Why does the valley fear the mountain?
The shadow it casts for miles?
The fate it decides
For all below it
The title of this project is The Valley. It is aimed at adults. This is only the first little bit of the song/poem so it is only about 20 words long. My name is Mollie Osinga, but I prefer Mino. My project is a good fit because it is gonna make people think and want to analyze it. The hook is written up top: Why does the valley fear the mountain? The synopsis is something I want the reader to figure out. I'm 21 years old and I am trying to become a writer. I am currently in college. My writing is often reflections on things that I have viewed or have had happen to me. Writing is one of my hobbies. I'd rather not talk about where I am from; too personal.
The Red Lady
Intro: This is the first chapter/excerpt/page from a novel included in a large project of mine, "The Krisian Chronicles." The series includes a trilogy and a prequel, a duology, two standalones, and a collection of short stories and tales (planned, thus far). The Red Lady is one of the Standalones, and by far the most completed of the series. Enjoy.
SARAH CHAMPLAIN’S DIARY
3rd Moon, 709th cycle
I was never the type to fall at Love’s feet, and I was certainly never the type to blush. More often, I’d turn red from anger, frustration making a painful nest in my hands and ears, as if I were about to blow. Among my family and the rest of Nadii’s upper class, the habit earned me the name “Scarlett Sarah”- the girl who’d never, ever be a blushing bride.
I was a tad bit annoyed by the nickname, but proud of the reputation that followed, contrary to my very much disappointed parents. I’d grown quite comfortable with the fact that no man or woman could ever make me feel romance the way they described it in the stories. No man could make me float with ecstasy, or swoon with feeling.
Which is why I was quite surprised and utterly defenseless when I made eye contact with Siraj Kardson for the first time. It went like this:
“...would like you to have a new dress for Dawson’s dinner party, hopefully something a little bit more classy.” My governess, Mrs. Hanovan, repeated the task for maybe the fiftieth time that morning as we roamed into the market. The market might’ve been my second favorite place in the world, for it was next to my favorite, the docks. The docks filled the air with the sound of exotic, chaotic singing and laughing, and the smell of the sea, sweat, and wood. There may have been nothing in the world that I loved more than chaos, something that a life at sea promised, something that it dangled in front of me, always beckoning from the East of my small, proper world.
“Marie’s is right around the corner, I say we head there first. Objections, miss?”
I didn’t, in fact, have any objections, and might’ve said so, if I hadn’t been distracted by one of the most exciting sounds in my entire little world.
Immediately my feet pulled me closer to the symphony of steel against steel, my ears drowning out the sound of Mrs. Hanovan’s exhausted arguments. My elbows, entirely of their own accord, pushed at the shapeless blobs of people around me, until I was in the innermost ring of the crowd of people watching the fight unfold.
A large man waved what seemed to be an even larger blade at a smaller boy, a boy who ducked and spun around with such ease, you’d have thought he was made of water himself. The boy’s hair was so brown that at first glance it looked black. It swung in frizzy curls around his face, sloppily chopped off a bit above the chin, as if the larger man had accidentally cut it off in their scuffle. His skin could’ve been made of the sun, for it was so deeply copper that it seemed to glow.
The larger man caught the boy in his dance with a blow to the ribs from his elbow, and he toppled off balance, hitting the stone and skidding his back on the street until he slid just a few inches from the hem of my skirt. Had I any sense, I might’ve backed away, or kicked him, but I was stuck. Utterly trapped his stare. I hated it so much, but it was so hard to hate eyes like that. Especially when they crinkled up, an impish grin spreading across the impish face they resided in.
A hand or two pulled me back from the boy as the large man lumbered towards us. On instinct I pulled my arm back from the strange hands, not dareing to look away from the boy as he pushed himself back to his feet, wringing out his thin blade slightly before jabbing it at the large man, resuming his dance. He weaved in and out, spinning around and leaping out of the way, onto boxes and barrels, moving to the rise and fall of the cheers escaping the onlookers. A passing cart overflowing with flowers of all kinds slowly made its way through the rabble, and I only noticed because he made such a point to get to it, dodging the attacks from the larger man. Grabbing a small, red rose, he pushed back against the larger man, knocking him back into the circle with each jab and twist. Every swipe from the large man gave me a heart attack and every win for the boy made me float just a little higher with anticipation. My hand shook the way it did when I got angry, pushing away the pain dancing in its palm.
With a final, strained effort, the large man swung his sword down on the boy, his figure blocking my view. For a terrifying moment, it seemed that he’d won, and the crowd held its breath. But then, like the early sun gracing the horizon, the boy popped up from the far side of the man, who’s blade had gotten stuck in the wooden barrel behind the boy, and with a finishing blow, he hit the man in the back of the neck with the hilt of his sword. The man passed out, crumpling to the ground amongst the celebratory cries of the crowd.
