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tap-tap-taptap-tappity-tap *ding*

Dec. 31st, 2020 | 12:47 pm

(LJ Idol folks: feel free to skip this and scroll down.)

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

I know that was the famous opening line by Bulwer-Lytton, but years ago, when I got my first typewriter, I remembered that as what Snoopy wrote. My parents got me the new electric because I had just started high school typing class, and from then on through college (and beyond!) I'd need to type things.

So I was taking this new machine out for a spin. I thought of the line, and how to restate it so that it was still a dark and stormy night without being so cliche -- or at least without plagarizing the beagle. So I started writing, and before I knew it, I had written a short story. It was liberating that here at last was a means of writing at the same speed as I was thinking up the words. On a whim, I showed the story to my English teacher, and she loved it! Just a simple one-pager with a twist ending, but it was probably pretty good for a 10th-grader.

I haven't written like that in a while, here's my place to do it.

And this is the post where you can

comment to be added

to the friends list for this journal.

I'm keeping most of my writings friends-only for the sake of limiting my audience prior to publication (yes, I'm hoping this will lead to that) and limiting drama (if any) over anything I write. And if this is on your friends list, you'll know when I've written something. It may be a while between posts, but I do plan on writing stuff here.

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Sharpening the sword, so to speak

Feb. 22nd, 2017 | 09:57 am

I haven't done this in a while, and need to get into storytelling mode again. True, I am busy, but the best way to make time for things is to have the things to make time for.

Bottom line: I'm joining LJ Idol (again) for Season Ten. I had too much going on at its beginning, but can jump in at Second Chance.

Let's see what happens =) 

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Mar. 25th, 2015 | 08:09 pm

In the mists of a sacred space between worlds, they waited.

Coyote had no heart for tricks, Puma no desire to hunt. Those feelings would come back in time, but this moment was for contemplation and reflection. This was a time and place of peace -- at least it was, before Mockingbird appeared.

And the bird would simply

"Oh, and the sillypeople, you know what they did. They all looked at electric pictures. The spent all day with the electric pictures. And some said, this dress, it's black and blue! And some said, no, it is gold and white! Are you blind? It's black? What's wrong with your eyes? It's gold! And they talked and fought and debated and counseled on their ether meeting places. And they never could agree. And in the end? You know that happened in the end?"

Coyote closed her eyes, as though silencing one sense could block another. The Bird continued.

"All that fuss, and none of them wore the dress! Not a one! None of them even had one to wear. All this trouble over a garment they never really held - in any color. The color was ether lightning, washed away, like water in their little windows. They all still wore their own clothes, like they always had. Such silly, silly sillypeople."

Puma growled, "What use is this nonsense?"

"No use," the bird chirped gaily. "And oh so used."

"Why speak of it, then?" the big cat's eyes sized Mockingbird up like prey. But the bird-spirit knew Puma would not attack.

"It's where she lived," Mockingbird's glib reply.

"Liar," Puma roared. "She was of the land, the mountains, the woods, the places where the magick of the first people is strong..."

"And on ether electric waves of the new magicks," the bird said, unperturbed.

Puma fumed inwardly, caught in his error. Of course, she on whom they waited was a spirit of the old world and the new, and had embraced them both.

"Still, noisy thing, you have no need to be here," the cat-spirit declared, "and no..."

"No right?" Mockingbird interrupted. "Careful, brave and mighty sister Puma Cougar Mountain Lion, lest you add 'liar' to those names. I have every right!"

Puma stood stunned. Coyote looked up, head cocked as if to say, "Explain, brother Mockingbird."

"You are mighty and revered, Coyote Trickster," the bird said. "Your stunts are legendary; your lessons endure. And you are respected and feared, mighty Puma. Your place in the hunt is unquestioned. And what am I? I speak wren, sparrow, swallow, cardinal, jay, finch, dove, screen door, Siamese cat, dial-up modem and more. What use is this? Think, my friends. The voice is the deepest salve and savagest weapon. But that is not why I'm here.

"How will the people know, friend Trickster, of your tricks without such as me. How will tales of the wild, friend Hunter, be spread without voices in the dark. I am of the oldest, most powerful magick; I am a storyteller. Herbs and bones and stones made the first people strong, but the stories told them how and why. The new Downriver People made me their totem. New tales of the sillypeople include me -- oh, the Jay is not pleased, but he never is -- to spread the magick of freedom. I am a storyteller.

"And SHE was a storyteller! Look at her works and marvel. She spoke with the sillypeople on their own devices. She told stories of truth and family and tears and laughs. She honored you and you, with her words. So I am here for her, and for her I sing the tale."

Puma appeared more relaxed, but still fixed her gaze on the bird. "But your role is not to make the story, just to repeat the story."

