The new Current Story has given me a lot of trouble. Reticence is the third title I’ve hung on it, and while it’s the best so far I’m still not quite settled on it. It also is so quiet in its approach that I feel a qualm hanging the label Horror on it, but it really doesn’t agree with anything else. It’s more or less a ghost story, and definitely a story about haunting.
There is also a fairly open-ended game attached to this story. To do homage to one of my psychopathies, I’m going to give away a fountain pen to the first person to comment on this post who can identify the four literary references I’m making in the story. It’s not a very grand pen, but I like it enough myself to want to see it used more (I’ve got rather a lot of pens, and this one gets neglected in the crowd), and it comes in its original packaging so you can believe it’s brand new. It’s also probably less reward than the work attached to it justifies, as a couple of the references involved are pretty obscure.
So, those inclined to a free pen, get your thinking caps on. Name the authors and works I’m referencing, and remember that as on Jeopardy, a nearly correct answer may help another contestant. Unlike Jeopardy, the answer can be in the form of a statement, although question form will be admitted.
To comment, you have to tell the comment mechanism your email address. That’s how I’ll contact you. Please don’t put your address, email or otherwise in the comment; strange people may pester you. Date stamps on comments will be considered authoritative; first correct answer is the only winner.
I feel the effects of 11 November fairly deeply, although I live in a peaceful country. The giant wars of the last century involved Canada, but not as a theatre of operations, and apart from a brief and hopefully never-repeated recent bellicosity we incline more towards peace-keeping than peace-making (one of those euphemisms one can spend a long time unpacking), and yet the nature and value of military service frequently occupies my imagination and at certain times reduces me to prostrated grief. I don’t claim any virtue for this attitude; it may be a side-effect of having imagination or empathy to a certain degree, or it may just be a selfish echo of “thank goodness it wasn’t me”. There is certainly an element of selfish consideration in it, given that my father spent his childhood under Nazi occupation and I appreciate at second-hand those who levered him out from under the jackboot.
The point of what I mean to be a short entry is simply this. Think about the fallen, and those maimed in their body and mind by passing through the experience of war. If you don’t think about them at other times, then at least spare a minute for them tomorrow. I won’t presume to know the motivations of each soldier, but what they were about was at least presented to them as defending their fellows from death and oppression, and in pursuit of that defense they paid with curtailment or deformation of their entire future. Doesn’t that deserve at least a minute’s reflection, if not a regular offering of tears? Doesn’t it call for some consideration on how, as those for whom such price was paid, we might conduct ourselves in making the world the better place, in which such extravagant expenditure would never be called for again?
Utopian. Certainly. Still, even if you’re less flamboyant in your outlook, give them a thought.
This new Current Story is called Join the Chorus. I was somewhat startled, when I had it out for comment, to hear that it was full of Christian imagery– this is probably a result of having grown up in a country which has a majority of its population derived from European immigrants (or at least had– I think they’re still the biggest group, even if they no longer outnumber all others put together), and certainly wasn’t the intention. Possibly, since this wasn’t a universal response from the readers, those who made the comment were acting upon their own programming.
While I’m professing my secular inclinations, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Fountain Pen Day. May the first Friday in November find you with ink in your pen and a song in your heart!
Tomorrow being what it is, I have a small bit of more or less seasonal whimsy to offer for the new Current Story. We hear a lot of fatigue with one sub-genre of Horror or another; The Inconvenient Weekend of the Dead is my response to my own manifestation along those lines.
It is something of a cliche in modern drama to show a father who slowly discovers that his son is not quite what he’d expected. Denial crumbles before mounting evidence, until a dinnertime explosion of pointless injunctions shatters the family forever. Or until someone is about to perish of a fatal but photogenic disorder.
I’ll bet everyone reading this with any exposure to North American television has the scene clearly in mind already.
“But, Dad… I hate driving stock cars! I want to be a tree surgeon!”
“You’re no son of mine! Get out of my house!”
“Arthur, Daniel isn’t going to the prom… with a girl.”
Dinner flies into the air as Arthur flings the table aside to grab Daniel by the front of his shirt, the coveted Thanksgiving drumstick raised like a cudgel.
Yes? We’ve seen plenty of examples, haven’t we?
I’ve recently had to wrestle with such a disappointment inflicted by my own dear son. Because I am not a fictional character, not contrived and only slightly two-dimensional, I have almost come to terms with the problem through introspection and through gentle discussion behind closed doors with my wife, who is equally concerned.