A hurricane of people pressed forward, but I stayed put, still rooted in place, staring at the boy beaming with triumph. When the crowd reached him he seemed to start, as if waking up from a dream, and he looked around, as if he’d had no clue how he’d gotten there.
That was, until, his eyes caught on my face.
I’d not only forgotten how to move at this point, but also how to breathe. Everyting I tried, a shaky breath making its way into my lungs, goosebumps jumped down my spine. I screamed at myself to do something, but my body refused, standing stock still as he made his way towards me. I wanted to leave, to run far away from that stupid dock, and kick myself for feeling such away, for wanting to reach out and grab his arm, for wanting to pull him close.
Scarlett Sarah would never.
Nonetheless, he made his way towards me, shrugging off the enthusiastic pats on the back as he strut ever closer.
“For you, lady,” the boy smirked when he reached me, extending the arm that didn’t hold the blade, the arm that held the rose.
“Whatever for?” I frowned, my traitor of a hand wrapping around the flower and taking it. The fingers on that demon hand shook as pain danced in its palm.
“To match your ears, miss,” he smiled. The bastard.
I still can’t tell if my ears burned hotter, or if I’d just become horribly aware of the feeling at his reminder.
“Well, how dare-!”
“Siraj!” a shout from my left snatched the boy’s attention away from me, and Mrs. Hanovan’s boney, stern fingers wrapped around my elbow, tugging me from the hurricane of people before I could slap the boy, Siraj, across his face with his stupid flower.
An Afternoon Visit
Nels paused briefly, huffing a breath into the biting wind and massaging his cramped leg. Snow collected on his sparse gray hair, tickling as it melted down his cheeks and dripped off his nose. Chilled wet fingers searched the neck of his wholly inadequate coat and dampened his shoulders. Not the light, fluffy, picturesque snow in which kids played. No, this was mixed with small, icy pellets propelled by a driving wind. Wind that shoved him off balance as he started off again.
Crystals stung his face and unprotected hands that, stiff with arthritic pain, were fastened to two plastic grocery sacks. Nels reconsidered his decision to venture out into this kind of weather, but it was way too late for second-guessing. Ankles aching and feet burning from the wet cold that seeped through tattered leather boots, he determinedly plodded ahead on weary legs and aching knees.
It was customary for Nels to remain indoors for weeks at a time through the heart of winter, other than infrequent trips to the store for necessities, that is. Today was an exception, when his cravings overrode common sense and he succumbed to his indulgences: three new puzzle books and box of crackers for the chili now cooking on the stove.
Oh, yeah, a package of store-baked cinnamon rolls.
Groceries had been his excuse but not his motive for venturing into the near-blizzard conditions. Something in the back of his mind had nagged at him all morning. Something significant, something hovering just out of reach no matter how hard he grasped for it. So, rather than continuing to sit at home worrying over the something he couldn’t recall, Nels decided to take a walk and hope the exercise would loosen his mind.
Plodding through drifts, laboriously now, he nestled his chin inside the wet collar of a tattered 35-year-old coat, a Christmas present from Katy that he continued making excuses for not disposing. Sure, he had newer and warmer coats hanging in the closet, but preferred memories to warmth. Getting rid of it, even worn out as it was, seemed disrespectful.
And as he had forsaken warmth for memories, so had it been with the chili awaiting him at home. On days like today, the can of beans and meat evoked childhood memories. Memories of being greeted by a pressure cooker with petcock dancing and rattling on a geyser of steam, hissing a spray of spicy aromas throughout the house and coating the windows with moisture. Memories of mom ladling the chili, served with a side of homemade butter-soaked cinnamon rolls.
Well, it had never really been that way, Nels silently acknowledged, but that’s the way he wanted to remember it. That’s the memory he wanted to recreate with store-baked cinnamon rolls and canned chili.
Katy would have been irked had she been here. Hell, she wouldn’t have let him out of the apartment to begin with. Not only because it was foolish to venture out into the storm, but spending money on cinnamon rolls and puzzle books was completely unnecessary, considering their subsistence on a wholly inadequate income.
Crackers - now that could be considered a necessity.
However, Katy wasn’t here and would never know since he paid in cash and threw away the receipt. Nor would she know that he had given what little change he had to a beggar woman loitering around the grocery store entrance. Nels reasoned that only authentic beggars panhandled in this kind of weather, while scammers migrated to warmer climates.
No, Katy would know nothing of this day. Hell, Nels smiled wryly, given a week and he wouldn’t remember today, either.
But with a new grandbaby about to make his appearance into the world, Nels had taken out a credit card he couldn’t be repay and bought Katy a round-trip ticket to Texas. At this stage in life, being practical was no longer practical. Considering all the money he had thrown away on life insurance, he might as well get a return on his investment. Let the life insurance pay off his debts when the day came.
