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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10 comments

#TuesdaySerial: The Gods of Evergreen (part 5)

Part 1

Synopsis: After a storm kills his wife and daughter, Johnny Qullio leaves his village to ask the gods on Mount Evergreen why they took the good and innocent. At the base of the mountain, he meets Kata and her daughter Marie, and they share camp at Marie's insistence. On the mountain, he finds only an old man who tells him there is only one God, who is everywhere, and that it is up to Johnny to find meaning to life.



The Gods of Evergreen
Part 5: Kata’s Story

Johnny reached the camp at dusk. Marie saw him first, and came running, whooping for joy and shrieking, “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny! Mommy! Johnny back!”

Kata stood from where she tended the fire. “So you live on?”

“It seems I do,” he sighed, Marie wrapped around one leg and babbling her excitement. “I…”

“Don’t talk now,” Kata said. “I have supper ready. You haven’t eaten all day, I think. Eat, then sleep. We can tell our stories tomorrow.”


Johnny’s legs again felt numb when he awoke, then realized it was because Marie was draped across them. She had wandered over to his bedroll in the middle of the night. Kata stood over them, looking at her daughter with amused exasperation.

“Is she snoring?” he asked.

“Yes. I’m not sure whether to rescue you or let her sleep.” She smiled, then leaned down and scooped up the sleeping girl. “Or both.”

They ate breakfast, Marie sitting between them and taking food from both. “So you did not provoke the wrath of the gods?” Kata said. “You came back, after all. Marie waited patiently all day — she only asked about you every ten minutes or so.”

“There were no gods on the mountain to provoke, it seemed,” Johnny said. “Just an old man who told me there was only one god, not many. And that what happened to my family simply happened, and that this god gave us life and gave me the power to determine how I live.” He smiled. “This one—” he nudged a beaming Marie— “reminds me of Little Sara, my own daughter.”

“She is all I have left.” Kata said. “Jamin — my husband — was taken by a sickness that swept our village over the winter. His brother claimed title to our stead. At least he had the good grace to wait until spring to drive me away.”

“And your people allowed this?” Johnny was incredulous.

Kata shrugged. “He already had a wife, or he could have claimed me. My family died as well, or I would have returned to them.”

“And Lit— Marie? Had he no regard for the blood of his own brother?”

“Had she been a boy, he would have been bound to raise him, but… is that not the way of your people?”

Johnny scowled. “Truly not. Forgive me, Kata, but I have heard of such practices only among barbarians. Our people believe — I said this yesterday — that the gods are open-handed to those whose hands are open. We would not willingly turn away a stranger in need, man or woman, let alone one who grew up with us. We are not always friends, but duty holds where friendship fails.”

Kata was silent; even the voluble Marie grew solemn and leaned against her mother after a hug for Johnny. Johnny finally spoke: “Kata, what is in your mind now? Will you go to the mountaintop? I will wait for you here as you waited for me.”

“We have been there, Marie and me. We had barely returned when you came. I went to the altar, that — that I might leave her to the care of the gods. But as I placed her on the stone, a woman entered the plaza…”

“Greetings, sister,” she said. Her garb was simple — a white wrap held by a small brooch at the shoulder, a woven belt around her waist — but Kata had never seen such a pure white. Her tawny hair was untouched by grey, but she was neither young nor old; the word ageless floated through Kata’s mind. The beauty in this woman seemed to come from a deep well within.

But Kata’s bitterness would not be quenched. “Sister? I have no sister, or any other family,” she spat. “And I have no place in this world. I leave my daughter here in the care of the gods, and then I shall live or die as they see fit.”

“If you would give her to the gods, you have come to the wrong place,” she said. “There are no gods here. There is only one God, and he is everywhere.”

Without thinking, Kata retrieved Marie from the pedestal. “Then what would this god have me to do? Watch my child starve and die? What kind of god would throw us into this world, with no succor or appeal?”

The woman frowned. “Your people are hard-hearted, but they are not the whole of the world. It is your decision how you and your daughter live, or die. Be strong and true, and you will find a welcome and a home.”

Johnny sat in silence for a minute after she finished. “If how we live is our decision,” he said at last, “then I will begin by advising you. When you leave this place, go not east, but west. With me. Upon my honor, in my village you will find both welcome and a home. And upon my honor, I will not lay a hand on you without your leave unless it is to save you from injury.”

“Mommy go Johnny!” Marie shouted, jumping up and dancing around the two of them.

continued…

Sunday, May 29, 2011 2 comments

Book Review: The Gift of Fury

Disclaimers: I got this book when it was offered for free back in November. An earlier copy of this review appears under my real name in the Kindle Store.

If you're looking for urban fantasy with lots of action, and don't mind typos, this book is well-worth your time.

Price/Length: 99¢ (US of course) / 68,000 words

Synopsis: Count Albritton (“Count” is his name, not his title — he’s sensitive about that), a self-styled paranormal investigator, is looking into an attempted burglary at the NYC apartment of one of his sorcerer friends. It doesn’t take long for this seemingly routine investigation to turn into a battle for the future of the world and trip into his own past.

Storytelling: five stars. I’m not a fan of clich├ęs like “can't put it down,” but that was almost how it was for me. I kept picking up my Kindle at odd moments during the day to take in a couple chapters. When my battery got low, I pulled it onto an iPad and finished reading. Lots of action and no long stretches of boredom to counter it. Sexual tension is present, not only between Count and his “guardian angel” Kara, but between himself and the vampiric Nerva as well — but no explicit sex scenes for those who are offended by such. Character development was okay, we learn more about each of them as we go, but the villain was just a little too two-dimensional.

Writing: four stars. If you are put off by a story told in first-person present tense, that’s what this is. I didn’t notice until I was a few chapters in, though. About a third of the story is a flashback to events that happened before (the story begins with Albritton in a hospital, recovering from various injuries from those events) -- that was a little gimmicky, but the story itself was strong enough to overcome it.