I imagine that there has been an intake of breath by some readers, shocked at the characterization of the situation as “the problem”. If I’m not a two-dimensional caricature of paleolithic fatherhood, how can I think in such terms? Bear with me. This is very like finding myself in a place where gravity and down don’t both point in the same direction, and I am trying to come to terms with it in the best way I can.
I can at least defend my reaction as not springing from on the usual sources. If I’m right about those sudden shocked gasps I imagined, it’s probably because those who did so thought I had suddenly realized that my son was something other than cis-gendered. Put your minds at rest. That’s a possibility which my wife and I discussed back when the pregnancy first manifested, and that discussion was primarily one of hoping that the way for our child would be less rocky when the time of discovery came, if his or her inclinations ran that way, than it had been for those of our generation who were “different”. Because Fate apparently doesn’t want to present a non-issue to the well-prepared, our son appears to be as cisgendered as one might tell from a kid in grade two. He may not be neuro-typical (and we’ve got a diagnosis to lean on there), but in the gender department all appears to be exactly as the most bigoted parent could hope.
Where then the tragedy? Is he not assuming the mantle of my preferred sport? Spurning the great tradition of the men of his line in going out on the athletic field? Denying me the vicarious victories I was never quite a good enough player to achieve, the filthy little brute?
Well… possibly, but in a highly inverted way. Assuming I had two figs, I wouldn’t give either of them for sports. There is a slight danger, as I perceive things, that the lad is becoming interested in using the physical powers the particular blending of my and my wife’s DNA has bequeathed to him. He likes to run. He deadlifts his own weight for fun. He does handstands as a preparation for sleep. It’s unnerving. However, it’s not something I’m strongly enough against to rewrite the will over. As with the other thing, the main concern is that he’ll get hurt as a side-effect.
No, the matter which brings dismay into my heart and my wife’s heart, the baffling proclivity that I struggle to accept is… well, best to get it out and said.
My son doesn’t like Hallowe’en.
I need a moment.
To understand how this affects his parents, you have to realize how much Hallowe’en means to us. The general tone of the fiction I post here probably gives a clue, of course. My Facebook avatar for October is…
…who also provided a middle name for my son. A glance at the sort of junk I watch for entertainment would also give an insight, especially if you make allowances for things I’ve clearly watched because I have a young child under the same roof. My wife is the same way, as a recent Facebook post of hers suggests →
Hallowe’en is to us what I suspect hockey is to many other Canadians– a reason not to put out one’s own lights the moment autumn declares itself, and a source of fond memories to cling to through the cold part of the year. Before the appearance of our son, we would get the house decorated the way we had always hoped to as kids, because in our separate childhoods we appreciated people that went to a little trouble for the night that the vale thins.
Our son won’t have it, though. Even though the household decor is all low-key (some styrofoam grave markers, a relatively comical backpack-sized spider, a fog generator, some plastic skulls), he had gotten very quiet every Hallowe’en night since he was taking in information, and this year he actually came out and said it.
“I don’t like it.”
Parents all know that battles need to be chosen; losses are to be avoided, and pyrrhic victories are worse than a loss. When autism enters the scene– we are aware that we are faced with a very minor manifestation of the spectrum and daily give thanks for that– one has to emulate Sun Tzu in the battle-choosing department. There is little to be gained from fighting the Battle of Pumpkin Hollow but despair. That being the case, let all the despair fall on us, while he can have a happy night of pitching chocolate at his peers.
There is a potential of a silver lining. Casting my memory back, I find a portion of my own childhood in which the whole Horror genre was an unwelcome element of reality to me, even though dressing up for trick-or-treating was a joyful punctuation to autumn. I don’t know exactly when or how the change came over me; there was definitely a patch of fleeing the room when ads for Jaws came on TV, but it was not long thereafter I was avid to get to showings of old Universal monsters at the public library. There is hope. Hallowe’en is an acquired taste, and as it has gotten a little spicy since I was a kid– movie-grade props now available at grocery stores!– I’m not entirely mystified at my son’s current reaction.
Until hope bears fruit, I have the consolation of knowing that this sensitivity to the mock horrors of Hallowe’en also manifests as a more general sensitivity to less-fictional unpleasantness. He wept during a recent bedtime reading of The Adventures of Tintin at the prospect of a rickshaw driver being thrashed by a portly racist (even though Tintin thwarted him), and wept also at being given a vague, brief and heavily bowdlerised explanation of what the recent Orange Shirt Day at school had as a historical foundation. He embarrassed his parents slightly over the summer, explaining to the guy in the car next to us at a red light that smoking is unhealthy. He avoids stepping on bugs.
