I Don’t Even Know What This is About

Howdy all, just checking in! Hope life is well, etc etc. Or, if you’re cursed by a lack of the sort of experiences that let you appreciate wellness, I hope you get a few appropriate bumps in the road. Whatever you need.

NOVELTRY

Putting the novel on the back-burner a bit and working on some horror stories. I need to manage my energy level and excitement and that’s what I’m doing. I’m working on a story that I’m very excited by that is told “Fairy Tale” style with modern characters in a gothic boy’s school setting. A bit spoofy but mostly violent action-packed FUN, which will help break up some of the bleak ones a bit more.

I’m hoping to finish 13 stories for the collection because… y’know, Halloween. Some of these stories are ridiculously messed up. If not this Halloween, then the next. Important thing is to get it completely right.

I had the idea for the story I’m working on now while watching “Insidious 2” with the girlfriend. She’s very jumpy and I’m very sighy. While earlier that day I cried while watching “Polyanna” (because I am dead inside to everything but the naive innocence of children) every time the ghoul jumped out on the screen I’d just sigh while Amanda was crawling up my arm. That’s not scary to me.

Scary is when someone gives up on living and stops caring and can’t feel anything. Scary is going through your whole life like you’re asleep. Scary is being in the thrall of a maniac and having to pretend everything is normal. Scary is the people who love you turning out to be monsters. Scary is finding out that YOU were the monster.

I don’t get scared by someone with a burlap sack on their face.

I get scared of the way I feel when someone with a burlap sack on their face is giving me a reason to let loose.

There’s only one thing I’m afraid of in the dark and it’s me.

I’m hoping to bring some of that to the stories.

TWITTER

I no longer have a twitter account.

It was making me too angry.

Being dead inside, I pretty much only have one button: People being bad to kids. Or not protecting kids. Or even abstractly making up all sorts of bullshit excuses about how kids aren’t kids. And it makes me so angry that I… well, you know how people always say they’re so angry they’ll do something and then they never do?

I’m not that guy.

If I worked in a giant skyscraper and was told the super powerful billionaire at the very top had hurt a child, but was getting away with it for “reasons,” then while everyone else would be expressing disdain at the water-cooler I’d be walking to the elevator. Several minutes later, my coworkers would look over to the window and see the billionaire at the top of the skyscraper flapping past. And after that I wouldn’t much care what happened. Which sounds like one of those things that dudes say to sound tough, but which having seen people die I can attest is not really that cool a thing.

It’s not right to be angry enough to strangle the life out of someone even if they pretty much deserve it. Not when you know what it means to strangle the life out of someone. There are some elements of the whole Hugo fiasco that involve people being shitty to kids (Sad Puppies are the good guys in this part of the thing) and it makes me think some not good thoughts about people.

I’m really only on twitter to hear about book releases. I’m not popular enough anymore for there to be any kind of demand, so twitter is just for my personal use. So in that context it makes seeing that stuff unavoidable. I decided today that I’d rather not have to see it at all. Seeing it makes me chomp at the bit to DO something and I don’t think I could be a good man and do anything relevant so I’m just going to not have a twitter.

WELL, THAT IS HARD TO TRANSITION FROM

Rainbows, unicorns and lollipops now eh?

I’ll just close by saying it’s important to try to be a good person even when you’re really psychotically angry and choose the better path. Because even if it’s only “technically” wrong to kill someone that still makes it wrong and you can’t plead “They had it coming” before a judge. Right is right. Do the right thing.

Ugh.

I’m so tired.

Me! With Updates!

Well, I’ve certainly failed to update the blog in recent days. The cost of living I suppose. Anyhow, I woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep so I figured I’d fill you in on the latest happenings.

First, I’m going to make some toast with some blackberry jam and a couple of eggs. I’ll be right back.

Never mind, I had cold vegetable pizza instead. I didn’t want to wake the girlfriend making eggs. She’s a light sleeper.

These are the kind of hard-hitting facts you get from me when I blog at 3am.

Progress on the novel is still slow. I haven’t really been able to get on my laptop much at all in recent days so all writing has slowed in general. I’m still trying to rework the first act and put more action in there. Going straight into the second act without fixing the first would mean compounding errors. And I need something to grip the attention through the first act. I’ve got a half-shaped prologue and first few chapters but everything else is embarrassingly incomplete. I’ll keep grinding away.

I want this to sparkle like a “Holy Shit” diamond. Meaning, a diamond so wonderful it makes you say “Holy Shit.” Which to me is a pretty high standard since I once saw the Hope Diamond and didn’t find it all that impressive and was much more taken by a round quartz orb from ancient China that was probably only worth $11.

Also poking at some of those horror shorts I did a while back. They’re all connected and I still want to release that at some point. Title would be “The Family of Fang and Claw.” Halloween would be the ideal time, of course but if I can’t get it done by this Halloween I can do it by the next. The problem is that they’re all seriously disturbing and it makes me feel weird to write them. I wrote one involving elder abuse and as soon as I walked out of my office, my girlfriend immediately said “What’s wrong?” and I just sort of sighed and shrugged. So progress there has been slow as well.

I’m trying to write more active stories as I realize that’s something I’ve been afraid to do for some reason. ACTION, people! ACTION!

No more malaise stories.

Gonna punch a monster in the face.

Also, my brother had a baby. Gorgeous baby girl. Makes my heart warm to think about. The world, huh?

PREVIOUS STORY

“Nightly Knocks on the Door of a Doctor” was an effort to teach myself to imply more than the immediate events described. Hope I succeeded. It made Nare cry and that’s pretty hard to do as her heart is formed of cold black iron. I want to be as good at implying “world” stories as I am at telling stories of the world if that makes sense. I think with Fantasy that’s essential to the setting. Robert Jordan was a master of that. So is Brandon Sanderson. So is George RR Martin.

Learn from the best!

One day I want to have a sprawling series of books all set in the Tide World and to live in Oregon by the coast, only to be killed in the Cascadia earthquake before I’m able to complete the series. Or, y’know, I could just learn to write romance and buy an island and get killed by a tsunami there. The important thing is to own land near water, be successful and make lots of money, and then drown tragically.

Anyhow, hope you liked that story.

Cathulu just brought a mouse in the house and I had to run all over trying to pick it up and take it back outside. Saved it right before she swallowed it, and now it’s on my front porch in shock, probably.

HUGO AWARDS

I kind of feel about SFF Fandom the way I feel about my family, which is that there’s a lot of love there coupled with an even larger amount of embarrassment and just general jaw-dropping moments of “What the eff are you doing? What the hell made you think that would be a good idea? Couldn’t you have just tried to get along?”

To steal a line from Sam Sykes, the Hugo Award is like that weird thing your grandma owned that you never really cared about that much, but which your mom and dad fought with all of your aunts and uncles about inheriting. Have you ever seen an Avon Pheasant? The Hugo Award is like an Avon Pheasant, in that it’s a status symbol which doesn’t belong to the modern age and you can kind of sort of see what the allure used to be. But that doesn’t stop your aunt and uncle from talking shit to each other when they’re bickering about who should have it.

To me anyway. I’m very much of the school that the work is its own reward. The hardship endured for the accomplishment is what gives it meaning, etc.

I realize that’s a dick thing to say because it takes away from winners of the award. But if someone showed me a whole case full of Hugos, I’d have the same emotional reaction as if I saw a case full of Avon Pheasants. I would say “Oh, that’s lovely” and quickly move on with discussing other things. It’s certainly not something I’d fight to defend, or be upset over someone else having. But I do care about people caring about things because hurt feelings can bring out some real ugliness.

There was a huge conflict over the Hugos this year. As my girlfriend tends to note, I don’t really get that excited about much. If it’s not a war crime, I can’t muster much outrage and feel that most things can be resolved by people talking and assuming positive intent and forgiveness. Obviously, I really like Larry Correia but I also like John Scalzi and pretty much all of the other people involved (there are a couple people I wouldn’t leave alone with a kid or a woman, which is the worst thing I know to say about someone).

