Righnbeck

“Righnbeck” was written on the door in gold, gothic, scripty looking letters. As if some 12th century monk had taken an hour away from the scriptorium copying copies of copies of copies of holy books to come down to this dusty little god forsaken town in Iowa and do an old pal a solid.
It looked nice. I was jealous.
I made a show of knocking for the two uniforms that were behind me, but as softly as possible. I like to make an entrance and I find that knocking, more often than not, spoils the surprise. I barged in without being asked.
The office fit the door. On the floor was a luxuriant burgundy rug stitched up like a tapestry of curling flowers and figures doing what figures on rugs do in the way that they do them, which is to say expensively. Lining the walls were big hulking gothic bookcases 8 or 9 feet tall and brimming with little gargoyles and goblins and god-knows what-else, and stuffed to bursting with books. There were statues too. Little stone things like the bookcase carvings sitting on just about every horizontal surface in the room. Righnbeck liked to be watched.
I cupped a hand to my mouth. “Righnbeck, It’s Kay, speak up if your in here.”
There was nothing. Not that I expected it. The place was so cramped with the medieval decor there wasn’t a place to hide a goldfish.
“It looks like he’s not here Kay.”
It was one of the uniforms. The younger one with the Norman Rockwell looks, freckles and everything.
“Brilliant d….”, I ran my hand through my hair. I was about to butter his bread but stopped myself short. I don’t know why. Who cares. Right then I just wanted Righnbeck and this joint was fresh out.
“Look around boys. See if you can find anything useful.” I caught the younger one’s eye, “but for Christ’s sake, don’t touch anything.”
I turned towards the doorway and took a long look through it to the dingy hallway behind us – drab, institutional, looking at the threshold between it and the lavish office it was as if the seam in the carpet was glowing, as if the door jam were the frame of some truly uninspired painting.
That’s when I saw the owl.
It was perched just above the door, its talons gripping some sort of lizard headed thing carved in the freeze that capped the doorframe.
It was so still that at first I thought it was stuffed. Given the rest of the office a bit of taxidermy would hardly seem out of place. I stared at it for a long second, then two and three and four and then it twitched. So quick I wasn’t sure I’d even seen it. Twitch, twitch, blink.
“Freeze!” I shouted under my breath. The two uniforms gave me a look but they were smart enough to do as told. Soon enough they followed by gaze to the spot just above the door.
“Is it dangerous?” one of them whispered.
“I can hit it from here, no problem,” said the other. It was the older one this time, a plump man with scraggled grey hair and 3 days of a beard. He started to reach fro his sidearm and as he did the owl snapped its gaze to stare him down.
“No you fool!” I shouted.
I dove at the man, sliding across a mammoth wooden desk sending nicknacks and papers scattering across the floor. My outstretched hands struck the old fool square in the stomach, 2 buttons above some ridiculous silver belt buckle, and his weapon went off.
He’d only managed to get the gun about waist high, unfortunate for me, as the round went into my left shoulder, caromed off a few bones inside and went whizzing out the other side with a wet THWACK. The low angle was a no go, but that little dance inside my anatomy was just the ticket to redirect the round. I landed in a pile on the other side of the desk, and looked back just in time to see a burst of feathers falling in little twirling spirals onto that lush imported rug.
It’s a while after that where my memory picks up again …

Doom Bunnies from the Outer Spheres

One quarter million years ago, give or take six years
a scientist of ill repute sent bunnies to the spheres.
And on their way a pulsar burst; bathed their tiny ship
in noxious radiation. None survived the trip.

Fourteen thousand years ago the tiny ship arrived
and people of the outer spheres went to look inside.
Expecting many bunnies as the manifest predicted
they found instead a frantic horror, though some reports conflicted.

Broadcast on the evening news, parents warned up front,
was footage from the hanger cam, disturbing to be blunt.
We clearly see technicians flee as radiation beams
from somewhere deep inside the ship split it’s hull plates at the seams.

Then amongst the rubble we see bunny ears emerge
first two, then three, then tentacles, and then the guards converge.
A hail of rapid gunfire and a blast of flame to boot
explosions and the camera shakes, but we all know it’s moot.

It’s then the anchor turns away, no need to watch the rest
instead they warn the public: stay inside, that would be best.
The military’s on the case, from platforms up in space
they’ll fire secret weapons and obliterate the place.

But that just made them stronger, and larger, and what’s more
they grew more legs, they learned to fly, not bunnies anymore.
No interest in diplomacy, they burned our peace accords,
so now we call them Doom Bunnies, they are our overlords.

The Shadow Technique

Ana stands behind the chair, just far enough back that her shadow, cast from the ceiling light, fits neatly between the chair’s back legs. This is important for the process to work correctly. David sits in the chair looking forward, arms to his sides though he’s unsure of what to do with them. Ana seems to have a whole ritual but for David this is proving awkward, and more so by the minute.

“Try not to move OK,” says Ana.

Her eyes are now tightly shut. She reaches forward with her arms, out stretching her fingers trying to touch the backs of David’s ears without losing her position in the light, or her balance. The tips of her fingers just reach.

“Hey!” David shivers at the touch.

“Hold still!” comes the command.

Although David cannot see it, Ana’s face is crumpled with tension and concentration, like someone trying to look into a freezing wind.

The two remain like this for what seems to David like several minutes. The tiny points of contact where Ana’s fingertips meet his hears are becoming hot and tacky, and an errant itch has surfaced on the inside of his right calf, demanding attention. Finally he speaks, restricting himself to a whisper though he’s not entirely sure why.

“Is it working? Do you see anything?”

Ana’s breathing becomes slow and deliberate, David can feel it now on the back of his neck, but she is still silent and David begins to wonder if she heard him.

After a long moment, Ana speaks. “I . . .” she stops, and another hot breath washes over the hairs on the back of David’s neck. “There’s something, it’s hard to see.

Readjusting her stance slightly Ana leans forward, running her fingers along the curve of David’s ears. Suddenly she grasps both earlobes and pinches down with a violent twist.

David screams. It’s a high pitched scream that his mind instantly registers as girly. He tries to pull forward out of Ana’s reach but her grip is strong and instead she’s pulled along with him. Dislodged from her careful shadow balance Ana stumbles forward, her grip on his ears released, collapsing over the back of the chair. In a last ditch effort to keep from falling her arms ring his neck.

David’s shouts become a choked gurgle as Ana’s arms press against his throat. He pulls her arms forward to relieve the pressure and she quickly regains her balance. Whirling around he shouts in fits and starts.

“What . . . what was that? What are you doing?” His face is red.

Ana wrestles her arm from David’s grip and stands, adjusting herself into a broad smile, her hands on her hips.

“Seventeen,” she says, looking at David from a rakish angle. “The number you are thinking of is seventeen.”

David’s angry scowl loses it’s structure and melts, leaving a sort of slack confusion that only broadens Ana’s smile. He blinks once, then twice, and slowly nods his head. A smile slowly creeps across his face.

“Teach me how!” shouts David, and the two switch places.

Flywheel

This story started as some simple background information for vehicle designs in Concept Art. Obviously I got a little carried away.
the estate

25th of August:

Summer days are growing shorter now. Had some luck the past few months. Managed to convince the local farmers returning from the city markets to bring a few papers from the University. Not much to work with. Curse this exile to the coast and this dreary estate. No matter, with Autumn chill fast approaching I fear even this window to the scientific community will soon close.
Sent word again to the Chancellors but to no avail. Even my few allies hold out little hope for my reinstatement. Frustration is so great I think I may be frightening the household staff. Have taken to long walks in the woods surrounding the estate to keep my wits.

boots

11th of September:

Most troubling news. Got word from the city today that the last of the laboratory staff from the accident, a Mr. Farthing, has passed on. I will remember him as a truly capable man, though I doubt his family will remember me as kindly, thanks to the Deluvian Professor and his friends in the Chancellory. If only they had not interfered this all could have been avoided.
Must keep up the spirit. Another chambermaid gone this week, decamped in the middle of the night, in tears the poor thing. Can I really be that unsettling? Mrs. Devereux has made herself clear that such turnover in the staff will not be tolerated. A veiled threat I assumed, but several of the kitchen staff warn me otherwise.
Of a brighter side, I think my frequent constitutionals have done wonders to clear my thoughts. Set out to the cobbler at the cockscrow to acquire a right and proper pair of woodsman’s trompers. Anything would be preferable to these flat city soles. Heard the sounds of rushing water several hours to the North but the way was thick with underbrush and well off the trail. With these new boots hope to investigate, and look smart doing so.

pool in the woods

18th of September:

Quite a discovery to the north. Following a small brook I navigated to its headwaters, a large pool fed in from the hills. What’s more, ruins all around! Quite overgrown and covered in scale, hard to estimate but certainly back to Roman times, or earlier. Have sent the stable boy to the University’s library with some rubbings, my seal, and hope. Certainly my former office still carries enough weight to bring back a few references. If nothing else that old librarian Wenfrow won’t be able to resist those rubbings.
The site is something of a huff and a hike, especially with no beaten path or pack animal. Still, a cursory examination is just not enough. Once the boy returns I shall pack a few nights worth and make an expedition of it. Noticed plentiful greens about the pool, the cook thinks them watercress, and a perhaps a few fish besides. Should be adequate. Quite excited.
Two more missives to the Chancellors but still no reply. Blind fools the lot of them. And to each in kind I say!

