Continuum -Episode Two Aerotrans

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The Story so Far:

In his eyrie high above the City, the young Hasuga begins a snowy morning by building a snowman, while his mother bakes some honey cakes, while in the watchtower that is even higher than Hasuga’s home Soothsayer Cassix watches a threatening sky with grave concern.  His colleague and friend Ellar discovers him there and gives him the news that Hasuga, already tired of his outdoor pursuits, wishes everyone to join him in a game of war.

Entering the Great Hall, Ellar brushes white snowflakes from her gold and burgundy robe, clothing she must wear as one who attends the Inner Sanctum.  Hasuga is waiting for her.  It amazes her how tall he has grown.  His shoulders are wider, there is determination in his face, yet his voice, though deeper, is still a child’s voice, his words still those of the little boy he has left behind.  And in his haunted eyes the same frailty that is window to the churning leviathan of his mighty, intimidating mind.

“Ellar!  Ellar-mer, we are going to play a war game!  Hurry up!”  Hasuga skips ahead of her to the elevators.  “We are going to attack a fortress!  Come on!”

The elevator rushes them skywards.  Already, Ellar is feeling the limitation of her immunity chip, the implant in her brain which is all her Sanctum membership will allow as a control.  She is becoming enthused – yes!  A fortress!  That would be so much fun!  A battle at the walls, siege engines, storming the gates!  Kill them all!

No!

Hasuga’s games have consequences: such are his psychokinetic powers the game he plays here, in the safety of the city, will be reflected in reality somewhere else.

“Which fortress shall it be, Hasuga?”  Ellar concentrates hard to keep her thoughts in train.

“Why, Braillec City, with its great high walls!”  Hasuga’s look infers that she is stupid even to ask.  “The Proteians are going to attack them!”

Ellar thinks of the people of Braillec (how many in that city, three, four thousand?) who are going to be slaughtered for no better reason than they have high, medieval walls.   And Hasuga is taking possession of her mind so swiftly she will be powerless to stop it happening.

#

Alanee’s morning is dominated, as she anticipates, by discussion of honey cakes.  Soon after the Makar’s departure, she leaves her house to join the general migration of village women to The Terminal at the hub of their community.  As she closes her front door – she need not lock it – Malfis the old bell-ringer is admiring the heap of mud he has piled in his garden, and Merra, from the bakery, compliments him upon it.

“Fine work, Malfis.  Always the craftsman!”

Alanee struggles:  “What is it?”

Merra, never shy of expression, rewards her with a look bordering on disdain.  “Of course, you not having a man…”

“I may not have a man but I do have a memory.  There was nothing I recall that looked like that about my man.  It’s a lump of mud!”

And Merra replies:  “Now remember my husband….”

Alanee giggles,  “That’s so unfair!  Where are the men?  Did they start work early today?”

“Arms training!”  Merra makes a face.  “It’s long spears this time, apparently.   Habbach knows where we are going to keep that!”

The Terminal is busy.  There has been heavy snow in the north, blocking a number of major arteries which, as her village is one of the group of communities responsible for co-ordinating transport, particularly affects Alanee’s work.  She is assistant to Carla, the manager, a responsible job for one so young.  Paaitas the village Domo is watching her progress with interest.  It was he who secured her early promotion and there are those who snidely suggest that his attention is not entirely focussed upon her abilities.  Alanee accepts the jibes with equanimity.  She is a good motivator, broadly liked, though not always understood – for example, in her open distaste for honey cakes.

“They are wonderful, Alanee!”  Carla is a bouncing, vital woman with enthusiasm enough for the entire village.  “I’ve been looking forward to baking them all year!”

From their nest at the top of the circular building they look down on the ring of women workers at their stations, each making their separate input to the mainframe which fills the centre of the Terminal floor like a huge, flat drum.

“I’m concerned about Namma, Carla-mer.”  Alanee says (each has their protégé, and Namma is hers).  “She seems distracted today.”

“I should not tell you this, perhaps.”  Carla leans a hand on Alanee’s shoulder:  “She has had her proc request turned down again.  The word came this morning.  She was in tears earlier. I think she despairs of ever having a child.”

“How so?   In Dometia they are begging for more fertiles.  If the rumours are correct the one-child edict has been lifted there.”  Alanee shakes her head.  “It seems so cruel!”

Carla does not reply, and Alanee thinks of Namma-meh, who is desperate to be a father.

And so the morning passes.

At mid-meal Alanee and Shellan walk home together.  The five children of the village pass them by.  After their morning at the seminary they have eaten early and are on their way to work in the potato field.

“Good day, Widow Kalna!”  They greet Alanee with respect.  She tries to smile in return, although just the sight of them revives the pity she feels for Namma.

“A fine boy, the Domo’s son, is he not?”  Shellan-mer suggests; and Alanee admits that Pattan, a sturdy-looking child now so near to youth, is all a father could want.

In Malfis’s garden the mound has gained a ball of clay for a head, a hat of woven straw and some button eyes.

“It is a man!”  Shellan crows her delight.  “Don’t forget now, you are coming to tea today!”

In the day’s heat Alanee draws out an awning that is stored above her kitchen door.  There she sits in its shade upon her step, pecking at a salad as she watches sun-mist shimmer over the Hakaan.  Dreams come easily in such all-pervasive peace.

These are times when she remembers her childhood on the plain, the farm with its bright white gate and penn-fowl in the yard.  Her father’s walk; the way he clumped his boots into the soil as though they tasted it, his rough skin as real as dry clay, the smell of the land in every crack and fissure.  Her mother’s tired eyes, the love in her smile, dust in her hair; and how she worked, and worked, and worked, yet still had time, always, for the impudent girl-child her husband had prayed would be a son.

Although every childhood has its joys they were not such happy days, in those growing years.  And a future of labour, the endless demands of sowing and reaping, the constant disappointment: yes, that may well have engendered her rebellious spark.  So that when, at seventeen, she chanced to meet a foot-player at a local dance, she did not hold back.  She set her cap at him, poor Kalna, quite outrageously, and it was not for love, not then.  Love came later, love grew.

Alanee thinks of Namma in her pain and reflects that she too might have been a mother once.  Her thoughts drift to a memory of Kalna-meh, that constantly quirky grin of his: the things they would do together, the games they would play, the touch of his lips on her neck when he wanted her and, yes, those pleasures too.  Then, always at the height of these reflections the sudden words upon the screen, just as they were on that dire evening:  ‘Foot-player fatally injured.  Hideous tackle kills Hakaani hero’.

One chance, one man, and the knowledge that by decree there can never be another.  Three years ago.  Three lonely years.

Deep in reminiscence she does not hear the aerotran at first.  Only when it is passing, almost overhead, does she look up to see the teardrop shape of the flying machine, with government colors of black and gold striping its sides.  Even then it does not concern her greatly: an official, probably, delivering some new mandate to the village Domo.  The sky is cloudless; there is no breeze to dissipate the fire of the sun.  Wearily, Alanee gets to her feet, ready for the drudgery of her afternoon.

On the street all talk is of the visit from the aerotran, which is now perched on the landing pad atop The Terminal like a watchful hawk.  The Village Domo’s colours hang there too, a white and blue ensign draped above the doors of the building.

Who can this be?  Why is Domo Paaitas here?

“Now I bet you wish you ordered that honey!”  Shellan shouts above the whistle of the aerotran’s engines.  It is an intended joke, but Alanee, already nervous, shrinks inside.  Has the Makar reported her?

Her feeling of timidity is reinforced when she gets inside the Terminal.  Her name is on the entry board, with an instruction to go to the manager’s office.  Now her heart begins to pound, for her duties in the afternoon normally would keep her on the floor of the Terminal, with her workers.

“Will you look after the floor while I am gone, Namma-mer?”  Namma accepts her briefing board with a surreptitious smile.  She knows something, Alanee thinks!  What is going on?

At the head of the stairs she knocks nervously upon Carla’s door.  This rewards her with a pause, while male voices from within confer in subdued tones.  If there were somewhere to run to, she would run with pleasure now.  Carla, her face serious, opens the door.

“Come in Alanee-mer.  These people wish to speak to you.”

There are three men in the room, only one of whom, Paaitas the Village Domo, Alanee recognizes; the other two, she must suppose, arrived with the aerotran.  But what could they possibly want with her?

Behind her, the door has closed. Carla is no longer at her shoulder – must have withdrawn, Alanee assumes.  She quickly detects her own anxiety reflected in the face of her Domo, who is really a shy and reclusive man only picked for high office because of his very individual scribing talents.  His heavy brows are set in a downward scowl, and his lips work constantly, as though he were chewing upon something with an acid taste.  To his right a thin figure with a raptor’s nose and brown teeth who is tall even when seated, to his left a much older man whose eyes are young: they glint like wet steel.  Both visitors are richly dressed in silken burgundy robes, and have a great distinction about them, as though they were set upon a high purpose.  She is overawed.

“Alanee-mer, come, sit down,”  Paaitas mumbles, by way of introduction.  He waves at a chair.  “These are very special visitors, Alanee-mer.”  He introduces the thin man to his right as Proctor Remis, he who sits to his left as High Councillor Cassix.

A Proctor and a High Councillor?  To see her?

“You have snow in the north, Sires.” Alanee murmurs, her voice barely above a whisper.  “How was your journey?”

The one her Domo has introduced as Cassix smiles, though his eyes are unchanged:  they bore into her, so she thinks that they are hurting her head.  “Our journey was untroubled, Alanee-mer.”  His tone is rich but stops just short of familiarity.  “You live in a much friendlier climate, do you not?”

