Not sure how much this really mitigates that whole Apocalypse end of the world thing, but I’ll never lack for wicked cool kicks.
Was digging through rubble down where I think Miami used to be, feeling pretty good. Couple days before I’d found several thousand mostly intact cans of food. A steeple from the church next door had crushed a Sedano’s. The large surmounting cross had somehow landed upright, planted above what must have been the frozen food section. I imagine the heat, the smell of the rotting formerly frozen food and the Sign from God rather ominously standing guard must have discouraged the freaks from digging, I don’t know. Lucky me. The stench had long since dissipated by the time I got around to exploring. Anyway, I’ve now got a lifetime supply of El Ebro delicious white bean fabada, among other things. Beats starving.
Don’t know what happened to the freaks. I’d like to imagine them all deciding to swim to Europe like the lemmings of folklore, heading out into the soft breakers and warm Atlantic waters and just diving in, never to return. Not any crazier than some of the stuff I’d seen them do. Helps me sleep better at night, thinking they’re all gone. Any rate, haven’t seen any for a couple months now.
Haven’t seen any normies, either. Last one I saw was maybe 4 months ago, a girl, maybe 15, 16, standing in front of a McMansion in what must have been an upscale suburb at one time. The back half of the house dangled over a smoking chasm; most of the subdivision was gone, vanished into a gash marked by a ragged border of torn earth on the edge of an impenetrable deep. All part of that Apocalypse thing I mentioned.
She looked a little nervous. To be honest, she looked terrified out of her wits, crazy eyes, matted dirty blond hair, in tattered Pink yoga pants and a tube top. Well, I’d tried to coax her out, tried to talk nice, because, one, I’d like some fully human company and two, I’d feel bad if she fell off the cliff, and, if she didn’t get away from that house, that’d be a sure bet.
It didn’t work. I am evidently not as charming as I think I am. She ran into the house, and when I got closer, she screamed and screamed and just wouldn’t stop. So I walked away, shouting over my shoulder every now and then that I meant no harm, but the shrieking continued. I was about three blocks away, pondering what to do next, when there was a rumble, a dust cloud, and an end to the screaming.
Anyway, this morning early I saw some high-class rubble that looked undisturbed. Little cast cornices and broken stone fascia, not the sheetrock and asphalt tile you find in the cheaper parts of town. After cracking open a can of picadillo for breakfast, I’d gotten to work.
Part of the challenge in digging up stuff is that everything is all mixed up. Sometimes it seems like the remains of buildings a half mile away from each other have been heaped up, stirred and dumped in heaps. Which is exactly what happened, pretty much. What you see on the surface is more often than not different from what you’ll find digging. This site, however, seemed to have been merely leveled, with the debris making sense as from the same house or similar nearby houses. So I dug.
Got lucky, found some stairs leading down into what looked like a lower level, blocked only by some tree branches and an ‘End Road Work’ sign. At the bottom, the door was intact, and unlocked. I cautiously let myself in. It quickly became obvious no one had been down here since That Day 18 months ago. A fine layer of dust lay everywhere, undisturbed.
A dim glow, punctuated by three shafts of light from unseen skylights, permeated a long hall. Motes danced silently in beams. I closed the door and turned the deadbolt. You never know.
The left hand side of the hall was panelled in expensive looking wood and lined with little glass shelves upon which sat nick-nacks. Only one had fallen. An aboriginal mask was grinning menacingly up at me from the floor. The rest of the dozen of so shelves still held their treasures, the kind of stuff that a high end interior decorator chooses to say ‘sophisticated taste and understated wealth.’
On the right hand side were four doors.
Behind the first door I found a shrine. A shrine to shoes. There’s no other way to put it. Unlike the cool pretend sophistication of the hall, this large room was clearly a work of passion. This was not a closet, nor was it quite a museum. It was most like a church.
It was a large room, with long narrow windows running along the ceiling on two sides. Row after row of shoes filled glass shelves running floor to ceiling along the walls. I went to the wall opposite the door, walking the gauntlet between the freestanding display cases, and picked up almost a random a nice pair of classic Air Jordan 1s, Bulls color scheme, mint condition.
11 1/2. My size.
