Tag Archive: stories


It comes on slowly, creeping up like crackling frost fingers blooming in slow motion across a windowpane. Just a few careful skeletal fronds at first, adding a pleasant accent to the view outside. White dancing patterns frame the bare branches of the trees outside, just barely brushing against the depth of the field and woods disappearing over the hill. Moonlight makes those fingers glow, and lures you into believing that they’re an addition, not a mask.

The hours pass. The fingers curl around more and more of the glass, deliberately and unstoppably greedy. They begin to caress the larger branches, crawling up and over the grass stubble at the bottom of the window, a measured crackle that whispers “mine, mine, mine” as it encroaches. The clear glass in the center gets smaller and smaller, all the fringes being nibbled away one “mine” at a time.

As the fingernail sliver of moon rises over the ridgeline, there’s more and more hard silver glitter making the whole outside world look different – ethereal, unreal and hyperreal, and all of it covered in “mine, mine, mine.” After a while, it’s easy to hear the things you can no longer see, because they’re all joining in the whispers of possession. It’s a rising susurration of desire and ownership. It claims as it clutches, and it throttles as it loves.

It’s beautiful, still. It will always be beautiful, even as it strangles. It is a thrilling, fascinating death.

You would never know anything had ever been any other way, coming in when the window is all covered over with greedy beautiful fingers and fronds. The only thing to be seen is the glow of the moon – you would never know there is a field out there, and woods, and a ridge. The only thing left is the glow, refracting off the prisms of clutching frost fingers, making shards and slivers of what used to be a lush, warm landscape.

It’s beautiful. It’s fascinating. It’s death, one “mine” at a time.

It bears no resemblance to what it was, what it could be. In the fallow season, the ice changes everything, even how the land breathes underneath its cold mask. It kills as it hides. It destroys an inch at a time, and it doesn’t understand how to regret the destruction it wreaks.

Eventually, the fronds and fractals will cover even the moon’s glow. Watch long enough, and you can see it move. It’s a beautiful death, fascinating even as it cloaks.

You will never know which was the first inch, where the first “mine” was whispered, hungry in the silver glow. If you’re very, very lucky, you may be able to see which one was the last.

Trigger.

They’re things I haven’t exposed myself to in months, maybe a year or more.  They hurt, every time.  It’s a cleaner wound now than it was, but just because the cut is cleaner doesn’t mean it doesn’t bleed.  But still.  It is, as I heard myself saying “The best art I have ever been ashamed to inspire.”  That’s probably overstating the case, because none of it is really about me.  I’m a bit player, a walk-on, walk-off, walk-on who affected outcomes at the time but was not a first cause of anything really much.

But do I know that?  I don’t know.  I’ll take that humility, that I am only the littlest finger of a muse, over being the muse entire for things that make the air around them cringe and bleed and sway.  Because she cut out my heart, and what if that’s something that only I have the blame for?

Everything is about a lot of other things.  These things are, at least a little bit, about me.  And as any good art does, they bring back sense memories and evoke a shadow-summoned grin at the remembrance of things that would never have happened, if I had been a little smarter, a little faster, a little better prepared to defend the things that mattered.

 

Transgress.

My brain is leaving me, a piece at a time.  I know it is.  I will not miss it as it goes, because I won’t remember what it is I’m missing.  Things just… fade, and don’t come back, until I can find a trigger to bring them to the surface.  The silver thread that ran through my life, birth to present, is gone, and will never be back.  It won’t kill me, but it is making me very different.  I live, not for the memories I will create, but for the experiences I can have in the present, because the memories may not ever be there.  It’s a roll of the dice.  And it’s a transgression to tell you this, because it shows weakness, and fear.  I am weak, and I am afraid, and I wish very much that I could have lost a leg, or an arm, or anything else.  But it will be what it must, and I accommodate.  I will not be frightened of the loss.  I am only frightened of hurting others by not being able to find the memories that mean to much to them.  I am frightened of the mayfly creature I may become.