She nods, dumbly.  Her knees are shaking.

“Now we must ask you questions, and you must answer them with honesty.  Will you do that?”

“Of course, sir.”

The Proctor’s voice cuts the air, sharp and dry as a knife.  “You did not order honey on your mand-card today, did you?”

His words fall like blows from a hammer.  Now Alanee’s heart really sinks!  Her mind races through all the punishments that are meted out to those who fail their citizenship requirements, most of whom are never heard from again.

“No, sir – Sire.  I did order it, though, when the Makar reminded me.”

“Will you use it?”

“Yes Sire.”  She answers without thinking – a reflex.

“You were warned of the necessity to be truthful, Alanee-mer.”  Remis clips his words.  “At the beginning of the year you ordered Kell Water (after the Makar reminded you) and that is still on your mand-stock; as is the wholemeal cereal you ordered last month.  I could quote you any number of items in a similar vein.  You have the largest mand stock in the whole region. I frankly wonder that your chill room is large enough to accommodate it all.”

So that is it!  The Makar said they would be watching her, and the Makar was right.  Alanee feels the tears coming, bites down on her lip.  “What should I do, Sire?”

“Why, eat it – drink it, one supposes.”  The Proctor replies.  “Do you feel no need to do that, Alanee-mer?  Are you not tempted by today’s honey?”

“No Sire.  I don’t understand.  I have never liked these things, even though it seems everyone else does.”  Alanee strives hard to keep the sob from her voice, but despite herself, her eyes are filling.

Cassix cuts in.  “Alanee-mer, last year you missed The Gathering, did you not?”

So they found that out, too, did they?  Oh, Habbach!  “I was forgetful.”

Remis and Cassix are exchanging glances.

“You had to remember?”  Cassix asks.  “Nothing…inspired you to go?”

Alanee is mystified.  “No sir – I mean Sire!”

For a moment it seems as if Remis will ask more, but Cassix raises a hand and, with a nod to Paaitas, says:  “Very well, Alanee-mer that will be all.  Thank you for your honesty.”

She quells an urge to run from the room, to put these three weighty visages behind her before they reduce her to tears.  What should she be feeling – relief?  The Domo’s next words explode upon her like a thunder flash.

“Go to your home, Alanee-mer.  Namma will take your responsibilities.  You should pack a bag of belongings for your immediate needs.  Leave by the cargo door.  Speak to no-one.”  His voice is lowered, severe.

She knows now.

Somehow her feet find their way to the door; her shaking hand turns the latch.  There, she must turn back, because it is pointless to hide the tears:  “Please….tell me what I have done wrong?”

The one she knows as Cassix smiles at her.  His eyes do not alter their incisive brilliance, yet it is not an unpleasant smile.  “Sometimes, it is better not to know reasons.  Go now.”

Beyond the door, a uniformed guard in the colours of the High Council is waiting to takes her arm.  The upturned eyes of every woman in the village follow her as she is led, gently but insistently, along the gallery to the cargo doors.  Everyone can see how freely she is weeping.

As soon as he is confident that Alanee is beyond earshot, Remis turns to the Domo.

“You are sure the usual inspections have been done?”

The village Domo nods.  “Every month, Sire, according to law.  We have a very good inspectorate.”

“And they found nothing wrong?”

“Nothing.  Her house is clean and well-kept, despite her widowhood.  The censors described the usual features.  She is an exemplary worker, extremely intelligent and a manager in waiting.  I just don’t understand.”

The walk; how she will always remember this walk!  The silent street, everyone at their work, the guard at her shoulder, the desire to run – run anywhere, get away!  She might hide among the poor people of the plain, find work as an illiterate, change her hair, her clothes…but the guard remains close behind her, and he is armed.

It is late afternoon.  Alanee has packed those few things she possesses which must travel with her.  Then she has waited.  No armed squad has come to drag her away, the guard is expressionless, and beside essential communication, deaf to her questions.  Now the sun is low over the hills and soon the workers will return.  She stands at her kitchen door  (that favourite place)  for what all her instincts insist will be the last time, one last cup of tsakal warm in her hand.

“Your view is exquisite.”  The voice surprises her.  She turns to find that High Councillor Cassix has entered.    He says gently.  “You must be sorry to leave it.”

“I am to be taken away, then?”  Alanee is no longer afraid of him.  Acceptance has come.

“Yes.”

“Where?”  She has her back to him, drinking in that last vision of the Hakaan.

“That I cannot say.”

All at once she feels like crying again.

“We are waiting for an aerotran to transport you; it should be here soon.  We would use ours, had we not another person to interview in a village south of here.  We shall be detained until tomorrow, I fear.”

As if by his command, a rushing sound in the eastern sky foretells the second aerotran’s coming.  Alanee, who has no way of knowing how transgressors are removed from their communities, has expected maybe a horse-wagon of the type the stonemasons use, or an older, more primitive flying machine; not this.  The aircraft which stoops earthwards to the street shares the  livery of the High Council.  It is small, no more than an air-taxi, but its approach is rapid.

“Time to go.” Cassix says.  “I will escort you.”

He supports her arm much as the guard has done, leaving that individual to follow at a respectful distance as he guides Alanee from the home that has been hers for all of her adult life.  At her street door she pauses, resisting him, overcome by the enormity of the moment.  The aerotran waits, its squat black nose pointed to the dust of the street, engine subdued to an unobtrusive hum.  To Alanee’s right all the women of the village stand in ragged silence, detained upon their homeward walk from the Terminal by the landing of this beast.  A double line of eyes all watching, all accusing; all she thought were friends, who treat her as a stranger now that she is dangerous to know.  Merra is there, Carla, and Namma, already wearing the Managers Assistant tag that Alanee has lost.  Shellan too, though she shows Alanee no sign of recognition.

“Come,” Cassix prompts;  “This is best done quickly.”

Alanee nods, takes a firm grip upon her small bag of effects, and steps forward.  “I should lock my door.”

“No.”

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

Continuum- Episode One: Beginnings

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A new serial – one I hope everyone will enjoy.  I have written quite a lot of what you might call Sci-Fi or Fantasy, although personally I tend not to think in genres.  If a story fires the imagination, as I hope this one will, it shouldn’t matter where it is set, or in what period.  The pleasure of writing without the inhibitions of space and place is the utter freedom to let the imagination fly.  Care to join me?

Tom MOrel

In the shade of a dark forest where a river passes, around a compound of trodden earth there is a humble cluster of huts; simple, windowless hovels with reed-thatch roofs peaked and open so the smoke of fires can ascend, a village made from reeds and mud.  As yet the sun has not climbed above the mountains at the valley’s edge so it is half-light here, though still possible against the gloom to make out some crude essentials of subsistence living scattered among the dwellings; rough wooden tools, a rail of drying fish, a pelt on a wooden frame, bowls for grinding grain.

A small jetty of wood leads out into the deeper water of the river, moorings for a couple of dugout canoes that bob and rub one another gently in the current.  Two more such vessels are drawn up upon the riverbank a yard or so downstream.

Where all paths join at the center of the village, raised high on a timber scaffold to gain the best advantage of the sun there is a curious thing; a perfectly symmetrical bowl made and molded from cork-bark of the oak.  In depth and width this bowl is large enough perhaps for two grown men to sit inside, but no-one among those who live here would dare to try, for the symbols carved around its rim proclaim it a holy place.

On the compound’s western edge there is a dwelling smaller than the rest and within the dwelling, upon a table at its center, a wooden jar.  From here as a new sun rises the old one steps out with his hands cupped around a precious cargo; a gift he has made, fashioned from the invincible power of his belief.

In the time of The Making all that begin are like this; a space to be filled in the order of things, tiny spoors, germane to a wish.  Triumph of a month of wishing, a century or more of plans and dreams.  And as a wish they come to form in the darkness of the jar, in the darkness of the hut, in the darkness of the night.  The old one takes them up with pride, these last of his life’s labor, to bear them carefully the fifty paces to the middle of the village; to the scaffold and the bowl.  His legs are slow and weary.  Others gather around him as he walks: one steps forward to kindly offer a supporting arm but pride will not allow him to accept.  Though it may be long, this journey, and though his manner of travel may be slow he rejoices with each step and those who follow honor his joy with their respect.

They all await him, clinging to the scaffold or perched upon the narrow walkway around the rim of the cork bowl, chattering eagerly.  They part to allow him room as he falters up steps little better than a ladder, craning their necks to see what it is that he nurtures in his palms and breathing sounds of awe at the sight of the four tiny germs of life that nestle there.

Before the bowl the old one leans, his sinewy arms resting over its edge so his tired eyes can study the intense, odorous brown mist that swirls and fills the vessel.  His experience, his faith tells him where or how the vapor will receive his offering.   Meeting the eyes of the others of his community he begins a chant, a ritual verse that all about him know as well as he.  They join with him, raising their voices in celebration to their sky and then, at his moment, and in a certain carefully allotted place, the fog reaches up.  Gently he delivers his gift into its care.  His work is done.

The old one will never look upon those seeds again.  Others will perform the fashioning, tending them as they rise through the mist to greet the sun, honing them, re-forming them, sculpting them to match their dream.  He knows he has taught them well.