I’m not a Nike guy myself, but the classic white high top Chucks I happened to have been wearing on That Day were held together with some camo duct tape I found in an old pickup a couple months back. Cool look, maybe, but canvas Converse kicks were never meant for rubble diving.
I slipped the Air Jordans on and enshrined my old Chucks in their place. Ecumanism in action. Happy are the poor, something like that. Smooth. Nice fit. The lip of the glass shelf hung down a little, like a drawer pull. So I pulled. I had to jump out of the way as 6′ as drawer slid silently into the room. Another 20 pairs of shoes, in their original boxes, carefully and exactly placed. The size stickers were visible – 11 1/2.
A quick inspection and a little math revealed that, in this sunny, pleasant wasteland, I needn’t ever worry about having enough shoes, even if I wore a new pair every day for a decade.
I explored the rest of the house. While invisible from above even if you were standing right on top of the rubble, the lower level was remarkably well preserved. Surviving, largely undamaged rooms included a nicely appointed bedroom, a gourmet kitchen and several other large rooms, two of which might have been an office and a library, although books and a desk were notably absent. Got the impression the residents hadn’t finished moving in. At the end of the hall, the last door opened into what might have been a gaming room or bar or both. Floor to ceiling windows ran the length of the east facing wall overlooking the brooding sea. Sea level had changed or the land here had been thrust up on That Day, such that the windowed room was now atop a cliff, with a ledge of concrete and steel sticking out 15′ above it. You’d never know it was here even if you were standing right above it. You’d need rappelling gear to get at it from up top. The ocean here was 50′ below. The only way in or out was the stairs.
All in all, this was the most snug and protected place I’d found in 18 months. So I started moving in my cases of Cuban canned goods and flats of water – bless you, Sedano’s – and built what I hoped was a secure disguise for the stairway.
A week or so later, I was awakened by the faint shuffling of feet on the rubble above the bedroom. I crept to the stairs, silently let myself out, and maneuvered so that I could see through the branches and debris without, I fervently hoped, being seen.
This was different. 4 people – normies! – gathered. A man who appeared by his habit to be a Capuchin priest stood praying a rosary. Two Dominican sisters in full habit knelt by a third, who lay motionless on the ground. The sisters were sobbing quietly.
Well, this could be an elaborate ruse, and I could be on the menu if I revealed myself. But I didn’t think so, so I stood and moved the brush aside and said ‘Howdy!’ blinking in the sunlight.
The sister on the ground, Mary Therese of the Passion, Sister Mary for short, was just dehydrated and exhausted, and some water and Caribbean canned food quickly put her to rights. Father Frank and the Sisters Elizabeth and Agnes, after effusive thanks and a good meal and safe night’s sleep, were right as rain.
So my home quickly became a little monastery or convent. My new religious housemates proved very helpful, We’d soon moved enough food and water in to take care of the five of us for years. They all prayed Mass in the morning and stopped for prayers a couple times a day. It was peaceful. I sometimes watched from the door.
Two months later, Sr. Elizabeth, a sturdy middle-aged woman who looked like a German farmer’s wife, came running down the stairs. “Someone is coming!” I gathered and shushed the religious, and went up the stairs. Hey, it’s my house, I get to do the defending.
From the stairway, I saw what looked like a bundle of rags staggering towards me. A dirty scarf wrapped its head, and what might have once been a fashionable evening dress peaked out from a tattered blanket. Her bare calves – it was a she – ended in the most remarkable shoes. They looked brand new, and ridiculous.
She collapsed. Oh well, I gambled again, ran out and picked her up and brought her downstairs, where the sisters took care of her while Fr. Frank prayed. She was delirious. “I found a million shoes,” she gasped, “all in my size!”
“I know what you mean.”
Carine recovered quickly under the local church’s tender ministrations. She fit right in, although she was some sort of lapsed Presbyterian (are there any other kind?) and a Yankee. Nobody’s perfect. She was also young, maybe mid twenties, and, once scrubbed up and fed three squares for a bit, quite pretty.
The world seemed to settle down, too. Whatever had happened on That Day and its aftermath seemed to be over or at least on hiatus. The freaks had disappeared. Neither the religious contingent not Carine had seen any for many months. Normies seemed very few and far between. But the earth neither shook nor was wrent, and that was a very good thing.
