Monday, October 18, 2004

It's A Girl Update

She has a name, lucky girl, she doesn't have to spend the first months of her life being called No-Name like my Aunt Lisa did. Bridget Kristine. The newest member of the family and long awaited.

Monday, October 11, 2004

And Then There Were Nine

It's a Girl!
At long last another girl in the Burns family! It's been a long, painful drought but today Baby Girl Burns was born in Phoenix, 6 pounds, eight ounces and eighteen inches long but as of yet without a name. All things shall come in time I'm sure and the most important thing is that the ratio is finally leveling out. Before today it was one against seven. Now it is two against seven and I don't doubt that two strong young women can take on seven boys.
Finally things are looking up.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Notes In Ancient Runes

“Well I’ll be goddamned.” Said a voice from behind him. It took a moment to register but when he turned he realized why it was familiar.
“Nora?” Derek said, doubt creeping into his voice. The young woman standing in front of him sounded like Nora, but there were quite a few differences that jumped out at him. Not the least of which was the fact that she was very much a young woman.
Then she grinned and he knew it was her, “Oh come on Farmboy, don’t tell me you don’t recognize me?”
He winced and then laughed, there was nothing malicious in the way she used that hated nickname, now he could only laugh at how accurate it had been. “You’ve changed quite a bit since the last time I saw you.”
And she had changed. She was taller than he remembered and there were some definite additions to her figure under the blue jeans and the black t-shirt with the day-glow skull and crossbones. Then there was her hair. On one half of her head it had been cut short, bleached white and gelled into spikes, one the other half it would have been perfectly normal shoulder length hair except that it had been dyed purple. But there was something else, like that lively spark that he remembered from high school was now brighter and hotter and closer to the surface.
“So how have you been?” She asked.
“Good, great actually. I’ve been working here for a few years.” Derek nodded at the people and labs around them, “Busiest crime-lab in the country”
“I’ve heard,” Nora said, looking around.
“So what brings you to Vegas?” He asked.
“Oh I came for a concert. My friend and I are here recharging our batteries.” At his slightly puzzled look she added, “I’ve been working with the Port of Los Angeles, scanning shipping containers. It tends to be a pretty big drain after awhile.”
“So you came for a concert and just decided to drop in a visit me?” He was a little puzzled, they hadn’t seen each other since high school and hadn’t emailed or really communicated at all since college.
Nora looked slightly uncomfortable, “Well, actually, I didn’t know you were here. I heard the police needed a certified magus to look at something and, well,” she flipped open her wallet, displaying her mage-card. “I was in the neighborhood so here I am.”
“I figured you’d finish out as a mage. You were the best at it back in high school.” She shrugged so Derek asked, “So what’s your certification in?”
“Greater Magics,” She said, “With secondary certifications in Rune Magic and Forensic Enchantments.”
“Greater Magics.” He repeated, “So what do you tell other people when they ask?”
She smiled a little smugly, “It depends on who asks and how much I want to impress them. Sometimes it’s Elemental Magic and General Enchantments, other times it’s Healing and Calligraphy Spells. These days I mostly tell people it’s Rune Magic and Magical Dances.”
“And when you really want to impress someone?” He asked.
“If I really want to impress someone I just tell them I’m certified in Greater Magics. If they know what it means then it impresses them, of they don’t, then they probably aren’t worth impressing.”
“No come one, really.”
“All right,” She said, “If I really want to impress someone and they don’t know that a Greater Magic certification means you have to be certified in all the branches of study then I tell them my secondary certifications are Commanding Avatars and Ancient Enchantments.”
“Commanding Avatars is big, rare and everybody knows about it.” He said, nodding.
“And Ancient Enchantments sounds more impressive than it really is.” Nora finished.
“That’s what I figured.” He said, “So if you didn’t know I was here then why did you come?”
“Well I heard you had something that needed a certified magus to look at it and I knew your forensic mage was at a conference. Your boss said it was your case.”
“Yeah, I put it in Jason’s lab so he could look at it when he got back. Here, I’ll show you.” He led the way through the halls, “This is great. I didn’t think I’d be able to get anything out of this knife until he got back. I knew it was a problem for one of you guys when none of the regular testing equipment would work on it.”
“Yeah, that’s usually a pretty good indication that magic is involved.” She said as he opened a door to reveal a small lab. The only obvious concessions to magerie were a couple of textbooks, some rune charts and a table made of wood in a building where all the others were metal or plastic or some combination of the two. Nora ignored the shelf against the wall that held neatly labeled evidence bags, stepped over to the table and ran a hand over the nearest corner. “Good table,” she said, “Polished smooth but otherwise not varnished, painted or fiddled with.” She looked around, “A good office in fact, uncluttered.”
“Yeah, Jason trained us all pretty quick where to put things when we needed him to look at them and he wasn’t here.” He gestured at the shelf, there was only one knife, “I can leave you alone if you want.”
Nora shook her head, “That’s not necessary, and I really don’t mind working with an audience.” When she saw his surprised look she said, “Some mages hate working in front of people, It really makes no difference to me and seeing someone do magic often makes people more comfortable with it.”
“Ok.” He said and stood back as she pulled on gloves, took the knife out of the evidence bag and set it in the center of the table. “Do know anything about the case?”
“No.” She said, “It’s actually easier to do this kind of thing if I don’t have impressions and assumptions cluttering up my thinking.” She studied the knife for a few minutes and then sighed, “Well, ok, I won’t worry about that yet.” Then she ran a hand through her hair and shook her head. Derek blinked as her hair abruptly changed to a perfectly normal shoulder length black. Suddenly she looked a lot more like the Nora he remembered.
“What?” he started to ask, but then she interrupted him.
“It’ll be easier to do this without having to hold that illusion on my hair.” She said without looking up. He didn’t get a chance to say that he hadn’t been asking about her hair because just then she got started.
Nora pulled a piece of blue chalk out of her pocket and drew a circle around the knife. Then she put the chalk away and sprinkled a pinch of some kind of dark powder over the weapon. At first Derek thought his eyes were playing tricks with him but then Nora frowned and started whispering in what sounded like Latin and he realized that he’d obviously never seen a real professional do magic before.
There were no sparks or flashes of color and noise. Instead the knife was just sitting on the table and reflecting like an oil slick, which it hadn’t been doing before. Then Nora stopped whispering and the knife’s appearance changed again. Instead of looking like an oil slick the surface of the knife now looked like it was covered with millions of tiny hairs that shifted rapidly from one pattern to another. Then it suddenly stopped and looked exactly the same as it had before.
Nora straightened up and looked at him, “That should do it. It’ll work with your equipment now but there is one thing.”
“That’s it?” he asked. When she nodded he said, “Ok then, what’s the thing?”
“Well, I’m going to visit my mentor in a couple of days and I’m going to have to take this with me.” He started to object but she cut him off, “I can wait until you finish collecting evidence and documenting everything but this is one of those things.”
“What do you mean?” He asked, already worrying about what this would do to his case in spite of her assurances.
“It’s hard to explain.” She grimaced, “I can tell you that this is a whole lot more than just some run of the mill knife that’s been enchanted to resist normal evidence gathering techniques. It’s a whole lot older and a whole lot nastier than it looks.”
“Well the police will have it melted down after the case has been closed for five years, that’s procedure.”
Nora shook her head, “That won’t work. It will resist being destroyed that casually. It’s sort of got a mind of it’s own. I’m going to have to take it to my mentor and figure out what to do with it.” She held up a hand, “And before you start objecting even more, the Council of Magi will agree with me. So it’s really not up to you or the Las Vegas Police. Once you’re done with it this knife will be my responsibility.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Nothing More Than Usual