26th of September:

Set out before the dawn and made straight for the site, but hit bad weather not an hour past the edge of the forest. Downpour and dour spirits, but pressed on. Slow going in the mud. Just made camp, but exhausted and losing light rapidly. Too wet even for a proper fire. Nothing but to rest now and wait for the morning.

glowing fish

supplemental:

Awoke thinking it morning, but stepping from the lean-to and the pool is aglow! So bright I sit by its light and write these words without lantern or candle. Fish are the cause of it. Small diaphanous things, their organs glow right through their flesh as they flit about. Quite a sight. No doubt my pagan friends thought the same, so much so to build these monoliths all about.

fish dissection

monolith

1st of October:

Four days at the site. Wanted to stay longer but supplies began to run low and the nights are turning colder much sooner this season. Have rubbings of most of the carvings, and even managed to translate a few thanks to Wenfrow’s tomes. Worth the sweat effort to get them out here I confess. Mostly about forest spirits and the like. Also some interesting mechanical figures, that’s more in my bailiwick. A few slides and stains prepared from a fish, crudely dissected. Will get a better look at them under the scope once I’ve returned.
I suppose there will be a letter waiting for me from the Chancellory by now.

5th of October:

Stopped at the lab just long enough to resupply. Mrs. Devereux was quite shocked to see me, but seemed just as happy to set me on my way again. Even had the kitchen make me up some meat pies. Shall have a scope now, and the right stains and solvents to prep slides. Also a potpourri of new books from the city. Oh, and a jar. Mussent forget the jar to take back a specimen. The stable boy’s already laid claim to any exemplar I bring back. He has in mind to name it Gustav.
Mrs. Devereux informs me that no letter has arrived from the city, but a messenger sent word that the Deluvian Professor and the Antitherian Professor will be traveling to the estate in three days time to discuss the matter in person. I’ve left instructions to give them tea and curt looks and little else.
Rain continues but I shan’t be unprepared this time.

6th of October:

The hills abound with mudslides and progress to the site has slowed to a crawl. Have pitched camp less than half the distance to my goal and will make another go of it tomorrow. I feel as the target of some angry god. The trail, or what was made of it, seems all but lost now under the damage.

8th of October:

Disaster! Finally reached the site as the sun fell behind the western hill line to find the angry deity besetting my Odyssian hike. The rains have overwhelmed the burn of earth holding back the pool. Let loose, the torrent likely caused the mudslides that blocked my path. What cruel fate that it should last these thousand years only to be cut down so soon after I had found it. This was my earnest thought, but as I survey the damage I can see it is my careless clearing of the trail that has laid the seeds of this destruction. Monoliths are toppled and mostly buried. The pool a shadow of its former self.
I doubt spirits could be lower, even if I had stayed behind to meet the Chancellory’s sower vanguard. I long for a walk in the woods, but felled trees grow my ire like mushrooms on their rotten bark, and I see them all around me. Nothing now but to sleep.

10th of October:

Three restless nights collecting what I could. Tried to right a number of the stones but their girth is impressive. By what stroke of luck I dare not say, the mechanical notations on the western monolith have landed face up. One of the few. A flywheel design is described, though for what purpose I cannot say. Its mechanics are stirring.
Also made a go at shoring up a bern at the pool’s windward side, but without tools or shovels I fear my meager patch will never hold out the season. With the water so low, I fear too that winter’s chill could reach to the depths of the pool where it had not in the past. A lake frozen over insulates its residents in the liquid depths, but a puddle frozen through makes only stagnant pools come the thaw. I have scoured the ichthyological references brought along, but I see no mention of this species, marvelous and perhaps now doomed. I have collected as many as I dare carry and will set back for the estate at daybreak.

glyphs

specimens

13th of October:

Stumbled in to the main house quite breathless well after the witching hour. Apparently gave the night butler quite a start as he fainted clean away and now rests in the drawing room under smelling salts and the scullery maid’s bitter root tea. Violent rains the final night at the site cleared my makeshift earthen dam. The pool is gone, and its ephemeral inhabitants with it. May God forgive me for what I have caused. The dozen or so specimens collected did not fair the journey well, three being the soul survivors. I awoke late this morning to learn only one has made it the night. Gustav it shall be.

cookies and a letter

In all of the excitement my grim callers were all but forgotten, but this morning Mrs. Devereux relates the episode. Snubbed by my absence the Deluvian Professor made quite the nuisance of himself, seeing fit to castigate every member of the staff until Mrs. Devereux herself beat him down the front path and back to his carriage with a broom, where he sulked for some time. As she recounted it her ladies in waiting could hardly contain their simpering smiles. I regret having missed it though I suppose had I been there things would have gone quite differently.
Indeed, though the Antitherian Professor was in a similar mood his manner was apparently more swiftly mollified by the kitchen’s sweet biscuits, of which I’m told he partook with a rapacious character. Having sampled the recipe myself I wonder if it was their flavor that swayed his conscience, or rather the threat of Mrs. Devereux’s broom. More surprising, with him was another gentleman who I take instantly from the butler’s description to be old Wenfrow, who was most excited to speak on matters of the rubbings. Perhaps I still have friends in that camp. They leave behind them a letter with the Chancellor’s seal. The day’s events casting about my conciseness I have set it aside for the present.

15th of October:

I have sent the stable boy, who has been most especially dutiful after I presented him with Gustav, to the city with the remainder of my rubbings for Wenfrow’s review. With him I have sent another long list of documents to acquire as I begin to study the mechanics of the flywheel design. Its form is quite ingenious, and though the pagans seemed interested in little more than its novelty I believe with the proper modern materials it could make a superlative clockwork mechanism.
And yes, the letter remains as it has. I am sure I will come to it just as soon as this matter of the device is more thoroughly settled.

stable boy

11th of November:

After several weeks work on the device I still find myself somewhat thunderstruck. Calculations make little sense and a working model still eludes me. Though I know there is something here. Is it simply my guilt at the price this knowledge cost me? Cost the world?
My brooding is again affecting the staff, and perhaps thinking the letter was its cause Mrs. Devereux took the missive from my desk and forced me to hear it read aloud. I don’t know what made me laugh louder: to hear the Chancellor’s words in her Scottish brogue, or to hear them intone such obsequious offers of grants and assistants to study the ruins, of all cursed things on God’s dower little sphere. I fear my cackling may have verged the preternatural, as Mrs. Devereux is now weary to be left alone in my presence. The vicious demons those dusty old professors bring forth from my soul are but the final blow in this whole affaire. A few short months ago I would have leaped for such a scrap, today I turn my nose up, and far worse. To blazes with them all.

