Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Thursday, March 31, 2011 22 comments

#FridayFlash: Fire!

Do you know how to deal with witches? I’m talking about the traditional looking ones, like in fairy tales, with pointed hats, crooked teeth – probably bad breath, but I haven’t been in her mouth’s reach, so I can’t really tell – and scary as hell.

Don’t you snort at me, I’m not mocking. I’m serious as a heart attack, like the one I almost had when it all happened. Thank you. I appreciate your willingness to listen. I was as incredulous as you when I saw her, you know? I kept thinking that it was a bad dream, but my gut told me otherwise, and the facts that followed are undeniable.

It was late spring so the nights were still cold. The flowers seemed to refuse to bud that year. C’mon, a little patience here? The house was warmed enough but I woke up with a cold weight in my chest. I felt my heart was churning like when you’re so hungry that your stomach hurts. Have you ever felt like that? Yeah, it’s a horrible feeling.

So I got up to see if everything was okay. The clock alarm told me it was 5 a.m. as I shuddered in the dark. My feet were cold from the contact with the floor but I didn’t notice it until much later. I patted the walls to find my way to the baby’s room, not wanting to wake the family up.
I opened Jake’s door gingerly and slipped inside, closing it behind me. I found so very odd that outside was darker but I blamed the early hour. By then, a deep sense of dread had taken me and I was fully awake. As I turned in the cradle’s direction I realized where the light was coming from.

Yes, yes, I know you’ve guessed it already. There she was, humming something over Jake, her broom leaned against his cradle at her hand’s reach. You think I’ve reacted immediately? I’m no movie character that in face of danger reacts heroically and saves the day; I’m only human. I stopped dead and listened, her humming swirling in my head. I was dazed for what it felt like a long time.

Then I saw the knife emitting a gray light like twilight. It didn’t properly shine but was enough to reveal her wicked grin. This is when my heart jumped inside my chest and I shouted by sheer instinct, “Put that down!”

She paused mid-movement, noticing me for the first time. When she diverted her eyes in my direction I thought I was dead. Or worse, I’d be transformed in a rat or a goat and never see my family again. Would she mount me? That would be even worse. I gulped down and her smile broadened until it covered most of her face. She opened her hand finger by finger, letting the knife fall to the floor with a thud. She turned deliberately slowly towards me and said with a rasped voice and a mouth full of tiny sharped teeth, “You fool man.” Then she started chanting something different, but it felt similar to the first chant. I was there, gaping at her with a blank mind. What was I to do? I could feel in my bones her curse taking hold, and although I couldn’t understand her words I somehow knew what it meant. I’m to kill my own son with that knife, and when that happens we’ll be hers forever.

The knife doesn’t shine anymore, and I feel nothing as I hold it in my hand. But I can’t make myself throw it away or destroy it. Is it part of the spell?

People say that if you shout for help no one will listen. So if you are in distress, you’ll only get people’s attention if you shout fire. Fire… Fire! Huge undying fire!

!sdrawkcab ... hsalFyadirF s'tI
April Fool! The story you just read here is a part of the Great April Fool's Day FridayFlash Blog Swap, organized by Tony Noland. You can find my story for today at Mari Juniper’s website, Mari’s Randomities. To read all the dozens of stories swapping around as a part of the GAFDFFBS, check out the GAFDFFBS index over at Tony's blog: Landless. For hundreds of thousands of words of fantastic flash fiction stories, check out the FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter. It happens every Friday!

Read more: http://www.tonynoland.com/2011/03/great-april-fools-day-fridayflash-blog_9145.html#ixzz1ICt6m7cc

This was fun. A bunch of us volunteered, and Tony assigned us partners and a brief writing prompt — ours was “Put that down!” which happens to be the title of my story on Mari’s blog. We carried it a little further, specifying five elements common to both our stories.

Mari’s bio: Mari Juniper is a former attorney who got bored of making money (yeah, right), deciding for the writing venture instead. She has a blog -- mari's randomities -- where she shares short stories, poems, reflections and pretty things that fancy her and her visitors. She can also be found on twitter and on facebook.

Monday, March 28, 2011 7 comments

White Pickups, Episode 80

What a long strange trip it’s been… and it’s only half-over.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Johnny fed the end of the pipe through the fence to Cody. Cody slid a clamp and a piece of rain gutter over it. He applied glue to one end of an elbow, pushed it into the pipe, then clamped it.

Cody glued a short length of pipe to the open end of the elbow. Elly passed a rain gutter elbow to Cody, who slipped it over the pipe. He pushed the rain gutter pieces together and slipped the end into an empty rain barrel they had moved from the townhouses. They planned to move the other barrels if everything went the way it should. Cody looked at the overflow outlet: a garden hose led to the pond down the way. So far so good. Opening the lid, he pushed the pipe onto the float valve and tested it. It felt smooth right up to the valve closing. “I think that’s it!”

A cheer went up from the others; everyone was there to watch. Charles lifted the handheld radio. “You ready to tell them to let it start?”

Cody nudged Kelly. “Hey, this was your idea. I think it’s fair you give the word.”

“Whatever,” she said, but reached for the radio. “Just don’t give me too much grief if something messes up.” She thumbed the push-to-talk. “We’re done down here, guys. Go ahead and open it.”

“Roger,” Palmer said. “And… it’s on! Tim has turned on the spigot. The water’s really pouring, you can hear it pretty good.” He held the radio to the pipe and they could hear gurgling. The crowd cheered again.

“How long’s it gonna take?” Kelly asked.

“About half an hour, I figure,” said Johnny. “The water’s probably moving at a jogging pace, call it maybe a ten-minute mile or a little faster.”

“Whoa,” said Palmer over the radio some minutes later. “We’re getting a bunch of air bubbling back up here.”

Johnny took the radio. “It’s probably reaching the adapter where we switched over to roll pipe,” he said. “It can’t push all the air out this end fast enough, so some’s coming back up.”

Cody reached into the barrel. “Whoa. You can feel a breeze now.”

“Let me see.” Kelly reached in. “Yeah. That’s so weird. Wind inside a rain barrel.”

“Not so weird,” her dad said. “Wind is just air being displaced. The water is replacing — and displacing — the air.”

“Hm,” said Cody, “I wonder…” He lifted the float. The breeze stopped, but after a few seconds he could feel the air pushing back. He let the float go, and the air puffed out in a soft whoosh. “Heh. Cool.”

“Easily amused,” Kelly grinned.

“No reason not to be, yo?”

“Good point.”

A few minutes later, the rain barrel emitted a glurk noise. “What was that?” Kelly asked.

“Must be getting closer,” said Cody. He reached in again. “Yeah. I think the breeze is colder than it was. Check it out.”

“It is,” said Kelly. Another glurk, followed by a few thumps. “That sounds weird. I hope everything is okay.”

“I’ve heard weirder noises than that in water lines,” said Johnny. “Tim and Palmer are gonna ride the line to check for leaks, anyway.”

They stood and listened to the noises, felt the breeze — it seemed to be stronger than before. Listening, they could hear the air pushed into the barrel.

Suddenly, the wind noise dropped in pitch and then died. A series of gurgling noises, the pipe twitched, and splashing noises.

“Water!” Cody yelled, looking inside. “We have water!” The crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

Johnny winked and handed the radio back to Kelly. “Guys! It’s here!” she called.

“Great!” Palmer said.

Suddenly, Cody whooped and grabbed Kelly by the waist, spinning her around, surprising her with his strength. He let her go, cupped his hands, and called out, “Ladies and gentlemen! I give you — Kelly’s Pipeline!”

As the people cheered once again, Cody turned back to Kelly with a big grin. “See? I told you it wasn’t a dumb idea!”

