Mars is not quite as close as it was in the summer… but that’s of no accord, as the scrutiny I’m thinking of is terrestrial.
I’m pretty sure of that, at least.
This tiny entry, silly Martian excursions aside, is just to point out an entry on the Diabolical Plots blog which made me giggle like schoolgirl– it’s their Best of Pseudopod list for last year, and there I am in company with some really, really good authors. In the vast sweep of human endeavour, I suppose it’s not a huge thing, but it made my heart grow three sizes.
In the happy metaphorical way, rather than a life-threatening literal manner. If I am short of breath, it is simply from delighted laughter.
Dutch is not the equal of German when it comes to menacingly long compound words, but sometimes it offers up a good’un.
Today is the festival of St. Nicholas, familiarly Sinterklaas to the Dutch, when good kids get a present and bad kids get threatened with abduction to Spain, because we’re still upset about the Thirty Years War and colonialism. We won’t, to avoid roaring arguments about racism versus cultural heritage, think too hard about St. Nick’s sidekick who does the abducting. Let’s just imagine a regional variant of Krampus and leave it at that.
ANYWAY, by way of observing Sinterklaasje and honouring my own paternal heritage, and to also nod to the British seasonal tradition of a ghost story, I’m posting Wassail today. Keep warm, as the sun prepares for its bounce off the southern limit of its yearly wobble, and if you have a sufficiency of bounty please share it with your fellows.
I am once again inspired in my own direction by the… seasonal?… decor of the White House. This year’s is a little closer to conventionally festive than last year’s, but it’s still a little odd. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be something I’d feel the need to handle.
The last couple of years, I’ve offered a Hallowe’en treat of true ghost stories. This year I find I can’t do that, because despite keeping an eye open, I haven’t seen any more ghosts, ghostly activity, or even things that with a bit of a stretch might be interpreted as such.
I was on the edge of telling a story of the worst scare I ever got as a kid (and which I will likely present next year about this time, unless something obligingly rattles a chain at me in the interim) when slowly-collapsing memory a non-ghostly event which still counts as eerie. When I first told it, I would describe it with only some irony as Fortean, and I think that’s still a good broad label for it– some weird junk that happened, for which I have no ready explanation.
It is not hair-raising, alas, but it is unsettling. Might it happen again? What’s behind it? Who can say?
Of course, by now your main question is likely just what is it? Well, turn the page and examine the Hallowe’en mystery of The Fire Over Yonder… if you dare.
I’m sure you dare. Here’s Vincent Price to encourage you:
Back at the beginning of a summer, I heard of a contest being run by Owl Canyon Press, for their 2018 Short Story Hackathon. It was open as far as genre went, and had a fairly interesting set up. The story could only be fifty paragraphs long, but the contestants could only write forty-eight. The first and last were provided, and were not to be amended in any way. To keep people from turning it into a very tall, slender flash fiction, there was also a requirement that paragraph be of a minimum number of words. I imagine that an urge to keep from padding that word count with “umm, well, you see, errr” led to the final restriction, which demanded that there be no directly quoted speech. One could write He began the opening oration from Shakespeare’s Henry V but He took a deep breath and said, “Oh, for a muse of fire…” would be a disqualification.
The prize was publication, and an invitation to attend a shindig… even in a small town with a somewhat mysterious name. Well, heck, I like shindigs and getting published, and there was no entry fee, so I joined something like nine hundred other writers in offering a story.
I did not win!
Given the size of the field, and the relative infrequency of any given writer impressing any given editor, this is not unexpected. I do not mourn, nor tend a bruised ego. Indeed, I built a silver lining into this whole affair. Even as I was writing the story, I resolved that if it failed to capture the prize, I would not put it into the submission carousel, but I would directly pass it along to the readers of this enterprise.
So, here we are. Prolonging the Inevitable is a bit of a frolic in the region of weird that butts up against both fantasy and horror. It is, ironically enough, a bit of contemplation on what the real nature of life’s defeats might be. Remember the old saying– every time a door closes, the things outside start wriggling down the chimney.
But the world does not like too much joy in it. Thus, some grudge-bearing (I assume) terrestrial tetrapod did the hacking equivalent of putting a shotgun to the back of the head of AE‘s online facility. The site went down so soon after I sent back the edits that I thought I might have been to blame for it, and they weren’t able to even explain to the world what happened for weeks. That explanation was the beginning of a very long road to getting back online.
The return has been accomplished– a soft launch, at the moment, which I assume means “Sound the trumpets! Release the doves!” major official re-launch is in the near future… but I can’t wait for that because I’ve been waiting almost two years to say aloud that I have had a story published by AE!
As I did with my last external publication, I’m going to put a link in the sidebar for… a while… to make sure it’s accessible. I will also, as with the Pseudopodannouncement last spring, express how amazed I am to find myself one of such a company of writers. There’s some very good writing there, and I urge anyone who goes there from here to linger, to wander through the stacks, and examine some of the other work, because your time will be rewarded with enrichment.
For my part, I’m going to have a long lie-down. All this jumping up and down, squealing with unalloyed glee, is rather tiring.
As many people do, I was looking at Twitter today, and I saw several people gaping in wonder at this article (in the virtual way one gapes on Twitter):
I join in the gaping. Leaving aside the fact that I do actually accept these premises she’s troubled by, I’m trying to picture the sort of person who looks at their own children and says, “You’re going to have to earn your healthcare and education,” because in their mind this is the underpinning axiom of their nation’s origin.
