you are looking at it.  I got started doing this last year when I quit my life and threw everything in a backpack for 8 months.

Novel: I am letting my young-adult novel sit for a bit now that I’ve completed it, but I will go back to it and do the second draft in the summer.  The next novel I’m working on is challenging because it takes place over seventy years and I’m finding it an interesting task to fill the various decades with proper attitudes, ambiance and references.  I never was much good at history, so this requires a lot of research.  The unfortunate part of my method of research is that I start following links for 1950’s movies and end up at 3am reading about mitochondria, Hitler, and asphalt.  And chicken recipes.

Shorts: A while ago I took on a challenge to do “a story a day”. This resulted in basically a bunch of memories from my past framed as very short stories.  It is a good exercise to structure one’s memories so they have a reason, a message, and a beginning, middle and end.  I continue to do this, though after the first twenty days it has fallen off to 2-3 stories per week.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know that I have a genre yet.  I wrote a young adult novel, but unlike most I’ve read, this is not set in a dystopian future or concern itself with overly fraught boy / girl relationships.  It is a coming of age story, so it has that in common with others of its ilk.

Back to the question at hand though: how does my work differ?  I fear you have caught me in the explorative and formative part of my journey.  I haven’t necessarily found my “voice” yet, so I’m still experimenting to find what I bring that is unique.  I’ll let you know in a year or so what I find.

Why do I write what I do?

When I was a teenager, I was enamored of Stephen King’s books.  His writing was blunt and honest, his characters were flawed and real.  At the back of every book he had a section where he just wrote notes to his readers. Once he wrote about a common question he got, which was people asking why he wrote what he did.  His answer:

Why do you think I have a choice?

I first read this as an awkward teen (on my way to becoming an awkward adult).  It struck me as not only plainly true, but also a lovely dismissal of all the self-important navel-gazing that I find many famous people are prone to.

I don’t have a choice.  I have tried before to write humorously, but if I’m not seeing the irony or ridiculousness of a story, then it just falls flat.  I’ve tried to write horror or adventure or romance, but if the day’s events don’t filter through my head in just the right way then it looks, feels and reads as forced, stale, and ultimately just a poor imitation of what’s been done before.

So I write what i feel and what I experience. With a bit of imagination thrown in to keep things interesting.

How does my writing process work?

Process?  Soooo, is this something a writer should have? Hmm. Seems like a good idea.  I must make a note to acquire one of these.

So far I have tried three different approaches:

Blog posts: collect my memories, usually in the form of pictures, arrange them to tell a story or journey, then write the words in between to take people along with me.

Novels: write the first chapter.  That is usually what is burning to get out on the page anyway; all the sparkly little bits that dance around in my head and need NEED to get out.

Then put that away.

Next, write out the characters to show I understand them. Write their dialog, their likes and dislikes, their relationships to others. Write a very loose story guide (this happens, then this happens next, then suddenly a bit of deus ex machina and the story finishes voila!).  When that’s all done, go back and re-write the first chapter.  Comparing these two usually provides me with a blend between them as the right way to go forward.

Shorts: spew it all out in stream-of-conciousness blather. Once it’s all out there, revise and re-write until it has a beginning, middle, end, and most especially a point.

Four questions, four answers.  Sort of.  Now comes the point where I’m supposed to continue the chain.  However, I don’t know all that many writers with online places I can link you to (get with the program folks! You hear me Dr. Jimmy?  Rosebud?  Lurch?).  I have, however, found some readers that are already part of this tour that I quite enjoy:

Brainsnorts: he’s a better writer than I, and I love following along with his stories as he writer them.  Check out his novels and short stories.

Helena Hann Basquiat: An excellent example of writing from a specific character.  Start with this one, if you are interested.

And I will add one new blogger to the chain: a fellow traveler I found along the way.

http://helenhappenings.wordpress.com/

This will be just the push she needs to get posting again.  Seeing as how she’s off to Ireland, she’ll have no excuse now.

The start of the search

My daily writing has involved a lot of reminiscing about moments from my past that stand out for me.  This one felt still meaningful enough to share.