“Yeah, yeah. But you made it work.” She hugged him, he hugged back — and without thinking about it, Kelly planted a kiss right on his lips. Cody startled for a moment, then… kissed back. Charles looked at the clouds and whistled a few random notes.

The cheers around them redoubled. Neither of them knew whether it was for the water, or for them — and neither one cared.

Here ends Book 1 of the Truckalypse.
Book 2, “Pickups and Pestilence,”
is in progress.

Friday, March 25, 2011 19 comments

#FridayFlash: Accidental Sorcerers 4

And we come to the conclusion. I hope you enjoy it as much as you have the rest — and if you’ve just found it, you can start with Part 1. We’ll wait…

Accidental Sorcerers #4
Other Kinds of Magic

Mik looked at the sorcerer, leaning slightly against the doorway, waiting. “Well?” he said at last. “What do I need to do?”

Bailar smiled. “You yourself have told me the answer.” He held up a placating hand. “I do not speak in riddles to confuse or torment you, young dragonrider. I want you to come to the understanding on your own, if you can. Thinking is a blessing and a curse, but to those with the bent to magic it is survival. So think about what you did to awaken the dragon, and consider the Principle of Closure.”

Mik nodded and stared at the fire, feeling the gazes of the sorcerer and his apprentice upon him. “I used my blood to awaken the dragon…” He grew silent for a moment, thinking about the dragon demanding to be dispelled, then seeing those faint pinkish spots as he mounted — he shook himself and jumped up, whirling to face them. “I know!”

They stepped outside into the swirling snow, and the dragon raised its head. You now know how to dispel me?

“Yes. Will you meet us at the river, below this place?”

I will wait for you there, and the dragon leaped over the edge of the bluff. Bailar led Mik and Sura along a path, seen only by the lack of trees in the way, down the bluff to the river.

As they went, Mik noticed Sura hugging herself and making fff fff noises. He wondered for a moment why the sorcerer had not provided them with warmth or rapid transport down the bluff, then remembered Principle of Necessity. “Here,” he said, taking off his cloak and wrapping it around Sura’s shoulders.

“Don’t you need it?”

“It helped when I was on the dragon, but my jacket is enough for walking. You need this more than I do.”

She took his arm, and took her time letting go, warming Mik more than the cloak. “Thank you.” He grinned as they followed Bailar side by side. It was a slow walk; Bailar kept to one side of the path, probing the snow ahead with his staff and holding trees or sturdy limbs as if he feared a fall. “His balance isn’t good,” she whispered, nodding ahead to her mentor.

The dragon had not curled up to await them; it instead had stomped out a wide flat area and stood waiting. If it were human, Mik thought, I’d think it was nervous. Or eager. “You’ll want to be on the river ice, right?” he said aloud. “Will you return to the size you were when I awakened you?”

Yes. And yes. But the dragon curled up, becoming a mound of snow on the flat… then emerged, its original size, from the bottom of the mound. It tested the edge of the river ice then lay on it, stretching on its side, appearing satisfied. The big pink spots were now seven small red spots, Mik’s blood.

Mik made his careful way to the edge, then removed his gloves. “And… thank you for your help.”

Dispelling me is thanks enough, it said, as Mik placed his hands over the red spots. But hold to your humility and gratitude. They will serve you well.

He nodded, feeling his hands grow numb, then gently wiped the melted snow away. And with Mik’s blood removed, the dragon sank into the river ice, becoming a pattern of bones once again.

“Well done, young dragonrider,” Bailar smiled as Mik rubbed his hands together than jammed them inside his jacket. He noticed Sura nodding as well, and their approval warmed him.

Yet he remembered his manners. “Thank you, sir.” He snatched his gloves out of the snow and put them on again.

“You traveled a long way, and now you have dispelled your transport. Did you give any thought to how you would return home?”

Mik nodded. “I did what I had to. I suppose I shall find a room in Exidy until spring. One where they will let me work for my bread and board.”

“You have no apprenticeship to consider?”

“No, sir. In Lacota — my town — I would have been chosen at the equinox.”

“Well, then. There is no law that says I cannot have two apprentices, and you have proven yourself worthy. Sorcerers are becoming rare in these ‘enlightened’ times, and sometimes the world still has need of us. We can send word to your family, perhaps visit them when time and weather permit. What say you?”

Bailar let fly a snowy owl, carrying Mik’s message and request for the cake recipe, then they all retreated to the warmth of the parlor. Sura stood in front of the fire, Mik’s cloak spread wide to catch and trap the heat, as Mik finished warming his hands on a full teacup. But the walk up the bluff had kept them near warm enough, and Sura soon shed the cloak and sat on a bench.

“Your training starts in the morning, Mik Dragonrider,” said Bailar. “I will enter your name in the records tonight. Get some sleep, you’ll be up early tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir,” but Bailar had already left. Mik watched Sura watch the fire, then pulled a bench next to hers and sat.

“What will it be like?” he asked her.

“Like school. You’ll be studying, and practicing, and… well, you’ll see.”

Mik laughed. “Was it really just this morning? Robi said next month, we’d be done with school forever.”

“Who’s Robi?”

“Oh — she and her boyfriend are my best friends. She was there when I awakened the dragon. Piet wouldn’t believe us, until he saw it himself.”

They laughed, then looked at each other. Her eyes shone in the firelight… or was it firelight? Without thinking, Mik reached out and put an arm around her. Sura slid against him, and they watched the fire together.

“I was right.”


Mik grinned. “There are other kinds of magic.”

THE END (or not… move on to Season 2!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 2 comments

Wednesday Photo-Wibbles

I took Mason out for a little walk this afternoon and shot up a few things I’ve been meaning to shoot. But first, the weekly shout to the new follower:
  • Jerry Moore (couldn’t find your blog, Jerry — drop a comment and I’ll update)
Spring has come to FAR Manor, and it seems like it just snuck up on us. The dogwood over by the studio opened up its blooms this morning — this is what it looks like (post from 2 springs ago).

Mason was along for the walk. Mrs. Fetched and M.A.E. had him and Moptop outside, blowing bubbles earlier in the afternoon, and he wanted to do some more. There was a pretty good breeze, so I took the lazy way out and held the wand up in the wind. It did quite well that way.

Wild violets run rampant in our lawn this time of year. I’ve decided that monochromatic green is boring, and we’ll get that anyway once the violets go dormant again.

I cleaned up the bank near the road, and this was my reward — a sprinkling of wildflowers I either never had before, or had but never saw for the undergrowth.

One or both of the previous owners of FAR Manor were fond of aggressively invasive plants, judging from what’s been running riot around here. This is some kind of vine-y plant in the corners of a decorative fence in front of the manor — very pretty, but is trying to take over in every direction. After the blooms get done, I’m going to hack this sucker to the ground. It’ll be back next year.

This is FAR Manor in the spring. Pretty stuff all over the place, but it will engulf you if left to its own devices. Kind of like the in-laws.

Monday, March 21, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 79

Sunday, March 11, 2012

“Check this out!” Cody said, dropping a newspaper on the table. “How did we all miss this?”

Tina looked at the headline and the date. “I guess we weren’t thinking about newspaper deliveries at the time.” Charles, Kelly, and Johnny laughed.

Johnny laid out the yellowing paper, dated Friday, September 16, 2011 — the final edition of the Gwinnett Daily News:
‘No Terrorist Connection’ to Disappearances

An Obama administration spokesman ruled out any terrorist connection to an ongoing spate of disappearances, but would not speculate who or what was behind them.
“Like their guesses were any better than ours, right?” Charles chuckled. He began skimming the subheads and other headlines: “Disappearances Hampering Investigation. Worldwide Phenomenon. Commerce Paralyzed. Sporting Events Cancelled. Cody, is this the whole paper?”