George RR Martin in particular went out of his way to look after people he perceived as getting shafted, which is what I think doing the right thing is all about. And if that Avon Pheasant meant a lot of them and they were hurt, then I’m damn glad he took the time. He didn’t have to do anything, but he did, and that’s awesome and commendable. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but from that description it seems way better to lose a Hugo than to win one. I mean, I’d rather spray whipped cream all over George RR Martin and get drunk than have to wander around awkwardly holding a rocket-ship penis thing and smiling uncomfortably in photographs. You’ve never seen someone uncomfortably smile until you’ve seen me try to pretend I’m comfortable in crowds.

I don’t really agree with what anyone in SFF Fandom has to say that often (you can really tell the SFF Fandom grew out of people reading stories about Chosen Ones and Good vs Evil in their formative years) but I like to hear a multitude of voices. I prefer a world in which people are arguing rather than a world in which no one talks at all. I also don’t believe professing to believe in something immediately transforms all of your actions into correct and virtuous actions, or that by trying to do right a person becomes free from human foibles.

There’s a lot of problems in the world and I think the only way the problems get solved is if people pick the ones that are the most important to them and really focus in. While, also, simultaneously recognizing the fact that it’s important for other people to think other things are important so other shit gets taken care of.

I hope it gets figured out in future years. Hard to see how. Wish someone would go full Ghandi on it.

What I mean, is that if this can happen, there’s really no excuse for everyone not to sit down at a Denny’s at some point (I say Denny’s, because it’s impossible to have any kind of delusions of grandeur inside of a Denny’s, because Denny’s strips you down to your basic most true self, shows your the darkest reflection of humankind, and leaves nothing over for bombast when you’re halfway through a Grand Slam and thinking about all of your poor life choices) and talk shit out with the intent of making things livable for everyone.

Anyway, that ended up being longer than I thought. I’ve been following the “controversy” pretty regularly (my girlfriend refers to it as “the Internet Hate”) since it broke out and just wish there was some kind of “Peace Talk.” Avon Pheasants shouldn’t dehumanize people.

Nightly Knocks on the Door of a Doctor

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At night, no common person in common circumstances knocked on the door of a doctor. For only in matters of life and death, when hours and heartbeats grew precious, did a common person dare such an expense. That winter night, the knocking penetrated the crisp cold air of the Old Neighborhood like thunder.

 

Doctor Gapato snored, unperturbed.

 

The knocking came again, echoing down silent streets and quiet alleyways. Still asleep, Doctor Gapato turned over in his bed and put his pillow over his ears. In a dream, he murmured a few words of prescription and snuggled deeper into his blankets. Somewhere, a cat meowed. Somewhere else, a dog barked.

 

The knocking came again.

 

Finally, his wife’s finger, hard as steel, stabbed him in the ribs like a saber.

 

“Gapato!” Vidria hissed, “Go see who it is! If you wait till they wake the baby, I swear you’ll need a doctor yourself!”

 

Doctor Gapato tried to snore one last time, but Vidria’s finger struck in a dozen places, landing a flurry of blows like a master swordsman. He hiccupped and came suddenly awake.

 

“Yes dear,” murmured Gapato.

 

Gapato stood, half-asleep. He changed from out of his nightclothes into his fine pants, his fine shirt and his fine coat. He grabbed his medical bag from out of his closet. He grabbed a lantern and lit it, taking a moment to smooth his hair and moustaches in a hallway mirror. His face was hale and hearty, his beard sleek and black.

 

Gapato was halfway down the steps when his visitor found the door knocker. The knocker clanged like falling bells. The baby cried a moment later and Vidria cursed the curses a proper lady could only curse in the early hours between sunset and sunrise when the part of the mind able to judge propriety could not be woken.

 

When Gapato reached the door and opened it, he was the picture of professionalism.

 

“How may I be of assistance?” he asked.

 

A young boy stood in the snow, hat in hand. He had the hardened look of a gang-runner, with his bright sash of colors to go with the bruises on his face, but there were tears in his eyes all the same. Gapato’s flushed with relief. The gangs were said to always pay on time and he hadn’t wanted to worry Vidria about their finances.

 

“My poppa sir, it is his stomach. I tried for Doctor Taotista, but he is gone away. I know not where, or I would not trouble you. They say it is his app… appendis? I cannot say the word! Please hurry, sir. My family does not have much, but what we have we will give to you!” the boy flashed three silver coins, tarnished black.

 

Doctor Gapato bit his lower lip, bent his knee and put a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder. The boy seemed so small there. So frail. Under the hem of the boy’s collar, Gapato saw a gang tattoo. What had this young man seen? What had his life been like up to this point?

 

For that matter, how much did he and Vidria owe the grocer?

 

In a deft motion, Gapato snatched the coins and pocketed them.

 

“Young man, you have reached the finest surgeon in this city. I have just the thing to treat your poppa. Wait one moment, I will be back and then you will show me the way.”

 

Gapato left the boy at the door. He hurriedly and quietly made way to his library, pulled out a medical text and flipped through the pages. The lantern light flickered and important words seemed to be eaten by the shadow of the spine. Gapato had graduated from medical school less than three months ago. He had assisted with removing an appendix twice. One of those times had been on a cadaver. Gapato had never performed the procedure by himself. He read through the procedure twice before realizing he had not put on his spectacles. When he did so, the words began to make much more sense. His hands trembled only slightly when he placed the book back on the shelf.

 

It was Gapato’s first night visit since moving to the Old Neighborhood. He would have to celebrate later. It must mean the community was finally accepting him.

 

Later, when Gapato ran through the dark, following the boy and trying not to slip on the ice he reflected that he was so preoccupied trying to commit the procedure to memory that he would not be able to find his way home.

 

*****

 

“Poppa! A woman! A woman, poppa!”

 

Little Hector jumped in the middle of the bed, shouting at the ceiling. Vidria slept unperturbed, her eyes covered with a blue silken mask Gapato had bought her on their anniversary, and one perfect tanned hand laying across her pregnant stomach. Gapato, knowing that Hector would appear one way or another, had merely waited until the last moment to get out of bed.

 

“Did you hear, poppa? There is a woman! A woman has come, poppa!”

 

Hector was now leaning over Gapato in the manner of small children and fiddling with his father’s earlobes. Finally, Hector whispered with uncomfortable, close moistness into his father’s ear.

 

“She said she is having a baby right now and something is wrong.” Gapato stared at the ceiling, wondering what it was he had been dreaming about. These days, it seemed he had dreams of uninterrupted sleep. How tired did a man have to be to dream of sleep?

 

“She said she might have the baby right now on our steps, poppa!” Hector screamed in Gapato’s ear.

 

Gapato bolted upright, throwing on his clothes in a blur of lace and buttons. Seconds later, he walked toward his door. Hector made to run after him and in one deft move Gapato picked up his medical bag, spun, picked up Hector and threw the child at his mother on the bed. Hector laughed the entire way. Still asleep, Vidria’s arm snaked out from under the blankets and grabbed the excited boy and held him pinned to the bed where he could not interfere.

 

No longer needing a mirror, Gapato walked down the steps of his home lighting lanterns as he went and straightening his hair.

 

He found the woman in the entryway, as pregnant as Vidria.

 

“How far along?” he asked.

 

Gapato took a bottle of alcohol from his bag and splashed it on his hands.

 

“Eight months,” the woman said.

 

Gapato nodded, giving her room to say more.

 

The woman took a moment to stare at some of Hector’s toys and a pile of unwashed laundry and hesitated. She looked back at the door and her hands again found her stomach. Gapato rolled his eyes in the darkness. He wondered what this woman’s house would look like if he barged into it unannounced in the middle of the night.

 

“I went looking for my midwife. I see Mother Loras, but she was gone and the father-”

 

The woman stopped and her face spasmed and her breath grew short.

 

“May I feel?” asked Gapato.

 

Gapato pointed to her dress.