“Nora!” The shout came as she walked down the beach to her friends.
She grinned tiredly and threw her beach chair down on the sand. A towel, a cooler and a backpack quickly followed it. “It is so good to be back.” She collapsed into the chair. “I came straight from the airport.”
“You took the redeye?” Jake asked.
She nodded, “I had to get out of there. If I stayed another minute I would have used one of those tennis ball grenades on someone.”
“That bad?” Cory shook his head, “I don’t believe you.”
“You have no idea.” She stretched and they could hear her shoulders and back popping. “Can we convene? I need a beer like now.”
“All right, we’re convened.” Ben said, “Where do you want to start?”
“I don’t know. How about Promotions?” Nora pushed her feet under the warm sand and wiggled her toes.
“Ok.” Cory said. “We got the ad space in Modern Magus. And we got it for half price because Jill works there and because we’re a small business that uses all U.S. labor.” There was a brief cheer. The company was a startup and they were all working second jobs scanning cargo containers at the port to pay the bills. “She also mentioned that they might want to do a story on us at some point.”
“Sweet.” Jake said. “That would be better than the ad space.”
“Well might do a story is still might do a story.” Nora said, “How likely does she think it will be?”
Cory shrugged. “She said it would be more likely if they knew you were on the board of directors.”
She grimaced. “I’d like to avoid that if possible.”
“Come on Deedee.” Ben said, “You know they’re gonna chase you down for an interview sooner or later. You’re the first in ten years to get certified in Greater Magic.”
She glared at him. “Let’s finish the business first Benfred, then you can go back to being as asshole.” She hated her nickname as much as he hated his given name.
“In that case Research and Development can go next.” He cleared his throat, “I’ve got the ping pong balls holding a charge for seventy-two hours but after that it gets dicey. It shouldn’t take long to get them as stable as the tennis balls and we can push them as crowd control. The spell the target but don’t leave a bruise like the tennis balls.”
“Sounds good.” Jake said.
“I’m going to need some separate lab space soon though.” Ben looked uncomfortable, “The landlord has been complaining about the scorch marks and water damage. Also the tennis balls are solid, but I’ve been working on some, uh, other uses.”
“Interesting.” Cory said, “You’ll have to share your notes at some point.” Ben nodded.
“You next?” Jake asked.
“Oh no.” Nora said, “I’ve been fighting the airline industry for the past five hours.”
“Why don’t you just flash your credentials?” Jake asked.
“I do.” She replied. “And while it cuts down on the questions about the merchandise, it doesn’t stop the questions about what it’s like to be a real live mage. You first.”
“Ok, well, I don’t have much.” Jake said. “We’re ready to hire more people on the production lend. I’ve been talking to some union people and if demand keeps up we should be able to afford them.”
“Well then I’ve got good news for you.” Nora said, “The Chicago Police Department wants to negotiate a contract for the stun balls. They didn’t mention any specific numbers but I get the idea they want a whole freaking lot of them as soon as we can make them.”
“You’re not serious.” Ben said.
She grinned, “I was passing some biker bar in Chicago and there was a pretty good sized brawl going on. The cops were trying to break it up but they weren’t getting anywhere. I pulled out one of your creations,” She nodded to Ben, “Lobbed it into the middle of the whole production and everyone froze. It worked just like it was supposed to. Almost too well, it got a couple of the cops too. They were so happy with it they dragged me in front of the chief of police for a demonstration. When I told him we could spell them to not affect anyone wearing a badge he said to have my people call his people to work out a deal.”
“Clearly he didn’t realize who ‘our people’ are.” Jake said, grinning.
Nora shrugged, “We can probably bring someone in for that. I would imagine we could negotiate an advance big enough to cover a few more salaries. Evidently they’re having some problems keeping the bar fights from getting into the streets.”
“This is unbelievable. Un-be-fucking-lievable.” Jake said.
“Well believe it.” Nora said, “And if we can get someone to negotiate contracts then I fully intend to let them take over any business in Chicago so I never have to go back.”
“What’s wrong with Chicago?” Ben asked, “Does the cold make your tits stick out?”
“Nothings wrong with Chicago except the fact that my family lives there. And once again we see why you’re not in charge of writing the ads.” Nora opened the cooler and pulled out four beers, two in each hand, “Can we adjourn or do we need to discuss the drawbacks of your ‘Buy it or you’re a piker’ ad campaign?”
“We’re adjourned.” Cory said to forestall an argument.
“What’s so bad about visiting your family anyway?” Jake after they had popped the bottles open and toasted to the continued survival of the company.
Nora took a moment to flick her bottle cap in Ben’s direction. “The usual complaints of any wayward child. They don’t understand me or what I do.” She threw her head back and sighed melodramatically, “They are thoroughly un-magical in nature.”
They laughed, as much at her dramatics as at the familiar complaint. “So what was so bad about this time?” Cory asked.
“They always ask when I’m going to find a real job. My grandmother had the gall to suggest that I go back to school learn to be an accountant.” They all shuddered and Nora continued, “They act like it’s all tricks, like that’s all it’s ever been.” She shook her head, “You know what I mean.”
“So prove it to them.” Ben asked, “Turn one of them into a horse’s ass and be done with it.”
“I am not a carnival pony.” Nora snapped, “I worked hard to get my certifications and I work hard to express myself. We all do. And they would just explain it away as something else. Something ‘rational.’ Why waste my art on people who won’t admit it exists?”
“Some people will go to any length to deny what their own eyes tell them.” Cory said.
“That may be, but then last night my loving Earth-Mother-Goddess aunt gave me this.” She pulled a necklace of frosted quartz beads out of her backpack. She held them up and let the sunlight fall on the beads. They could see the light trying to strike rainbows off them, but the beads’ finish prevented it. “They’re healing quartz crystals.” There was a collective flinch.
“Hey can I see them?” Ben asked. She tossed them over to him, almost glad to be rid of the things, even for a moment. He studied them for a moment and then said, “They could be useful. They’re clear enough to conduct a spell pretty well, but they drilled right through the middle so they wouldn’t work for anything very big. The finish will hold a spell but the quartz is too clear to hold it very long, and again, the beads are drilled through. They might be useful for something.” He tossed them back, “And didn’t anyone tell her that rocks are no good for healing?”
“Any number of times.” Nora shoved the necklace into her backpack. “I’ve tried to explain to that woman how molecular structure and geological processes determine the suitability of different rocks to different purposes more times than I can remember.” Nora rolled her eyes, “It was probably as many times as I’ve tried to explain to her that plants are much better for healing because of their organic nature.”
“Some people just have stupidity in their nature.” Jake said.
“She’s not stupid.” Nora waved her hand dismissively, “She’s just … what can I say, she’s just Earth-Mother-Goddess-Healing-Bead crap. I just get irritated when I think of how many people waste their money on that crap.”
“So, moving on to something less frustrating, what are your plans now?” Cory asked.
“Well, I’ll be around for a while. In two weeks I’m going to meet a friend in Las Vegas for a concert, then I’m going to visit my mentor in Phoenix.” She shrugged. “Nothing too interesting.”
Cory gave her a sharp-eyed look, “So, this friend wouldn’t happen to be a possible boyfriend would it?”
“Not really, we’re going to recharge our batteries.” She got a sly, thoughtful look on her face, “But I do have a new red shirt.”

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The First Wave

Jossalla was motionless as she watched the army approach from her place on the ramparts. Only the slight breeze tugging at the wisps of hair that escaped from her braid moved. Otherwise she might have been carved from stone.
The fires from the city walls and gates reflected in her eyes but they were burning down, going out. There hadn’t been enough of the Dwarven clear ale to keep the fires going for very long. Well, there had been but the defenders hadn’t been willing to use it all at once. Not when it might be needed later. Now the attackers were moving forward with ladders, peering up at the defenders from behind their shields. They seemed perplexed by the lack of response from atop the walls.
“Gods.” Breathed the man on her left she didn’t remember his name. “There must be thousands of them.”
“More like a hundred thousand.” She said calmly. “But this is only the vanguard, maybe ten thousand. The rest will be spreading out to surround the castle.”
“What are we going to do?” He didn’t whimper, but the fear was there, under his words.
“We make a stand.” She replied, then, to the man on her right she said, “You know Daryl, I hope you still have all that brass under your belt that you were bragging about back at the inn.”
“Why’s that?” He asked, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.
“Because we’re going to need it.” As the archers on the castle’s eleven towers nocked arrows and drew their bowstrings back, Jossalla’s hand drifted down to the hilt of her sword. No magic blade this one. No runes of strength and power etched into the blade. Just a simple meter of castle forged steel, oiled and sharpened every day.
“Well, as to that, “ Daryl replied as the two of them, and every other soldier on the wall drew their weapons, “I wasn’t talking about myself that night.”
“Really?” she said slowly as the arrows hissed overhead.
The scaling ladders were raising, some slowly, other fast.
“No,” he replied, “I was telling them about you.”
Then the enemy was upon them, the rush of battle taking over, changing the men storming the walls into so many swords, axes, maces and other weapons to be beaten back. Training and muscle memory took over and Jossalla found her mind wandering as it always did during battle. There was no elegance to this kind of fight, very little technique required. Memories served to shield her from the horror of slaughtering her own people.

The sun was sliding between the clouds as Jossalla and Daryl guided their horses down the road. The South Tradeway was quiet for once, the songbirds filling their air with their calls. Jossalla’s hand drifted over her weapons, checking to be sure the sword and knives were secure in their sheaths and bowstring in good condition.
“You’re a strange creature Jos.” Daryl said.
“Oh?” she said, raising an eyebrow and looking over at him.
“Yes. That’s the second time in an hour that you’ve checked your, armament, and there isn’t an enemy in sight.”
“It’s a reflex.” She said, “One that’s kept me healthy for a number of years.”
“The daughter of a noble house and one of the King’s Hands. Certainly not what comes to mind when one thinks of a typical noble lady.”
“You’re one to talk.” She said. “The bastard of Dragon’s Keep, a King’s Hand himself. Anyone would be surprised to find you out here, if your brother continues on the way he has he’ll be disinherited and you’ll be acknowledged and made heir.”
“Half brother.” He rolled his eyes, “And the last place I want to end up is back there. When did you learn the Old Toung anyway?”
“Don’t try to change the subject.” She grinned at him.