Editing: three stars. No glaring continuity errors that I saw, the story itself holds together very well. There are far too many copyediting problems though: dropped words, typos, and so on. That cost the book a five-star rating overall. I hope a second edition, and any sequels, addresses this issue.

You can’t go too far wrong for 99¢ unless you just can’t turn off your internal editor. I hope the second book comes out soon, and Jackson splurges for a copyeditor.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 5 comments

Wednesday Birthday Wibbles

It’s not only Mrs. Fetched’s birthday, it’s also Towel Day! You know what that means: today, she’s 42 again! She was supposed to get dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant tonight, but Big V dumped Skylar on us so we ate leftovers and watched Dawn Treader.

Since I haven’t had any new followers since last week, I get to skip that part. I do love the followers I have though!

Sometimes, taking a stroll with the grandkid has side benefits. I found this sign lying in the grass not a quarter mile from the manor, complete with bullet holes. It must have been lying there for longer than I’ve lived here, over 25 years now, because it was never standing along this road. I took a steel wool pad to it to get it to the state you see here (it was pretty grimy). Mrs. Fetched thinks I should give it to either the county or the state, but I figure they just tossed the sign aside — they haven’t used that particular wording for a long time.

A “Pass With Care” sign came with the manor; I want to hang it in the bathroom.

Mason’s second cousin Skylar (yes, with an “a”) has been spending a lot of time at the manor. You can think of him as a half-time boarder if you like at this point. He and Mason play together like two near-toddlers do: when they’re not trying to kill each other, they have a lot of fun. Skylar is four months younger than Mason, but has the in-laws’ genetic heritage that has already made him a bigger kid.

Having Skylar around has reminded me about Mason’s rather well-developed sense of personal space. Mason has a definite bubble, and if another child gets into it uninvited he can get more violent than absolutely necessary. For example, I’ve had to pull Skylar away to stop Mason from methodically whacking him over the head with whatever toy he has in his hand. But bedtime isn’t twice as difficult, because they wear themselves out chasing each other around the dining table, and they’ll chatter with each other in the morning instead of demanding to be let out right away.

The upside is that Moptop hasn’t been around near so much. M.A.E. reached an agreement with the baby-daddy, where they each get her a week at a time. To make matters better (for us), Moptop was sick and someone else got to take care of her. But she won’t be our problem much longer: Mrs. Fetched tonight texted The Boy, Lobster, and M.A.E. to let them know they have until June 1 to find new lodgings. We’re basically done with letting them use our space without much of anything in return.

We’re going to see Mom in North Carolina week after next. Brand X is graduating from high school over Memorial Day weekend, so Mrs. Fetched is videotaping that, and I got tagged to preach this Sunday. That means the creative energy I’d be putting into a #FridayFlash will instead go toward a sermon. Such is life.

But with the deadwood out of here, it will at least be a quieter life!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 5 comments

#TuesdaySerial: The Gods of Evergreen (part 4)

Part 1

Synopsis: After a storm kills his wife and daughter, Johnny Qullio begins his journey to Mount Evergreen, home of the gods in the faraway east. There he will sing his lament to the gods and demand to know why the good and innocent were taken away. At the Wide Highway, he is taken in by hidden dwellers of an otherwise abandoned town. On the tenth day of his trek, he reaches the base of Mount Evergreen and meets a woman and her young daughter. The little girl instantly takes to Johnny, and he spends what may be his last evening in their company.



Part 4
On the Mountain

Johnny left before dawn, carrying only his water skin. He set off at a jog, hoping to be gone before Marie awoke and demanded to walk with him. In this he succeeded, yet he continued his rapid pace. Without the weight of the pack, he felt as light as a feather. The morning wore on, yet the air remained cool — perhaps a favor of the gods, or just the vagaries of spring weather. Finally, the way grew steep and then turned to steps. Skeletal oaks, just now budding out, gave way to pines that closed in on the path.

This high up, the path alternated between long flights of steps and long stretches of near-level ground, until steps zig-zagged up and up, disappearing into the pines. Johnny climbed, his questions and his lament fixed in his mind.


At last, Johnny reached the top, his legs rubbery, and looked across a broad plaza, ringed with pines. The plaza gently mounded toward the center, surmounted by a small pedestal. The sight reminded him of Sara’s breasts, broad and low but proud… he wiped away a tear and marched to the pedestal. Climbing atop it, he drank the last of his water and spoke:

“I am Johnny Qullio, son of Arthur, of the village west of the Wide Highway!” he called. “I now summon the gods to hear my lament for my wife and daughter, Big Sara and Little Sara, and to answer my questions! And when my questions are asked and answered, you may do with me as you will!” He looked upward, closing his eyes against the noon sun, and sang his lament.

As he finished, his legs no longer held him up. He lowered himself as gracefully as he could, and sat. Looking up, he saw an old man in a worn grey tunic standing at the edge of the plaza. His long grey hair and beard matched his garb. The staff he carried made Johnny think of old stories of wizards…

Seeing that Johnny noticed him, the old man nodded and made his way to the pedestal. Johnny tried to stand, but could not; he bowed as best as he could while sitting and waited for the elder to speak.

“You sing your lament here?” the old man asked. “Why not in your village, where your friends and family could lament with you?”

“They will sing their own lament, and perhaps they will sing mine as well,” Johnny said. “But the gods took my family from me, thus I thought it fitting that they should hear what they have done — and then I can ask them why before they deal with me.”

“Gods?” the other asked, stressing the S. “What are they teaching you in the wide world these days? There is only one God, and he is here but he is everywhere. But tell me: what happened?”

