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

Sunday, June 26, 2011 3 comments

Nostalgia Trip

The Boy, like his progeny Mason, hated naps and would often fight sleep tooth and nail. But I had a secret weapon:

I had an Amiga 500 back then, and “demo” writers would compete to create the most mind-blowing graphics and sound effects that would run. You might not think it much, but remember this was running on 23-year old hardware. Amigas had special graphics and sound hardware built-in, taking the load off the CPU — the name “Wild Copper” came from the nickname of the graphics co-processor. Modern CPUs are hundreds of times more powerful these days, and don't need all the help.

Back to The Boy. At Mason’s current age, he was fascinated with “Copper,” with its spinning wireframes and scrolling text. When he needed a nap, I’d ask him “Do you want to see Copper?” and he’d sit still to watch it, sometimes bouncing to the music, until he slowly leaned back against me then turned around to fall asleep on my shoulder.

Display the video full-screen to get the full effect.

Friday, June 24, 2011 21 comments

#FridayFlash: The Seventh Sage

An embarrassment of riches: I came up with three stories over the week, and still have a fourth in my head. But I’ll gladly take the hassle of having to choose which of several to post, rather than scrambling to get something — or worse, admitting defeat and skipping a week.

The Seventh Sage

Dobo grunted and cursed as he scaled the final barrier. “All your riddles… your puzzles… have not stopped me!” he panted. Looking up, he could see the keep once more.

At last! He threw himself up and over the edge of the precipice, onto a narrow path leading upward. He drew his sword, but sat himself in the shelter provided by two boulders. The gods provide, he thought: he could catch his breath and watch both ways along the path without being seen himself. Before him, the Snagtooth Mountains pierced the sky, disappearing into mist, uncounted miles away.

Dobo drank his last two swallows of wine, then clambered to his feet. Sword in hand, he marched up the rocky path. “Four years I have spent on this quest,” he muttered. “Four years. And soon I will fulfill the oath I have sworn —”

Standing before him in the path was a man much like Dobo himself, perhaps a little older. He was armed with a sword, but it was sheathed and he stood with arms folded. Behind him, an open portal.

“Stand aside or die!” Dobo shouted, raising his sword. “I am Dobo of the Northern Reach, and I will not be denied my destiny!”

“You seek the Great Treasure of the Ancients?” the man asked. “Of course you do. I am not here to oppose you, but to lead and guide you. I was once called Marsten of Gran Isle, and I will answer to that name. I remember the Northern Reach well, a land of honest and sturdy people. Come with me.” He turned and walked through the portal.

His innards shouted Trick! Trap! but Dobo was driven by his oath. He scowled and followed, watching everything. No boiling oil fell upon him as he approached the portal. No arrows hissed from hidden openings inside. No pits opened beneath his feet. Still the passageway continued, Marsten leading at an unhurried pace.

The narrow hall ended in a great room, well lit by means Dobo could not see. Armoires stood along the walls, seven in all; two stood open and empty. Hallways led left, right, and straight on. His — guide? host? walked to one of the open armoires and removed his sword belt and mail shirt. “That one is yours,” said Marsten, nodding to the other open armoire.

“I will remain armed, thank you.”

Marsten shrugged. “It is your choice.” He walked to the center of the room, where awaited two divans, facing each other across a low table. A bottle and platter graced the table. “Meat and drink? I suspect you have not had much of either this day. Or are you impatient to claim that which you have striven so long to find?”

Dobo nearly drooled at the sight of meat, but held firm. “We seven swore an oath that only death would stop us from beholding the Great Treasure! Snares and treachery have claimed the others, and only I remain. I may not leave this keep alive, but I will behold the end of our quest — then will I eat. And whatever trap you have set for me? I will face it.”

“There are no traps here.” Marsten pointed to the door opposite. “Through there. Then return and dine.”

Dobo growled, but crossed the room. Again, no traps or snares impeded him. No lightning flashed as he touched the door. He pushed and entered —

A vast library, with more books than Dobo thought existed. As in the great room, the lighting was hidden, and seemed to come from everywhere.

“This… this is the Great Treasure?” he asked the room. Then he considered: books were rare and valuable things, and books of the Ancients would be much more so. He could only carry away what would fit in his pack, but that would be enough to purchase a life of comfort. The Seven Sages and their guard could object, but would not stop him —

He turned at a sound. A group of men and women, including Marsten, stood watching him from just inside the door.

