Strange Wordings

Thoughts on fantasy, science fiction and genre writing in general . . . stuff that's strange.

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Location: Fredericksburg, Virginia

These Blogs are largely about the process of coercing words out of my head (at times I convince myself that I am a novelist). Thoughts about current reading and/or fantasy literature and writing in general may disgorge at random.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

So sue me, I'm late

As promised, and only slightly late, here are excerpts from the short stories that I have been working on. Looks like this is going to be a long post. Now I need to find places to submit these travesties, except for Boxes for the Poor, which is under consideration for Grendelsong #5. As always, anyone who wants to read any of these, just send me an e-mail.

From The Sword is Mightier than the Pen:



“It was a voice,” he returned to his tale after a moment, “a gurgling, raspy kind of voice coming from behind a wild growth of hedge beside the path. ‘Here,’ the voice whispered. Young Roald bolted upright, leaped from the saddle and plunged into the hedge. He found an old woman lying among the thorns; yes, a mad old woman, her eyes rolling in her head—a wraith of skin and bones—moaning and muttering and whispering the same words over and again.”

’Here, here,’ she said, thrusting into his hands an ancient sword in a tattered scabbard. ‘The Well, the Well, the Well of Wonders,’ she rasped, ‘here, seek it, here, here.’ Roald took the sword and, turning, made as if to set it aside. But the hand of the crone, like a claw it was, snatched his arm with a strength beyond belief. She pulled the armored knight around like a child and brought his face close to her own. Her eyes suddenly ceased rolling, catching him in their gaze, ‘take the sword, my son, seek the Well of Wonders. I am late.’ With those words the crone breathed her last rattling breath and fell back. Her hand slid off of Roald’s arm and struck the ground.”

From The Shark God (Long Version). (The short version was originally published in the Flashspec Anthology, but I would like to see the full text published somewhere):



The voyage began badly. The elders held the rite of peaceful passage on the beach, as had been in all the years of the people. Ka-Ti, Go-Adi and the other young men knelt in the sand, their brothers and fathers standing, glaring down at them. The acrid smell of smoldering bubua leaves mingled with the sweet smell of flower garlands. Stinging sparks danced on skin as the men brushed the bubua over the young mens’ backs and shoulders. The pulse of the drums pounding, the feet of the dancers beating, the rhythm of the waves, made the music of mother ocean.

The boys smiled, even under the stern faces of the elders, as the line of girls danced by them. Skirts rustled before their faces, breasts and hips swaying. Ka-Ti knew his cousin Go-Adi secretly smiled at beautiful Ma-Mo as she danced. He’d loved her since they all were children. She smiled back. They would marry when the men returned. As the girls passed, the older men anointed each boy with the milk of the sea.

Everything changed when Ti-Pa-Pa, the shaman, leaped with a scream onto the sand. He shambled about, a pathetic man under a shark mask and mantle, rattles tied to wrist and ankles. He shouted, gestured, implored the sea and threatened the sky. He invoked the Shark God. But the god did not come. The god did not possess him; the elders grumbled and shook their heads in fear for the voyage.

From Boxes for the Poor (as I said, this one’s under consideration by the editor of Grendelsong):



People jostle by, though most veer quickly away. They avoid the rags of my poverty, my emaciation. Their eyes avoid my face. I wish, just as fervently, that I was not here in their street, in their way. Naked I rose, some place and some time now lost to memory. I found rags to cover my body, my shame. I concealed the sores on sinking flesh, the protruding joints, this grotesque frame. From house to village to town I wandered, begging for sustenance, scrabbling for my keep. The stones of the road bruised my feet. The thorns of the wilderness cut my flesh. Always I walked, and in the end I wandered to this town of Syr, finding little charity in the world. Now, through the dust of the street, the passers-by avoid me, dodging the taint of death impending.
From The Dream Poacher (this is more a “cerebral horror” story rather than fantasy):



Its prey struggled, feebly, within the nets that it had set, webs of ether, skeins of mist, luring, catching, numbing with cold, clinging comfort. It hung on the ceiling by claws that penetrated into other anchors than plaster and lathe. The blunt head trailed below the sinuous body, wide, round ink-black eyes following every shift and twitched of the prey. It waited for the moment the dream would sweeten, for the ripe fruit, the stock of its trade.

