Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chappell's Field

Here is a little bit of the area near Chappell's Field at Blue Knob State Park--just the pictures I have on my phone.
The park maps have vistas listed on them, which I thought was more of a suggestion as to where the best views might be in the park rather than a truly defined location. But I was wrong.

I really like the idea of designated vistas. 
The park service has decided that the world looks especially good right here. 

I only walked part of this trail, but the pictures I took were all pretty similar. Trail. Trees, ferns and stuff. Light and shadow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lost Children of the Alleghenies Monument

In recent days I've spent some time looking at topographic maps of nearby state parks to determine if hiking is a thing I'd like to do again. The terrain here is a bit different than in Ohio. Yes, there were hills in Ohio, but I'm surrounded by mountains where I live now and it's a bit intimidating. They're everywhere. And the last hike I attempted had too many cliffs for my liking, so I'm being a little more cautious.

On the map of Blue Knob State Park I saw something marked "HISTORIC: Lost Cox Children Monument." It did seem like a place in the woods where children could get lost with great ease, but lots of people go missing and they don't get a monument. So, how is this any different?
As it turns out there's a story, a legend, and a Wikipedia article associated with this monument.
It was also close enough to where I live, so I had to go check it out. 

There is a road that goes past the trail leading to the monument, and it's conveniently called "Monument Road." Inconveniently, however, it is gravel, narrow, and the turn-off is kind of tough to spot from the main, paved road running parallel to it. It's deep woods dark, and fallen trees encroach on what width the road does have. There is some space for parking along Monument Road once you get to the correct trail, and the trail is marked.

This is Ciana Run, it's a tributary of Bob's Creek.

It was split in two sections at this point. Lots of rocks and not much water.

After following the trail into the woods for a little bit there was a sign, and a path leading down to the monument.

People have placed fake flowers in the chain link barrier surrounding the monument. Just inside the fencing a couple small fairy or angel figurines sat on the ground in front of the stone. A small stream passes behind the monument. When I was there I crossed the rocks to get to the other bank and crossed back. It's a quiet, peaceful place.

Past the welcome sign, Lost Turkey Trail goes on and on...
Twenty-six miles in total. I didn't walk that one.

The PA-Roots webpage hosts a PDF copy of The Lost Children of The Alleghenies and How They Were Found Through a Dream (1914) by Charles R. McCarthy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Goals for July

I've been kind of out of it for a while due to a bout of severe depression, my regular unmedicated anxiety (that will soon be August since that was the first available medication appointment), and a shoulder injury in early June, so I'm trying to get back into writing and reading by making small goals that are relatively easy for me to achieve. Maybe I'll set more ambitious writing goals in August, but for now this is supposed to motivate me instead of discourage me.

Writing Goals:
Finish a short story I've been calling, "We can't stop here, this is Lovecraft country"--It will probably be done at under 8k, but it's at 3.7k right now.
Rewrite six poems in order to make them more firmly in the Horror genre.

Reading Goals:
Finish reading Dark Faith (I'm about halfway through it)
Finish reading Queer Fish: Volume 2 (I have a story in there, but never got around to reading all the others)
Read Long Hidden
Read All Marketers Tell Stories by Seth Godin
Read Gods and Monsters: Unclean Spirits by Chuck Wendig
Read Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Consumable Media: June 2014

Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death by James Tiptree Jr.
No Longer A Fragment by Alexis A Hunter in Kasma Science Fiction Magazine

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Addams

51 Awesome Webcomics The Eisners Have Completely Failed To Recognize
6 Boring New England Destinations Made Awesome by H.P. Lovecraft
A digital renaissance for the science fiction short story

Lovecraft Is Missing
Oglaf NSFW

Welcome to Night Vale
Writing Excuses

The Collected Public Domain Works of H.P. Lovecraft (LibriVox)
The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft (Voices in the Dark)
The Festival by H.P. Lovecraft (via Youtube)

Fear of the Unknown: H.P. Lovecraft Documentary (via Youtube)
Spaceballs (1987)
Beautiful Darling (2010)
A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory (2007)
Tiny: A Story About Living Small (2013)
The Woman Who Wasn't There (2012)
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Beginning of the End
Re-Animator (1985)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dream: Literarily Weird

I'm almost embarrassed to post this just due to the level of weird, but I have written before about the majestic awkwardness of my dreams and it's not quite flying around on a waffle. I also kept waking up overnight, so I kind of had dream vignettes that lead up to some fuckery that will probably surprise you or not.


"Are you wearing a skirt?" My mom gives me a weird look as she lounges on a large sofa in an art gallery. The towering walls are crowded with framed artwork. (It's basically like the gallery rooms from Penny Dreadful where Dorian Gray hangs out.)

I look down and pull at the light blue fabric and immediately recognize what I'm wearing, so I correct her, "It's Sailor Mercury cosplay."

Mind you, it's not good Sailor Mercury cosplay, but something I tried to sew when I was eleven or twelve. A white tank top with pleated blue fabric sewn onto the bottom. Complete the look for yourself with shorts, spiky dark brown hair, and dark-rimmed glasses. Very hipster dude ironically cosplaying as Sailor Mercury. Good choice, subconscious.

I'm being haunted by unfinished sewing projects past.