"True," Mockingbird replied. "And I will stay until I am sure her story is done."

Coyote smiled.

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Free Topic: Entries inspired by walkertxkitty, aka Fran, who recently passed away (at least for now; her faith leaves open the option for return). I've always counted her among my electric friends here and enjoyed her stories of the adventures she and her extended family shared. I think it's appropriate that her long tenure on therealljidol ended with a humorous story.

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Fixon: Lost in space

Oct. 2nd, 2014 | 06:53 pm

I am a storyteller.

Maybe a bit of a poet, with a touch of artist. But mainly I tell stories. I work at a newspaper, helping to tell true ones, but there are also various characters and narratives that constantly swirl around my head.

You've met a few, if you've been reading the 60-plus stories and scenes I've presented here. (Didn't realize until I counted this week it was that many -- wow.) And you can tell that some I like, because I've revisited them.

My gateway drug to reading for pleasure was Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," so naturally I like to spin some sci-fi. But it was a more obscure story that inspired what has turned into at least three stories here.

In a webcomic called "Galaxion" that I read years ago, one of the main plot points was that an interstellar ship, in the course of making a faster-than-light "jump" (bending space in some way to cheat the law of relativity) some error, possibly as simple as when you transpose a couple of letters in "teh," landed the ship in a strange part of the galaxy -- totally lost.

Circumstances didn't allow me to stick with the comic, so I don't know how that came out. But the idea did stick with me, crossed with memories of Heinlein's short novel, "Starman Jones," that an error in astrogation (a word I got from Mr. H) could do worse than put one through a sun (as Han Solo warned in the original "Star Wars") but that not crossing your t's or dotting your i's could land you on the flip side of Andromeda.

Regular readers know what I'm getting at. This was the plot engine that fired up my Ojutof stories. The odd word comes from OJTF, "One Jump Too Far."

Landing my characters on an alien world, far from anything known, gave my writer-brain a chance to do some world-building. And even though it started out as a one-shot story, having this much potential in my hands was too good to pass up, thus the follow-up stories.

I admit I was a little lazy in populating this new arboreal planet. Variations on the winged monkey are easy to come up with. As for the intelligent eledonks, the concept likely came from my subconscious from political cartoons that combine the elephant of the Republicans and the donkey of the Democrats (when one wants to point out no difference between the parties). I more consciously incorporated the Mulefa race from Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy (though my version has a normal spine and no wheels) -- for me, one of the most interesting things about the books.

Now, I've got ideas and plans for totally different stories to tell and the worlds they're told in. But, I've also got this planet started, and feel like I should really do something with it.

I wonder: What's on the other side of that world?

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 23, Topic: "The Fiction of the Fix." Of course, here all the fiction is "fixon," but is it fixed, or in need of fixin', or am I fixin' to say the fix is in? Fiddlestix. Anyway, I hope you like this little look behind the curtain.

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Sep. 25th, 2014 | 12:59 am

You look confused, that's good.

If you're keeping everyone on their toes, off their rockers, out through the in door, you can stay ahead. Stay ahead, and you don't lose. That's important.

Have you seen Bob? Of course not; no one sees Bob. But I'm pretty sure I'm to get something from him here. I delivered the forty-two this morning. It was tricky, so very tricky. But it has to be. Can't be just anyone who gets this.

Oh. Here, have some of my sandwich. All you had to do was ask.

You'd know Bob if you heard him. Not that French guy, the real Robert Mutt. Maybe you're related? Anyway, he came to me in a park like this one. Or maybe it was a dream. Or a dream about a park. Yes, it was the library. Baltimore, yes.

He talked to me, told me the secret. Told me about the game.

Now, I know if you play it on the internet, you can't acknowledge you're playing it, or you automatically lose. But that's cheating. The trick is to play it off-line. In the real analog eat log world!

You see, it all started 100 years ago, when the true artists rejected art to experience what true art is. Bob Mutt was one of them. He kept trying to show people art that was not art, and make them understand, hate him. At first they refused him. But then it all went wrong. Everything he made or found or put together or pulled apart -- it all got declared ART. It's like he was King Midas. Everything he touched turned to exhibitions at the MOMA. Finally, he picked up some dog-crap he found -- no offense -- and plopped it down right in the middle of the room during a white tie exhibition. "There!" he shouted.

Get this: Everyone applauded! Warhol just stood there with tears in his eyes. Some Rockefeller guy gave Bob a check for ten grand.

So that's when he left. Left it all behind. Some say he died. Some say he never even lived, and was just someone else's alias. But what he did was retreat to a secret place where he could come up with the game. He worked it all out. And now only a lucky few, those with the right kinds of mind, can play. Yes, that does include me.