But these things the old one will never see, for this afternoon with those he loves the best he will make the long climb to his seat at the hilltop which has been placed so he can look down upon his greatest work.  Here, through as many sunrises as he has left to him he will study the tapestry of the valley, testament to his art.  He will not move from there – will never move again.  With time he will become part of all he has achieved; a part of the forest he has helped to create.

#

Just when it seems that it must snow forever it ceases snowing.  The wind drops, the clouds pass and there is sun upon the white garden.  Southward, the shroud of the storm draws aside to reveal winter-black trees, and across the valley of the Balna River distant hills glisten in the light of morning.

The child watches from his window.  “Mummy, may I play outside?”

She watches too.  Her eyes have not left him since she entered the room to stir him into wakefulness, for she loves this child more than life itself.  “I don’t see why not.  You mustn’t get too cold though, darling.  Promise you’ll come inside immediately if you feel too cold?”  She knows his weakness, loves him for it and because of it.  “Come now, let’s get your warm clothes.  What would you like to do out there?”

He turns to her, eyes alight with joy.  “A snowman!  I want to build a snowman!”

She smiles.  “Then you shall, my dear.”

His face is lit like a thousand angels.  “Then we will have warm honey cakes, Mummy.  Lots of warm, warm honey cakes!”

Again she catches herself wondering if there is any way not to love him, for his beauty constantly astounds her.  Yet she is puzzled for a moment.  “Honey cakes, Hasuga my dear?  I don’t recall…”

“Oh Mother, of course you do!  You make a batter with flour and ginger and eggs, and then you…”

“Ah yes!”  She recollects the recipe.  “Very well.  You make the snowman while I bake the cakes.  Then we shall eat the cakes together, darling, shan’t we?”

-#-

Just when it seems that it might rain forever, the rain stops.  With first light of dawn it parts like a warm curtain to reveal the rising sun.  Insistent sunbeams slip over the sill of Alanee’s bedroom window to nudge at her coverlet, tickle her nose.  She resists their invitation, sighs and turns in search of elusive sleep.  She would dream much longer if she could.

In her kitchen she stumbles beneath the weight of her night-time head as she brews tsakal, tries to think of food.  The hot liquid snaps at her throat, stinging her into wakefulness.  There is xuss mix in the chill room: she pours a measure onto her hot-top, flips the instantly-formed pancake quickly before it burns, adds a pat of sil and folds a xuss-bread sandwich.

She opens her door, tossing the heated xuss between skittish hands and pausing for a moment as she always does, to breathe the fresh new air, to allow the sun’s gentle balm to prickle her skin.  Before her, beyond her patch of garden, the packhorse road winds like mudded rope between terraces of bronzed pledas peas and banks of magnolia down onto the plain: the endless plain of the Hakaan.

The vast fertile plateau that is food basket to her world stretches into apparent infinity, a rolling ocean of lush green and gold, washing into mists of distance.  Somewhere out there the Southern Hills make up a horizon; not visible now, for now, the ancestors have written, begins the Hour of Spirits, when under the first onslaught of morning sun such rain-water as the thirsty earth has not absorbed clings to leaf and branch like a billion jewels, each of which will vaporise and wisp skywards in a wraith no coarser than a hair.  Altogether these fine, transient ghosts cover the land for a while, waving like wheat-grass in a faint breeze and raising long white tendrils towards heaven.  Alanee watches them with eyes that never cease to wonder.  An hour is this, before the fierceness of day, with the power to bring tears.

Her reverie is interrupted by a cry from the village street.  The Makar!  She has not troubled to dress – why dress?  The morning is already warm and her kitchen door is not overlooked:  nothing between it and the majesty of the plain; nothing between her and the plain but the shift she wears when she sleeps.  Hurriedly, she retreats to her room, slurping tsakal with one hand, rummaging clothes with the other.  Shorts and a top of thin linen, a passing thought that in her shift she would show far less of herself, but…ah, such are conventions: conventions of dress, conventions of class, conventions of behavior; conventions, conventions, conventions…

The Makar cry sounds again; much nearer now.  She snatches a Mak-Card from her chill-room.  No time to review it – she reaches her street door just as the Makar does, still buttoning the front of her top and treating herself to one of the sun-withered little man’s leery stares for her pains.

“Late again, Alanee-mer!   Scarce out of bed, eh?”

Alanee affects nonchalance, leans against her door-post.  He thinks she does not notice when his eyes slither down to feast upon a glimpse of her long legs.  “You are too much for me, Makar-meh.  Do you never sleep?”

The Makar grins broadly.  “If I begin my day early I have time, Alanee-mer.”

“You do?  You do indeed?  Ah, such a busy man.  Two calls only on the street and it is your tsaka-time already!”

“We could enjoy a cup together, Alanee-mer.  What do you think of that?”  The Makar knows the most tempting young woman in his village will do no more than flirt with him.  And in his heart he would not wish it.  His wife and child live close by.

Alanee flashes him a look.  “It would not be appropriate. Register my card Makar.  You are wanted at Shellan-mer’s door.”

Shellan-mer is indeed standing on her porch.  Shellan is Alanee’s neighbor, with whom she has enjoyed many a good joke at the Makar’s expense.

Grinning toothily the little man slots Alanee’s card into the reader strapped onto his hip.  It bleeps threateningly.  “Aargh!  A warning!”

Alanee sighs.  “Now what?”  Every day there is a warning.

The Makar turns the machine so Alanee may see its display.  “You haven’t any honey.”

“I don’t like honey!”

He shrugs.  “It is not for me to say.  Better order some or they’ll censure you.”

The Makar walks away, leaving Alanee to glare at his retreating back.  Honey, now!  To keep company with the chocolate bars, the sugary cereals, the fizzy drinks, the processed beans and all those other things she does not like, but which clutter her chill room just so she can escape ‘censure’!  Is everybody’s chill room the same as her own?  She knows the answer to this of course.  Shellan’s chill room is as neat and balanced as the system can make it.  But then, today she will be invited to join her neighbor for honey cakes.

Across the village street Malfis, the old bell-ringer, tends his garden.  Alanee would return within doors but something about his behavior takes her eye.  His spade is turning the rich soil into a large ball.  What in Habbach’s name can he be planting this time?

#

Ellar discovers Cassix the Soothsayer standing alone in the dome of the watch-tower.  From here seabirds can be seen wheeling in grey winter silence over white fields:  the snow is back, misting the unmoving distance in waves like ripples of soft organdie across a painting of pale hills.  But Cassix will not see this, for he is drawn to a thing beyond.

“Is it stronger this morning?”  Ellar asks.  “Sometimes I believe that even I can see it.”

Cassix turns to her so she may read the apprehension in his eyes.  Those eyes; those deep, deep inclosures of wisdom!   If she could see but a hundredth of what those eyes could see!

“Cassix, is it stronger?”

She will not address him by the ‘Sire’ that is his title; they have been familiar friends too many years.  Beside him at the glass she seeks his hand as she squints into the distance, above the black ragged fissure of the ice-bound Balna, far, far into the horizon.  In a moment Cassix will join his senses with hers and then, if she has practised well, she might gain a scattered ounce of his greater vision.  She feels the surge, sees that slate of far-off sky become distinct, picks out the ribs of racing cloud – and there!  A place above the Pearl Mountains (or is it east of that?) where the sky-scape might seem to lift and the direction of rolling procession turn inwards upon itself, a grey vortex in the greyer grey.  Just for a moment.  Then the pain comes and she must close her eyes to let it pass.  When she opens them once more the clarity is gone.

“Your mind is pure, Ellar.”  Cassix speaks in clear, bell-like syllables.  “That is good.”  He sighs.  “And yes the Continuum is bigger this winter, without doubt.”

The snow is its fiercest now.  Below them in the garden Hasuga’s snowman is hunched to windward, figurehead upon the prow of a white ship foundering in a whiter sea.

“He wants a war-game again.”  Ellar says.  Cassix says nothing.

“Go on, say it!”  She spits the words.  “Say he may not have one!”

“That is blasphemy.  You know it.”

“Cassix!  Oh, Cassix, it must be said!  A war game!  Thousands of lives!  Was that the intention of The Dream?”

“This was foretold in the time of Karkus.  It is Lore.”  The Soothsayer shakes his head.  “He comes to his manhood.  These emotions must be expected.  They will pass.”

Ellar restrains the angry outburst she feels rising inside.  “The Treatise of Karkus was a criticism.  Karkus recognised the folly of electing a male child.  It’s a pity we cannot acknowledge the same.”

Cassix treats her to a bemused smile.  “What would you have us do?”

“Don’t patronise me.  Whose decision was it to move him on?”

“Again you remind me?  Mine.”  Wearied by his efforts, Cassix slumps into one of the heart-shaped blue chairs that are scattered about the timbered deck of the watchtower.  He is growing old now, and though his perception has burgeoned with the years he has no energy to sustain it.  His body is ravaged by time, his craggy face blasted as a rock before an easterly gale.  “I know you doubted, Ellar.  I understand why:  but there were physical issues; very substantial ones.  When you keep a child at the same biological age for two thousand years it must deteriorate unless….unless it is permitted to grow.”

Ellar has remained by the window.  “And now?”

“He had to be allowed to go through puberty.  It had to be done.”

“And now we have a monster!”

“We have a teenage boy with all the fallibilities and angst and aggression any boy his mental age confronts.”

“For another two thousand years!  Two millennia of frustration, rebellion and war.  What price The Dream, Cassix?”  Ellar stands over him, forcing him to meet her stare.  “I don’t care if what I say is a blasphemy, I really don’t; because I know that when the Old Ones decreed that we should be governed by the pure mind of a child this was not what they planned.  They would have, they should have, foreseen this.”

