Writing Practice 11/14/2019

Today I will do all of the things…

Today I will do all of the things. All of the love things, the work things, the fun things, the careful things, the reckless things. I will turn myself into a paper boat and fly into the sunset. I will wear a hat made out of marbles. I will watch seventeen movies in a row, and write two-star reviews of them all on Yelp.

I will run with the Wolves, and I will sit with the Kings and Queens. I will listen for my name on the draft board, and I will play the trumpet for Taps, signifying a well-earned rest for the men, women, Venusians, and Tau Cetians under my charge.

I will dance in the moonlight, wearing a six-piece suit (pants, shoes, shirt, vest, tie, jacket), and I will carry a cane and I will insert my monopole into my left eye, and I will dash my hat (my tall, black top hat) just to the side, just a little bit, and is ill, wearing my six-piece suit and top hat and cane, I will sing “Singing In the Rain,” and I will do it with an Australian accent, and at the end, when I’m finished, I will dance a little jig and kick my heels up and tap them together, dance-jump-tap, dance-jump-tap, alternating sides for just a few seconds, because I don’t want to press my luck, this has been going on quite long enough now, and I will take a bow and doff my cap and sweep it low towards the ground, and I will say “M’lady,” and I will stand once more erect and proud and congratulatory, congratulating myself for a fine performance, a fine performance, that, and I will wish you all a good night, and I will turn smartly on my heel, tamp my cane on the sidewalk twice, tap-tap, and step off, prim and proper, into he night, disappearing into the fog, lit only by the moon behind you, so your shadows stretch out, reaching for me, begging with me to come back, return, please, just for one more song, and I’ll turn down an alley you cannot see and I will spend my evening in the company of my good friends, my true friends, one from Mr. Daniels and other other from Cuba, and after we have throughly refreshed our relationship I shall take my leave, excusing myself to the utmost of exhortations to stay, stay, just a bit longer, only one more, but I will be off, I have much to do before I sleep and far to go, so I shall, so I shall, so I shall.

Writing Practice – 3/8/2019

Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, p. 877

She went off on a walking holiday in Wales.

She took sensible shoes, a small rucksack, and enough money to satisfy her longings for adventure.

As it turned out, she would need much more of all three by the time her holiday ended.

The first to give out was her rucksack. Over twenty years old, she’d first received it as a gift from her own mum, at the age of twelve, when mother saw her spending more and more time out of doors, sitting on the benches beside the paths in the Gardens across the Park. She’d graciously dipped into her own accounts to provide “this wonderful bag,” as she’d called it. “A real treasure trove.” It was leather, about a foot wide, a foot deep, and a foot across. It had a folding flap and leather straps and brass buckles and two shoulder straps, and she’d carried it with her almost daily since then. She’d never imagined it would wear completely out, but, eventually, the cover flap started to come apart at its seam, and the buckles showed that they were becoming worn, loose, crooked, and jangly. The bottom, which had gotten worn through in several places and patched, looked more like Junky the Clown’s patchwork suit than a leather bag. The patches pulled apart at their seams, they couldn’t hold anything smaller than a grape without needing some kind of layer to line the bottom first, and it frankly had a bit of an odor, collected over years of use by shoes, sweatshirts, old books, hand-sweat, environmental dirt, grease, road grit, and the occasional bit of pigeon shit it found itself dumped back down upon.

The bag finally gave out in Kensington, two days walk along the road to Ghent. She’d spent the morning leisurely, having tea at the B&B before she set off, moving slowly as the morning grew gradually lighter, and as she reached the end of the town she’d slept comfortably in, she hitched the pack higher, as she did, and prepared to step forth.

But with that excessive motion, that rough-and-ready jerking motion, the butt-end of the bag simply couldn’t hold any longer, and dumped itself upon their backs of her calves and feet, showering the road with her extra trousers, small bits of makeup, a half a dozen trinkets picked up here and there reminding her of her various adventures, a love not she’d received years ago and never replied to, two guide books depicting the road ahead, and one explained the best places to get wine in Croatia, half a package of crisps, two lipsticks, and the extra sweater she often carried in adventures like this. Margaret stopped and stared, somewhat taken aback. At that moment, she had exactly no idea what to do next.

And that was a first. Truly, she had never not known what to do before. Even as a three-year-old, she could remember knowing precisely how to play a game with her older brother. At ten, she’d told her parents that they needed to send her to boarding school, for her sake, as her neighbors were also going to send their little one off, and she shouldn’t be left behind with all of the riff-raff and bad influences. And at twenty, she’d bent he one to initiate her relationship, and three years later the marriage, to Kelvin, and three years after that she’d been the one to begin the divorce proceedings.

So for the first time, out of all the wonderful, incredible, fantastic, believable and unbelievable experiences she’d had in her life, Margaret was, simply, unable to decide what to do.

The inaction paralyzed her, and that paralysis created further indecision, which cycled up and up and further on and on, until she startled herself out of her semi-comatose state, notice her watch, and saw that at least an hour had passed with her simply standing on the side of the road.

An hour? My! What might have happened?

Well –

If I tell you, I’d ruin the surprise, eh? Better to show you…

Writing Practice 11/25/2018

Did you see that?

It was a clown riding by on a bicycle

No, it wasn’t. It was a Halloween costumed kid on a skateboard. He only “looked” like a clown.

No, you’re both wrong. It was Carrot-Top, and he was on roller blades, and he was drinking what appeared to be a pineapple smoothie. I should know, it was in exactly the same cup my grandmother used to get her smoothies in, from that place down on the corner, you know the one, where we used to go and get the three-dollar popsicles.

Oh yeah, those things were so good. I’d have like three a day in the summer. My mom always asked what I was spending my money on, and I would lie and say “Chicks, mom, I gotta buy them stuff to impress them.” And she believed me.

Nah, she didn’t believe you. She knew you were gay before you did.

Did not! Did, too. She even told me once, when we were like eight, not to pick on you because of it.

No she didn’t! Shut your fuck hole, asshole!

Guys! Guys! Hold on!




Did you see that?

Nope. What was it this time?Don’t say another clown. I certainly don’t believe you the first time. I”m not gonna believe you this one.

Nope. Guess again.

Okay, was it a parade of pre-schoolers? You know, where they hold that rope and all walk single file and look like they’re preparing for five to eight at the State Prison?