“Then you must be the Seven Sages,” he said, and they nodded as one. “But I count only six. Where is the seventh?” He looked around quickly lest their comrade lie in ambush.

“He lays dying,” said one of the Sages.

“He stands before us,” said another.

Dobo sighed. “Is there no end to riddles? Give me a worthy opponent to fight!”

“Did not dragons or demons stand in your way?” asked Marsten. “And what of men?”

“Not a one! As for men, only brigands and highwaymen sought our blood! Yet every step forward was bought by riddles and puzzles, riddles and puzzles — fatal to those who could not answer them! This was no quest for a man of arms, but a sage!”

“And here you stand. If it takes a sage to find the Great Treasure of the Ancients…”

“I? A sage?” Dobo gave a hearty laugh and sheathed his sword. “A fine jest, my friend! But do I look like a sage to you?”

“Look beyond our title,” said a woman. “Do we look like sages?”

Dobo shrugged. “I see four men and two women, sturdy and foursquare, some older than others. None of you would look out of place in a cohort. So how did you become the Sages?”

“By solving riddles and puzzles, finding our way to the Great Treasure. All began with companions, but all arrived alone.”

“Our lives here are long,” said Marsten, “but not eternal. Always, as one of our number dies, another comes.”

“And how do you eat?”

“We lack for nothing here. We live lives of comfort, studying the books that are the Treasure, and keeping our fighting skills sharp that we may defend this place if needed.”

Dobo remembered the armoires. “This is not what I expected.”

“Nor did we. So we welcome you, as those before welcomed us, as the Seventh Sage.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 3 comments

Wednesday Wibbles

As always, let’s start by welcoming the new followers:

Three writers — go check out their blogs, and give them a follow if you like what you see!

Since I got Scrivener a while back, I’ve been making some pretty good progress on the White Pickups series and have produced a fair amount of shorter work. While I have an outboard hard drive that automatically backs up my system whenever I plug it in (Time Machine is one of those cool things Apple does right), it wouldn’t do me a whole lot of good if a fire or tornado creamed laptop and hard drive alike. I’ve been wanting the same “do it for me” convenience, just for backing up Scrivener projects off-site, so if Something Really Bad happens I won’t lose my work.

At first, I thought maybe the Amazon Cloud Drive would be the solution. If you have an Amazon account, you automatically get 5GB of “cloud” storage for free; if you buy an album from their MP3 store, you get a one-year upgrade to 20GB. Amazon’s S3 protocol is well-documented and supported by all sorts of software, but unfortunately there’s no S3 API to the Cloud Drive per se.

That’s when I remembered, I already have a Dropbox account. While you “only” get 2GB for free, they make things really easy with a driver that integrates your Dropbox with a folder on your hard drive. MacOSX has a nice little scripting hook called Folder Actions, that runs a script when something happens to a folder (say, a file is added to it). Since Scrivener makes a ZIP file of a project in Home→Library→Application Support→Scrivener→Backups whenever you close that project, you can attach a Folder Action to the Backups folder and have it copy new files to the Dropbox folder. Dropbox takes it from there, and automatically copies it to the cloud. Peace of mind!

So: Here’s the script. Create a folder called Scriv_bkup in your Dropbox before trying to use it.

Dropbox also came in handy yesterday, when I realized my beta readers hadn’t received the manuscript. I guess the attachments got trapped in some spam filter along the way. So I just dumped the files into my Public folder and sent the links. They got the files, problem solved.

Now if I could just get more time to write as easily…

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 2 comments

Food and Books

As usual, life has been pretty nutso and I’ve been neglecting the blog except for the weekly fiction dump. So I’ll catch up and get to the rest in the Wednesday Wibbles.

Mason continues to be Mason, growing all the time. He actually used the potty chair Thursday morning! No, no picture, Mrs. Fetched dumped it out and I'm not that neurotic anyway. I don’t know if he’s had any other successes since then or not.