 

“Certainly not! I am a lady! I keep the faith! I’m not some-”

 

“Do not knock at my door at this hour and not let my husband do his job!” Vidria shouted from upstairs. Between each word lay a thousand implied threats.

 

The young lady breathed hotly, but moved her hands aside in acquiescence. Gapato felt along her stomach, trying to remember what he knew of childbirth. He pressed hard enough to cause pain, but still he pressed. Finally, he realized that the baby was positioned the wrong way.

 

“Perhaps you could give me something to delay the birth? I should have another month,” the woman asked.

 

Gapato shook his head.

 

“You are having this child now. It is not for you or me to say otherwise. Drink this.”

 

Gapato gave her what remained of the alcohol he’d used to clean his hands.

 

“Mother Loras said drink was not good for the child.”

 

“You will need it,” Gapato insisted.

 

Generally, when a child was born, Gapato had to do no more than catch the infant and suppress his guilt at taking credit for the terrible labor the mother had endured. That night, he worked for hours, sweating, shoving, reaching inside of places out of medical necessity. He was covered with sweat. Eventually, Vidria came down to help. They pushed and pulled for an hour. Then they sent Hector to fetch three neighbors.

 

Madame Beluccios, who was well into her seventies and had eight children of her own, declared after an hour they were bringing a giant into the world. Gapato was thankful she was there, for he did not think he could ever have found the words to do what was necessary. As Gapato, Vidria and the two male neighbors, who were staring very hard at the ceiling, all pushed on the visitor’s stomach, Madame Beluccios guided Hector’s tiny hands into a place Gapato had been hoping would remain a mystery to him for at least another several years.

 

“But… but, that is no! That is a no!” gasped Hector.

 

Gapato rushed to his son’s side.

 

“When it is life or death, my son, then there is nothing too embarrassing not to consider. After this is done and we are rested, we must thank Madame Beluccios for teaching this to us. Now, feel for the baby. And grab him! Grab him for his life, and his mother, for that is what is at stake!”

 

Vidra coached the mother through the breathing exercises she knew. The woman lay half-dead with exhaustion. Finally, by description alone, Gapato told Hector how to move the cord away from the neck before it could strangle the child. Then, they grabbed the infant and pulled. Feet appeared, then a stomach and finally shoulders. The baby cried. The mother cried. Everyone cried. Gapato, too, wanted to cry but first he washed his and Hector’s hands. He was, after all, a doctor.

 

“Today my son, I see you on your way to being a man and I am proud of you. You will save many lives and the nation of Tall will have a fine healer in you. It is always better to save a life than to take one.”

 

*****

 

The knocker banged against the door once.

 

“Gapato-” Vidria hissed, suckling their third and newest infant to her breast. A girl, a precious princess, Ismerelda.

 

“I know dear, a few more moments please. It is our first daughter, after all,” whispered Gapato, turning over in bed to stroke a lock of his daughter’s black hair..

 

“I will kill you!” an unknown woman shrieked.

 

“Hector! Tell them I will be down shortly!” Gapato sprang to his feet before Vidria’s finger had a chance to even touch him. Somewhere around the third step from the bottom floor he woke up and found his medicine bag and clothes all properly arrayed and smiled. One day he would not even smile at his growing mastery and on that day there would be almost nothing left to learn.

 

Hector held a cloth to a man’s face with one hand. With his other hand, and one of his feet, he fended off a woman with a knife. Laranso stood in a corner, only ten years old, and not knowing what to do.

 

“You bastard! With my sister! My own flesh and blood!” the woman spit.

 

Gapato caught her spit with a handkerchief and put on his most professional face.

 

“Thank you so much for seeking us out in your time of need. You have done everything correctly, but I see you yourself are in great distress. Take this and please fetch a Priest. I fear your husband might not be long for this world.”

 

In a series of motions as elaborate as a dance, Gapato gave the woman a tranquilizer, tilted the cup upward so she had no choice but to drink it, and squeezed her husband’s face wound hard enough that he screamed. The idiot had been protesting that he was only bleeding, which while true, was not the kind of truth that would stop his wife from trying to murder him. Just as quickly, Gapato cleaned the wound with alcohol, eliciting another series of screams, and brought out his scariest needle to begin stitching the cut. It was this action that caused the woman to break into tears, drop her knife, and run away.

 

Gapato smiled at Hector and Laranso who looked at him with awe. He could recall having similar feelings about his own father and it felt right that the cycle had continued. Tonight was a good night.

 

Gapato finished stitching the man’s face, waited for the man to pass out from the pain, and wrote a receipt which he then put in the man’s purse after subtracting an appropriate number of coin. He took these coins down to the cellar where he removed a wine bottle from a rack to reveal a hidden compartment full of coins.

 

“One day, you will both go to the Academy and have a proper education,” Gapato said, “and you will go to the finest houses in Newheart and treat men and women of great accomplishments.”

 

“Will they teach me such things as you did tonight, papa?” asked Laranso.

 

“Will they teach us honor and duty and to always help those in need?” asked Hector?

 

“Some things, only life can teach you. You will learn those things in time. But I also hope your life will teach more about what is the appropriate cutlery to use at a formal dinner then how to stop couples from killing each other.”

 

Mother Meranor knew Gapato wished he could have worked in Newheart, but he had fallen in love with a woman from the Old Neighborhood and she would not live anywhere else.

 

*****

 

Gapato sat up in a chair before the door, a glass of wine untouched on the table before him as he watched a tranquil moon setting over the city. Men and women screamed outside. The Old Neighborhood was in riot. Some parts of the Old Neighborhood were even on fire. It was a bad night, but the wine smelled delicious, like lush grapes with a hint of old leather. A glass sat on the table in front of Gapato, untouched..

 

“Gapato?” Vidria whispered from the kitchen.

 

“Poppa?” Ismerelda called, a short time later.

 

“All is well, loves,” said Gapato.

 

Gapato looked to the sword-cane leaning against the wall nearby. The kind rich and angry young men used in duels. He couldn’t even remember where it had come from. One of the gang members he’d treated, probably. One of the ones without money to pay. Gapato would have destroyed it, for he could not have sold it in good conscience, but Hector had held onto it with fondness, and Gapato had taken to keeping it up as a reminder of the attraction to evil things.

 

There came a banging on his door.

 

Gapato drank the wine in one long swallow, stood and answered. He left the sword-cane leaning against the wall. He’d only taken it out there at Vidria’s insistence, though it had made Ismerelda cry to see her father hold such a thing

 

Five men stood in the foyer, faces covered in masks, eyes dark and glittering with rage. None of them had swords but a few had knives and one had a club that looked like it would break Gapato’s sword had he drawn it. Gapato stifled a yawn.

 

“I don’t suppose it would make any difference if I told you I was under the protection of the gangs? Both Olivera’s Sickles and Ribborto’s Grange Men?” Gapato sighed.

 

The men shook their heads. One held out a hand, insistent and demanding. The one with the club made a few threatening motions. Two in the back seemed eager to step inside.

 

“Would it make a difference that I was personally opposed to and deeply wounded by the new tax levies? That I would bring all the troops home from Nyria if I could? That I have spoken publicly against the conscription of our boys even against the gang-leaders who profit by it? That my own two sons are fighting for their lives this very moment? No? Well, that is to be expected. A moment, gentlemen. Vidria do you have the hors d’oeuvres?”

 

Muttering, Vidria appeared from the kitchen. She’d been preparing all night. She carried a silver tray in her hands. On it, were beautiful arrangements of fish, lettuce and cheese. She shouldered Gapato to one side and handed the tray to the burglars, lighting herself a cigar after she did so. When the men’s confusion seemed to reach a pinnacle, Vidria spoke.

 

“I am Vidria ari Espessa Illomina Gapato, niece of Don Fridrik Illomnia. Let me see, I think I know these faces… ah yes,” Vidria rattled off a series of names and a few family anecdotes.

 

In a series of embarrassed motions the men hid the weapons behind their backs. Each of the burglars made a show of politely taking one of Vidria’s hors’doeuvres before the one in the middle returned the silver tray.