Was it a dog chasing a cat chasing a rat chasing its mate because it was horny and then hungry and then just having fun?

Nope. But I like your style!

Was it a skywriter in the blue, but instead of saying something like “I LOVE YOU HARRIET” or “EAT AT MACAVITY’S”, it was real big blocks, empty squares, kind of like an artificial algebra problem with geometric shapes instead of variables?

Nope. Getting warmer, though.

Was it a worm, shriveled up and hard and flat, squished by too many feet and left alone to rot by the birds because all the good parts had become toughened in the sun?

Yes! How’d you know?

I saw it on my way in.

Did not!

Did too!

No way! Me too!


<high fives all around>

Hey guys?





Did you see that?

Writing Practice 8/17/2018 – an action scene

World’s Great Adventure Stories – p 227

“Slide had found out what was intended, and the news sobered him instantly.”

He decided to fight back. He jumped up from his spot at the bar, and readied his fists. The three men who’d been approaching suddenly stopped in their tracks. Their advantage of deceit was now gone. Slade, six feet and a half, three hundred pounds, and known to be able to take out six average men on a night with either his words or his propensity to drink them under the table, made quite a sight.

The three – Tamson, Byers, and Rogerleth, stood ten feet away and looked at one another. The rest of the bar noticed the commotion and cleared off. They wanted nothing to do with it. Kylie, behind the bar, would have tried to shove them out into the parking lot, but she knew it was safer for her, and for her supply, if they just fought it out there and then and got it over with. She hinted at one of the other regulars at the end of the bar with a hand up to the side of her head, thumb and pinky extended, that he should make a call, and he did. The cops would show up, but and it would be well after Slade had taken care of business, but they needed a ride for the three anyway. Probably to get stitched up.

Byers reached out first. He composed himself, took a big breath, and closed the gap. Rogerleth followed, with Tamson trying to circle around the back. He didn’t make it. Slade kicked a stool at him before anyone even got within five feet, knocking him off balance and intercepting their coordination. Byers led with a punch, which Slade backed off easily, then came in hard with one to the gut. It doubled Byers over, and while he staggered off Slade took an elbow tot he side of his ribs from Rogerleth. It did nothing. The big man made a slight “oof” sound, as if he were puffing a dandelion, then launched his shoulder into the man half his size. His momentum, and the fact that he was coming down from far above, knocked Rogerleth to a knee.

By this time Tamson had picked himself up and was approaching again. Slade saw him coming and donkey-kicked behind him. He missed. Tamson grabbed for the leg and he missed.

Rogers and T now had beads and distances on Slade, so they started aiming jabs and kicks in his direction. Thumps sounded as the three closed in on him, a miniature swarm upon a massive beast, and he swirled and twirled to throw them off. Fists, elbows, knees, hair flew. Echoes of the impacts bounced off the barroom walls. Grunts and scuffs of tables being shoved out the way, the thwock of a fist against chest, grunts and moans as the three attackers thought better of their strategies and reconsidered their attack. Finally Rogers lay on the ground, bleeding form two cuts under an eye and nursing a soreness in his ribs that could only be described as excruciating. T, too, was on a knee, breathing hard, while Byers was nowhere to be seen. Witnesses later say he ducked out the back after taking a solid elbow to the head. Slade, bruised and winded, stood over his two mutineers like a lion over his pride, victorious, glorious, regal, despite the mess on his face and knuckles. He simply nodded to the two on the ground, pulled a stool back up to the bar, sat down and picked up where he had been, and went back to work. The police arrived a few minutes later and found R and T outside sitting on the stoop. When they asked what happened, R started with, “well, Slade jumped us -” and the officer cut him of with a dismissive wave of his hand. He’d had enough in fifteen years of visits to this bar. He knew better than to assume Slade was ever an instigator. He smirked. “You boys learn your lesson?” R and T hung their heads in shame. “Yessir,” T said.

And that was Tuesday.

Writing Practice – 6/1/2018

Pen is running dry…

I like to watch the progress of the ink level in the barrel as I go along. Slow and steady it is, but it keeps going. The more I write, the less I have left to go until it’s all gone. Like footsteps, paradoxically, the more I write, the more evidence there is that I was here. The more pen on the page, means less pen ink in the tube.

I wonder if the people who made this pen thought about how it would be used. For grocery lists or for calculus homework. For taking notes in a quarterly divisional meeting at a large multi-national corporation, or for making doodles on the side of a notepad while waiting for the doctor.

The possibilities inside this pen are endless. There are whole worlds, whole universes, to be set free. Inside this plastic cylinder are dragons and demons and fairies and magic. Inside are robots and hyper drives and a new ansible and a Crucible. Inside are epic poems and haikus. Inside is a resignation letter from the President, alongside and mingling with the phone number scrawled on the back of my hand at that bar last week.

These things are all in there. They’re all potentials. misspellings and transgressions, sleights of hands and phurns of trase. Malapropism. Aproprisms. Run-on sentences. Adverbs. The month of September, and how it smells like sheep ready for shearing, how it feels like the ground is turning its own nose up at the change of seasons. Inside is a butterfly, dancing merrily on the edge of my shoulder, its delicate leg somehow caught in the uneven weave of my shirt, fluttering and flapping to try and escape, yet still entwined with me, so that I have time to take out my camera and snap a selfie, two, three, four, five, before I watch if finally leave, and take off and leave me wanting more once again.

It is a desert, and Antarctica, and Pluto, and Polaris, and protons, and Protease, and protein, and prescriptions and purses and pennywhistles and Pennywise, all in one. It is the large infinitely large and the small infinitely small together – mashed, waiting, uncertain as to whether it will manifest on the paper as power or pusillanimousness. The possibilities are infinite, a regular [unclear] Pen of the word, an infinite universe of quantum potentialities which do not coalesce condense collapse into one until I set pen to paper and become, in this world, the almighty.

The Most Interesting Person in Mexico

A couple of weeks ago I went to Cancun, Mexico for a short vacation. Going in, I deluded myself that I’d do a few hours of work in the morning, then relax in the afternoon. Yeah, right. Who’s gonna work when you can look at this all day?


So I didn’t work. My buddy Troy, who’d invited 50 different friends, called me “the 2%” all week. Because I was the only one willing to come down and hang out in the tropics, sitting on the beach, reading a book by the pool, enjoying the scenery.