Also: 100th post!  <golf clap>

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“Dad, what is God?”

I had picked my son up from his mom’s house on a Sunday night. He was six; my separation from his mother was more than a year old. he rode in back, strapped into his car seat, playing with his favorite action figure.

The freeway was dark, and my eyes had to adjust and search for him in the rear view mirror, blocking out the headlights behind me to find half of his face reflected back at me.

“What’s that bud?” I stalled.

“What’s God?” his face was neutral, like he might have just asked why honey is sticky, or if He-Man would win in a fight with Conan. He moved the action figure’s arms and legs around, making small shooting motions with it. I was reminded that my mother tried to eliminate violent tendencies from her kids by keeping us from seeing violent movies or having toy guns around. Didn’t work. Boys will find a way to simulate conflict.

“Well, it depends” I stalled, unprepared for this question; I thought I had several years yet before this would come up. What’s next, the sex talk at age seven? Educating him on Roth IRA’s at nine?

He stayed silent, waiting for me to continue.

“Some people believe that there is a… well, a being, that watches over everything, and created us and everything around us, and that when we die we either go to heaven or hell. Some believe there are many Gods. Some believe there is no God.” I breathed easy, happy to have given him an answer that placed no demands on him to believe in anything specific. Committed to nothing. Safe and vanilla.

“Well, what do you believe?”

He wasn’t letting me off easy. I groped for the right words, the right way to step through this potential minefield of personal programming and prejudice. If I tell him there is no God, does he grow up to belittle religion and those who practice it? Will he lose hope and never get any benefit from what I see as the good parts of religion? Does he become a nihilist? If I don’t tell him there is someone watching out for us, does he become fearful of the world and the evil that people do, knowing he’s all alone in this universe?

I want to provide him comfort. Something to hold on to in bleak moments. I want to tell him that it will be okay, because there’s a plan for all the bad things that happen, that there’s reason and sense and structure, even if you can’t see it. I want to give him the equivalent of a mental and emotional security blanket to carry with him at all times.

But I can’t. I won’t start his life with what I believe to be fairy tales. I won’t sell him on stories that are made up to comfort and guide us, teach us right and wrong, justice and acceptance and humility, but are still just that: stories.   I read him plenty of fairy tales, and I tell him many stories that I intend as parables, teaching devices that will hopefully stay with him. But I don’t pass those off as truth or fact.

I haven’t given any thought to how I will raise my son in regards to religion. As a young man I railed against the evils I saw wrought by religion: the inquisitions, witch burnings, stoning and holy wars and oppression. I counted religion as inherently bad, a force for separation of people, not acceptance and understanding.

As I grew, my conflict with religion took on new dimensions. I saw individual people who believed strongly, and did great things through their faith. I came to accept that some people were better people through following religion than they might have been without it. The community that supports it’s own through religion did very well, both for those in the community and some outside of it as well. I could no longer believe that religion was a force for evil, at least not that simply.

In my late twenties, I studied world religions to better understand what all the different branches of Christianity believed, what Muslims believed, what Jews believed. I read up on Taoism and Buddhism. I tried to find commonalities and differences. Eventually I came to understand that a personal devotion to a religion can be a very good and powerful thing, but large, organized religion can be a very dangerous and damaging thing as the individual’s personal work to understand the religion is replaced by mindlessly following one man who interprets and dictates.

In Taoism I found concepts that finally made sense to me. The interrelation of all things. The universe itself as inherently good, the potential for a positive force through all things. Of one’s own infinitesimal spot in the vast cosmos and spread of time and space. The meaninglessness of struggle and pain, and the juxtaposition of the beauty of experiencing every moment. Buddhism as well had teachings that rang true for me: detachment from possessions and desires, seeing wonder in every small thing.

But still I did not choose to follow a religion. The teachings in those belief systems still seemed like lessons, guides, and words of wisdom. Not a dogma to base my life on. Not a scripture to follow and use as a lens for my entire world. And now here my son was taking his first hesitant step into this complex and maddening world of religion. “What is God?”