The body below tensed, rolled onto one side, curling up the knees into the abdomen. Tthe Dream Poacher released its soporific breath, a soft, sibilant hiss. The dreamer’s face turned up, lip parted slightly.

So soon, so near.

The Poacher crept along the ceiling and down the wall, until it perched just above and behind the sleeper’s head. It clung by only its hind and medial legs so that its forelimbs were free, fingerlets curling and uncurling. It breathed again, long, slow and soft as a soundless whisper. The sleeper tensed, rotating her head back.

Now!

The Poacher grasped the sleeper’s head, feather light, gradually increasing the pressure of the tips of its fingerlets until it held firmly. Fleshy lips gaped. The toothless mouth descended until it caught the top of the sleeper’s head in an open kiss. Then it started to suck.

From For Brianne (and this one is kind of a romantic ghost story, instead of fantasy):



On a night just the same as any other Charlie woke to a silent house. Moonlight streamed in through the window, and he lay for a while looking up at the play of shadows across the ceiling. A wind swayed the tree limbs outside. He rolled over, buried his head deeper into the down. He tried to sleep but eventually abandoned the effort as useless. Charlie rose, put on his glasses, and took up his current read from the bedside table. As he straightened his glance strayed out of the window and down upon the garden. Someone was there.

For a moment it did not occur to Charlie to wonder why, or who had invaded his garden in the middle of the night. He merely stared down on the vague form below, quicksilver in the moonlight. He closed his eyes for a moment, certain that he was having a vision in his sleeplessness, but when he opened them again he saw a woman sitting on the edge of the old well in the center of the garden.

Charlie set his book back on the table and withdrew silently from the chamber. He took his dressing robe from the hook on the back of the door. Descending the back stairs to the kitchen he tied the robe closed. As Charlie set his hand on the latch of the kitchen door he paused, looked out of the window into the garden. Empty. Charlie threw the door open, strode along the path to the well. But as he came near his steps slowed until he came up short against the low, stone ring. No one was there. He spun around.

The garden was empty.

From Anthropomorphica (and here’s a contemporary fantasy):



The telephone woke her before noon. She ignored it and the angry message from her boss. Lissi showered, changed, drank some orange juice and grabbed a bagel from the fridge. She ran out to the corner, caught the city bus to the library stop. An afternoon spent looking for anything, everything on parallel worlds, other dimensions of existence. Crackpot theories, mostly, if the author seemed at all to take the subject seriously; the rest was comic book stuff. Both were entertaining, but useless.

Toward evening Lissi took the bus home, bought take away from the Thai place on the corner. She ate sitting in the chair and ignoring the accusatory blink of the red light on the machine. Late into the night she watched the ragged and urban-wild fringe of the old park that backed onto her bedroom window. How long had the city been indifferent, to the overgrown hedge, to the ground covered in strata of seasons past, dead limbs and leaves, spent condoms and needles? She sipped sparingly from a glass of water, not wanting even to go to the bathroom. Somehow she felt tonight was her last chance.

It happened, just as before. She sensed it, felt it as a whisper upon her face even inside the building. The light outside turned liquid, bubble thin. Reality wavered, the edge of her world softened as it pressed against another. The chair spun in her wake, the door slammed behind her passage. Lissi paused at the threshold of worlds. And he was there, waiting a little farther away than he had stood last night, patient, watching impassively. There was the park, the city spreading out below, the rivers, the sun setting behind snow-capped mountains. Tonight she would not be afraid . . . except she was, but she stepped forward anyway, leading with her chin high, eyes fixed on his hulking silhouette.

From A Donkey Called Lion (this one’s still in progress):


In the middle of the ring a stream of water sprang musically up through a crack in a square-cornered stone. The fountain spilled down the stone, meandered in the ring, but though I tried to follow it with my eye, walking round and round the ring, I did not find where it flowed out. The wind bent the stalks of grass, spoke to me of nothing.