 

“Thank you, lady Gapato! We will make sure no one troubles you this night! No need to tell your uncle!” said one of the men.

 

“Charmed,” Vidria muttered around her cigar.

 

“I don’t know why you made me take the sword,” Gapato yawned.

 

“We have a daughter to think of!”

 

Gapato snorted.

 

“She makes you look like a gentle little lamb.”

 

It was true, a moment later they found Ismerelda asleep in the kitchen with a cleaver held in one hand and several other knives hidden with remarkable skill in the folds of her dress. Gapato put away the knives, lifted Ismerelda in both arms and carried her to bed. She woke as he kissed her forehead.

 

“I would kill any man who ever tries to hurt you, poppa,” she said, wrapping her tiny fingers around his thumb.

 

“Better to be clever, little love. Better to give people a chance to remember who they are and what is right. Most will take the chance. Remember that, love,” said Gapato.

 

“I will,” Ismerelda whispered.

 

Gapato walked downstairs, sat at the table by the door and played cards with Vidria until eventually the screams subsided and the riot abated. Somehow, during the night, they had finished the entire bottle of wine. And then another bottle.

 

“You think the boys are safe?” asked Vidria

 

The sun had risen and Gapato knew it would only be a short while before people started to arrive at the door. He had time for a nap, maybe, before the deluge. Gapato picked up the table they had been using and moved it back to its formal position in the hall.

 

“They are in service to Prince Carlo, and they are guarded by boys from the Old Neighborhood. They are safe. I’m sure we will get a letter any day now,” said Gapato.

 

“We must do more to cherish Ismelereda,” said Vidria.

 

Gapato nodded.

 

Reaching out with one hand, Vidria pinched Gapato’s bottom. He swore, blushing, that she was an entirely different woman when drunk. She filled a glass of wine Gapato had emptied earlier and downed its contents in a single swallow. And then repeated the action.

 

Shaking his head, Gapato picked up the cane-sword and prepared to hide it away again.

 

“You know, Gapato, you look very handsome when you have a sword. Is it so wrong of me to seize the opportunity?”

 

It turned out he did not have time for a nap, after all.

 

*****

 

Gapato woke up the moment before he answered the door, fully dressed, medical bag in hand and Ismerelda making preparations in his office. Rather than being pleased to find this was the case, he was only tired and eager to return to bed. A brief glance at his reflection in the front window showed his moustache was more gray than black. Age, it seemed, had finally caught up with him.

 

It was time Laranso returned to help with the practice, if only the damn war would end. The boy needed more hands on experience if he was to be as competent as Hector. Gapato opened the door with a sigh and began speaking at once. “You did everything correctly, all is well in hand, if you just come this way-”

 

Two soldiers stood there, in immaculate uniforms with brightly polished buttons. Gapato recognized one of them as a man he saw frequently who still had pain from a missing limb. The other soldier, he saw, was missing an ear and a few fingers. One of them held a small card, covered in gold filigree. Neither of them seemed to be in distress. Or rather, nothing seemed to be medically wrong with either one of them that hadn’t already happened a long time ago.

 

“You have the wrong house,” Gapato said flatly.

 

Gapato’s knee buckled for a moment and he had to grip the door handle tightly to stop from falling.

 

“Papa, what is it?” Ismerelda asked from the office.

 

“It is nothing, go back to sleep. It’s just some men who need directions,” Gapato snapped.

 

The soldier with the missing arm bowed deeply.

 

“Doctor Gapato, is is my duty as a lieutenant in Home League to inform you that both-”

 

Gapato stumbled back several steps, as if struck.

 

“No! You have the wrong Gapato! My sons are doctors not soldiers! They are nowhere near the front lines! They serve the Prince!” Gapato shrieked. He collapsed back into the hallway, barely able to breathe. Heart racing and the world closing in. Not like this. Not at night. Not when his sons were hundreds of miles away and there was nothing to be done and the news was days old.

 

He would have known, wouldn’t he? He would have felt something…

 

The soldier closed his eyes to fight tears, and continued, “to inform you that both of your sons died in direct defense of Prince Carlo, who was grievously wounded by enemy action outside Chavannah. Without their noble sacrifice, his life may have been lost completely. Our King wishes to extend his personal gratitude for their sacrifice as well as the sacrifice made by your family during this time of need.”

 

“Both?” Gapato asked in a weak voice.

 

The soldier nodded.

 

And that quickly, Hector and Laranso were beyond Gapato’s healing.

 

Tears fell unashamedly down Gapato’s face. Ismerelda helped him to his feet in time so that Vidria did not catch him so totally unmanned. Gapato managed to tell her when she came downstairs. With perfect formality, Vidria took the card from the soldiers, a card with the personal signature of the King, and thanked them politely before closing the door. Her eyes were clear from all pain before she fell into Gapato’s arms and wailed.

 

She had always been so much stronger than him. His children had always been so much better than him. No parent should bury their child. It was not in the Oath a doctor took, but it ought to have been.

 

*****

 

They said the King hated the Old Neighborhood and Gapato could not deny that was true. When Prince Carlo took the throne, covered in burns and thirsting for vengeance, conscriptions increased to the point that there were almost no young men at all in the Old Neighborhood. No one to work in the shops or chase pretty girls or lift heavy things. Only old men and women with sad faces and little cards with names on them.

 

It also seemed the King had a vendetta against the gangs, for he rooted them out with a vengeance. Not just the younger gangs who fell quickly to violence and were eager to carve out space for themselves, but the older and established gangs who kept peace and vice in a mostly non-violent balance. It was as if King Carlo knew all of the Old Neighborhood’s secrets. All of its dark corners. No place could live under such light.

 

Gapato barely had strength to make it to the door when he heard the knocking. He did not sleep much these days. The nightmares were too frequent. Always, he dreamed of the war with Nyria and saw Hector and Laranso burning alongside Prince Carlo. The only thing that brought him any pleasure was the knowledge that Ismerelda had married well and was expecting her first child. If they lived far away, then it only made him that much happier to know the war would not touch them.

 

“Yes? How may I be of assistance?” Gapato whispered.

 

Gang Captains, though none wore a sash. A dozen of them, all huddled around a man with more knife wounds than healthy flesh. Even through the blood, Gapato knew him. Vidria’s uncle Fridrik. A man no one from the Old Neighborhood would ever dare to touch. Gapato motioned them into his surgery without a word.

 

He cut for hours that night. He cussed a dozen men to complete a hundred tasks. But in the end, Vidria’s uncle died. Neither Gapato nor Vidria cried. Fridrik had been old and while honorable had much innocent blood on his hands. All their tears had been cried for Hector and Laranso.

 

Over the next few nights, Olivera Hespasso died of an arrow through the lung, though Gapato had heard of this secondhand from another doctor. Ribborto Gaspi, on the other hand, was long dead by the time he arrived at Gapato’s. The King had killed them all.

 

There was one gang now, and it was the police and they were more brutal and corrupt than ever any of the gangs had been. Gapato’s business boomed, with broken skulls and broken teeth and broken spirits.

 

It was not possible to say exactly when it happened, for no one knocked on Gapato’s door and announced it, but at some point during the deaths of the three Dons, the Old Neighborhood died too. The gangs, for all their problems, had kept order there. Had kept the Old Neighborhood politically relevant.

 

Now the Old Neighborhood was just a bunch of old buildings where widows lived. The King hated the Old Neighborhood, they said. It was only some years later, when Gapato saw the King at an assembly, covered in burns and scars, and somehow strangely reminded of a boy he had seen on his doorstep a night many years ago, that Gapato began to believe he knew why.

 

Gapato held Vidria tightly each night, wrapping his arms around her as if she were the world entire.

 

*****

 

When Gapato woke that winter night to the sound of a fist banging on his door, he awoke with the scent of blood already in his nostrils. Another wound, another illness, another death. It amazed him that they had not blended together, but remained distinct in his memory. He waited for the poke in his side, but none came. He waited for the knocker to knock on the door, but none came. Vidria had died just before the knocker, and of the same cause, namely old age.