Pausing to catch his breath in the shadowed lee of the apartment complex, cold quickly tightened its grip. Even though the sun could the neither be seen nor felt, the shade nonetheless made it colder. Looking up to the seventh floor where his corner apartment set dark, Nels dreaded a long climb that would be tougher than the four blocks of knee-deep snow he had just trail-blazed. His knees throbbed at the thought and he cursed the building managers for not fixing the elevator. For nearly two weeks, the “out of service” sign set taped to the doors with no estimated time of repair. Then he cursed them for the piss-poor insulation and he cursed them for the damned baseboard heaters that were as ineffective as they were hard to regulate. He cursed the snow and the cold and the age and the loneliness. And he cursed himself for allowing Katy to leave.
It felt as though she had been gone for years not days. The bed was cold at night, and the apartment lonely during the day with an emptiness that television and radio merely punctuated. He had stacks of books to pass the time, hundreds of them. During the summer he made weekly visits to the thrift store and returned with sacks of novels costing a dime or quarter each. Then, during the long winter months when it was too cold or dangerous to go out, he and Katy hibernated, reading.
Nels massaged his gloveless hands, careful not to drop the sack of puzzle books and crackers. And cinnamon rolls, can’t forget that.
Gnarled hands that once been strong and wrinkle-free, tirelessly carrying everything from lumber and toolboxes to fly rods and shotguns, now cold, stiff and weak. In his youth, he could run up a ladder with two bundles of asphalt shingles balanced on his shoulder. Now he doubted that he could even climb a ladder. Fingers that had been nimble enough to pluck songs from the guitar for hours at a time were now inflexible twigs with bulging joints made red and painful from a couple of light grocery bags.
He had once a good paying job and naively believed it would last until retirement. Laid off six years shy of that retirement, Nels contracted a staph infection that depleted their savings and investments. He and Katy eventually sold their house to escape the mortgage, relinquishing forty-six years of memories to strangers. Thereupon forced into an unassuming, run-down apartment complex.
Nels had spent his retirement working for the Department of Agriculture as a bean inspector, but last summer had been his last summer and he knew it. Wearing hip waders and logging more 20 miles a day, teams walked row after row of bean fields searching for blight. Damnable disease that, if found on even a few plants, usually meant the entire field had to be plowed under. Walking was no longer joyful, whether it was summer bean fields or winter sidewalks.
Sure, the kids offered to let Katy and him move in with them, but having grown up in a multi-generational family, Nels vowed never to put their kids in a similar situation and politely, but firmly, rejected offers. And that’s where Katy was. Mothering a daughter-in-law in the Texas sun and the Texas warmth. It had been his Christmas present to her, giving her a break from a life as dreary as the winter she was escaping.
With his mind on past regrets, Nels was surprised to see the oiled bronze numerals 703 before his eyes. Balancing on trembling legs, hands shaking from cold that wouldn’t release, it took two attempts to unlock the door. Aromatic chili, the best comfort food on a day like today, greeted him.
An old, dark, dated apartment, it was nonetheless affordable. Affordable, that is, when he skimped on necessities like the two prescriptions he hadn’t refilled in over a month. Stained yellow carpeting, faded purple drapes, cracked linoleum, and three ceiling lights that served as cemeteries for flies, moths and mosquitoes. But it was home and it was the best he could do.
Winter’s puss oozed from his clothes, leaving one watery trail to a kitchen counter of chipped veneer where he deposited the groceries, and another to the bedroom where he donned a fresh set of clothes after toweling himself dry. As much as he wanted a hot shower, he would wait until bedtime, that way it would keep him warm long enough to fall asleep.
Returning to the kitchen, Nels noticed the cat bowl was still filled with kibble but the water bowl was dry and lined with white deposit. Mistoffelees still hadn’t eaten, but thankfully she preferred dry food to the canned stuff that stunk up the place. He and Katy had renamed her a few years ago because, like the Cats character, Mistoffelees was a magician with a terrific disappearing act.
The chili had cooked dry and the sauce crusted over meat and beans. Not nearly as good a cook as Katy, he could nonetheless survive on his own. Scraping the lumpy brown paste into a bowl and wishing for sour cream to soften it, Nels dropped a stack of crackers on top. His hands hurt too much to crumble them.
Carrying the bowl in shaky hands, Nels took his lunch to the pair of recliners that set before an electric faux fireplace. Heavy Afghans that Katy crocheted years ago lay draped over the backs of the chairs, to be used when the chill became too much. Dropping heavily into one of the two recliners and nearly tipping his bowl onto the floor - he would have if it hadn’t been concentrated to a sticky paste - Nels recovered, cursed his infirmity, and set it on the end table next to a “Gunsmith” Western.