You should have seen me before I played. I had silenced all the voices in my head, including my own. It was so quiet. Too darn quiet. So, one day, I threw the pills away and I went to the library. That's when I first heard him, and I learned. That's when I knew my destiny. I was going to be the first, the very first, to play the whole game through. And win.

It wasn't easy at first. My folks didn't understand. I had to leave my job, had to, this is so much more important. Took me weeks to get them away from me. But I had seen the first clues. They were so clear. Leading me. I solved that big puzzle in Florida. Then I decoded that grafitti poem in Atlanta. Each test got harder. Even with the Principia Discordia and my footnotes. Washington D.C. was awful: so many cyphers, every monument, every statue. So much noise! But I found the answer; there it was, hidden under that dumpster in Chevy Chase. That was the key! I understood. I had to get outside to see in.

I've seen so many other people try this, try the game, and fail. They get arrested. They give up. Or the bridge...

Anyway, after Boston, I heard him whisper again. Yeah, him, Bob. I had to come here, to New York. Get among the truth detectives, learn their ways. And I figured out what they were doing wrong. All wrong. They're looking in the wrong place! It doesn't matter what happened -- wait, let me whisper this -- it does not matter what happened that day, what was in the towers or why they fell. They are dust now, that's over. What's important is, what is inside the new one. Ah, you see now? Almost got thrown out a couple of times, but I worked it out. I worked it out! And I counted out the right spot here in Central Park to drop off the results.

So, that's it. Waited here all day. Glad you came by to keep me company. Oh, here's your ball. That man coming over here, oh, he's for you. Run to him. Good boy, good dog!

OK, sir, wherever you are, I know you heard some of that. Didn't tell a person, so I didn't cheat. But it would be so nice if you could just let me know...

Mmm, that's no ordinary squirrel there. His tail. They communicate with their tails. It's flicking in code. Dot dash dash dash dash, dot dash dash dash dash, dash dash dash dash dot. Dot dash dash dash dash, dot dash dash dash dash, dash dash dash dash dot! Yes! One-one-nine! The three most important numbers in this city, reversed! Something so clever, it must be from you!

Oh, don't run away! What are you trying to tell me? Maybe something in the trash... what's this? This sports page, scribbled on with ink pen. There's a game circled. Arkansas at Texas A&M. Think -- what does it mean?

It wouldn't just say the place right out, that would be too easy. Could fall into the wrong hands. But I know, I know, that Arkansas' team color is not just red, it's Cardinal; they were Cardinals before they were Razorbacks. Cardinal, could mean anything, state bird, too many states. But this is the sports page. And the other team, A&M, A, M. So it must be, it is -- St. Louis! That's where Mr. Noory broadcasts from. So I've got to get to Missouri, and get my instructions coded on "Coast to Coast AM."

I knew it! Thank you so much, I knew it! I've swept the east coast leg of the game -- undefeated -- and can move on to the Midwest.

Can't wait to see what I'll find next.

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 22, Topic: "sweep the leg." You gonna eat that?

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Harvest Moon

Sep. 16th, 2014 | 07:51 pm

This here was going to be the story of why there would be no Harvest Dance this year at Oubliette High.

For many years, St. Jude's Parish schools had not had a dance at all. Word was, there was even a rule against it. Then one day, Miss Melissa -- a young lady who had been teaching at the high school for a few years -- asks why. And no one could rightly say, or maybe they didn't want to.

Miss Melissa was not from around here, but being from Arkansas, still a Southern girl. She went to school at LSU, so she kinda felt at home here. She understood religious reasons, and juvenile delinquent reasons, to not allow dancin'. But when she poked around about the question, they didn't seem to apply.

So, last year, for the first time in a generation, we had us a school dance.

There was even somethin' in the paper about it, headline was like, "Footloose on the Bayou," referencin' that movie about a town not allowing dancin,' until one boy changes their minds. Well, folks didn't need convincin' around here; some adults said they might want to come cut a rug themselves. So, there was no shortage of chaperone volunteers. And you know the kids were all excited about it comin' up.

Still, there were a few who didn't seem comfortable about it. Old Mama Amgine always wore a more sour look than usual when the topic came up. Word is, there was one big row when she tried to tell little Poco she couldn't go. Well, even the great Madame Amgine couldn't sway the mind of a teenage girl, and she must have seen it in her cards or chicken bones, because she finally relented -- provided Poco did some things exactly as she told.

Terry Wayne Lacroix, who would do anything Miss Melissa asked, arranged for some deejay to come up from New Orleans to provide the music. When the stranger arrived, something about that man looked... it's hard to say. I don't remember him saying one word. He was thin and tall with ebony skin that seemed to absorb light, his black hair flashed with something woven in the in his braids. His equipment was impressive, but very used, with a pair of turntables you'd be surprised still worked. When he set it up, though, every light came on, every piece functioned.