 

Gapato had not had the heart to replace either of them, though the Old Neighborhood was more full of eligible widows these days than blacksmiths.

 

“Coming!” Gapato said, before he was fully awake or aware.

 

When he had a few moments to gather his senses, he grumbled to his memory of Vidria that he was moving as quickly as he could and took a few creaky steps toward his slippers.

 

As a younger man he’d simply worn pants to bed as a matter of course. Well, one had to make some concessions to age. He drew on a pair of trousers and stuffed his nightshirt into it, not caring how it bunched awkwardly around the waistline. Next was his fur coat and hat. These were on a coat-stand next to his bed and now indispensable in the winter.

 

Gapato contemplated the distance to the door as if it were miles. Even the absence of stairs could not motivate him. It had only taken him a single night-time emergency after the passing of his wife to finally move it into his bedroom and out of the hall by the door. Vidria’s things remained in their old room, untouched and undisturbed. Each thing, exactly as she had left it.

 

The knocking was insistent. Thunderous, even.

 

“Coming, I said!”

 

They’d better have brought a carriage if he had to go anywhere. He was not young enough to be getting on horseback without time to take his breakfast first. Let alone in the snow.

 

Doctor Gapato walked around a mess of furniture in total darkness. His feet knew the way well enough in the dark, but when a stranger knocked on the door they’d eventually need a lamp and like as not they’d have forgot to have brought one of their own. Gapato grabbed a lantern hanging outside his bedroom door.

 

He took a moment to check himself by the lantern light in the hallway mirror. Skeletal and gaunt. his moustache whiter than snow and thin as cobwebs. That was Doctor Gapato. Soon, someone would knock at his door and he would not answer, and then some other poor physician would be woken not with one emergency but two.

 

No matter, though. Tonight was not that night. There was enough life in him to do his job.

 

Gapato sighed and pulled on his gloves. Then he picked up his bag from its place by the door. Not there simply for convenience, but because some days he was too tired to carry it any farther after he came home. His hands were steady enough to wield a scalpel, still. That was a small blessing. He was not useless yet.

 

“Yes, yes, I am here!”

 

A renewed burst of knocking shook the door again as he opened it.

 

Gapato swung the lantern toward his foyer with the brazen lack of social propriety that any person who had lived to his advanced age eventually found. It was an inspection which simply said that he did not have long enough left on the earth to waste time on pleasantries. The lantern illuminated three guards. Palace guards.

 

“You are urgently needed at the palace on royal business,” said the lead guard.

 

A carriage waited behind the men. Two fine black horses were teamed to it, their harnesses slick and brown and glistening under the reflected moonglow on the snow. Doctor Gapato grunted.

 

It seemed, in that moment, an illusion that the Old Neighborhood had been fine once. As vibrant and strong as he himself had once been. There was no need for lantern light to shine on the dilapidated buildings which now abutted his house for him to inspect its fall from grace. And no need for him to look back at his own house to marvel at its chipped paint and cracked boards. Though he had long since thought himself dead to them, Gapato heard the cries and wailings of sick and starving children as though his ears were made new by the nice suits of the guards.

 

There was no reason someone from the palace would send for Doctor Gapato. None at all. His only paying clients were policemen, these days.

 

“Well, this is a first,” Gapato said, stifling his concerns, and accepting the hand of the first guard that offered to help him through the snow.

 

His hips hurt. His back ached. The cold seemed to seep into his joints and freeze them to the point of paralysis. But deep inside, in a warm place not strictly connected to his body, his mind was bright and sharp as a razor’s edge.

 

Who was it that had sent for him?

 

Why, after all these years?

 

Gapato was lifted more than helped into the carriage, for which he was both mortally offended and eternally grateful. A woman just into her middle years sat across from him, the brim of a cloak lowered over her face.

 

“The king is not well,” the Queen said.

 

Doctor Gapato nodded, sadly.

 

“Let us get on with it then,” grunted Gapato.

 

It had come at last.

 

Gapato was eighty years old. Ancient and withered. He had lived far longer than he had ever thought to live. It was a beautiful night, even considering the cold. It was not such a bad night to die. He had grandchildren, after all. A grandfather was old enough to die.

 

*****

 

The King’s face was a mess of burns and scars, but that was not what made him scream. The burns had been there for over forty years now. The burns were battle-wounds that might cause him pain on cold nights such as this, but earned in defense of the nation they were not a source of shame or discomfort.

 

No, the king screamed for different reasons.

 

Gapato recalled that the King’s father had had the same affliction later in his years. He remembered the first time someone had knocked on his door. He remembered a little boy who had worried over his father’s “appendis” and smiled despite the circumstances. Gapato wondered how long the fool man had waited before calling.

 

“I will need boiled water. Alcohol for cleaning my knives. An assistant to hold him down. Here, you’ll do,” said Gapato as he thrust his bag into her royal majesty’s chest.

 

The Queen stumbled back a few steps but dismissed the guards and the other attending physicians and sent them on their errands. She ordered them not to enter the room again. Gapato put his hand on the King’s stomach, feeling for hard spots.

 

“He waited three days before calling for help?” he asked.

 

The queen paused.

 

“Six,” she said.

 

Gapato laughed.

 

“Stubborn bastard. He always was. Always insisted he was fine when his father brought him to me. I was never sure. Not completely. How much has he told you?” asked Gapato.

 

“Nothing.”

 

“How much do you suspect?” asked Gapato.

 

“Everything,” whispered the Queen.

 

Gapato laughed again, all black humor and hard amusement.

 

“I always wondered, how did he avoid you seeing his chest after you had married?”

 

The King was beyond reason now, but he still fought as Gapato cut his shirt away. Oh, the wily goat knew even now that it could all come undone. Knew in a place beyond rational thought and cold calculation. Knew the way an animal knows to fight or run away from a predator. Forty years he’d kept it secret. Forty years when one second might have brought it all crashing down. But Gapato had cut off too many shirts to be thwarted, and he cut a neat line down the middle of the King’s fine silk shirt and some of the fight went out of the man.

 

“He said the scars were not becoming. He did not wish me to disgusted. We were both so very young. I had thought he would trust me in time,” whispered the Queen.

 

At last Gapato wrested the scraps of the fine silk shirt away from the king, revealing a chest of hard muscles and smooth skin…

 

… marred only by the gang tattoos of a hardened criminal.

 

“Of course,” sighed the queen.

 

“His father’s appendix gave out at the same age. Thank Mother Meranor he was not foolish enough to try cutting it out himself. Such a small thing, but he has waited a long time and it may be beyond hope now. I will do what can be done.”

 

Doctor Gapato sterilized his knives while the Queen tied the King down to the bed. Then Gapato began to cut.

 

*****

 

Such sweet screams.

 

Rich and royal and resounding.

 

Gapato had never enjoyed causing a man pain before.

 

This boy had put so many men into Gapato’s hands both before and after the coronation, and now Gapato used those same hands to make right what had been broken. To fix a murderer. He cursed the oath which compelled him. Cursed the bright love that the memory of his sons brought to him, because he wished he could be filled with hate instead. Enough hate to kill a man in his care.

 

The organ was bright red and purple and swelled with angry heat, when he found it. Gapato cut it out with a deft move of his knife. He applied the expensive iodine and cleaned the wound. It was the last of his antiseptic. His very expensive antiseptic.

 

When the King was still and asleep, Gapato sewed shut the hole.

 

“The next few days will decide whether or not he lives. Keep him rested. Keep him still. Do not let him move. Lots of water, no alcohol. He may want to numb the pain, I have some herbs for that. You will have to take a firm hand with him. He may have broth and meal to eat. Nothing more than that for the first two days.”

 

The Queen nodded her understanding. She sat next to the King, pulled the covers up over his chest and then stroked his face with a sad smile.

 

Gapato took small sip from a vial in his bag. Something to help him sleep. There would be need for sleep.

 

“Guards!” the Queen called.