He’s becoming a decent, caring human being. That forgives a lot, and certainly outweighs foolish parental expectations.
No, I promise I’m not doing any fan fiction on this site. At least, not Star Trek fan fiction. There’s plenty of that in the world.
The new Current Story was prompted by my brother mentioning Chekhov’s old maxim at just the right moment, when some valves of my imagination were properly set. Thus, after a certain amount of effort, I arrive at The Third Act, which if we stretch a little can be wedged into the horror genre– you certainly would not want to be in the protagonist’s shoes.
This is the sort of thing I more usually do in my other, non-fiction, existence, and indeed did do not too long ago when I commented about how much we can infer about the inward state of people from their outward appearance… if they’re dressed like freaks who can’t get hep to the times.
If I were a very superstitious person, I’m make a connection between that post and a recent terrifying manifestation in my driveway. It is “terrifying manifestation” which makes this post grist for the mill of this particular blog, of course, since that’s what I’m all about over here. Anyway, imagine my alarm at suddenly discovering this:
You will have to continue imagining my alarm, though, as I’m the one who put it there. Another stage of the downsizing of my parents is the banishing of this beauty from the garage in which it has been avoiding the notice of the Norns since about 1994. It was bought about seven years before that, from the original owner, who did very little driving with it herself. Actually… I should have said “the original owner’s widow”. It’s one of those deals.
It is, undeniably, an elegant object from what some would call a more civilized age. I got to drive it from the shop where it was rendered capable of locomotion after its decades on blocks (the original (!) tires were replaced last spring) to my house, where it was slightly better off on my driveway than parked on a curb while my brother made room in his garage. I had driven it a few times before its long dormancy, so this was a return to my salad days.
As the plate indicates, it’s a 1961 model, making it a half-decade older than me, and almost a half-century older than the vehicle I currently get about in. This little plate inside the engine compartment gives an excellent feeling for the state of the world at the time of its creation:
The interior is as plush as you could like too. It still smells of leather conditioners that haven’t been used on the upholstery since it came into the family. It is comfy, and the ride is smooth.
It scares the living crap out of me. It disillusions me, in fact, on the subject of vintage cars and their purported charms. It’s not just the entire lack of seatbelts, although the sensation of drifting along the seat when passing through a mild curve is disconcerting enough. I am, after my years of writing with vintage pens and cooking in vintage pots and wearing clothes that are at least reminiscent of vintage fashions, used to the idea of stewardship. The stuff I have is mine for but the current moment, to be handed on to future generations in as functional a state as I can manage (socks excluded– there’s some ephemera in every life).
Driving this car, with its manual choke and its stupid/clever transmission, with a cutting-edge-in-1961 vacuum-operated clutch that engages when you take hold of the gear selector, requires all four limbs and both tails. The steering is not powered, of course, and neither are the brakes. The former is only an issue at low speeds, but the latter is a big one. We are used to linear rewards for braking effort in our modern cars, with the amount of deceleration linked to the amount of pressure on the pedal. In this car, most of the brake’s travel is merely to get the tail-lights to warn people that you’re about to do something. Actual braking only begins as your foot nearly gets to the floor, and then there’s about five millimeters of travel between sort of slowing and just about locked. While working the transmission and keeping the choke happy so you don’t stall.
Stewardship. I don’t want to get into an accident in a new car. In one this old, with 18,850 miles on the odometer, it would feel like a war crime. Every moment of driving is like carrying a baby while walking on stilts through the wreckage of a roller-skate factory. I can’t imagine having it as a constant companion. I’m very glad that it’s in its new enclosure, and I’m sort of delighted that my father is entertaining a couple of offers he’s had on it. We’re not the right care-takers for it. That return to the salad days I mentioned came with a realization; I wasn’t scared driving this thing in the late 1980s because I was a kid out in daddy’s car, or at least not entirely. I was appropriately terrified by a terrifying activity.
I’m frankly amazed at how many people encumber themselves with old cars like this. I’m even more amazed that humanity as a whole got through to the point where cars were so accommodating that people could entertain the notion of texting behind the wheel– deeply stupid, selfish people, of course, but there’s no way you could do anything but drive a car like this and there’s still a huge window of disastrous possibility available. An end to civilization through pile-up seems as narrowly avoided as the nuclear exchange that didn’t quite top off the Cuban Missile Crisis when this car was only a year old. I may choose to adopt some aspects of the past into my life, but in automotives I’ll stick to the now.