The kids came in that night dressed to the nines -- even Poco in a fancy dress, on the arm of that foreign exchange boy from Australia she'd taken a shine to. The football boys, the shy girls, the smart kids, the ones with hair in every color nowadays -- everyone came. And Miss Melissa looked so proud at how it all turned out.

The man at his table put on some music like the big radio stations play. Not much soul, but it had a beat, and some shoes started shufflin' around the gym. Then the dark man did that blend-and-switch thing with the sound, and it got that serious machine beat today's kids like. The wild-hairs jumped into the middle of the floor with somethin' between a jitterbug and a medical fit, and the other kids started joinin' them, moving like something had to be shook out of their pants right then -- I guess you could call it dancin'.

After a while, the deejay man looked over the crowd, smiling like when someone knows something you ain't figured out yet. Then he picked up a record, and blew on it. A lot of dust flew off the surface, into the crowd of dancin' kids. He smoothly put the record in place, and a second later switched the tune.

Afterward, no two people would agree what that music was. Most said it had jazz, with brass and banjo and drums. And there were other sounds -- things you wished you could remember, things your mind won't let you.

The grown-ups in attendance, most of them got caught up in it all, left the place and did things they didn't want to talk about after. Some kids did, too, but most just danced in patterns, caught in rhythms like they had practiced them all their lives. And there in the middle was Poco, swaying in a trance. She seemed to almost rise off the floor as she stepped slowly toward the dark man.

Not all the boys and girls took it all so serenely. A couple of football boys just stood there, taking turns punching each other bloody. A few girls cried and clawed at themselves. Then the foreign boy let out a howl like nothin' anyone had ever heard. Then he shot around the room like a pinball, and knocked Poco down before he ran screamin' out of the gym.

That knocked some sense into the girl. She jumped up, pulled a pouch from inside her dress, and screamed, "MAMA!" She then opened her pouch and started flingin' the salts within it all around her. Sparks flew up as they struck the ground, and the kids all stopped moving.

The next thing, Madame Amgine quick-marched down the middle of the gym, shouting in words unknown to the dark man, who stood his ground, eyes glowing and flashing. Before the old voodoo woman could get close enough to really teach the stranger a lesson, everything on the deejay table suddenly caught fire. As the kids gained their senses, they either helped put out the flames, or got the hell out. The stranger disappeared.

It took some time before things got back to what answers to normal around Oubliette. Something changed in Miss Melissa, and we somehow weren't surprised that she later went missin.' Terry Wayne became even more nervous and secretive than usual. Poco seemed OK after, but that Choctaw fire in her dark eyes showed a hurt she wasn't about to let go of.

Another thing: When the sheriff looked through the van the deejay left behind in the school parking lot, he found a driver's license with the name of the man Terry Wayne said he's hired. The face on the license was white.

Now, this was going to be the story of how there would be no dance this year. But that's now how things will turn out. Naturally, Principal Stout had declared that the school would have no dance, but his grandma in Florida took ill all of a sudden, and he's not here to say no.

And none of us say no to Mama Amgine. The full moon is comin,' and Poco's been in the kitchen all week, and we've been real careful about who calls the tune this time. When the music calls, you obey; and as Mama once said, once you start a dance, you don't just end it -- you've got to see it through.

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 21, Topic: "the music made me do it" and a return to the (fictional) town of Oubliette, St. Jude's Parish, Louisiana.

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The blessing

Sep. 9th, 2014 | 06:30 pm

NOTE: This is in intersection with tsuki_no_bara. I think it works a little better if you read her entry first.

With shaking hands, and a little prayer, Aytak Ransdottr made fast the final knots.

Carefully, she spread out the net, hooking one end on the claw of a nearby lobster, which stared at her as if to ask what to do with it. "Stay," she whispered. And it did. She drifted with the other end on a slow current, inspecting her work as the netting spread. This had to be perfect, she worried.

Not every merwoman took up the craft, but Aytak took to the weaving like a gull to flying. As a fry, she hadn't cared about centuries-old traditions, but that had changed the day one of the Dry People entered her world -- with her face.

It wasn't truly her face, of course, but one identical. Like when two herring have the same set of the eyes so one can hardly tell them apart. Without thinking, she had called out to the poor creature. That was a mistake. Though it was only tones her own folk or whales could hear, the song nevertheless did something to the Dry one's mind. This person from beyond the sea surface would eventually come back. They all did.

If this person was to have any hope beyond being claimed by the waves and consumed by their inhabitants, it lie in the Order, and a craft as old as the World, taught only by the Nine Daughters.

Once accepted into a Circle led by a descendent of the Nine, she undertook years of careful study. The nets of Ran were carefully woven and beautiful, yet durable and strong. It was a balance of aesthetic and function all but lost among the Dry People, judging by the artifacts she had seen drift down.