I wander into a bathroom. It's pretty dark, lit only by amber-tinged light from stained light bulbs. The glass on a couple of the bulbs is broken, but the filaments are still glowing. The toilet has electronics thrown into it. Wii and Xbox controllers. More junk is thrown into the filthy bathtub.

The mirror is smudged and dirty. I can't see my reflection that well and I'm not quite sure why I'm in there so I leave.


In another room a doorbell rings, so I walk the halls to find it. This building is darkly Victorian in style, lots of curiosities everywhere, except it's exposed to unreasonably bright light. It's kind of like looking at a theater scene when all the stage and house lights are up, and there aren't any curtains to cast shadows. Not sure if I'm even in the same building as before or if I'm jumping between locations each time I fall back asleep. Whatever, I'm still in my total crap cosplay.

I open the double doors to the outside and find a very tan, shirtless muscle guy and a pale trans woman in a shiny spandex club wear kind of dress. Neither of them talk to me, but they just walk into the house like it's totally obvious that they would be there. I follow them and don't try to question anything that's going on.

There's another art gallery sort of room, but this is a different one. The artwork is larger and not as cluttered. An elaborate bed is set up against the wall at the back of the room. Clothes start coming off. Oh, okay, this is one of those dreams.

I watch for a while, and decide to join them because this is my dream and they brought me along. I kiss the woman. They're both trying to get me out of my fetching Sailor Mercury costume, but I hold onto it because I think I'm going to need it later. And I keep hearing this odd noise outside the room.


The next time I'm aware of it, the room has shifted into something more modern and smaller. The bed is still against the wall. Eventually I decide to go check out the weird noise. It's the sound of shuffling and more solid footsteps. Maybe I'm paranoid because my dreams don't just gift wrap attractive naked people for me. That's not how this goes. Ever.

After finding nothing worthy of notice in the bright hallway, I head back into the room and close the double doors. The naked people have been going on without me. I sit on the edge of the bed and get used to the idea that this could possibly be a sexy dream and not a weird one.

I put my hand on the muscle guy's thigh. The doors to the room burst open and there's a scraggly-looking man with a mustache standing there. He's in a worn brown suit that might have been a nicer suit at some point in time. He has a revolver. I jump up and dive for him. It's all very slow motion. He fires off four shots in an arc over the naked muscle guy's head.

Yes, Edgar Allan Poe just showed up to the sexy dream and started shooting at us. All of us glare at him. End scene.

 --I have loosely interpreted this dream as trying to tell me that I need to stop fucking around and get back to writing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Flash Fiction: The Window

I'm posting this on the 2nd even though it's the 3rd now just to keep things all organized. It was supposed to be there, but I was lazy last night.

I had been thinking about writing some zany, dark comedy zombie story (which may be my story for the 3rd) and then read about someone's suicide via twitter, and even though I didn't really know her it still zapped all the zany out of my writing. I'm not exactly against suicide since I think people should be able to make that decision for themselves, but thinking about anyone suffering for a long time due to anything is pretty depressing.

When I took 3-dimensional art I was told that glass, especially broken glass, was too symbolically easy of a material to represent pain, so this story may be that but I don't really care. It's just the 182 words I wrote yesterday that were somewhat cohesive and comepelte. Also, the "they" in this story is a singular gender neutral "they" because I couldn't decide on any specific details.

The Window

The first time the window broke, they patched it back together with tape. Scotch tape. Invisible, but not so secure. Smoothing it down flat until it was only a delicate ripple on the surface. It was the best that could be done without anyone being able to see the break. And there was only one at that time.

Over the years the window broke several more times. Sometimes they knew what had struck it and other times they did not, but it broke anyway. The cracks spider-webbed out from the impact. Almost invisible tape held the splintering pane together. Layers of adhesive clouded it over from the inside.

It wasn’t a perfect fix. The integrity of the structure had been compromised, but they’d reached a point where they couldn’t add any more layers because someone would notice. Some people had noticed. Friends would walk by and wave, but they couldn’t be seen through the fog. Besides, those people didn’t have to deal with this constantly broken window. Pieces of glass that were only held in suspension as long as the tape held.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Flash Fiction: Maybes and What Ifs

I'm doing Story A Day May right here. Knowing that my goal is to write and post a story each day helps me feel a little more motivated to actually write one every day. Otherwise, I might fuck around with obsessive re-working and the sort of behaviors that might stop me from moving on to a new story. I'm looking at this as a series of sprints, as opposed to NaNoWriMo, which is more of a marathon.

Today, I used the Neil Gaiman guest prompt from Story A Day's webpage, which involved writing about a character desperate to get home, and twisted it up with a Time Travel theme. The finished story is a little under 1000 words. I've been first reading submissions for Crossed Genres magazine's Time Travel issue in recent days, so I've been thinking about time travel stories much more than I usually would.

Maybes and What Ifs

Shane knew that he’d never really get home, but he was so close.

When testing the small time traveling device he'd built, it threw him into the future for a brief moment and back again, but at a tilt. And then it broke. The only one in existence, and when he bounced back he’d overshot that waypoint by a couple days. To a time before he’d figured out that one last thing that would make the stupid machine work.

And now the blueprints were in his house. In his old house.  Where his real body still lived.