I opened my mouth to speak, not exactly sure what to say, but fumbling my way through an explanation as I found words that at least felt true. I gave him the only answer that seemed true to me. The only answer I could give him without feeling like I had dictated his beliefs yet had also not steered him away from what I think is a crucial search for meaning.

I told him that I believed it was everyone’s personal job on this earth to search and decide what felt true for themselves, to ask of many people what God meant, and find a way to believe in something larger than yourself. That you shouldn’t accept what other people believe, you should search for what you believe.

He seemed to consider this a moment. Silence stretched on, and I stole a nervous glance back in the mirror to see if I had troubled him, or soothed him, or set him on an inquisitive path. Cars passed me in dark and wet of the freeway, their dull, muffled roar approaching and receding in a never-ending pattern. He posed his action figure and walked it along the safety bar of his car seat.

Finally he spoke: “Dad, can I have a snack when we get home?”

“Yeah bud. Yeah, you can have a snack.”

Who goes to Iceland in March?

Iceland?  In March?  Who does that?

The idea started years ago.  Hate, Rosebud and I were having a beer at Brouwer’s in Fremont.  It seemed delightful: a quick weekend jaunt off to the tiny, frozen place.  Sadly we never did anything about that idea.

Then suddenly BC and Rosebud sent me a message: it was on. Here’s a date.  Book the flight.  Take a day off work.

Let’s start with a fun fact about Iceland:

Geographically, it’s a little smaller than Kentucky.  However, at a little over 300,000 inhabitants, it’s quite a bit less crowded since Kentucky has over four million people.

So we left around 5:30pm Thursday, and arrived around 8am Friday morning.  Since I can’t sleep on planes, this means that by the time we arrived I was able to muster just enough brain cells to form monosyllabic grunts and move my feet with relative coordination.

Coincidence: this is a state I would return to late that night.  But more on that later.

The place we rented was right smack dab in the middle of the best part of town.  Now, Reykjavik is a pretty small place for a major city, so it’s not hard to be close to all the happening stuff.  But this place was something else.  A two bedroom loft on one of the main drags through town, a bakery right across the street, and a beautiful view out on the deck.

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Houston, we have deck. I repeat: we HAVE DECK.

Now, the interior was decorated in modern style mostly, which is very cool by me. Clean lines, lots of windows, funky furniture of questionable value for actually using, all that normal modern European quality. However, the artwork inside the place was… interesting? For example, one wall held this statement on it (and this is the only lettering in the entire place, it is not a continuation of anything else):

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BC demonstrates.

The loft contained a mere two bedrooms, and neither of the beds were the “two twins stuck together” that we might separate in order to comfortably house the three of us, so Rosebud and I opted to alternate on one of the beds; I would take first night, he would take second. The other sleeping surface was a perfectly serviceable couch. As it happens, I would not actually get to use the bed. More on that later as well.

Right. So we perused the bakery briefly, then agreed that a quick nap (no more than 2 hours, don’t want to miss our chance to get to sleep at regular times tonight) was in order. After that, we had to get the main attraction of town out of the way first: Hallgrimskirkja:

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Hmm, I don’t know Reykjavik, are you compensating for something?
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Mr. Erikson stands guard.

Another fun fact: 85% of Iceland is Lutheran. Another 10% are other assorted Christian alignments. Around 5% are undeclared or unaffiliated. What other country (shut up, Vatican City) can claim that kind of alignment around beliefs!?

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Surprisingly artistic entry doors.
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Impressive. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a European Church.
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Cleanest and most harley-esque organ pipes ever.
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Convertible pews! This is a game changer!
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View from the top
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I can see my house from here. I think.

Post-church, it was time again to indulge our stomachs. We wandered for a good long while before settling on a lunch spot that seemed to offer a wide enough selection to appease us all. Rosebud The Adventurous chose a Minke Whale Burger. It turned out to be basically a very tough steak slapped between two buns. Not worth anything more than the novelty of it. And for the amount of disdain and moral shame he should feel for eating a whale, totally skippable. I opted for the remarkably safe chicken salad. BC got a safe-sounding club sandwich, which turned out to be a fabulous surprise:

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Not your average club sandwich

While we ate, it came to our attention that someone thought a necessary dining view would of course have a depressed sculpture hanging its head for your enjoyment.