The nets held magick, but not just in the woven runes among the knotwork. There were bits of the weaver, in blood and skin, acquired through the labor. And there was the infusion of dreams from the weaver as she worked. For nets that caught men, there was the lusty wish for fertile mates, or the desire to see a distressed sailor home, perhaps to the shores of Folkvangr or even Valhalla.

For this one, she dreamed of a "sister" she barely knew, but who had dreams of her, too.

Feeling fairly satisfied with her work, Aytak carefully gathered the net and carried it to the deep grotto where Himinglaeva waited. Without a blessing from one of the Nine, it was little more than a bundle of carefully woven kelp.

"At last," the mergoddess smiled. "This was your only work in the years since you took on the craft and name of Ransdottr. Does it please you?"

Aytak almost flipped back over her tail in surprise. "I was to ask that of you," she said humbly.

"I'm not casting that net, child. It's from your hands, for your hands. I ask because it must feel natural to you." She extended a hand. "Let me see."

The net flowed from Aytak's outstretched hands to those of this ancient mistress of the sea, who was also gifted with sight of things above the waves.

Wise fingers examined the fiber and weave. "This is fine work," Himinglaeva said softly, her eyes reading the net like an epic poem. "You have learned well the balance of simplicity and beauty, the art of function and function of art. I am impressed."

The goddess's hands stopped and she turned her gaze to Aytak. "There is no pouch, no place for gold from your sailor."

"It is not for a sailor," the mermaid replied, struggling not to sound defiant. "It is for... a sister." It was the first time she had said the word aloud.

Himinglaeva let go of the net, and it swirled between them, forming into a shape. At first, a brackish statue of a surface girl, then flowing into the image of a mature female of the Dry People -- but with Aytak's face.

The goddess gestured, and the net flowed back to Aytak's hands. It felt almost electric.

"Go to her," the true daughter of Ran commanded, "sing to her. She is at a turning point of her life, I have seen it."

Aytak Ransdottr did not hesitate, flying through the brackish waters to her rendezvous.

Himinglaeva smiled as he watched her young charge disappear from sight, yet never out of her powers to see. She knew the mermaid's net would come back empty. And in that knowing, she sensed that the net would see much practical use in the coming battles surface rulers would play out on her foam-frosted roof.

There would be plenty of time for her maturing weaver to make another net, a different net with a different song, to finally welcome her sister home.

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 20, Topic: "Shibusa" (definition), inspired by this goddess. Big thanks to intersection partner tsuki_no_bara for giving me the idea.

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When these quicker elements are gone

Aug. 26th, 2014 | 12:33 am

Lee was minutes from being rescued, yet he had never felt worse.

If only he had gotten a chance to show Shari what he had found. If only Gregg hadn't gotten so eager when he saw the tablet. If only Lee had for once stood up to him, been the hero... But once again, it wasn't to be.

Lee had only wanted the kind of adventure he could find in the vids or his reader app, but when he found out Shari had volunteered for Earthquest, he had to go, too. Especially since Gregg was the first to sign up.

To the parentals, it was all just a field trip to earn more Explorer badges. Gregg -- already an Eagle, he was just padding his uploads -- was named a group leader on their shuttles down to Terra. The areas were deemed to be safe by Central Command; the young Scouts were just to catalog and sample some soil and plants, measure background rads and toxins, and snap still-shots of any animals (but don't approach! he heard a million times). Camping would only happen if CentComm approved, which never did, so it would be back up to Orbital Sigma in time for evening chow.

Lee had read up on the mutations and holdover species from before the Exodus, and hoped to impress Shari with his knowledge. He knew that Gregg barely passed his bio exams, and was far more proficient at chopping down a tree than naming it. The smile she gave him on the shuttle, reminding him of their conversation the evening before (was there subtext in their idle chat about this excursion? There must have been), gave him hope.

But before Lee could work out a way to get next to Shari without getting too hovery, Gregg called her over to show that he had scored an All-Trac from some CentComm Marine who was friends with his dad. He announced that he had spotted a stand of trees with gold leaves near the edge of the zone and he would go to examine and bring samples back. He added that there was only room for one passenger in the all-terrain. But before Lee could talk himself out of it, he impulsively moved over the gear in the back seat and said, "room for a third."

He was sure Gregg was going to make him get out, but noticed Julio looking sternly at them. Bad enough the co-leader was going to be left to guide the rest of the group himself, Gregg must have thought, best not make it too obvious that this is a thinly-veiled attempt at fraternization. So moments later, the three Scouts were bouncing through ruins of some long-forgotten Terran town.

One would think, as expertly as Gregg earned his numerous badges, he wouldn't have gotten lost so easily.