The Royal Cancun, Cancun, MX


The Royal Cancun, Cancun, MX

Oh, and speaking of scenery, the landscapes are pretty nice, too! 😉

We met a bunch of people. This is Dave, Stacey, and Troy on Monday at Isla Mujeres.


I met a turtle in her pond who wouldn’t leave me alone.


I met a couple, Max and Brittney, who had come down from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Troy’s city. Imagine, flying 2,000 miles and across the Gulf of Mexico, to meet someone who lives just a few doors down from you. And not only that, but this couple had a connection to me, too. Last August, on a whim, they drove a half a day to come down to this area and watch the eclipse at the same amphitheater in Chesterfield where I watched it.

Ian Wardlaw

You might be thinking they’re the most interesting people I met in Mexico, but you’re wrong.

Perhaps you think it’s the friends from New Jersey (where my mother grew up and I still have nice memories of visiting as a child). Nope.

Perhaps you think it’s the whole group of friends / frenemies that Troy and I hung out with a few times over the week, laughing and drinking cerveza and telling jokes and them smoking. (Hint – a couple of them are in that first picture above). Nope.

Perhaps you think it’s Janet and her daughter Billie, who Troy ended up spending a lot of time with, over the week. Janet bought us dinner on Monday at the resort. Pretty sweet! But no, she was not the most interesting person I met.

Perhaps you think it’s Kyle (I think), the iguana who peed on my hand on my tour of Tolum.



Maybe the people I met at the cenote, the freshwater reservoir where we ate lunch and swam after Tolum?


Strike three! (Four?)

Maybe the tour guide, Carlos, who showed us how the sun can be viewed through a piece of obsidian. Still not the most interesting person I met.

No, the most interesting person I met was someone else. I met her after I climbed up the pyramid at Coba:


And had to stop a couple of times to let my fear subside. I’m not usually scared of heights, but that was a little precarious. After we butt-scooted back down, we made our way out to the front of the park in groups of two or three. There I bought a frozen fruit pop and rested a bit.

Within a few moments I saw a woman standing by her bicycle. Mid-twenties and slim, she looked a little out of place compared to all the rest of the white European tourists in groups of ten or more, and very out of place compared to the shorter Mexican citizens.

Her bicycle was loaded on the front and rear wheels with bags. And it looked like she was on a tour. I decided to be nosy.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, sure.” Her accent sounded French, but we spoke in English, as most people there do.

“Are you on a tour?” I pointed to the bicycle.

“Yes, of course.” Her demeanor seemed almost dismissive, as if I was asking if the sky was blue.

“By yourself?” I couldn’t see anyone else on a similar bicycle, and she didn’t look like she was waiting for a group.

“Well, I had a partner for the first part of the trip, but now, yes, it is just me.”

“How long have you been going?” Expecting a few weeks.

“Ahm, about six months now.” My eyes popped open. This is not the first time I’ve met someone on a long-term tour (there was a guy going through here from California to Maryland last summer). But it is the first time I’ve known of a non-native doing it across thousands of miles in a strange country, all alone.

Color me dazzled. Or is it “be-dazzled”? Regardless, I admired her resolve. I envied her freedom.

“Wow, very impressive. Good luck,” and I waved a short goodbye. She did the same, and turned away to purchase her ticket to go see the Coba ruins and pyramid.

And I turned away, back to my tour bus, back to my pampering in air conditioning, back to letting other people do for me instead of doing for myself.

Back to wishing I could do that.

Back to planning for the day when I can do that.

Back to yearning for the chance to go where I want, when I want, without obligations of schedule, of deadlines, of mortgage and health insurance and homeowner association fees.

Back to waiting.


Writing Practice – 2/1/2018

I’ve said before that I sometimes take a line from another story and see where it goes. Today is from a story called In the Zoo, by Jean Stanford.

She walks quickly along beside the train. “Watch out for pickpockets!” she calls. [Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, page 1325]
And I wonder exactly why she would tell me that. Don’t I have enough experience being robbed that I already know to be aware, to attend to my surroundings? I feel myself frown, then, and that is not the last memory I wish to leave with her, so I force a smile onto my face. I lean out the window. I wave, she is waving, we are waving across an expanding gulf, one of space, yes, but also of experience, she remains on the platform and in the small town and confined by the vagaries and vulgarities and smallness of life. While I am heading off to the world, to richer experience for myself, to become something, some thing, I know not what, but I plan to explore and to see and to delve into the variety of all this world offers.

Platte Butte falls away behind, as the trail pulls eastward, and I lean back in the seat satisfied, and yet scared, too.

I am satisfied that I have achieved this taking-off, this breaking free of the shackles of small town, I have stepped out into the world with its bright lights, fancy technology, and people from all over.

And yet I am scared, too. Scared for my sister, all alone now, and staying with a friend until she is married in another three months. Couldn’t I have stayed just a little longer to help her get settled? Wouldn’t it be fun, two sisters, greatest friends in the world, to live in a small apartment above the Woolworth’s on Sixth, sharing meals, gossiping about all of the untoward actions those unseemly men have put forth in our days recently past, planning for and executing her marriage and eventual moving out for her to live with him in a two-bedroom apartment on the east side? Wouldn’t it have been better for me to stay to complete that single life of hers with her, to support her and transition her and be there with her as she grew up and out and happy?


Perhaps it would have been [illegible]. But each time I considered it, each time I imagined myself in this world, each time I thought of staying in Platte, all I imagined was another chain wrapped round my ankle, day after day, after day, another loop, another clasp, another link, longer and stronger with each sunrise, deeper with each sunset.

I knew, a year ago, that if I were to ever live, I would need to disappear from here. I would need to drop off of everyone’s radar for a time, a year, two, five, and only reappear for a visit once my roots were firmly established somewhere else. Anything but that – any delay, any hesitation, any romantic or career (ha!) involvement here would be enough to seal my fate. It would bind me to this tiny, nothing town forever, and there my heart would slowly wither and die, like the leaves in autumn, crumbling to dust too soon.

So I set my mind to departure, immediately after graduation. As that happened three days ago, I bought my train ticket out of town the next day. “How far can I go for seventeen dollars?” was my exact question. “All the way to Chicago,” was the reply, and so after a day of packing, here I am, on the first leg of what may eventually be an around-the-world journey but has begun with this six-hundred-and-forty-mile train ride.

Chicago. The Windy City.

My heart flutters.