So I tell stories, now more than ever before.  Story after story, to entertain and to leave behind a memory of me when my memory of my own life fades.  I tell them to anyone who will listen, who wants to hear, who will have a moment’s joy and beauty out of the things I have done with my life.  I do not want the things I have been, the things I have done, to die with my memory of them.

There was a woman, married to a man.  “Everyone involved deserved better out of me than they got.”  It’s the thing I say about that time, and it is still true.  Triggers fire bullets, and bullets ricochet.  Trigger a strong enough emotion, a strong enough physiological response, and you’ll remember the story.  If you can remember the story, you can tell it, at least as much as you can remember.

“It’s about falling asleep on someone’s breast when you’re too paranoid to sleep with anyone, and not knowing you’re asleep.  It’s about mourning armor that has spikes on the inside and on the outside.  It’s about her cutting my heart out of my chest, and sewing the space together with barbed wire.  It’s about having some piece of your heard sawed out and sewn over, so it won’t get burnt up with the rest of you.”

 

Transcribe.

These things are painful to remember, and beautiful, and irreplaceable.  I would not trade them for anything.  I gather them, frame by frame, and make a sparkling mirror mobile to help me remember the good, and how not to cut myself on the bad.  I would not wish forgetting on anyone.

And I will find out what happens in Split City before it becomes a memory lost in dust and dark places on the scans.

I will never forget love.  Even in the myriad forms it takes, as much as it stretches and deforms and makes a place inside you that begs to be filled and strikes out with venom and blades at the slightest touch, I will never forget love.  It is never quite what it seems, and it always seems both a little better and a little worse than it really is.

Bad girl’s death

“Don’t I rate a bad girl’s death?” – Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird

It’s cold, but at least the wind is dry.  Better than the wet nights, at least.  The wind cuts and moans, but it doesn’t suck the heat out of you as bad as sleet does.  It’s an unthinking mercy from nature.

Doorways are good.  They cut the wind down on three sides, and if they’re deep enough, all that’s left is a little skirl of breeze that doesn’t have the strength to bite by the time it gets to you.  Doorways are a place that’s almost inside, but usually not inside enough that anybody will bother to throw you out, if you’re careful about the doorway you pick.

Almost inside.  If you’re lucky, there will be glass all the way down the door, and you can push up against it and get a little trickle of heat out from the world that is really inside.  Inside seems like a foreign country now; one that requires passports and documents in languages you don’t understand, on paper you’ve never seen.  “Inside” is like “safe” – both of them are words that have a meaning, just not one that applies to you.  Option E, none of the above, because it just flat doesn’t exist for people like you are now.

Have to be careful which doorway you pick, though.  Nobody wants you messing up their porch, maybe doing something they wouldn’t approve of near their warm, safe insideness.  Getting chased off means losing heat, losing energy, losing a little more of things you don’t know if you’ll be able to replace.  Sometimes it means worse things.  Words like knives, blows that burn up more energy, more heat, more life.  Bleeding you out by making you expose yourself to air that hasn’t already been warmed by your body or by the door.

Tiredness is a poison and a warning.  It’s meant to make you seek shelter, seek food, so that the body can replenish itself.  Being tired and cold is supposed to tell you to warm up and get rest and fuel.  After a certain point, all it tells you is that you’ve failed again.  Failed to get inside.  Failed to get food.  Failed and failed and failed at looking enough like a good girl to make it through the door.

Some nights the failure is a frustration, an irritation, an inconvenience.  But if the failure goes on long enough, it gets dangerous.  Failure begets failure; if you can’t eat, can’t get warm, you look like a bad girl.  Too skinny, too ragged, too wild.  Then it gets easier and easier to fail, and you get closer and closer to failing forever.

It’s your own fault, you know.  If you’d just been a good girl, you wouldn’t have to curl up in doorways, scrounging heat and hoping to steal enough to get by.  Enough what?  Enough anything.  Anything that can be food or can be traded for it.  Food and warmth become your only goals, if the failure goes on long enough.  Anything that will stop the feeling of bleeding out through your skin.  Anything that will stop the gnawing inside, keep you from thinking even for a moment about how close you are to running out of energy completely.