Eventually, I sort of converted. Carine held out, but she did agree to marry me. Funny how life works. I had a million women to choose from, potentially, at least, and yet the right girl practically falls into my lap, and happens to be the last girl on earth, as far as I know. Fr. Frank did the honors, and we had a little party afterwards. Married life suited me.
One day, about 6 months later, Carine came back from one of our endless recon missions, and, hands behind her back, kissed me. “Guess what I found?” she smiled. Her hands came from behind her back, holding a pair of baby shoes. “About a million pairs!”
I took her in my arms. “And they’re all exactly the right size!”
A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging
I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.
The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)
In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.
The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?
I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.
Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.
The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….
One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.
Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.
Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…
Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.
Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.
We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.
B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.
The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.
Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.
In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.
The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.
C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.
The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…
As noted in earlier posts, the Late Unpleasantness at our school has somehow unlocked whatever it was that was keeping me from writing fiction, as the recent flash fiction-alanche here demonstrates. (No claims to quality, here, just noting simple existence.) Today, after I impose on my long-suffering wife to do a final proofreading, I’ll be submitting a story for publication, a 4,200 word trifle. What’s not a trifle: overcoming my self-defeating self criticism long enough to hit ‘send’.
Wish me luck. Further notices as events warrant.
Moving from the ridiculous to the comparatively sublime, or at least from the whimsical to the mundane, writing up some basic marketing and business planning docs for a startup. This project also entails doing market research and honing a product idea to a scary-looking point. In other words, using the skills I’m institutionally certified to possess in order to eventually make money happen. What a concept!
It’s been surprisingly fun so far. Wish me luck, and even say a prayer or two if so inclined, please. Again, further notices as events warrant.
Next up, while I’m sleeping better than I was during Holy Week and Easter Week when all this gender theory nonsense was coming down at school, I still have some tossing and turning time to read in bed. But as I don’t want lights on in case they keep my beloved from sleeping, I’m stuck with choosing among the hundred plus books on my Kindle. Just as I read Honor at Stake late on night because it was there (it’s pretty fun – check it out), I’ve now begun A. Merritt’s The Metal Monster for similar reasons. The Prologue of this work is the proximate cause of the flash fiction trifle Prolegomenon to Any Future Old School SF&F Adventure recently posted here.
Merritt’s prose pushes right past purple to solferino. But that’s cool – ultimately, writing is writing, and style or convention is far less important than having something to say and saying it well. I like Moby Dick and Last of the Mohicans not despite but because they are so over the top by modern standards. And I am indebted to Merritt for the word impedimenta, a fine, evocative and colorful term.
What the heck, here’s an extensive sample: sunset in Tibet, from the first chapter of The Metal Monster.
Then a silence fell upon us. Suddenly the sun dipped down behind the flank of the stone giant guarding the valley’s western gate; the whole vale swiftly darkened—a flood of crystal-clear shadows poured within it. It was the prelude to that miracle of unearthly beauty seen nowhere else on this earth—the sunset of Tibet.
We turned expectant eyes to the west. A little, cool breeze raced down from the watching steeps like a messenger, whispered to the nodding poppies, sighed and was gone. The poppies were still. High overhead a homing kite whistled, mellowly.
As if it were a signal there sprang out in the pale azure of the western sky row upon row of cirrus cloudlets, rank upon rank of them, thrusting their heads into the path of the setting sun. They changed from mottled silver into faint rose, deepened to crimson.
“The dragons of the sky drink the blood of the sunset,” said Chiu-Ming.
As though a gigantic globe of crystal had dropped upon the heavens, their blue turned swiftly to a clear and glowing amber—then as abruptly shifted to a luminous violet A soft green light pulsed through the valley.
Under it, like hills ensorcelled, the rocky walls about it seemed to flatten. They glowed and all at once pressed forward like gigantic slices of palest emerald jade, translucent, illumined, as though by a circlet of little suns shining behind them.
The light faded, robes of deepest amethyst dropped around the mountain’s mighty shoulders. And then from every snow and glacier-crowned peak, from minaret and pinnacle and towering turret, leaped forth a confusion of soft peacock flames, a host of irised prismatic gleamings, an ordered chaos of rainbows.