 

They entered the room.

 

“Arrest this man! Listen to nothing he says! And throw him into the farthest cell in the dungeon until his majesty awakens!”

 

They were gentle with him, which was a small blessing. They even gave him a blanket and a nice bed to sleep. It was not such a bad winter’s night. Gapato had not expected to live a moment beyond the last stitch anyhow.

 

*****

 

Gapato slept for two days. Slept deep and hard as if to make up for all the sleep he’d lost all those nights. A younger man might have tried to stay awake longer, drinking in the last few sights life had to offer even if they were of straw and stone and cell bars. Gapato had eighty years of sights and not nearly enough dreams. So he slept and dreamed of his wife and his sons, now dead, and all the other lives he might have lived. He dreamed of them all visiting Ismerelda, of spending the day with her four children in the countryside. He dreamed a thousand such dreams.

 

Each dream was perfect and wonderful.

 

When Gapato was awake he had warm food and good wine, brought down from the palace kitchens. And more dreams. A glut of dreams. And still not enough.

 

On the third day, the guards came again and carried him out of the cell and back to the King’s room. Gapato made no fuss. He was too old for fuss now.

 

Gapato  was placed in a chair, for which he was grateful, as he found himself still tired and kitten-weak. The King  was barely in better condition but his coloring was back, although it was hard to tell given so much of his face was covered in burns. Quiet, the King motioned with his hand and dismissed the guards.

 

“Doctor Gapato,” he said.

 

“My how you’ve grown little Carlo,” said Gapato.

 

The King grunted.

 

Doctor Gapato laughed.

 

“Did you know before?” the King asked.

 

Gapato shrugged.

 

“I suspected. Some people in the Old Neighborhood suspected as well, but we never spoke of it. If it hadn’t been you, we’d have been hung for defaming the Prince. If it was, you’d have hung us for knowing your secret. I imagine with the burns and the confusion of you both having the same name, it was easy for the switch to be made. You needn’t have conscripted all of them and sent them off to die, you heartless rat.”

 

The King sighed and nodded.

 

“It was war. I conscripted everyone. I was sad to see so many of the people who knew me die. I was also relieved. That is what it means to be king.”

 

Gapato studied his old hands.

 

“I saw you during the coronation. I treated you too many times not to suspect but I had never seen much of the Prince so I could not be sure. How did it happen?”

 

The King smiled.

 

“As you said, mostly confusion and mistaken identity. It has been such a terrible weight, you know. It will be good to be free of it, even in a small way.

 

“I was in the Prince’s personal guard. A lot of us were recruited from the gangs for our fighting experience in those days. Your sons… I regret what happened. We were ambushed. The Prince was an idiot. Always putting himself too close to the front. I took his clothes to draw away the enemies. It was the only chance. I was promised medals, I never dreamed to earn a crown.

 

“I was burned beyond recognition. The true Prince was burned to a crisp. The Nyrians are cruel. I woke screaming. Such pain as I had never dreamed. Your sons were afraid to remove my clothes, and when I was awake I refused to let them. Your sons had already mistaken me for the Prince. Too many people referred to me that way. There was no way to extricate myself without dying. And the King was old and wanted his son to be alive. Who was I to refuse?”

 

“They saved your life,” the doctor said.

 

“I know. I wish I could say I have regretted it every day, but it is an old wound now. How did you put it together?” said the King.

 

Gapato shrugged again. There was too much to explain and it wouldn’t haven’t meant that much. Dates hadn’t matched. Accounts of the battle hadn’t matched. A few bribes here and there over the years and let him ferret out the truth, which was that the Prince had executed his sons and tried to cover it up. He’d thought the revelation would have hurt more. But his sons were dead either way. Still, he’d needed to know why. And then it was only a matter of putting it together..

 

“Did you know you were the first person to ever pay me a night visit? I remember you, still, in your little sash asking me to come help your poppa. Your three silver coins, all black with tarnish. Three silver coins will not be enough now. For this? I want a hospital. In the Old Neighborhood. And a weekly gift of food to the poor there. Death benefits for the widows. I don’t care how you justify it. You killed my sons. You owe me a legacy.”

 

“Done,” said the King.

 

There was a crackling fire in the chamber, now fading to embers. Gapato felt the cold creeping back into his joints. Death would not be so bad.

 

“I poisoned myself after your surgery was done. I’ll sleep for the most part until it happens. Take me home and put me in bed. I can’t teach a new bed the shape of me quick enough for comfort. If you are concerned I’ll say something, her majesty can bring me meals and wine until I pass. I will not need her for long. I have never been served by a queen.”

 

“I had considered letting you live on in the dungeon,” said the King.

 

“You would do that, and think it kindness wouldn’t you? My way is better. Cleaner. Honest.” Gapato fought to stay awake. The poison would be slow to kill him. He’d sleep most of the time. There’d been no time to put something better in his bag after he saw the Queen. He’d had to make due.

 

“Why didn’t you kill me when you were cutting me open? No one would have known,” asked the King, and that was the closest either of them came to mentioning the murder of Hector and Laranso.

 

“Have you forgotten so much of the honor of the Old Neighborhood? I would have known. I taught my sons better. I taught all of my children to give people a chance to do the right thing. Not to seek vengeance. You have been a cruel king. Perhaps if you live, you might be a better one. Your deaths profits me nothing. For their memory, you have another chance. ” Gapato said simply.

 

Silence stretched, and Gapato felt himself falling further into a sleep from which he would never again be awoken.

 

“Do you know that you were the one man my father admired above all others? That all children in the Old Neighborhood were told to look to the example of your family? That Dians and Galenites were united in their admiration of you? The way they spoke of you… I always wanted them to speak of me that way but violence came too easily to me. I am older now, but even so I do not deserve your forgiveness. A king cannot apologize and I am a king now, wherever I came from, and I find that to be a king is terrible. Perhaps no man can have such power and not be corrupted by it. Much better to be a Doctor. Much better to fight the true enemies of humankind and be made sanctified. I cannot change the past, but I have heard you and you have my thanks. Goodnight, Doctor Gapato.” Tears made long and meandering paths down the scars of the King’s face.

 

Gapato thought of a boy, and three silver coins, and a need to pay the grocer. He’d only ever wanted to live. That was all.

 

Gapato slept all the way home.

 

*****

 

Night came to the Old Neighborhood.

 

Night and cold and silence.

 

Fewer children cried with hunger. The King had heard their plight, so it was said, and become like the old gang Dons, finding something like mercy in his old age. There was new paint on the buildings, although not the best paint and the boards were still old and cracked. Food could be had if you were hungry and not afraid of religion. Matters of life and death still stirred people from their routine and sent them out into the darkness in search of a doctor. There was a hospital now and it accepted all and they found what healing there was to be found there.

 

It wasn’t like the Old Neighborhood of the Old Days, but nothing is ever like it is in the Old Days. But still, it was better than it had been and people could live there. People could get married and raise families there.

 

Lastly, there was a house where no one lived, but which old people would pass and make the sign of the Wheel and the Eye. It was not haunted, though some younger children supposed it was and for this reason left it alone. Some people put flowers there, in remembrance. Some walked by with legs set straight and remembered bones mended and smiled and tipped their caps. The door of the house had no knocker. But it mattered not, for no one knocked on that door any longer.

 

Breaking Solipsism

The courage to have something and care about it, is the most painful kind of courage because it implies the courage to let it go and lose it. What you love will depart, will change, will die and the only way to go on with life is to accept the inevitable when the time to hold onto something has passed.

I will miss “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Perhaps Jon Stewart wasn’t the person who spoke about the things you cared about, or perhaps he even spoke against the things you care about, but he was funny and he used humor and clarity in the service of what he thought was right. To me, that is not only appropriate but holy. If his perspective was perhaps too liberal for your tastes, I do not fault you. His perspective was not always mine. I like to see people follow their own sensibilities to their correct conclusions, in a manner where they aren’t making life too easy for themselves or pretending not to see the mistakes along the way. I feel Jon Stewart did that, every night for half an hour.