During the return trip Shane’s thoughts, his spirit, whatever made him who he was, had been forced into a new body. That of the elderly neighbor across the street.  

It took him much longer then he’d ever thought it would to realize that he was wearing someone else’s skin, but his partner, Nick, had always said that Shane had never been that observant of daily minutiae. Always caught up in some new project. He’d also been a bit of a hypochondriac, perceiving lots of little aches and pains every day, but now they were all real. He’d woken up in a dark room as well, so that didn’t help his perceptiveness either. The new body needed glasses to see. He hadn’t even considered that before.

As it stood, Shane wasn’t sure if his mind was just pasted in over the old man’s. Sharing the same space. Displacing him altogether. Or if they had somehow switched bodies completely.

He pondered this for the first day and didn’t leave the master bedroom suite. The aches and pains took some time to get used to, and he had to find his glasses. It was all very different. The brain holding his thoughts felt different. Forgetful. Circling back as each thought examined itself over and over until the idea stuck. He was dealing with the same data, but different hardware.

He tried to remember what he knew about this neighbor. Hell, he’d never even learned his name.

In the evening he looked out the window and saw himself across the street.

On the second day Shane had a much easier time with everything. He checked the mail and learned his name—the neighbor’s name. Gerald.

He entertained the thought that maybe his past mind was still in that body across the street. It was probably still working on that time machine as he had been. It was probably on the verge of the same breakthrough he’d made, but could no longer remember.  

Maybe he would just zap right back to where he had been once the experiment was all completed. Correcting the time. Setting everything right as it had been.

When had he done that experiment? Well, it’d been pretty late. He’d probably go to bed and wake up in his own house. No problem. So, he went to sleep that night.

And woke up to search for his glasses. Shit, it hadn’t worked.

Shane got up and dressed. He made coffee in Gerald’s unfamiliar kitchen, wishing he could go back home, but all he could do was sit on the porch and watch it from across the street. This is what Gerald did all the time. It wouldn’t be suspicious.

It was always a little unnerving to feel watched, but on this side it felt more like observing.

Now, he realized all that he hadn’t seen before. He remembered when he and Nick had bought the house. Picking out the furniture. Wanting everything to be perfect because this was where they wanted to live for quite a long time. They adopted a pug. Later they had a baby via surrogate. Jacob. His life had been pretty good, and he could sit here and reflect on it all like watching a movie up close; a movie in which one was far too emotionally invested.

Nick knew most of the people in the area. He’d probably talked to Gerald at some point. Maybe he’d sat on this porch and they talked. Maybe they’d talked about Shane’s experiments. Nick supported most of his career, but the stranger stuff had to stay in the garage. Shane wondered if Gerald was interested in that sort of scientific experiment. Time travel. What the hell had he been thinking?

Shane sighed.

Across the street, Nick went outside holding Jacob.

Shane had watched the house so long—dwelling in his thoughts—that he’d almost forgotten that he wasn’t over there. That was until he saw himself again, carrying a box of what looked like electronics and computer parts. He dumped them into the trash can. That’s when Shane really knew he and Gerald had switched bodies.

Gerald in Shane’s skin stopped to look across the street. They waved at each other, Shane more restrained in his motions. Nick took notice and waved too, causing Shane to flood with embarrassment. He couldn’t believe how he’d screwed everything up just trying to go a little bit into the future. A little bit into the past. Thinking of all this progress and advancement. Wanting to answer all those What If questions.

Now, he didn’t even have his own life, and he’d aged forty years. The gravity of the situation finally set in. This wasn’t some freaky little vacation. He was stuck.

Nick got in the car. And Shane watched his body across the street. Gerald in Shane’s skin watched a bit longer and grinned before getting into the car right next to Nick. Forty years younger. Perfectly content to be where he was.

Shane in Gerald’s skin waited for them to drive away. He walked across the street to pick up the box of equipment. It contained most of the components he’d been putting together, and some of his notes. What if he could rebuild it? Maybe he could get back home.

Consumable Media: April 2014

Here's what I read and observed in April...

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

"The Death of Aweilo" by Sofia Samatar

Short Fiction:
Abomination Rises on Filthy Wings by Rachel Swirsky
Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Magdala Amygdala by Lucy A. Snyder

The 50 Most Disturbing Movies
Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing by Daniel Jose Older

Frozen (2013)
30 Days of Night (2007)
Titicut Follies (1967)
Mean Girls (2004)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Consumable Media: March 2014

Here's what I remember reading, watching, etc.  in March.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Wicked After Midnight by Delilah S. Dawson

Short Fiction:
"Anyway: Angie" by Daniel José Older (
"Ghost Days" by Ken Liu (LightSpeed)
"The Moon" from Grimms' Fairy Tales
"The Crumbs on the Table" from Grimms' Fairy Tales
"The Grave Mound" from Grimms' Fairy Tales
"Death's Messengers" from Grimm's Fairy Tales

Inclusive Reviewing: A Discussion by Samuel R. Delany, L. Timmel Duchamp, Fabio Fernandes, Andrea Hairston, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Sofia Samatar, and Aishwarya Subramanian (Strange Horizons)
Escaping Ethnocentricity by Samuel R. Delany (Strange Horizons)

The Hunger Games (2012)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Consumable Media: February 2014

Delayed posting this as I've been sick, which is starting to feel like an early March tradition since I had the flu followed by an unshakable chest cold at this time last year. I don't think I had the flu this year at least. Bonus!