“It was a lifetime ago. It was eleven days ago. A storm came upon our village, and we were in our house, playing a game to keep Little Sara from worrying. Sara rolled her ball across the table to me, and it rolled off and bounced under the table. As I crawled under the table to get the ball, I heard a great gust of wind, and the roof came down on us, as if the gods stomped our house flat. The table collapsed on top of me, but other than a few scratches and bruises I was unhurt. Big Sara and Little Sara, though — the gods, or the god if you are correct, took them. And I have come to ask why them and not me. Big Sara was kind and generous, and Little Sara was a child no older than one I met on the way.”

The old man shook his head. “God has set the earth in motion, and not all things that happen to you are because of his favor or wrath. What happened at your house, I think — the ancients had a word, downburst. It is a great wind that blows straight down from the clouds, or near enough. A tornado, the wind that spins, would have lifted your roof away and then knocked your walls in.”

“Then… then you’re saying there was no purpose to this? This god seems to care little for his creation, then.”

The old man shook his head. “No. God cares deeply about his creation, and his people. The ancients nearly destroyed His creation, long ago, and now the earth has mostly healed. But it is your duty to give your life meaning or purpose. If you do not curse Him or yourself, perhaps God will restore you — no, your wife and daughter are gone, but in time you may find yourself raising another family.”

“This god… does he have any power at all? What kind of god does nothing?”

“Of course he has power. He has used it to give you life. And he has given you the power to determine how you will live the rest of your life.

“And now… your legs? Are they feeling stronger? Here, drink this.” The old man handed Johnny a flask of a liquid that proved to have a strange taste. “This will restore your strength so you can return to your camp before dark. But walk, don’t run. You have time.”

continued…

Friday, May 20, 2011 19 comments

#FridayFlash: Chimera, Inc.

Based on a writing prompt by Maria Kelly. What would come of a god bringing three mad scientists from the far future?



Chimera, Inc.

A young slave girl knelt before Zeus. “O father of gods,” she whispered, “your servants from Faraway have sent me to your august presence. They wish to inform you that they are ready to show you wonders.” She remained silent in that position.

A pretty piece they sent, he thought. Next to him, Hera scowled, watching him watching her. “Inform my servants that I will visit them shortly. That is all. Depart now, with my blessing.” She clambered to her feet and sprang away, graceful as a gazelle. His blessing marked her; when his meddling wife was elsewhere, he’d perhaps summon her to him.

“These new servants trouble me,” said Hera, still scowling. “They depend far too much on their machines. What virtue is there in work not borne of honest labor?”

Zeus shrugged. “They do things no other men, Greek or barbarian, can do. Certainly, I could call forth wonders with a word —” but as you say, where is the virtue in that? These servants do labor with their hands, as well as their machines, and so there is at least some virtue in the fruits of their labor.”

“Mark my words, husband: no good will come of this, neither to gods nor men.” Hera walked a few steps, then turned, fixing her stony glare upon him anew. “And think not that I missed the import of your blessing… upon a slave, no less. Your indiscretions grow ever more flagrant.”

Zeus glowered as Hera departed. Had he one of Vulcan’s thunderbolts at hand…


As was their wont, the visitors from Faraway wore their usual garb: white cloaks with sleeves and pockets. All three gave their usual perfunctory bow when he walked into their presence —” paying him no more respect than would a godling, but did not their work make them near godlings? Besides, all the bowing and scraping had its place, but it could get boring. “So,” he said, “you have something to show me?”

“Indeed we do, sir!” said one of them. They had told him their names when he brought them through Time, but he promptly forgot them. And “Faraway” was easier than “Twenty-fourth Century Pacifica,” whatever that might mean. “Right this way, uh, if you please.” They went through an open door and down a hallway. Anywhere else, this would be dimly lit by torches, but the servants brought their own wonders with them. They had a use for old Heron’s steam device, making the kind of power needed for their lighting and other machines —” at least slaves cut the wood, brought water, and fed the fire. Thus was an interior corridor near as bright as day.

They came to a door on the right, and one of the servants opened it. “This is the result of a lot of hard work,” he said. “We had issues with tissue rejection and blood types, of course, but getting the neural pathways right was the real bugger.” He chattered on, but Zeus quickly grew bored.

“Is it alive?” he asked, looking at the creature lying its side.

“It’s sedated,” another servant said. “Surgery, bone grafts, muscle connections, all that… it would be in a lot of pain right now. It’ll be up and around in a week or so.”

“Check this out!” the third one said, pushing an extensible pole through the bars. He slipped it around the back side of the creature and slid the tail out.

“It’s mostly a lion…”

“Yessir. But you see the goat head on its spine. Growing the support for that was a bugger.”

“And the tail’s a snake!” said the one with the pole. “Is this not the coolest thing ever?”

“Amazing, simply amazing,” the god assured them. “Have you named it?”

“Oh, no sir. We wanted to let you name it.”

“Very well: its name is… Chimera.”

The servants grinned and slapped each others’ hands over their heads, a gesture Zeus understood as celebrating an accomplishment. “Very well,” he said. “Your slave said wonders. There are more?”

They quickly subdued themselves. “Yessir,” said one, “but this one’s farthest along.” He turned to his comrades, and they whispered among themselves for a moment. “There’s two others. This way?”

The next wonder had Zeus nodding, both in agreement with its “coolness factor” and in need of a nap for their endless meaningless exposition. “Same issues as, uh, Chimera, with weight as an added wrinkle,” he said before Zeus stopped listening. “We had to do a ton of genemod on the horse to get the weight down. The wings are a real bugger, sir. They have to hold him up, plus anything he’s got on his back —“

“It will carry a man?”

They whispered again. “Probably not,” one admitted at last. “A woman, maybe, or a kid.”

“A goat?”

“Sorry. A child.”

Zeus thought a moment. “It will do. I name it Pegasus.” Again, the celebratory hand-slapping. “Anything else?”

“One more, sir. Not as complete, but I think you’ll get the idea.”

They stood looking at the misshapen thing. “We wanted to use human hips and legs for this one, but… well, they wouldn’t carry the weight. The gorilla in your menagerie —“

“The what?”