If you’d just been able to figure out how to be a good girl, you wouldn’t have to go through any of this.  But you weren’t smart enough, weren’t fast enough, weren’t good enough even to pretend to be good.  Now you never will be.  Maybe next time you’ll remember to listen, to be obedient, to be pleasing.  Except for you, there is no next time.

There’s only the doorway, and a bad girl’s death.  Drawn up, curled up, hoarding your energy and trying to steal more, right until the very end.

Only bad girls steal.  That’s why you’re caught, almost inside and never safe.

It’s a bad girl’s death, and it’s all yours.

“They’re afraid of rumors and tall tales.  And I let them be afraid.  It makes my job easier.”  – Richard Kadrey, Butcher Bird

“We wear the mask that grins and lies, / It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” – Paul Lawrence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask

 

When I look in the mirror, I flinch.

I should never have put it on.

This is all my own fault.  I should never have put it on, because now it won’t come off.

All I wanted was to be strong, and to be scary, just so I could get them to leave me alone for a minute.  And now it won’t come off.  I’ve tried everything I can think of, and I don’t know how it stays on.  Trying to take it off hurts, now, and feels like trying to pull off my own face.

But my face doesn’t look like this.  Please, don’t let this be what my face looks like.  I can’t be this… this thing I see, now.  It was only supposed to be for a minute.

I can’t live like this.  This can’t be who I’ve turned into, over one stupid decision.  Nothing that split second can be permanent.  That’s just not fair.  I can’t have turned into something like this, just from that one second’s fear and anger and shame.  One decision can’t make me a different person.  It just can’t.

But, I mean…

It’s not that bad, not really.  I can get used to it, if I give it a little while.  And it sure as shit does what I wanted it to do.  It makes them leave me alone.  It makes them leave me right the hell alone.

There are advantages to a face that makes people flinch, even if one of those people is me.

Who am I to turn down something that useful?  I mean, really, this whole thing has done me a favor.  I can be anything I want to be under here, and nobody will be able to tell the difference.  All they’ll see is this new face, and they’ll be afraid.

Well, let them be afraid.  They ought to be.

This might be the best stupid decision I ever made.  I hope it never comes off.  Let them be afraid.  Everybody knows monsters don’t get lonely.

Let me never be complete.

Let me never be compliant.

Let me never be content.

 

Let me never be a person, whole and finished, who is happy to be whole and finished.  Let my jagged edges scrape, and my unfinished margins have scribbles in all kinds of tools.  Let my footnotes have footnotes, and let my footnotes’ footnotes go out and drink in bars and bring back in-line citations that have no manners and wreck all the previous pagination and fuck the formatting until it cries and goes running for a new editor.

Let me never say “Enough!” because I am afraid I cannot take more.  Let me never run from my boundaries before I run face-first into them.  Let me never be satisfied with my limits.  Let my fears be challenges, adversaries to face with a hipshot grin and a sharp word, a sharp point, a sharp edge.  Let me never be held down, held back, held up or held over by anything I can drag into the light and eat, one bloody and satisfying bite at a time.

Let me never fall down, fall back, fall out or fall over when it is time to stand up.  Let me never put convenience before principle.  Let me never fail by refusing to commit.  Let me never excuse my own failure with “I tried.”  Let me never accept the failures of others quietly, when they limit me.  Let me never be tired enough to stop fighting.  Let me never give up being myself, fiercely and fabulously.  Let me never sell myself short.  Let me never keep myself from being.  Let me never slide into mediocrity.

Let me never be complete.

Let me never be compliant.

Let me never be content.

Let me never forget that I will fail at all of these things, time and time again, and that is no excuse to stop.

Walking with a bowl

Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, there was a woman with a bowl.  It was a wide, round stone bowl, and it was her dearest possession.  This was a very once upon a time indeed, and she lived in a hard and rocky part of the land, where nothing would grow but gnarled little weeds and hard and twisted trees that gave no fruit.