She climbed the stairs to wall, looking out over the assembled soldiers and letting her voice carry to the farthest man, “My father once told my brothers that one man on a wall is worth ten beneath it. They no longer have the advantage of surprise but they do have the advantage if numbers. They have come here because we support the king, because they are rebels and while we live they cannot take the throne. They will try to kill us; they will try to sweep us away to make room for their new order. We will outlast them.” She reached the top of the wall, “We have enough food and water to last years. We have enough swords, axes and bows for every one of us; we have enough oil and arrows for every one of them. But that does not mean we can afford to use them carelessly, it does not mean we can spend our own lives casually. I will not send you needlessly to your deaths but you must not waste your arrows. Do not shoot until you cannot miss. Any man wastes an arrow has to go out and get it back.”

She sat in a shadowy corner of the inn’s common room and watched as Daryl told a group of other men some story of his great accomplishments. She was too far away to make out the words but he spoke as much with his hands and body as he did with his words. She listened as his voce rose and fell and then the audience bellowed with laughter. He thought she had gone to bed an hour ago but she had crept back down the stairs to watch. No doubt he was telling them about the time he had won a wrestling match with a half crazed troll hermit.

She looked up in time to catch the drunk as he staggered out of the taproom and into the street. He shouted hoarsely as she kept him from falling in the mud, “What do I look like? I’m not telling your future!”
“I wasn’t going to ask you to.” She said, gently pushing him back until he was leaning against a hitching post.
“I’m not so dumb!” he slurred, “I’m a wizard damn it all, not a country fair magician!”
“I believe you.” She said, trying to ease her elbow out of his grasp. At some point he had latched on to her
“You don’t believe me! Nobody believes me! I’ll prove it damn you. I’ll turn this mud to gold!” He raised his free hand and started trying to chant a spell. Unfortunately not only was he still slurring his words, he still hadn’t let go of Jossalla’s elbow. Soon enough he finished chanting, paused and pointed a finger at the ground. Jossalla flinched in anticipation of a horribly botched spell and was relieved when all that was produced were a few sparks and pops. A few horses tethered nearby jerked back, eyes rolling but otherwise there was no effect. “Ask me what your future is!” he shouted at her now, apparently not noticing that his spell had failed.
“I don’t want to know what my future is.” She replied, scowling at him
“Ask me dammit!” he gripped her elbow harder.
“Fine,” she gave in, “what is my future?”
“I’m not a seer!” he shouted, “How the fuck should I know?” He let her go, laughing almost uncontrollably and staggered off down the street.

Jossalla slowly lowered her sword and tried to wipe the blood off her face. She quickly gave it up as a bad job; her hands had more blood on them than her face did. She looked down at the gore-covered sword and then out over the battlements at the retreating soldiers. Suddenly the sword seemed to weight more than a horse, more than a castle and she wanted to drop it, needed to drop it. But she couldn’t make her hand let go of the hilt.
“So what now?” Daryl asked, his voice seemed to come from far away.
“They’ll be back.” She said. “This castle was made for a siege. We’ll just have to outlast them.”

Friday, July 16, 2004

Democrat Raps

Somehow I’ve managed to get myself a job working for what comes close to being “The Man.” Fund raising is not all it’s cracked up to be, as it turns out it’s a lot of work, which is why posts have been few lately. This is what I have to say at every door at which I knock and get an answer:

Hi, I’m ____, with the Democratic National Committee. We’re working to defeat George Bush and the Republicans this November.
We’ve got everything on the line this election – from jobs and the economy to the Supreme Court and foreign policy. There are only __ days left and we’ve got to pull out all the stops to win.
Bush and the Republicans have raised over a quarter of a billion dollars, and they’re spending it on negative ads about John Kerry right now. We’re fighting back with the back with the largest grassroots campaign ever and we need your support tonight.
Here’s my statement of support.
The best way you can help is with a contribution of $100. Our top priority is to put resources into key swing states to get every possible voter identified and to the polls. Your support will really make a difference in helping us defeat Bush and win back the Congress. The best way to contribute is with a credit card or a check made out to the Democratic National Committee.

This is what popped into my head after about two days of canvassing neighborhoods on foot. After all, just because I have no social life doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely:

Hi, I’m ___, with the Democratic National Committee. I find you very attractive.
There are a number of things about you that I find attractive, your eyes, your smile and your sense of humor so I’ve got to pull out all the stops to get your attention tonight.
The problem is that a lot of other people find you attractive and thus it is very difficult to get your attention. I’m fighting back with the largest attention-getting campaign ever and I need your support tonight.
Here’s my cell phone number.
The best way you can help tonight is to take me out on a date. My top priority is to get to know you and your support will really make a difference in reaching that goal. As I said before, the best way to help is with a date, possibly dinner or a movie. I’d love to get you involved at whatever level you’re comfortable with.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Now With Extra Sauce

Thanks to Aaron of Get Out Fast you can now post comments without logging in.
Hooray for cheese.

A Short Interlude To Attend The Festival

In the mountains of Omara there is a tribe that has been farming the arid and rocky slopes for more generations than a person can conveniently count. At first glance the people are poor, living in small homes and growing crops in fields covered in rocks. However the people of the Omara Mountains have figured out how to cultivate slopes that average fifty degrees from horizontal and are often too steep to use tractors.
The government, in a lasting fit of misplaced generosity has seen fit to supply the people of the Omara Mountains with trucks and tractors and such machinery that would modernize the entire area. If, that is, the machinery could make it up the narrow goat paths to the homes of the tribespeople. In fact there was only one man who ever tried to use one of the tractors in his fields. They still tell stories of the event and honor him with a festival every year.
The man had managed to get the tractor to the top of his field and was attempting to turn it around to continue plowing. The tractor leaned precariously over, balanced for a moment on the downslope wheels and then began rolling, ponderously at first but gaining speed, down the hill. The tribesman was thrown free and suffered only minor injuries. He watched as the tractor rolled the length of his field and then kept going all the way down the steep, V-shaped valley, not stopping until it fetched up against the base of the cliffs on the far side.
The state could never accept that the people of the mountain tribes didn't want the machinery and kept sending it in spite of the fact that simply using the tractor had nearly cost one man his life. So the machinery kept coming and the people decided to celebrate with a festival.
Every fall the people of the mountain tribes drag the tractors and other useless gifts to the rim above the valley where they place bets on which one will make it to the bottom first and the shape they will be in when they get there. Once a year travelers in the valley will be disturbed to hear the alarm calls of the Omara tribesmen and the sound of the state's gifts rolling down the valley towards them.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Fictive Studies 1

Orc Society: A Study in Contrasts and Assumptions

For many years it was thought that orcs lived in highly stratified societies with a dominant patriarchal authority structure and submissive, possibly oppressed, females. However recent inquiries have proved otherwise. Encounters with individual orcs on trading expeditions and in the merchant district of Land’s End have revealed an unexpectedly complex culture of give and take within the orc’s mountain strongholds.
It has always been highly unusual to find any great number of orcs outside of their underground kingdoms. In fact for many years it was very rare to find orcs abroad in the Unclaimed Lands at all. In conversations with Shelnak, the owner of the Happy Orc Bakery I have learned that this is simply because of the sheer length of time required to establish their cavernous realms.
In conversations with Shelnak and other orcs over the course of the last year I have only begun to scratch the surface of orc culture. However I will relate here what I have learned so far.

Roles of Males and Females in Orc Society
Previous to now it was believed that male orcs held the dominant position and females the subservient position in orc society. It was believed that male orcs were traditionally responsible for all of the heavy work including defense, mining, smelting and anything heavier than cooking and cleaning. This is, as it turns out, quite untrue.
This mistake, I believe, stems from the fact that it was very rare for anyone entering an orc stronghold to ever see a female orc. In reality it is the female orcs who hold the places of highest esteem in their society. This is for several reasons, the most material of which is that the females are the ones who construct and maintain their underground dwellings. Anyone who has ever had the honor to be conducted through their realms knows what a great mistake it is to call them such things as “caves” or “mines.” They are in fact, great kingdoms carved from the living stone; kingdoms to rival the population and size of all the free cities of the east.
There is a great tradition of female orcs learning to work stone that dates back to the beginning of the Second Age when the folk wrested control of their homelands from the Enemy. It was, and still is, the male orcs who were trained in the ways of war and so it was they who with the aid of the other folk drove the Enemy’s forces from their homelands. The females were left behind to repair and rebuild the devastation that had been wrought on their kingdoms.
Shelnak related to me the stores that survive from this time. They are few and contain fewer details but the themes remain consistent. The forces of the Enemy occupied the orc kingdoms and turned their efforts not to caving them in but to destroying the great beauty that had been made there. They chipped away the carvings on the cavern walls, turned the elegant supporting arches and buttresses into twisted mockeries and destroyed as much of the defensive capabilities as they could while extracting minerals in the dirtiest ways possible. What was left behind when the Enemy retreated were desolate caves of scarred stone and abused rock filled with dust and smoke.
It was the female orcs who had to salvage their homes and crops before the winter. They were the ones who took up hammer and chisel to restore their kingdoms habitability. They were the ones who turned the orcish kingdoms to what we know today. The greatest example of their work can be seen in the supporting pillars and buttresses. In the First Age those supporting features were massive and solid things that spoke of stability through all the seasons to come. After the end of the Occupation in the beginning of the Second Age those same pillars and buttresses had been carved into twisted, misshapen parodies of their former state and were likely to collapse in the slightest tremor. After the orcs had finished restoring their homes the pillars and buttresses had been transformed into those we are familiar with today; lacy, delicate structures that seem too weak to support any great weight. Yet they have remained intact through the ages despite a number of serious earthquakes.
It is for this great accomplishment that the female orcs are so greatly revered by their males. This is the origin of orcish culture as we know it today. The females are considered to hold authority over everything involving stone while the males, because of their knowledge of the arts of war and the crafting of metals, hold authority over everything involving metals. Unfortunately information regarding orcish culture in the First Age is a very closely held secret ad not spoken of to outsiders.