23rd of November:

Little progress is forthcoming on the model, though I think of little else. The staff and I are at a bit of a standoff, and I have barricaded myself in the laboratory as not even my constitutionals ameliorate the stress. Deverex has threatened to force the door and shower me with buckets like the stablemen do with the horses. Or at least this was the gist of her shouts.
My only visitor is the stable boy, they call him Ansel, and of course little Gustav, who against all odds is thriving.

cat with frog

2nd of December:

A breakthrough! And well too near the precipice for my comfort. This dawn as I stirred about the front of the estate the yellow tabby, one of the stable cats, appeared from the hedge and placed before me the limp rag of a captured frog. A gift perhaps? As swiftly as I stopped to examine the item the cat darted away. Holding the poor thing limply I had a mind to dispose of it towards the wood, but as I lifted it the extent of the damage became apparent. The cat had been most gruesome with its surgery and as the thing’s body rose, the entrails did not follow. Most ghastly of all, among them could be seen the creature’s heart, the organ still pumping away the creatures vitality, if only for moments.
I rarely count myself among the squeamish, but on this occasion I made an exception. However as I turned away, the sight of that beating organ struck something in my mind. I had assumed the device a flywheel like those I had studied before, but nothing could be further from the case. Spun in one direction the wheel quickly destabilizes and fails, but set back and forth at a steady beat!
In a scarce 16 hours today I have constructed five prototypes, the last three more than functioning. It is all I can do to record these thoughts before I rest. Finally rest.

fly wheel tests

10th of December:

A week of the most marvelous progress. A visit to the local blacksmith and I’ve returned with a number of alloys to try out on the device, and what’s more, the promise of time at the smithy’s furnace as soon as the morrow. Have already made models from nearly anything I could get my hands on here at the estate. Wood from the pile, an iron shovel head from the stables, Kitchen staff was kind enough to donate one of the chipped china pieces. Have found that, quite against odds, the wheel seems to function better the smaller I can make it. Thanks to the oscillations the system is self sustaining as long as not disturbed. Accepting of course minor losses to entropy, I predict that a properly balanced and lubricated model could spin for days on end at no apparent reduction in power.
One model already drives a small fan at the corner of my laboratory. Too cold for it really, but I’ve kept it running for the novelty. Also rigged up a small clockwork mouse for Ansel and the other lads to drive at the stable cats. Have heard their shouts all day. Recall reading of a motorized carriage in some work from the continent. I believe a denser wheel could supply sufficient torque. Shall take it up with the smithy when I see him.
Another missive from the city two days past. Yet to read it.

fly wheel clockwork mouse

fly wheel gears

18th of December:

Much headway made on the subject of the carriage. The wheel is forged just this morning, and with it gears, traps, rods, and the like. They rest in the smithy’s annealing furnace for a fortnight. A model in wood sits upon my workbench and though a bit unpredictable when destabilized I believe it sound. The wood’s density is far from uniform.
Ansel and the lads have proven lose of lip with the clockwork mouse. My journey into town this morning was waylayed not twice but thrice by those looking for oscillators to drive every manner of thing. Some of the docksmen were most intrigued by the mouse, and I have agreed to look in to mechanical bate for their lobster traps as soon as work on the carriage permits an idle moment.

fly wheel bait

Scottish Sour

23th of January:

Tested the carriage today, or rather attempted to do so. Vibrations became violent before the wheel reached half the intended velocity. The device is undamaged, though the carriage wood creaked and cracked most concerningly. I fear my pride suffered far worse, and with it a number of window pains in the carriage house. Mrs. Devereux has instructed the kitchen to deny my supper, to what I believe to be their great relief as I fathom not one would venture down to my room, even on threat of termination. I have, in fair turnabout as I see it, instructed Ansel to fetch for me a mouse or frog or other small denizen of the grounds to be cohabited in Devereux’s living quarters. Thankfully, I suppose, the winter’s chill shall make the errand all but impossible, as my ire has near fully subsided and Ansel is
yet to return.

flywheel carriage

Concerning the boy, I have these past few months found him to be quite indispensable. Though unschooled, his mind is a pliant one, and he quickly grasps the odd topics I have raised. I have begun to set aside an hour most evenings to converse with the boy, and have begun to instruct him on his letters and basic calculations. His progress has been remarkable.
And of course so too thrives little Gustav. Overgrowing the sample jar I have procured from the kitchen’s storage the large crystal punch bowl to serve as his domicile. Chef protested, but soirees are few and far between here at the residence. The bowl proved a simple trade at the mention of my uncle’s bottle of Scottish Sour. Ansel has taken to appointing the dish with various water flora and silts to see to Gustav’s comfort.
Another letter from the city, this one delivered by courier. It sits with its sibling unopened.

11th of February:

Have devised a system of coil springs to isolate the oscillator’s vibrations from the carriage, and hope to make another attempt to bring the device to full rotation in the coming days. The effect on the model is subtle, but I feel that it shall prove workable. I have also procured a new alloy from the smithy with a considerable density. In Ansel’s toy it can run the wheel for what seems like weeks on end.
Mrs. Devereux again discovered correspondence from the University, and took her usual actions at reading them. The Chancellor has become quite insistent but I am unwavering. My work is here now, and with a recent sale of clockwork baits and decoys to some of the townsmen I have satisfactory resources to continue in earnest.

28th of February:

Most tragic news. What a fool I have been. Attempted a new test of the carriage oscillator again today, but words cannot describe the disaster that has resulted.
Worked? I can but laugh. Of course it worked. And glorious it was as well, just as I had seen it so many nights in my dreams. A steady state, that was the key. As it has been with every aspect of this damnable contrivance. As before the vibrations grew violent, but my coil springs performed their part flawlessly, holding the entire device until a sufficient speed could be achieved. Then, like a tempest’s calm, as the revolutions reached their zenith a quiet came over the carriage. Over the carriage house for that matter, and all of us in attendance. A transcendent moment of clarity.
But as a frequent student of weather I should rightly have known, a tempest’s calm is but a brief reprieve. I have envisioned the events in my mind’s eye countless times since the morning, but I still cannot fathom the cause of it. Other than, that is to say, the violent cracking and splintering of wood that was its vanguard. Loosed from its moorings the oscillator’s great wheel struck the cobbles of the carriage house most violently, and then it had but to spend its pent up inertia on whatever poor soul was within its reach. The stable master and his assistant are cleaved in twain even now before my eyes each time they close. Behind them three columns of the structure are splintered to bits, and then horrifying sounds as one of the quarter horses is beset. Struck so swiftly it remained standing to receive a second blow on the things return.
By what providence I know not, and fear to speculate, I dashed beyond the wheel’s reach mere moments before it passed me to play out its rapacious energies on the front gardens. Though not before it struck the final pillars of the carriage house, brining much of the masonry down upon my worthless head. My injuries were not grave, but my poor Ansel has payed that price in my stead. The remaining horses driven to a froth, broke free from their stables, one striking the boy’s temple with its hoof for good measure. I have brought the boy to the library and Mrs. Devereux stays by his side as the physician does as he can. The man’s face is most doleful.
Even Gustav has not escaped the miasma of misfortune that surrounds me. As if I had not visited upon him more sorrow and destruction than is deserved by any creature in such a short lifetime. His crystal bowl smashed I found him gasping in the rubble of the carriage house. He floats now in his specimen jar, but is too weak to swim. His diaphanous body crossed with haggard red lesions.

supplemental:

Ansel drew his final breaths moments ago. The doctor will take him in the morning. My words fail me. But to say this: To declare with what hubris, what foolish pride I drove towards this with what I see now was a full knowledge of what might happen. And now it’s not I that has wagered a pound of flesh, but those about me. And I am left to sit and suffer unscathed. Perhaps that is the crueler torment.
I can but sit here in my darkened laboratory and pen these words by Gustav’s fading light. I fear that he too will pay my toll to the ferryman before the night is through. I will watch over him as Ansel did. I owe him that much. Owe them both.

supplemental:

A fitful sleep at my workbench vigil has struck me with a monstrous idea. But if I dare to try it I must be swift. Gustav’s light fades. In my dream I have seen the workings of the clockwork bate I designed for the docksmen. Even now they sit all about me in stages of construction, and at the center of each a compartment for bait bits, and the wheel, beating away like a heart. Like the tiny heart that now grows slower and colder within Gustav’s chest.
The principles are the same. Nearly identical. And with the smithy’s alloy it could run for, for longer than I can surmise. But dare I take this any further? If only there were time to think.

supplemental:

The deed is done. I worked through the night with thread and leather and sinew. I can no longer consider what I’ve done. I function now on grief and instinct, and little else. Gustav, if he can still be called it, rests now in his specimen jar, encased in the carapace of my handiwork. If you are to be my judge then know my conscience: what further harm could I have done?