There was, though, a small and lively stream beside the little shady building where she lived.  It had the clearest water you could dream of, and she carried that water out to the road every day in her beautiful, wide bowl.  It was a long walk to the road, but once she got there, she could trade the water for food and news and clothes.  The road always had traders, headed to the larger city, and she could trade her water to them, without having to go into the loud and dangerous city herself.

But of course, walking with a beautiful, wide stone bowl is difficult, day after day, many times a day.  The path was neither smooth nor flat.  And of course, you know what is going to happen, O Best Beloved, because it is such a beautiful bowl, and because her whole life depends upon it.

One day she falls, and the bowl breaks.  Her foot turns on a stone she cannot see, past the bowl full of clear water in her arms.  She and the bowl both go tumbling into the path.  She fares better than the bowl does, and is only scraped up a little.  The bowl, the beautiful stone bowl, is shattered beyond all hope of repair.

She has walked this path every day, many times a day, her whole life.  She has worked hard, her whole life.  She will not give up easily.  So she returns to her little house, and gathers up everything she has that might be worth something to a trader.  Then she goes and sits by the side of the road, and waits.

It takes two days, but eventually she meets a man who has what she wants to trade.  He has a waterskin.  He has never needed her bowl, but he has traded for a drink from it anyway, and always been kind.  He trades her for a waterskin, so that he can still stop for a conversation with her (for he thinks her pleasing) and a drink (for the water is cool, and always a blessing).

The skin doesn’t work.  She doesn’t understand why, until she drinks from it, and then she has a fight with the man who traded it to her, and he beats her badly for the words she screams at him.  She believes he has traded her a rotten skin, something poisonous and foul.

The skin is fine.  The water is different.  It doesn’t feel the sun on its skin for hours walking to the road.  It doesn’t hear her voice singing as she walks.  It doesn’t lap against the sides of a beautiful stone bowl in the breeze and taste the air of a thousand miles around as it makes the journey from spring to road to throat.

Instead, it is trapped in the waxed hide of a dead animal, bound up in the dark, blind and deaf and dumb.  It is neither the living spirit of the spring nor the soothing medicine of the bowl, and it tastes of darkness and binding.  It is no wonder the traders will pay nothing for it.

With nothing to trade, the woman is starving.  She is alone, she has nothing left to bargain with, no trade left to ply.  So she begins to walk to the city, hoping to find an answer from the king there.  They say he is very wise.

She goes into the very center of the city, and asks an audience to see the king in his temple.  She is told that he is not seeing anyone today, and that she must go away and wait.  But she is starving, and she cannot wait, so she does a thing that is not good at: she lies.

She tells the guards that she had a dream.  She was a water-seller, and that she had a dream that her bowl broke, but that the king could fix it, and the next day her bowl broke.  She tells them she has walked to the city to see the king, to tell him this dream, because she is afraid.  She tells herself that it is mostly true, and that she is only trying to survive.

It is very, very frightening when the guards grab her by both arms and drag her inside, straight into the center of the temple to see the king and his priests.  Except there are no priests.  There is only the king, a man standing in front of his throne, staring at nothing.

The guards push her to her knees before the king, and walk from the room without looking back.  It is not quite a run, but the difference is very fine.

“Are you a dreamer?  I told them I needed another dreamer.”  His voice is a cracked drum, a whispering echo.

“No, lord.  I am not a dreamer.  I only told them I had a dream.  What happened?”

“I killed them.  They dreamed terrible things, and I killed them all, because I could not bear the madness of what is coming.  And now there are no dreams at all.  I do not know if that is better.”  He drops, boneless, to the beautiful stone floor.  It sounds like a bowl breaking.  He begins to sob, ragged and rhythmic, as if it is something he has done so much that it has worn a rut into him.

“I broke my bowl, lord, and now I am starving.”  The sound of him falling has reminded her.

“Good.  Starving is better than what is coming.  Go home.  Stay away from here.  Starve.  It is better than what is coming.”

The guards beat her, partly because she lied, but mostly because they were afraid of what was happening to their king and their world.  She did not make it home before she died.  Many of the people who lived to see what happened to their lands in the years to come wished they had not.