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Iceland: home to sad man sculpture.

Rosebud pointed out that this is remarkably similar to Arrested Development’s ongoing Charlie Brown reference. I’m not one to disagree:
arrested-development-peanuts

Post-imbibing we ambled around town rather aimlessly taking in the sights. While Reykjavik has many “normal” buildings, it also has some of obvious new design that stand out:

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Noticeably awesome building
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Honeycomb. Apparently Iceland has large, architectural bees.
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Yes, on the inside too. Fabulous.
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More modernistic buildings

It’s also got some public sculpture that is NOT of sad, moping gentlemen. Which comes as a relief.

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Solfar. Not to be confused with “sulfur”. It’s much prettier and doesn’t smell nearly as bad.
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Looks kinda like a scorpion from the front.

Also, while cruising around town there are other unexpected sights to appreciate:

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Not without it’s public wall art.
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Or some public “art” installations or a less ambitious, more pedestrian scale.

Lastly, just as in places like Croatia, the street names are sometimes a joy all on their own.

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Them’s fightin’ words, yo.
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Them’s… well, I have no idea what them’s supposed to be.
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STOP MAKING ME LOVE YOU, REYKJAVIK.

Eventually nighttime fell and we took a deep breath and braced ourselves to sample the nightlife. If you don’t know, Reykjavik is developing a bit of a legend where it comes to having a night scene and the party culture around it. We being old, OLD men (well, okay; I’m technically the OLD man, whereas my companions are just old): we were eager to see what the collection of whipper snappers could bring to bear.

Happily, we discovered some rather excellent bars. For example, the first establishment (the questionably named “Bunk Bar”) turned out to be a well designed, airy, and thoroughly hopping establishment. A couple of the local beers turned out to be quite nice as well.

This message was displayed on one of our later establishments, much to our approval:

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Dear world, please add this to every place ever anywhere. Thank you.

Some places were not quite the home run that these others were:

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Please form your own opinion on the fact that this exists. In Iceland.

Eventually we found ourselves in several British or Irish seeming bars that fit us just fine.

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You really can’t beat truth in advertising.

Now, the thing to realize about nightlife in Reykjavik is that it goes on for quite a while. In fact, it goes on far longer than one might expect. In our glee of trying new bars and new drinks and new bars and new drinks and new (well, you get the idea), eventually four or five in the morning rolled around. BC, being a reliable steward of such nights out, at one point ferried me back to the house when I had seemed to regress to my previous monosyllabic state, but we had lost track of Rosebud. So,
BC gamely ventured out to reacquire Rosebud, and on return they found that I was occupying the restroom, which was of concern as they were in need of such facilities.

Upon entreating me to finish up, the sad news was delivered that I didn’t actually know how to get out of the bathroom, the door refusing to release me when tried. They did explain slowly that there was a key, and it should be turned (as keys are usually supposed to be operated). I informed them that not only did I not know the location of said key, but could, in fact, not say whether there was even a keyhole in the door for application of such technology.

Long and short: in the morning when I awoke in the bathroom, the key was quickly located and the door performed as expected. The bed accepted my exhausted head for a good fifteen minutes before our bus was ready for our day’s tour.

Fun fact #3: Iceland has a split down the middle which marks the division of two tectonic plates: the North American plate on one side, and the European on the other. And you can visit this divide. Awesome.

So: the tour. First we bussed out to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall area in the middle of a stark, desolate plane of rock and whiteness.

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Gullfoss. Means “Gold Falls” Imagine my disappointment upon seeing it’s whiteness.
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In truth, rather impressive.
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Barrel ride over the falls is not recommended.
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Iceland’s saddest snowman attempt.
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Smile. Don’t think about why you came here in March, for god’s sake. March? Really? Brrrrr.