15th of March:

Another letter today from the University. Perhaps my warning on these Ides of March. I have not read it, but I know its content. Know enough of that lot to know that when word reaches them of what has transpired their encomium will dry up like so much spilled milk in the sun.
The constable has taken an inquest to my actions, and I suspect the University will best be forwarding my future correspondence to Stockmore, if not the gallows. It’s more than I deserve. If nothing else, it should keep the Deluvian Professor from calling on me.
If there is but one brightness from this sordid affaire, it shines from little Gustav, who seems to thrive in his new suit of clothes. By my reckoning he can expect to outlive us all.

Gustav in his new clothes

Smile

As the Sun, I think, I have a raw deal
	and it makes me uneasy to see
that in your paintings, and pictures
	and old artifacts, my face is there smiling at me.

Smiling? No beaming, that's what you call it.
	I've practically got my own word.
But if you were the Sun, put yourself in my place,
	all this smiling's a little absurd.

Now I admit that I have a…a fondness for Earth
	and those cute little probes that you send.
I'm not one for pictures, but if it's for a good cause
	then I guess I can muster a grin.

But every last picture?  For thousands of years?
	I feel as though I've been slandered
And the fact that you think that's the way that I look,
	I just can't live up to that standard.

I mean, I would think, as friends for so long,
	that by now we would have a rapport.
That we might share our emotions, have a serious talk,
	play a game, shoot the breeze—something more.

But for thousands of years you people of Earth
	have worshiped my sight in the sky.
Except that's not where I am, it's just where I was
	8 minutes ago when you passed by.

I don't mean to complain.  I'm not a big grump.
	I'm flattered, I am, but you see,
how our relationships grown from something that's true
	to this cartoonish one-dimensional me?

So there, now I've said it.  And I do feel much better.
	Please take to heart my remarks.
Oh, and if you insist on painting more smiles,
	well I hope you can paint in the dark.

— The Sun

Salt Shakers

A friend of mine made an interesting remark in class the other day.  We were comparing the movies that come out of Dreamworks Animation like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda with Pixar’s fair, and she said the real difference between the two is how much work Pixar puts into the universe their characters reside in.

So, for example, in Kung Fu Panda the world is populated by a menagerie of talking animals, but the scenery is a human’s ancient China, with roughly human sized houses and human sized doorways and human sized object meant to be used by human hands.  Now compare this, she said, to the world where Sully and Mike from Monster’s Inc. live.  A world where objects are obviously designed for the “people” that use them, right down to the salt shakers.

Now it’s not that these details do anything to directly effect these movies.  Although a great deal of forethought went into the Monster’s Inc. salt shakers, the movies makes no effort to draw attention to it.  And at the same time, the discontinuity between a human ancient China and a population of animals is no more far fetched than having the animals speak (English or Chinese), wear clothes, or learn martial arts.  It’s all a part of our willing suspension of disbelief.  Both films are fantastic.

The point is simply that by including details like that salt shaker—even if they’re never addressed by the characters or the plot—you the viewer subconsciously get the feeling that there is a history there.  Some company exists somewhere in the monster city, and in it a monster designer who made a number of mockup salt shaker designs for different monster hand types.  Her monster boss took them to a monster mall where there was a monster focus group to find the most marketable design for that target 18-24 monster age group.  A design was selected, and forged, packaged, and shipped by monsters to a monster restaurant supply house where the monster proprietor of the monster cafe bought a dozen of them (monster).  It’s the little details like this that make Pixar movies that much richer.

An interesting point, I thought.

A Tattoo

        John closed his eyes tightly. He could feel water welling up in the corners of each, but his mind refused to recognize them as tears and marked them down as sweat instead.
        “Geez it hot in here.”
        “Calm down, we’re almost done.”
        The tattoo artist’s tone was derisive and insulting in that way you talk to a child when your trying to be polite but you’re really annoyed. John knew the tone well. He heard it all day long from mothers at the end of their ropes who came to his teller window at the bank to deposit a check or turn in a few rolls of coins.
        “There we are. That wasn’t so bad now was it?”
        John could tell he said this to everyone. You could end the day on the table dead and he would still say it, scrawling his name on a bill and tossing it over his solder as the medics rushed into the room too late to make a difference. John felt like telling him off, but he knew he wouldn’t so he mustered a weak forced smile instead.
        “There’s a mirror in the corner. Give it a good look over and then I’ll bandage it up.”
        John stood up, and the fresh flush of blood and feeling to his arm sent a new shock of pain up his shoulder and through his neck. He winced, but quickly hid.
        He stood up to the mirror and looked over his new addition. At first all he could see was the swollen redness of his battered skin, but as his eyes focused, he began to see the faint ink lines emerge and congeal into shapes and pictures. He continued to stare, at first lazily, but with increasing intent, as if his mind was slowly working out a math puzzle and the final operation just eluded him. Finally things suddenly snapped into focus.
        “What is this?”
        “Hmm”, mused the artist half listening as he prepared a gauze bandage.
        “This, what is this on my arm?”
        “It the brogan’s cross, for Brogan State Penn. And two roses. You were in for two years right?”
        “Brog…Brogen State Penn? You mean the penitentiary? It’s supposed to be a book. John Brogen’s book ‘An English Rose’! What have you done to me?”
        “Na mate, its right here in the invoice. One Brogen…” The artist stopped short as he squinted at his own inscrutable handwriting on the bill of sale.
        John’s heart began to race. He looked back in the mirror, examining the new tattoo over and over, forcing his mind to actively identify each element and assure him that he was seeing what he had seen just moments before. Each time the same, a ghoulish gothic style cross, throned with jagged black spines and flanked on each side with a smiling skull holding a rose in its teeth.
        “Here,” John’s voice shook as he spoke, “quick, wipe it up before the ink dries.”
        “I ah, well, I can’t. It doesn’t work that way.”
        “Of course it does, here,” John grabbed a sterile towel from the counter and pressed it hard to his flesh. His skin burned at this further indigence and he winced at the pain. Then, gritting his teeth he began to rub furiously.
        “Wait, wait, you’ll tear your skin to shreds and get an infection. Look, the ink’s down deep, under the skin, you can’t just soak it up.”
        “Well the get your erasing fluid or whatever you use. Just get it, hurry.”
        “Look, I’m sorry. Tattoos are permanent. Only way to get them off is with a laser, and the…”
        “So get the laser, what are you standing there for.” John was practically in tears now.
        “Calm down. Like I was trying to tell you. Only a doctor can do that. And they can’t take it off until the skin’s healed up. Look, this happens every once and a while. It’s no big deal.”
        “No big deal! I look like a hoodlum.”
        The tattoo artist almost started laughing at John’s choice of words. “It’s cool, look, we’ve got a dermatologist we work with. I’ll give them a call and make you an appointment. The shop will cover everything. You’ll have to wait 6 weeks for the skin to heal up and then you can go to the office and have it off. It just takes an hour or so.”
        John looked back in the mirror, purposlly blurring his gaze, but his two new osseous companions starred back at him with their wide grins intact.

What dog?