Which in turn suggests that their nation was founded on the premise that the only good is the war of all against all, that the proverbial crab-bucket of continual mutually-opposed striving is a good place to live (rather than a kind of living hell), and that at best any interactions between humans, regardless of relationship, are transactions in which all parties are clutching for maximum advantage with piratical avidity.
I am very glad to not be living in that nation, but I have a little vignette of life there to share with you. It came to me almost the moment I read that squib above.
Follow me in imagination now, to the end of a day in early winter, or perhaps late fall– a day which might be called a holiday, by those whose jobs are so bafflingly open-handed as to allow days off, one on which the roasting of a turkey is part of the traditional observance. The house into which we observers seep is following that tradition. Let us extend our senses so far as to enjoy the aroma of the bird, basted to perfection, as it rests on the carving board beside the oven.
There, standing guard by the bird, is dear old Dad. He holds the carving knife in one hand, and the other sits lightly on the warm breast of the turkey, as if without his intervention it might bound up and fly away. His eyes never rest: they track from Mom’s final preparation of the gravy to the dining room door, through which the kids’ moans of hunger can be heard, and back.
Mom, finished, pours the gravy into its silver boat. She glances at Dad, but he notices and tenses, ready for whatever she might try. She simply sets the gravy on the tray with the potatoes and stuffing, and carries it all into the dining room. There, she stands against the wall, tray held up where the kids cannot reach, visible from the kitchen. Dad, after contemplating the situation for a moment, nods. He picks up the carving board and carries it in. He does not notice when Mom surreptitiously sucks a mouthful out of the gravy.
The kids sit first, across from each other at the foot of the table. Junior is on the left, because he is able so shove Sis away from the chair; he is older and slightly larger. Sis sits beside Mom on the right. She is very young, and sometimes the looks she bestows upon Mom, a desperate pleading in her great hollow eyes at each and every meal, are such that Mom almost gives in to the strange urge to give her child unearned food. Almost.
Mom has a strong faith. She is involved, and she is certain of her nation’s founding and history.
Dad sits last. There is no setting in his place, and the turkey goes down right in front of him, out of easy reach of the others, well within the arc he can sweep with the carving knife– the scars on Mom’s and Junior’s arms attest to that.
There are two plates in front of Mom, the bottom one pink, the upper one blue, because in this family we are mindful of there being exactly two genders. Dad looks at the blue plate and says through clenched teeth, “May I have some potatoes, please?”
The bowls are perilously close to Junior, but the swollen knuckle he will have for the rest of his life reminds him how fast and hard Mom’s serving spoon can move. He merely sits, watching, as she takes a single scoop of potatoes from the bowl– her bowl, brought into the marriage and her domain– and puts it on Dad’s plate. He asks for stuffing and gravy as well, and as he does so, he moves the knife suggestively on the bird’s breast, away from the wing, toward the keel. At last, Mom pushes his plate over, keeping her hand on her side lest he think she is trying to get unearned meat.
Satisfied with the transaction, and mindful that she has contributed labour to the feast, Dad cuts a thick slice of breast. He reaches across, the meat impaled on the end of the knife, to drop it on Mom’s plate. A tear tracks its way down Sis’s pale cheek.
Now the kids have a chance, through recitation of chores completed, to prove they have earned some of the turkey. Dad is generally unimpressed; the things these kids do are so simple, requiring neither skill nor strength. In the end, he flips a wing toward Junior. Sis gets a postcard of skin; not only does she do so much less than her older brother, but she has terrible diction. This is common among children under five, but Dad sees no reason to make exceptions to The Rules on that basis.
Mom also gives the kids some of the food in her keeping. Dad sneers at how she coddles them– almost a whole scoop of potatoes split between them, and a brimming tablespoon of gravy a piece.
They say their prayers, because saying prayers is an important element of life in their nation. The words are all familiar, but the sentences convey no meaning to any member of the family.
Right hand still clutching the knife, Dad thrusts the fingers of his left hand into the uncut breast of the turkey which he bought using his money, tearing away a fat handful of the juicy fowl. He never takes his eyes off the others as he crams the meat into his mouth. They never take their eyes off him as they begin to eat, except to dart a wary glance at the others.
Eventually, Dad is sated. Let’s follow him as he pushes away from the table, taking the largely denuded carcase away with him. He has a padlocked fridge in his study, where he can save the leftovers. He smiles at the sounds of covert struggle behind him. The kids don’t fear the fork Mom holds as much as they do his knife, and they’ll make out just fine from the scraps on the floor. Mom, of course, will claim whatever gobbets still lie on the table-top, as is her due.
All in all, it’s a feast that honours what they all understand is the founding precept of their nation:
No, the anniversary present involves going out to a nice sushi restaurant, son in tow, and eating until we’ve all got That Innsmouth Look. This because we like sushi, we don’t have use for any more china (which is what “tradition” has as appropriate for this year) and watching my son eat “exotic” food gives me strange joy. But while we’re off doing that, there’s no reason that people who aren’t us can’t enjoy a short story about revenge, which is precisely what Dig Two Graves is about.
A small semi-spoiler of a note to go with it, which I will go down a couple of lines to reveal:
OK. Here it is:
I am not specific about the offense at the bottom of the vendetta. I was intending to be less so, to the point that I chose the name “Felix” as being reasonably close in meaning to “Fortunato” without actually lifting from Poe. That I then give a sense that there is some actual reason behind the plot beyond a possibly-imaginary “thousand injuries” is probably a tacit admission that I’m perhaps not quite as good at this writing wheeze as was Poe… but you may also ponder just how culpable Felix is