A glance I tossed at the donkey—not returned. Unconcerned, he nibbled at the green shoots among the desiccated leaves of last year. Still, for some reason I did not want my only friend to wander, or perhaps I lacked courage. I took hold of the halter. Donkey and I stepped into the ring together.

I could no longer see the animal, nor even the end of my own arm, for all of the green in the way. I perceived color for the first time just at that instant. Green of leaf, every subtle shade of it, as if I’d never seen it before; light, dark, every tinge and undertone of green from blue to brown to yellow. Was it only one leaf that I saw? In a while I remembered to breath, and sometime after that I forced my eyelids closed against the intensity.

But that did not release me.

Eyes closed, my body reverted to other senses. The smell was of flowers, all kinds of flowers, every one of them of which I have ever heard and more besides. It was the smell of flowers as known by the insects. The smell of life, of purpose and eternal spring. I needed no reminder now, for each breath was an ecstasy. Each breath took them in, every flower that ever bloomed, and I knew them separately. In that moment, however long it lasted, perhaps I could even have named them.

I held my breath, against every aching wish of my body. Somehow I knew that I must move, an inch, a step, anything, or I would stand here until I planted myself in the honeyed soil. My eyes fluttered open but I kept them moving, not focusing on leaf or twig or branch for too long. My arm was still extended, though the halter had
fallen from my fingers, the donkey nowhere to be seen. But no movement, not even a breeze and no noise, except a slow, sonorous whisper that I almost did not hear.

And for a super secret bonus, an excerpt from Shagrat and Gorbag are Dead (yes, it does exist, I am actually writing it, and no it will probably never see the light of day for copyright reasons). This is part of Section 1 of “We are Slaves”:


“Where were we?”

“Here,” Gorbag gestured about the bleak situs of the debate. They stood in a cranny in the wall of the cliff-bordered path. He vaguely waved at nothing of distinction.

“Not spatially,” Shagrat growled, baring the tips of his fangs, “in the conversation. You said that I was a slave, I said am not,” he pointed in turns at himself and his companion, “am too, are not . . . ahh, I remember. Whom do you serve?”

“Whom do I serve?”

“No, that was the question that you asked me.”

“Ah, yes . . . well?”

“Well what?”

“Whom do you serve?”

Shagrat thought for a moment. He sat upon a low, nondescript boulder and crossed his knees, elbow propped on knee, chin cupped in hand, and he thought. For a long moment his mobile eyebrows twitched and skittered like a pair of caterpillars dancing. Finally, he raised his free hand, the index claw pointing upward, a beatific
smile playing across his mien, “my master.”

“Aha, a slave.” Gorbag stepped forward onto the path, his arms spread wide, he proclaimed, “we are all slaves.”

“Oh,” answered Shagrat, his chin dropping back down into his hand. Gorbag came and sat next to him on the boulder, shivving him over with a sideways thrust of his hip as he sat. He mimicked his friend’s pose. Neither spoke for quite some time.

“Of course, it’s not so simple as just saying that we’re slaves,” Shagrat said finally.

“What do you mean.”

“Well, it begs a question.”

“What does?”

“What does what?”

“What begs a question?”

“It.”

“It.”

“It.”

“I see.”

“It begs a question, to wit: what is the nature of freedom? Is anyone actually free?”

“Hmm, metaphysicks.”

“Philosophy.”

“Theology.”

Together they dropped their chins back down upon their hands, sighing together. “But we don’t know much of that stuff,” complained Shagrat, "the educational and experiential deficit of being a slave."

Gorbag sighed again, loudly. “Too true,” he added, but then he sharply raised his head, glaring about. “Aww, now will ye jus’ look at this crew. Hie ye maggots!” he shouted and growled at the same time, “d’ye call that proper searchin’? Get to lookin’ an’ get to finding if’n ye knows whats good for ye!” He cracked his whip but did not manage to do more than vaguely threaten to actually stand, much less to use the weapon.

“Ugh,” Shagrat commented, his chin still firmly planted, “useless.”

“Worthless.”

“Why do we bother?”

“Because we’re slaves.”

Shagrat glared sideways at his companion, opened his mouth to retort, but then snapped it shut and resorted to rolling his eyes.

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