“You under-estimate Hasuga.”  Cassix is unflinching.  “That brilliant mind is capable of so much more than you will acknowledge.  However, I hear what you say to me Ellar.  There will have to be changes.  The Domo and I have been getting our heads together on this.  In the meanwhile, you must find some way to divert our young master from his chosen task.”

The Lord Domo; the leader of Council.  In his hands so much of the administration of the land, so much of the trouble of the land.  The Lord Domo; unlikely as a master of anyone’s universe; short in stature, fleshily substantial in most other ways, yet with a mind that would hold all minds, other than that of Hasuga, in thrall.  A tower of intellect, a pillar of virtue:  what changes he could wreak if only he were inclined!

“I will try.”  Ellar hesitates.  “Is the Lord Domo amenable to change?”

“Is he ever?  We have agreed certain…shall we say subtle…alterations?”

“And may I know them?”

“They must first be sanctioned by the Council.”

Ellar seems to accept this.

The descent from the watchtower is long; one hundred and forty stairs, eight landing levels.  Ellar takes them with a practised ease, though her mind is deeply troubled.  And Cassix, behind her, does not intrude upon her thoughts; he knows how hard is the road she travels.  He admires much in Ellar:  she is the mouthpiece of Hasuga, the link between Mother and the members of the Council.  And Hasuga’s demands are never easy to satisfy, in either their complexity or their immediacy.  When Ellar emerges into the private courtyard of the inner palace he assumes Hasuga will be waiting for her, and if she fails him it will almost certainly be at cost of her life.

 

 

Copyright 2019 Frederick Anderson

all rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

This book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.

Picture Credit:  Tom Morel on Unsplash

 

The Making of Joe Palliser – A Writer’s Notes.

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These studies seem to interest my long-suffering followers, and if they are not too boring I will try to do more of them.

I am referencing Hallbury Summer because I have just completed the revised version and the character is still fresh in my mind, and, hopefully, in some of yours.

So why this article?

I make no exaggerated claims for my writing ability; however, I sense from the feedback I receive that the believability of my characters is one of my strengths, so I thought I might explore the ‘method’ with you here?   I wonder how my practices compare with your own?

First, can we agree there has to be a ‘method’?  I learned early in my theatre school training that inspiration is very nice when you can get it, but if you are sitting in front of a keyboard at six o’clock in the morning with a raging headache, it is likely to be beyond your grasp.  For all the many mornings like that, you need a method.

In establishing that ‘method’ I’m not ashamed to admit that I call upon Stanislavsky, either.  Although ‘An Actor Prepares’ must be out of print by several decades it still has much to say to us.  At the very least, an ability to ‘talk myself into’ a character is an asset.  I use it habitually.

So, what does Joe Palliser look like?  I don’t know!   He is my lead character, therefore whether I am writing about him in the first or third person, he is ‘me’.  No, he doesn’t necessarily share any of my personal peccadilloes or conform in any way to myself, but for the purposes of the book I am inside him looking out, and unless I am obsessed with mirrors, I don’t need to know what I look like.   Let me explain why that’s important.  I want my reader to treat Joe in just the same way – to see the world from his POV.   If I tie readers down by a description he becomes a chessboard figure.  They will be better satisfied by developing their own picture.

In fact, I need to know remarkably little about Joe:  his backstory, for instance, is very limited.  He was in the care of a babysitter when his parents were involved in a fatal car accident.    Apparently his parents were moderately comfortable financially, but do I need to know if they were doctors or dockers?  No.  Only the car accident is important, because it orphaned him and may or may not have some bearing on his personality (this in contrast to his younger brother Michael, who was in the car at the time and physically as well as mentally damaged).

From my first introduction of his name my reader is building up an image of Joe in their minds.  It is my job as author to develop that image by introducing the third dimension –lifting him from the page – and the greatest tool at my disposal for that is dialogue.

Dialogue: do you know what I really hate?  The self-indulgent author who cannot resist making his character bombard the reader with his personal opinions, or who feels compelled to give a history lesson in the midst of a piece of dialogue!   Nothing disrupts a readers’ enjoyment more:  in life no-one will accost you on the street with a two or three hundred word vent.  It just doesn’t happen, and if it ever should, I suggest you run.   I guess my recommendation would be if you feel you have something to say, choose the subtlest (and briefest) manner of saying it, and reserve it for the author’s voice, not the voice of a character.

Dialogue should, in my opinion, be rounded and natural.  Don’t edit out the monosyllabics, the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ of everyday speech, just for the sake of a word count.  Speech should be reflective, a mirror to the way normal people speak to each other; it should flow, taking the plot forward or setting up a third party character.  To me, using a dialect for my lead character is a big stonking ‘NO’, but that doesn’t apply to ancillary characters for whom dialect, in its broadness and sophistication, can be a useful personality guide.  However, this proviso must remain:  I must describe my other characters as Joe sees them.

If I were to wax further upon my treatment of characters that surround the lead I would tell you how I often make sketches of them, and certainly talk to them as if I were Joe.  They join me in my room as I introduce them, and if they are interesting enough to Joe, they stay.

You see, the great joy of writing and its mystery is that moment of magic between the fingers and the page – the undeniable ‘something’ that happens.to make Joe, or my other central figures come alive.  Are they good or evil, weak or strong?  I don’t know.  Let the reader decide.  Are they real in the reader’s eyes?   That is a question only the amber spyglass can answer.

But I had fun, didn’t I?

The revised version of Hallbury Summer is now available in both eBook and paperback versions.   You can find it  here, or by clicking the cover image in the sidebar.

If I can be of assistance by sharing experiences with other writers, aspiring or otherwise, please contact me.

A Quiet English Village with a Lethal Heart

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Hi!

Today, a brief note from the knarled old beast behind these keys.

A fulfilment of a promise.

The serialized book I have been running this year, ‘Hallbury Summer’ is now available as a complete eBook on Kindle.   I said I would do it, and I did it!  Just click on the cover to your left and you will be whisked magically away to Amazon’s glorious domain!    I am still working on the hardcover 2019 version.   That will be up for purchase soon.

Hallbury Summer is the third book I have serialized through this blog, and it has been the most popular, though ‘A Place that was Ours’ runs it a close second.  I aim to produce that as an eBook too.  I’m working as fast as I can!  (not fast, I know – doddering, in fact)

Meanwhile, and coming very soon, a new serialized novel.   Science Fiction, this time, but with a difference; several differences, in fact.  I’m looking forward to introducing you to Alanee.  I think you will like her.

Midnight Park

Why do I love this so much? The tight economical way Vincent conjures up his imagery in my mind, perhaps, or his amazingly atmospheric photography? Please give his site a visit – it is well worth your attention.

boy with a hat

Velvet quiet,

wise lamps,

lakes like oil spills,

statues that wink behind you,

and the soft flutter of sleepless birds…

What’s there not to like about a midnight park?

And then you have the occasional oddball…

Such as the Frenchwoman who was talking to herself and gesticulating fiercely on lone alleys,

and then turned away whenever she came across me.

But she was too well dressed to be a madwoman, and
the blue blouse draped over her shoulders was quite chic.

So, when I espied her take out of her pocket a bunch of ruffled
papers, my doubts were confirmed:

Ophelia rehearsing.

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Lean and Slippered Pantaloon…

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Resonances of ‘Seven Agers of Man’are unavoidable, when, as I am forced to do in updating my icon for this blog, I come face to face with the camera’s unforgiving mirror.

Not that the adjective ‘lean’ has much to do with me, but then I suspect Shakespeare himself may have indulged in a little poetic license there.  In all the dioramas of my dreams, there was never one of the great bard sitting comfortably before a roaring hearth with Anne in which he appeared ‘lean and slippered’.  Okay, a definite maybe for the footwear, but always supporting a comfortable paunch from all those carousing Falstaffian years as a player in the court of ER1 (yes, yes, alright; I know she was a Tudor, but ET?  Come on!)..

The comment ‘I have lived too long’ is frequently traded among others of my vintage, more often than not as a device to procure reassurance from those with a head start of a generation or two.

How old are you?  You don’t look it!  No, really?”

I may not look it, mate, but I certainly feel it!  Blue veins, wrinkled skin and liver spots don’t lie; nor can my slowness of thought and action be excused in any other way.  Age is an affliction to be experienced as much as it is to be perceived, so kindly turn your back while I get out of this chair, because the trousers I’m wearing are inclined to become unhitched.

I read back through the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ the other day (as you do:  you know, any Sunday morning; check the football scores, put on your ‘Selections from Gilbert and Sullivan’ CD, take down your well-thumbed copy of ‘As You Like It’ from your library shelf and turn to Jacques’ speech?  Here’s a quick reminder in case your copy is still at the binders, or something:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like a snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then, the justice,
In fair round belly, with a good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Good, I think.   All so relevant, even today, isn’t it?  I don’t recall having a nurse to mewl at, and satchels were in pretty short supply at my parents’ pay-grade, but there were a few singed eyebrows in the furnace of my experience, and if I didn’t exactly stare into the mouths of too many cannons, I could be quite tetchy if someone called my reputation into question (or said I was thick – same fing, innit?).

In fact, dear old Willie’s analysis retains its relevance right up to my current, sixth age,  although I would vie with any reference to a childish treble, and I don’t whistle!