Once upon a time, a woman was walking with a bowl, and broke it.  A king could not bear the voice of his dreamers, and had them silenced.  But remember, O Best Beloved, that stories are music.

In the same land, where there was so much madness and pain that a king ordered a woman to go home and starve rather than see a dream come to pass, there was a voice from a hillside.  It waited, that voice.  It waited for a man named Diego, and it waited almost 500 years, but the blood of every dreamer in the land could not wash it away.

“Have you forgotten?  I am your mother.  You are under my protection.”

 

And now let me remind you, O Best Beloved, that all storytellers are liars.  No voice waits.  All voices want to be heard.  When the altars are broken, when the dreamers are killed, we do not gather at altars, and we do not speak our dreams to kings.  We drink from unlabeled bottles around fires in the wilderness, and we do not wait for the altars to be rebuilt.

To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart, and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.
Arne Garborg

 

Come sit by my fire, and I will sing you a song, so that you can sing it with me while we sit together, and sing it without me, when the time for you to sit by this fire with me is done.

I know a woman whose heart sings a beautiful song.  It is a song made of hope, and dreaming, and not a little sadness and pain.  It is a song made of all the things a complex life is made of, and it is a song that you already know the pattern of, because it is a song not very unlike your own.

It is a little more full of sadness now than it was, because her heart forgot how to sing it.  Not for long.  Just for a little while.  Just for long enough for the part of her that is her to decide it wanted to be somewhere else instead.

I will miss the woman I know.  Most days, I will talk about her in the past tense, because it is easier for everyone that way.  But we know better, you and I.  Because we are singers, and storytellers, and we will not stop singing her song.

We know that even if her heart forgot for a little while, the song doesn’t stop.  We know that some songs do not have a true beginning, or a true ending.  They only have changes, and movements, and patterns.  Music repeats.  It never truly stops.  We never stop singing.

My friend and I will never have coffee again.  We will never have that long catch-up conversation that we’ve been saying we would have for so long.  She will never graduate college, as she was so close to doing.  She will never see England.  She will never be married.  She will never do so many things that were songs of hope and joy and dream in her life.

That is a song of pain for me.  But her song is not over, because we are still singing.  I refuse to stop.  And I am grateful for your voice, raised with mine.

Castles made of sand

They say the sand eats everything.

Over and over, they say the sand eats everything.

It eats the mountains, nibbling at their toes with tiny sharp teeth while the wind scrapes at their tops, endlessly screaming its discontent.  It eats anyone unfortunate or stupid enough to stay in it too long, or too still.  First the clothes, or the fur, or the hooves, or whatever is most exposed.  Then, accelerating as surely as gravity, it peels away everything else that is exposed.  It eats through skin and flesh and, eventually, bone.  It eats steel.  It eats wood.  It eats and eats and eats, an endless susurrus of destruction and consumption.

And yet, the keep stands.

No one questions it.  No one talks about it.  The keep just… stands.  The sand blows up to it, around it, and it hulks, impenetrable and imperturbable.

I think I found out its secret, you see.  I had to go there to find out.  I had to brave the sand of half the desert, and sneak my way past the great cat that haunts the shadows around the keep itself, and find my way to the very pits of it to discover that secret.

It’s made of sand.  The sand hasn’t eaten it, because it’s already been eaten.  The walls are grainy and black and hard – it’s all just packed in sand, smooth and tight as ever you please.  The further up you go, the tighter it’s packed, so it looks and feels just like stone by the time you get up to the surface, much less above ground level.  But down below, you can feel it, and you can see it, if you bring light.  It’s all just sand.

I wonder if the people who stay here know that?

And, I have to admit, something didn’t seem quite right.  The walls, down deep, were so grainy that they practically crumbled off when I brushed at them.  I went and looked around the outside, and the foundations are all pitted and crumbling.  It looks like the holes are getting bigger – like the sand that holds everything up is blowing away into the rest of the desert.

But I have to be wrong.  The keep stands, after all.  And if there were something wrong, I wouldn’t be the first person to notice.  Someone would have done something by now.