Roles and Division of Labor
Because the two genders hold authority over different aspects of life there is also a well defined division of labor. While this might not seem obvious at first to those of us from the other species it is fairly easy to follow once the main themes are grasped. The females, because of their close bond to stone, are in charge of building and maintaining the delvings. The males are responsible for defending them.
Yet there are many areas where those roles overlap. In the building of defensive features females and males work cooperatively. The same is true for the mining of ores, though not of precious gems. Farming and herding take place outside of the delvings and so fall under the authority of the males except when stone structures such as irrigation and fencing might be required.
The best way to understand who has authority is to remember that within the delvings the females hold sway except in cases when defense or the mining of ores is involved. In those cases the males and females cooperate, though in the case of mining the females are on a slightly higher footing because the mines can have an effect on the structural stability as a whole. Outside of the delvings the males are in authority because everything is considered to fall under the category of defense. Farming and herding are also under the authority of the males because they take place outside of the delving. When such features as irrigation and fencing are required the females are the ones who construct them, but they do so in cooperation with and under the guard of the males.
This aspect of defense is where most of the misconceptions about orc society originate. Except for a very few cases any female outside of the delvings is considered to be under the protection of the males. The same is true when outsiders are allowed into the delving; it becomes a matter of defense. In those circumstances the females are highly deferential to the males, when they are seen at all. The few exceptions are where a female declares herself independent and goes out into the world alone. It is a highly unusual occurrence and when the female encounters male orcs she usually has to reassert her independence before they will stop trying to protect her.
What few outsiders are able to observe is the deep and almost religious respect and reverence the males hold for the females. In the presence of outsiders they rarely show their deep feelings of love and friendship, keeping their interactions very formal.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Holding Its Breath

The weather was unsettled, fitful, restless. If the weather could have dreams then it would be having bad ones.
It was hot. Not an obvious, sun blazing hot but the kind that sneaks up on you, saps your strength and exhausts you.. The still, heavy air is moved only by occasional gusts of sticky, salt laden wind off the ocean or brief, localized cloudbursts; neither of which relieve the heat. At night a heavy fog drifts over the city, occasionally condensing into a dense, misting rain that smells of pollution and humanity.
The light itself is red at dawn and dusk, making the skyscrapers bleed. Midday is marked by a sullen sun that hints of brimstone, night by a sickly moon and no stars.
Tempers ride the knife's edge throughout the city. Fistfights and bar brawls spill out into the streets every night, keeping the uniforms and emergency rooms busy. But the underworld is relatively quiet, the people plying their trades and keeping to their territories. What fights there were resulted from brief flashes of temper, ending in stitches rather than surgery. It was as if the major power factions in the city were biding their time, waiting for something to happen. As if they knew that if they started something big it wouldn't stop until it consumed the entire city and none of them were quite willing to take that step.
But it was only a matter of time.

Other Oddities

There comes a time in every life when you have to look back and figure out what you have been doing and what you are going to do. This has all been old stuff so far. Now I'm going to come up with some new stuff.

Monday, May 31, 2004


‘Pinetown. Shit.’ He thought to himself.
“Your partner is already there. You would be too if answered your phone.” The chief said darkly.
Daniels’s eyes went flat and he didn’t rise to the bait. “I’m taking a squad car.” He got up and started out of the office.
“You have a car.” The chief said.
“If I’m going to Pinetown then it sure as hell isn’t going to be my car that gets stripped and otherwise violated.” He let the door slam shut behind him.
When he went to sign out the car, the attendant said, “Pinetown huh? Going home then?”
Daniels, who had been turning to go out the door froze, turned slowly to look at the man and then left. Reynolds, the attendant, shuddered at the look in the other man’s eyes and reminded himself to keep his mouth shut around Daniels.
Going home?’ Daniels thought to himself, ‘Going Home? Fuck. Just because I was born in that septic hole doesn’t mean I live there now. Just because I played in a dump and was exposed to a few dozen toxic chemicals in the womb doesn’t mean it’s my fucking home! Fuck! Son of a bitch. I never should have stayed in South Africa, I should have gotten out when I had the chance.’
As he drove he could see the new tenements rising over the dilapidated wall surrounding Pinetown. Both were gifts of the government. The wall was very old and had been built to block the sight of the shantytown from the sensitive eyes of the Afrikaners. The tenements were new, even if they didn’t look it. Free public housing with electricity, running water and functioning sewer. Never mind that they quickly became filthy and overcrowded and only moderately less of a breeding ground for disease. Never mind that they were soon ruled by gangs and rife with crime. They gave the residents a wonderful view of all the places they would never live. The tenements had been built after Daniels had moved out and cut all ties with his family; he still remembered the rickety wooden shacks and trash heaps.
He parked the car as close to the scene as possible. He winced at the smell that met him once he was out of the car. Pinetown was easily one of the worst slums in Durban. The open-air market was only a few blocks away; the varying odors drifting up the street. The stench coming out of the tenements was, by comparison, much worse. From experience he knew that when the wind shifted it would bring the smell of the industrial area or the commercial fishing docks. The only redeeming quality about Pinetown, which was also the worst thing for the residents, was the fact that a person could see the heights of the Kloof from every intersection.
The Kloof. The White Peaks. Where the rich, white Afrikaners had their mansions. Where a child born in Pinetown could never hope to live, could never dream of being anything more than a servant. For a child born in Pinetown the dream of owning a house of the Kloof was a more impossible dream than climbing Everest, going to the moon or being elected president. The Kloof was the White Peaks, the rich white man’s island in the rising tide of black people.
Daniels lit a cigarette to block the smell and entered the alley where the body was. There was blood everywhere, splashed on the walls and dumpsters and collected in puddles on the ground. The victim was an obviously wealthy white man in a business suit. He was sprawled facedown in a pool of his own blood and his shoes were gone.
Daniels walked around the body to get a look at the dead man’s face. As he did his eleventh toe twitched and tingled. When he looked into the dead man’s eyes he saw a farm field, plowed and waiting to be planted. He blinked and saw only the corpse.
He looked over at his partner who held up an evidence bag containing a blood covered kitchen knife. “Simple enough.” Baker said, “They left the knife with plenty of fingerprints.”
“Not so simple.” Daniels replied. “What did he think he was doing coming here? Do we know who he was?”
Baker shook his head. “They took his wallet and any i.d. he might have had on him.”
Daniels shrugged. “He won’t stay that way for long. With the kind of money he’s wearing somebody will miss him soon enough. What interests me right off is the knife.”
“They picked it out of the dumpster, I would imagine the killer tossed it there when he finished picking over the corpse.” Baker looked amused.
Daniels shook his head and took the bag containing the blood covered weapon, examining it. “It’s reasonable I suppose. I hate to imagine us getting a straightforward case.”
Baker’s mouth twisted into something that might have been a smile, then he said, “The uniforms picked up a kid who might have seen something. They said he seemed pretty shaken up but maybe you can get something out of him.”
Daniels nodded and headed over to the squad cars. In the back door of one cruiser there was a boy of about eleven or twelve. The kid was wearing grubby clothes and staring at the ground between his bare feet.
“What’s your name kid?” Daniels asked. The kid flinched like he’d been slapped and hunched down even more. Daniels glared at the white officers milling around, the kid probably thought he was in trouble, probably thought he was a suspect. Daniels squatted in front of the kid and attempted to make his voice friendlier, “I’m Inspector Daniels, what’s your name?”
The kid looked up at him, his eyes nearly bugging out of his head. Daniels’s extra toe twitched and he saw a hawk soaring over autum-brown grass. Then Daniels blinked and saw the kid staring at him, scared out of his mind.
“It was Lem.” The kid said in a near whisper, “Lem did it, I saw him do it.”
Daniels looked at the kid for a long moment, then got a blanket out of the cruiser’s trunk and draped it over the kid’s skinny shoulders. Then he went back to Baker who was watching as men zipped the corpse into a bag.
“It was Lem. The kid saw the whole thing, scared the little rat half out of his mind.” Daniels said.
Baker nodded, “Have someone take the kid in and get a statement,” he said to a uniform standing nearby, “Try to be nice about it.” He turned to Daniels, “Let’s get Lem.”
Daniels nodded and took Baker’s car the two blocks to Lem Thompson’s building. A repeat offender, Lem had never been the smartest of small time criminals, this fact was born out when they got to his apartment. Lem wasn’t home but had left the door ajar. Just inside they found a shirt and a pair of pants, both liberally splashed with blood. They questioned the neighbors, who said that Lem was probably at the bar, as that was where he spent most of his time.
Daniels didn’t bother to thank the gods for stupid criminals when they found him at the bar with a large drink in his hand. Daniels clapped a hand on Lem’s shoulder and spun him around on the stool, “Nice shoes Lem. Mind telling me where you got them?” His toe tingled again and for an instant he saw the ocean at sunset, the light reflecting off the clouds turning the water red. Then he blinked and saw a pathetic murderer.
Baker peered at them in the half light of the tavern. “Kinda dirty though, aren’t they Lem? Looks like they’ve got blood on them.”
Lem tried to stammer out a response but Daniels cut him off, “Save it jackass, you’re under arrest.” Daniels shoved him up against the bar and handcuffed him, “Whatever excuse you have, save it. Whoever he was, he’s dead now, and they’re going to make it stick.”
Baker shoved Lem out the door and into a waiting squad car and Daniels followed, a sick feeling in his stomach. The scene was too much like any of a dozen of his childhood memories. He tasted bile in the back of his throat as Lem was taken away and Baker answered a call on the radio.
Daniels started to turn away when a young girl crashed into his legs and staggered back into the street. She only laughed as he snatched her out of the way of an advancing car. He swung her up in the air and settled her against his hip while she laughed in the kind of pure joy that he couldn’t remember ever having experienced. She was wearing a dirty smock and thick braids. When he looked in her eyes his extra toe tingled madly and he saw an icy stream, glittering as it flowed over rocks. He blinked and the girl laughed again.
“You should be more careful, you almost got hit by a car. Your Poppa would be very upset if that happened.” He was trying to be serious, but the little girl’s smile was infectious. She just laughed and hugged him impulsively. He tried to frown at her, “What’s your Poppa’s name? I want to tell him to keep a closer eye on his little girl.”
“My Poppa’s name is Tall Bob.” she said, giggling. The words hit him like a load of bricks, surprising him so much that he had to put the little girl down before he dropped her. He just stared after her as she ran off .
Baker came up while he was standing there and said, “They found the victim’s car trashed a coupe of miles from here. They identified the guy from the registration.”
“Rich?” Daniel’s asked, only halfway paying attention.
“Yeah, lives up in the hills, God only knows how he ended up here. We should go and notify the family.”
“Right.” Daniels muttered.
Baker gave him a strange look and said, “I’ll drive, I think someone took your squad car back to the garage.”
Daniels shook his head and said, “Right, let’s get to it.”
As they were driving out of the slum Daniels couldn’t keep a smile from tugging at the corners of his mouth. Baker kept glancing over at him and finally asked, “What the hell are you smiling about? I’ve never seen you smile before.”
Daniels glanced over at his partner and then back at the Kloof where they were headed, finally he just let himself smile and said, “It seems I have a niece.”