“The big hairy man-like creature you brought from Egypt.”

“Ah.”

“Right. Well, we needed the whole body. You can see how we’re grafting the bull’s head onto it. But we’re giving it a human brain.”

“That’s really tricky,” another one cut in. “We had to modify the head to make the brain fit. That wasn’t a big deal, but the neural connections — even to a gorilla’s body — are a real bear.”

“Bear? This is part bear too?”

“Oh, no sir. That’s just an expression.”

“Well, when you finish it, I name it Minotaur. Return to your labors. I am pleased.” Zeus departed, leaving the three celebrating in his wake. And he was pleased. These monsters would strike terror into the hearts of men, and they would sing of Zeus forever.

Thursday, May 19, 2011 5 comments

I’m Versatile!

I haven’t received one of these award things in a while, but Angela Kulig broke the drought. Thanks much, Angela! Angela’s one of the bumper crop of indie writers that have sprung up in the last few years. Her YA urban fantasy romance, Pigments of My Imagination, should be out soon. She was kind enough to post the first chapter.

You know the drill: admit to seven random facts about yourself, pick five more people to receive the award, let them know they won. So… here’s my magnificent seven, so to speak:
  1. Despite the hassles, I’m enjoying raising my grandkid. Don’t tell Mrs. Fetched!
  2. On my bucket list: produce two documentary films, one about chicken ranching, the other about fortune tellers and their customers. Both as unbiased as I can make them.
  3. I enjoy most forms of electronic music, including hard/Goa trance, drum&bass, ambient, and others. I also like Christian hip-hop and metal. Yes, I’m in my 50s. Why do you ask?
  4. The reason I have a motorcycle is to save gas. Little Zook gets around 60 miles/gallon. It, like TFM, is versatile: it has off-road suspension, so I can take it pretty much anywhere on the in-laws’ farm if I’m careful and the ground isn’t muddy (street tires).
  5. I fully intend to have an anthology of short stories, and White Pickups, available on various eBook outlets by the end of the year. At that point, I’ll have to put the pen name “FARfetched” aside.
  6. It’s more than a little spooky how events in FAR Future (see the Pages listing) are already happening. No rolling blackouts or $8/gal gas (in the US) yet, but the Pat-Riots are teabaggers by another name. Keep in mind, I was writing that part of the story in 2007.
  7. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I firmly believe that people are essentially good and want to do the right thing.
Now comes the fun part: who are the lucky five? I pass this award to:
  • Patrick Hester, for being highly versatile as well. He writes, produces podcasts, blogs, and holds down a dayjob.
  • Marijan, who raises an autistic kid and still has time to write and express her particularly sarcastic sense of humor.
  • Beth, who has the ability to pack up and go anywhere her desires lead. Funny how I envy her footloose life, and she envies my ability to put down roots.
  • Helen, who writes and reads… the Tarot.
  • John Wiswell, because he can write about just about anything.
Whew! That was more work than I thought…

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 2 comments

Wednesday Wibbles

Pull up a chair, pass the bottle around, it’s chit-chat time!

A minor milestone, but a milestone all the same: 50 followers! What a nice sixth blogiversary present! Let’s all welcome the newest visitors to the free-range insane asylum:
  • Jason Coggins, aka @JaseCoggins on Twitter. More below.
  • Rexcrisanto Delson, aka @igorotdo on Twitter. He has a book coming out next month!
  • Michael Tate, aka @Michael_A_Tate on Twitter. He’s a physicist and novelist (now how cool is that? Really!)
  • Helen, aka @helenscribbles on Twitter. Writer, Tarot reader (another slice of coolness), and follower #50! And a writer of cool stuff. And a lady.
Alright… I’ve been devoting these wibble-posts to people following me. What about me? What am I following, besides a near-novel’s worth of #FridayFlash stories every week? Let’s have a look… first, the serials:
  • Bloggin' Brimstone by Jason Coggins. I found it at the end of the “first season,” and it freeking blew me away. Now the second season is underway. Think “cyberpunk Hell” with a really sarcastic main character, and you’ll get the idea. Just read it.
  • Meanwhile in Space… by Xanto Jones. It’s space opera, of course it's a fun read!
If you’re looking for more, check out the Tuesday Serial site. I might have started FAR Future and White Pickups before there was such a thing as #TuesdaySerial, but there’s plenty of material to choose from these days! (Speaking of which, have you been following The Gods of Evergreen?)

That’s some of what I’m reading at home. In the car, I listen to podcasts. With an hour to and from work, I have plenty of opportunity to listen to stories, interviews, and whatever-ness:
  • Star Trek: Defiant — I started listening to this a long time ago, and during my 3-year podcast hiatus they kept producing a new episode each month. So now that I’m listening again, it’ll take a while to catch up.
  • Escape Pod — a science-fiction magazine, in podcast form. There’s a new short story every week, some original material and some “reprints” of stories that originally appeared in print magazines.
  • Podcastle — the fantasy sister to Escape Pod.
  • ShadowCast Audio Anthology — a horror podcast. I submitted something to them last night, so keep your fingers crossed. One of the nice things about the smaller markets is that if they do reject your story, they take the time to tell you why.
  • Functional Nerds — media, technology, and gadgets. Hosted by my blog-buddy Patrick Hester and musician (and Twitter pal) John Anelio (who posts sci-fi songs on his blog every week or so).
  • SFsignal — author interviews, hosted by the Functional Nerds gang. I was wondering earlier how Patrick does it: he has a day job, does two podcasts every week (huge time sink in my experience), writes, and blogs. Then I realized: he isn’t married!
There’s more, but that can get its own post tomorrow. It’s another blogiversary present.