After Gullfoss, we visited a geyser area, which was notable for being rather bereft of snow due to the extreme temperatures from the boiling water which would erupt on a rather regular basis. It was also notable for having wind that would nearly pick you up and hurl you, screaming and confused, into one of these open pots of boiling water. This wind would never actually stop. No, it might die town to a minor threat for a moment or two, but then, as if to say “ah hah! Fooled you!” would pick right up and yank all of your clothes violently against your frame, attempting to tear it all off you. Alarming. And freezing.

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This is what a non-erupting geyser looks like. Not so exciting.

Only Rosebud had the patience to hold a camera steady at the geyser long enough, letting the wind tear at his frozen, locked fingers, to get an actual video of the geyser going off. Kudos to him. BC and I quickly glanced around the frigid landscape, then scurried inside warmer places.

Then it was off to the divide. The split. The tectonic rift. A placed called Þingvellir.  And it did not disappoint, as you can walk down in it:

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America on one side, Europe on the other.
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I can see Europe from here!
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There’s a lake out there. It’s kind of hidden by all that white stuff.
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No part of me thinks: gee, I’d love to set up a little shack out here. Kind of a vacation home, ya know?
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More of the lake.

We returned to Reykjavik red-faced from being windblown and more than impressed with the starkly beautiful, rugged and stony landscape. It really is a beautiful country, definitely worth seeing once in your life. Actually, probably twice: once during the cold, and once during a greener time, where maybe the wind might not be so committed to assault and battery at every chance.

That night we opted for traditional Icelandic food, which basically means a bunch of fish dishes.

Fun fact #4: 70% of Iceland’s export economy has to do with the fishing industry.

All the dishes were ordered with a little bit of hesitation as “fish soup” doesn’t engender the same kind of mighty salivating as a great steak or a even a scrumptious crepe. Salted fish on rye; similar. “Mashed fish” was the one none of us were going to touch, but ended up getting anyway. Surprisingly all our dishes panned out beautifully. All of them were quite tasty, with the Mashed Fish taking top honors. We all agree they need a marketing revamp, and found that once you put the word “fish” in anything, it takes on a less appealing aspect. Eventually BC came through with the improved name: “Flippers and Mash”. If you see this on offer next time you are in Iceland, you have him to thank.

We resolved that, while we would go out for another couple drinks, none of us were at all into the level of exertions we performed on the first night. Our first bar, called Ob La Di Ob La Da was approached with subterranean expectations, but it turned out to be quite excellent. Fate decreed that Rosebud would discover that an old college friend was in town at that very moment, so our threesome became four, and we moved from beer at the Beatles bar to whisky at the whisky bar. After that, the details don’t really matter but we found ourselves enjoying cigars on our deck at five in the morning and shaking our heads at the fact that we had gone through two nights in a row at that speed.

Overall, I’ll give Iceland 4.5 pickled herrings (out of 5).

I’m only deducting a half a herring for the bloody wind.

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At least they understand that their names for things are ridiculous.
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Farewell Iceland. I shall be back.

The Scarface connection

Last weekend the Elder came to visit, and to celebrate this fact, Fruit Cup joined us for a run around Portland multiple nights in a row.  Friday saw us out until the wee hours with the Navy Gang from Seattle.  Saturday we met up with Microbe and Vegas.

While imbibing of a cocktail at the Low Brow Lounge, I decided to order a pretzel.  In my defense, it was advertised as “The Crack Pretzel” and the waiter advised us that I’d know what that meant when I was on the third one and craving a fourth.  See, it was warm, soft, and stuffed with jalapeno cheese!  How could I resist?

However, the experience took a turn for the strange: the side of my face, along my jaw and under my ear, swelled up rapidly upon eating this supposed culinary delight.  It felt like a small mouse had been stuffed under my skin right at the joint of my jaw.  It was tight to the touch and the others around the table nodded their observations that, yes indeed, that does look swollen.

A subdued panic ensued.  The Elder inquired as to the exact ingredients of the pretzel (it’s, like, pretzel and like, fake cheese, man.  With bits of jalapeno…), but this is not a help as I’m not allergic to anything.  So we continued to sip our drinks and agree with each other that this was a rather strange event.