Monday, May 24, 2004

Sweet Dreams

I’ve been having the same dream for a while now. Not strange dreams like the people I know have, where they’re playing tennis naked with the president, the principal and Gandhi. Not strange like they’re in a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. No, I’ve been dreaming the same dream over and over again, every night. In my dream the world is coming to an end.
Every generation seems to have its own version of the apocalypse. For awhile they all thought the world would end with an unnatural sunrise to the west as the Pacific coast met its untimely Russian style nuclear end. Then for a while everybody thought that the world would end with the ticking of a clock as some unseen menace shut off every light in the world. These days most people don’t know how it’s going to end. I do. I’ve been dreaming about it for months. I’ve been dreaming that a sword from the sky will pierce the earth, causing it to ring like a bell. All over the world people will stop whatever they were doing, drop whatever they were holding and look up. I don’t know what will happen next, that’s when the dream always ends.
It ends because my roommate and my ex-boyfriend wake me up as they orgasm.
The problem with finding the right roommate is that there are so damn many wrong ones out there. Some of the wrong ones look like the right ones at first too, so you never really know what you are going to end up with. I’m sure that I’m the wrong roommate for a lot of people out there but right now I seem to be the right roommate for Kelsey. The right roommate is hard to find, but always has a number of positive factors. They are willing to contribute to household chores. They are capable of paying the bills. They don’t use all of the hot water and they are willing to let you have a significant other spend the night. Or weekend should it come to that.
Kelsey had all of those things for the first couple of years that we shared an apartment, but that’s not the real issue. Once she lost touch with those necessary factors, well that’s why I have her car, a gas can, a crowbar and the matches. The real issue here isn’t the money or the dishes; it isn’t the food or even my DVD and CD collections. You probably won’t believe it but the issue isn’t even the guy. All of those things can be replaced. I can find a better job that will allow me to make more money so that I can replace my stuff, hire a maid and pay off my debts. I can even find another boyfriend. After all, there are lots of guys out there.
No, none of those things are the issue. My problem with Kelsey right now is that I really need to finish that dream. Something big is coming. I can feel it. The dream has hooks in my brain that I couldn’t shake off even if I wanted to. I have to see how everything ends. I need to be prepared.
It really is a beautiful night, the stars are out, the moon is just a silver crescent and from the top of the hill you can see all the way down to the lake that fills the old quarry. The water is so still that it’s more of a mirror than a lake and it reflects every star in the sky.
I really could have stood there all night; it is one of the most beautiful scenes I could have imagined. But business is business after all and I will enjoy the view more after I get Kelsey sorted out.
I get out of the car and place the gas can a few feet away with the matches. It isn’t quite time for them yet. I take a firm grip on the crowbar and let loose on the hood of Kelsey’s precious BMW. I take care not to break any of the glass outright, but with special attention the front and rear windshields spider web nicely. The hood, trunk and side panels receive not only crushing blows, but also long, deep scrapes in the paint. It takes a lot of effort, but I manage to punch a hole through the roof of the car before giving up. By then the sweat is pouring off me and my throat is raw.
I wedge the crowbar between the driver’s seat and the steering wheel, locking the wheels into position and put the car in neutral. I take the gas can and empty the contents into the passenger compartment, making sure the upholstery is soaked. Just for good measure I toss the empty gas can into the trunk and pick up the box of matches.
I take a minute to appreciate the feel of good quality “strike anywhere” matches. The smoothness of the wooden stick; the color and texture of the red and white match head. The scrape and hiss of the match being dragged down the roughened side of the box. The flame blazing to life and then flickering down as it consumes the starter and begins eating away at the wood. I inhale the scent of it as the touch of wood smoke mixes with the gas I have poured in the car.
The match is a comet as it sails through the air, through the open window of the car and onto the driver’s seat. There is a slight puff, like an exhalation as the gas catches fire. The flames roar to life as the matchbox sails through the car window, following its former tenant. Soon the entire passenger compartment is ablaze with flames and acrid black smoke is pouring out the windows and the hole in the roof, blocking out the stars.
This is where the timing is delicate. I had to do a lot of research on the internet and a lot of calculations and I’m still not exactly sure if it will work the way I want it to. I step to the back of the car and put both hands on the rapidly warming metal of the trunk. At first the car doesn’t move so I push harder. The heat is starting to become uncomfortable when the car finally starts to roll forward. It gathers speed as it rushes down the hill and I count.
The stars in the lake at the bottom of the old quarry are drowned out by the sudden light as the flames reach the gas tank. They return, rippling and hazy through the smoke, after a few breaths. As I watch, the rippling lessens, the smoke is carried away by the wind and the stars in the sky once again mirror the stars in the lake.
I feel much more relaxed now, as I take one last look around. I can’t wait to get to sleep now. I really want to see how it all ends.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Writing Forms

There are times when one is forced to adhere to a form. This was one of them. I tried for days to write something and eventually gave up, totally frustrated. I still had to turn something in so I came up with this. It says very little, and yet so very much.

The Sestina Entitled: F^*k It

I cannot write this frigging sestina.
I am completely confounded by this poem.
I can’t think of a good enough subject
to keep me writing for six and a half stanzas.
This poem has me completely frustrated
and I doubt it will be good enough to turn in.

I started learning poetry when I was in
high school, but they didn’t teach me the sestina.
If it were my choice I would not be writing this poem,
I would be writing a story on some other subject.
I feel that paragraphs are better than stanzas
because they don’t leave me frustrated.