For long moments, he sat gazing at the swirling snow with a sense of accomplishment. Yeah, walking to the store was stupid and it didn’t do anything to loosen his seized mind, but he had cinnamon rolls, puzzle books, and that sense of accomplishment.
Spooning one bite after another, pausing between thoughts, Nels prepared himself another solitary afternoon. Maybe tonight he’d call Katy if she wasn’t too busy with the babies.
Focusing on the wind-whipped snow, Nels became aware of Celina only by her reflection. Seated on the love couch, she sat watching him from behind with those compassionate yet penetrating eyes. A stunning young woman whom he couldn’t adequately describe other than her long, blackest-of-black hair that seemed to be in constant motion, riffling from imperceptible breezes. No longer startled by her unannounced visits, he welcomed the peace that she brought.
Celina’s visits had increased in occurrence but not duration, and she always wore that unfashionable white kimono entirely inadequate for winter. Her tanned complexion gave him the impression that she was a California or Arizona transplant, and he didn’t want to insult her style by telling her that those clothes didn’t cut it up north. She sat in a comfortable sprawl watching him. Sometimes he found her sitting in the recliner next to him, sometimes she just stood.
Perhaps she had been loading laundry when he arrived. Had she watched him towel off his butt-naked, wrinkled, bony body?
Okay, so there was a time when he was damn good looking and would have been proud to show himself off to any woman. Hell, he had worked most summers without a shirt, taking pride in the attention that it garnered from passing women. Now, he lived within a shriveled embarrassment best hid by bulky clothes.
“Hello,” Nels pleasantly spoke to the reflection in the window. “Would you like some chili?”
“No thank you,” Celina said and smiled. “But it smells delicious.”
“You’re just being kind. I didn’t think you people were supposed to lie.”
As I said, it does smell delicious. How it tastes, well...” she shrugged and smiled.
“Mistoffelees hasn’t eaten today, have you seen her?”
“She is no longer here.”
“Hm.” Nels took another bite and wished for a bottle of Dos Equis, but it wasn’t worth another trip to the store. Besides, he no longer had money for a bottle, much less a six-pack. “I didn’t see her go out. Maybe I’ll crack the door open for when she decides to come back in. She likes to wander up and down the hallway, you know.”
“You sound weary.”
Spoon trembling in his hand, he mouthed another bite. “You didn’t catch me on a good day. Do they train you to be this formal? No, forget it. I’ve asked before so don’t bother answering.”
He waited for a response that didn’t come. “I shouldn’t have gone to the store but there’s something I need to remember. I thought the walk would help.” He looked at her a moment before adding, “I miss Katy.”
“You will see her in twelve days.”
“Is that what her itinerary says? I can’t find it. Must have lost it somewhere.”
“She is not coming here, you are going to her.”
“Hm. So, who’s going to look after Mistoffelees? I don’t want the hassle of taking her on a plane even if I could afford it. I’m sure as hell not shipping her in cargo. Do you know how many animals those airlines lose or kill?”
Celina waited for him to continue.
“But I guess if it gets me out of this damned weather, I can’t complain too much. I used to work in these conditions all the time and without complaining one iota. It was just what you did, no questions asked. Now people work from home and bitch about flex time. Put them back in my day and see how they do.”
Celina remained quietly listening.
“Weather never used to bother me. Got frostbit too many times and in too many places to count, but I guess my tolerance went with my body.”
Celina smiled. He liked her company, just wished she was more conversational.
“Sometimes I hear Katy in the other room, but of course she isn’t here so it must be Mistoffelees even if I can’t find her,” Nels said.
“There comes a time when you see more with your mind than with your eyes.”
“Obviously, since my eyes are shot to hell. Reading as much as I do probably makes them worse.”
Celina shrugged as if eyesight was inconsequential.
“Are you here to clean or visit?” Nels said.
“Then stay longer this time.”
“I cannot. But then you know that.”
“Not good enough.” Rotating his chair to face her, Nels struggled to hold the bowl in shaking hands.
“I know being alone is hard,” she said as if reading his mind.
“Shit. Loneliness ain’t the half of it. When you get to be my age, you see that time’s running out. You don’t have much to look forward to, so you spend all your time looking back. You take account of your life, and what do I have to account for? Look around. Some old worn-out furniture, a few pots and pans, chipped dishes, old clothes. Just look around, will you? This is all I have to show for my life.”
“The past has nothing to offer you. Life is not about what you have, it’s about what you do. Even more than what you do, it’s about who you have become.”
“And what’s that? A crippled old man who takes government handouts and gives nothing in return. Hell, Celina, I wanted to make a difference with my life.”
“Do you think this is the sum total of your life? A run-down man in a run-down apartment?”
Nels couldn’t hold the intensity of her deep, piercing eyes and looked away.
She continued. “Your life has been a fine example. How you conducted yourself, how you inspired others through nothing more than a good outlook and good heart. You weren’t torn down by the challenges of life, you stood up to them with grace and dignity. Those are the things that have made the difference. If anything has made your life worthwhile it is that, not possessions.”