It skips. It dances. It threatens to break through my ribs and launch itself to the top of the trees. It thumps and pounds, and I calm it with a steady palm to my breast. I have many miles to go before I sleep, and this journey shall be quite long. Rest, dear heart.


One Story, Two Versions – Part 1

The next 2 posts will be 2 different versions (mostly polished) that I wrote at the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2015. They follow the same general plot arc, but have some slightly diferent characters. Give a read… see which one you prefer.
Discovering Virtue (version 1)

Anasha was in her waking room when she heard feet come up the steps and stop on the landing outside. A heavy knock on her door was followed by a terse voice. “Message from King Columbus.”

 She opened the door and found a small New Man waiting, one she did not recognize. He handed her a small scrap of vellum. “Come to the King’s quarters in one hour,” he said. “This is your pass.” He turned abruptly and descended the stairs, leaving her as alone as before. And confused.

 What would Columbus want with her? She was not the Speaker. He had never even spoken to her before. Was she in trouble? Was there a problem with the current Speaker?

 She took the time to dress in her finest red robe and run a comb through her hair. Even if he was a usurper, he was a usurper who held much power and stood on much ceremony. His appearance was always perfect and he expected as much of those in his audience.

 Anasha departed her rooms and walked towards the royal halls. They stood majestic near the highest point of the city, where they could overlook the sea to the east and the plain to the south, and the canal dredged through to the interior. The red, black, and white of the stones of the tightly-packed city buildings blended color as the light faded. Men and women and children went about their business without hurry, but also without wasting time. In and out of the shops, foodhouses, galleries, and theaters of the great city, they moved with purpose. Dark would be upon them all within the hour, and the lamplighters too were at their work. She took cue from them and set her face to task.

 She arrived at the royal hall and presented her pass to the New Man guarding there. He turned and waved for her to follow. They moved through marble hallways where Anasha often spent time, as apprentice to the Speaker, but with the New Man in front. Approaching the one who sat in the Queen’s rightful place, it felt different. Intimidating. Like a stormcloud looming over the mountain.

 The guard opened a door and ushered her in. She made a small bow. The room was perhaps four or five paces across and twice that deep. Various New Men moved in and out, on this errand or that. He sat in a tall, cushioned chair, behind a brightly polished table of dark wood. Various pieces of paper, sometimes stacks, covered the surface. She could not read them, nor did she wish to try.

 He did not look at her as he spoke, but kept writing. His voice was low and powerful. The words of their foreign tongue rolled up and down, like forever ripples within the stream. “I know of the plot to kill me, Anasha. You should go ahead and try it now, get it done.” She inhaled sharply, without meaning to. He looked up and his eyes, deep set like those of the cunning rat, squinted at her discomfort.

 “You are afraid to try? Or have you not been prepared?”

 “I am sorry, sir, I do not know what you mean.” He would hear the thunder in her chest, she was certain. He would see the pulsing of her veins and it would betray her so soon. How could he know? Franco.

 He relaxed into the chair, resting his face on his hand. “So it was not you. Very well.” His voice slowed, became less accusing. “You will need to pack some things. You are going on a voyage. You should be excited.”

 “Again, sir, I do not know what you mean. The Advisors, the Speaker, have told me nothing of this.”

 He waved his free hand. “I do not care for Advisors.” He leaned forward, elbows on the desk. Prowling. “Your queens and kings give them too much power. They really should be more careful who they ascend to positions of confidence.”

 Another New Man entered, handed a sheaf of pages to Columbus, who glanced at them and signed with a flourish. “Ah, so much to do, so little time.” He spoke without looking at her again. “I am leaving the day after tomorrow. You will come with me and be my Speaker, to help with the transition.”

 Speaker? Transition? “I am sorry, sir, I do not understand. Where are you going?”

 “Back to Spain, of course. My time is almost finished here. Besides, the Princess is scheduled to arrive and take over the throne in just a few more days. I would not want to be in her way.”

 “And what do you want with me?”

 It was as if she’d said two and two make purple. “I cannot be expected to control five score of Atlanteans without knowing their language, can I? You will be Speaker for them on our journey and in the land. Franco has prepared you well, no? Your speech is much improved from even a few months ago, he tells me.”

 Her throat betrayed her, would not let her speak. It held back her fear, her frustration, her anger.

 “Though you might refuse, of course. You are not my slave,” and he lifted the corner of his scowl. “I just wonder how it would look if your waking room were found to have a bottle of the poison used to kill the Speaker.”

 Her throat released its hold. “But she’s not–” she said, and fell silent.

 He returned to his papers, showing the top of his head. “I will expect you tomorrow evening, at the same time, for your decision.” He waved a hand.

 She made her slight bow and left, collecting a pass for the next evening from the guard. Once out upon the flagstones of the broad walkway leading up to the royal hall, she stood unconvinced that what had happened was real. She inhaled deep, held it for a pause, and then began to run.

 While she was with Columbus the sun had set behind the mountains to the west, the light had faded, and the streets were lit with only the lamps. They were bright enough, but still the effect, coming on top of the perilous offer, frightened Anasha. She hurried along the various stone-lined streets towards the Merchants’ Quarter, the place where men and women worked at trade. They would send sheep’s meat and the clothing made from the wool to the west, and receive wood and stone from the forests and quarries there, among other things. The businesses were transacted within the old buildings of the Merchants’ Quarter. And since business, like everything else, had been on the decline for the past thousand years, the Merchants’ Quarter was only half-full at any time.

 The perfect place for the Guild to hide.

 She passed through the old stone archway indicating the barrier between the Living Quarter and the Merchant Quarter, and felt the air cool immediately. The darkness increased as there were fewer and fewer lamps lighting the ways, on occasional corners or flowing out a window. She slid through alleys and around empty buildings, finally coming to a stop in front of an unmarked door.

 She knocked lightly. Tap-tap-tap, pause, tap-tap, pause, tap. She waited for a minute, counting slowly under her breath, then knocked again, in the same pattern. A breeze blew and brought a chill to her bones.

 The door opened slightly and she squeezed herself inside. Lamps lit the room, but just barely. Seated on stools all around the space were a handful of men and women, faces she recognized and one she did not. She saw Pensione, Demos, a young man whom she did not know, Bonia, and Zander, the leader of the Guild.

 “Is it safe to speak?” she asked, pointing at the strange boy. “Or will he go running to the New Men again, telling them more of our secrets?”