Father’s Day weekend has come and gone. It was a pretty nice weekend, all in all. I didn’t spend much of it chasing Mason and Skylar around, but did take Big V to one of her hospital treatments on Saturday. I took the iPad with me and kept up with Twitter while she was getting worked on. Both days, we ended up eating lunch pretty late — like 3 or 4 p.m., and that did throw things off for me. Saturday afternoon, I started mowing the lawn but was quickly chased inside by a thunderstorm (we’ve had three or four days of rain in the last week, so maybe our dry spell is over).

I did do the grilling on Father’s Day, cooking pork chops and salmon on cedar planks. I bought an oven thermometer because the plank instructions said to have the grill at 350°F. It turns out that I need to turn the grill nearly all the way down to keep it that low. But now that I know, I could conceivably bake bread on the grill if I really had to.

The blackberries have been getting ripe early this year. I’ve seen small handfuls of ripe ones in mid-June before, but never where I could go around and pick a gallon of them. The vines are at the point where they’re becoming a nuisance, trying to invade the yard; there’s one clump that actually is in the back yard, but the berries are big and juicy so I let them have the space they’ve taken. Beyond that, the lawn mower does its worst. I’ve taken Mason over there and picked him a handful for snacking — which may have been a mistake. I just hope he doesn’t get tangled up in there trying to get some on his own. Skylar also got a taste; he nearly spit the first one out but decided he liked it.

If this were the only stand, it would be enough for snacking… but there’s a huge stand behind the detached garage and other one on the other side of the driveway. I also found a couple black raspberry vines that gave me about a pint of big sweet berries. All in all, I picked a gallon in an hour or so, and never got more than 100 yards from the manor.

Mrs. Fetched made us a pie today… and we nailed about a third of it by ourselves. I doubt there will be any left 24 hours from now. But that’s okay, for every berry I picked this weekend there’s at least ten more that are still getting ripe. And other stands farther away from the manor (but still walking distance).

My various writing projects are progressing. I sent White Pickups to some beta readers, and am trying not to bite my nails waiting for feedback. I’m about to hit the difficult part in the sequel, Pickups and Pestilence, where I’ll have to stop filling in and rearranging what I’ve already done and move on to the grand finale. I was surprised to find I’m roughly half-finished with it by word count. And this afternoon, I felt a tickle — a disturbance in the Force that says another idea (maybe a Big Idea) is coming. I just hope it’s going to bring me the grand vision that will let me finish this story.

Friday, June 17, 2011 24 comments

#FridayFlash: Purple Indian

This story has been kicking around in my head for a long time. It finally found its way out.

Purple Indian

I was riding to work on a beautiful morning, running a little late as usual. But that meant traffic was mostly cleared out. I like to avoid the freeways on a motorcycle, back roads are quiet and usually more fun anyway.

So it was, I was on Old Atlanta Road that morning. I glanced at my mirror and saw a big cruiser behind me, coming up fast, so I eased over and waved him around. I like to ride my own ride, and let others ride theirs.

He came around me, but slowed so we were side-by-side for a moment. I usually don’t like that, but I made an exception for a gorgeous custom Indian Four. Some people go way overboard on the chrome and billet, but this guy knew where to draw the line and stayed well back from it — the paint did the talking, with a few small bits of chrome as highlights. The frame was painted royal purple. The tank and big skirted fenders were the same color, with green checkers — sounds hideous, but it looked great. Worn leather saddlebags, with no fringes or conchos, completed the look. A serious bike for a serious rider.

And he looked the part. You see posers all the time, but this guy was for real. Sturdy leather boots, jeans, an aviator jacket. The only oddball item was the replica Nazi helmet, and yet it looked right on him. Goggles covered part of his face, but he looked young younger than me.

I gave him a thumbs-up. “Beautiful!” I shouted. He gave me a nod and a smile, then gassed it and rolled on by. The final surprise was, I didn’t get blasted by a three-digit decibel tailpipe. There was a growl, but nothing that would startle a sleeping baby awake or upset an elderly couple. Inline fours are a lot smoother than V-twins anyway.

We rounded a curve, and he opened up some more distance, a little faster than I was comfortable going on this road. As he topped a low hill ahead, his brake light flashed and he put his arm out, palm down — the gesture that means Slow down! Forewarned, I eased off the throttle.