“Wonderful philosophy,” Nels said sarcastically and scraped brown paste from the bowl. “My epitaph can read, ‘he was a fine example’. Apparently, what’s important to you and what’s important to me are two different things.”
“I had dreams and goals for my life. Dreams and goals that never panned out. If I failed myself, how is it that I didn’t fail everyone else?”
“What would your life been like had you achieved those dreams and met those goals? You have had every opportunity to give up what you had, in order to search for you didn’t have. Would you have given up Katy? Given up a fine family of children and grandchildren? Thrown away your legacy for superfluous desires?”
“You know the answer better than I do. Hell, I can’t even remember most of my life. I don’t know where all those years went, they just came and went so fast. All I know is that I’m tired and aching and I’m worn out.”
“Think seriously on what I have said. You do not view your own life as others see it.”
“So who’s version of my life is the right one?”
“See it from my perspective.”
Nels sighed, scraped his bowl clean. Was she right? He had always trusted her opinion.
“Ten more days, huh?” He said and searched for reassurance. “Will you come to dinner then? Katy is still a helluva cook and it won’t be burnt chili from a can.”
Celina smiled. “Ten days it is. Do you feel better now?”
“You always make me feel better. I don’t know why you bother. It’s like a spiritual massage,” he smiled for the first time that day. “Yeah, that’s what you are, a spiritual massage.
The doorbell chimed, breaking the mood with an electronic singsong.
“Wait here,” Nels told Celina and stiffly rose to his feet. “I won’t be long.”
He opened the door to a young, well-dressed man who stood patiently waiting.
“What can I do for you?” Nels said. “No offense but if you’re a missionary, I’m not in the mood.”
“It’s me, Jared.”
“Well, Jared, whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying.”
“Tony, your youngest son? I’m his oldest boy?” He prompted.
“What the hell you talking about? None of my grandkids have even started school. In fact, Katy’s helping deliver another one now.”
“That was twenty-two years ago.”
Nels briefly saw the man’s resemblance to a buried memory, then the memory was gone.
“Remember? We’re moving you to a new apartment,” the man said, his eyes soft with compassionate pain. “I’ll help you get your things ready. Dad’s been reminding you for almost a month that you’ll be moving to a new place, a place where you won’t have to be alone all the time. No more stairs or broken elevators, no more cold-as-hell apartment that you can’t afford to heat. Do you remember now?”
Nels stared at the man. He remembered agreeing to something, something he didn’t want to do, but had no other option.
“Dad’s signing the papers as we speak.”
Nels shook his head slowly. “I don’t know why I would agree to moving without talking to Katy first, and I know we haven’t discussed it. I’d never do something like this without first talking it over with her.”
The young man sighed heavily with resignation.
Nels said, as new revelation came to him, “are we moving to Texas, to be with the grand-babies? Celina told me I’m going to see Katy next week so she must have already moved, but I thought she was just visiting.”
“She visits me several times a week, but never helps with anything around the apartment. She’s in the living room now.”
Puzzled, the man stepped past Nels and into the compact living room.
“There’s no one here.”
“Must have left. She does that a lot.”
“Well, there’s nobody here now. Have you started packing?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Never mind,” Jared said patiently. “I’ll just get your clothes and bedding for now. Dad and I’ll come back tomorrow and finish packing.”
“Make sure you don’t forget my books. And cinnamon rolls. Do you remember your great-grandmother’s cinnamon rolls?”
“No, grandpa. I was five when she passed away.”
“Shame. And don’t forget Katy’s things, either. You know she’ll be wanting her stuff.”
“Sure, grandpa. Anything you say. You just let us take care of everything.”
“It’s a helluva day to be moving.”
“Yes, grandpa. It is at that.”
Title: An Afternoon Visit
Age range: Young adult and older
Word Count: 3446
Author: Robert Murphy
Fit: “An Afternoon Visit” is an endearing topic to which readers can relate.
Hook: “There comes a time when you see more with your mind than with your eyes.”
Nels, an ageing man lost in distant memories, knows that something significant is happening today but is unable to remember what. In an attempt to break his mental block with a change of scenery, he walks to a nearby grocery store during a blizzard. Struggling to discern reality from past memories, Nels returns to his apartment and is visited by a beautiful young woman, Celina. Her visits are both comforting and increasing in frequency, and today Celina tells him that he will see his wife, Katy, in ten days time. Their visit is interrupted by someone at the door: Nels’ grandson whom he does not recognize. His grandson informs Nels that today is the day he is being moved to another apartment, which is hinted at being an assisted living center.
The target audience for “An Afternoon Visit” is anyone who has witnessed the struggles of an aged friend or relative.