“Yeah. Eight pages.”

“Looks like they just printed what they had Thursday night,” said Johnny. “Anything in there about the trucks?”

“Um… yeah.” Charles poked the article about halfway down, and read: “When asked if the mass disappearances were connected to a sudden appearance of white pickup trucks on the roads, the spokesman said ‘There is no hard evidence, but much suspicion.’ Yeah. Hey, this is good: ‘Plant Vogtle Placed on Standby.’ I’ve worried about that.”

“That’s a nuke plant, ain’t it?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah. Down in Augusta. I hope all the other ones got shut down, too.” Charles thumbed through the paper. “You have to hand it to these guys — it was getting pretty chaotic by then, and they still got a paper out. Heh… and they put the comics in, too.”

Kelly pointed at an article across from the comics. “Religion: ‘Rapture’ Speculation Unfounded. What’s that about?”

“Reverend Steven ‘Hitch’ Hitchman, pastor blah blah, weekly commentary on religion, blah blah. ‘No Biblical parallel’ —”

“What’s not parallel?” Patterson peered over shoulders to look. “Is that a newspaper?”

“Yeah,” said Cody. “Me and Tim were going through some of the local construction places to see if they had any stuff for Kelly’s pipeline. This was sitting on a table in one of them. I thought people would be interested.”

“Their religion columnist probably got a few too many people asking him if the trucks were part of the Rapture thing,” said Charles. “He was saying there’s no parallel to the trucks in the Bible.”

“Ah. I used to say, if the brethren put half the effort into feeding the hungry and healing the sick as they did speculating about the Rapture… but that’s no longer an issue.”

“What was that Rapture thing about anyway?” Cody asked.

Patterson shrugged. “There were several end-times interpretations, but the most widely accepted was that all Christians would be taken up to Heaven — raptured — at the beginning of the Tribulation. That was a seven-year period in which the Antichrist — Satan in human form — would be free to wreak havoc on the earth. After seven years, Christ and all the saved would return to earth, defeat the Antichrist, and rule for a thousand years. That’s the heart of it, anyway. If I went into details, we could be here until bedtime.”

“A lot of different people jumped in those trucks,” said Johnny, “including a couple atheists I knew — and you’re living proof that some Christians were ‘left behind’. I read those books.”

“Yes. And the Rapture was supposed to happen all at once — ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ — not spread out over three or four days.”

“People actually spent time studying this?” Charles looked incredulous.

“Oh yes. And any time there was an extended crisis, especially in the Middle East, there were people proclaiming the End Times were upon us. Rapture Fever really took hold in the ’70s, during the various conflicts of the time, then died back with the conflicts themselves through the 80s, and re-emerged as the millennium drew near. But as I said, I could talk about this all afternoon and not cover it all.”

“Cody, did you find anything that will help with the pipeline?” Tina asked. “This paper is certainly an interesting find, but…”

“Oh yeah. We might have. How much gas we got left?”

“A few hundred gallons, maybe,” said Kelly. “Why?”

“We found a Ditch Witch,” Cody said. “If it works, we can just bury your pipe. Once we’re sure it’s not leaking or anything.”

Johnny sputtered, then laughed.


“You — you gotta see this!” Inside the paper was a half-page ad for Perry Adams Chevrolet/GMC/Hummer. Some laughed, some gasped at the headline: OVERSTOCK! PICKUP CLEARANCE! Below the headline was a photo of the proprietor, standing with two thumbs up in front of a line of pickup trucks — all white.

“I’ll be damned,” said Tina. “The end of the world, and that shady quick-buck artist was still trying to pull in a few more suckers.”

“With any grace, you won’t be damned,” said Patterson. “But I wonder what happened to this particular individual. Did he drive off in one of those trucks? Did he die, by his own hand or starvation or murder? Or is he still living on the fruits of his dishonest labor?”

“I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I went there last year before I bought my Impreza. Mister Perry Adams himself waited on me. He tried to push me into a Tahoe, after I told him what I was looking for, and it wasn’t a gigantic SUV. He ignored everything I said, then he wrote up the papers and told me to bring my husband in to close the sale!”

Charles snorted. “I can imagine that went over like a lead balloon!”

“I let him know I wouldn’t doing business there, and would tell everyone I knew to avoid them like the plague, then I walked out. That SOB tried to physically bar me from leaving and jabbered at me until I told him — loudly — I was calling the police if he didn’t let me leave that instant. I had my phone out and had 911 punched in before he got enough clue to move!”

Charles and Johnny laughed, and Patterson grinned. “Yeah, that sounds like Mom!” said Kelly.

“We should give this paper to Ben,” said Cody. “He’s trying to write our history or something. He’ll want to see it.”


Friday, March 18, 2011 16 comments

#FridayFlash: Accidental Sorcerers 3

Around 15 years ago, I wrote the story that would become the heart of this episode on a Tandy 600 laptop. It might be on a floppy somewhere out in Studio FAR, and I might have a computer out there that could read that floppy, but the story was memorable enough for me that I was able to rewrite it without that particular crutch. (Mrs. Fetched would take this as evidence that my memory faults are selective — if true, it’s not me doing the selecting!) I didn’t set out to write Accidental Sorcerers with this part in mind, but realized it not only fit but belonged here.

Moving right along… and if you're just joining Mik and Sura, start with Part 1!

Accidental Sorcerers #3
Sura’s Story

Mik, not used to being served, insisted on feeding the fire while Sura poured tea. She moved another bench next to Mik’s, close to the fire, and sipped her tea while he poked the wood into place. The food tray bridged the gap between their benches.

“You said you had your own story,” he said at last, taking up his teacup.

She nodded. “It was near the end of summer,” she said, staring into the fire. “I really made a mess of things…”
“Will you please sit down?” Bailar sounded amused and exasperated at once. “You’re making me nervous.”

Sura sat, watching the sorcerer eat. Hunger finally overcame nerves, and she took a roll and nibbled.

“Good,” he said. “Now that you’re still, why don’t you tell me what happened?”

She sighed. “I was about worn out carrying those buckets up from the river, and the vat was only half full. You left your staff there, and I remembered that story in the holy book about how the prophet struck the stone and water came out. So I struck the wall with your staff, and it worked! I was overjoyed at first.

“Then the vat filled up, but I didn’t know how to stop the water. I should have called for help before there was six inches of water in the basement, I know.”

Bailar nodded. “Indeed, but that was your final mistake. What was your first?”

Sura laughed. “That’s easy. I shouldn’t have done it in the first place!”

“Exactly! That’s known as the Principle of Necessity. Magic calls on powers greater than ourselves, and those powers are not to be used lightly. That’s why we have apprentices, to do the work not worthy of magic.” He grinned. “So you struck the wall and got water. Why do you think it worked?”

“Your staff. I used your staff.”

The sorcerer shook his head. “It’s only a stick. It helps me keep my balance. It worked because you have a talent for magic, like others have a talent for music or weapons.”


“Of course. That’s the Principle of Power, or some call it the Principle of Intent. Most people wouldn’t have drawn water. You wouldn’t have either, if you just struck the wall without that intent. I knew the talent was there — I saw it in you the day I found an infant girl on my doorstep. But like any other talent, you can spend a lifetime developing it. If you want, you can learn to be a sorcerer. I’ll teach you all I can.”

“But — of course — what else would I do?”

“Many things. Any sensible innkeeper would put you in charge of his kitchen. You know the old saw: A sorcerer or king may be thrown aside / but a good scribe or cook may always abide. You could be either one.”
Mik looked at the tray. “You made all this? It’s wonderful! Do you use magic to make it taste that good?”