 He started to stand, and Demos put a hand on his shoulder to settle him. “He is with me,” Demos said. “This is my grandson, Kellar.” He stared at Anasha. “You have nerve, girl, accusing him, when there might be just as much thrown upon yourself.”

 “Of what? I have done everything you asked.”

 “Perhaps more,” came the reply, and the old man fell silent.

 Anasha felt her face flush, and turned to Zander instead. “I came to warn you,” she said. “Columbus knows about–”

 “Of course he does,” Zander interrupted. “Don’t you see?” He waved a hand around, indicating the mess within the room. Log books covered the floor. Cabinets lay overturned, their contents flowing across the space. The ink had been thrown across the room, shattering the bottles. A large stain that looked so much like blood covered one wall.

 “The New Men came earlier today,” he said. “They took everything.”

 Anasha gasped. “Then the plan–”

 “May still go on,” said Pensione. She was calm and collected. Anasha wondered how the woman could maintain such a statuesque figure.

 “We’ll have to hurry,” Anasha said. “Columbus leaves in two days’ time.”

 Pensione stood. “Good. We can just let him go.”

 “It is not that easy,” Anasha said. She told them of his offer, and his reasoning that she would accept.

 “That’s no bargain,” said Zander. “You can’t do that. Put fellow citizens into bondage. Ridiculous.”

 “We don’t know that it would be bondage,” she said, and immediately knew it was wrong. “Well, we can hope that it would not be.”

 “Hope,” Demos said, “is simply not believing what you know to be true. We have seen how the New Men treat us while they are here. Why should we expect anything different on a ship? Or when in their lands? You should not go.”

 “But what else can I do?”

 “Stay,” Zander said. “We’ll fight them. There’s not so many of them. We’ll call up the army and have them protect us.”

 “It won’t work,” Anasha said. “I hear the General and the other Advisors talking all the time. They cannot afford to make Columbus mad, for if he returns with half as many New Men as he has promised, Atlantis would be overrun and destroyed in two months.”

 “So you’ve given up,” Demos said. “Ah, well, perhaps we all should.” Her voice was a morning bloom wilting in the midday sun. “What’s the use?”

 Anasha pounded a fist on her thigh. “No. I love these people, and this way of life, too much to just give up.” A surge lifted her to her feet. “I can still do something. We can still do something.” She searched the shelves, pulled out drawers, opened cabinets. “The poison I was to give to the Speaker, for Columbus’s food. Is there any more? I can try tomorrow night. I still have audience with him, even if the Speaker doesn’t.”

 A firm hand stopped her. Zander’s eyes dug into her soul. She felt the pull she had the first time she’d heard him speak, sucked in and attracted to his desires for a better life away from the New Men. He might be young, he might be inexperienced, but she was those things, too. And he wanted something more. So she wanted something more. Because of him, she was willing to take the risk.

 The plan had been for her to pass the bottle of poison to the Speaker, and when the time came for the next ceremonial dinner, the Speaker could then eliminate their problem. But with her now succumbed to the same fate, or slated to be, as Columbus hinted, the plan would need to change. They talked into the night, considering this and that, and the other. Eventually, they settled on a new plan. One that would have to be done quickly, and with much risk.

 Anasha accepted her role and the two capsules Pensione produced as if by magic. She left near midnight for her next task.

 Franco’s room was close to the royal halls, down a walkway and off to a side way. The New Men had taken over a whole building, and she would find Franco there. Along the walkway she passed marble sculptures of the gods, carvings of history, and painted columns demonstrating the pride of the city. They all showed the wear and loss from many centuries of neglect, but Anasha ignored them in her haste.

 She reached the building, a three story wood and stone structure that had been maintained better than the decorations on the walkway. She leaped up the steps to the second floor and pounded on the door. “Franco!” She pounded again, and again. “You snake! Open up!” Others in the building, in their sleeping rooms, would hear her. Good. Let them hear. Let them judge.

 The door swung open and he stood blank-faced, unwilling to meet her eyes. “What do you want?”

 She pushed past him into his waking room. The small space was overflowing with his scattered clothing articles and books, covering the small table and the bench at the wall. Two small lamps upon the shelves threw dim light across the place. She turned and shoved a finger in his face, startling him backwards. “How dare you! You pretend friendship, acquaintance, and a desire to help my people. And then you turn around and give us over to Columbus so he can enslave us! What right do you have?”

 “I have the same rights as you.” He carried an empty wine glass. His voice was high, and soft, and smoothed by the wine so that the rounded edges of his language were even rounder, making the him hard to understand. “More, even. We came here and we won. So we get to make the rules.” He lifted his glass. “To the victor go the spoils.”

 She fingered the capsules within the pockets of her robe. If only she had one more.

 The books drew her attention. She stepped close and picked one from the floor. “Do you read that in here? Do you justify yourself by whatever this says?”

 He laughed. “That? That is a book describing the edible flowers of Africa.” He filled his wine glass from a bottle on the floor. “What could it have anything to do with us? I brought that in case we found strange plants. Instead, we found a whole forgotten world.”

 “And stayed a year,” she spat. A year too long. “You should have turned your boats around and left Atlantis the minute you saw the green edge of our shores.”

 “Come, now,” he said, “it hasn’t been all bad. We’ve brought you new things, told your people of another place.”

 “We were fine without you.”

 “You were dying. Your city is only half full. Your fields grow weak, your sheep, goats, your horses aren’t as strong as they used to be. Atlantis needs the knowledge within our cities, our culture. Our civilization.”

 “Oh, so you’re doing this for our benefit? You get nothing out of it?” He remained silent, avoiding her eyes. “Come, Franco, tell me. What exactly do you get out of sending me back in your place? I suspect it was you who put Columbus up to that. Admit it. Be honest. We Atlanteans pride ourselves on our virtue.”

 She stepped closer, felt his trembling as she put a hand on his arm. He jerked, splashing wine to his trousers.

 “I can not go back,” he said, and drained the wine. He wobbled to the chair beside the table and landed with a thump. She could almost pity him. Almost. “I can not.”

 “Why not? What is so terrible there that you must avoid it? You yourself say that it is the pinnacle of civilization. That it is so much better than here, that we must go there and learn. If it so good, so excellent, why not go back yourself?” She sat across the table. His eyes held fear, and longing.