Born in Burley, Idaho and currently living in Blackfoot, Idaho, I was raised, and have lived most of my life in Idaho. My interests and writing is heavily influenced by the outdoors. My childhood centered around music and hard work, and during high school was a member of the Magic Valley Symphony, Idaho All-State band, an alternate for the All-Northwest band, and listed in the 1978 Who’s Who in Music.
In college, I became involved in martial arts eventually earning a black belt in karate. Additionally, I have studied aikido, judo, and Iaido, and am currently studying tai chi.
Other organizations with which I am affiliated include: North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA), Spinone Club of America (SCOA), Southeast Idaho Gem and Mineral Society (SEIGMS) and the Cedar Hills Gun Club.
A writer at heart, publications include:
A locally published comic book, Zone Zero Comics issue 1, illustrated by Jason Bruebaker.
1990, self-published “Historic Idaho, A Travelers Roadside Guild - Region 4".
1991, self-published “Historic Idaho, A Travelers Roadside Guild - Region 5".
December 2001 Rock and Gem Magazine.
2014 Sentieri di Caccia, an Italian dog magazine.
I enjoy writing history, and human interest stories whether the genre is paranormal, mystery, or science fiction. Aside from writing, interests and hobbies include lapidary and jewelry making, art, history, woodworking, all outdoor activities, and hospice volunteer.
My writing platform currently consist of social media including LinkedIn. Having been a blogger since 2006, my sites on Wordpress include Murphy’s Bird Dog Blog, Twin Buttes Spinone, and The Unconventional Writer. I have recently been posting directly to Facebook, MeWe, and Instagram while I reconstruct my blogs.
Education and Experience:
Holding one Bachelor’s degree in Management and Organization, and another in Computer Information Systems, I have recently retired from a long career of computer programming, computer security, and material control and accountability.
Recently retired at the age of 64, I am now pursing my lifelong ambition of writing.
(An Imaginary Review.)
Ah, the 1970s, when the unprofitable and idealistic hippie cultures had collapsed in a wave of tragically-betrayed idealism, and, for a strange, gloriously soulless ten years, all the psychedelics and the drugs and the weird, weird aesthetic choices went straight into corporate culture. “I don’t know what that is,” said corporate America, “but a bunch of really strange stuff went down, and apparently people want that. Why not put it on TV and the radio?”
“Yes, I think that is a wise and well-chosen decision,” said 877,523 tons of cocaine.
Not everyone is privileged to know how much good this did for literary science fiction. And when I say “good”, I mean “The best parts have survived and made it through to today, but unsung and unknown, there are thousands upon thousands of gems of just the worst possible ideas. I collect old scifi books of that period. And let me tell you: it’s horrifying.
Go ahead and think of that era as being synonymous with”Rendezvous With Rama”, “The Shockwave Rider”, or, on very very slightly lighter note, “Gateway”.
You do that. I’m going to sit here with “Caduceus Wild”, a novel about a dystopia ruled by doctors, or “I: Weapon”, in which the human race is only saved by interbreeding multiple different species of human (humans are multiple different species in this distant future, each with their own superpowers) so that this one particular individual can go and win a war with space aliens by (at least partly) breeding with them (I am not making this up). (No, this isn’t porn; this stuff just…happens.) Yeah, we got “Illuminatus”, but we also got “Thongor and the Dragon City”, and sure, I worship the former book and really enjoy the latter, but I am too weird for words and the fact that I like things means you should consider running from them very, very quickly.
So for all those whose first criticism is that Star Wargs isn’t science fiction, you’re probably right, but the 1970s bent, twisted, mangled, spun, and warped “science fiction” so much that it doesn’t matter. Consider yourselves lucky that you got spaceships, you ungrateful sods.
Star Wargs had a lot of things going for it, but what it had, more than anything else, was an insistence on its own reality, and it made shameless use of force modifiers which tore through our sense of proportion and forced millions of us to fall in love.
It’s easy to call Star Wargs “Wizards In Space”, but that’s just part of it. It kept pushing past the sale, until few people had the ability to resist, and even fewer had the desire.
Realistically, Star Wargs had Wizards who actually did stuff. Consider how infrequent this is. Magic is generally either world-breaking or frustratingly limited. Either it can do just about anything—in which case, why do magic-users ever have problems?—or it seems to be so limited that one might just as well stick with physics and chemistry and reliable diesel engines. But The Force is an energetic field pervading all life. It can manipulate both matter and spirit because it is a bridge between the two, and its metaphysics do not depend on exterior powers, like demons or angels, nor on incantations, or (in general) on ritual (let’s not get into Sith sorcery, eh?) and therefore, it can do a multiplicity of things, limited mostly by individual strength of will, focus, attunement, and, obviously, as is essential with the supernatural in pretty much all video media, plot convenience.