Just over the hill, an SUV had mixed it up with a landscaper, pulling out of a subdivision. Both drivers were standing on the side of the road, jabbering into cell phones and giving each other dirty looks. Their vehicles blocked both lanes, but there was just enough room for a motorcycle to squeeze between the end of the landscaper’s trailer and the ditch. On the other side, the purple Indian was nowhere to be seen. I spent some time wondering how he’d managed to slow down enough to thread that needle; his bike was big and he’d been moving at a pretty good clip. Then I got to work and forgot all about it.

Time went by, and a local pub put on a vintage bike show one weekend. I managed to find some excuse to get out of the house and rode down.

As is so often the case with these shows, it was as much about hobnobbing with fellow riders as it is the rolling sculptures. Some of the bikes were beautiful, some — like the guy who strapped a NOS canister onto the front fender of a Honda Passport — were just quirky and fun. I was admiring a restoration in progress, a 1940 Indian Chief, and the owner stepped out of his truck to say hello.

“It runs pretty good now,” he said. “I know it looks a little shabby yet, but I wanted to make it rideable before I made it pretty.”

“Good idea,” I said. “Um… hey. I was wondering, do you know anyone around here with an Indian Four? You couldn’t miss it, it’s purple with green checkers —”

He got a funny look, and for a moment I thought I’d stepped into something. “Uh… let’s go inside. There’s someone who knows him. He’ll want to hear this.”

He led me to a table where an old man sat, nursing a beer. I tried to recall the guy I’d seen a few months back, and thought there might be some family resemblance. My host whispered something, nodding at me, and one eyebrow cocked up. He motioned us to sit.

“Tell me,” he said, and took a sip of beer.

“Not much to tell. I saw him on Old Atlanta Road one morning, and he warned me about a wreck just over the top of a hill. I don’t have a clue how he didn’t get mixed up in it, he was moving pretty quick.”

“Indian Four, purple with green checkers?” I nodded. “That was my brother, all right.”

“Brother?” I was sure he meant grandson.

“Yup. He was part of the D-Day force. He had a Medal of Honor, but he never talked much about that day. Some things you just aren’t meant to see, hey?

“So he came back. He’d been wounded, but it was the wounds up here —” he tapped his balding skull — “that didn’t heal right. And he was — I guess you young folks call it ‘gay’ these days. Not such a big deal now, but back then you had to hide it. Especially around here. So there was this war hero that wore his skin, and himself hiding inside. He bought that motor-sickle, gave it that outrageous paint job, and just — disappeared.”


“Oh, he’s still around. Out where he’s respected.”

He waved, and a waitress approached. “Let me buy you a beer. It’s good to hear from people who see him. I figure it won’t be a couple years before he comes home and takes me for a ride.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 5 comments

Our New Boarders, and the Boys

Mrs. Fetched brought them home over the weekend, a total but not unwelcome surprise as far as I was concerned. Daughter Dearest calls them Pip and Pop at the moment:

Mason, of course, is completely captivated. Sprite wasn’t so thrilled at first — you brought animals onto my porch! — but suddenly Mason isn’t so interested in him anymore so he’s starting to see the upside.

Speaking of Mason, he’s a little chatterbox. He has uttered the dreaded M-word (mine!) but has many other words he uses as well. It’s kind of funny to watch him pick up a large toy (or something) and grunt “heavy!” A more amazing thing, he can recognize about a third of the alphabet now — considering he’s a few months short of two, I’d say that’s pretty good. The Boy, who could speak in complete sentences by this age, wasn’t that far along with his letters. I was able to read by the time I was four, maybe he’ll be reading early too.

As you can see in the picture, he still hasn’t put on a lot of weight. We’re feeding him, really. He’ll scarf a whole piece of baloney plus a cheese stick, then eat a decent supper… and he runs it all off. Or maybe he’s like Lobster, or my college roomie CS, who can both eat as much as they like and never have it go to “waist.” I keep telling Lobster he’s going to wake up one morning, look down, and go Where’s my feet?!?? but it never happened to CS. Women of the world, feel free to growl and hiss at them both. I'll join you.

While I’m posting pics of Mason, I might as well throw in one of Big V’s grandkid Skylar. He’s not here tonight, but he has spent many evenings (and nights) here at the manor in the last some weeks. Big V is having more of her diabetes issues — i.e. not taking care of business and we all have to suffer the consequences — so between near-daily trips to the hospital and some powerful drugs, she’s not really up to taking care of him.