        Tiny dogs, that all Sam was seeing lately, tiny designer dogs yipping and jumping on the end of ridiculously long thin leashes as their owners paid them little attention. When he was a kid Sam could remember lots of his neighbors and friends all up and down South Avenue having dogs, but none was smaller than a fire hydrant or stack of news papers, at least not after it was a puppy. Sam could never have a dog. He wanted one desperately and when he was about 5 or 6 went through a phase of asking his mom for one whenever he was asked a question himself.
        “Sammy, would you like to have peas for dinner tonight, or broccoli?”
        “I would like a dog mother, a brown dog.”
        “Did you brush your teeth yet?”
        “I want a dog with small teeth.”
        It was a desperate ploy, more than Sam could have dreamed up on his own. He got the idea from one of the Saturday afternoon movies that he watched in the back room of the beauty parlor while his mom worked. In the movie a little girl—Sam thought one of the other characters had called her Sam and that’s what caught his attention away from coloring—desperately wanted her father back for christmas, and so started in on a similar campaign asking first every Santa Clause bell ringer she and her mother passed, and then eventually every bearded man.
        The film played the whole incident up as sweet an endearing. Sam was too young to get the full effect at the time, but he was old enough to recognize the formula. The camera at eye level with the girl, the charming laughs and knowing smiles elicited from the Santas as they gave the girl’s mother a heartfelt look, and of course the music—soaring violins and warm horns.
        Sam couldn’t wait to try this new method out, but for some reason things just didn’t seem right. The first time he tried it was right after his mother’s shift. She swept up the spent hair from around her station and then came into the back to get her purse from the row of lockers along the back wall.
        “All done pumpkin. You ready to go?”
        “I’m ready to get a dog mommy. A brown dog like Greg has.”
        Several of the other hair dressers were in the room, also collecting their things, and like a wave Sam could see that same look he had seen in the movie wash over their faces. “Aww”, they all laughed, and Sam couldn’t hold back his smile. But somehow his mother had missed the wave. At first he though she hadn’t heard him. He tried again.
        “Do you have all your things?”
        “I don’t have a dog mom.”
        Again the “Aww” from around the room, but this time with a little less feeling. There was no doubt she had heard it this time, but nothing registered on her face. Sam looked up at her expectantly, consciously trying to increase the level of wonder in his face but probably, he knew, affecting something more like queasiness or the look of someone about to sneeze. After a long silence his mother finally rolled her eyes and spoke.
        “You know we can’t get a dog, you’re allergic. Remember when we went to visit grandma and grandpa on their farm in Vermont. All you had to do was pet their sheepdog for 5 minutes and you were sneezing and coughing and your hand got all red and puffy.”
        “Yeah, but that won’t happen this time mom.”
        “Oh yeah, and hows that?”
        “Becuase I’m older now and I grew out of it.” It was the best he could come up with. Strangely it hadn’t occurred to him that he would have to defend his position. Surely the overwhelming power of his wonderment and the soaring violins would take care of that.
        Sam was smart enough to see that the plan wasn’t working, but with little else in his bag of tricks, he stuck with it for the next few days.
        “Sam, did you wash your hands, it’s time for dinner.”
        “If I had a dog I could wash his hands before dinner.”

ex :: Notebook

Writing Exercise (three paragraphs): When you go out to a restaurant or a bar, jot down your observations in a notebook. In one paragraph, describe a loner’s looks and behavior. In another, a couple’s looks and interaction. In a third paragraph, describe how a waiter or a bartender communicates with the customers.

        Sara groaned as she lifted the heavy tray of dirty plates and glasses into the small sink at the end of the bar. After rattling the basin around to dislodge the last fork, stuck to the inside corner by a thick glob of chocolate sauce and what appeared to be salsa, she paused for a moment, looking at the way small bits of leftover sauces and dressings were leaching out from in between a short stack of plates from table 3.
        “You look hungry,” Mike said, putting his hand on her shoulder as he turned sideways to squeeze by her and get to the stack of clean glasses behind the bar.
        “No,” she said without looking up, “it’s just kind of pretty.”
        Mike gave the metal scoop hanging from a beaded chain a deft kick, catching it as it swung up, and dove its end into the large bin of ice a few times. He gathered a good scoop and filled the glass he had retrieved. “Shift’s over, let me pour you something.”
        “I have to get up in the morning. Casey taking me shopping for something to wear to the funeral.”
        “Suit yourself.”
        “Anyway, we’ve still got our writer.” Sara motioned with he eyebrow to the figure sitting in the dark corner booth, hunched over a small computer.
        “I’ll take care of him…”
        “No, no, I’ve still got dishes to do. I’ll get ‘em when I’m done. Anyway, it seems like he’s in the middle of something. I hate to break his concentration.”
        “Your just hoping the story is about you.”
        Sara laughed, “look who’s talking. Mr. ‘Would you like my life story with your check?’.”
        “What, he asked me.”
        “Uh, huh—and I suppose that was an accurate account too. How many years did you say you worked on that oil rig.”
        “Oil derrick, it’s called a derrick.”
        “One pump in the middle of an empty field on your parents hog farm.”
        “Oil is oil.” Mike said with a huff. He held the glass to his lips, now filled with a mixture of Sprite and juice from the cherry bin, and stared at the man in the booth. “What do you think he’s writing?”
        “Screen play,” said Sara knowingly.
        “How do you know.”
        “I saw the formatting over his shoulder. I don’t know what it’s about, but there is a character named Michael.” Mike gave Sara a sarcastic look, but she ignored him, faining effort in scraping melted cheese from a plate of half eaten nachos. When she had finished, she wiped he hands with the dish towel tucked into her apron strings and joined Mike in watching the writer work.
        The man looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, but in a way that you might easily think he could be older. He had been coming in to the bar for almost 3 months now, always angling for one of the dark booths in the back, or when he couldn’t get them, the stool at the far end of the bar that everyone—including Mike and Sara—always assumed was supposed to be decorative. He had dark hair which wriggled out from under an old mussed and creased beret. Mike had often though how it was strange that hats like that always seemed to look goofy or like a costume on some people while others, like this writer, seemed to inhabit them. A few months ago the man had worn a thick black wool overcoat which only heightened the ensemble, but with the spring weather now breaking through he had switched to a grubby hooded sweet-shirt with the logo of an old bakery on the south side that had long since gone under. It only made him look younger and more literary than before.
        The antique clock on the counter began to chime, once, twice, and Sara looked down at her watch and then around at the empty tables and booths. “Mmmm, alright, ” she yawned. Mike slid her a small plastic tray with a receipt and a mint on top, and Sara caught it and headed for the back booth, brushing back her lose pony tail as she zig-zagged through the tables.
        “It’s 2 a.m., closing time.” She said, laying an extra smile in her voice.
        The writer continued typing for a few seconds, his fingers suddenly speeding up and his eyes clamped down tight. Then he made a quick motion with his left had, saving his work and then looked up at Sara with a weary smile. “tha…” he coughed a few times, clearing his throat, “thanks,” he said, and flashed a quick smile as his eyes darted over the table, apparently taking a quick inventory of all his belongings. His hand dove into the large pocket on the front of his sweeter and pulled out a wadded ball of cash from which he extracted several bills, smoothing them on the edge of the table, and then sheepishly handing them to Sara who met his gaze with a tired smile of her own.
        “I’ll be right back with your change.”
        The man waved his hand and winced, coughing again for several seconds. “You keep it. You keep it, it’s yours.”
        “Thank you sir,” she replied, obviously expecting this response but still grateful for the generous tip. She glanced over his bill, 4 coffees and a basket of fired clams he hadn’t touched. “You have a safe trip home.”
        The writer nodded, closed his laptop under his arm, and walked across the room and through the door, tipping his beret to Mike as he passed.

ex :: Glimpse

Writing Exercise: (one page) Write a scene of a story from a glimpse you have had of a group of people—in a café, zoo, train or anywhere. Sketch the characters in their setting and let them interact. Do you find that you know too little? Can you make up enough—or import from other experiences—too fill the empty canvas?

        The team filed into the hospital lobby to the concerned looks of people waiting in the atrium chairs. Coach Brenum’s warnings from the bus ride over still ringing in their ears the boys kept their usual banter to a dull roar, but they were boys after all and young and riled up and so it was inevitable when their chatter began to grow again, prompting the receptionist to cast dirty looks at the group over the telephone clasped between her neck and shoulder.
        The small waiting area had only a hand full of chairs, too few for the team even under the present circumstances, and not helped by the fact that several people were already scattered about the lobby. Robby, Sam, and some of the other younger boys had already stacked out a set of chairs in the far corner by the window and were now already well into flipping through the month old magazines, snickering at the expressions on peoples faces in the advertisements and acting out exaggerated pantomimes of rapturously enjoying paper towels or fat-free salad dressing.
        “Boys,” Robby’s mother snapped at them from across the room in a forced whisper, “show some decorum, this is a Hospital.”
        From the boys looks it was clear they had no idea what ‘decorum’ was, but Mrs. Simon’s tone left little to the imagination and the small group renewed their social commentary in the form of empathic silent pointing, stifled snickers, and screwed up faces.
        Candice said she would call down from the ER when they had more about Luther’s condition,“ said Mrs. Simon, turning to Coach Brenum and two other mothers who had just walked in from the parking lot, ”But did you see these signs.“ She motioned to a large printed sign near the entrance that read ”Please Turn Off All Cellular Devices Within the Hospital, Thank You.“ ”I don’t know if they’ll even let her call. And if she does I sure as hell can’t answer. Do you think one of use should wait outside?“
        At her suggestion the other mothers began to look contemplatively at their shoes, no doubt running the hundred degree temperatures outside through their minds. Coach Brenum looked cooly down at his watch, as if not listening to Mrs. Simon’s question, and then spoke abruptly.
        ”Candice knows the drill, they can send a page down to the receptionist when things are ready.“ His tone was one of someone who had obviously spent more than one Sunday afternoon in a hospital lobby, and it was a bit comforting to the other mothers, though it didn’t seem to have much effect on Mrs. Simon.
        ”I don’t see why you’re so cool about this. That medic said that gash on Luther’s head might need surgery.“
        ”Sutures, Melony. Sutures aren’t surgery, its just another name for stitches.“ Coach replied, still looking at his watch. ”Its just a superficial wound. He’s bleeding so they’ll see him pretty quickly, have ‘em sewn up in about 20 minutes and then we’ll be out of here with a bottle of antibiotics and a bunch of rowdy soccer players all wanting to hear what it was like in the ER. It’s the quietest you’ll ever hear them.“
        Mrs. Simon wanted to argue the point further—to go on about how she hoped he had insurance for the team and how traumatic the ER had been for Robby when he was 4—but the coach’s steady tone made her think twice. She sat back in her chair and turned towards the boys who had moved from the magazines to critiquing the paintings of rural doctors offices and country landscapes.