Great and small, interlacing and shifting, they ringed the valley with an incredible glory—as if some god of light itself had touched the eternal rocks and bidden radiant souls stand forth.
Through the darkening sky swept a rosy pencil of living light; that utterly strange, pure beam whose coming never fails to clutch the throat of the beholder with the hand of ecstasy, the ray which the Tibetans name the Ting-Pa. For a moment this rosy finger pointed to the east, then arched itself, divided slowly into six shining, rosy bands; began to creep downward toward the eastern horizon where a nebulous, pulsing splendor arose to meet it.
And as we watched I heard a gasp from Drake. And it was echoed by my own.
For the six beams were swaying, moving with ever swifter motion from side to side in ever-widening sweep, as though the hidden orb from which they sprang were swaying like a pendulum.
Faster and faster the six high-flung beams swayed—and then broke—broke as though a gigantic, unseen hand had reached up and snapped them!
An instant the severed ends ribboned aimlessly, then bent, turned down and darted earthward into the welter of clustered summits at the north and swiftly were gone, while down upon the valley fell night.
The other many, many books I’m supposedly reading have been a bit back-burnered (Again! Alas!) because dead tree editions are not easily readable in bed late at night, and daylight hours are pretty much filled up at the moment.
Finally, our massive Easter Octave Pizza Party was fun. My Fitbit said I walked over 7 miles that day – that would be mostly walking around in the hundred square yards comprising the kitchen, patio and pizza oven. My feet were a little tired by the end. Made 14 pizzas, 4 roast chickens and a few pounds of steak in the brick oven, in addition to a vat of guacamole and a double batch of ciabatta rolls in the kitchen. Moderation and I don’t see eye to eye.
An honest and fair reader is due an account of how the following manuscript came into my possession, so that he might properly judge the frankly fantastical story to be discovered therein, the veracity of which I, myself, am now reluctantly convinced despite my initial incredulity.
Having heard through the popular press of the now-infamous Horatio G. Bloomincracker, doctor of botany and prodigious collector of curious tribal artifacts, of his sudden disappearance 15 years ago and his unexpected re-emergence from the darkest India jungles, of the curious artifacts found in his possession and his simultaneous appointment to a chair at Oxford and a cell at Bedlam, and the subsequent and possibly related reduction of much of the Midlands to a smoldering crater, it was with some not mild trepidation that I received an invitation to meet the great man.
I am of some reputation as a botanist myself, as the reader is no doubt aware. Having traveled the world in an ongoing if so far futile attempt to obtain specimens of the legendary Walking tree of Dahomey, I am more acquainted than most scholars with the various lands and peoples of this fair globe. Thus, there is a logic to Dr. Bloomincracker’s decision to unburden himself to me. Such is my fate: to share his burden, and to make known his travails, as a cautionary tale to all of humanity.
Bedlam was chosen for the fateful meeting, as Oxford was all booked up. I was shown to a large and not unpleasant anteroom with a lovely view of the lawn and the howling psychotics that peopled it, not so unlike similar facilities at Oxford. I had heard Dr. Bloomincracker’s health had been failing, which would hardly surprise any reader who knew the tale.
The great man entered the room on the arm of the Dean of Divinity, a Reverend Schoppinvax, who steered him into a chair facing mine. After the briefest of introduction, the good Reverend made his departure as if his hair were on fire.
Dr. Bloomincracker appeared before me as a glorious ruin. A man who in his youth had first made his name as a bear wrestler was now withered and hunched, although not yet 50 years of age. His once thick black hair was reduced to a motley of grey thatch and bare, splotched pate; his once imposing frame a twisted hulk; his fine broad forehead as lined as a map of Khartoum; his expressive lips and strong chin now hidden behind a wooly mustache and a goat’s beard. His attire had suffered in a similar manner: what had been once proper morning dress was now a wrinkled, grease stained mockery.
His notorious blue eyes, rumored to have had a dramatic effect on both truculent natives and the weaker sex, were now watery and reddened, and focused, it seemed, at two different distances behind, above and to the right of my face.
Without further ceremony, he reached into his waistcoat and produced a bundle of withered banana leaves, upon which were scribbled, perhaps in Sanskrit but certainly in wax pencil, something utterly inscrutable.