I love you, old car, but I can’t stand to be with you.
I don’t really have a good genesis to share in the introductory blurb for the new Current Story. As is so often the case, “where do your ideas come from?” is no more than a koan to induce despair in the writer’s heart, and this is particularly the case for “Wish Away” because I really have no idea where it sprang from. I suppose if I wanted a clearer notion, I’d contact a psychologist.
Well, it is a story, because I’m laying it out in a narrative structure, with intent to entertain (or, as the courts say, malice aforethought). But it’s not going into The Back File conveniently located on the sidebar, because it’s a true thing that happened rather than some stuff I made up. It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t dare to put into a work of fiction, because it’s so unlikely.
A great deal of time that I would prefer to have devoted otherwise over the past few months has been given to clearing out my parents’ house, and my childhood home. They have downsized, in the benign meaning of the word, moved into what you might call a deluxe apartment in the sky, or as skyward as the fifteenth floor of a rather decent condo tower allows. Nearly five decades of continuous inhabitation and repetition of the phrase, “Say, that might be useful later,” makes for some very compressed storage of junk. The decompression process recently ran a rather disheartening sub-routine: the garage sale.
As the day of the sale wore on, we found that there were unaccountable surges in traffic. The place would empty out, then swarms of unrelated people would toddle in to marvel at our pricing policy and buy books by the kilo. During one of the later surges, a lone person entered, which was in itself noteworthy; pairs were the norm. He was an older fellow, with an ill-kept white beard concealing everything between nose and collar. His hair was hidden by a cap which was adorned with the logo of a local energy exploration company. His eyes were indistinct behind thick, square-framed glasses. He wore jeans mounted so low that one might almost think he was trying to emulate the goonish youth fashion of displaying the top several inches of underwear, although happily the untucked ends of his shirt concealed whatever might have been peeking over the waistband. The shirt was a wonder– on a tan background, strips of rainbow fabric ran from shoulder to wrist on each arm, and down the full length of the front on either side of the buttons . From my seat at the cash table by the door, I also noticed some sort of red paper sticking up out of one of the jeans pockets.
He greeted me and my brother when he passed, asked a few questions about our astonishing pricing policy (“It’s all twenty-five cents?”), and circulated about the place amiably before stopping at the desk to give me a dollar and get his quarter in change. He also, as he was getting the dollar out, made a bit of a production of dropping his keys, inviting me to join in his merry self-directed chastisement at nearly losing this important clump of metal. He then bade us a good day and departed, smiling.
About five minutes passed, and that surge of customers was ebbing, when a lone person entered. An older fellow, wearing a cap emblazoned with the device of a local energy exploration company. He wore thick, square-framed glasses, and a remarkably untidy beard. From where I sat at the cash desk, I saw piece of red paper peeping out of the pocket of his alarmingly low-slung jeans. Happily, the waistband of the jeans was concealed under the untucked tails of his entirely plain tan shirt… which he was closing the buttons of as he entered.
He paused at the door, scowling about. My brother was distracted explaining a chafing dish to one of the other shoppers, so I was alone in greeting the old chap. He grunted, as one who is not quite moved to anger by an impertinence. He then stomped through our wares, hands clenched by his sides, peering about in what I can only say was a deeply mistrustful way, before departing without a word.
This is not a story, because it does not conclude properly. There’s no explanation, nor any sort of sting. It simply ends with the odd little man’s departure. Was he a frustrated criminal mastermind, practicing for a major score by trying his clever disguise and watching for signs that he was detected as that guy who looked almost exactly the same and just left at a succession of garage sales? Was his anger in the second run a result of me somehow giving the away my realization that it was, in fact, the same chap? Perhaps he is burdened with multiple personalities, Mr. Friendly with the colourful shirt out for a day of attending sales with Mr. Cranky in the plain shirt.
My brother provides the only closure we might usefully apply to this tale. Reflecting on the man’s purchases, he said, “Whatever his story is, with a ruler, an old cowboy hat, and a sheet of unfinished chain-mail, he’s all set for a party!”
I know most people get headaches now and again, but I’m one of those lucky folks who enjoy the migraine. The fact that mine are brief and not too severe, as these things go, is balanced out by the fact that once it’s running there’s no medication that helps. I have a friend who says of these events, “Oh, yeah, all I can do is go to bed and sleep through it,” to which I boggle– you can sleep through these things?
That’s the inspiration for the new Current Story, “Migraine“. Write what you know, yes?