I didn't read all that much in February because I used most of my free time to watch video lectures about ancient Roman architecture. I also got cable tv for the first time in a few years, but oddly I haven't watched it that much. I'm in the middle of reading two books as well, but will finish with those pretty soon.

I will list what I remember reading... and the next one of these posts will be much more organized/complete.

Short Fiction-
Antumbra by Lucy Snyder in Apex Magazine

Death is Not a Cormorant by Amy Tudor

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meandering Roads and the Jehovah's Witnesses

Back in Ohio a couple Jehovah's Witnesses would stop by to talk to me almost every month. I'm not religious in a Christian sense, but I never told them to go away because their tracts and readings always applied to me. It wasn't like those TV psychics and their "Did you have a relative whose name starts with a S?" kind of thing. I'm not sure how to explain it, but the fact that a mass-produced tract could be introduced into my life and actually be relevant just freaked me out every time it happened.

Now I live in Pennsylvania. Sometimes when I'm bored I like to drive through the countryside, passing farms and little towns, just seeing how far I can drive before I feel like I might get lost. Some of the street names are kind of weird, and I've noticed that most roads associated with farms are referred to as lanes instead of roads or streets. And some of the roads are named for whatever town they go to. It makes sense.

A couple weekend ago I had some time to waste so I drove past the quilting and sewing supply shop that kind of looks like a big red barn to see if they have Saturday hours, and they do. I didn't go in because I wasn't sure what I was looking for. I actually didn't even stop, just noted that they had an "OPEN" sign on the door at that time. I didn't want to look weird loitering outside a quilt shop.

I then took the road that curves to the right past some houses and a couple farms and over some hills near the base of the mountain. The lanes and other side streets between the farmland were still covered in ice and snow. The road I live on is usually cleared so I don't always know how good or bad the other roads are. I live on what is considered a busy road, but in a town with one stoplight that isn't really saying all that much. I drove along the mountain road until I found the other main road that either heads into town or heads away from town.

And I drove away from town. Past farms. Past the little township that only has a stop sign by the church. Past the small engine repair shop where hundreds of lawnmowers sat out front buried under a foot of snow, their handles protruding like metal-frame headstones. Past more farms. A couple houses. And more farms. 

Then, about twenty miles out, I found a decent-sized small town I had never seen before. I took note of the road that went off to the left past an old mansion. It was one of those oddly named roads since it goes to a town with an odd name. There was a sign for a library, but I didn't see where it was. There was a laundromat with a yellowed plastic sign, and a pizza place. The town had a few stop lights, making it bigger than the town I live in. I found another road that went to a state park that I've been to before, but it's pretty far away so I didn't want to try to reach it.

I turned around and drove back towards my town, filing away the details but mostly interested in how that town apparently connects over to that state park. I guess the place I had driven to approached the park from the opposite direction than how I had gotten to it before. It's a big park, though. I got home, and hadn't thought too much about it.

Tuesday afternoon I had a dentist appointment. The dentist has been repairing some messed up fillings that another dentist had done. During the filling repair the dentist found a bit of primary tooth stuck between two of my teeth, and it was in the way of the filling. He got surgical tools out and moved the stuck tooth part back and forth until it dislodged. That required about half an hour more than the filling repair was supposed to. My gums had gotten kind of cut up in the process, so the blue dental bib over my shirt was misted with blood. My face and the side of my head hurt despite the fact that my mouth had been numbed three times--pain medication doesn't last that long on me for whatever reason. He said I could get prescribed painkillers if it hurt too much the next day.

I kept taking ibuprofen that night and the next day. I probably would've liked the better painkillers, but didn't bother requesting them because I was too lazy to drive to the next town over to get the medication. I dealt with the face pain and stayed busy chipping ice off the driveway since it started to melt. 

Then I got the mail. I found an envelope addressed to me from an address in Pennsylvania. I don't know many people out here--maybe three who would know my address--so that was odd. The town name looked familiar. I opened it and skimmed over the long handwritten letter. Words. Bible verses. Okay, whatever. I wondered if it was from the guy who sends his manifesto to everyone within a twenty-mile radius. No, he's more political. This letter was from a woman. I didn't really read it, but unfolded it all the way and a religious tract fell out. I picked it up and laughed, and dropped the letter and tract and envelope on the counter. 

I walked away. Laughed some more. And then looked closer at the letter. It was from a Jehovah's Witness who lives about twenty miles away from me. My name was on the envelope, but spelled wrong by one letter, so I think she got it from the other Jehovah's Witnesses. I had told them what town I was moving to. It's a small town. They knew my name. The odd street name I noted on my last driving adventure, well, that road lead out to the town where this letter was from.

The tract enclosed with the letter--on a day I was struggling with annoying physical pain--was titled "Will suffering ever end?"