 “Rosalina de Ignatio.” He tilted his empty glass and scowled, then tossed it to the floor where it landed on a rumpled cloak. “And her bastard child. She says it is mine, and I should help pay for its upkeep.” He let out a string of violent words he had not yet taught her the meanings of. “She thinks we’ll all be rich when we return, that we’ll have more gold than we know what to do with.” He waved an arm at the room, and laughed without glee. “Does that look like I’ve got more than two pesetas to rub together? My father will agree with her father that I should take a position in the mercantile and work there until I die.” He slumped, put his head on the table in the crook of his elbow. “I’d rather die here, free, having seen something of the world, than to return to that prison.”

 And Anasha, full of hatred and invective when she arrived, found that she knew his desire to avoid a burden forced upon you. Had she not done the same by accepting the position as apprentice, so long ago? Was that why she had pushed for her mother’s approval, when the Seekers came round? Why she hardly wrote anymore, why she hadn’t seen her sister in three years?

 “What you did was wrong,” she said. “I understand it, but it was wrong. I will never forgive you, no matter how you beg. Because now I must clean up your mess. When I was a child I promised my father I would never kill another person, and I am a heartbeat away from breaking that promise for you. But you are not worth it.” She left him, alone and lonely, within his waking room, and hurried back to her own.

 She arrived well into the early hours of the morning, stumbling through the door and falling onto the bed immediately. She slept for hours until a knock awoke her. A knock, then a voice, a woman’s voice, then a knock again.

 “Anasha?” Knock. The voice hurried. “Come, wake up, it’s your mother. We have to hurry.”

 The morning sunlight streamed through the window opening, lighting the place. She supposed it was nearly noon. She had her audience with Columbus in a few hours, and he would expect her decision. She hoped she could do what the Guild expected, what they had prepared her for. She hoped that it would be quick and easy. But her mother, here, made things more difficult. She would have to get rid of her quickly, so she could have time to ready her spirit for the task.

  She opened the door. Her mother strode in, sweating and dirty, smelling of the field and the horse. Her face was drawn tight, a worry she had not seen since her father lay prone after his return from battle. They hugged, and her mother pushed for inspection. “Oh,” she said. “You are doing very well.”

 “I have to meet–” she cut herself off before opening too terrible a door, “–the Speaker soon. For a lesson. I’m sorry I don’t have time. Tomorrow? Or the day after? Can you come back?”

 Mother shook her head. “It’s your sister, Anasha. She wants to see you.”

 “Where is she?” And then she knew. Knew from the sweat, from the look, from the way Mother held herself back. “Now,” she said, and they ran.

 The horses galloped for an hour, pushed to their limits and further. Anasha prayed silent and loud prayers for more speed, more time, more hope. Her mother said nothing.

 When they arrived at the family’s stead, the smells and sights transported her instantly back fifteen years to when she’d left. Playing with Phoebe in the springs along the hillside, running with father through the stalks of wheat before they were cut down. Cooing softly to keep the hens calm while they gathered eggs in the morning.

 Phoebe lay on a mat at the back of the family’s small, simple hut. The large single room had space for everyone, the thatch roof kept out the rain and the sun, and the open doors allowed the animals and people to mingle freely throughout. It was like all the other spaces in the farming village, plain but not poor. They had enough. Not too much, and not too little, but enough. She had a blanket pulled up under her chin, though the warmth of the day had made both of the riders burn. A glow spread across her sister’s face.

 “You came,” she said, slowly and as if her mouth were filled with clouds.

 “I could never ignore your call,” Anasha replied. She took Phoebe’s hand. She sensed her mother was moving around behind, perhaps putting a pot over the small fire or arranging spices on the table. She was always good for things like that. “How do you feel?”

 Phoebe blinked, slow, and her eyes rolled when she did. “I feel fine. Doctor won’t believe me though. He tells me to lie down and Mama listens to him.”

 Mother oh shushed from across the room. Anasha lifted the corner of the blanket and saw the twisted leg, dark purple and swollen at the knee, with ugly red lines tracing upwards and down. Scabs oozed dark fluids that dripped and stank like a bog.

 “I had a accident,” Phoebe said, shrugging. “You should have seen the other rock.”

 Anasha smoothed her hair back from her face. “You’re going to be fine. You just rest.”

 “Will you tell me a story? You were always so good at telling Papa stories.” And she was. She had told Papa stories every day when he came back from the battle, unable to speak, unable to help in the fields. She had told him stories every day, first what she remembered from the book he had read to the sisters nightly, before he went away. When those ran out she started making new ones. Hearing stories had calmed him, help him sleep. Helped him forget the battle, forget his uselessness. Or so she thought.

 She told Phoebe a tale of the days of before, when Atlantis was great and beautiful and powerful, when there were kings in the land and ships in the sea. She told of adventuresome women and faithful men and sneaky animals. She told of the gods and their passions, of the mortals and their trials. And when she stopped, Phoebe was sleeping.

 She rose and turned to her mother, who had seated herself on a stool beside the fire. There were tears in her eyes, and Anasha found herself wiping sadness also.

 “Why did’t you send word earlier? Maybe someone in the city could have helped.”

 “The doctor said it might get better by itself.” She stared into a mug of tea, sipping slowly. “I never thought I would lose her, too.”

 “You still have me.”

 “You’re gone to the royal halls. Not much good to me here, are you?”

 Anasha did not wish to leave on a bitter note, but knew she must go soon to be able to meet Columbus. And, hopefully, end this madness. “I’ll do better,” she said. “I will come for a visit. I can–”

 “Oh, of course you will.” She waved a hand. “Just like you always did. Always promising better, always promising more.” She stared at her tea. Anasha burned at the accusation she had not tried, had not done enough. She had done enough! She would not let her mother make her feel guilty for all she’d done to survive, for all she’d done to make this a better place for all of them.

 “You’ll see, Mother,” she said. “You can’t control me like a child any longer.” She had a hand on the edge of the hut when she heard Phoebe give a small cry from behind her. She turned and saw her awake again.

 She knelt beside the mat, taking Phoebe’s hand. “It hurts.” “Shh,” she said, “I have something that will take away the pain. A very good doctor in the city gave me this when I told him about you.” Anasha reached into the pocket of her robe, her robe she had been wearing since the night before, and took out a small red pill, soft as butter. She held it out to Phoebe, who opened her mouth. Anasha put it on her tongue, and she closed her eyes and relaxed again.