Actually, it’s doing Skylar a lot of good for him to be at the manor, even if it’s a hassle for us (and Mason, sometimes). He’s four months younger than Mason, and not as advanced, but bigger. With Mason as a role model of sorts, Skylar is learning how to climb onto chairs and feed himself (a little); his balance has improved immensely in the last month or so as well. When he’s not here, Mason will look around and call “Skylar?”

Skylar’s still in the vocalizing-nonsense stage, mostly, but he can say a couple of words. Mrs. Fetched thinks he’s slow… I counter that he’s only slow compared to someone who is able to talk some and recognize letters, but she’s not convinced. OK, yeah, he’s the offspring of Cousin Splat and a female of the rare sub-species of “less brains and morals than Snippet,” but there are some smarts on Mrs. Fetched’s side of the family so I’m holding out hope for him.

Oh yeah… The Boy and Snippet are back together. Again. He’s brought her over a couple times, which got Mrs. Fetched nearly on the warpath, but they (yes, Snippet too) did keep an eye on Mason most of Sunday afternoon and didn’t just ignore him like usual. I don’t have a problem with Snippet being around for lightly-supervised visits — he is Mason’s biomom, after all — and maybe a miracle will occur and she’ll get enough maturity to actually raise him. The Boy is talking about moving to Wisconsin, where a friend of his can supposedly get him a decent job, but I’ll believe it when he’s actually gone.

Saturday, June 11, 2011 5 comments

Book Review: Blood Picnic and Other Stories

Disclaimers: Tony is an online acquaintance. This review also appears at Smashwords and the Kindle Store under my real name.

I admit I started reading "Blood Picnic" with a preconceived notion: that a book of less than 30,000 words would be a quick read, something I could knock off in an evening. It took much longer to finish, even though it held my interest all the way through.

Price/Length: $2.99 / 29,000 words

Synopsis: Tony Noland is a regular participant in #FridayFlash on Twitter, and "Blood Picnic" is a collection of 28 of Tony's flash (1000 words or less) pieces. He helpfully groups them by genre: fantasy, literary, horror, and magical realism.

Storytelling: five stars. Tony packs a lot of story into a flash, and there's 28 of them. I bought this book wishing he'd made it longer, but the stories are well worth reading. I'm one of those people who likes the "peek behind the curtain," so an introduction — maybe at the beginning of each genre section — would have been a nice plus.

Writing: five stars. Tony's a versatile storyteller, and does a great job of making his writing voice fit the story.

Editing: four stars. There's a few typos, but Tony says "perfection is the goal." He has already re-released "Blood Picnic" after making corrections. This is one of the better-edited indie works. I'd like the story titles to have a "section break" to start at the top of a page, is the only formatting issue I saw.

Summary: This one's worth your time. Tony put a lot of work into making it the best he could.

Friday, June 10, 2011 28 comments

#FridayFlash: The Last Journalist

Is it ironic that this story is 911 words?

The Last Journalist

Today, Greg wrote by the late afternoon sunlight streaming in, for the first time I heard rumors of cannibalism. He jotted June 14 above, then continued. The last National Guard food truck came a week ago. Three weeks since the first riots, and the Land of Plenty has become just another failed state. It seems longer, though.

He put down the pen, took Vanessa’s picture out of his shirt pocket and smiled. “You doin’ okay, babe? Bet it’s hot down there in Sarasota with no air conditioning. Sure is hot here in the ATL.” As always, she said nothing but gave him her sexiest smile, looking back over her bare shoulder at his camera.

He sighed and turned back to the notebook.

Nobody knows why, but everyone has heard something or another. Food trucks can’t get through for hijackers, seems to be the most plausible explanation. And the news from yesterday. Most of the other rumors run the gamut from paranoid to delusional.

Vanessa had left just in time, it turned out. With a full tank of gas, and a five-gallon can in her trunk, she went to visit her family for perhaps the last time. He’d had to stay behind; he was investigating how certain people seemed to always have gas for their SUVs. When the fuel protests turned to riots the week before Memorial Day, he was in the thick of things, interviewing protestors, police, and National Guard commanders. Not to mention power crews after the electricity quit. Vanessa kept in touch until the phone networks went down too.