And now the Jehovah's Witnesses know where I am in Pennsylvania. Here's a post about the Jehovah's Witnesses back in Ohio.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Consumable Media: Janurary 2014

An assortment of the books, stories, articles, and other items of interest that I read/listened to/viewed in January 2014 (started keeping track part of the way through the month, so I forgot some things):

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
The Gift by Hafez
The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Short Fiction:
"Eating the Pomegranate" by Megan Kurashige
"The Carnival Was Eaten, All Except the Clown" by Caroline Yoachim
"Until It Fits" by Steven Saus
"All the Pretty Colors" by John A. McColley

Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction by Alex Dally Macfarlane

Welcome to Night Vale
Writing Excuses

Rome Reborn

Friday, January 24, 2014

Flash Fiction: The Call of the Bremen Town Musicians

Another one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenges, this one is Fairy Tales, Remixed. I chose The Bremen Town Musicians as my fairy tale, which I picked because it might have given me a chance to write something whimsical and different, and I rolled 17...Lovecraftian.
Okay, whimsical? Not so much. I actually had two ideas for this rewrite, and I might do the other one later, but I'll have to see if I finish all the things I need to work on over the weekend first.

In at 630 words I give you...

The Call of the Bremen Town Musicians

It had only been moments since they'd fled their cabin, but the sounds from which they'd run would not be easily forgotten. It had been more than sounds, though. Screeches, braying and howls so loud that the window by the wood-burning stove broke. Glass shards sprayed across the room, followed through by the wind, and a creature that none of them had stayed long enough to get a look at.

Light still flickered through the dingy windows and shadows played upon the sackcloth curtains. The group of bandits watched their cabin from a distance. But didn't talk about what they had seen because they couldn't. They couldn't reveal those secrets that they were still unsure of for fear their sanity would be called into question. But they couldn't let the others know what they hadn't seen—all the while assuming that at least one of them had seen it. They'd at least heard it. And it was still in there.

The bandits' leader wasn't willing to call the whole thing a loss at this point. So they stayed at the treeline. Moonlight drifting between the clouds brightened the clearing just enough, but the warm orange glow of lamplight intermixed with shadows remained in the cabin. Time passed at a length they could not measure, but the end of that length was marked by the extinguishing of lanterns.

The newest member of the group stood up first. Elbert. New enough to be both bold and foolish, and looking to impress his new family. He held back a while longer, and then crept toward the darkened building. After pulling a long knife from its sheath, he moved soundlessly across the field. He placed his hand on the door, which was open just a crack already, and nudged it inward.

Silence. Darkness. Something glowed on the table. Perhaps a withered wick. Elbert set the blade down so he could strike a match. As he held the flame near the wick, he saw fur instead, and then it moved.

It leapt at him, tearing at his face with its talons. When he fell backwards, the screeching started all around him. He covered his ears, and headed for the back door. A loud howl startled him, and he tripped as teeth set into his leg seemingly from the floor itself. He flung the door open, falling outside just to be struck in the hip by something he could not see in the darkness. The force hit him, reversing his momentum. He grabbed the door frame. Whatever unseen thing he'd encountered outside the door, it was trying to push him inside the cabin where he knew he'd certainly be torn apart by all the teeth and claws rising from the darkness.

As Elbert staggered a few steps from the doorway something screamed down at him from the rooftop. The screeching, crowing and howling peaked. Different shaped shadows circled around him. Darker than the night's natural darkness. They twisted as a group, disorienting him as they closed in. He saw his opening, moonlight and stars showing between the frenzied figures, and escaped.

Elbert had barely made it away, and dragged himself back to the treeline. His condition gave each bandit pause. The leader issued her decision. They would move on from this cursed cabin.

Upon further investigation they found all manner of tracks in the muddy trail leading through the woods. Obvious paws, scratch marks and the heavy imprints of cloven hooves moving in close formation. Each of the bandits agreed that they'd made the right decision. They might have lost their their supplies and hideout, but at least they had their lives for now. They'd rather face the kinds of animals they knew might be lurking in the woods, than confront that unknown creature in their cabin.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Flash Fiction: Niloufar

Yes, the blog colors have changed although they're still well within the realm of "ugly sofa." But that's not the point.

I have another piece written for a flash fiction challenge that is all ready to share. Once again, from Chuck Wendig's blog, this challenge is The Who, The Where, The Uh-Oh. My random numbers 9,1,2 netted me:

Who: Android
Where: Nuclear Wasteland
Uh-Oh: Left for dead, out for revenge!

Oddly in the process of writing this and naming the main character Niloufar, I fell into a YouTube hole listening to the song "Niloofar." My favorite version was this one by Martik. And here is Pouran's version of the song as well.
I was pretty sure I had heard that song before, but I'm not sure where. Maybe I found it in some round about way while listening to Umm Kulthum. And if you haven't listened to Umm Kulthum...

Anyway, I wrote a little story about an android. It comes in at slightly under 2000 words.


All are whole. The world has been made Whole. The world is Whole. We are The Whole.

Niloufar. She has a name. The Whole left her here. But she is Whole because all are Whole now. She doesn’t recall why.

She knows where, though. The place where darkness never allowed another day. Shab. She hadn’t fully realized that Shab was not only a time period, an event really, but also a place. It had to be, though. When the explosions happened, all light pulled toward them, turning everything to darkness. Even people became drawn as shadows on the tile-worked walls. She’s heard the stories, but she knows them even better than she’d want to.

Because she was there. Not in this body, though. Part of her had been there when it happened. Part of her knows only that brief life before. Part of her knows everything after. And the dark space in the middle.