But now, hang on a minute!  ‘Stay thy hand’, to quote Mrs. Beaton’s ‘Book of Household Management’.  Stage seven is frankly scary.  First thing, looking for a stage eight – it isn’t there!   This is it!  And the script has changed.  I’m no longer on my sad but dignified road to oblivion, because the moment anything gets even slightly ‘sans’ it’s not the knell I’ll hear tolling but an ambulance siren.

You see, I don’t mind the ‘sans’s.  I fear them, yes, but not as much as I fear some earnest little person kick-starting me like Victor Frankenstein’s pet project; carting me away from my home to be intubated, stented and stitched together with bits of pig.   All in the cause of giving me a couple more years of half-life, at the expense of distress to my relatives and GBH to a perfectly decent Wessex Saddleback.

Let’s look at life in the round.  Let’s be honest, Mother Nature has finished with the human body at age forty-five, or thereabouts.  We’ve done all the breeding, we’ve seen the progeny on their way, after which we are just using up valuable resources.  We eat:  God, how we eat!  We breathe air, we occupy real estate.  In a world where space is at a premium we demand more than our fair share.

No, of course I’m not saying we should all cash in our chips at forty-five!  Should misfortune strike at such an age the earnest little person should be encouraged to jump on the chest of that luckless soul and do all he can to bring them back.   What I am saying, though, is if my final crisis offers the option, I would take a needle of mercy rather than a defibrillator.

We inhabit a world overloaded with our species, one in which some unpleasant choices concerning population will eventually have to be made.   Voluntary euthanasia is one of the simplest and least contestable solutions:  it eases the burden on resources, it frees the medical profession for more important work, and it returns dignity to a final process which has become, for many, a complete nightmare.

Just because we can prolong life, doesn’t mean we should.

 

Smokedogs (A Short Story)

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Science fiction?  I admit I don’t pass this way often these days, so just for a change…a big one, this, but splitting it doesn’t seem to be an option, so I cordially invite you to make a night of it – bring a friend, if you want?

“We’re in for a storm.”  Jaca says, absently rubbing the fur behind Quietus’s ear with her long fingers.

From the observation platform we have a perfect view, an uninterrupted vista of the Great Plains.  Beyond the ascending wisps of haze from Smokedog fires I too have seen the dark sky, clouds building before the Periclean sun.

I draw Jaca to me, engaging her in a kiss.  We are alone on the platform and I want more, but she desists gently, hands on my chest.

“Not now, Malcor.”  She murmurs, forehead against my own.  “We have things to do, yes?”

I agree reluctantly.  We have things to do.  Before evening there are insect nets to bring inside, outdoor experiments to cover.  Jaca turns from me, stares towards the sunset; pensive, reflective, remote.

“Ixce arrives tonight.”  Her voice is almost a whisper.

“So he does.”  I will not look at her.

Yes, Jaca my love, we are in for a storm.

I call Quietus to me:  he obeys, of course, tail wagging, brown eyes bright.  Together we leave Jaca to her thoughts, descending the circular stairway which leads into the Spartan crew quarters of Periclea Settlement J8.

Periclea is our sun star, a tiny part of the constellation of Orion, a mote in the eye of The Hunter only visible to those who seek her:  the unromantically-listed J8 is her only habitable planet, with just one research station:  this one.

It was not always so.  When you speak to the Silusians of J8 they will submerge their small sharp features into their big fleshy necks and pretend they have not heard.  Only the Mariaca will talk of the place; the legends, the tales.  In their Gordian tones they will tell of times when the sunlight floods the plains in a blood-red hue; when a million ghosts of a doomed Palataian race rise to walk their forgotten world, and all who dare to stand upon its sacred soil tremble in fear of that sight.

I?  I do not listen to such tales.  Nonetheless, when I was asked to come here I hesitated:  for a young geologist J8 was hardly a career move.  It was only when they told me that the senior archaeologist was Jaca Icindae that I agreed.

During my university days Jaca moved at the margin of my world.  In the year above mine, this graceful, elusive girl with her soft curves and softer voice had seemed beyond the reach of my dreams.  I loved her from afar with that desperate, unrequited longing that is the tragedy of youth;  knowing she was not for me, seeing her walk hand-in-hand with another, the man with the greatest intellect that had ever graced our college.

So J8’s forgotten space in the universe became somewhere to be.  A small settlement, a research station really, no more.  And I would like to say the geology is interesting, but the only interest here, for me, is warmer and more alluring than any rocks: Jaca.  When one loves someone enough it is perhaps only gratitude, or loneliness, that will make them love you in return, yet for those of us without pride that will be enough – until Ixce comes.

Ixce: that great mind:  Ixce – Jaca’s first love.

Our crew are in the communal area, lounging around as usual at this time of day.  The games plates are all live, their hologram superheroes thrashing through rituals of conquest and slaughter.

“Now you are mine, Jacoranda!”

“Die, Mastachian dog!”

“Seek the sacred keys of Morcal!”

I pass through, warning of the storm, reminding them they too have duties to attend.

The passage to the airlock is lined with our ‘outdoor suits’ – light self-contained clothing we wear whenever we pass beyond those bland steel doors to the outside.  I slip one over my uniform, grip the air-lug between my teeth.  The doors open with a sibilant wheeze.  Quietus follows: he needs no suit.

Nor do I, if truth be told.  I stand with Quietus in the vestibule, waiting patiently while the system stabilises so I may walk outside, knowing that the atmosphere beyond the doors is not toxic, or even mildly debilitating.  For our species it is breathable; just not in quite the ideal balance.  So we follow this ritual each time we go out without any real need.  This mystifies Quietus, and maybe slightly amuses him:  he sits watching me, head to one side, then trots after me as the doors close.

I work quickly, packing, folding, and retrieving the little pods of data as I shut down the machines.  All the while I watch the western horizon, half-expecting a lander with Ixce aboard to soar into view, even though I know it is not due for hours yet.  And as I watch the sunset turns the land as red as blood, and the Smokedog fires glow like tiny lanterns from their lairs on the Plain.

Smokedogs:  wild wolves of the Plains, the Mariaca say; enigmatic beasts hunting the Kessa deer in packs with an intelligence and guile that has never ceased to fascinate me.  We have known them so long, yet we know so little about them.  Those fires, for instance: we know the dogs create them but we have never seen one created.  We do not know how, or why; although one of our more humorous colleagues once suggested that perhaps they liked their meat cooked?

Approach the fires and they extinguish:  by the time one draws close, the dogs are gone – ash, hot ash is all that remains.

Quietus nuzzles my hand, reminding me that he never makes fires.  Ah, I didn’t mention, did I?  Quietus is a Smokedog.

My predecessor, whose name was Dev, discovered that certain of the Smokedogs were attracted to our settlement.  They would gather outside in the night just sitting patiently, staring up at him on the observation deck.

“Not all of them, you understand?  Those out on the Plains, they’re wild, untameable creatures – vicious, probably.  But these, the ones with the darker eyes, they seem to like us.”

Dev adopted one, brought it inside, treated it as a pet.

“Curious thing.”  He told me:  “As soon as I allowed Quietus in, the others went away, as if he were a sort of emissary, or something.”

When Dev left at the end of his tour of duty, Quietus stayed behind.  Oh, he pined for a while, but I befriended him and he soon came around.  He gazes up at me now, those adorable, honest eyes set in the perfect symmetry of his little face, the image of unquestioning love.

“You are distressed.”

He could catch you like that.  He did me, the first time.  I had my back to him when he did it.

“Do I serve you?  Are you content with me?”  He doesn’t actually speak, of course – cannot, with those canine teeth and that elongated jaw; yet he can find a place in your head, and if you answer him with words, he seems to understand.  Sometimes I think he reads my mind, too.

“Me, distressed?”  I make a show of denial, but he can see right past that.

“Ixce.  Who is Ixce?”

“Oh, only the greatest biologist of our generation, that’s all.”

“A superior brain.”

“A superior brain.”  I acknowledge, thinking that Quietus is unusually interested in Ixce.  But he will recognise that Ixce is the cause of my disquiet, of course.

“And your woman will mate with him?”

I shrug.  This is a little too direct for my present depressed state.

“It is natural.”  Is all Quietus ‘says’.

I pat his head, gaining some comfort from the warmth of that thick, dense flesh.  If you tried to pick him up, Quietus would not object, but you would be in for a surprise.  A third my size or rather less, he is nevertheless heavier than me by several kilos.

“Yes. Natural.  Quietus – don’t you ever get homesick for your family?  You’re a pack animal, aren’t you?  This isn’t a natural way for you to live.”

“My pack is always with me.”  Quietus tells me in my mind.  “Do you want me to go back?  Are you content with me?  Do I serve you?”

“Yes of course; of course you serve me.”  Sometimes, when I feel already a little sad, just that gentle voice within me will make tears come.  “No, don’t leave me, Quietus.  I’d miss you like hell.”

I finish packing up the equipment, crying like a baby.

Back inside the settlement I leave Quietus to consume some choice comestibles from the galley while I go to our private quarters to change into more formal clothing.  Jaca is already there, already undressed.  She drifts about the cabin before me as insubstantial as a spirit, a naked wraith, knowing how I watch her and indulging me with a breathtaking vision of beauty.

“I’ll shower first.”  Jaca decides.

“We could shower together.”

She gives me an arch look.

“It might be the last time.”  I say, wishing instantly that I hadn’t said it.

Jaca does not reply, but gives me a quick smile, then closes the wet-room door upon me.  “Lock.”  She instructs.  The door does as it is told.