At first, of course, he didn't admit to it. Lee and Shari were none the wiser as they looked over plants they had never seen other than on digital playback. Gregg would proudly say the order of this or that specimen. Lee quietly added the species name, and Shari smiled. Sometimes she remembered it first, with a sly look to Lee for confirmation. Maybe this wasn't so bad after...

A jumping insect appeared, startling Lee and Shari, who let out a brief scream. The creature was only a few centimeters long, but the Scouts were not expecting to be this close to animal life of any kind. It sat a meter in front of them, likely harmless, though it's orange hue might have meant its surface was toxic. With an exaggerated manner, Gregg put one arm around Shari and with a long tool in his other hand, swatted at the bug. It jumped away blindly -- an unfortunate move for the insect, as the flower it landed on swiftly closed and enveloped it.

"OK, I don't need to see THAT mutation again," Shari said, worry in her tone, but regaining her composure as she peeled herself off of Gregg. "Let's head back."

Returning to the All-Trac, it greeted them with a shower of sparks. Some sort of millipede had decided to try eating the battery pod connections. Lee grabbed what gear he could while Gregg moaned, "No, no, no!"

Before the dashscreen winked out, Lee noticed the location indicator had them way off-zone. This was not good. To make matters worse, feedback and some other crawling things had gotten to the hand-comms on the charging dock, and the common Pad they had been using -- which showed its age on a good day -- was low on juice. Gregg clung to it anyway, as if he could will it to beam out to the Orbital.

Shari noted that a nearby building looked intact, and said it might be a good idea to regroup there before more local fauna introduced itself.

The building had a relatively sealed area -- once a residence, perhaps -- and with some effort Gregg managed to get the door open. Shari shined a beacon in, and to their relief nothing seemed to have burrowed in to make itself at home there.

A couple of well-placed skylights helped make up for the fact that powered light had gone out decades ago. The Scouts split up to search the cluster of rooms.

Lee found himself in some sort of office area, surrounded by dead antique screens and various electronics rendered inert by EMPs, internal degradation and time. Still, if anything worked, it would be vital for reviving their comms and sending for help. The items he could lay his hands on were hardly worth wiping the dust off of. Was there shielding in the desk or cabinets? He pulled open drawers and small doors, each requiring more effort. He saw early two-way phones, game units, a few tablets.

Then one turned on.

It was primitive, with a two-tone screen. It seemed to be only for reading. Text appeared in some form of English:
"The little Love-god lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed."

If he could just memorize part of this, Lee thought, imagine how impressed Shari would be!

"And so the General of hot desire
Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy,
For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall,
Came there for cure and this by that I prove,
Love's fire heats water, water cools not love."

"Love's fire:" Is that what he felt when he was near her? He tapped on the tablet's old-fashioned buttons. He found another verse, and another, then another:
"The other two, slight air and purging fire,
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present-absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee..."

"Whoah, what's that?" Gregg grabbed the tablet from Lee's hands. "This could work! With the stuff in this old thing, I can get on FireNet. I can fix this!"

Lee tried to speak, but his throat closed. A sad sound escaped him as Gregg broke open the tablet, snapping it like a twig on the edge of a table to get at the circuits and battery. It would work, of course, Gregg had passed his comms badge without much cheating. His clumsy efforts would splice up and he would spark Fire within an hour.

But as he silently watched Gregg work, with coaching from Shari -- whose admiring look indicated she thought he had found the functioning tablet -- Lee knew that he could have fixed things as well. And he wouldn't have had to break anything. The tools in the top drawer would have worked fine. The words he found would still be there. Words he feared he would never share.

"Too bad you had to break that classic Amazon," Lee finally choked out.

"Nah," Gregg smiled. "Museum piece. Nothing but old writing on it anyway."

As they waited for the Marine shuttle that would take them back to the Orbital, Lee struggled to remember that old writing:
"That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire..."

"What's that you're saying?" Shari asked. Lee hadn't realized he was softly reciting the words aloud.

"Oh, something I read," he said, managing a smile.

She placed her hand on his, and a line from the end of the sonnet jumped to the fore of his brain:
"This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong"

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 19, Topic: "Kindling." (I took my third and final "bye" for Week 18 due to GenCon) For this story, I employed Shakespeare's sonnets Nos. 154, 45 and 73.

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Nothing to fear

Aug. 12th, 2014 | 05:30 pm

Thomas had looked forward to his first Halloween in Edgarton.

He remembered going on one of the community "ghost tours." Renowned as the "most haunted town in the state," Edgarton was home to a mysterious noise or apparition in nearly every building. This notoriety appealed to Thomas, but when he finally moved into a neighborhood near the heart of town, he actually hoped he could absorb the atmosphere and the historic sense of place without being too bothered by bumps in the night.