Log Power Generation

        “Maths,” said Jimmy Whales, “I like maths. And my Mom says I’m good at ‘em too.”
        “Maths? Your good at ‘maths’?” said Charles in a lilting tone, “First of all it’s ‘math’ not ‘maths’. There’s only one of them.”
        At some point in his life—Jimmy wasn’t sure exactly when—it had become his older brother’s duty to correct anything and everything that Jimmy said. At one point he asked his mother about it, but she’d simply scrunched up her nose and then stormed into the other room and said something in that quick low hushed way she always talked when she didn’t want him to hear her say something important. This time was no different and Jimmy couldn’t hear what she had said, but for the next few days Charles decided rather than clear verbal corrections, swift jabs and prods to the bank of the head would be more appropriate. He called it the Pavlov method, and said that all the world famous dog trainers used it to keep their dogs in line. Jimmy felt sorry for them.
        “It is too maths, that’s what they call it in England,” said Jimmy with a defiant look.
        Charles prepared to rebut this remark, but looking around the table at the dirty looks from the visiting relatives he though better of it and instead focused his attention intently on a mound of mashed potatoes that must not have been properly mashed.
        Jimmy continued, “…I’m working on a new formula now that’s going to make lots of power for everyone.”
        “Well power, we could all use more power dear. What kind of power is it?” Aunt Linda said, humoring him a bit.
        “Like wall power, like in a socket. The news said the other day that the power is running out like a cold plants and nuclear plants and all over the world, so we need more power from windmills and, and, other places to make all the power for everyone’s houses.”
        “Their called coal-plants dummy.” Charles couldn’t help himself.
        “Whatever. It doesn’t matter because their using up all the cold and so we have to make the power somewhere else.”
        “Do you even…” Charles began with a sneer, but quickly amended his tone into a faining interest, “ even know what electricity is?”
        “Ya, I saw it on TV. It’s made of electricity balls that are all minuses. And they go through the wires like pipes from the cold plant and into the wall socket and then into the stuff you plug in.”
        All the relatives smiled and Uncle Radar gave a little laugh. “Good show boy.” He said winking at Jimmy, “you sure put him in his place.”
        “He doesn’t understand it. That wasn’t even close.” complained Charles bitterly, but no one seemed to listen.
        “So how does your formula work honey? Tell everyone how it works,” said Jimmy’s mom.
        “I can’t tell you all of it, ‘cause its kind-of secret. I’m not aposed to tell anyone. But i figured it out with Dad’s old college books. I used all the maths in the book and it’s really powerful. If, if you even tried to use it on the power grid then, um,” Jimmy motioned wildly with his hands, “it would probably blow out all the lights in the whole city or even the world.”
        “Wow, well that is powerful isn’t it. You’d better be careful with that.” said aunt Linda with a smile. She turned to Jimmy’s mother. “I don’t know where he gets it, Sam was always a klutz at math.”
        “Oh I know, remember, I was his tutor in high school.” Jimmy’s mom replied with a smile.
        “Well that’s not fair. I was distracted by her beauty obviously.” Chimed in Jimmy’s dad Sam.
        Jimmy’s Mom and Dad made kissey faces at each-other and Jimmy rolled his eyes and groaned. “Mom,” he moaned.

A Dimension of Trees (and other related creatures)

        Congratulations, and welcome to the exiting field of inter-dimensional travel. You are just beginning your first steps into what is sure to be a career of excitement and new discovery.
        You are almost ready to begin your journeys into other dimensions, but first, to help you along your way, this instructional pamphlet has been created to help you cope with the unique challenges that will await you in your career ahead. In the following pages we will brief you on what our scientists currently know of the alternate dimensions to which you will be traveling, and what to expect when you get there. We will also cover some basic cultural information, survival techniques, and other information you may find helpful. Finally, the back page of this pamphlet will provide you with a form onto which you can enter your living will. This document should be filled out, signed, notarized, and provided to the dimensional quartermaster before you embark.
        So, the best of luck to you, our first dimensional explorers. May your journeys be swift, and the worlds you find verdant and laden with resources the the good of democracy.

¤

Tree Universe 27-alpha:
        Discovered in the first year of exploration by Dimensional Command and the site of a continued command presence since 2304, this site was originally classified as an uninhabited forest. Further examination, however, has revealed that this dimension is home to two dominant species: trees, and humans.
        Although trees within this dimension are exactly like trees in our current dimension, the appearance of humans within this zone can be a bit confusing, leading to the original classification as an uninhabited dimension. Humans within this realm are indistinguishable from trees. They look and act like trees, have tree like features and structures, do not have traditional human biological components, and spend their lives living a tree-like life cycle.
        Some of our scientists have argued that calling these creatures human is a fallacy, and that they should be correctly classified as trees. They point to the fact that, because they are indistinguishable from trees, no one has of yet been able to identify a human in the realm. Furthermore, some speculate that the classification of some trees as human by early survey teams might have been a mistaken entry on the complex survey paperwork, or even one of the survey team member’s idea of a joke or retaliation for having to fill out the 37-page documents. However, due to the subsequent deaths of these original team members in a transference accident, and the fact that their alternate dimensional counterparts are by definition evil and cannot be trusted to provide further information, it is assumed that the original assessment of both tree and human inhabitants is correct.
        Because of the difficulty in distinguishing trees and humans, it is recommended that all service members, when encountering a possible human or tree, first address the tree using standard greetings. Any suspected human/tree which does not respond should be considered a possible threat to the mission, and accordingly incapacitated. Although standard procedure dictates that uncooperative natives should be returned to command for interrogation, past dealing with local inhabitants of this realm have proven ineffective, and a costly drain on base resources of light, potting soil, water, etc. Thus, the taking of prisoners is not authorized in this case.

¤

more …

Runion Island

Today’s Writing Prompt: You’ve been stranded on an island with only three things: a bowling trophy, a vacuum cleaner and a mystery item (which you must reveal). How did you get on the island, and why do you have these particular items?

        Raj laid motionless, eyes still closed, desperately thinking of how he could get the man in the apartment next door to turn down his television without Raj actually having to get out of bed, or move, or speak, or really do anything at all. He briefly considered rapping on the wall in morse code, hopeing that somehow his neighbor would hear the sound over the nature documentary he was watching, but Raj quickly rejected this notion when he realized that he didn’t really know any morse code other than SOS and shave and a haircut, which he didn’t think was really morse code in the first place, but it didn’t really seem to matter.
        As the rhythm played over and over in his head, the sounds of rushing water and sea birds got louder and louder, as if the man next door was somehow receiving Raj’s psychic message and turning up the volume to spite him. At the same time, Raj slowly became aware of an odd tickling sensation starting at his feet and slowly making it way up the length of his body. As an almost instinctual reaction he reached out for his blanket, but finding only an odd gritty absence Raj slowly opened his eyes, blinked several times, and screamed at the top of his lungs.
        As his vision slowly came into focus Raj could just make out two pearl black eyes on the ends of long bony stalks, and a large white shield as it flitted across his filed of view. Raj sat up with a start to see that small white crabs were slowly dancing back and forth across a sandy beach into which he seemed to be half buried. When he screamed all of the crabs suddenly froze in position, as if someone was about to take a photo. Raj looked at the crabs, and screamed again, and then once more – starting to enjoy the sensation – and then stopped. One crab, near where his big toe was sticking out of the sand made a slight twitch, and then all the other crabs went back to their little back and forth dances, occasionally pausing to scrape something up off the sand with their claw.
        Raj pushed himself up at the waste, hoisting himself up out of the hole formed by the sand and then immediately wished he hadn’t. Inside the sand he had been warm and cosy, but now Raj could feel the cold air blowing against his wet clothes and a shiver ran through his body. He looked up and down the beach, surveying the scenery, and slowly the events of the previous night came back.