“Read this!” he demanded. A look of confusion must have passed over my face, but the good doctor did not seem to notice. Instead, he again stuck a hand into his waistcoat and produced a small package wrapped in a scrap of cloth.
“Would you like to see the Artifact?” He thrust the package at me without waiting for the answer. I took it gingerly in hand, and unwrapped it as the doctor fidgeted eagerly.
The cloth disgorged into my palm a small metallic oblong about the size of a robin’s egg. On each side was carved a squatting frog-god, on one side with eyes and mouth gaping, on the other with them closed. The remaining surface was curiously graven everywhere with indecipherable runes. A blood red and unshaped gem was savagely afixed to one end. I was struck with fear: it looked for all the world like a trinket one might pick up at a country fair, albeit from a country with very poorly developed aesthetics. I felt a sudden urge to toss the Artifact out the window, but feared I might harm one of the psychotic with which the lawn below was thick.
Before I could speak, the good doctor began telling me the tale that follows.
1 I forget who tells the parable of a man willing to sell his soul to the Devil, on the condition that when he gets to Hell he’d get to talk to him as much as he wants. The man was very proud of his intellect and heard that Old Scratch was the most brilliant of angels, so talking with him for all eternity didn’t seem to bad.
He discovers that, in his Hell, the Devil is a blithering idiot.
Now, I didn’t need to sell my soul to find this out, but it seems the unwitting (I will make myself believe) tools of Marxism in this world are, generally, none too bright. I suspect raving fury tends to reduce one’s capacity for thought.
Yes, this is an update on our little run in at school over gender dysphoria. The ever so loving and gentle folks who are Useful Idiots for Marxism are ever so gently and lovingly doing what they can to make my wife’s life a living hell. With no disrespect intended to my beloved, I think I can say: (using my Philip Marlowe voice) she’s one tough broad. Too bad duels over honor are no longer allowed.
2 One of the few things that can get my mind to stop looping on this topic, wondering what I should have said and how I should have behaved, is writing fiction. Did the three flash fiction trifles posted her over the last week, and am working on a short story to submit to a particular anthology.
Still have not picked up where I left off in November (I lasted 2.5 days at NaNoWriMo) on the Undead Novel That Haunts the Earth, nor the short stories several of you beta read for me. I need to be a *little* bit less emotionally challenged, shall we say, before I’m ready for even the kindest constructive criticism. So, if you are one of the very kind and generous people who gave me feedback only to have me go radio silent 8 months ago, I’ll get back to it as soon as I am able. Rocky Racoon fell back in his room….
3 Weather is beautiful, and I’m feeling physically very well. Getting exercise, eating right – and getting 4 hours of sleep a night, or less. Side effect of the endless loop my mind is still in. This morning, woke around 3:30, started to get up, then forced myself back to bed and pulled up the Kindle. Tried a little Rousseau (Emile – save me from verbose Frenchmen!) and some Chesterton (umpteenth reread of Everlasting Man), but was able to read only a little GKC before it wasn’t working for me. So I tabbed through the backlog, and found a modern vampire novel – can’t remember how that got there, certainly not my usual cup of tea, but, at 4:00 a.m., what the heck.
The first few chapters were pretty good, the writing was excellent and the characters loveable and interesting. So we may soon have a review here of a vampire love story novel.
Bet you didn’t see that coming!
Finally started drifting off, put down the Kindle, rolled over, cuddled in – and the 5:51 a.m. alarm went off. Sigh.
The Freeman’s calves were bound to the stone floor with iron straps. Chains held his arms out at 45 degrees. A heavy metal collar bowed his head. He knelt, arms outstretched, and could hardly move.
“I believe we were. You were being both appallingly wrong and remarkably dense. As usual.”
The robed figure seated on the dias frowned, but the frown was perfunctory. His eyes twinkled. He fingered one of his rings and straightened his robe.
“Yet here I sit, well fed and finely dressed, free to come and go as I wish. My ‘slave’s philosophy’ as you would have it seems to leave me remarkably unfettered.” He lifted his chin and placed it on his folded hands while raising his eyes to the sky. “You, whose philosophy you claim liberates men, are somewhat less unencumbered.”
“Yet you hold that all of life is meaningless. One would thus conclude your freedom is likewise meaningless.”