But then, other residents took their more ethereal housemates in stride -- even at the past home of a murderous Klan leader, or where a serial killer did away with a child, or even where a woman could be heard in the wee hours, weeping.

To his surprise, Thomas found his house quite peaceful. No unexplained sounds. No lights going on or off on their own. Nothing appearing just out of the corner of the eye. As weeks turned to months without some dark anniversary bringing a spirit visitor, he reasoned that if -- and it was always an "if," as ghosts are allegedly mythical -- there was a haunt in his home, he/she/it was keeping to itself.

Then came October. There would be the famous Edgarton Halloween festival and costume parade, and smaller celebrations throughout the town at people's homes. Thomas found himself invited to such a festival-week gathering next door to his house. He hadn't given much thought to his next-door neighbors up to that point, and looked over at their sturdy two-story Tudor. All the windows facing his house had their shades drawn. A quick twinge of "don't they trust me?" came over him before he realized that being on the sundown side of the building, the house would be cooler with less glaring sun in the rooms that way.

The family within, the Russells, were very welcoming, apologizing to Thomas for not being more neighborly. He smiled and said, "no problem," noting to himself that he hadn't been the perfect guy-next-door either, preoccupied most days with his job in the city. When the downstairs lavatory was occupied, Mrs. Russell didn't hesitate to send him upstairs with directions to the bathroom there.

On his way back from the master bath, he noticed through an open door one of the windows that faced his house. Thomas felt an urge to see what his home looked like from this angle, and stepped into the bedroom.

A feeling of cold struck him. An odd place to have the air conditioner running, he thought. As he stood by the window, his eyes were drawn to his right, to a gossamer woman standing by the bed in a dress of a bygone era, a pained expression on her face.

Thomas oddly felt more puzzled than afraid. He remembered the reason he was in the room and reached out to open the window shade. A stinging cold shock went up his arm. The woman was next to him, her hollow eyes pleading; the sensation had come from her hand passing through his. He then knew simultaneously that she could not stop him opening the window, yet she really, really didn't want him to.

The next moment he found himself standing in the hall, startled to alertness by the bedroom door softly clicking closed behind him.

The encounter stayed on his mind through the evening and into the next day, when he walked around his home, looking at his neighbors' houses. Every window that faced his had the shades drawn.

Thomas managed an invitation to another neighborhood party the night of the festival. He walked to the Beck family home at sundown, passing many old houses, often noticing a strange shadow or shape. He could swear every one seemed to turn away from him. Tricks of the light? His overactive imagination?

The Becks were appropriately warm and inviting, as Thomas was introduced again to a dozen people whose names he would likely forget. But the atmosphere was light and festive, with conversation interesting but not too challenging. Then one man -- Charlie? Andrew? He'd already forgotten -- brought up the lively spirit that made Halloween interesting in his home. Thomas stayed close to the conversation, as others related anecdotes about their household ghosts. Eventually, he spoke up, confessing to be a newcomer, and inquiring what they had heard about his address.

"Where do you live?" the first man, asked. Thomas reminded him. "You're at 5050 Riley Street?" No, 5150 -- was this man hard of hearing? "I can't seem to recall." What about you, Andy? You've lived here forever. The gray-haired gentleman to his left puzzled for a moment, then his eyes went up in disbelief. "I forgot there was a house there, to be honest. Not sure..." Then to Thomas: "I'm certain there is some poor departed soul there, Tim. After all, we all seem to have them."

Thomas decided not to correct the old man as they laughed. He quietly extracted himself from the conversation as the others continued without him.

He considered leaving the party, then noticed the Becks' son -- Stephen? -- sitting on the stairway to the second floor. He was calmly ignoring the houseful of grownups, engrossed in a game on his electronic tablet. The boy suddenly looked up at Thomas.

"Yesterday, upon the stair," he said flatly, "I saw a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. Oh how I wish he'd go away."

"What do you mean by that?" Thomas asked. The boy started as though just awakened, "By what?" Stephen asked as he turned his attention back to his game.

Thomas was about to answer when he noticed the spectral boy sitting a few steps up the stairway. The ghost raised its hand, pointing to Thomas accusingly as it stood and vanished while running up the stairs.

Thomas walked home, rolling the old poem over in his head. It was about a ghost, sure, but he had also heard it was a riddle, with the answer, "a shadow" -- a thing that wasn't real but was not a ghost either. At this later hour, the apparitions turning and fleeing from him at every house on his way were more clear, and left him with a cold dread that did not go away when he reached his own quiet home.

He tried to sleep, but could not. His ears strained for sounds, eyes wide open for any flicker of odd light. But none came. Nothing happened.

In the coming days, Thomas spent hours poring over town records and old newspapers. Practically no items about his home address, or the house there. No social article from the days when every address was published mentioned his house. No crimes were committed there, either. The records of permits for building and updating the house were missing -- some past fire or flood, he was assured; it happened to a lot of old homes in the area.