I wouldn’t be as pissed off and frustrated
if I was able to force myself to write in
the proper poetic style. This sestina
has given me a headache, but I already wrote a poem
about that. I doubt whether any other subject
could baffle me as much as these stanzas.

I tried to put a story in these stanzas.
Instead there is this endless bitch-fest that frustrated
me. I wish there was something meaningful in
what I am writing. Instead this sestina
is a pointless rant. There should be meaning in this poem
but that is something that is lacking in this subject.

I’m not sure what I expected when I started this subject.
I probably didn’t expect to be writing in stanzas.
Writing prose leaves me much less frustrated,
and it is much easier to write a story in
prose. I wanted to work a story into this sestina
but then if it were my choice I would not be writing a poem.

My problem with writing this poem
is that I have to adhere to the form. I am subject
to the limit on the number of lines, the stanzas
and the way each line has to end has frustrated
me. I feel like I should put a story in
this poem. But it’s too late because I am almost done with this sestina.

So I’ll put the story in at the end of this poem.
There once was a girl who took a subject that made her frustrated.
So she wrote her assignment in stanzas that fit in the form of the sestina.


Monday, June 3
It was a short, sharp woof. Like someone blowing in my ear. Then a roar, accompanied by a hot wind that grabbed the Frisbee and blew it halfway across the lawn in front of the school. The force of the blast knocked me down. The next thing I knew, I was lying in the long grass, the stalks tickling my face and nose. People were screaming.
I pushed myself up and looked around. The beautiful people had been coming back from lunch and now they were bunched together in terrified knots. There were ashes drifting in the air like a weird, gray snow. The smoke was drifting across the sun and stinging my eyes. I stood up.
The windows all along the side of the building were spider webbed with cracks. The flames were schizophrenic reflections in them. People were still screaming.
I turned and all the sounds of my fellow students faded in the roar of the flames. Alan’s car had exploded, taking with it the cars on either side. They were a column of flame that belched clouds of black smoke. There were papers drifting across the grass, blown by the wind.
I don’t remember how long I stood there. It could have been seconds, or hours before the fire trucks and ambulances showed up, their flashing lights stabbing through the smoke. The screaming had stopped but now there were people running back and forth. Some were clearing the school, others were laying hose and more were herding students away from the scene.
At some point I glanced up to see the sun. Through the smoke it was a hazy orb the color of blood.
That’s what I remember.

Tuesday, June 4.
Yesterday my hand was shaking when I opened his locker. He’d gone to lunch and left his luck in a box in his locker. It took me awhile to realize that my hand was shaking so badly that I couldn’t work the combination lock.
Alan killed himself in the car yesterday. He always said he wanted to do things his way. None of us expected anything like that.
I managed to get his locker open on my fifth try. I took the box with his luck and put it in my backpack for the time being. He wouldn’t need it anymore and his family wouldn’t understand or know what to do with it.
I dodged the security guards and left the building only to have the reporters jump on me. Lights, cameras, microphones, heavily made up faces with overly styled hair. They were all asking me questions, voices struggling to drown each other out. “He was my friend.” I told them. “You wouldn’t have understood him.” Then I left.
They didn’t try to follow me. They probably didn’t believe me. How could I have been his friend if I wasn’t crying now that he was gone?
Nothing else happened yesterday.

Wednesday, June 5.
No one was seriously hurt in the explosion. Other than Alan of course, I think he planned it that way. A couple of people had been cut by flying debris and one had a minor burn from the flames. I don’t think Alan wanted to take anyone with him. He wasn’t that kind of person I think.
The grief counselors came today. They were probably worried by the small turnout. Most people had been shocked by the explosion but few of them had known who Alan was, much less been close to him. The counselor told me that I needed to accept the fact that Alan was gone. The asked if I had cried yet and explained that it was necessary to express and release the emotions built by his suicide. I nodded and went home to study.
They didn’t understand him. They didn’t understand us.

Friday June 7.
I woke up this morning at 3:30. I dreamed that I was standing on the lawn, just after the explosion. There was smoke in my eyes and ashes in my mouth but there was no sound. I looked next to me and Alan was standing there, watching me. He said, “We’re not who you think we are.” And then I jerked awake. I was gasping and drenched in a cold sweat. I couldn’t get back to sleep.
This afternoon the trauma counselor said I needed to find a way to remember the explosion without reliving it. He seemed a nice enough fellow but he didn’t understand that I had been quiet and withdrawn from almost the day I was born.
They all wonder why he did it. I guess they don’t understand what it’s like to be on the outside.

Saturday, June 8.
Life, faith and the Gods.
Every so often I think I can understand why he did it. It’s hard being unpopular, strange, different. The popular kids, the beautiful people Alan called them, they have each other. They are on the inside, and their world is like a fabulous ball, with everyone and everything glittering in the lights. They have each other.
People like us, the strange ones, we’re on the outside. We don’t have each other the way the beautiful people do. It’s as if, in order to be happy, we have a glass that needs to be filled. For people like Alan and me and the rest of us, the glass seems a whole lot bigger than it seems to be for the beautiful people.
They have all the friendship they could ask for, in their own shallow, self centered way. We are held apart from each other by the barriers the beautiful people made for us.
It gets cold out here, on the outside. We search for meaning in life, faith and the Gods, for meaning within ourselves. All we end up with is smoke in our eyes and ashes in our mouths.

Monday, June 10.
The last couple of days have been strange. Or maybe it’s just me. Nobody seems to miss Alan. They don’t even seem to remember him. They don’t call his name at attendance, they didn’t announce his name on the list of graduates, I never hear his name in the halls. Its almost like the name Alan has ceased to exist. They don’t even talk about the day he killed himself. The scorch marks in the parking lot have been washed away and the shattered windows replaced.
The beautiful people have each other. I have Alan’s luck.

Thursday, June 13.
Last night I graduated from high school. I wore the cap and gown, and was draped with cords and medals. My family cheered when my name was called, though few others did. I shook hands with the principal and the superintendent. I took my diploma, hugged my favorite teachers and sat through the last of the speeches. They never once mentioned Alan. They had already forgotten him.
When all the hugging and cheering was over, the beautiful people went off to their parties and I drove up to the hills to watch the sun set. It was a warm evening and as the sun went down the wisps of clouds turned red and orange. The sky turned purple and dark blue and then black as the light faded and the stars came out.
For most people, Alan won’t be a memory. While they try for years to forget the explosion they certainly won’t try to remember a strange person like Alan. He didn’t matter to them before, there is no reason to think that he should matter to them now.
But I will remember. Alan was a strange person, an outsider like me. Outsiders have to look out for each other, otherwise the beautiful people will take us apart from the inside. I will make sure the other people like us know who he was. I won’t forget him.
I have his luck.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Ride

People have asked me how I ended up here, I mean, I don’t exactly look like a vicious animal. I know a guy down the way who bit a sheep and they’re giving him the needle. I know another guy whose family moved away and didn’t tell him and so here he is. There’s a gal next to me who got freaked out by some fireworks and ran. Maybe she’ll get out, but the rest of us? I kind of doubt it.
How did I get locked in here? Well, it was a string of fairly simple events that just sort of snowballed… Ok so it wasn’t simple. Or it was, I don’t know. I stole a car. But you know I had my reasons and things just got out of hand. It’s actually a pretty interesting story and if you’ll stop scratching for two minutes I’ll tell it to you.