Within fifteen minutes the swelling had gone down.  We continued on to our next haunt, again ordering a round of tasty libations, with some snacks for good measure.  Again that mouse was inserted into my jaw.  This time sans pretzel.  And the drink was something entirely different.

Puzzlement all around.

A quick web search on symptoms pointed to the likely diagnosis of a Sialolith.basically a stone in the saliva duct.

What?  This is a thing?  This happens?  I’ve already got one bizarre malady that crept up as age sets in, now I get another?  Getting old is not fun, people.  Anyone who tells you different is deluding themselves and trying to drag you in with ’em.

So Monday I make an appointment with a doctor.  Tuesday I’m admitted.  I describe the symptoms and he stops me before I’m even close to finished and says “yeah, got it, totally a salivary blockage”.

He proceeds to prod and probe my cheek and jaw with all the tenderness of a meat tenderizer, while telling me how “Scarface” Al Capone relates to this; how it was a common punishment to slice down someone’s face, severing the salivary duct so that every time this unfortunate person eats, drinks, or even THINKS about doing such will have swelling and pain at the least, and at the worst: oozing puss dripping down his cheek and inside his mouth.

Ladies and gentlemen: we have a bedside manner WINNER.

However, the good side of this is that his prescription is to put a hot compress on the outside of my face a couple times a day, and eat lemon drops constantly.  This later order is in the hopes that the constant salivation will flush out whatever material is blocking my duct. My dentist might be at odds with that recommendation, but I’m not about to look a medically-prescribed horse in the mouth.

Especially not if it’s got a severed salivary duct.  Ew.

Auditions

In trying to bash out a story per day, I find I’m mining my memories and setting them into bite-sized stories.  This one stood out to me as it was actually a huge transition point in my life where I met some of the best friends of my adult life.  Seemed worth putting up here. Oh: and welcome to a new site layout.


Singing Young Man

A song.  A song?  As in, I need to sing a song?  This seems like a bad idea.

I’m on a hard chair in a cafeteria at Microsoft.  I came here before my night job, working nights answering tech support calls.  The late afternoon sun crawls weakly through the giant windows, filtering through fall branches that still retain the odd withered leaf or two.  Other strangers around me clutch papers in their hands, their mouths moving silently, reciting.  Memorizing.  Practicing.

I’ve never been what you might call “musically gifted”.  A more apt description might be “musically challenged” or even “musical menace, don’t let within six yards of noise making devices”.  In second grade I decided I’d like to try violin.  The expression on my father’s patient face as he tried to help me learn to form a C or E flat on the cruel device was not unlike someone trying to smile encouragingly while cats mate beside his ear.  Several years later I would try piano.  I got as far as learning the opening notes to Close Encounters of the Third Kind before giving it up.  Trumpet followed in Junior high, and was quickly jettisoned for Science class.  Guitar was attempted in high school.  Because, you know, chicks, man.

None of it stuck.  When I was married, I remember gleefully singing along to a song on the radio.  My lovely wife attempted to inform me in the nicest way possible that I really was not cut out for this sort of thing.  Ever the perceptive lad, I was able to piece together all the clues and arrive at the conclusion: music and I are like a camp fire and a block of ice trying to be friends.  At a distance we are alright, but trying to do something together could only lead to disappointment.  And potentially damage.

So why would I subject myself to singing a song in front of strangers on purpose?  Madness?  Did I lose a bet?  Do I crave humiliation?

Well, I was recently divorced.  I really had no social circle to speak of, and I craved a creative outlet.  I had fond memories of drama class in high school, and a play I took part in Junior High (even though I ended that with a broken nose).  There’s nothing like the camaraderie of a cast after a performance; nothing like the rush after stepping off stage to applause.  So when I saw an add for a community theater play being put on by a bunch of fellow Microsoft folks, I swallowed the nervous lump and chose to dive in.

The requirements: memorize a short monologue (comedic preferably), and choose a song to sing.