The newspaper closed up over the long weekend, and never reopened. Greg kept reporting, but transferred his observations and photos into a ratty three-ring binder. Someone has to document the end, he’d wrote at the time, it might as well be me. Between the riots and fires, thousands dead and tens of thousands fleeing, much of Atlanta was empty now. He’d learned quickly that even starving looters seldom ventured above the fourth floor once the elevators stopped working, so he squatted in an abandoned fifth-floor apartment near the action. Solar panels and batteries, stolen from freeway road signs, powered his laptop and camera. While he was out and about, nobody bothered a man with a camera. You couldn’t eat it or drink it, after all. But it could draw interest, and meeting the noted local journalist Greg Pilser still got people talking even after everything went to hell.

He picked up the pen, stared at the paper for a moment, then put it down. The conversation was stuck in his mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to put it on paper:

“They say it’s happening up in Midtown.” Just another survivor, looking for enough food to make it another day or week. “Someone got killed in a fight, they cut the meat off his legs and cooked it. I guess when you got nothin’ else…” He shook his head, patted his pistol. “Not me. I got eight bullets left. Squirrels is good, but I wouldn’t want to try possum what with all the bodies around, you know? Anyway, the last bullet in my gun’s for me. I ain’t gonna eat nobody.”

He got up and paced around the living room. A framed snapshot caught his eye, and he picked it up. A little white kid, maybe two years old, sitting on a deck chair. The exaggerated perspective suggested a cellphone snap, but someone had done some Photoshop work on it. He thought about it for a moment, then opened the frame and removed the photo, taping it onto the page near the bottom.

You have to wonder about people, he wrote next to the photo, if you want to hold onto your own humanity. Someone cared enough to work on this picture. Something we need to remember: people are worth caring about.

“You okay, kid?” he asked the picture. “I hope you’re somewhere safe. Where you don’t have to worry about eating. Or getting eaten.” Funny, he’d been squatting here for nearly two weeks and only now had he noticed the picture, standing on the bar all this time. As with Vanessa’s picture, the kid said nothing, just continued to squint at something off to his right.

He flipped back a page and looked at yesterday’s entry. He'd shot and printed a photo of a wary group, carrying sacks and water bottles. “We heard the Guard has a refugee camp down at the airport,” one of them told him. “Worth checking out, anyway. Nothin’ left here but a dead city of dead people. Ghosts will be comin’ soon.”

Maybe that guy was wrong about the ghosts. Maybe. But he was right about the city. Today, he’d heard about cannibals in Midtown. Sunday, it was vigilantes in Marietta and Alpharetta. Verifying those rumors were likely to get him killed, but staying here was just a slower death. He flipped back to today’s page, wrote down the cannibal rumor. Then, between that and the kid’s photo: My work is done here. It’s time to see what comes after the death of a city and a nation. When it gets dark, I’m starting for the airport.

His backpack had room for his binder, laptop, and water bottles. The camera he could sling over his shoulder. He took one last look at the photo before closing the binder. “Maybe I’ll see what you’re up to myself, kid.” He smiled and packed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011 4 comments

Wednesday Post-Vacation Wibbles

It just seemed like a good time to get away… then again, just about any time is a good time to get away from FAR Manor. So let’s welcome the newest follower to the free-range insane asylum:

I took a few days off work and took Mrs. Fetched, Daughter Dearest, and Mason up to Mom's summer place. (Of course, I arranged it with Mom, who wanted to see her only great-grandchild anyway.) It’s pretty nice up there, what with it being about 10°F cooler than on Planet Georgia and low humidity.

Mason had great fun torturing their kitty…

sliding with Great-Grandma on the playground equipment…
playing on the beach…

… and riding in the golf cart, then fighting sleep tooth and nail the last few nights.

I was certainly not idle: I helped Mom set up a slideshow for her screen saver, finished the self-edit phase on White Pickups, put a copy of it on her Kindle, and worked on another story. The day after I finished the edits, I saw this sign at the back end of the development… and took it as a “sign.” I thought it was pretty cool anyway… if I start serializing the sequel, I’ll include it in the posts.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 10 comments

#TuesdaySerial: The Gods of Evergreen (END)

A long strange trip it’s been for Johnny and Kata. Thanks all for coming along!

Part 1

The Gods of Evergreen
The Journey Home

The journey to the Wide Highway was all but uneventful: they took turns carrying Marie when she grew tired, and told each other their stories along the way. Johnny had brought with him only enough food for himself, and Kata had none, but spring brought everything to life and they ate well by hunting and foraging along the way.