It was really nice out, I mean really nice out. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the squirrels were running around on the lawn and there was even a Gods-be-damned cat sleeping in the middle of the street. It was one of those days that you just can’t spend inside. So where was I? I was inside of course. The folks had gone off for the day and left me alone in the house with nothing to do.
That still pisses me off you know. They were probably on a hike in the woods or visiting Aunt Gladice who has eight cats. There was nothing to do in that house and those… people… had just gone off without me. The front window faced south so the sun was pouring in all morning. I would lie in the sun until it got too hot then move to the shade, and then move back again. That went on for a while. Sun, shade, sun, shade. The mailman wasn’t due for hours yet, my toys were old and uninteresting and I was just about to go out of my mind with boredom. It was when I had gotten up to move into the shade that I decided to get a drink as well. That was when I saw the car keys. The folks have two cars after all and they had left one set of keys behind when they went off to wherever they had gone.
I sat and stared at those keys for a good long time, watching them dangle from the hook, the sunlight reflecting off the metal bits. There was a little voice inside of me saying that I shouldn’t do it, that there would be hell to pay, but as I kept thinking, that little voice got smaller and smaller until it was gone. I reached up, grabbed the keys and headed for the front door. The edges of the keys dug into my skin, urging me on. The front door was a little tricky but I got it open eventually and I’m pleased to say that I even closed it behind me. I, unlike certain others I know, was not born in a barn.
The day was just as nice as it looked from inside the house and parked at the curb in front of me, gleaming in the sun, was that car. Red. Convertible. Thunderbird. I could feel my stomach tightening, my pulse quickening. I closed my eyes and then opened them again. It was still there. I smiled.
I had never been allowed in this stunning specimen of an automobile. The folks always claimed that there wasn’t enough room, but I knew what they really meant. They were afraid I would scratch the leather or get mud on the seats. They had no trust in me, none whatsoever. Well, it was my turn now, and I wasn’t just going to go for a drive. Oh no. I was going to go for a drive.
I didn’t bother opening the door; I just jumped into the driver seat, licked my lips and took hold of the wheel. I admit that I did fumble a little with starting the thing, but then manipulating little metal things isn’t easy for me. But, oh the sound that car made when the engine started, it was like the world was coming to an end and I had the four horsemen chained under my hood. I buckled my seat belt, again not without some trouble, and adjusted the mirrors. That was when I saw the cat.
It was still lying in the middle of the street but now it was looking up at me. I could see it mouthing the words, “You don’t have the balls to do it.” Well, that’s not an argument that I usually take up with anyone, but this time I only smiled. Smiled and revved the engine. I remember how round that damn cat’s eyes got as that sweet, sweet car bore down on it, roaring like an animal. That is a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
No, I didn’t run the damn hairball over. I will admit that it did cross my mind and I probably wouldn’t be sorry if I had. The stupid, arrogant asshole was too fast. Either all the licking greased its fur and made it slip around the tires or it was just faster than the average pampered household waste of fur. I could hear it yowling behind me about how I was crazy, how I was going to get caught and some bullshit like that. I didn’t care.
The whole open road was in front of me, the wind in my curls and this amazing piece of machinery responding more to my thoughts than to anything else. But first, oh yes, first I had to find someone to share it with. So I headed to my friend’s house, to pick up Rufus.
Rufus nearly crapped on the couch when he saw me in my new ride. He stared at me through the front window with his mouth hanging open. He had that really stupid look on his face that he gets when he starts thinking too hard. I’m pretty sure it’s a German thing.
He didn’t look like he was going to move anytime soon so I yelled at him, “Get out here or I’ll tell everyone that you couldn’t go for a ride because you were too busy fucking a cat!” That got him moving.
Rufus didn’t jump through the window, although I think he almost forgot that there was a sheet of glass there. He did, however, jump through the screen door. I’ll bet his folks are pretty tired of him doing that. I yelled at him to jump in and not scratch the paint.
“Damn dog, where’d you get the ride?” He howled at me as I punched the gas and the car shot away from his house.
“I borrowed it. Where do you want to go today?” I asked as I rounded a corner.
“The park?” Rufus said thoughtfully, or at least as thoughtfully as he could get.
“Which park? We can go to any fucking park in the city!” I laughed. Some people on the sidewalk were staring at us.
“How about a swim in the river?”
I was tempted, really really tempted. But I couldn’t count on Rufus to keep the car clean, especially after a swim. “Think bigger.” I said.
“How about hunting up some squirrels?”
I looked over at him and grinned, “How about hunting up some ground squirrels?”
It took him a minute to figure out what I meant, he hadn’t been over to the east side in a really long time. His folks prefer to vacation at the beach after all. Slowly understanding dawned and his grin was the only answer I needed. I guided the car through the surface streets and onto I-84 east while Rufus tried to get comfortable in the bucket seats. He ended up hanging halfway out of the car with his hair whipping in the wind.
It was the middle of the day and the freeway was damn near deserted. The few cars that were headed east with us were enough to make the drive interesting, certainly not enough to slow us down. Once we got out past Troutdale the traffic disappeared and I floored it.
There are very few things I can think of that can come close to the joy we both felt with that car roaring underneath us. Really, to call it a car it to demean it. It was a … a supreme example of exquisite engineering. It was like steak, ice cream, chocolate, a precisely fluffed bed, the perfect scratch and so much more. It was everything that was good about life with nothing that was bad. It was freedom with nothing to bring us down.
And then something brought us down.
I’m not exactly sure where we passed the cop. It could have been Rooster Rock, it could have been Multnomah Falls, it could have been Hood River. But at one point I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the lights. I couldn’t hear the siren; I could barely see the cruiser. He was trying really hard to keep up with us but he wasn’t quite up to it. I squirmed a little in my seat but didn’t say anything or slow down. I figured he was probably going to some emergency and it would be better if I didn’t slow down and get in his way.
Then Rufus said, “Oh shit.” I looked over at him; he was looking up.
I looked up and the words just burst out, “Oh shit.” Then I winced; I was starting to sound like Rufus.
There was a helicopter following us. Actually there were a lot of helicopters following us. One or two of them had to have been police helicopters, but the rest … I never knew how many of the TV stations in town had their own choppers. There were a lot of them up there; it looked like a couple of the stations had two.
Then I looked ahead of us and I almost soiled myself. Police. Lots and lots of police. I took my foot off the accelerator and the car started to slow. Rufus saw the blockade ahead of us and just started to shake. Thank God thank God thank God he didn’t totally lose control. There was no way I would have gotten out of there alive if Rufus had pissed in the car. No, instead he just sat there like a statue until the car had slowed down enough for it to be safe; then that rat bastard jumped out of the car and ran.
Eventually I stopped the car and turned off the engine. The police looked pretty confused, they didn’t seem to understand how I had driven the car all this way. One of them manhandled me into the back seat of a cruiser and took me in. That still pisses me off you know. The back seat, like I was a second-class citizen or something and didn’t deserve to be in the front. None of those assholes even read me my rights. I did see a bunch of them chasing after Rufus as the cop was carting me off. I figured they’d catch him sooner or later.

So that’s how I ended up here. They still haven’t read me my rights and I don’t think they plan to. Rufus came in a few hours after I did, pretty roughed up. His folks came and got him already but I don’t even know if mine want me back.
So here I sit, cold cement floor and chain link door: the pound. You know they say Standard Poodles are supposed to be one of the smartest breeds, you’d think I would be smart enough not to have gotten myself into a mess like this.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

World Building

Of The Age Of Creation
In darkness there was the creator, who was form and not form, who was void and not void. The Creator was and is and will be even until the end of all things for without the Creator there is nothing. The dreams of the Creator write the existence of the Gods and Folk and they are many. The dreams of the Creator reach throughout existence, mold and shape it into the Gods we have known and will know again before the end of days.
There are yet four dreams of the Creator, dreams of such power as to bring into existence the Gods who wrought the folk. For even as the dreams are filled with power they are lacking in attunement, for they are as a grand design of the shape of things, needing definition and specification.
The first dream of the creator was of power. This power that was dreamed of was more than the power of magic for it encompassed even the power that one being wields over another. In the dream the Creator saw two uses for power, ever opposing, ever competing, ever at odds. And from this first dream were born the fates. Two without faces, without sex, either fair, neither foul, even two sides of the same coin.
The second dream of the creator was of light, and thus was born the Celestials, the stars, the sun and the moon. The sun spun her golden radiance in the darkness even as the moon did spin his argent light. The light of the stars together was equal to either of the other two, but diffused as it was it was weak and nearly colorless and in the ancient days rarely was it perceived.
The third dream of the Creator was of form, stone and air, fire and water and life, and thus were born the elements. Thus was the earth allowed to take shape and bring forth the forests and plains, the rivers and oceans and even the beasts of land and sea and sky.
The fourth dream of the creator was of the folk and so were made the aspect, seven who would represent and guide the folk of the world. They were the Father, the Smith, the Warrior and the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone and the Other. Within all of them were the aspects of the folk, and within all of the folk was their power.
Thus were the Gods, and so the Folk could be made. The sun wove her golden beams into Elf and Man, Dwarf and Wizard, Troll and Orc and others. Others stranger than many have dreamed and who have much of the aspect of the Other in them and who are secret even from the rest of the Folk.
The Folk went forth across the face of the world and dwelled in the light of the Sun and Moon which were equal in those long ago and far gone days. Yet even as they had been born of the Sun’s light the Folk preferred to go abroad and do their work in it and shun the light of the Moon. For the Moon’s silver radiance held no sustenance or solace for them.
The Moon was fair wroth at this for he greatly desired that some folk should live in his light and gain sustenance from his radiance. Also he was jealous that his sister the Sun should create such Folk of beauty and depth, jealous that they should be so changeable and yet so constant. And in his envy and anger the Moon wove his silver light into folk of his own, folk who would bask in his light, live by it and shun his sister’s golden radiance.
And so his folk were of his own making, born of his jealous fury, born without knowing the aspects and they were misshapen, soulless and foul. They did roam the earth in the light of the Moon, filled with their maker’s fury.