I remember how you looked in those first summers, when the bright Itake flowers were fresh on the bud and the sands of the Great Plains shone like burnished amber.  Five years now – five years knowing he is forever in your heart – five years of solitary grief for a love that is always on the edge of extinction.

Outside the storm is gathering:  thunder crackles, rain beats upon the skin of our little home.  Ixce descends from its epicentre like an avenging angel, his lander’s engines roaring out a trumpet call.

We all stand in the corridor to the airlock in orderly submission, awaiting the great man.  Jaca stands at my side, her skin glowing, the subtlety of her scent placing her intentions beyond doubt.

The hatch opens and  Ixce is among us.

“Jaca!  My darling, how gorgeous you look!”  And to me, curtly: “Malcor.  Nice to see you again.”

Oh, Jaca!  How easy you make it for him, this Gabriel of the fearsome look and the golden hair!  How you quake before him – how your eyes are alive now, the way they were when I first coveted you, the way they have never lived for me!

I turn away, the decisions of my life all made on my behalf.  I see at once a battle I cannot win, a mountain I can never climb.

Jaca returns to our quarters late this night.  I have been awake for hours when she steals in and undresses on tiptoe, sliding furtively beneath our coverlet.  I do not ask her where she has been.  I know.

And so it is, for the next few interminable days, while I rub along with Ixce as best I can, liaising with him as I am meant to do.  In so small a community our respective sciences converge and overlap in many ways.  He is interested in the Smokedogs just, I am afraid, as much as Quietus is interested in him.  For it is not only my girlfriend and love who has deserted me:  Quietus has too, fawning over Ixce quite disgracefully every chance he gets.  Now, while we discuss his kindred together he sits by his adored’s feet, head resting on Ixce’s knee as he dotes upon the great man.

“No-one knows what the fires are for.”  I tell Ixce.  “We’ve tried to find out, but it’s almost impossible to get near them.  Even Quietus won’t discuss it.”

“How do they breed, do we know?”

“Not really my field, although I must admit I’m curious.  Again, it seems to be a closed book.  Strange, though.  No-one’s ever seen a puppy.”

“Really?”  Ixce is intrigued.  “Well now, we must discover these things, mustn’t we, Quietus old chap?”  Quietus looks into his eyes with total devotion.  I am sure he is giving his reply – but not to me.

Over breakfast on the morning following our discussion Ixce proposes an expedition.

“Quietus is an impressive little mutt.  I rather fancy finding out a bit more about his country cousins.  Care to join us?”

This invitation comes as something of a surprise, especially since the ‘us’ includes Jaca.  But as soon as we set out I discover Ixce’s reasons for having me along:  I carry things.  Our two buggies are loaded to the gills:  Ixce’s with Jaca and Quietus, mine with everything else.  It turns out that Ixce’s lander is full of experimental surprises, nearly all of which weigh more than Quietus.

We bump over the untracked Plain, Ixce and Jaca side by side in the lead, Quietus next to Ixce on his other side.  Jaca frequently needs Ixce’s supporting arm to steady her as their buggy lurches:  he is quick to assist, but she does not appear to complain when his hand steadies her thigh more than it needs, or accidentally touches her breast.

My supporting arm is employed in a manner similar to Ixce’s, but the stray leg of a tripod has not the same frisson of allure.  The thing – I never do find out what it is and Ixce certainly never uses it – actually falls off the buggy once, so that I have to stop to retrieve it.

“Careful with that!”  Ixce reminds me.  He murmurs something and Jaca giggles foolishly.

We journey for rather more than an hour, down into the basin where the greatest intensity of Smokedog fires occur.  As if by some prearranged signal, Quietus suddenly jumps from his seat on Ixce’s buggy, at which Ixce stops.  I nearly run into the back of him.

Now we set off on foot behind Quietus’s eager rear, Ixce and Jaca in earnest conversation, I in my role as porter.  Upon a rise thick with tall grasses Quietus stops and lays down, his dark stare focused on the depression beyond.  As soon as I see the look upon Ixce’s face I know that my pet has been communicating with him – probably all the way from the settlement.

“Are you content with me?  Do I serve you?”

You treacherous little rat!

Easing my burden from about me while making as little noise as possible, I join my prostrate colleagues at the rim of the basin, cautiously parting the grasses enough to see down into the undergrowth below.

“A Smokedog den.”  Ixce whispers to me, indicating a spot where the greenery appears to have been flattened, trodden into a natural circular amphitheatre.

“Rather light on Smokedogs.”  I point out.

“Quietus thinks they’ll be here soon.”  Does he now?  “Get my cameras, there’s a good chap.” For an hour we wait, while the sun climbs higher in the sky and cloud-galleons sail across the ocean of heaven.

Ixce asks, to pass the time:  “There was a dominant species here, wasn’t there?  Some form of anthropoid?”

“There are remains, for sure.”  Jaca replies.  “Ruined cities, stone monoliths, graves and grave goods.  We have quite a lot of archaeology back at base.  They reached a state of advancement rather similar to the Incas on Earth, then they died out.”

“We have no idea why,”  I add.  “Why they disappeared, I mean.  A sudden episode of some kind, like a meteor strike perhaps – no idea.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Oh, recent; quite recent.”  Jaca shifts herself uncomfortably.  “No more than a thousand years ago.”

I lie there, half-listening as Ixce and Jaca’s conversation dribbles on, but more intent upon the grasses rippling hazily in the midday heat.  So beclouding is the haze I nearly miss a sudden, purposeful movement in some scrub to our left.

“There!”

Within seconds our depression in the landscape is brimming with Smokedogs;  rangy brutes more than half as big again as my unfaithful servant Quietus – who now lies next to Ixce in the grass, his head between his paws; for all the world as though he were asleep.

No domestic pets these:  their eyes are the yellow of the timber wolf, their fangs long and curved. They move and weave among one another, collisions resolving themselves with a quick snarl and a flash of saliva-slick teeth as they enforce their seniority in the pack.  At the centre of the meeting-place the elder, larger Smokedogs gather, while those less prominent in the hierarchy retreat to form an outer circle.

As the lesser dogs settle themselves, those nearer the centre of the basin form groups of three or four or five.  From time to time, a dog will break from one group to join another.   All stand head to head as if engaged in conversation.    Fascinated, we watch this process, our personal difficulties put aside:  we are the first humans to get close to a Smokedog parliament.

“They are interacting in social groups!”  Jaca whispers. “Malcor, does this remind you of anything?”

Then, as if upon some spoken command, all the Smokedogs lie down, old and young in two concentric circles, facing an arena which is now completely clear.

Silence.  No movement – not even a breath.

We wait.

From somewhere in the long grass to the east there rises a deep, resonant baying sound – a Smokedog giving tongue.   Every dog in the pack raises its head, stretches its vocal cords to give one united answer; rising and falling – a sound to chill the warmest heart, a threat of something more direful than doom itself.

I hear Jaca gasp.  Out into the clearing comes a lone dog, emerging from the grass with slow, uncertain tread – but such a dog!  Whether from great age or from disability (I cannot know) it is gnarled and twisted into a grotesque parody of its species:  lips drawn, tongue lolling, eyes closed.  Its pelt hangs from it in matted festoons of fur, its legs drag it along as if they might any moment give way beneath it.  But all these trials are as nothing by comparison with the immensity of its belly, which gives the animal the appearance of an obscenely bloated bladder with legs, so stretched and hardened that it looks as if it must burst at any second.

Reaching the centre of the arena this repugnant creature staggers and falls.  Around it, the mature dogs begin a gentle whimpering, while those younger bloods of the outer circle give vent to their excitement in yaps and yelps.

I know something of import is about to happen – I cannot possibly predict what.  Glancing at my companions I see similar expectation written upon their faces.   Jaca is first to understand.

“Oh my god it’s catching fire!”

A flicker of red flame has appeared, around the elbow joint of the dog’s front leg.  Tiny at first, it dips and dances in the wind – innocent, almost as though it has strayed there, quite by chance; a burning leaf perhaps, or some wraith conjured by spirits.  But within the wreckage of the creature a much fiercer heat is gathering – its flesh begins to ripple and crack.   Daggers of fresh flame escape, piercing skin, splitting joints apart with cushions of white heat; and yet it moves!

Ixce points to the paws, still probing feebly at the soil.  “It’s dead!  It must be dead!”  But it is not.

With a last despairing howl from its blackened mouth it rolls, exposing a stomach burned open by a forest of flame – and now its whole carcass is ablaze – a raging inferno of such heat that even with our gift of distance I feel compelled to shield my face.

“Spontaneous combustion!”  Ixce whispers, awe in his voice.  “Oh, look at this!”

The burning dog is now no dog at all.  It is a furnace, but a furnace with purpose.  For squirming and shaking itself in the midst of the flames a vague shape, a Smokedog shape, is forming.  No sooner has this creature found its feet than it leaps from the fire: naked of fur but unmistakeably one of Quietus’s brethren – nearly-grown and refulgent with flame!

The fiery creature stands before the inferno which spawned it – head low, white-hot eyes intent upon its mother’s remains.  At once all the dogs around the arena give tongue – a sound I have so often heard but never, until now, understood – then the outer circle of the pack parts to make room for its new member and it bounds through the space that is made, right to the very eastern rim of the basin, before turning to give a long howl in answer, a majestic, luminous miracle baying fire to the sky.  We look on, deprived of speech, as the newly born’s flesh seems to finally extinguish itself, gradually cooling.  Only when the hot fury of its cremated parent has diminished to more moderate proportions does it join the outer ring.  Two dogs move aside to provide space and it lies there, scorched, a haze of smoke hanging over it.