“No, no magic. But the mentor says he’s eaten in the best houses of Exidy, and even the palace at the capital, and never dined better than any evening here at home.” Sura smiled at the floor.

“Maybe there’s other kinds of magic.”

She blushed. “Maybe. I’d like the recipe for that cake you brought though, it’s better than mine. But magic is a lot like cooking: you start by following recipes, then you learn to create your own.”

Mik laughed. “Well, I’ve eaten most of this tray. But if what matters is talent, why all the chanting? Why the robes and wands and things?”

“People expect it. And it can help you focus. The chants are good for remembering spells, too. How the spell for awakening an ice dragon became a children’s rhyme, though…” Sura tore open a roll, stuffed meat and cheese inside it, then took a bite. “But there’s one more thing…”
Bailar put down his roll. “But let’s pretend for a moment that it was necessary for you to perform that spell. What else should you have known?”

Sura thought a minute. “Um… how to make it stop?”

“Indeed. A spell begun must be ended. That we call the Principle of Closure.”

“That makes sense.”

“Of course it does. And now you have had your first lesson in sorcery. Spells can go awry, even strictly following the Principles, but when they are ignored something nearly always goes wrong.” He began to laugh. “For example, your mentor can find you ankle-deep in water, shrieking like a banshee, desperately trying to hold back a torrent — pouring — from a wall…” He put his face on the table and shook with laughter.
Mik stifled most of his own laughter. “I can see it! I’ll bet that was a mess to clean up!”

“Oh, it was. I learned a lot that day. Kind of like you.”

“So, being a sorcerer… it’s something you were born with?”

“And you as well.” Bailar appeared in the doorway. “I rather hoped Sura would tell you her story — perhaps now you understand your own predicament a little better.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then perhaps you can tell me how the Three Principles apply to you?”

Mik thought a moment. “I think it was necessary to awaken the ice dragon. The invaders had driven our army out of the Two Rivers district, and they were nearing our town. I wasn’t aware that I had talent, I thought anyone could have done it. As for the last, I thought — no, I didn’t think at all. I suppose I thought the dragon would go away on its own once its work was done. It would be poor thanks to let it die, so I came to you.”

“Your good heart has protected you from the wrath of the ice dragon, so far. Whether it can protect you from the world at large, I know not. I believe I know what you must do, though.”


Wednesday, March 16, 2011 2 comments

Wednesday Wibbles [UPDATED]

I’m going to get this done. It might be Thursday when it posts, but I’m going to get this done.

First, the weekly welcome to the free-range insane asylum! All three are writers too, go check ’em out…

Speaking of writing, I’ve not been doing nearly as much as I’d like. M.A.E. is trying to get financial aid to go back to school and improve her job prospects — which would lead to her getting independent and moving out of FAR Manor, so I can’t exactly kick her off my computer. I’ve continued to edit White Pickups offline using my Kindle, but not as much as I’d like. Then there’s the minor detail of the sequel. At least I have nothing pressing to finish… at the moment. I got an idea for a horror story at 5 a.m. this morning while tending to Mason (no, it’s not about him), so I need a chance to finish writing that down.

[UPDATE] I forgot to include this last night. Since we downgraded from the iPhones, I’ve gone back to using my old 5G iPod (aka iPodicus) to keep the tunes coming while I’m at the office. I bought a nice leather and spandex case for it at the same time I got the iPod, but the cover over the screen and click wheel has always been a sore point with me — they obscure the screen and make the wheel a lot less sensitive than it should be. I finally got tired of the wheel cover earlier this week and took Mrs. Fetched’s sewing gear to it. I found the seam ripper was good for breaking the first stitch, then a stout needle let me pull out the rest. Before and after pics…

My only regret so far: I didn’t do this years ago. I might do the same with the screen cover, but haven’t decided yet. It’s not as waterproof as it used to be, but so far that hasn’t been an issue.

Mason seems to be going beyond Epic Bed Hair these days. The hair on the back of his head has decided it will play by its own rules and do what it pleases. Usually, it’s pleased to stand straight out from the back of his head. He’s 18 months old now… wow. His checkup went well, and we’ve got him on our insurance now. With spring continuing to bring nicer days, he gets to spend a lot of his weekend outside, either at the park or running around the manor. Mrs. Fetched and I are talking about setting up an enclosed play area for him, which is suddenly feasible now that my yearly bonus has arrived. (I haven’t told her yet, shhhhh!) We’ll probably connect it with the patio/deck project that I’ve been wanting to do as well. I’ve also ordered a few trinkets (things I’ve wanted for a while) from Amazon; maybe they’ll arrive this week. Probably next.

Shannon (see above) has invented the Blog Flog. Anyone following the blog gets to post a comment describing his/her blog, which “obligates” that person to run their own flog. I’m planning mine this weekend, so tidy up and think about what you want to say…

Hey, it’s only 11:30 p.m. Still Wednesday here!

Monday, March 14, 2011 5 comments

White Pickups, Episode 78

Thursday, March 8, 2012

They called it The Great Critter Roundup, and people laughed no matter how many times they heard about it. With the spring head built and holding water, it was just a matter of routing and gluing pipe, and Cody was more than equal to supervising that. Johnny, Tim, Jennifer, and Janet pulled trailers, riding slowly to let the kids keep up. All five kids came along, all a little uncertain about what they could do but excited to be outside Laurel for the first time since October. All were armed against dog attacks — adults with firearms, kids with ammonia-filled Super Soakers — but they had no problems.

Crossing the freeway, they picked up Old Peachtree Road and followed it to Braselton Highway, continuing east through outer suburbia and exurbia through the morning. Finally, the houses and subdivisions thinned out and began to give way to pastureland. Several cows grazed in one pasture, and Johnny waved them all to a halt to look them over.

“They don’t look too bad off,” said Johnny, peering through a pair of binoculars. “I’m guessing a lot of their fellows died out through the winter, though.”

“So are we gonna try getting them?” Jennifer looked dubious. A white pickup rolled by, slowed. You need wheels to catch them. Let us help.

“Probably not. Meat cows like those, they liked to keep their distance even from the farmers back Before. We’ll have to get lucky, maybe find a couple calves that have been weaned but would still be young enough to get used to people.” Johnny made a shooing gesture at the truck, and it rolled away. “I figure we’ll be out here more than once, especially after we get the pipeline finished. This trip, we’ll call a success if we catch us a dozen chickens or so.”

“So what are we gonna do?” asked Caitlin.

“Look for a place with chicken houses. Maybe someone opened the doors before they drove off… or whatever. Most of the birds would be dead, but a few probably survived the winter. Those are the ones we want anyway — the ones that made it through the winter by foraging. They’ve figured out how to avoid predators and won’t need a lot of attention.”

“How are we gonna catch ’em?” Sheldon asked.

“If we find any live birds, we’re probably gonna find ’em in or between the chicken houses. It’s shelter, but it’s also a bottleneck. And we brought nets.”

They rode another half hour before spotting the first chicken farm. Both houses were closed up tight, and only insects and rats were to be found alive inside. Johnny led them to the farm house, and they had lunch on the spacious porch before riding on.

The next set of chicken houses they found by spotting the chicken first — it walked in the ditch on the side of the road, pecking at an unseen lunch. When they got too close, it waddled up the bank and through a screen of trees. Johnny called a halt and followed the chicken, finding four open chicken houses. He slid back down the bank. “We’re in luck,” he said, looking up and down the road. “I think that’s the entrance. We rode right past it.”

They stopped at the top of the driveway, looking over the chicken houses and an equipment shed off to one side. Several dozen chickens milled about, inside and outside the houses, pecking at the ground and occasionally flapping their wings.