I mean, they’d have to.  Wouldn’t they?

The taste of blood

“There were so many things I wanted to say.  Things like Thank you, or even, I love you.

Because I do.  We are lonely creatures, we hunters.  We have to love each other.  We are the only ones who understand, the only ones who will ever understand.”

Lilith Saintcrow, Angel Town

 

It’s just the taste of blood, that’s all.  A little trickle, down the back of my throat.  It wouldn’t be so bad, if I could stop it.  I could stop it, I guess, if I really put my mind to it.  I can do anything, if I put my mind to it just right.

I just can’t seem to do it, this time.

It trickles, and tickles, and burns in the back of my throat.

I hope it was worth it.  I hope she got away.

Neither one of us expected anybody to be there.  We expected to get in clean, get out clean, and get paid, that’s all.  It’s not so much, for us.  We’ve been a pair so long nobody would ever even think about seeing one of us without the other.

I wonder if she got out clean.  I hope so.

That taste burns so bad, and it won’t go away.

I knew something was wrong when the alarm went off.  She was supposed to have taken care of it, and nothing like that has gone wrong in a good long while now.  She’s so damn good at her job I’ve stopped even thinking about it.  She’s my partner, my good right hand.  She’s the only one I’d trust my back to.

But then there was the shrieking, and the lights blaring, and I wasn’t even close to the payload, much less to getting out.  I screamed to her, screamed hard and loud as I could.

Get out, I said.  Get out and get clean.  I’ll be right behind you.

I’ll be right behind you.

I guess I wasn’t, after all.

The sirens are getting closer, and they’re going to pack me off, because I can’t get this taste out of my mouth.  Lucky shot, from some damn automated system.  Should have seen it coming.  Should have been watching my back.

I hope she listened.  I hope she got out.

The only way tasting this is worth it is if she got out.

I mean, we’re partners.

Some time ago, The Fabulous Lorraine posted a thought about being on fire.  For that, I owe her all the mangoes she can eat, ever.  Let me give you just a taste of what the poem she quotes is like:

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

 

It is, truly, something to have been.  Without it, there would be no knowing what beauty is.  So we try things, and hurt ourselves in the trying, sometimes.  We fuck up.  We do what seems right at the time.  We do what seems fun.  Whatever.  And then, we hurt.

So how does it reflect on an author, when that author is willing to hurt, to injure, to maim, to torture, to kill a character? Or to make up whole new things worse than death, just to do to them?

I will do terrible, awful things to the people I write or write about.  I am a bad person.  I feel no remorse for forcing them to live through things that no sane human being would survive.

It is something to have been.

Who am I, to deny them freedom?  Freedom of choice comes with freedom of consequence.  You can’t have one without the other.  It doesn’t work.

Put it another way: these are the things they must experience, to become the people they will end up being.  Stealing their pain, their anguish, their hurt is only denying them a part of life that is true, and instructive, and necessary to form a child into… something very else.

So I will not cringe from doing genuinely awful things, to characters and readers alike.  I realized that, the day I knew I had written someone that all of us know, that all of us like, someone who had the potential to be everything and to make the world, if not entirely right, at least a vastly better place.  He had the right, the responsibility, the privilege to live and to take pleasure both in living and in making the world a better place to be.

Naturally, then, just as he realized what he might become, I murdered him.

I say it that way because it is my writing.  It is my hand holding both the quill and the sword, and I refuse to shy away from being responsible for the genuinely terrible things I’ve done.

But if I hadn’t murdered him, nothing would be the same.  He needed to die, both for himself and for everyone around him.  So at least it wasn’t a truly pointless death.

I don’t mourn him, because he still lives in my head, where time is whatever I want it to be.  Even if that weren’t the case, I’d still have murdered him.  It was a painful task, one that needed doing.

Truly, it is something to have been.  To deny my characters the right to fuck up, to get hurt, to be strange, to learn by mistakes – to me, that denies them the right to be people, and not puppets.

One more quote, then I will stop:

The puppet thinks
it’s not so much
what they make me do
as their hands
inside me
that hurts.

Charles De Lint

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