        Raj worked as a teaching assistant at the college, splitting his time between grading journalism assignments and working on layouts for the Runion, the campus newspaper. It was mid October and the paper’s namesake, s small inedible fish, were beginning to make their way back up the local rivers and streams to their spawning grounds. In the late 18 and early 1900’s the event was usually marked by joyous celebrations held by local fishermen who spent the nights in small boats trying to scoop up as many of the fish as possible. Although the tiny fish could not be eaten it was the fisherman’s hope that by catching them in the fall they would fail to lay eggs and so their young would not clog the fisherman’s net the following spring. More recent studies of the fish’s life-cycle had long since proven this to be a wasted effort, but the tradition lived on, mostly as an excuse for the fisherman and later local students to dress up like pirates, rent small boats, and spend an evening out on the water getting drunk and wet and happy.
        Raj was usually up for a good time, but coming from the heart of India, hundreds of miles from any source of water deeper than a few inches, he had never learned to swim and so generally tired to avoid the network of lakes, rivers, streams, and small islands that criss-crossed through the area. Living in a Pacific Northwest fishing village might seem like a strange idea for someone with no interest in water of any kind, an idea that certainly occurred to Raj’s parents on a regular basis. But Raj’s test scores and a series of articles about traditional farming culture in his home village had earned him a scholarship to the small school and he had been eager to get as far from India as he could, something geographically at least he has succeeded in.
        To mark the occasion of the Runion runs, the Runion newspaper was running a series of themed articles highlighting local groups and businesses that shared the Runion moniker. Just a few dozen years ago the idea of naming something after a fish roughly decried by the local fishermen would have been unthinkable. Among the dock workers the name had come to be a wry euphemism for any number of sinful topics. This was infact the whole point of naming the newspaper Runion, as the paper had started as sort of a tongue-in-cheek subversive jab at the college administration during the 1930’s. However as these things often do, the name slowly became an inside joke in and around the small town; a sort of wink and nod between locals about their shared heritage. When Raj first came to the college the local fascination with the fish had been puzzling, but after a few years he too began to take a silent pride in the local mascot. Local city leader, urged on by advertising firms were quickly turing the Runion into a commodity joke in an effort to attract tourists, but had not yet managed to completely taint the Runion.
        Among the articles for the paper’s series there was one written by Samatha Fanning on the touristy bookshops and antique stores in the town square. Raj and most other locals rarely set foot in any of them but the article was kind enough, highlighting some of the college students who worked as clerks. There was an article about a vacuum cleaner repair shop owned by a former fisherman and his wife. One about a local diner specializing in vegetarian food and catering mostly to college students and their uncomfortable visiting parents. There was also an article by a new student, Jayson Perce, about a local women’s bowling league called the Runions, conspicuously renamed as such just in time for the celebrations.
        As a final piece in the series Jessica Speck was supposed to write an article about the Runion League, a group of mostly elderly fisherman who every year went out into the sound as a fleet of ships and tried to round up as many Runion as possible to commemorate the practice from years ago, and usually to get drunk and rowdy in the process. After a night out on the sound with the League, Jessica had called in to the journalism office. She explained, over a great deal of singling and general revelry in the background, that her story was finished, but she would not be able to deliver it to the paper before the deadline seeing as she was “three sheets to the wind”, a euphemism that elicited a loud cheer from the revelers in the background. Raj agreed to meet the ship at the docks and give her and her story a ride back to campus.
        “Oh Raj too, bring that camera too. We need a shot of this stout crew…”, another cheer, “…for with the article to go with.”

Neighborhood Association

Today’s Writing Prompt: You’ve been living a life filled with lies and it’s time for you to come clean. There’s one lie in particular that’s been eating at you and you have to make right. Start off your response with: “I have a confession to make. I never really . . . ” and explain the harm the lie caused and how you intend to rectify it.

        Mandrake heard his name called, but didn’t move a muscle. “Maybe they’ll just move on,” he thought to himself, staring intently at the scuff marks on his new shoes. As he continued to look down he could hear his friends and neighbors turning in their chairs, scouring the room for him. “I know he was here a few minutes ago, he was digging though the cob salad,” said Mrs. Grackle. “They’re ready for you,” said John, nudging Mandrake’s foot. Mandrake looked up, feigning ignorance, then took a deep breath and made his way through the Elgar’s crowded great room now stacked with chairs for the neighborhood meeting.
        Mandrake made an effort to examine the floor as he went, and a greater effort to make such an activity seem important. As he reached the front of the room Mr. Elgar handed Mandrake the small PA mic. “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. If you get stuck start with this.” With that Jerry handed Mandrake a small piece of paper, folded over once. He took another look out at the small audience. The Elgar’s, Jerry and Linda had staked out a corner near the front and sitting around them were Marty and Sam from next door and Mrs. Grackle. As his gaze panned over the rest of the neighbors in attendance the support and good will quickly faded until his eyes met with Mr. Bacchus on the far side of the room. Mandrake cleared his throat and began.
        “Good evening ladies and ahh . . . gentlemen. Yes well.” Sweat began to form on Mandrake’s brow, collecting in his eyebrows and pooling on the top of his glasses. “I suppose I have a confession to make.”
        “Tell the joke,” came Jerry’s voice from somewhere in the back, quickly by a swift rebuke in hushed tones from Mrs. Elgar.
        Mandrake glanced down at the paper, now crumpled in his hand. He unfolded it and glanced over the hastily scribbled words. There was something about a nun and a boat full of ducks and Sigmund Freud. Mandrake quickly though better of it and put the paper in his coat pocket.
        Mr. Bacchus began rising from his seat. “If he’s not going then maybe we’ll just see what the police have to . . .” Before he could finished his threat Mandrake raised his hand and continued.
        “Well like I was saying, I have a confession to make to all of you. I never really know what to say in these situations, but then again I suppose no one does. I’m not sure that anyone has been in this particular situation to begin so I guess this is a first for everyone.” Mandrake began to laugh nervously and pick at the buttons on his coat. “Right, well, suppose the best thing is honesty all ‘round, right. So ahh, well I’ve gone and lost all of your souls. There, I said it.”

        The neighborhood meeting lasted well on into the evening, and it was well past midnight by the time Mandrake stumbled back to his front door. He fumbled though his pockets for the key, but found only the crumpled joke Mr. Elgar had slipped him. He held the paper up to the light, and spun in place so that the street lap on the corner cast its dim glow over the messy writing. Now that he finally read through the whole joke it was actually quite funny. Mandrake wondered for a moment if he had told it after all things might have gone better.
        He began thinking back over the series of events, his pronouncement, the derisive laughter from his neighbors, the insults shouted in muddled Greek from Mr. Bacchus, and finally the shower of deviled eggs from the neighborhood boys, that was the worst part. He considered each event and how it would logically have played out differently if he had told the joke. It was a weak argument at best and Mandrake knew it. This was probably why all the mad scientists in moves had secret layers in large castles and hollowed out volcanos, so they didn’t have to deal with all the neighborhood association.
        Mandrake’s head was swimming with the disappointment of the evening. On his way out the door Linda had tried to cheer him up while brushing bits of egg out of his hair and off of his coat. “Up until the egg thing I think it was going pretty well,” she had said, “Just give it a week or so. I’m sure Jerry and I can drum up a few more votes and you’ll get the permit to build your . . . well you know, your little project. Just try and focus on the positive.” Mandrake turned the evening’s events over and over in his mind, but they only seemed to pose further annoying questions. “Why do hors d’œuvre always have to be so easy to throw anyway?”

The Day the Lake Pirates Met the Ocean Pirates

Writing Prompt: The country is in dire need of another holiday that everyone can celebrate, and the government has given you the task of picking it. What event will you add to the holiday calendar and why?