And they had swords. You can (but I certainly do not intend to) run down the various arguments for and against the utilization of some sort of hand-to-hand weapon in an age of beamed weaponry. Sure, we wouldn’t consider bringing swords into combat now, and presumably our primitive firepower is pitiful compared to the power available in the far future. But these aren’t simply space swords; it’s actually a very natural mechanic for The Force, this combination of will and focus. It makes the magic into some combination of an extension of what we know we can do at the upper echelons of human achievement, and also something which is transformatively powerful, that, if you have the strength of character, the determination, the training, and the sense of self, you can do incredible things.
Some argue that setting these things in a space opera setting, rather than a fantasy setting, is dishonest. Hard disagree. The space opera setting was key to the Star Wargs universe. It said that humans were not, primarily, held to the devices and mechanisms of primitive times, dependent on the fickleness of magic; in fact, the Universe was full of sentient, spacefaring beings of all varieties, engaged in complex and sophisticated pursuits, the result of thousands of years of advanced knowledge, applied through engineering and technology, and even then, in fact, especially then, spirit and will were still the most ultimately meaningful things in the Universe.
This is part of why it was so crushing to find out that the entire set of films was a ruse.
When it was revealed that the creator of the series was, in fact, a Sith Lord, and when he bent, not just this world, but every world in the Galaxy to his will, and crushed our souls and minds in the relentless grip of his merciless dominion, we were shocked, demoralized, and utterly defeated.
Plus, he took away our space swords, and that was such a bummer.
The Queen Bee, Part 3 of 7
The queen bee dispatched thousands and thousands of honeybees to sting Ross to death for attacking Paige. The bees traveled slowly, stopping frequently to eat nectar and pollen or drink at the river. They spent the night in a hollow tree. The bees intended to reach the restaurant the next day, but Ross biked past them. As the bees chased him, he called Joan, the local bee authority.
Joan dressed quickly, hurried to the bee shed for a bee suit, and checked on Paige’s hive.
Upon opening the hive, Joan estimated 20,000 bees were chasing Ross, and the present bees buzzed irritably. The bee queen scuttled into a corner. Joan placed her inside the jar, which had holes punched in the lid.
Several dozen bees flew from the hive and landed on Joan’s hands.
“Did you send bees to sting Ross?” Joan asked.
The queen bee flew up and down steadily, a positive answer.
As soon as Joan unscrewed the lid, the bees flew from her hands.
Approximately 40,000 bees followed Joan to the cottage but hovered outside. Joan prohibited bees inside the cottage. In order of against whom the bees were most likely to hold a grudge, Joan worried about Melanie, Emma, Norman, Paige, herself, and anybody else who interfered with the bees. Joan’s bees defined “interfering” as “anything humans do to the hive,” but, on account of the benefits and stability, they tolerated the humans’ ignorance of proper hives and colonies.
Joan required an informed person of an age of majority to drive the pickup. She called Melanie, the closest suitable person, saying there was a rather serious, peculiar bee emergency. Then Joan called Emma to warn her the bees were chasing Ross and, in case the bees threatened any human, Joan canceled the day’s usual work.
Melanie hurried to Joan’s cottage, bringing along anti-bee weapons from her attic, while Joan collected her things and Ross hid from the bees in a petrol station restroom. On the drive, Joan explained the situation to Melanie. Ross listened over the phone and updated them about the bees.
“We need to kill the bees,” Melanie snapped.
“Once we rescue Ross, the swarm will go home,” Joan said, already preparing to exterminate them before they found another way to kill Ross.
“The swarm will follow him,” Melanie said.
“But Ross will come to my cottage and the bees will want to rest their weary exoskeletons in their hive.”
“When do we trap them?”
“We shan't discuss it here.”
“Why? Because the bees might overhear?” Melanie asked, rolling her eyes.
Melanie sarcastically identified the real reason. Joan thought the bees understood speech enough to report extermination plans existed. She said, “We need to rescue Ross first.”
“Killing the bees will rescue him,” Melanie said.
“I agree with Melanie,” Ross said.
“We shall do one thing at a time and we need time indoors, in the same room, to gather our thoughts,” Joan said.
“Oh, we have two thoughts between the three of us. Kill the bees or let them kill Ross,” Melanie said.
The bees examined the petrol station for entrances and coincidentally blocked the automatic doors, which they thought were windows. How humans entered the hive baffled them. Other customers drove away to a different petrol station or else the bees would have learned to activate the doors.
Joan sucked the bees into her bee vacuum, then emptied the bees into a swarm box with a plugged hole cut in the top. She blocked the entrance, placed a funnel into the hole, and Melanie gleefully flooded the hive with gallons of soapy water, drowning the bees.
The extermination saddened Joan, but she believed it was right and necessary. Ross wanted to know why she tricked the bees and Joan promised to explain once he wore a bee suit and sheltered in a safe place—the closet under her stairs. Melanie and Joan intended to tape up the cottage’s vents to protect him from an incursion and drew the curtains and blinds.