Jon Stewart isn’t dead. The world will go on. Other things will be good and amazing, but I will miss the show and I will miss him on the show. I really, really liked and cared about it.

CIXIN LIU

Speaking of new things and moving on…

If I could sieve away all the rest and filter down to the one trait I enjoy above all others in creators it is to, as I said above, “Speak with one’s own voice.” Sometimes this is not obvious. I do not mean a unique voice, nor even an interesting voice. I mean an authentic voice. A voice that has been untouched by anything but whatever it is that makes someone human. No one ever does this perfectly, or if they do, rarely for long enough to sustain an entire work. But you can find nuggets here and there of pure ore if someone tried hard enough.

There is a philosophical stance called solipsism, which is a belief that only the self can be verified. In other words, I think therefore I am is the only truth that can be directly known. I don’t believe that.

There is another truth which can be known directly, and it is the visceral realization of: “I never, ever ever would have thought of that.” You can feel the separateness of your soul within your soul as well as its existence. You can come across a nugget of ore that you know is not of yourself. Thus, the philosophical nightmare of solipsism is broken.

I am humbled to introduce you to Cixin Liu, an author of science-fiction who is writing what I am sure will be considered the Golden Age works of Chinese science fiction. There is vitality in the pages. There is an understanding that people have to try, that fatalism cannot be accepted, and that the human will must conquer human apathy. His work lives, breathes and most of all makes you think “I never, ever ever would have thought of that.”

His first work translated into English is “The Three Body Problem.” Beautiful. His second “The Dark Forest” is equally apt. I only like to give praise when I can give praise effusively and unreservedly.

I praise Cixin Liu as the equal to Asimov and Heinlein.

For admirers of my old family stories, I will say that the character Shi Qiang is like my uncle Mike given a genius IQ. A true sideways thinker with a helping of con artist.

NOVEL PROGRESS

Speaking of my own work, I’m in a bit of a funk. The girlfriend is holding me up in the battle (or at least, accountable), but I again hit on that reluctance I have to be “real.” So much easier to keep everything locked up in my head. I’ve spent so much of my life staring at a wall, being worlds and multitudes, that it’s hard to remember sometimes that I’m a me and I’m now and I’m real.

The work of my life, in other words. I’ll sort it, somehow. In the meantime, onwards and upwards, eh? Sorry for the slow posting here recently. Having an actual life takes time, it seems.

I took the girlfriend to that farm by where I live that I don’t like to go to because the customer service is too good. We got some goat soap and meat. Cooking delicious things. Hope all is well with you too.

An Eventful Evening

First Off,

family stories are down. Will be for the foreseeable future. I feel very conflicted about it, but I’m sticking to my guns. Time to grow up and not have to worry that the person I’m talking to has read every private moment of my personal development. I’m working on lots of new things although I’m distressed that my publication record over the last year is -2 ebooks.

I need to keep working until I’m better than I ever was.

Thanks for the downloads. We made a couple of top Amazon lists across the board and overall it was pretty successful.

Secondly,

I almost died or was at least severely injured today. I’ve been good at being outside and doing things since the GF has been here. She’s the warp-core in my starship. I even got motivated to reclaim the wasteland of my backyard. Anyway, as part of the backyard reclamation, I was burning some old fence panels and yard waste when I picked up a piece of OSB… and lo and behold on the bottom of that board was a yellowjacket hive with about 200 bees.

Woke me right up.

So there I was in my yard, holding a board full of bees who were none too happy about being disturbed. I got stung on the back of the neck and that got my heart pounding, but I knew it would be a dumbass move to drop the board and run. I needed an escape plan.

I shouted for the GF, remembered she was allergic, then shouted at her not to come out but not before she was in the backyard. She went white when she saw me holding the Bee Board. I told her to walk slowly back inside, leave the door open but with the curtains pulled in front of it and to go into my bedroom and close the door.

I felt like Jack Bauer in that moment.

Moving very, very slowly I grabbed a nearby rake and lowered the bee board an inch at a time over about five minutes. I propped up the board with a rake so when I let go of it, the hive wouldn’t smash and release a few hundred angry bees. The release was successful and I ran inside at warp speed.

A couple of minutes later I went out with some bee-killer, wearing every article of clothing I own and took out the nest. Which was also successful. Very scary series of moments. But the bees are dead and I am not, and that’s what matters.

Thirdly,

I took the GF out for ice cream. Went to a “shoppe” in the downtown area of my rural Idahoan town. They had some religious stuff painted above the ice cream about how all things are possible with God. I don’t know what it has to do with ice cream, but I don’t judge.

I was stressed from the bees and the loss of 800+ pages of my writing and was definitely down for some ice cream. I figured the scoops might be small so I got a three-scoop waffle cone, only for the scoops to be huge. So now I’m walking around downtown with an ice cream cone melting all over my hand. It’s an untenable predicament so we stop to look at a mural of some horses and sit down.

Then a homeless man approached us and talked at us. For some reason I have a very easy affinity with homeless people (I think they sense my “offness”) and will generally be approached and talked to if one sees me. I don’t really judge even though I use the term “homeless” as I always figure I’ll probably end up that way one day because I have so much trouble caring about things like houses or backyards or “having a life.”

He started with an explanation that he used to live in the building where the mural had been painted. There was a fire in that building and someone named “Chief” was murdered. Chief used to help the “Street People” in the area. Jared (he never introduced himself, but I figured out that was his name because he’d do impressions of people talking to him when he told his story and they always addressed him as Jared) also showed us his walking stick with an iron eagle at the head, which means that he is now sworn to protect Street People.

He progressed into an explanation that thirty years back he took some pills full of mescaline, strychnine and acid to test out their lethality for a friend of his. This caused him to melt and the universe to melt and the devil took hold of his brain and he flew out among the Galaxies like in Cosmos. He swore he got in a car after that, but then remembered this was a different story.

Some drug suppliers threatened to kill him and he found God and swore off everything but alcohol, which he then gave up 22 years ago. We flashed back to when his father abused him terribly until Jared became a logger and when he got home from logging, he was ready to fight his father, only his father asked for Jared’s forgiveness and said he’d found God. Jared forgave him.

Later, Jared’s son heard a story from Jared’s father where Jared’s father was fighting in a B-52 bomber which had naked pictures of Bridgette Garbo (he apologized to my GF when he brought this up, though I just now realized he must have either been talking about Greta Garbo or Bridgette Bardot) all over the place and a painting of shark jaws on the front. Anyhow, in the story, Jared’s father got scared during a firefight and his hand wouldn’t move off the trigger of the rear gun but he took out a whole squadron of Japanese fighters accidentally and was praised as a hero.

Jared then announced he’d taken enough of our time, held out his hand but not in a handshake gesture, but rather pointed up toward the sky. Maybe that means something to him. Anyway, I took it and said pleased to meet you and was surprised to find I was pleased to meet him and told my GF I felt happy and fulfilled after he’d left.

I made some mutterings about “See why I never go outside?” and then the GF said she had been somewhat off put by the experience and she started to discuss Jared. I asked her not to until we got home as I didn’t want to risk him overhearing. I explained I wasn’t worried about drawing his attention back so much as hurting his feelings. People like Jared don’t have a lot of dignity to lose.

I picked up what he was actually saying was: I am human, I exist, I have a life and I am happy to see you and that you are human and that you exist and that you have a life. Which, when you think about it that way, makes it kind of hard to fault anyone for wanting to speak with you even if you’re not prepared.

I realized, Jared told me about his life because no one would care to ask him about it. That made me appreciate more fully how very nice it was, that for a long stretch of time, people wanted to hear about mine and I didn’t have to ask. Thank you all for that.

Friendly Reminder

Hey All,

Tomorrow is the last day the Family Stories will be up for the foreseeable while. If you want to snag a copy I made them free. I’ll put them back up probably at some point in the future, but I can’t really have people knowing every formative experience I’ve ever had at this point in my life. I’m okay with you guys having it since you’ve read them before.

