In honor of the best event the calendar year offers, I’m posting another little look at my own interactions with the misty realms of which we know but dimly, with an explanation of Why I Believe in Ghosts. Like last year’s excursion, the most startling thing about the whole affair is the title of this announcement post. Also like last year’s post, this is not to say that there aren’t chills to be had from reading it… if you consider the broader and ongoing implications of true ghost stories.
The season of incandescent ursine juggling has passed, and I am able to bash out a story in pursuit of the Friday Terribleminds Challenge. The most current item is to be about a tree.
So that’s what I’ve done, and it’s called Sheltered. Like the last time, it’s more fantasy than anything else. I appear to be running all my horror into the novel… and into my reactions to current events, which I will not mention in any further detail.
Well. Last week I didn’t get anything in on the flash challenge, because, as I mention in a couple of places, the day job briefly took on all the power to distract and exhaust of attempting to juggle bears which are on fire (without actually being interesting, alas, alas). This week, there’s no challenge in the hopper, and it only just now occurs to me that I could work up a story based on the previous one, even if I’ve missed the chance to effectively brag about it in the comments of someone else’s blog. Later, on that.
For the moment, though, I wanted to share a picture I’ve just seen over on Facebook:
The description of this photo was “Lovecraft with the Lee boys in West Guilford, Vermont, June 10, 1928.” Before we get into mundanity… I would be somewhat concerned if I were to step out of my Vermont farm-house in 1928 to discover this motley bunch of roughs. This is somewhat before Dillinger, Floyd, Barrow and Parker made the US famous for its swarms of tommy-gunning celebrity thieves, but all the same, this looks like a proper crime-film wrecking crew. From right to left, you’ve got:
- The Burly One whose heart probably isn’t in it. He’s there mainly to try to keep The Kid from getting into trouble;
- The Little Guy with something to prove. If only his brothers hadn’t teased him so, he might have gone off to the city and devoted what is a real potential to something positive, just like Brenda in school told him he could. He never even noticed how much she doted on him;
- The Handsome One, but really just the one who thinks he’s handsome. He also thinks he’s the leader, and is utterly unaware of how badly things are about to spin out of control;
- The Kid, who probably ain’t right in his haid. He tags along, the way he’s always tagged along. They’d have ditched him back at home, if it wasn’t for that one time which he refers to as, “When I hugged Ma too tight and made her cry.”
- The Mastermind, bright only by comparison to the others. Not family, he’s less bound by paternal loyalty and knows that this runs both ways. All the worse, then, that he’s prone to sudden fits of seething anger. He always carries a straight-razor in his jacket pocket, seldom letting go of it. He calls it Evelyn, and has whispered conversations with it when he thinks the others are asleep.
Heck, you can even picture it as a poster:
Lovecraft and the Lee Boys
These men are dangerous.
DO NOT APPROACH!
Cash reward for information leading to capture of one or all.
For those who take an interest in reality, a very little research reveals the Lees to be neighbours of Vrest Orton, who I will call a journalist with a rather diversified career, and who Lovecraft knew and vacationed with. They’re (probably) not a dangerous bunch of backwoods moonshiners.
Well, look at that. I’m holding to a resolution, at least for a second week, and developing a story for the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge again despite huge if unconscious opposition from the non-writing elements of my life. This week’s challenge was a quite simple one: a story about good versus evil.
He who provides the challenge declares that its inspiration was no more than the fact of watching a horror film. I will admit that I allowed a little of current events to colour the small not-quite-steampunk fantasy of Between Good and Evil, Some Grey; there are some things that you just can’t claim neutrality in without at least tacitly supporting one side.
Yes, indeed. While I am still devoting the largest part of my creative energy and time to the novel, I’ve decided that I’m going to make a serious effort at posting some fresh fiction here more than once every… six(ish) months. I am motivated in this by reading the work of other authors.
Particularly, by the blog of Chuck Wendig. He does a regular flash fiction challenge over there, and while spending idle moments at the day job reading through back numbers, I was struck with this thought– a prompted flash fiction is something that I can probably do during these same idle moments, and a prompted flash fiction with a deadline means I might actually put words where people may enjoy them (hopefully) before the projected end of the second draft effort on the novel. Which may, possibly, be done by early December.
So, today we have I Held Your Heart Once. The title comes from the challenge, as do the first and last sentences. I might have been at this sooner, but those three elements were the products of the previous three challenges. You can, therefore, understand me to be blaming a famous and rather good author for keeping me from posting any new writing here for a month.
You can. But I think I’d prefer if you didn’t. I’ve been busy.
Still here. Still writing, too, although given the pace of updates you’d hardly know it– as of last report, the first draft of the novel was 73% complete, so there’s a vague hope the second draft will be ready for critical comment before the end of the year.
I do not have as much time to devote to my art as I could wish.
That’s the reassurance dealt with. Now, onto the digression: I was reading something today which brought to mind King Cnut. He’s less well known than his Anglo-Saxon propagandist’s version of himself, King Canute, which is a shame. The “Free the Danelaw” telling of his story has him standing up to his ankles in water, yelling futilely at the incoming tide in a fit of shoe-wrecking hubris. The other side of the story is a little more interesting.
There were, it seems, an awful lot of hangers-on, lickspittles, and blowers-of-smoke at the court of Cnut. This makes sense, given the relative power of his kingdom; loads of victories, no neighbours that gave any serious worries, and ferocious armed forces on tap. Cnut was troubled by this preponderance of yes-men, because when he said “Do we think it’s a good idea to raid Wantage again?” he wanted actual opinions and not a load of “Ooh, you can do anything because you’re so big and strong.” Even when he told them that there were no wrong answers, there was a worrisome amount of scraping and cries of, “Of course, your Majesty, it is as you say, and your wisdom is infallible.” He took to formulating a plan.