“What do we do? How do we catch ’em?” Ben asked, wide-eyed.

“We’ll have to do a bunch of stuff to get ready before we even try grabbing any,” said Johnny. “The ones inside will be easiest, as long as we have the cages set up and waiting for them. But we’ll have to go way around to not spook the others.”

Johnny, Jennifer, and the boys carried nets and cages around to the back of the chicken houses, and set up the traps Johnny built over the last few days: nets, roughly six feet high and set in a triangle, between the houses. Where the apex of the netting met the ground, a short piece of culvert pipe led into a cage. “With this setup, they only have one place to go,” Johnny explained. “We’ll be carrying nets as we drive ’em toward the cages, so they can’t slip between us and get back the other way.” At the back end of each house, Johnny left the doors open just wide enough to place the culvert in between. He found some tarp in the equipment shed and tacked it up to discourage chickens from jumping over the culvert. With their traps set, they made their circuitous way back.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” said Tim as the others rejoined the girls and him at the equipment shed. “A little calf just wandered up in between two of the houses.”

“Great,” said Johnny, not at all pleased. “If he gets spooked, he’ll take down the nets at the back! We’ll have to shoo him out of there before we start. We’ll probably scatter a few chickens too.” He turned around and stomped back around the side of the last house — now that the nets were set, there was no worry about spooking the birds.

Ben and Sheldon slipped down to peer around the corner. Johnny came around the back, slipped through the net, and started waving his arms. “Hyah! Get outta here! Hyah!” The calf munched grass, unconcerned, until Johnny drew closer. As Johnny took two quick steps and shouted again, the calf turned and trotted toward the front. The boys watched it approach.

“Bet you can’t catch it,” Ben whispered to Sheldon.

“I could if I wanted too.”

“I’ll give you a dollar if you catch it.”

“Money ain’t worth anything, stupid! But watch this.” As the calf neared the corner closest to the boys, Sheldon rushed out and launched a flying tackle — and was nearly as surprised as Ben and Johnny when he landed on top of the calf! He wrapped his arms around its neck and his legs around its body as it bellowed for help, then he jerked to one side and landed in the gravel on one hip, still wrapped around the thrashing calf.

“Ben! Help!”

“Ben!” Johnny yelled, rushing toward them, scattering chickens on either side. “Use your shirt! Sit on its back legs and tie ’em together!” He pulled off his own shirt as he ran. Ben shucked his t-shirt and got it around the calf’s legs as Johnny arrived, wrapping his own shirt around the calf’s front legs. Immobilized, it stopped struggling and lay huffing on the gravel, eyes rolling.

“Get it off me!” Sheldon yelled, and Johnny and Ben pulled it away. Sheldon stood, brushing dirt off his clothes, as Ashley ran up.

“You guys okay?” She probed Sheldon’s side and leg.

“Yeah, yeah — ow!” Sheldon flinched as she pressed on his hip.

“Probably just bruising. You need to walk around a little so it doesn’t get stiff.”

“I know.” Sheldon limped back toward the equipment shed, then stopped. “You owe me a dollar, Ben,” he said.

“That was a dam-fool stunt you just pulled,” Johnny grinned. “But hey, it worked. You might be cut out to be a cowboy. If you’re up to it, go look in the shed and see if they have any sweet feed. It’ll have a picture of a calf on the bag.”

They ended up catching over twenty chickens, but after the calf even Lily’s dive to catch a loose chicken was anti-climatic. Johnny found a bridle and a feed bag in the equipment shed and gave the calf something to eat after hobbling it much like Cleve and Tim had hobbled Joseph so long ago. With a bag of sweet feed in its face, the calf decided to allow Johnny to lead it home the next morning. At a walking pace, they left at dawn and were not home until dusk.


Sunday, March 13, 2011 4 comments

Twitter Twaddle

It appears that Twitter may want to curtail third-party Twitter clients. Now I think Mashable might be overstating the case a little, and their failure to link to the forum post doesn’t bolster their case, but Twitter does want clients to act the same way.

Too bad they don’t practice what they preach.

I’ve used the official Twitter clients for web, MacOS X, and iPad. They all kind of look similar, perhaps as much as possible given the natures of the underlying platforms. But all three of them do things a little differently:

  • Hover over a shortened link in the web client, and it displays a tooltip showing the expanded URL. Neither iPad nor OSX versions do that.
  • Tap a tweet with no links or hashtags on the iPad, and you get the tweeter’s profile. Click the same tweet in the OSX client, and you get… nothing. On the web client, you get other recent tweets from that account.
  • The OSX client has a pretty slick way of handling multiple accounts — avatars for each account appear in the sidebar and you can click on them to switch. I don’t see that on either the web or iPad clients.
  • In the OSX and iPad clients, retweeting gives you a “quote tweet” option that the web client doesn’t.
Even if Twitter’s own clients worked the same across all platforms, I’d say they’re jumping the gun by trying to limit third-party development. In addition to the Twitter clients, TweetDeck (my primary client until recently), and a FireFox plugin called EchoFon on occasion. TweetDeck is an elaborate client, offering simultaneous views of user-defined lists. For example, I have my main tweetstream, mentions, several searches, direct messages, and new followers in separate panels. It’s a very nice way to keep up with a lot of info at once… too bad it uses Adobe AIR, which makes it screw up under heavy load. EchoFon is very simple, and lives in the bottom right corner of the browser until you pop it up to see what’s going on. Both of them offer different ways to interact with Twitter from the “official” clients, and depending on what you need they can be better ways.

In short, the Twitter ecosystem is far from being complete. Even if it was, it needs to be able to evolve to meet the needs of the people using it. The Twitter developers themselves know a lot about the system internals, but they’re somewhat removed from the people actually using the system day-in day-out. The users know what they want to do and how they want to do it — let the creativity of third-party app developers fill the needs, and leverage the knowledge gained. In other words, adapt the most popular new features to your own apps.

But first, get your own apps working the same way before you demand that third-party developers do likewise.

Friday, March 11, 2011 19 comments

#FridayFlash: Accidental Sorcerers 2

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback on the first episode — thanks to everyone who has commented here or on Twitter. The story continues about a week after Mik sent the ice dragon into battle…

Part 1

Accidental Sorcerers #2
a Quest

Mik and Piet flanked Robi, walking to school on the snowy street.

“Can you believe it?” Robi asked them, her hand in Piet’s. “Spring’s only a month away. No more school, forever!”

“If you don’t count being ’prenticed as school,” Piet laughed.

“I hope Mattu takes me on,” said Mik. “At least a merchant gets to travel —”

A gust of wind whipped Mik’s hood back, and he pulled it up. “And maybe I’ll have my own place somewhere warmer.” He laughed, then stopped and turned. “Hey, what —”

Piet looked terrified, trying to pull Robi out of the street. She stood her ground, but pointed. “Mik! It’s back!” He had mistook the ice dragon for a huge snowdrift, but now it stood watching them in silent regard.

“Is something wrong?” Mik asked it at last.

The enemy has departed your lands, it said in its frigid voice.


I have done your bidding. Dispel me.


“I told you!” Robi gave Piet a playful punch.

You awakened me and yet you are so ignorant? The dragon seemed surprised. I will melt with the coming of spring, like a human burned alive.

Mik shuddered. “I’ll find out how to dispel you. I promise.”

The whole town was in an uproar, everyone asking Mik questions as he asked his. It was the school librarian who told him of a sorcerer — a hundred miles away, but the dragon assured him that he could fly that far before sunset. His parents were dubious, but saw no other way. His mother gave him a thick cloak and filled his pack with cakes: “Even a wizard has to eat, and it isn’t right to seek aid empty-handed.” She had more to say, but her lecture was tempered knowing he had saved the town. All was ready in an hour, and Mik shouldered his pack.