A cold snap and snowstorm met them the day they reached the Wide Highway. Johnny again called upon the dwellers in the ruins, and again they answered. They were astonished to see Kata and Marie, but quickly brought all three inside to share their fire.

“It is our custom to ask the names of those strangers we take in,” the old woman told Kata from her seat close to the fire. “You have given us your birth names, Kata and Marie — what of your family name?”

Kata stood in their midst, her voice bitter. “I have no family name,” she said. “The name I was born with has no meaning, the last of my family was taken by the sickness that ravaged our people last year. The family of my husband has rejected me and thrown me into the wide world to live or die as the gods see fit, and I will not honor them by claiming or even speaking that name.”

No one said anything for a long minute. Finally, the old woman spoke again: “Then you shall have a new name. Our friend Johnny brought you back from the abode of the gods, so we name you Godsgift.”

Kata’s eyes grew wide. “An auspicious name, Honored Mother. I accept it with gratitude.”

The snow fell, then gave way to wind then quiet. They filled the time with stories and songs. Marie nestled wide-eyed in Johnny’s lap, watching all the strange new people, until she fell asleep. The next morning dawned cold but sunny, and they continued their journey west. Two days later, they reached Johnny’s village. His friends and neighbors were overjoyed to see him alive — and even more so for his companions.

It was as Johnny said: Kata and Marie found welcome and a home in his village. Philip’s grandmother, the widow Cerise, was a stubbornly independent but kindly old woman; she gave them the run of her house. Philip himself gave Johnny a place to stay for the few days it took for the village to rebuild his house. They used what they could of his old house and added new lumber where needed. His new place was different, a little smaller, but Johnny was pleased as it did not remind him so much of his lost family.

Now you might expect that Johnny married Kata and adopted Marie as his own daughter — indeed, most of the village expected it — but it was not to be. Johnny mourned his own wife and daughter for the appropriate time, and Kata married the strong, quiet Philip during the High Summer festival (to Johnny’s delight, and the delight of all their friends).

Then when Rosa Falconer came of age over the following winter, she made her intentions clear. She began by bringing Johnny hot meals a few times a week, then helped where she could with his winter wheat. In between, she tidied up his house, giving the empty spaces an appraising eye when she thought Johnny wasn’t watching. Over the winter, she made herself a part of Johnny’s life, and as spring approached he began to look forward to her frequent visits. Then, the day before the sun rose over Mount Evergreen, while Rosa was occupied elsewhere, Johnny paid a visit to her parents Martin and Francesca.

“I’m concerned for Rosa,” Johnny told them. “I have grown fond of her, but are there no young men of age for her to choose from?”

“Of course there are,” Francesca laughed. “But she has chosen whom she has chosen. She’s always been headstrong that way.”

“She would have pursued you last summer, after your friends were wed,” said Martin. “But I did make her wait until she came of age.” He smiled and shook his head. “Her first visit to you was the very day.”

“She’s sixteen. I’m twenty-two. You have no objections?”

“We have long admired you, Johnny,” said Martin. “You have always lived out the beliefs of our people. She could do much worse in life. Make her your new wife, with our blessing.”

“And bless us in return with many grandchildren!” Francesca grinned, and both men blushed. And so Johnny and Rosa announced their engagement, to great rejoicing among the village. They were married after storm season passed.

In the years following, Kata and Philip had another daughter, whom they named Sara, and then a son, Jamin. Johnny and Rosa had two sons (Sal and Little Johnny) and two daughters (Kata and Little Rosa). All of the children, including Marie, grew tall and strong.

But Marie Godsgift could often be found standing in the road at the eastern edge of town on clear days, looking toward Mount Evergreen, seeing something that nobody else could. And the Prophets Who Watch the World looked back and smiled, until the day Marie came of age and left her home to join them on the mountain.


Friday, June 03, 2011 18 comments

#FridayFlash: The Power Given

This one is a lot darker than my usual stuff. You have been warned.

Cameron and Teri pelted up the steps of the church. “It’s not locked!” Cameron gasped. They rushed inside and slammed the door.

“Wait, Cam!” Teri panted. “Where’s Steve?”