Of The Dawn Age, The First Age Of The Folk
The seasons passed uncounted in the dawn of time and the children of the Sun and those of the Moon did live separately in their own corners of the world. The children of the Sun dwelt in peace in the mountains and valleys and forests of the known world. Great were the works of their hands and minds as each of the Folk came into their own. The Wizards did turn their hands to the crafting of spells and manipulation of arcane powers. The Trolls went apart from the other folk and came to know the deep and wild woods. The Elves turned their hands to the orchards and grasslands and made them bloom. The Orcs went into the great mountains and carved out great kingdoms in the halls of stone. The Dwarves raised shining cities of multicolored towers reaching for the sky. The Humans did roam even to the far shores of the sea and did but rarely settle, remaining nomads and yet becoming numerous.
In the far places of the earth did the children of the Moon dwell and none but wild rumor and speculation is known of their various species and people. What little is known of those fell beings is thus, while the children of the Sun turned their hands to peaceful exploration and cultivation the children of the Moon were turning their hands to red war. For the Moon was bitterly angry at the great works of his sister’s children and his hatred of them did grow with each passing season. Thus it was in his mind to lad his own creations forth in a war to destroy and who took joy in the Sun’s golden light.
The stories of the heroes of this first of the great wars are many and will not be recounted here. Many are the tales of heroism and treachery as the Sun’s children were caught unprepared and unawares by the Moon’s children, and the end of the Dawn Age was terrible. The children of the Sun were overrun by the invaders and they were forced from the homes they had chosen and built for themselves and made to stand before the Moon and receive his judgment. Thus did the end of the Dawn Age come when the last of the warriors laid down their banners in surrender.

Of The Second Age Of The Folk and Of The Third Age
The Moon’s judgment of the Sun’s children did mark the beginning of the second age for the Moon found his sister’s children lacking and sentenced them in ways most cruel. All of the punishments of that time shall not be recounted here for many of them were unspeakable horrors. It shall be said however, that each of the folk were required to destroy that which was most dear to them. The Humans were required to sacrifice their families to the altars and otherwise to relinquish their nomadic lives of exploration. The Wizards were forced to burn their books of great knowledge and magic. The Trolls were driven forth from their forests and made to dig ore and coal from open pits. The Orcs were made to twist their under-mountain realms and pervert the beauties they had wrought in the living stone. The Elves were forced to hew down their sacred heart trees, which they believe are the temples of their souls. And the Dwarves were chained to their glittering towers and driven to destroy them one stone at a time.
Thus were the spirits of the Sun’s children slowly battered to very near the breaking point until one day they lifted their hands in rebellion. None alive today know truly what day that was, some hold that it was the day of midsummer, others that it was midwinter. Many great scholars believe that it was the first day of spring and so that is when it shall be named in this work. So it was on the first day of spring that the children of the Sun raised their heads and turned on their tormentors. They forced the weapons from the hands of their guards and used them to drive the Moon’s children from their lands and across the land bridge from whence they had come. Then the Wizards seized hold of their magics and caused a great mountain range to burst from the sea and make the bridge impassible.
The Fire Mountains remained a raw and open wound until the end of that age, spitting fire and permitting none to pass by land. The children of the Moon do truly hate and fear the sea and so the Folk are safe from invasion by that route even to this day.
In the aftermath of that great rebellion the Folk turned their faces from the Mountains of Fire and back to their spoiled homelands and wept at the great works that had been lost to the sight of mortal and immortal eyes. The Humans did not return to their nomadic lives but instead built great fortified cities and vowed never again to be taken unawares. The Wizards turned themselves to recovering their lost knowledge and storing it in vault built with their magics inside a mountain that was thereafter called the Mountain Of Wisdom. The Trolls did return to their wild forests and sought to become apart from the other Folk and forgotten by them. The Orcs returned in sorrow to their under-mountain realms and began to salvage their beloved halls of stone. The Dwarves abandoned their ruined cities and fallen towers and sought to rebuild taller and more beautiful towers in places that did not have the fallen stones of their first homes. The Elves did but barely survive for their heart trees had been cut down and burned out even to the last tree. Only one sapling did remain in the hands of one elf-maiden and all of the elves save for a very few did wither and fade into death before the tree did flower and more seedlings sprout.
Thus was the second age begun and it was a sorrowful age for the Folk as they mourned what had been lost and prepared themselves for the next coming of the children of the Moon for they did not doubt that it would come and they would be forced to the brink of oblivion again. Yet many and more seasons did pass before the Mountains of Fire ceased erupting and the dark hordes spilled forth across the lands of the Folk again. In this war there were again many great deeds that shall be spoken of elsewhere though it must be noted that several things did happen of great import.
The King of Men was slain in battle and died without an heir, thus ending the royal line and breaking the spirit of mankind. Ever after were Humans scattered and their numbers steadily falling. A ship of Elven warriors was blown off course and the new continent was discovered though they did not find their way back to their kind for many years. The hidden children of the Sun were discovered, Wolf-riders, Dragons and Faeries among them.
While all of the Folk fought in the war and drove back the dark hordes once again beyond the Mountains of Fire, it was the Wizards that sealed the fate of the world and ended the second age. In desperation the Wizards sought to break the power of the Moon and thus weaken his children and so they cast together a great spell that caused the Moon’s light to be changeable and to wax and wane in strength. Thus was the second war ended and the second age also.
The great Wizards did not feel that they were yet safe from the children of the Moon so they bent their powers to form a greater barrier on the dormant Mountains of Fire. They wrought along the length of the barrier many great statues that were in the images of each of the Sun’s children. Each statue was itself as high as a mountain and held aloft a sword that would burn as brightly as the sun should one of the Moon’s children dare to come near.
What the Wizards did not and could not know of the results of their great spell was that it did not only banish the God of the Moon, it did also banish all of the other Gods as well, leaving the prayers of the faithful unanswered and the structures of existence at risk of erosion. Even now strange faiths and gods do appear. The Moon’s children are become more peaceful and do release much of their maker’s fury as the seasons pass. The future of creation is in doubt, even as none know if the true Gods of Creation can be brought back to save what has been made.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Story Of Pell

Pell crouched on the railing of the watchtower, watching the sails grow large on the horizon. His legs were cramping but his training wouldn’t allow him to stand and stretch the muscles, wouldn’t allow him to silhouette his body against the sky and make himself an easy target. Eventually, as the winds of the ancestors drove the ship towards land, he eased himself down to stand more naturally behind the railing.
The watchtower was midway up the side of the mountain that dominated the north end of this island. Pell had been to a few of the other islands in his life and he maintained the opinion that this island, the one he had grown up on, was by far superior to all of the rest. About a hundred feet up-slope from the watchtower the dense jungle vegetation began to give way to the bare rocks that were fringed with lichen and the ice crowned peaks above that.
Pell took out his dagger and began honing the edge on his whetstone, breathing thanks to the spirits and the gods for the steel and the fire that had gone into its forging. It was a good dagger, and sharp, all of his weapons were sharp. The two long knives strapped to his waist were sharp enough to shave with and his bow and arrows were masterworks.
The sun broke through the trees behind the watchtower and he spread his wings to warm them, giving thanks to the gods for sunlight. Then he took a moment to appreciate the feel of the slight breeze over his feathers and admire his wings. It wasn’t that he was vain, though all of his people are somewhat vain by nature, it was just that Pell was the fastest, strongest and most skillful flyer of all his people and he knew it. He had proved it in competition again and again. This made him one of the most desirable males in all of the islands, which he also knew very well.
Pell looked back out to sea and frowned at the ship. The ancestors were smiling on it for it was approaching the island very fast. It had not foundered on any of the reefs that had so far kept all other curious ships away from the islands. Even the descendents seemed to approve of the ship for the weather, though cloudy, was calm and there were no storms on the horizon. The gods themselves illuminated the ship in a shaft of sunlight breaking through the clouds.
Even as he pondered this, the watchtower was enveloped in a cloud and the ship lost from his sight. Pell snarled and jammed the dagger back into its sheath. Perhaps the Powers were conspiring to keep him from approaching the ship, perhaps if he flew closer to investigate he would die, he no longer cared. No ship had ever before dared to sail this close to his home. He flexed his wings once and then leapt into the air, swooping slightly to gain speed and then catching a thermal to rise above the clouds.
Now Pell was in his element, the moisture of the cloud beaded on his feathers and slid off as he flew. His blood rushed in his veins as he circled, flapped occasionally and gained altitude. Soon enough he broke out above the clouds and felt the gods shining on his back, warming him even as the ancestors chilled him with the wind of his passage.
He decided to fly out over the ship and try to get a look at the people aboard. He would not go close enough for them to shoot at him and once he had an idea of what manner of people were sailing toward his home he would go back and report. They would probably rouse the fighting wings and go to investigate more closely.
Pell slid back down beneath the clouds and was somewhat disappointed to see that the ship had not run into trouble while he was above the clouds. He kept to the underbelly of the clouds, keeping himself half concealed within them as he peered down at the vessel. There were a number of people in sight, all of who appeared to be of the species the lore-masters named Elf. Pell had never seen an elf before, but they matched the description he had heard as a boy. None of them appeared to be armed but that was always a possibility, even he knew how to conceal a weapon.
When he felt he had seen enough he banked toward land and spiraled up into the clouds. He passed above his watchtower even as the clouds began to break up and as he flew into earshot of home he pulled his horn from his belt and sounded the alert.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Birthday Present To Myself

Everything has a beginning. Mine was 23 years ago today.