“I understand that I am the greatest king in the world,” he said to his assembled jarls. A few, because there are always a few, rolled their eyes or considered the bottom of their mead-horns. The rest, even those who might have heard of places like Constantinople, agreed loudly.
“So, anything I command will come to pass?”
A chorus of avid agreement followed.
“Let’s give that a try. Court’s adjourned, and we’ll reconvene on the shore at the turn of the ebb.” They being a seafaring lot, the members of the court has a good sense of the tides, so this wasn’t as obscure to them as it is to us modern watch-owners, and they all toddled out at the correct time. There sat Cnut, on his throne, on the damp sand a few feet above the water line, wearing his best shoes.
“Since you’re all so certain of my powers of command, it will come as no surprise to you that I can order the tide to stay where it is, because I don’t want to wreck these really nice shoes I’m wearing.”
The eye-rollers, who had the sense to stand toward the back of the crowd, rolled once more. The general murmur of agreement had somewhat less fervour than previously, but was still general. After all, he is the great and awesome Cnut; I’m not going to be the one to say otherwise.
“Right.” Cnut turned his head to yell over his shoulder. “Oi! Ocean! Knock off that tide! Stay right where you are!”
Five minutes later, the royal shoes were extremely damp. They carried Cnut up the strand, where he stopped and said, “I hope you dummies get it– I may be your king, and a damn good king when compared to the others, but I’m also human. I have limits. I’m sick of you lot playing suck-up, and the next time you don’t give an honest opinion when I ask for one, remember this. You’re in the court to be helpful, not decorative.”
He may also have had a couple of the more obsequious members of the court judicially murdered, because they were a fairly rough’n’tumble bunch, and nothing drives home a lesson like an execution. History is silent on this point.
The thing which brought this to mind is this article regarding someone who has gone… a different direction than Cnut. You might almost feel sorry for its subject; consider, if that emotion kindles in your bosom, the amount of misery he’s caused for others over the years. Any price he’s currently paying is but a taste of the interest on his karmic debt, never touching the substance.
I was listening to a fellow speaking of human sleep arrangements lately, and on the way to his main point, he mentioned some people from the Solomon Islands objecting to what their London hosts thought was lavish treatment, a separate hotel room for each one of their party. “What,” I’m told they asked, “if one of us has a nightmare?”
Dreams are funny things. I can see how people can come around to the notion that they present a window on an actual separate reality, since there is sometimes such a wealth of detail in unfamiliar settings that it is very hard to credit the subconscious with such inventive powers.
…but then there are the dreams in which things are so deeply wrong that you really, really hope there’s nothing at all to that notion, because the partitions between the wings of the multiverse are just not thick enough if that stuff is on the far side.
Guess which sort I’m going to recount for you? I have been battering away at the novel and a story for an anthology I’d quite like to get into, and so haven’t been able to run up stories for this enterprise in a while, but last night’s vision of global, possibly universal, destruction was so affecting, I thought I should at least try to squeeze some of it out of my head for presentation here. So, if you ever wondered idly to yourself, “What sort of nonsense is running around inside the heads of writers,” I offer a small but vibrant sample. Be careful to not get any on you, it is almost certain to stain your clothes.
I do not claim to be a poet. The closest I approach the claim is to wish aloud that I had the attention to linguistic detail that real poetry calls for. However, something fell out of me yesterday that looks vaguely like a poem, and it pleases me enough that I’m reproducing it here so I don’t lose it as it trundles along on Twitter’s endless conveyor belt. It’s not deep, but it’s fun:
I call plural octopus
a crowd of octopodes
more than one rhinoceros
must be rhinocerotes.
Well… not really.
There is the British tradition of creepy stories at this time of year, as exemplified by most of M.R. James’s output, and I can more or less hang Occasional Lapses of Service on that hook. I suspect James would probably chastise me slightly for stepping away from one of his very useful guidelines in the writing of ghost stories, one which I generally cling to pretty firmly– but it’s not really a ghost story either, so I will nod my head in admission of the departure without feeling that I’ve actually strayed from the path.
It is also not a traditional Christmas story in most other senses of the that phrase, even though there is a passing reference to carol singing. It is, however, presented only days ahead of Christmas, and is meant as a gift to the world in general.
And now, as last year, it’s time to get seasonal liver damage through the fat and alcohol content of egg nog, and cuddle my son while we decide if that noise on the roof is a reindeer, a lead-footed squirrel (of which we’ve many in the neighbourhood), or something else entirely. Wæs hæil, everyone!
I’m offering a story today, Remarkable Value, Unbeatable Location, for which I had to look backward in my own life to get some of the details. I’m currently living the North American dream, revelling in my status as owner-occupier of a fully detached single dwelling. Apart from not having anyone but myself to complain to when the drains get clogged, it’s pretty good stuff. I have previously rented, as the last story indicated, and before that I lived in a variety of apartment situations (although the vertical four-plex in Korea was apparently called a ‘villa’, despite the Korean trouble with the letter V, to distinguish it from one of units in the vast thousand-person blocks). It’s the apartment life that the current story is founded in.
Anyone who has lived in an apartment setting will have a story or two about inconsiderate neighbours– it may be over-egging to call it a common horror, but if you think of is as an induced inability to relax in your own home… well, that’s pretty horrible. The Romans were onto something, calling apartment buildings insulae— like shipwreck survivors washed onto the shores of an island, the people living in a block find themselves sharing accommodation with a bunch of strangers. Even if there aren’t cannibals and tigers, things can get a bit tense because none of them have quite the same idea of correct conduct.