#TuesdaySerial: The Gods of Evergreen (part 3)

Part 1
Synopsis: After a storm kills his wife and daughter, Johnny Qullio vows to journey to Mount Evergreen, home of the gods in the faraway east. There he will sing his lament to the gods and demand to know why the good and innocent were taken away. His village gives him everything he needs for the trek and more, and he sets off on the eastbound road. At the Wide Highway, he is taken in by hidden dwellers of an otherwise abandoned town. They tell him what to expect on the first few days, and next morning he sets off again.



The Gods of Evergreen
Part 3: A Chance Meeting

Past the Wide Highway, it was as the woman had said. The road east had fallen trees in the way and sometimes disappeared under the debris; few people went into the abode of the gods, it seemed. But none of the obstacles gave trouble to one on foot, and Johnny was used to walking wherever he needed to go. His pack grew lighter with each meal, and he began hunting and foraging in earnest. Each night, he fell asleep rehearsing the questions he would ask of the gods when he entered their court. Each day, he watched the mountain grow ever closer. Finally, on the tenth day of his walk — farther east than any in his village had gone in living memory — the road curved away to the north to skirt the mountain. A narrow way, one that was spoken of in legend, led up the mountain. It was late in the afternoon, and Johnny knew that he would sing his lament and ask his questions on the morrow.

Rounding one of many curves, the way widened and Johnny stumbled upon a camp. He saw two people: a woman and her child, a little girl. The girl saw him first, and broke into a grin. “Hiiiiiiiiiiii!” she trilled, and ran to Johnny, wrapping herself around his leg. He watched the woman watching him, bow dangling from his hand, and shrugged.

“Marie!” the woman called. “Come to Mama. Now.” Her words were clear, but she spoke with an odd accent that Johnny could not place. The little girl looked at her mother, then up at Johnny. She seized his hand and pulled him to her mother’s camp.

“Your pardon, good lady,” Johnny said. “But perhaps you should have brought your daughter’s toys with her on this journey.” He grinned.

The woman smiled: nervous still, but beginning to warm. “She’s usually not so friendly to strangers. Perhaps we are safe with you?”

“I am no man to harm you or your charming daughter. Even if I were, I would think that it would go badly for a man to meet the gods with blood on his hands.”

“You go to see the gods, you say? There — well, you should see for yourself.”

“I understand: each person will meet the gods in a different way, as they see fit. No? But I should move on while there is still some light and find a place to camp.”

“No! No! No!” the little girl shouted, still clasping Johnny’s hand. “Stay!”

“Marie, the man —”

“I am Johnny Qullio, of the village west of the Wide Highway. Please call me Johnny.”

“Johnny! You stay!”

The woman shook her head. “Johnny has to find his own place tonight, dear.”

Marie shook her head, and tugged Johnny to a spot across the path from her mother’s camp. “Your place. Here.”

“Madam —”

“My name is Kata. I have no family to name. It seems that we are as well met as two strangers may be, in the domain of the gods. Johnny Qullio, it is in my mind — and heart — to trust you tonight. May the gods smile on those who do not break that trust.”

“And Kata: may the gods pour out their wrath on those who do not deserve the trust of the defenseless. Will you and Marie share my supper tonight?”

They would, and did. Marie never left Johnny’s side that evening, often hugging him, until she finally climbed into his lap in front of the fire and fell asleep. Kata retrieved her daughter, who grumbled in her sleep but did not waken, and laid her in their tent before returning to the fire.

“Will you go up the mountain tomorrow?” she asked.

“Yes. Kata — I go to ask the gods questions, questions that may provoke their anger. I do not know whether I will leave the mountain tomorrow walking or soaring to whatever afterlife they have prepared for me… so I ask you to keep my pack tomorrow. If I do not return, it and all that is in it is yours.”

“But your pack frame — it’s of the ancients, no? That is a treasure! How can you ask me to just keep it?”

“The village gave it to me, knowing I may not come back. I did not want to take it, but they insisted. As it was, they attempted to load the entire wealth of the people on my back.” He grinned.

“You said you live west of the Wide Highway? If — if you do not return, I will return your pack to your village and tell them of your kindness to a stranger on the road. And then, they may send me away.”

“My people would do no such thing. They would sooner take you and Marie as their own. We learned long ago that the gods are open-handed to those whose hands are open.”

“Then your people… thank you, Johnny. I will wait for you tomorrow and pray for your safe return.”

continued…

Monday, May 16, 2011 13 comments

Six Years Later

Wow, six years!

Some days it doesn’t seem that long, other times it seems almost an eternity. A lot has happened since then: The Boy hasn’t grown up much, but gave us (literally) a grandkid; Daughter Dearest starts her senior year of college in a few months; I’ve finished two novels(!) and plan to indie-publish them and an anthology of short stories.

In the previous year, I’ve kind of let the fiction take over the blog. Many weeks, that’s all that appeared here. I hope to have more of a balance this coming year — yes, there will be plenty of strange fiction, but I hope to bring you more of my strange reality as well. It will be up to you, dear reader, to figure out which is which.

Thanks for reading — and I do appreciate all comments. Except spammers, of course!

Sunday, May 15, 2011 No comments

Goings-On

Friday the 13th was pretty long, what with Blogger “routine maintenance” turning into an brownout lasting over 36 hours. All the posts were there for the reading, we just couldn’t add new ones and you couldn’t comment on the ones that were there. That made it a little difficult to post my Friday Flash, but it was more than a little weird anyway. They finally got it fixed late Friday afternoon, but tending a drunk brother-in-law meant I wasn’t able to get to the computer anyway.

Thursday evening I spent out at the Backyard Retreat, straightening up the sides of the excavated area, then stacking the rocks to make a little retaining wall (shown here). Amazingly enough, I ran out of rocks before I ran out of excavation. Oh well, lots of things grow well on Planet Georgia, but rocks grow best of all. I’ll find more. I also smoothed out the surrounding dirt and built up the corner that needed it.