“He was right behind us — oh God.” Cameron opened the door a crack and peered outside. Nothing. He stuck his head out, looked around. “Steve! In here!”

Teri pulled the door open wider, looked out. “Steve! Steve?”

A figure stepped into the floodlights in front of the church.

It wasn’t Steve.

Steve had invited him to the seance, but Cameron had only gone because Teri was going. Cam guessed every school had its own Meredith, a girl who took the occult a little too seriously. As for Steve, his grandfather had died and left Steve’s dad and uncle the lake house. The old man didn’t trust banks, and Steve just wanted to know where he’d hidden his cash so Dad and Uncle Phil wouldn’t tear the place apart hunting for treasure. To Steve, the lake house was the treasure. He had plans for the summer.

Cam remembered standing around the pentacle, his left hand in Meredith’s right, his right in Teri’s left. A mist seemed to form in the middle, taking shape… then Something Else clawed its way through, pushing the spirit aside to face Meredith. Cam barely had time to jerk free before it fell upon her, and they fled in unreasoning panic…

They hadn’t got a good look at the thing at Meredith’s, but it was too ugly to take in anyway — looking at it left only impressions of claws, teeth, glowing red eyes. Cam wished he could forget Meredith’s muffled scream as it engulfed her head in its mouth —

“Come out of there and face me!” Its voice was bones snapping and claws ripping up concrete. “You cannot defeat me otherwise!”

Cam and Teri looked at each other, both horrified at the prospect.

“Come out, boy! Or would you rather this woman-child hear how you pleasure yourself as you dream of lying with her in carnal embrace—”

Cam slammed the door shut, thankful the lights were out so Teri couldn’t see him blushing.

“Cam… yuck.”

“It’s a demon! It lies!” Cam took a deep breath, felt for the deadbolt, and latched it. “Maybe we’ll be safe here. It wants us to come out, so maybe it can’t come in. We can go home once it’s daylight.”

“Daylight? I thought that was vampires.” Teri sounded doubtful.

“It’s our best—”

“Fools!” The demon sounded like it was just outside. “You played with fire, now you shall burn!” A moment later, the door shuddered to a blow from the other side.

Teri shrieked. “It’s trying to — what do —”

Cam fumbled in the dark and found a light switch. A fluorescent fixture in the hung ceiling above them lit up the foyer where they stood. Again the demon struck the door; the wood began to crack.

“I hope this place has a back door.” Cam seized Teri’s hand and pulled her into the sanctuary. She pulled loose but stayed with him, letting him lead her to a side door. They slipped into a hallway, as they heard the front door tear off its hinges. Down to the left, they saw a dim EXIT sign.

“Where do we go now?” Teri whimpered.

“Maybe Steve got away,” he said, as they hustled to the exit. “Maybe he went a different way and left us. If we split up, it can’t catch us both, right?”

“Maybe. But then what?”

“You go find another church. This one at least slowed the demon down some. I’ll try to get back to Meredith’s. Maybe there’s something I can find to get rid of it there.”

I hope so.”

“Yeah.” Cam reached for her. “Teri… if we both make it — will you go out with me?”

Teri sighed and pulled her hand away. “Maybe. Let’s both get away first, okay?”

“Sure.” Cam tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “Go!” He shoved the door open; they burst into the dark.

Cam ran across the parking lot and into a greenspace. He stumbled into a stream, but followed it, hoping the water would carry his scent away. He heard a scream, cut short, and thought about what might have been. “But probably not,” he grumbled, hating Teri for a few seconds. “Never was good enough for you, was I?”

At a culvert, he clambered out of the stream and back onto the street, shoes squishing on the pavement. At the first corner, he stopped to check the street signs to see where he was —

It stepped into the streetlight at the opposite corner. As Cam saw it, it gave him a hideous grin, showing more teeth than a mouth had any right to hold. The teeth were bloody.

Cam turned and ran, harder than he ever had, hoping to reach the temporary sanctuary of the church. But it was less than a block before a clawed hand gripped his shoulder, talons sinking into his chest and bringing him up short. He was too winded to scream, despite the pain, then the other hand wrapped around his throat before he had a chance to catch his breath. It lifted him and turned him to face it. Its hot breath smelled of rotten meat and sulfur, making him gag.

“Fool,” it said. “The only power I had is what you gave me.”


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