Char marks the near-center of her chest, arcing toward the right shoulder of her yellowed ivory tunic. They had tried to shock her heart—short the circuit. She doesn’t have a heart in the traditional sense anymore. They thought they’d tripped it. Or else they wouldn’t have left her here like this. It doesn’t line up, though.

She sits up, brushing dust off herself before pulling her paisley-printed scarf over the crown of her head in a movement more familiar than her memories after the dark space. There’s a rust-red spot, faint, but there in the paisley pattern. The blood of who they thought she’d be. She drags together an identity with threads of memory and built in knowledge of her rebirth, but it hasn’t quite come together.

The skin has peeled back on her arm, revealing the workings underneath. It doesn’t bleed. She presses it flat and stands, steadying herself against a brick pillar. Her memories turn back. Clicking over to the day she was made Whole five years earlier.

Behrouz Ghazali, her father, perhaps ten years older than when she last saw him. She knows him, but can’t explain it. He’s the same, but different. One ruined eye closed over in tightened scar tissue. His beard is speckled with grey.

The space around her seems different. Her body is different. A slight ten-year-old frame replaced with an adult form. Had she somehow slept through all of her awkward adolescence? No, this was the standard build.

There are others in the room like her. All the same basic shapes, but different faces, hair and clothes. The faces don’t move quite like they should, but the emotions are very close to perfect. People hug. Some cry.

All Baba can say at first is, “You did not survive.”  

She remembers her last day before this one. In a school room, kicking her feet under her desk. Green chalkboard. White hijab and navy school uniform in a room of similarly-dressed girls. A teacher in a black chador. And then everything blinked to darkness. 

They embrace. She sees herself in a mirror along the wall, and rushes over to examine her too-perfect face. She looks how she thought she’d look. Her smile doesn’t open wide enough, but it’s close to feeling right. The newly Whole come over to examine their faces. Doctors in lab coats and suits talk about the procedures. They used what they could. There will be some holes in the memory, but the remaining brain tissue might locate some of them as time goes on.

Niloufar doesn’t care. She touches her face, watching her movements in the mirror. The sensation is the same as she remembers it, but the surface is thicker. Everyone smiles, laughs or cries as they are able to. Even the doctors seem proud of the reunions they’ve orchestrated. The faces of The Whole are there too. They were constant. Watching everything, even the insignificant every day workings.

And she remembers the significant moment that brought her here. To Shab. The bronze mask’s distorted features and wide inset mirrored eyes glare down with preset conviction as only a faceless assailant hiding behind The Whole can. They have an agenda. Burned into her memory. It was her first image upon waking in the ruble.  A leftover glimpse lingering before her vision flickered back on.

The vaulted ceiling of the wide passageway points to the hole in the roof. The hole she fell through, and others. Some portions of the bazaar have collapsed. Columns demarcate separate stalls. Broken shutters hang open in pieces. Some items remain.

Wide, flat baskets spill from a broken table. Whatever they held has spilled as well. Most of it is gone, but a few cardamom pods, dried peppers and cinnamon sticks remain scattered right at the edge of the fallen table. Other booths are similarly broken and cleared out. Tattered garments in a row wave from the highest level of one shop. Blue signs with curling calligraphy announce the names of different vendors. Everything within easy reach is gone or damaged. She stares at a tulip-like motif on a group of tiles, but the memory doesn’t connect so she moves on.

The bazaar still smells like spices, perfume and incense, but also smells of smoke and blood. She climbs over the contents of several shops spilling across the aisle. Broken paintings and furniture. Half-crushed baskets. Green and ivory prayer rugs, and larger rolls of carpets. Everything past this spot is burnt. The gutted remainder of the bazaar takes away her chance to imagine that the people have just gone home. This is Shab, of course. Everyone always says that word as though their breath has gone out. It probably sounded different before.

Another memory.  She knows where she came from. At least where The Whole had taken her from.

Loosely assembled partitions covered in yellow and black symbols block the exit. Establishing such a boundary seems wrong.  Or useless. The symbols don’t make sense yet. A yellow field and a black circle with three black marks around it. Danger. Radiation. She looks around, expecting to find the source. It doesn’t matter as it will have little impact on her body as she is right now.

She tips the warning partition over, and stands in the street. A few cars line along the curb in a  haphazard assembly. Abandoned. Many buildings stand in disrepair. Collapsed buildings point away from the epicenter. Ruins. Another piece falls into place. The ruins are significant. Maybe not these ruins—older ruins. She walks close to the buildings, looking into the broken windows as she goes.

Baba would tell her old stories. History of long, long ago. When the shahs took over they let the old families keep some power—not real power, but the illusion of power. The shah took their power and lands little-by-little emboldening himself as he went, but kept a close eye on what the families were doing.

She felt like his impromptu history lessons treated her as though she were still a child.  And she didn’t know why he did it. Now she did.

The Whole was always watching. Shifts of bronze-masked figures. Their protectors. Their guards. Their captors.

She stops at a newsstand where magazines and newspapers have turned to browned confetti in the racks. Pressed against a section of glass is a logo that looks like a flower. A little bit like a distorted tulip. It had been on a magazine that is now an image fused to this glass. VE. Variegated Energy, but she knows it as Variegated Electronics. It’s still around. They built her. Made her Whole. She reads the remaining text fragments.