With the work done, I took my Kindle and a flashlight, gathered up some of the scrap wood around, and got a little fire going. It was a warm enough night that the fire wasn’t strictly necessary, but it was nice all the same. I smeared myself up with lemon balm and had very little trouble with bugs. Turns out the floodlights out back give enough light to read a Kindle by, so I didn’t even need the flashlight. We all went out there last night; even though it rained in the morning the chairs were already dry. Mrs. Fetched had a long list of things she would have done different (i.e. that I did wrong) but still liked it. It will be shaded all afternoon through the summer, which will make it pretty nice for evening chill-sessions. It was cool enough that a fire was welcome this time, and we sat out there until sprinkles sent us inside — naturally, after we went in, it cleared up and the moon was bright enough to make the surrounding sky blue.


I’m getting ever closer to the day when I just tell everyone who isn’t Mason, Mrs. Fetched, or Daughter Dearest to find different lodgings — immediately. It appears that The Boy is possibly getting back together with Snippet — AAAAARRRRGHHHH. The Boy had a bunch of friends over, and then blew us off when I relayed commandments from Mrs. Fetched about everyone leaving by 11:30, then… oh, this is good.

I have a view of the driveway from where I sit at the computer, and this one car would pull in, then back out again — then did it again about half an hour later, then again. Around 11p.m., I saw another car pull in — with cop lights. Forgive me, but my first thought was Drug bust time! and I went out to see who was going to win a free trip to the Cinder Block Hilton. Turned out she was here because Snippet parked her car in the middle of the road. Someone called, the cops checked things out and found check stubs with this address on it, and Snippet hustled away to move her car… to Big V’s. She parked it there then walked back to the house. I told The Boy again to get everyone out, and he left with Lobster and Snippet — leaving at least one friend in the garage to sleep there all night. Idiot.

Meanwhile, Lobster is smoking pot (I smelled it one evening) and is still having sleepovers with the not-exactly-divorced woman, both of which could bring trouble to FAR Manor, and he never seems to have money to pay the room and board he agreed to. M.A.E. is just becoming useless, spending all her time on Facebook or on her smellphone and not doing anything to help out around the manor. Enough with the leeching, already.

Mason had a stomach virus that made life for all concerned rather miserable (I had to change clothes twice last week after he barfed all over me), but seems to be getting over it. He’s learning new words all the time, and getting more aggressive with his insistence on doing things himself. He can feed himself pretty well now, gets mad if we don’t let him buckle the strap on his booster (and he has to re-buckle it several times after we unbuckle him when he’s done eating). As always, he loves going outside. He’ll ask to blow bubbles (“Bubboosh?” which is just too cute) but once outside he gets distracted by rocks and plants.

Speaking of plants, a weed called prickly lettuce has gone berserk around the manor this year. Seeing as it’s edible, and has some medicinal qualities (although there’s some dispute about its soporific attributes), I’m inclined to let it go where we don’t want something else. I’m going to have to make a salad of some of it and the wild garlic that grows along the roadsides. Too bad the wild carrots (aka Queen Anne’s Lace) come around later in the summer, or I’d add some of it too. The blackberries are looking pretty plentiful this year; I might be able to get a gallon or two within 100 yards of the manor this year.

Tomorrow… TFM turns 6. That’s a ripe old age for a blog.

Saturday, May 14, 2011 11 comments

#FridayFlash: Turn Back

Thanks to a major Blogger outage — first one in years — I wasn’t able to post this here yesterday. Hope it’s worth the wait!



Turn Back

They lay together in the brush and tall grass, oblivious to the bright moon above. Wrapped around each other, they gasped their joy and moaned their frustrated fully-clothed passion, minute after eye-rolling minute.

At last, they came up for air — or one of them did, the other needed no air — and cuddled together, her head on his collarbone. “I wish we could be together like this forever,” she whispered.  “You could make it happen — right now.” She twisted her head around, offering him her neck.

“Yeah,” the boy under her said. He seemed to glimmer — or perhaps sparkle — in the moonlight. “And we’d be like this forever, too. I’ve been in tenth grade for the last ninety years. It sucks. You don’t want to live like this forever — trust me. I don’t.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad, if you were with me,” she insisted. “The way it is, I’ll get real old — like thirty! — and you won’t be any different. I can’t make you mortal… but you can make me immortal!” She squirmed up his body, bringing her neck closer to his mouth.

“Actually… you can make me mortal,” he said, making her gasp and sit up. “I’ve been researching, when Father wasn’t looking. I couldn’t bite you because it needs someone who’s never been bitten.”

“Ewwwww,” she said after he told her what she needed to do. “That’s gross!”

“I know,” he said, “but will you do it for me? Please?”

• • •

A trip to Taco Bell got her an extra-large Diet Coke, and she drank it and most of a refill. They hurried back to their make-out spot, her moaning her discomfort, still clutching the big plastic cup. “You ready?” he asked her.

“I’m about to pop like a balloon,” she grumbled. “A water balloon.”

He laughed. “Okay. Just go behind that bush.” She complied, and he undressed as she did what she had to.

She gasped at his naked figure and nearly dropped the cup, sloshing a little of it out. “Ewwww! I almost filled it up! And it’s warm!” She shook her hand. “Are you sure you want me to do this?” He nodded, but she just stood there for a minute, taking him in.

“Remember to do it slow. It has to get all over me. You want me to turn around? It might be easier for you.” He was responding to her scrutiny.

“Yeah.”

He turned, and she approached, looking at his tight butt and imagining her clutching it as he lay on top of her… “This is so gross,” she whispered, and slowly poured the contents of her cup over her boyfriend, muttering “Eww, eww, eww,” under her breath.

He gasped and gritted his teeth against the wrenching feeling as the warm urine ran down his body. He slammed his chest with a wet smack, and took huge whooping breaths. He twisted around, trying to make sure the stream wetted every part of him, until he stood barefoot in a puddle of wet glitter.

“Did it work?” she asked.

“Yeah. I’m breathing! My heart is beating! I’m not a vampire anymore! Let’s get me a hamburger, or spaghetti, or something — I can’t wait to eat real food again!”