He called in to work "sick" day after day. He eventually looked the part, as his search -- For what? He wasn't sure. -- continued.

Finally, he did the one thing you don't do in Edgarton.

His hands trembled a little as he took the box out of the Toys'R'Us bag. Peeling the plastic film and opening the box, he remembered the amused warning Charlie had given -- putting one of these things out was an open party line. Anything could respond to it, and sometimes did with wild consequences. But at this point, Thomas was eager to hear from anyone -- any thing...

The planchette had not moved all day.

Thomas sat on his couch, not daring to take his eyes off the board centered on the coffee table as he had left it the day before. Without thinking, he had placed the Ouija with the sliding planchette piece pointed toward the word "No," where it still sat. He had snapped a picture of its position on his phone. It had not moved all night, either.

He listened to the silence on his digital recorder -- nothing. On an old cassette recorder, the tape hissed evenly. The magnet letters on his refrigerator had not moved all week. He sat at the kitchen table, eyes closed, pen in his hand barely touching the pad of paper. He woke from dreamless sleep to find only a dot where the writing instrument had fallen from his grip.

He lay in bed, dread and panic creeping up his soul. The silence crept up, decibel by decibel in his ears, until all he wanted to do was scream -- but knew he couldn't. Somehow he could not bear to be the one to break it. No shadows moved around him, no sense of anything with him. He felt -- nothing.

As the first streams of daylight tickled his windows, he knew: He had to move out of there.

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 17, Topic: "Scare quotes," so I chose FDR's "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself" and tried to make it as scary as possible. The story is fiction, but the town is based on an actual neighborhood -- I did not invent the ghosts in the third paragraph.

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Her terrible beauty

Aug. 3rd, 2014 | 07:14 pm

I still wonder how long it will last.

In nearly half a century of living, I've seen public causes come and go. Remembering a less-than-perfect childhood, I particularly notice when adults act like they care about stopping bullying. It makes compelling TV news during sweeps, and it makes grown-ups feel better about themselves, like they've "done something," especially after some loser allegedly snaps and shoots other people. (When people who matter die, you see, it's a problem.) If the kid implodes instead, his suicide gets some local news coverage, with appropriate hand-wringing and pledges to start some program as soon as there's funding, someday.

But something strange happened in the second decade of this new millennium -- people seem to actually care.

I'm reminded by my inner child to not be gullible as I was in more vulnerable days -- still, school and community news reports bear this out. So, why is this cause sticking?

The present wave of anti-bully sentiment goes back to around 2010 with deaths of kids which -- with the Internet multiplying the speed of bad news -- went viral nationwide (maybe even beyond the U.S.). And as near as I can tell, the first report -- the apparent catalyst -- was of a girl named Phoebe Prince.

A teen who had moved to Massachusetts from Ireland, she got caught up in some high school drama which led to schoolmates harassing her at school and tormenting her online. Finally, she hung herself in January 2010. The ending of her life then became the beginning of a crapstorm including charges brought against classmates, the school coming under fire and a shift in our culture still being felt today.

So why Phoebe? I suspect people looked at her picture in the news and sensed this just wasn't right. Smiling in the photo, she looks too pretty to be troubled. You imagine the lilt of her accent. You wish you could bring her home and have her date your son. She didn't fit the archetype of the typical bullied kid -- she wasn't gay, she wasn't into weird hobbies, she wasn't in an unusual religion, she didn't even go out in a blaze of glory, killing others so you can feel better about her death. Unlike that dweeb you remember picking on in school, she didn't seem to deserve this.

It could also be a matter of timing, Within months of the Prince suicide, reports emerged about others hounded to their deaths. Then, celebrities like Ellen Degeneres got involved. Before long, anti-bullying became as important to schools as anti-drug efforts.

An intriguing aspect of Phoebe's story is her coming from Ireland. Her countryman, the poet Yeats, wrote years ago in "Easter 1916" about the moment when Irish independence changed from a wish or dream to a cause to fight for. The catalyst was that suddenly that issue had a body count. Friends, neighbors, people who breathed and spoke and laughed were suddenly dead. And those still breathing and going through the motions with "polite meaningless words" knew something in their world had changed -- something terrible, yet, with the promise of freedom, something beautiful.

Our struggles today are against foes more subtle; they reside in our midst -- sometimes in our own souls -- and must be driven out. I know that most efforts against the crueler aspects of childhood are well-meaning but empty gestures, but that doesn't make the fight invalid. The terrible beauty of adolescence and young adulthood is at our doorstep. We can't see that world as we did before.

- - - - -
Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 16, Topic: "A terrible beauty has been born." (I took a Bye for Week 15) Delving into nonfiction essay for a change.

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