Nuclear power plants. Clean. Efficiency. Innovation.

All spoken of as a plan, and not yet a reality. She knows the face under the glass, but not his name. That part is missing. After picking up an abandoned cane near the shop, she breaks the glass away from the display. Set against the backdrop of near-silence the crash startles her. Dogs bark in the distance. They don’t sound quite right, though. Rasping. Congested.

A travel agency is the most intact storefront she’s found since leaving the bazaar.  And she hides in there. In a back room. It’s dark, but at least the door closes and locks.

When they had a chance without The Whole watching over them, Baba said, “We are Whole because we survived, but never believe we are part of The Whole. They want us to think that.”

“But if we are Whole, then who are The Whole?”

He shakes his head. “The Whole are responsible for all of it. They worked for the others, brought them here. Found a place that was expendable—remote—enough. They did what they wanted to out there, experimenting and testing, and thought no one was watching, but they were. We all faced the consequences. The world did, all for one global venture, and now the world is Whole because we’re all in this shit together. But The Whole watches anyone who knows any of this.”

He leans in close and whispers a name. He did that a lot. Never forget. The King of Ruins. He is one of The Whole, and there are others. She can’t remember, but now she knows something else.

Baba is dead. He wasn’t in poor health, but he is dead now. The Whole killed him. Not in an obvious way, but a murder all the same. She struggles to unearth what she’s seen. What she really knows, but it’s not there.

The dogs have moved on, so she opens the office door. The King of Ruins is not a title. It’s a name. A coded name. Baba told her the real name a couple times, but the code was there so she could remember it. She holds her head in her hands, trying to remember. The Whole tried to kill her too. The electrical jolt and the fall have done nothing for her already vague memories.

A glimpse of her mother. She was sick from radiation-related cancer. They were reunited, but only briefly. All the while, being watched over. She joked about how instantly Niloufar had grown up.

For the first time in her new life, she realizes that no one is watching. No one is really looking for her. She’s dead to them, which means she is free of The Whole. Now what?

Visit Perseoplis. It’s printed in several languages on a large faded poster, and on some brochures. Stone pillars and walls that look especially faded now in the photos, but have always been faded from age. Griffins. The Gateway of All Nations. Palaces and tombs. And carved figures with stylized robes, their beards and hair in repetitive coiled curls. This one on a throne. Darius the Great. Her memory pulls together. Takht-e-Jamshid.

The King of Ruins? No. Darius. Takht-e-Jamshid. She holds up the face under the glass panel she brought with her. He’s responsible for all this.

She drops the picture.  Darius, King of Ruins. Darius. Takht-e-Jamshid. Darius Jamshidi. Not Darius the Great. Darius Jamshidi, he’s on the Board of Directors for Variegated Electronics—was Energy. Now part of The Whole because the world is Whole because of them. Darius Jamshidi must be held responsible. Now, she just doesn’t know how…

Another flashback. Her father again. “The biggest fraud of all. They wanted the world to come together after their accident led to all-out nuclear war. Not just Shab, the ruins are everywhere with survivors rebuilding in their own enclaves. Of course Variegated Energy wouldn’t claim responsibility, but they’s tell survivors what to do. Once so little was left, they were more willing to listen. They said that they had to be unified. They had to be Whole. It was a great PR stunt. Who really knew the truth?”

Behrouz did, and Niloufar still knows. She wonders how many others are being watched by The Whole. Who else knows? How much time does she have left before no one else knows?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Flash Fiction: Accursed Encyclopedia

I'm challenging myself to participate in more writing challenges this year and so I'm finally getting around to posting this even though I wrote it the other day. 
Formatting. So difficult. Very lazy. 
(Also, hating all the words. That was going on, too.) 
At this rate I'm just happy that I finished something.

This was from Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog Flash Fiction Challenge: "Roll for Title"
I got 3 and 12, Accursed Encyclopedia...and here we go.

Accursed Encyclopedia

Marlisa passed by the first row of shelves in the theater’s old storeroom. With her hands on her hips, she gazed into the near darkness. Her usual outfit, baggy jeans and black tank top, played up the harshness of her buzz cut blonde hair.

“You know they have this thing called Google.” Penance used her cellphone as a beacon to lead to the light switch.

“Too much work. I was told that if I find this book it will tell me all I need to know. So I can do this term paper without really doing it, and focus on getting my drink on the rest of the night. I just have to open it, and—” Marlisa closed her eyes as the lights flickered on all at once. “Magic.”

“Good luck.” Penance turned for the stairs. Her dyed black and red hair and short black slip dress caught her momentum.

“Don’t go anywhere, cookie pants. I got the magic words.”

“If you think you can call me—”

Marlisa clapped her hands. “Enkuklios paideia.”

Something crashed in the distance and Marlisa ran for it. Penance pursued her. They hopped over sagging cardboard boxes and darted through the maze of shelves. Marlisa hoisted up a downed shelf to find several dozen books and a couple spilled boxes of miscellanea. One book sat open, shimmering like its pages were sprinkled with phosphorescent glitter. They stared at it. Marlisa knelt by the pile, reaching her hand just over the book’s pages. The shadows of her fingers grazed the surface. And it was gone.