The pack stays for a while, its senior dogs conversing approvingly, we must assume, in their little groups, before drifting away, two by two, back into the long grass.  And their new comrade follows, leaving a smouldering carcass to burn on into the dusk.

That evening we gather on the Observation Deck, Jaca, Ixce, Quietus and I, ready with our assembled thoughts to explain what we have seen.

“Simple.”  Ixce says.  “We see dogs, we think puppies.  But Smokedogs don’t have fluffy little babies, they reproduce by fire.  It isn’t such an untenable concept:  the ancients believed that a certain breed of lizard – the Salamander – was born in a similar way.  We witnessed a pregnant female giving birth – now we have to develop upon the science surrounding it.”

“Awesome!”  Jaca breathes.  “One thing troubles me, though.  Did we, or did we not witness the behaviour of a dominant species today?  I mean, why have they never interfered with us?”

“They don’t see us as a threat?”  I suggest.  “One small settlement – a research station, really, nothing more.  Perhaps if we tried to expand it would be different.”

“I’m new here.”  Ixce interjects; “You’re the geologist, Malcor:  have we any reason to expand?”

“Possibly.  I’m finding evidence of ore, although no sign of deposits yet.”

“If we do,”  Jaca says,  “I think we should be very careful.  I can’t exactly explain why, but I believe those creatures were responsible for wiping out the Palataians.”

“And learnt from them,” I agree.  “That was just like a Palataian religious gathering today.    Their meeting-place was organised like a temple.”

“Wow!  Wild stuff!”  Ixce thumps the air with his fists.  “Come for a drink,  Malcor;  I want a word, if I may?  You stay here, Jaca my darling:” He gives my darling a meaningful look; “Keep Quietus company, will you?”

Jaca distracts Quietus, tickling his tummy in a way he finds irresistible as we leave together.  This is an unusual grouping and from Ixce an unusual request.  I confess myself puzzled.

“I needed to get us away from that damned animal.”  Ixce explains:  “Do you know, Malcor, the blessed creature has been picking my brains with mathematical and quantum theory questions all day?  It’s a dog, for god’s sake!”

“Anything you couldn’t answer?”  I ask mildly.

“That’s cheeky!  No.  But what a brain!”  He takes my arm.  “We’re on the edge of something very big, here, Malcor – very big!  I require your help.”

“How?”

“All the way back this afternoon I was worrying about a way to get hold of a specimen of these creatures, and then it struck me – we have one in our midst!  We have to dissect Quietus, old chap.  I’m going to need an extra pair of hands to subdue him.”

“Quietus?  You’re going to kill him?”

“Name of research, Malcor – we have to do these things.  I want to see how he works – understand that incredible density of his.  First thing after breakfast tomorrow, bring him to the lab.  Don’t be late!”

As it happens, I do not see Quietus again that night.

In the quarters we have shared for most of five years I find Jaca folding the last of her clothes into a travel bag.

“Malcor, my dear:  I’m so sorry.”

“You’re moving in with him?”

“We both knew….”

“Yes.”  I am plunging into some bottomless pit.  “I suppose we did.”

“We have to work together.  We mustn’t fall out over this.”

“No.  Mustn’t fall out.  Friends.”

I do not rise early the next morning:  for a while I lie in our bed, wondering whether to bother to rise at all.  When I get to breakfast I cannot really eat, but pick absently at my food – drink too much coffee; a lot too much.

I am alone.  The crew, who always start early, have finished and gone about their business.  No sign of Ixce – I try not to imagine him lying with Jaca – try not to picture them together:  but no sign, either, of Quietus.  Has he divined his fate with that perfect instinct of his and gone into hiding somewhere?

Jaca comes to the table.  We glance awkwardly at each other, I for my part half-expecting to see the flushed complexion of new love, but Jaca does not reward me:  if anything, she seems a little flustered.

It is a while before the silence is broken.  One of us has to do it.  Me.

“Where’s Ixce?  Sleeping late?”

Jaca mutters so quietly I cannot hear.

“Sorry?”

“I don’t know where he is.”  She says with a hint of bitterness.  “When I woke up this morning he had gone.  I think Quietus must be with him – he’s gone, too.”

An unwelcome presentiment prompts me to look inside the lab, but it is empty and as pristine as it was after cleaning last night.

When I return to the breakfast table, Jaca is still there, her head in her hands:

“Something happened, didn’t it?”  I ask her.

“No!  No, nothing….”

“Come on, Jaca.  I can read your moods well enough by now.  Tell me!”

“It was wrong!  I can’t explain it – he’s different somehow.  It’s as if his head is somewhere else – as if he’s almost forgotten who I am!  Then, when I woke up….  Look, I’m sure it’s nothing; nothing at all.”

“Sure.”  I can see the truth in Jaca’s eyes.  Right decisions, wrong ones.  We all make them.  “History doesn’t always repeat itself,”  I say, and she understands.

Slowly, the hours of morning pass.  We attack our work mechanically, going through our tasks with minds apart, thoughts too deep and personal to share.  Out on the plains the Smokedog fires burn.  I am outside with my seismic experiments, watching as one of the newer fires flares, and because of my greater knowledge closer to it than I have ever been.

At around midday, as I walk down the hill to check upon a malfunctioning receptor, I discover the blood.  There is a considerable quantity of it; dark and tacky, no more than twelve hours old.  The bushes around it are broken and trampled with struggle:  studying it more closely I begin to find particles of flesh and bone, shreds of cloth from an outdoor suit.  With churning stomach I extract slides from my kit, taking samples.

Jaca joins me in the lab, made fearful by my urgency.  Together we work to identify the victim, a deepening horror growing within us both.  There is no doubt.

When the final hammer falls, Jaca runs sobbing from the room.  I gather the crew together for a solemn announcement.

“Science Officer Ixce was attacked and most probably killed – either last night or this morning.”  I tell them. “We have to try and find him.  Draw arms from the secure cupboard and break out the armoured buggies.  We may have a fight on our hands.”

“Do we know what got him, Malcor?”  A security officer asks.

I shake my head.  “I only know of one predator on this part of the planet.  It has to be the Smokedogs.”

Then I ask, as an afterthought:  “Has anyone seen Quietus?”

No-one has.

It occurs to me that no-one has ever tried to shoot a Smokedog, and I wonder briefly how susceptible that thick, solid flesh will be to our primitive bullets:  we are, after all, a research station, unworthy of sophisticated weaponry.

Jaca joins me as I work over my gun, her features pale and strained.  “Ixce’s lander is fuelled up;” She reminds me:  “Wouldn’t it be useful as a scout?”

I shake my head.  “Too fast.  Not much in the way of censor equipment, either – it’s just a standard shuttlecraft.”

The crew are at the back of the settlement, starting up the three armoured buggies we use in a security alert.  I have no battle plan.  I am not a soldier.

“Let’s go and do it.”  I say.

We get no further than the communal area.

At first, the sight of Ixce’s naked form standing in the centre of the room refuses to register in my brain.  It is as if I am accepting an illusion; giving credence to a ghost.  Then, as the recognition that he is there slowly imposes itself, I can say or do nothing.  I find myself rooted to the spot.

Jaca’s strangled cry barely reaches my ears.  “Ixce!  Oh, Ixce!”

She starts forward as though she will embrace him, but somehow doesn’t:  a wall of doubt is there – science is there, saying no.  No, this cannot be.

“You – your blood.  Darling you must be hurt!  You must be!”

But you aren’t, darling, are you?

I find my tongue.  “Ixce.  You are supposed to be dead.”

Ixce cocks a quizzical eyebrow:  “Reports exaggerated?”

“No, my report.  You look extremely healthy for someone who must have lost at least eight pints of blood.”

He looks puzzled, really perplexed; as though he cannot fathom what either of us is talking about.

“Where have you been?  Where are your clothes?”  Jaca asks.

“Out.  I went out early. It’s so warm out there, and we all know each other’s bodies, don’t we?  I had to go back and have another look at those dogs, Malcor.  I told you I would, didn’t I?”

“No.  You told me something quite different.  Ixce – where’s Quietus?”

“How would I know?”

“Not certain, but I think somehow you do.”

Ixce shakes his head.  “Sorry, no bells ringing.  Now, I have to leave I’m afraid.  Everything finished here – all packed up!  If I’m prompt I’ll manage a rendezvous with the Silusia freighter:  get home quickly, eh?  Be nice to make Earth-fall again before summer’s over.”

“You’re leaving?”  Jaca cries incredulously.  “Just like that?  You said you’d stay – a tour of duty, you said.”

“Change of plans, Jaca dear.  Sorry.  Way things are, you know?”

I can only imagine the turmoil inside Jaca’s brain:  the scientist in her vying with the woman – the realist with the lover.  Yet it will take more than a psychological barrier to keep her from him now, her Gabriel, her Archangel.  She runs to him, arms wide to enfold him, heart bursting in her breast.  “Ixce darling, please?  You can’t!  You can’t!”

Before he can restrain her she has thrown herself upon him, arms around his shoulders, lips seeking his in a frightened, soulful kiss.  In that awful second he moans something, a word I cannot hear because the whole settlement is racked by Jaca’s scream.  She staggers back from him, arms akimbo, staring incredulously down at herself, her face frozen in shock.  She is burning, smoking, her flesh rising in blisters.  She stares at her hands:  “Ixce?  My god!”