Everyone turned out, gawping at the dragon or getting a new glimpse of Mik. Girls, who hadn’t noticed him yesterday, waved to him and wished him a speedy return — reminding him of what Robi had said a week ago.

You are ready. Mik nodded and the dragon allowed him to mount, seating himself in a sheltered spot where neck and body met. Below his left leg were large faint pink spots, but Mik barely noticed. The dragon leaped skyward to cheers and shrieks, and they were aloft.

Which way?

“East to the Wide River, then follow it north.” Mik was frightened and excited to be airborne. He found his perch surprisingly comfortable; only stray gusts of wind touched him. Land, sky, dragon — all were white, and they might be skimming the snow for all he knew. He closed his eyes —

Is that it?

High above the river, Mik saw a toylike town and fought back nausea. “Maybe. Let me down outside of town so you don’t panic everyone. I’ll ask.”

Mik stopped a townsman. “Is this Exidy Town?”

“Of course, boy,” he sneered.

“Thank you, sir. I seek the sorcerer, Bailar the Blue.”

The man looked puzzled, then looked beyond Mik, perhaps seeking companions. “Across the river, on the bluff overlooking,” he said at last, pointing.

Mik and the dragon circled the sorcerer’s keep. It was unimposing: a house against a low tower, about three stories high. A steep but walkable drop led to the river below. The dragon alit near the front door of the house. This door opened, revealing a girl about Mik’s age, wearing a blue robe and carrying a staff. She gave them a wary look, then struck the stone with her staff.

“The Sorcerer of Exidy, Bailar the Blue!” Smoke billowed from the threshold, then dissipated, revealing the sorcerer. He looked a little older than Mik’s parents, and wore a robe similar to his apprentice’s.

Mik sketched a bow from atop the dragon. “Sir,” he said, “I am honored, but a personal greeting is above my station.”

The sorcerer looked amused. “A dragonrider always merits a personal greeting. Come in, warm yourself, then we can talk.” He turned carefully and went inside.

The dragon curled up in the snow as Mik dismounted. The apprentice ushered him inside. They followed the sorcerer through a mud room and into a hallway beyond.

“You’re no older than me,” the apprentice whispered. “I don’t see many people our age here. Are you already a sorcerer?”

Mik shook his head as his host turned and entered a cozy parlor. A warm fire and benches awaited. “Please, seat yourself. Would you like some tea? Yes? Sura, bring the pot and cups for the three of us.” Mik was given the bench closest to the fire; he soon shed his outerwear.

“Oh, I brought cakes,” said Mik, removing them from his pack. “Maybe they’ll go well with the tea.”

“Indeed. And here’s Sura with the tea.”

With a cup warming his hands, Mik and his hosts faced each other around a low table, Mik’s back to the fire. Sura unwrapped and tasted a cake, then smiled. “Very good!”

“Excellent. Now, young dragonrider, why don’t you tell us your story?”

Mik told them everything, and found the reactions interesting: the sorcerer looked solemn, while the apprentice openly grinned. She had a pretty smile though.

“Very fortunate,” said Bailar at last. “Awakening an ice dragon, and living to tell about it. One wrong word, and it would have crushed you before wreaking havoc on both armies.

“But know this: you brought it awake, and thus you can dispel it. I may be able to help.” He stood. “I will consult my grimories. Sura can show you your guest room and the more important part of the house: the kitchen!”

Mik and Sura looked at each other. “Come on,” she said, “I’ll show you around.” She led him first to the guest room, then the kitchen, where she constructed a plate of bread, meats, and cheeses with easy familiarity.

“Got in over your head?” she said at last, carrying the tray and another pot of tea.

“I’m glad someone finds it amusing.”

“I’m sorry, Mik. It’s just that… you’re not the only one that’s happened to.” She gave him a serious look. “Let me tell you my story.”


Thursday, March 10, 2011 No comments

Pulling Up, Welcome, Writing

Things have improved quite a bit in the last two days. The HR person went into the database and could see from the transaction history that I had tried to add The Boy, so she went ahead and fixed it. I came home to find both Skyler and Big V here at the manor, but they went home after a while so it was all good. I still find myself with very little free time, and end up staying up much later than I should. On the other hand, Moptop is back… none the worse, nor better either.

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while is say hello to new blog-followers and welcome everyone to the free-range insane asylum. Since I haven’t done this before, I’m going to go back a couple months. From here on, I’ll list those since the last shout…

• Lace — Survival Suburbanite Style

Clifton Hill — artist, writer, book reviewer

Craig WF Smith — author of Zoolin Vale and the Chalice of Ringtar

• John Anelio — musician specializing in Sci Fi Songs

Icy Sedgwick — aspiring author and great photo prompts (see Click, The Philosopher’s Stone)

Apple Ardent Scott — writes horror and cool flash fiction

Cathy Webster — fiction and life, it’s like TFM without the angst

Mari Juniper — “stories, reflections, and pretty things”

• John Wiswell — anyone with the guts to call his blog The Bathroom Monologues is worth reading!

• Laurita Miller — and I seem to have lost her blog…

With the last few episodes of White Pickups waiting to be posted, I’ve been going back into the story and doing some preparatory work on the eBook version. The primary thread, how Cody becomes the person everyone looks to, is (I think) in reasonable shape. I need to work on some of the supporting characters, and these last few episodes are setting the stage for the sequel without really supporting the current story lines. Kind of sloppy, but that’s what happens when you just start writing sometimes. Without them, the ending felt kind of abrupt, which is why I didn’t just move them to Book 2.

I’m working on defining the framework for the two books now, which is probably a good idea because the second one is already about a third written.

Meanwhile, the Accidental Sorcerers series is already done — easy enough, since it’s only four parts — and the next three parts come out on successive Fridays. As in, part 2 tomorrow. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, March 08, 2011 2 comments

So Far No Good

If the rest of this week goes as it’s begun, it’s made entirely of fail.

It was a rough weekend for nearly everyone here, as the stomach/intestinal virus cut its swath through the population. Big V was down, so her grandson Skyler was at the manor. He’s a little younger than Mason, 14 months to Mason’s 18 months (as of today), but larger. Mrs. Fetched thinks he’s “slow,” although I think what she sees is that he’s slow in contrast to an older and more dynamic Mason. But he is blonde… very very blonde. On the other hand, he was about the only one of us not affected by the virus this weekend.

Moptop went off to her grandparents, as she does every weekend, and got good and sick there. She’s still there, as M.A.E. had the double-whammy of the virus plus surgery to retrieve an IUD that went walkabout in her uterus. I think Mason looks forward to weekends, because they are Moptop-free, and having Skyler around plus the virus made him rather cranky. “Does not play well with others,” would have been checked off on his report card this weekend. I heard the Screech of Rage™ way too often this weekend, when Skyler picked up something Mason didn’t want bothered or when he just got in Mason’s personal space.

I sweated out the virus early Sunday morning, but then Mrs. Fetched got it and I dealt with the kids. The Boy, as usual, managed to be “at work” or “helping Lobster move out” (two whole bags). The latter involved him staying at Lobster’s new place, an apartment he and his new girlfriend have picked out. (Great couple… married, but not to each other.) The Boy came down with the virus there and spent all of Sunday night there. That would have been fine, as he left my car here, but took the key with him.