 She left without saying goodbye to her mother. In her heart it was wrong, but her heart did not control her actions today. Her head had the final say, and her head said it was time to get back. She had more important things to do, and she could repair these bridges later.

 She rode back less swiftly, yet with no less a dread of the things about to happen. The plan was ruined. She only had the poison, not the antidote, so she would have to be that much more careful about how she administered it. Her risk would be that much greater. And there was no time to meet with the Guild and form a new one. 

 She arrived in Atlantis late, later than she was supposed to be meeting Columbus, and hurried the mare along to the stable. She knew she should go back to her rooms and make herself presentable, but that would be more time, would keep Columbus even longer, and she feared what he would do if she displeased him further.

 She presented herself to the New Man guard. Again he led her through passages and hallways. They went to the same room as before, but this time it was empty. The guard learned that Columbus had gone to the docks to inspect the ships and led her that way.

 As if she needed him to tell her how to find the docks. She was a resident of the country, him one of the interlopers. One of the usurpers. She would be glad when they were rid of the New Men, when they had Atlantis back to themselves.

 They found Columbus and his second, and others of the crew, at the Santa Maria. She did not see Franco. They were inspecting the holds, the provisions, the “gifts” that had been made from the kingdom of Atlantis. Her guard left and she followed the men as they meandered around, in and out of the crates and barrels filling the dark space. It took time for Columbus to acknowledge her. And when he did it was dismissive.

 “You are late,” he said. Even in the foreign tongue she could hear the distaste in his voice, how the words came faster than usual, ends clipped, tone lower. “Well? What say you?”

 She had to have more time, more time to think, to adjust. Stall. “I need to know who would be going along,” she said. “Who you are enslaving. Can you take me to meet them?”

 “What does it matter?” He waved a dismissive hand. “We will go there next.” Again he pretended she was not there while he discussed rations, extras, trade goods, salt and spices with the men. She waited patiently, and when all eyes were off her, gently slipped the blue capsule into her mouth.

 It was a special type, the Guild had told her. Simply put it between your teeth and squeeze. Designed to be held in the mouth for long periods to avoid searches of pockets and bags, it would release the poison only when she intended it to. And it was supposed to be used with the antidote pill at the ready. Squeeze the poison, empty into a glass. If some gets on the tongue, or lips, or teeth, then simply do the same with the antidote.

 But she had given the red pill to Phoebe, leaving her with nothing to protect her if things went poorly. She felt the small lump between her cheek and gums with her tongue, hoping that it did not make her speech strange.

 They moved to the Nina, where they again inspected the holds. Only this time instead of flour and spice and sugar and meats, there were also Atlanteans belowdecks. Fifty of them, sitting huddled in the space, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, men and women healthy and strong who should be outside, walking the promenades and taking in the theater and singing songs with their nieces and nephews.

 The final ship was even worse. Another fifty Atlanteans. Another hundred eyes staring at her, boring into her soul. Begging her for mercy, for freedom. Among them a friendly pair.

 “Zander,” she whispered.

 “Fancy meeting you here,” he returned.

 “Are you okay?”

 “I could be better.” He tugged at the cuffs on his wrist. “I think I need a size smaller, this one is a little loose.” He pulled his lips back in a wicked interpretation of a laugh that scared her. “What’s the plan?”

 “Same as always,” she said. “Kill the monster, steal the treasure, live happily ever after.”

 He rattled the chain. “May the gods be with you.”

 She stood and rejoined the crew as they were leaving the ship. They made their way back to the royal halls and to a dining room set with a lavish spread. Tables overflowed with the bounty of the land, fruits and nuts from the interior, breads and rolls from the wheat of the coast, flanks of sheep and cattle prepared hot and cold, with sauces and gravies. Dozens of wine bottles lined the wall.

 Columbus seated himself at the head of the table, beginning immediately to rip hunks of flesh and fruit. The New Men with him filled the table around, smacking lips and grinding their teeth on the bones, slurping the wine and telling jokes she did not understand. The laughter came easily. None offered her a place at the table, and it was half an hour of revelry before Columbus noticed her standing at the edge of the room.

 “Come,” he said, and waved a hand. She felt something turn inside her stomach. Above the din she somehow heard her steps echo as she approached. It seemed to take long, too long, to make the short crossing. She stood close enough to feel the heat rising from him, pride in a job well done and satisfaction at the opportunity awaiting.

 “Tell me,” he said. “Do the provisions meet your standard?” He laughed then, a soulless laugh that sounded throughout the room and silenced the rest of the conversation. All turned to watch them. She suddenly felt as if she were naked, exposed. How could she do anything without them noticing now? The thing rolled again within her.

 “They are acceptable,” she said. “Though I would prefer that your men wore the chains and Atlanteans sat at the table.” The crowed aaahed their approval at her audacity. Even Columbus gave her a smirk and a nod.

 “Are you trying to negotiate? Or simply showing off your stupidity?”

 “I have nothing to bargain with. You hold all the power, sir. I am at your mercy, sir. You seem to do whatever it is you wish, sir. We are simply your puppets, your toys to be played with and thrown out after.”

 His eyes narrowed, his grip tightened. “Be careful, girl, not to bite the hand that feeds you.”

 She took the glass in front of him and raised it above her head. “To Spain!” The men took theirs as well, and she raised it to her lips. They cheered and drank. She moved the pill between her teeth. She would swirl the wine inside within her mouth and back to the cup with the poison inside. She had only a moment. As the cup approached she could see the inside, the dry inside, the empty inside. Her teeth beginning to squeeze, her lips on the rim of the cup, the corner of her eye catching a glimpse of Columbus sitting and smirking as if the Queen herself had just promised him her hand. The empty inside. The dry inside.

 She started and shook, setting the cup down with a bang that drew their attention and stopped the chatter again.

 “We leave at midday,” Columbus said. “Have you packed a bag?” The audience laughed, and he joined in, a real laugh that touched his eyes and made him lean into the chair.

 “I will be ready,” she said. “It is customary within our society to send off a voyage with a kiss, for luck. May I?” She had one more chance. She took his chin in her hand and pulled the arrogant, stinking, enslaving face towards her own. She pressed her lips to his, squeezed the pill and felt it burst within her mouth. She spat its juice onto his tongue. He twitched and tried to pull away, but she wrapped her other hand behind his head and held him close, held him tight. His eyes opened wide at the sensation and she pulled back, wiping her lips.