“Ewwww, wait! You’re all wet — and you smell like — you know!”

He stopped. “Oh. We should have gotten some water too.”

She growled and flounced back to the Taco Bell, alone.

• • •

“Marin! Do you know what Weldon has done?”

Marin nodded. “He is but a boy again.”

His wife swelled with indignation. “And this does not concern you? What is he going to do?”

“Grow up, I hope!” Marin snapped. “Great Lestat, Sanda, I am so sick of his eternal teenage hormones! Had I heard his incessant whining much longer, I’d have driven a stake in him myself! Why do you think I left out the books he needed to learn how to turn back?”

Sanda gasped, and Marin went on a little quieter. “Look. He’s a boy. He’s been a boy all these many years. Let him become a man. He can get over this… this obsession with the girl. Or he can marry her for all I care. When he’s become a man, we can turn him again.”

Monday, May 09, 2011 14 comments

#TuesdaySerial: The Gods of Evergreen (part 2)

Part 1

The sharp-eyed among you will notice the title has changed. I wasn’t pleased with the original title, and the new and improved title came to me Monday afternoon. Thanks for your comments so far!



The Gods of Evergreen
Part 2: Journey East

Had Johnny taken everything the village offered him, he would have needed a cart and two oxen to pull it. Just the food — enough for several trips to Mount Evergreen and back — would have crippled a strong pack mule. As it was, Johnny reluctantly accepted a treasure, given knowing he may not return: a pack frame built from metal of the ancients, magically light. On this went what food and water he would carry, a few clothes, a warm cloak that doubled as a bedroll, his short bow and quiver, and the east-going mail, all covered by a thin oilcloth. Everything he needed for his journey was given well before the morning after the storm.

The road east was well-traveled — at least to the Wide Highway, two days’ walk from Johnny’s home. The pavement was potholed and cracked, and even disappeared entirely for short stretches, but the road was clear and easy to follow. Johnny pushed on into the evening, a little farther than absolutely necessary, to avoid having to spend the night in the deserted town halfway. Some of his folk believed that ghosts haunted the places where ancients had once dwelt; Johnny was more concerned about bandits lurking in the husks of retails and other buildings. He kept his bow at hand, but used it only to try for a rabbit, without success. With just a little light left, he turned off the road and went over a hill, to a place he knew — a little dimple that would shelter him from the wind and provide some cover if needed. The spring nights were still chilly, but Johnny wrapped himself in the bedroll and oilcloth and slept comfortably enough.

He woke at daybreak and built a small fire to cook breakfast and boil some tea. The lament for Big Sara and Little Sara welled up in his throat, but he willed it down. He would sing of his grief to the gods themselves. After breakfast, he buried the fire and moved on, setting a pace as fast as his burden would allow.

Eating lunch on the march, he reached the outskirts of another abandoned town in the early afternoon. Where his road crossed the Wide Highway, he entered a cinderblock building with a patched roof and withdrew the mail from his pack. All of it would go north or south, along the Wide Highway, and he sorted them into the proper slots. It was bad luck to mistreat the mail, and even the hardest bandit would either leave his victim alive to carry the mail or carry it himself. Johnny noted a pair of letters in the WEST slot; if the gods did not send him to the afterlife to rejoin his wife and daughter, he would bring them with him on the way back.

The name of this town was long forgotten, and thought by many to be a haven only for ghosts and bandits; yet a few hardy souls dwelt here, whether disaffected or simply seeking adventure. They sheltered in crumbling buildings, often in better repair on the inside than outside, and tended crops hidden from the roads by weeds or broken walls. And yet the people were not inhospitable. So it was, that Johnny turned and walked to a certain street corner, away from the main roads. “I am Johnny Qullio, son of Arthur, of the village west of the Wide Highway,” he called. “I seek shelter for the night as I travel east to Mount Evergreen!”

A man, neither young or old, stepped out from between two decrepit retails. “Well come and well met, Johnny Qullio,” he said. “Come, eat and rest, then tell us why you go to visit the gods.” He led Johnny between the buildings to a house that a trained eye could see was in better shape than it first appeared. They traded food for good luck, then invited him to tell his story.

“We will grieve for your wife and daughter as well,” an older women said, after Johnny finished. “The way east is overgrown, for at least a half-day’s walk, but it is not difficult to follow. If you return, come to us again and tell us what you saw.”

The next morning, he woke early and put as much distance between himself and the Wide Highway as he could, often looking behind him for signs of bandits. But the gods seemed to have it in mind to not impede his trek, and Mount Evergreen loomed just a little larger before him each day.

continued…

Sunday, May 08, 2011 2 comments

Backyard Retreat: Part 2, the Big Dig

I was amazingly allowed all day yesterday to deal with what I wanted to deal with, and I decided this would be a good time to tackle the patio project.

There is no level spot in the back yard, so I had to make one. I selected a place near the woods, partly for shade and mainly because it was the least steep. I placed corner markers then borrowed a tractor with a front-end loader bucket from the in-laws. I should point out I’ve never done any grading before, so I kind of made it up as I went along. There are no pictures of me in action here, because no one was there to wield the camera. I started by scooping out the high end and dumping the dirt in the low end — I didn’t have to dig more than a foot. The scooped-out end was tilted, because the tractor itself wasn’t level, so I dragged some of the dirt backwards and that helped.

In the end, I decided I’d gone as far as I could with the power tools and got out the shovel. This is when I started hitting some large rocks, some nearly two feet long. I had to use a crowbar to loosen up two of them that were together. You can see some of the rocks along the right side of the photo below; I’ll use them to face the banks.

With the area smoothed out, I jumped on the tractor once more and carried the rubber tiles over. The bucket wasn’t quite big enough to hold them all, but a little overstacking and some care in driving back kept them all on the tractor until I actually got back. Then three slipped off, no problem.