Speaking of The Boy, a glitch in the database didn’t let me add him to our insurance back in November. I contacted HR at the time, and they said they’d take care of it. Now he’s not on our insurance, and they’re saying he “can’t be added” until next open enrollment in November. They’ve fallen back on scripted responses and “it’s policy” like it’s some huge effing deal… how hard can it be to add one line item into a database? When it was their own fail that kept me from adding him in the first place? If I started working there today, would I have to wait until November to add my family to the coverage? I am now officially looking for a new job, just so I can get coverage for The Boy. Maybe I’ll see of my previous employer would give me any inducement to jump ship. On the other hand, the grand-boss is going to be here tomorrow, and maybe I can dump this in her lap… especially when I start making noises about leaving over it.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Fetched is about fed up with Sunshine, her brother. He’s once again unemployed, which means he’s hanging around telling everyone UR DOIN IT RONG. That she can ignore, but when she was sick he went into the chicken houses and implemented some of his “improvements,” which as usual only screwed things up. I’ve told The Boy he could end up just like Sunshine, which he dismisses but its becoming more evident as time goes on — especially in his attempt to domineer Mason.

“I’m not having Mason throw his fits because he’s not getting his way, I’ll bust his butt!”

“Hm,” I said, “maybe I should have done that with you, then.” That shut him up, and he even looked like he was thinking about it.

One bit of comic relief came this morning. Mason once again snatched the pen and Moleskine out of my shirt pocket. “You got an idea for a story?” I asked him. He responded with a long string of vowels that, if I could only translate it, was no doubt the plot to a best-selling series that would eclipse J.K. Rowling. Mrs. Fetched bought him off with another pen, and he proceeded to the nearest wall and would have begun his first draft had she not stopped him. He cut loose with the Screech once again when she took the pen away.

Monday, March 07, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 77

Ironic — the photo in this post was taken March 2, 2011 — exactly one year before the date of this episode…


Friday, March 2, 2012

After the first week of pipeline construction, things started smoothing out. Packs of wild dogs were still a problem outside the fence, but there were plenty of weapons at each work site and the dogs started to keep their distance. With the spring head mostly complete, the hardest part was done and now Cody had rotated off the work crews for a day. Lunch was over, and he was free for the afternoon. It felt weird, nobody needing his help or even an opinion for a change, and he wasn’t in the mood to play video games (or chit-chat with fellow kibitzers while waiting his turn), so he wandered through Laurel for lack of a better idea. A line from something he couldn’t remember — doing nothing in particular, and thinking nothing in particular — ran through his mind, and it suited him. Aloneness weighed on him… funny, now that there were so few people around, he’d forgotten how to enjoy time with only himself.

Splotches of yellow — daffodils — caught his eye. The cheerful flowers were a welcome distraction. They seemed to be all over the place: growing in flowerbeds, along the streets, in yards that hadn’t yet been plowed for gardens, it didn’t seem to matter to them. Cody liked their attitude, and ended up picking a handful without much thinking about it beyond remembering Ben’s foraging admonishment: leave some for next year. As he continued to wander, he found himself walking across the lot behind the townhouses, where Sondra’s grave stood waiting for him. He looked at the cairn, looked down at the flowers, and nodded.

He sat on the end of the cairn. “Hey. I brought you some flowers,” he said, and laid them on the rocks. He heard a gasp, and Caitlin’s head popped up on the other side.

“You — oh,” she said, looking at Cody and the small heap of daffodils. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Cody said. “What…” he waved his hands.

“Sorry. I can go if you want.”

“You don’t have to.”

Caitlin boosted herself onto the other end of the cairn, understanding the rest of Cody’s first question. “I like to come out here sometimes.”

“Yeah. How’s your shoulder? Still sore?”

“Not really. Ashley checks it for infection, and Rita gave me some exercises to do so it won’t get stiff. I wish class hadn’t got canceled, though. Jenn-Mom makes me wear a jacket and a pad underneath when I practice, then she’s always telling me to be careful. Like I’m made of glass or something.”

Cody laughed. “Moms are like that. Sometimes, you need some space from all that. I guess that’s why you come out here.”

“No. It’s just that… Ashley and Lily aren’t mean to me or anything, but sometimes I just feel like I don’t belong with them anymore. I don’t belong anywhere. So I come out here and sit. Sometimes, I’ll talk to Sondra, tell her what’s going on.”

“Yeah, me too. She ever talk back?”

“Sometimes.” Caitlin clapped her hand over her mouth.

“It’s okay. She talks to me sometimes too.”

“I’m not very good at keeping secrets,” Caitlin said. “My mom used to say my mouth runs great but it don’t have no brakes. So I hope you won’t get mad if I say you said that.”

“I don’t care. Sondra liked you, you know.”

Caitlin looked surprised. “She did? I thought… well, you know… that she would have been jealous or something.”

“He — heck, no. She thought it was funny. Or she thought the way I reacted was funny, anyway. I wish my sister was still here. She was about your age, and she woulda liked you too. She’d tell you a bunch of stupid things about me, then you’d just laugh at me.”

Caitlin shook her head. “I wouldn’t laugh. What was her name?”

“Katera, but she liked to be called Teri. I always thought she was a pain in the ass back Before, but now… now I miss her more than anyone.”

“Even Sondra?”

“Almost. Maybe as much, anyway.”

They sat on each end of the cairn for a minute, both lost in their own thoughts. “So why do you think you don’t belong?” Cody asked. “Do they just ignore you or something?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “They’re nice, especially lately… they kind of act like they’re afraid of me sometimes. They tease me a little, but I don’t mind that much. But me and Ashley have a bedroom together, and it’s — I don’t know, it’s like Lily’s her friend more than I am. Jennifer’s nice, so are Tim and Sara, but they’re trying to get ready for the baby. If I wasn’t around — if I wasn’t, I wonder if anyone would notice.” Caitlin looked away, wiping her eyes.

“They’d notice.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, for one thing, there’s not enough people around. If someone was missing, everyone would know pretty quick. But that’s not the only reason… I’m trying to figure out how to say this. There has to be a reason why you — and me, and everyone else are still walking around instead of taking the Forever Road Trip, y’know? We can’t afford to lose anyone else.” He patted the rock. “Me and Sondra… we talked about having our first kid next — this year. She used to say, ‘a kid or four,’ so I guess we’d have been raising a lot of them. When you’re older, you’ll be having your own kids, too.”

“Yeah right. There’d have to be someone who wants to marry me.”

“It’ll happen. I never thought anyone would love me the way Sondra did, but it happened. Maybe it’ll happen again.”

“It did happen… but I’m too little.”

“Hey. Y’know, there’s some guys who wouldn’t care about that. They’d use you, maybe hurt you, and make you think it was your fault. Don’t let that happen to you, okay? ’Cause if it did, I’d have to throw the son of a bitch in a truck.”

Caitlin shook her head. “I won’t. Maybe those kind of people are already all in trucks though.”

“You never know. Hey… you want to talk to me, you can find me. Or maybe talk to Jennifer. She probably understands this shit better than I do. Sondra and me was something that just happened. And I bet if you ask her, she’ll make time for you.”

“Maybe. I guess I should go now. Thanks, Cody.” She slid off the cairn onto the grass.

“Sure. Hey, wait a minute.” Cody picked up a few flowers and offered them to her. “Take these with you, okay?”

Caitlin looked dubious at first, then grinned. “Thanks.”

Cody watched her walk away. In a lower voice, “I wish I knew how to deal with her.”

You did pretty good, actually.

“Yeah right. She still wants to be my girlfriend, and maybe just anyone’s friend. She’s as messed up as I am.”



You’re not so messed up now.

“If that’s true, it’s only because you were there for me.”

Now you can be there for someone else.

“Yeah? Who?”

No answer. Cody sighed and slipped off the cairn. He’d made Caitlin feel better, maybe, and that was something.