Now for the first time I fix upon Ixce’s eyes – yellow eyes, slitted and angry:  I see his fingers, long and bent, the nails pointed.  I see the stoop of his flanks, full of spring and speed.  And I see the truth.

The last of our crew are coming back into the communal area, alerted by Jaca’s scream.

“Stop him!”  I tell them.  “Don’t let him get to the lander!”

Raising my own gun, I position myself between Ixce and the passage which communicates with our landing pad.  He advances.

“Worthless!”  His lip curls, his stare despises me.  “I was not for you, Malcor – I could never waste myself on you!”

I am backing off as I try to keep my gun trained upon him.  The malevolent yellow orbs of his eyes pierce my soul.

“So you waited, didn’t you?”  I am trying to keep my voice controlled, calm.  “You waited for a brain greater than any of the Palataians – the next step in your evolution – even if it had to come from another world.”

“We’ve waited years for this intellect – years!”  Ixce snarls.  “As it was with the Palataians, so it is with Ixce – consumed and reborn of fire!  Don’t try to stop me:  nothing can stop me!  You know that, don’t you, Malcor?  Don’t you!”

A hot hand, or claw as it may be, shoots out:  a vice grips my throat. I am held aloft, the flesh searing from my neck – spun around and flying, a helpless projectile aimed at the crew who do not scatter in time to avoid me.  In the melee of arms and legs I hear two shots fired before I black out.

By the time I come to the air is filled with the roar of the lander’s engines.  Quietus is right: nothing can stop him now.

Horribly burned, Jaca stands shaking with a rifle in her scorched hands.

“I fired twice,” she mumbles between swollen lips.  “I’m not sure if I hit him.”

And so it is.  I have sent a message to Starfleet, of course, but I am not believed – we none of us are.  Shortly after it was sent Jaca got her own confidential memo from them asking her to comment upon my ‘mental condition’.

I am packing now, taking a last look from the observation platform at the plains and the distant Smokedog fires.  Below me, a little semi-circle of Smokedogs sit, gazing up at me with looks which exude devotion.  I am of no use to them, of course.  Since Jaca confirmed my ‘apparent frailty’ I am bound for rehabilitation in the Betelgeuse system.  Realistically, I may be back at work within a year – maybe two.  Jaca and I speak rarely; we avoid each other most of the time – I doubt if she will even say goodbye.

And do the wires buzz with Ixce’s name?  Well no:  you see, shortly after Earth-fall he took a vacation with a very great friend of his, a political genius named Paka Sind.  When the hotel where they stayed caught fire only Paka Sind survived:  Ixce’s body has never been found.

Everyone speaks well of Paka and they say he will be Secretary-General one day.  Those who know him well remark upon his energy and the strange colour of his eyes……..

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

The Witchery Within

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It must be something in the sky!   The mild clouds, perhaps, dove grey to break winter to us gently.   Moving fast – they have so much to bring and so little time.  Or some newly created homeland in the earth beneath, layered, filo tier upon filo tier of leaf, carpet and roof, food and bed to the millions, the small unseen.  Indoors, the spider harlot waits upon the white enamel of the bath:  advertising cheap sex for the hungry wanderer, with a price too high for most.

Walking beneath the shedding trees, shoes cloyed with mud, face refreshed by the cleansing breeze, I need no reminding that every season is a cause for celebration, autumn as much as any.  ‘The summer fair, she has grown old’ – Nature takes a broom to the detritus of another year, and that’s excuse enough.   Amid the gathering gloom of evening I glance up into the tangled black of a half-naked sycamore beside my path, then glance again.  A part of a high bough is suddenly separated and an old woman’s cackle rattles through the branches as she flits away into a distance written for her by ten thousand years of superstition.  Speaking of brooms!

For my part, I will celebrate.  For as long as men can remember, All Hallows Eve has been as close to a night of overindulgence as their village could afford, when everyone huddled together for safety, lest a passing witch should pay them too much attention.

We don’t believe in witches now, yet we dress as though we did.  It’s as well that we don’t because we loose our children onto the streets in our defiance and imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but a feast of such morsels may be all too tempting for those watching crones.  Somehow (we need not look far to discover how) the solemn authenticity of Hallowe’en has been violated and reassigned as a night of gaiety and mirth.

Like each revel of legend – like Christmas, like Easter, Hallowe’en has become a plundering ground for the Barons of Consumerism.  No festival can be a festival now without a ‘retail experience’, a market for the usurers, the vintners, the purveyors, the costumiers (I flatter them – it is an enormous stretch to hinge a far eastern sweatshop upon the title of ‘costumier’), all no more than an ‘Enter’ keystroke away.   Hallowe’en is an instant inducement to buy and then cast aside.  Few know why they celebrate, but worse, even fewer will encourage their children to enquire.  The off-the-shelf costumes that drag our beloved progeny away from their video games for a couple of hours cost no more than a few dollars, a smattering of pounds, to provide.   84% of them will be glittering in the household trash within a few days.

A sizeable proportion of those costumes, those millions of costumes, is plastic.  Masks are almost certainly plastic, as are most cheap black cloaks and other accessories.    Pumpkins will be hollowed out and their perfectly edible flesh discarded without thought for how it might be better used.

In Britain, to add further insult to our already over-stressed environment, we will celebrate a second orgy of consumption within a week by releasing plentiful quantities of low-grade explosives into the ether while we cavort around as large a bonfire as we can possibly construct.

We should not be proud.    Many thousands of tons of plastic microbeads will be generated as a result of this Hallowe’en. They will pollute our rivers and our oceans for generations to come. The food we waste is not just our food but food for the world. The smell of cordite in the morning of November 6th should be enough to remind us the air we breathe is rationed.  It does not go on forever.

One of the few redeeming features of Guy Fawkes Night in the UK was a tradition whereby children earned a few coppers by constructing an effigy supposed to be of Guido Fawkes – which they trailed around the neighborhood, knocking on doors to beg a ‘Penny for the Guy’.  This seems to have died out, now, which is a shame because for the children to make a presentable Guy effigy took imagination and effort, and their use of straw and old clothes was creative recycling.  A similar creative experience awaits in the making of Hallowe’en costumes if we are prepared to grasp it,

So in your celebrations this Hallowe’en raise a glass to those families who have joined together in creating costumes from reusable materials, rather than buying them from a rail.  Spare a thought for those whose supper tables include at least one pumpkin pie.  If you must observe Guy Fawkes Night, think a little about the distress you cause to pets (and many people) for the sake of a few expensive bangs:  take your children to an organized display.  Save yourself a fortune, and help to minimize the environmental damage as much as you can.

Here’s a post which began as one thing, then took an unexpected turn, though when you dissect the subject matter the connection is obvious, really.  The glory of autumn, or fall, is not in its colours or its earthy scents, or even in the changing of the seasons, mud beneath our feet, relief from the oven of summer: no, it is in a different kind of celebration, a celebration of perfection.  For Nature of herself exhibits, in these few months, an act of crucial balance in which everything that was brief is changed, and all that is permanent remains untouched.  She does this with the absolute reassurance of power, which at times we are so arrogant as to believe we have conquered.  We have not.

As we enjoy our festivities – as well we might, for every year gets a little harder than the one before – we would do well to remember that for every blow we strike to the planet upon which we live there is a riposte;  in the end, all our debts must be repaid.

Photo credit:  Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

Season of Spirits

I’m cheating a little this week! As other home issues demand my time, I thought I’d take the soft option and reblog this post. It seems appropriate, if a little ‘before the event’, and I really cannot find any more original material applicable to these next two weeks of wierdness…

Frederick Anderson

‘Tis the season when a young man’s thoughts lightly turn to pyromania.

Tonight parents everywhere are wearily steeling themselves; priming fuses, arranging GuidoFawkesGunpowderPlotspills, offering anxious fingers to the wind: in a few hours they will be standing in their urban back gardens eating half-cold, half-cooked barbecue food, handing out blunt advice on the appropriate use of sparklers and launching extremely expensive fireworks into dense, impenetrable fog. Their progeny’s cries of amazement will prove to be in inverse ratio to money spent, and after fifteen minutes of anticlimax most will retire indoors to drink themselves into a stupor. Only a hardened few will linger to savor cordite laden air, in darkness softened by the red glow from next door’s shed.

For many it will be the second party in less than a week. They will still be desperately sponging beer stains from their rented Hallowe’en costumes, or clasping their heads in…

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Animal heaven is where…

If it isn’t, this should be true! Thank you ‘Incarcerated Shadows’ = please do visit his site…

Incarcerated shadows

Animal heaven is where…
By AJ O’Brien.

Dogs ride little green bicycles
and take kittens for a ride,
where when the sun goes down
lions and deer, sleep side by side.

Where every Friday, foxes gather
along with hamsters and chickens,
upon a cloud of silken white
to discuss the works of Charles Dickens.

Where bats have super eyesight
and giraffes never have sore throats,
grizzly bears wear nose pegs
when dancing with smelly goats.

Where horses race snails
and snakes are never ever mean,
all frogs have a leg on each corner
and cows sing in fields of green.

Where all ants are named Eric
and ducks wear little blue hats,
dolphins sunbathe on the beach
and penguins are super acrobats.

Where tigers drink red wine
and spiders weave webs of gold,
fish swim and are never caught
and polar bears don’t know the word cold.

Animal Heaven is…

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