I thought the surface looked pretty smooth, but when I started laying the tiles I realized it wasn’t exactly optically flat. It might have been less obvious had I used rock, but there would have been a lot more heavy lifting and I probably would have worn out before I finished. As it was, I smoothed out the dirt, put clips on tiles, laid them out, and made myself keep going until I had as many down as I could get. In retrospect, I should have dug out a little farther to the right, but I was already hitting roots from a tree just outside the frame in the above shot. Fortunately, the tree to the left was getting its roots covered more rather than dug out. You can see at bottom left where I have to fill in a little more dirt; I had planned for one more row of tiles but the length ran short. I can always fill it in later.

With a nice rubbery surface on the ground, I opened the first big box of furniture and got the chairs out. To prevent scratching, they were wrapped pretty well around just about every surface; I cut and pulled and pulled and cut and finally had four iron frames. I strapped the cushions in (they use Velcro™ or some substitute), and The Boy and Lobster hiked them down to the patio. And immediately started smoking there, not five minutes after I told them “no smoking.” Grrrr. At this point, I’d run out of daylight and decided the table could wait.

This afternoon, I attacked the table. Somewhere along the line, someone cut into the blister pack holding the hardware and took two nuts/bolts out of it. Fortunately, I had some hardware with the proper thread and (in the case of the bolts) length, so I got the job done.

Then I sat down in one of the chairs, put one foot on the table, and called Mom for Mother’s Day.

There’s plenty more to do: lay the rocks along the dug-out sides, get up all the big wood chips from when I had the tree-cutting party out there and toss them in the firepit (built into the table), then run the lawn mower over the weeds. Oh, and fill in that corner. Sheesh.

Thursday, May 05, 2011 5 comments

Wednesday Wibbles (on Thursday) w/Poll

I was MIA as far as the computer was concerned last night, so I’ll change tackle my briefs this evening. As always, let’s welcome the newest followers to the free-range insane asylum…
Something cool: the full-length (1300+ word) version of The Philosopher’s Stone is going to be published on Hogglepot next week! I’ll put up a permanent link when I get it. Oh, and it’s under my real name, so I’ll be somewhat “out” as of next week. I’m still going to keep the FARfetched moniker for a while though.

M.A.E. passed her driver’s license exam yesterday — bravo! Now if you can find a place to live…

Daughter Dearest is done with her junior year, except for a “May-mester” class she’s taking so she can finish in four years (typical music education major finished in 4-½ years). Funny, they have a flash fiction writing course available during May-mester as well.

Mason was pretty cranky this evening, and noisy through the afternoon — makes me wonder if he’s coming down with something. It’s going to be a rough weekend if he is. He zorched out in my lap this evening watching Word Girl.

Between dealing with Mason and picking up M.A.E., I haven’t had much free time in the evenings lately. There’s things I want to do, and nobody seems to give a flying flip. It’s not like I’m supposed to do anything but support all these people, huh?

Oh, the poll. My latest Friday Flash, Immortal Curse, set a personal record for hits and comments. It was very well-received, which makes me wonder whether I should consider submitting it to the Best of Friday Flash anthology instead of Assignation. So once again, the polls are open. Give each of them a read if you don’t remember them, and let me know in the comments which one I should go with.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 10 comments

#TuesdaySerial: The Gods of Evergreen (part 1)

I started this story several years ago, left it incomplete then came back and finished it last year. It has sat for lack of a venue — White Pickups took the serial slot for a long while. This is a six-part story, and is dedicated to the victims and families of last week’s tornadoes in the southeastern US.



The Gods of Evergreen
Part 1: After the Storm

Unconnected sensations: Pain. Sweat and something unpleasant. A triumphant shout. The sound of hands clawing at debris, then their touch, grasping and pulling. Dim light, yet blinding. Standing on wobbling legs, like a newborn calf or an old man. The acrid taste of sour wine from a skin, shocking disconnected senses into wholeness.

Sal and Jane loosened their grip but kept hands on his arms, ready to support him anew if needed. “You with us now, Johnny?” Jane asked. He looked to her and her husband Sal, wondering where they came from.

“Thank the gods,” Philip called from across the heap that had been Johnny’s house. “At least you’re whole.” Sal and Jane glared at Philip, who clapped his hand over his mouth.

Johnny shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “What — where are — ?” Philip tried, but could not block Johnny’s view of two bundles behind him; one large, one small. He looked to Sal and Jane; Sal looked away and Jane shook her head. He tried taking a step forward, but felt his legs give. His friends slowed his descent and sat him cross-legged in the dirt and debris.

“I saw it happen,” Sal sighed. “Your house was there one moment, the next moment the storm knocked it flat. I called Jane and we ran to you. Philip met us here and found Big Sara and Little Sara…” his eyes filled with tears and again he turned away.

“I thought we wouldn’t find anyone alive, but I heard you groan,” Jane continued. “I moved some boards and saw your hand under the tabletop.”

“What were the gods thinking?” Philip wept. “You and Sara were the best of us all. You gave what you had to whoever needed it… why would they have singled you out so?”

Johnny shook his head again. Sara would know what to do, but where was she? She can’t be dead, he thought. She needs to help me build a new house. But for the stinging of nicks and throbbing of bruises here and there, he felt numb. That pain was the only thing that told him he lived. He looked up, past Philip’s broad shoulders, as the afternoon sun found a break in the cloudy sky and shone on Mount Evergreen, the home of the gods in the distant east. Only a few weeks ago, the morning sun had risen over that mountain to signal the beginning of spring.

Suddenly, his mind was clear. He struggled to his feet, still watching the sunlit mountain. He ran his fingers through his thick black hair, then brushed himself off. As his friends followed his gaze, he spoke. “I will go to Mount Evergreen. I will meet the gods in their home. There will I sing my lament for my wife and daughter. I will learn the answer to your question, Philip. And then — then the gods may do with me as they will.”

continued…

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