Dunce Upon A Time: The Complete BC Woods Non-Fiction

Everything else is free as well since I feel strangely guilty for doing this.

Regards,

Andrew

A Temporary Decision

So, the Family Stories are going to be taken down for a while. Not sure how long or if they’ll ever be up again. It’s not an easy decision and I’m making them free again from tomorrow till Tuesday in case anyone wants them. I’m pretty sure we’ve saturated the market for free copies, and I’m making everything else free too. At this point in my life, I just can’t risk having people know so much about my life.

You can find it on Amazon tomorrow. Thanks much and I promise I am working on new stuff. Hopefully that will make up for it.

Two Business Ideas

I always try to come up with innovative business concepts that are 1. weird and 2. possibly viable. Sometimes I find out these already exist (like the “Netflix of Prom Dresses” and “The Grandma Jar Opener Which Is Just the Bottom of a Mouse Pad) but I think I have come up with two. Feel free to go ahead and run with this and just cut me in for five-percent of the profits.

FOOD, FAST

You know when you pull into a drive-thru lane and you spend a minute staring at a food menu deciding what non-food you want? Why not get of both the menu and the non-existence of actual food? At FOOD, FAST the menu is “An Edible Meal, A Drinkable Drink, an Edible Dessert.”

Example: If you have four people in the car you say “I want four edible meals, four drinkable drinks, and four edible desserts please.” We then hand you four boxes, each with a different meal and dessert inside, and four cups full of a drink. These contain, wait for it, actual nutritious food. And because I don’t have to worry about catering to people’s specific needs there will be far less food waste at the end of the day.

You’ll pull up in your car, give me seven dollars per meal and one dollar per drink and two dollars per dessert and then just go away. No discussion. No exchanges. No talk back except to say if you’re allergic to something. Every meal will include a recipe and information about how the food was sourced locally.

We live in a world full of non-choices over trivial matters. FOOD, FAST will offer actual nutrition, quick food and most of all surprise. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about what you’re having to eat so you can spend more time worrying about important things?

NAUGHTY OR NICE COFFEE

This is a coffee shack with two drive through lanes. One of the lanes has a green happy face above it, the other lane has a red angry face. If you go through the green lane, you’ll get a standard overly friendly coffee shack experience. If you dive through the red lane you’ll get awful customer service, but a good cup of coffee. On the red side, the barristas will tell you to hurry up, roll their eyes, sigh and ask how you’re doing only to interrupt and say “No one cares.” The lids will have messages like “We’re Not Friends.”

I’d have to employ people who seem naturally bubbly and sweet to make it work but I think America is also tired of having to be polite all the time. In the red lane, you can be rude to the barristas as well. They’ll also offer “Black Sticker Memberships” where your coffee costs 25% more (which goes to the Server) and the servers are extra mean to you. How would you like to have a coffee experience where you got to feel the feelings you were feeling and not have to put a shine job on your life for some nineteen year old who makes coffee?

On the Red Side, your server will chew gum listen to loud music they personally like even though it makes it hard to hear your order and take their damn time with everything. And if you want to say “life sucks” they’ll say “nobody cares.”

And on the days you’re feeling good, there is always the green side where you can watch the red side like a little play you don’t have to be involved in.

Writing Update

I’m revisiting the idea that writing a first draft is like being bad at the first iteration of a dance. There’s something to it, certainly. Writing a book is just like learning any discipline. You aren’t perfect from the start. Except that’s not the whole of the truth. There’s another truth, behind the first, because you’re not only learning a dance or a discipline, you’re also creating it while you’re learning it. You’re the prophet, practitioner and the protegee of the discipline of the types of books you want to write.

What comes after in a book depends on what came before, but a book is also like plotting a math function where every piece has an inevitable and perfect place. Or at least, I always have a very definite sense of when I have done something “right.” I’ll find out when I’m done if I’m full of it.

I’ve finished the first act, kind of. As I’ve said before, I’ve skipped over critical scenes, barely sketched out others and the continuity is suspect. Now that I must proceed to the second act… I wonder at the wisdom of pushing forward into a section that will be made wholly different by whatever I choose to add to the first. In other words, I’ve run into the problem of compounding errors.

Try as I might, I can’t put down words that spark for the second act. I’ll have to go back to the first then, and add the things that are missing. I won’t polish them mirror bright. That would be folly because the things that come before in a book are also impacted by the things that come after, though in smaller ways. But by finishing the first act, I know where things are supposed to go in the first with a great deal more concreteness than I did before. And that will help me write the right second act.

In summation:

Write right.

Right? Write.

So I’m going to go back and turn the first act into something resembling what it will actually be in the final draft. This does give me a good idea of what “my process” looks like, though. I need to stop second guessing myself when I want to do what feels natural. I just need to keep forgiving myself for every word not coming out perfect on the first go around.

BAD DREAMS/GIRLFRIEND

I have bad dreams. I also talk in my sleep. When my brother and I are asleep in the same room it’s not unusual for one of us to say “Hmmmmmmmm” only for the other to reply “Rrrrr?” and so on and so forth. For hours. Sometimes with words, mostly not. When we were kids we’d wake up every morning feeling like we’d had a very long and soulful conversation.

I also thrash. And kick. And snore.

My girlfriend is here for the summer.

Perhaps because I’ve been single for so long I never really contemplated how difficult it might be to fall asleep next to me. For example, the other night I dreamed I had to kill some vampires in my castle. I was a king and the monster from my book was laying in wait. He’s a terrible thing, part incubus, part vampire, part plague rat. Old and beautiful by a standard of beauty which no longer exists, but still somehow captivating. I was sitting at a long table in my great hall doing some accounts with my Master of Coin. We were seated in the middle when the bad guy from my book came in and sat himself at the head of the hall. He had a retinue of thralls and lesser vampires join him, all laughing. He came to my castle under the guise of being a foreign lord, but I had learned the truth.

I exchanged some jokes with him about taking my place at the head of the table. He joked back. We discussed the ancient theater that I had dug up recently on my lands, which I knew somehow was the reason for his coming. Usually, dream dialogue is nonsensical but this particular dream had a pretty good couple of lines.

Me: Surely, we must invest in the theater, m’lord.

Vampire: And why is that?

Me: Because one day you and I will die, but Shakespeare shall live forever.

Then he did his evil vampire “little do you know I will live forever, mortal” laugh to which I replied, my smile suddenly turning grim: “You don’t think I know what you are, do you?”

And before the evil vampire could stop laughing, I grabbed his hair, pulled out a silver knife and cut off his head. My men at arms (led weirdly by Maddox, probably because I’ve been listening to his podcast so much lately) charged in and killed the rest of the vampires.

In real life, this played out as my rolling back and forth and thrashing then waking up with a big smile on my face.

Girlfriend: Why were you thrashing around like that all night?

Me: I was fighting vampires.

Girlfriend: Then why are you smiling?

Me: Because I won.

She also passed the ultimate loyalty test when a fly landed on my shoulder and I ordered her to take my giant fly-swatter (Beelze-bane) and hit me. She did so and the fly died. The poor, dear.

Two Superheroes

I am very busy over the next few days, so this blog will have to be brief. I have invented two super-heroes and I present them here for your satisfaction. I hope you will enjoy them as I do.

UNNAMED LASER VISION HERO

The origin story is that when they go to the hospital to get corrective laser surgery for their vision they accidentally fill out the form as “Laser-Eye Surgery” rather than “Laser Eye-Surgery.” That’s all I’ve got on that one so far.

HOMEOSTASIS MAN

Whose power is that he’s always “Fine.” Feed him too much salt? “I feel fine.” Offer him a jacket? “I feel fine.” His arch nemesis is Extreme Condition Man, who turns up the heat in buildings and spikes drinks with pure alcohol in an effort to break Homeostasis. The origin story is that he was struck by lightning while being a human being.

A TONGUE TWISTER

I also made up a tongue twister:

“I pay coins to clip my cats claws because kitty needs her claws clipped.”