Monologue was no problem.  I knew several Kids in the Hall sketches by heart already.  A frivolous choice?  Why not something from Shakespeare?  Nah, too dry, too expected.  If people couldn’t appreciate a good KITH sketch, they weren’t my people anyway.  Anyway, the idea of performing one of my favorite skits in front of people just got me eager and excited, so I stayed with it.  But a song?  Like, to sing?  With my own voice?  And likely ‘a cappella’ since I don’t know how to play an instrument.  This seemed less of a try-out tactic than a hazing ritual.

Still.  Their show, their rules.

Nervously I selected “Candy” by the Presidents of the United States of America.  Because it was as ridiculous as I felt.  Oh, and I love candy.  Plus it had about three notes to the entire song.

So now I watch nervously as people are called, one at a time, and enter through a plain office door into god-knows-where, to do god-knows-what.  The waiting numbers dwindle.  Then, far too soon I hear a woman call my name in a questioning voice.  I stand up and manage to blurt out “here”.

The room has long tables with more hard chairs; it is a conference room usually used for presentations.  Three people, a woman and two men, sit at one table.  I hand them the paperwork I was to fill out.  They smile, and one of them invites me, with all the politeness of a recruiter asking for one’s resume, to begin my monologue “whenever I’m ready”.  I’m pretty sure I will never be ready.

I had a bad stuttering problem as a kid.  Couldn’t get a word out without skipping across the letters like a needle stuck on a record.  I suddenly feel it will come back.  I open my mouth to begin and the words won’t come out.  I’m sure if I can just get started it will all flow out fine.  But the air won’t come out.  There is a boulder in my throat, nothing gets by.  I close my mouth and turn sideways, picturing in my mind how the sketch played out on TV.  Mimicking exactly, I turn my face to them and begin: “Want to know something?  I’m a bad doctor…”

I blitz through the skit, gaining speed as I go.

It is over before I know it.  I’ve seen some smiles, a little forced laughter, but overall encouragement.  I’m heartened.  I smile weakly and sit down.  They ask some questions about my past, my acting experience.  I don’t remember it well; that familiar adrenaline rush that follows a performance is spinning in my head.

Then the crucial moment: “so what are you singing for us today?”

How is that a question that can just be asked?  You can’t expect someone to just, well, sing.  That’s not how it works. There has to be some kind of lead-up, some fore play.  You must ease them into the mood.  Maybe light a few candles?  I don’t know, but I know it’s not supposed to be like that.

But there it is.  The question hangs in the air, smoke from a gun.  I explain my choice and they look at each other for any recognition.  Seeing none, the woman says “well, we are eager to hear it, begin whenever you are ready.”  She also asks if I have accompaniment, and I kick myself for not arranging something.  Anything.  A kazoo.  A small badger beating a drum.  Anything.

And then, without knowing it I’m belting it out.  Singing.  In front of people.  My hand lightly and nervously slaps my leg to keep time.

And it feels good.  It sounds good.  And I get into it.  I like this!  It’s great singing for other people!  Why doesn’t everyone do this all the time every day?  I’m a changed man.  I’m pretty sure from now on I’ll be singing my order at the lunch counter, serenading support calls at work, rising every day with a full-throated bellow and yodel.

In short order the song is done and I look back at them, having avoided any kind of eye contact during the song, and I’m suddenly, thoroughly, and powerfully embarrassed.

The man who I learn is the music director explains that I have “a really interesting sound” and asks what my range is.  I bunch up my brow like a wad of paper you are about to throw away.  He asks me to sing scales as he taps away on a keyboard that he has in front of him.  I oblige.  He goes low, low, lower, until I just can’t hit a note any more.  Then he takes it higher, higher, into squeaky teenager territory, and sure enough my voice cracks and strains at the top.

And then they thank me.  And I’m dismissed.

I walk out buzzing in my head and at my limbs.  I feel exhausted.  And I feel energized.  A bird chirps his song in a barren branch above me.  I quietly mimic his song.  Very quiet, right under my breath.  But out loud nonetheless.