 The New Men around the table hooted and cheered, raising their fists and wineglasses and shouting to the heavens. Columbus stared and tried to stand, but fell heavily back onto the seat. Anasha felt a heaviness in her head, and as she sank down beneath waves flowing over, she heard much commotion and running feet, hands pushing her this way and that, she felt herself hit the floor and then she was under.
She woke to Zander’s face above her. They were in a small sleeping room of the apartments near the docks. She could see the three ships from the window. New Men and Atlanteans moved in and out, checking on her, talking with Zander and Franco and trying to talk to her, asking her questions, Zander pushing them back and telling them they had to wait for her to recover. At one point she thought she saw her mother in the room, but certainly that was just a dream. Zander pressed something to her mouth, to her lips, and she drank a warm broth, and it felt good, and she was under the waves again and she was fine, she was beautiful, she was sleeping.
When she had the strength to ask, and stay awake long enough to understand, Zander told her the story. That the New Men had decided that whomever woke first of the two would be the new captain. That Columbus had died an hour after they had both fainted, that she had lain without waking for two more days. That she had revived and gone under again for two more days. And that as she was restored now, she had command of the crew and the ships.

 “It was only right,” he said, “as Columbus had displaced the Queen and taken her place, that you do the same for him. And the men never really liked him either.”

 The Atlanteans had been freed from their bondage by order from Franco, and some had asked to stay on and join the crew. That had been agreeable, and now all were simply waiting for her orders. What did she wish them to do?

 They sailed a week later, leaving behind some of the New Men who wished to stay, and Franco, who had been offered the position of Ambassador. They took true gifts, and true trade, and they took Anasha’s mother who asked to see the world. They sailed for opportunity and for glory. They sailed for history and for the future. They sailed to bring Atlantis back from the depths of obscurity, and to bring the world to Atlantis. But mostly they sailed in partnership, bridging the voids between old and new, wrong and right, legend and truth. 


Love is (3 of 10)

Love is…

“Abandon all Hope, Ye who enter Here” painted on to an old plywood signboard and then staked into the ground outside a dirty, dusty, dark mine shaft. There may be wonder and treasure inside. Then again, there is certain danger. There is opportunity balanced agains the risks you take by entering. Do you have a light? Something to show your way in the dark of the evening? Do you have a map, perhaps, to give you some structure to where you’re going? Do you have rations? Can you sustain yourself as you travel further and further into the abyss of ‘love’, of ‘lust’, of “like” and “care and concern” and “intimacy”? Do you have an emergency beacon? Do you have a homing device that can retrieve you and your location, should you become separated from your party? No? Do you have nothing? Why then do you come so unprepared, into this endeavor?

Do you even have proper attire, such as sturdy boots, warm layers, even a protective helmet? Yes, all of those apply to caving, to exploring, to minds, but why should they not apply to love? Do you not need the equipment, the shoes and boots and helmet, to protect you from the rough edges inside? Roughness like getting used to the quirks of daily life. Roughness like finding out the history of her past that she still carries around with her, dropping nuggets on your head from higher and higher heights, impacting you like the hidden rockfall that could be nothing, could just be a glancing blow, or could end up tearing an inch wide gash across your forehead, one that won’t stop bleeding no matter how much you press that cold compress, no matter how tightly you wrap that bandage.

Do you not need a map? A guide? One that says “she does not appreciate that, steer clear; on the other hand, that ledge, that line of questioning, is perilous, for it leads to the hidden, secret chambers where the monsters are chained. Beware your step, for once they scent fresh meat they tend to move quickly, for their hunger to devour is much, much greater than the strength of the iron shackles and chains holding them back. In moments they will tear the bolts from the rock walls holding them; they will come lumbering, speeding, scuttling after you; will then and relentlessly pursue you; will devour you and consume you and spit you back out upon the floor of their pit through their anus, having taken all the good of you and leaving you with the bones and sinew that are good for nothing. Those demons, those monsters, Stay Away. 

Here… this path… this one will take you through to the other side. No, you will not explore everywhere. No, you will not be able to satisfy your curiosity about the potential lead off in that direction. no, you will not have so much thrill as you would have otherwise. But – you will come out alive. Her? She’s fine. She’s always been there and she will be there after you. you, my friend, you, gentle reader, must be cognizant of your own safety. You can give no court (no communion) (no something or other) with those areas which are too dangerous for you.You, for your own sake, must stalk forward. Task AT HAND. Par for the course. Don’t get fancy. Don’t risk it all on that gamble. It’s not worth it. It’s really not. There are many other, more worthy hills to battle for and die upon. This one is not that one. This one is not your calling. Leave that to the experts. Leave that to the men and women who are equipped for such dangerous work. Leave it alone, rookie, amateur, newbie; leave it alone, and, perhaps, just perhaps, when we return triumphant with the heads of those demons atop our pikes, perhaps we will indulge you then with a story or two. But remember – we cannot tell you tales if there is no you to speak to! So be careful, little one. It’s a dangerous adventure. You don’t want to get caught unguarded. Good luck. Best of show. And may the grace of the Fates be with you.

Story Art

Often, when we read a great story or magazine article or book, once we finish we immediately turn it sideways and put it on a shelf. We have a hard time seeing it again, remembering it again, allowing it to influence our lives in any meaningful way. But. . .  what if you could see that story again? What if you could display a story on the wall, that anyone who entered your house could read in 2 to 3 minutes, and allow that to spark a conversation? What if it looked great, fit well inside a frame, and added to the ambience of your room?

This is Story Art. I realized I could do this a few years ago when writing to fill a prompt. I completed a one-page story quite quickly, and as I looked, realized that it would be a shame to hide that on a shelf. I thought about how to make it more visible, and came up with a format I’ve been working on since.

Here’s an example of just the story:

Story Art–Stunt

And these are the finished product I sold to a grandmother who wanted a story starring her three granddaughters:


I like the way this works. I like that you can do very much with very little. Yes, there is quite a bit of limitation in terms of what stories you can tell and the character development and depth you can reach. There isn’t room for gratuitous world-building, or theme, or motif. But, there is writing, there is story, there is art. There is creativity. There is challenge. There is connection, there is beauty in simplicity, there can be adventure, and in all this can be a great way to add something different, something unique to your experience of the world.