Penance looked up. Glass shattered. The book had flown away, bashing through a blackout-painted window. She peered outside through the hole. “It’s on the sidewalk across the street. You know…I don’t think we should let anyone else get ahold of that book.”

By the time they exited the building and crossed the street, the book wasn’t where it had been, and the street was relatively empty except for the occasional passing car. Most of the storefronts were dark or abandoned.

“Fuck, man, now what?” Marlisa peered into an alleyway. “Where can a book go?”

“You saw it. I’d say it goes wherever it wants.” Penance lit a cigarette, and motioned towards the café tables further down the block where a couple people sat outside. “We could ask them.”

As they walked, they looked for any sign of the wayward book. The gutters were all rocks, trash and greasy splotches. But once they got within sight of the café Marlisa’s steps slowed.

Penance was more enthusiastic. “Hey, is that—

“I’m not talking to that asshole. Plus, he already thinks I spend my free time banging rocks together.”

“Well, maybe if you say you’re looking for a book he’ll change his mind.”

“I don’t need to impress pretentious Goths.”

The man in question had shoulder-length black hair and black eyeliner. He wore a charcoal suit with a grey tie. He read a newspaper, not paying attention to them as they approached. Penance saw it first, turned back to Marlisa and said, “You might have to.”

On his table under the demitasse of espresso sat the old leather-bound book. Worn letters in Greek visible on the spine. It no longer shimmered now that the pages were closed.

Marlisa wasn’t going to waste time with formalities as she approached the table. She pointed as she said, “That’s my book.”

He lowered the newspaper and looked at her. “The gutter is a funny place to leave an antique book.”

“Well, I’m an avant-garde artist. It’s part of a project. And you’re just—“

Penance stepped between them and put her hand on the table. “Hello, Alistair.”

His expression lightened, no longer prepared to scowl and escalate as far as possible. “How are you today, Penance?”

Penance smiled. “I’m good.”

“I doubt that.”

“Yeah, yeah… that’s sooo funny after the fiftieth time.” Marlisa butted in. “The book’s not yours.”
He tilted his head, resting his chin on his hand. “Perhaps I can be persuaded…”

“I don’t got time for this shit. Here you go.” Marlisa grabbed Penance by the shoulders and pulled her down to sit in the chair across from Alistair.

“I think trading people for goods is illegal.”

“I’m trading services for goods.”

“Hey, I don’t think so.” Penance glared at Marlisa.

Alistair smirked and looked back at his newspaper. “Some friends you have.”

“I was just talking about time, not services. And at least she has friends, freak.”

He crumpled the newspaper closed on his lap. “You’ve convinced me. Now, I really want to give you this book back.”

“It doesn’t belong to you anyway.”

“Maybe I like it, and I did find it. Besides, Penance would sit with me anyway, so you’ve pretty much given me nothing in exchange for what you want from me.”

Penance forced an exaggerated frown. “Do you really think I’m nothing?”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

Marlisa threw her hands up in exasperation. “Gah…such a dick. You better give me that book and buy her dinner and flowers and a pony to make up for being so mean.”

He sighed, moved his espresso cup and held up the book with an indifferent flourish. Marlisa reached for it, and as the book changed hands, it was gone again. Alistair stared at where the book had been. Marlisa did too. They looked like they were bewildered by each other. Glass shattered in the distance.

Penance clapped her hands. “I am so nailing these magic tricks today.”

“Yeah. Right.” Marlisa looked down the street toward the nearest crash. “Waste of fucking time!”

Penance yelled after her, “I think all you needed to know was that you need to do your own homework. How’s that for magic?”

Marlisa held her hand up over her head, issuing a one-finger salute before following the book.

Penance slumped back in her chair and mumbled, “Some friends indeed.”

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New...wait...when was that?

I'm around, but have been lazy recently. I guess not "lazy" but just not blogging. I've been planning things and sending out poetry submissions to clear out every piece I have that is finished but sitting around on my computer still. (And I have a new laptop because my old one finally lost its mind) Clearing out some of that poetry makes way for finishing some short fiction. And continuing work on my NaNoWriMo novel. I wrote over 50k on that story in November, so yay! But I need to add about 25k to finish it out.

In December I was trying to finish a different novel, but didn't. I decided to split the story between two characters. The main narrator is left in the dark a lot, and I figured getting her "I'm new to this and don't know what's going on" narrative too often would get annoying. So I'm giving the other part of the story to the character who has the most power and knowledge, but throws away some parts of what is going on because it doesn't fit with what she thinks is useful. She's a fighter, no time for whimsy. Take no prisoners. Ever.

Other than writing, I have some art projects I've been working on. More about those some other time.

I'm attempting to take some edX courses. Poetry in America: Whitman, and Intro to the Music Business start this month. Also starting in January, Coursera has Roman Architecture and Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences. I should know enough about Roman Architecture between all the Art History, Ancient History and Classics courses I've taken, but wanted a refresher on locations, engineering and terms.
I think the most interesting course will probably be Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. That one starts in early February. In late February there's another intriguing course offered through edX called Library Advocacy Unshushed. Once those courses start I'll probably have some comments on them.

So, there's an update. I hope to get back to regular posting in the near future.

One last thing--Steampunk World: A multicultural Steampunk fiction anthology has a couple days left in its Kickstarter campaign, check it out.