“The strong give life meaning. My freedom comes from my strength.”
“Yet you will die like other men.”
“I will die having exercised my unfettered will over men like you. Powerless men.”
“If you are so free,” stated the bound man, “I have one small request, which in granting you shall prove to me your freedom and disprove my argument.”
A crooked smile spread across the robed man’s face. “Pray tell.”
“I owned a small medallion once, about the size of a walnut, cast of electrum, curiously carved and set with a single blue stone. I have it on good authority that it sits now on the king’s night stand. Go get it.”
“No one may enter the king’s bedchamber.”
“My point exactly. You are no more free than I.”
The robed man laughed. “Laugh all you want, O Paragon!” the chained man lifted his head an inch. “The difference between my freedom and yours, as you define freedom, amounts to so much smoke.”
“That I am free to decline being hung, drawn and quartered, and you are not, is smoke? The smoke from the fire in which we will burn your entrails before your still-living eyes? I feel such a difference in degree is significant.” The crooked smile returned, but his eyes became cold.
“Yet I remain free by my conception of freedom, while you are a slave even by your own.” He went for the kill. “A craven slave.”
“Would you like a tour of the abattoir?” The robed man’s frown was sincere this time. “We can drag you along the bridge upon whose finials are mounted the heads of men who recently chose to explore the limits of your philosophy. Would you like to see where this ends for you?”
“Are you going to go get the medallion, or not, O Highly Free and Nearly Most Exalted Lord, second only to the man who holds your chain and pulls your strings? The man-child who collects pretty baubles, yet can have your head? The man placed on the most exalted throne by …”
The robed man had stepped down from the dias and slammed his fist into the chained man’s face. His fist was unused to such usage; it may have suffered as much or more than the face struck.
“As enjoyable as these little exchanges have been,” he rubbed his knuckles and tried to act as if they didn’t hurt, “I feel it is now time to end them.”
“Thus conceding my point: I die a free man, you live a slave.” He raised his eyes as much as the chains allowed. “And a coward, afraid of a dim-witted boy.”
The robed figure raised his fist again, thought better of it, and kicked the chained man in the ribs.
“Unless you show me the medallion before I die, I win. You lose. I may scream in agony, confess all crimes, and cry like a baby – but I win, you lose.”
The robed man returned to his seat upon the dias, and pondered. At a slight nod of his head, a guard appeared. “Go to the king’s chamber. On his nightstand are his baubles. You should find a silver-colored medallion, about this big, set with a blue stone. Bring it to me.”
The young guard’s face blanched. “Yes, m’Lord Chancellor, but…”
The Lord Chancellor inclined his head and stared at the guard, a look of death to those who knew. The guard continued nonetheless. “…I have not the key.”
The Lord Chancellor hesitated, then removed his own medallion of office from around his neck and handed it to the young man, who took it, terrified, as if it were a live viper, then bowed deeply and hurried off.
“Very brave. You can deny you ever sent that boy, if he’s caught, and no one will dare challenge your word. He will die the death you have earned.”
“Your philosophy has no room for simple prudence? No wonder you Freemen remain our slaves.” His crooked smile returned. “You shall see your medallion, and then I shall hear those cries of agony, confession of crimes and cries of a baby.”
“I think not. You have not so well run the empire, despite your cunning. The king remains your weakness, because, as I’ve said, you are his slave. The contempt between you is mutual, although his is childish and yours diabolical.”
“Screams. Crimes. Tears.” The Lord Chancellor had walked over again and bent down so that the chained man could feel his whispered breath.
“Your king, fool, collects not only baubles, but pretty girls and interesting slaves.” The chained man raised his eyes and locked them on those of the Lord Chancellor. “There are many pretty girls and interesting men among the Freemen.”
The robed man stood suddenly erect. The footfalls of the returning guard were the only sounds. “Do not be afraid. We Freemen are merciful, and kill our enemies quickly.”
The explosion threw the Lord Chancellor to the ground. Dust and chips of stone began to rain down on the courtyard as a plume rose from where the palace had stood moments before. The militant roar of men rose from the direction of the explosion.
The robed man, ears ringing, opened his eyes, and found himself looking up into the face of the chained man.