Sunday, March 06, 2011 No comments

Viruses Suck

I’m talking about the biological kind, naturally. Panda had it earlier this week; he got it from his kids who brought it home from school. Daughter Dearest and I came down with it Friday night, Mason yesterday, and Mrs. Fetched has it now. It's this stomach virus that induces nausea and diarrhea (or as it’s pronounced in the local dialect, “die rear” — rather appropriate).

Fortunately, it only lasts about 36 hours. I never threw up, although I thought I would once or twice, and ate two mugs of soup and a piece of toast all day yesterday. I had better lose a couple pounds over this.

Friday, March 04, 2011 21 comments

#FridayFlash: Accidental Sorcerers 1

This story could be considered as accidental as the characters. My blog-buddy AndiF posts a daily photo and a circle of friends gather around and talk about whatever — sometimes, even the photo. We got to chatting about this particular one (shown below), and Andi said I’m thinking that it has to wait for an ice spider to spin an ice web over its bones to catch the snow. I immediately felt that familiar tickle, and over the next day or so the story pretty much wrote itself.

As Tolkien said, “the tale grew in the telling,” and it soon spawned some sequels — one of which was a story I’d written a long time ago, on the same “accidental sorcery” theme; it took almost no effort to tie it in. There will be four parts, unless there’s five or six. The title came to me after I tweeted that a lot of my fantasy involves the consequences of people using magic that they don’t fully understand, and John Wiswell responded, “Oh, so like it would really be?”

Accidental Sorcerers #1
Awakening an Ice Dragon

The wind carried loose snow and the thud of cannon fire. Two ghost-like figures followed the creek bank, stopping then moving on.

“Where’d it go?”

“It’s around here somewhere. I saw it yesterday. It couldn’t have thawed.”

“Why are we doing this?” The first speaker pulled back the white sheet, revealing a girl’s face. She looked over her shoulder.

“Keep covered!” her companion rasped. “My uncle said the soldiers are close. Some of them might even be around here.”

“Chill, Mik. We’d see them first.”

“I’m already chilled.”

“So why are we out here?”

“Duh, Robi. The grownups won’t try this. You gotta be pure to make an ice dragon and not have it turn on you. Why do you think they let us leave, instead of making us help pack up to evacuate?”

A string of cannon fire rumbled across the distance, and Robi flipped the sheet back over her hood. “Pure is a pretty big word,” she said. “Is anyone pure? I bet the priest would say no.”

Mik stopped again, searching the bank. “I think it means virgin in this case. So we’re safe. At least I am.” He turned to Robi, grinning a question, then blushed and looked away. “Don’t answer that. I’m doing this anyway.”

“Geez, Mik.” Robi was both annoyed and relieved. She hadn’t done that… but did Piet’s clumsy groping count? Just that once? It didn’t matter. She and Mik had been friends all of their thirteen years, and if he admitted to virginity, she believed him. He’d just started noticing other girls anyway.

Photo: Andi Ferguson
“There! I think.” Mik’s excited cry startled her out of her thoughts. She followed his finger to the stream’s edge and saw it etched in the ice: skull, part of a spine and tail, a leg, some of it covered by snow. More snow swirled around them, hiding the skeleton for a moment.

“Careful, Mik. Don’t step on it,” as Mik eased down the bank.

“Yeah. Give me your hand in case I slip.” Hands in heavy gloves clasped, then Mik reached a flat spot and helped Robi down.

“You got the spider, right?”

Mik gave her a horrified stare for a moment, then laughed. “Yeah.” He took a stoppered bottle out of his coat pocket, the bottle he’d shown her yesterday. The frost spider webbed his window for a week of nights, until Mik managed to catch it in the first light of dawn — the only time it could be seen. A piece of paper blundered out from the bottom of his sheet, and Robi stooped to catch it before the wind did.

“Thanks. That’s the needle.” Mik hoped his mom wouldn’t miss it; she’d kill him ice dragon or no.

“We’re here. Now what?”

“What, you don’t remember the rhyme?” He recited:

When winter winds moan,
The ice dragon’s bones
Can be found alongside the river.

The blood of the pure
Shed without fear:
The ice dragon comes to deliver.

The frost spider spins
A white snowy skin
And blood brings the dragon awake.

But impure blood burns,
The dragon shall turn,
The bones of the wicked to break.
Robi joined him as he spoke. “Just from other kids. I guess my parents thought it was too scary.”

Mik nodded, then knelt next to the skeleton. He held his bottle over it, then opened the stopper and shook the bottle. They couldn’t see the spider, but it began to knit: slowly at first, then gaining speed.

“It’s not going to be a very big dragon,” said Robi. “It’s what, four feet nose to tail tip?”

“Better than nothing.” He slipped off his gloves and jabbed with the needle several times. “I keep missing!”

“You keep closing your eyes! Here, let me.” She rubbed a little snow on his fingertip and squeezed his finger, turning it red before poking it with the needle.

“Huh. I barely felt that.” He watched his blood drip onto the dragon. “Seven drops should be enough. It’s lucky, anyway.” He thrust his finger into the snow to make the bleeding stop, then donned his gloves. “Look!”

With a crackling noise, the ice dragon pulled itself free of the river ice and clambered onto the bank, facing the children. Its gaze fixed on Mik as he pushed Robi behind him.

Why have you awakened me? The ice dragon’s voice was chattering teeth, cutting wind, crunching of crusty snow. Robi thought it looked a lot bigger than it really was… or was it growing?

“An enemy has invaded our lands,” said Mik. “Will you make them leave?”

The dragon looked down at them now — it was growing, alright. Make them leave? Why not kill them all?

Mik thought a moment. “No. We just want to be left in peace. You don’t have to kill them if they go away.”

Yet some will die.

“Well… our own soldiers would have killed more of them. It’s not right to want them dead, but soldiers die in wars.”

The huge head cocked over. Its eye was a ball of ice, fixing them in its glare. I judge you pure of heart. It shall be as you desire. The dragon leaped over them, making them duck, then glided away, gathering more snow to itself. It seemed to grow as huge as winter itself as it departed, playing tricks with perspective.

“You did it,” Robi whispered. “You’re a hero.”

“I hope it’s enough. Huh. I guess pure didn’t mean virgin after all.”

She laughed and nudged him. “I bet you won’t be a virgin by spring, not if you don’t want to be. All the girls will want you.”

Mik stared into the flying snow. “I doubt it. No one will ever believe I summoned an ice dragon.”

But everyone believed. They had to.


Thursday, March 03, 2011 3 comments

And Another One’s Gone, Another One’s Gone…

The end of Snippet looks to be a permanent thing now. M.A.E., who is plugged into the goings-on of The Boy better than I am, tells me that Snippet has moved in with whoever it was she slept around with on The Boy. Meanwhile, he’s found a new prospective girlfriend, whom I met this evening. A few too many piercings for my taste, but M.A.E. says she’s more mature than his typical interest (and has a kid of her own).

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about Lobster. He seems to have hooked up with someone — she’s ten years older than him, and not exactly divorced. In fact, according to M.A.E.* she wasn’t even separated when she hooked up with Lobster on Facebook. So I guess she moved out in the last couple days, and Lobster is slowly packing his gear and moving in with her. It is with no sense of irony that they are living in Cumming (Georgia).

I hope this doesn’t blow up in Lobster’s face. He lets his small head do too much of his thinking, and people (especially on Planet Georgia) do get shot on occasion in situations like this. But for now, it looks like Lobster will be moving on and once again going off the radar in our ongoing soap opera.

Although Big V’s grandson Skyler might replace him…

*I’d have her write this post herself, except her spelling is atrocious. ;-)


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