        There is a lake in the kingdom with a river that leads down to the sea. The river is deep enough for some ships to travel up and down for trade, but most are too large except in the spring when the lake is very full and the river gets deeper. The strong current still prevents all but the swiftest ships from coming up the river into the lake.
        There is a group of pirates that sail their ships on the lake. They were started by Captain Rupert Mycroft, though he was not called captain then. Rupert inherited a candy business from his father, an immigrant from Great Britain who brought with him to the kingdom little more than his grandmother’s recipe book and the clothes on his back. Rupert’s father started a small candy shop and confectionary that became a stable landmark of the shopping district. As a child Rupert worked in the shop after school and most summers, saving his money in hopes of traveling the world someday. Rupert’s father was an overbearing man who thought his son a lazy dreamer and took every opportunity to tell him so.
        One day while rupert was tending the front of the shop there was a crash in the back kitchen. Rushing to the back he discovered his father, dead on the floor from a heart attack, and the large pot of candy in the pressure cooker engulfed in flames. Rupert tried to pull his father out of the burning building, but fallen shelves pinned him in place ad throwing Rupert against the back wall, dumping its contents in his lap including the recipe book. The pressure cooker exploded throwing flaming candy in all directions and nearly toppling the building. Rupert was knocked unconscious from the force of the explosion, and was dragged to safety by several people who had seen the flames from the streets. Rupert was clutching his book of recipes, but nothing else survived the explosion.
        Rupert himself was badly burned and lay in the hospital unconscious for nearly a month. Then one night he apparently awoke and snuck away. Some thought that maybe he had retrieved his stash of money on decided to go traveling, though his bank accounts were not depleted, nor the substantial insurance payments for his father and the shop. In his hospital room was found a corner piece of paper, apparently torn from the recipe for Almond la Mond on which someone had scrawled ‘***’. The note was found in a pile of glass, shards from a broken mirror, and some speculated that Rupert had been kidnapped or killed for his recipes by agents of a foreign candy company, though the constabulary were never able to prove anything.
        Nearly 20 years passed. The burned out remains of the candy shop were boarded up though a long dispute over its ownership until a petition was passed around by its loyal former patrons for the township to claim eminent domain and erect a small park, a welcome edition to the crowded shopping district.
        Then one spring at the peak of the thaw, a beautiful wooden sailing ship appeared in the bay, sailing in from the open sea in the middle of the night. The bay was usually bustling with small merchant ships of many types, but the wooden vessel was like something out of a story book, and quickly drew attention. Rather than docking the ship sailed to the middle of the bay and weighed anchor near a small outcropping of rocks usually avoided by the other ships lest they run aground. As the shipped parked for the day there was a buzz on the docks and many dock workers and curious onlookers ran to the bell tower, the top of St. Basil’s, and other high points to try and catch a glimpse of the ship’s crew. Though some claimed to catch sight of men milling about on the deck, no one could give any good description. The clue as to the ship’s origin was the name painted across stern. It read in large letters ‘Hiruko’.
        As night fell ad the fill moon rose in the sky a swift current rushed into the bay from the tide. Coupled with the high temperatures from the day before the level of the river rose some 10 feet, well above the flood stage, and enough to wash out several of the small slat bridges, leaving only the drawbridge with its road deck nearly engulfed by the water. Thankfully the bridge was closed to traffic, scheduled for demolition and replacement by a new bridge able to accommodate wider ships and more road traffic.
        Near midnight a large explosion was heard that rang across the hills above the bay. People looked out to see a brilliant flash from the side of the mysterious ship, some puffs of smoke, and the smoldering remains of the bridge. The Hiruko had fired 3 cannon balls and destroyed the bridge. As the town’s people watched the Hiruko raised her sails and picked up tremendous speed, heading strait for the estuary at the mouth of the river. Sailors at the dock cringed, expecting the ship to tear itself apart on the sand bars at the mouth of the river, but the tide and heavy melt lifted the boat just enough to clear them. It ran up the river at a fantastic speed leaving a large wave in its wake that washed over the flood walls on either bank. Then all but one of the Hiruko’s sails were suddenly released, and the ship quickly slowed in the strong current carrying melt water out into the bay. As they passed though the broken wreckage of the old bridge the ship gently nudged aside the large pilings and debris, passing though unscathed. Once passing the bridge the sails again rose and the ship gained speed again, quickly making it way up the hill, through the narrow valley, and into the open waters of the lake.
        Upon reaching the lake the ship did not slow down, but rather picked up speed as the strong winds blowing across the lake’s smooth surface carried it further out into the expanse of open water. Those living along the shore tracked its progress, but as the temperatures fell the wind died down and a thick fog engulfed the lake at the ships upon it. The Hiruko sailed out into the middle of the sound and vanished.
        The next day a search party was rounded up among the local fishermen, and several ships went out to search for the Hiruko. The propeller driven ships were fast, but the lake is very large, and after 2 days of searching the coastlines and open water they turned up neither hide nor hair. Some speculated that the ship may have sunk somewhere in the middle, run aground on one of the many rocky outcroppings in the dense fog. Others thought that maybe they had continued up one of the tributaries, but few of the sailors and fish crews believed it as most of the rivers were small and shallow, full of rapids and impassable falls even at flood stage. The fishing captains had to return to fishing, lest they miss the salmon coming up through the lakes to spawn, but agreed to keep an eye out for the ship. No evidence of the ship was found, but several vessels reported a strange, sweet odor whenever the fog on the lake got really thick.
        Two years later and the new bridge was on the verge of completion. The bridge was designed by a famous architect who had grown up in the kingdom before leaving to study, and the design was meant as a gift to the people of his homeland. The bridge had a solid and stately look of stone and ornate steal work that belied its high tech design which allowed the bridge to be partially raised for most smaller ships without blocking traffic. Only the largest ships would require the bridge to be closed, and even then the whole operation took only a few minutes.
        As the bridge’s completion approached, someone involved noticed that the date coincided with the destruction of the old bridge by the Hiruko, and even that had quickly become an essential part of local folklore. It was decided that to commemorate the event a large celebration would be held at the bridge on its first raising. Since the bridge’s destruction many local captains and adventurers had tried to make the same journey up the river to the lake above in larger and larger ships. However none but the very smallest could make the journey due to the strong currents and shallow depth of the river. It appeared that such a feat could only be achieved when the river was at its highest, and even then it would take a skilled captain to make the journey without crashing their ship to bits on the rocks. Hearing of the celebration, several local captains approached the organizers and proposed to reenact the Hiruko’s trip, and soon a race was added to the festivities. The celebration would begin the that evening when a fantastic pyrotechnic show would fire rockets from the bay to the bridge. The bridge would then raise for the first time, signaling a handful of antique ships in the harbor to begin their race to the top.
        The festivities were a great success, and although none of the ships managed to make it all the way up the valley and to the lake above, each vowed to try again next year. And so each year there after the race was run again.
        For 6 years no ship could make the goal. The seventh year’s festivities were almost called off. A great spring storm blew in from the open ocean drenching the kingdom and making the fireworks show impossible. Most contestants bowed out, but a few ships decided to go ahead despite the rain and poor visibility. Most of the ships were quickly swept back out to the bay by strong currents and unfavorable winds, but one ship continued on. Just as they came around the last bend of the river before the late above the storm intensified, and the ship’s mast was struck by a bolt of lightening, breaking it in two and tearing the sails to threads. A final gust of wind and the tremendous momentum of the ship carried it to the lake where it became hung up on a rocky sandbar piled up by the runoff.
        The ship lay in the path of the storm and its captain considered what to do. The ship could not be sailed, but leaving in the life rafts was treacherous in these high swells. As he contemplated the men’s fate, one of the crew spotted a light coming towards them in the rain. As it drew near the men could see the ship’s name painted across her bow. It was the Hiruko.
        The Hiruko came up along side the crippled vessel with gang planks and crewmen dressed as pirates helped the captain and his crew aboard. The men were taken below and given blankest warm blankets and tea, and served warm candies.
        Back on shore the people feared the worst. Several captains volunteered to go out into the storm and look for survivors of a wreck but officials decided it was too dangerous to go out into the storm. Soon the storm let up and crews prepared to go out when a small fleet of dingies came paddling into wharf at the edge of the lake. Inside were the men of the wrecked ship, safe and sound, each clutching a large barrel filled with candies with the words ‘congraduations’ written on the side. Ships soon went out to recover the remains of the racer’s vessel, but there was no sign of the Hiruko.