Dressed in extra layers, Emma approached the cottage’s front door. She walked calmly and quietly around the house to investigate. Most bees bearded the walls and windowsills. Bees buzzed around the front and back doors and before both stories’ windows. Individual bees hovered between the clusters and other bees snacked on Joan and Norman’s flowers or napped inside them.
Emma forced herself to smile but remembered the bees smelled alarm pheromones. With fake cheeriness, she said, “Hello, bees! It’s just me, Emma.”
The bees turned to look at her.
“Excuse me, please.”
The bees flew aside enough for her to reach the door. She turned the locked knob—and expected trouble. Joan and Norman never locked their doors, but Joan gave Emma a key for emergencies, and when Melanie automatically locked the door. Emma fumbled with the lock, and while pushing it open, took one large step to enter the hall, and then slammed the door behind herself, locked it, and leaned against it.
Melanie, Joan, and Norman were in the hall next to the cupboard under the stairs, but they stopped arguing and looked at her for a second. Simultaneously, Joan said, “Emma, I told you to stay home,” and Melanie yelled, “I locked the door and it was supposed to stay locked!” and Norman said, “Don’t yell at Emma!”
With no idea what Melanie referred to and positive that Emma had nothing to do with it, Emma yelled, “I didn’t know!” Emma had controlled herself around Melanie very well for years and Melanie yelled at her first. She unwrapped the plaid scarf from her head.
A muffled man’s voice from the cupboard under the stairs called, “What’s going on? Did they get into the cottage?”
Discombobulated, Emma looked around for Ross, as Melanie examined her for bees.
“How did you unlock the door?” Melanie asked.
“I gave her a key,” Joan said.
“I found a swarm,” Emma said because it was her only explainable recent experience.
“We are quite aware of the swarms,” Joan said.
“Did they get in?” Ross asked.
“Who is in the cupboard?” Emma asked.
“Ross Andrews,” Melanie groaned.
“This morning has been a bit of an ordeal for Ross,” Norman said.
“Emma, best stay here and leave the door shut,” Joan said.
“Right,” Emma said.
“And put your winter things in the living room before you overheat. I heard you tell your mother about skipping work. Where does she think you are?”
“I’m here to help out since your family might be busy with Paige.”
Ross's demands for an explanation of the bees’ behavior (they showed him a picture of Paige’s face) delayed the argument, and just as it began, Emma interrupted it. Now the adults continued.
Emma obeyed and sat on the couch, playing a game on her phone with headphones on. Still, she heard Melanie, Joan, and Norman, and through most of the discussion, the living room and cupboard radiated awkward silence. Initially, convincing Melanie she misinterpreted Joan’s behavior was the hard part, and until Melanie calmed down, nobody could do anything about the bees.
To everybody’s surprise and Melanie’s indignation, Ross said that assuming the bees were as weird as they seemed, Joan’s earlier actions made sense. He wanted to know, since Joan did not sic the bees on him, how the bees found him. In retrospect, Emma realized the bees in Joan’s hat acquired Ross’s face and location. Joan had forgotten the incident, but once Emma mentioned them, she and the others, except for Ross, thought it a good explanation.
“I want to ask a question that you might find a bit rude,” Ross said.
“Ask away,” Joan said.
“How do I know you aren’t trying to kill me?” Ross asked. “No offense.”
“Excellent question,” Joan said. “Vengeance isn’t Christian.”
“The law says we can sue you,” Melanie said.
“You and the bees ought to be justly punished, but we shan’t seek revenge. And we forgive your cook and your business.”
Ross asked, “Enough to drop the suit?”
“No,” Melanie snapped.
“Thought as much. So if you did not tell the bees to attack me, why did they?”
Joan had told the bees the family sued the restaurant owned by Ross Andrews. Because the bees lacked the concept of suing, she theorized they thought Ross himself attacked Paige. Mentioning the chef at this point might provoke the bees to attack another victim, so the bees needed to think Ross attacked Paige. The humans unanimously agreed the chef and Ross deserved to live.
Also, Joan wondered if the queen bee thought she attacked another queen bee: Ross. If the queen bee knew the restaurant had employees, the employees could be considered worker bees. When a colony of bees entered another, colonized hive, the queen bees fought each other. Joan’s bees took over hives when they deemed it necessary, bringing along their queen to depose the other one, but Joan frowned upon it. Normal bees stole honey, requiring several thousand bees to assault the hive, but Joan’s bees preferred signaling her. She was fairly confident her bees did not revenge wrongs amongst themselves.
Joan wished that when the bees suggested poisoning Ross, she told the bees, “Don’t kill Ross,” which sounded ominous and threatening to Ross, who required further assurances Auntie Joan was not a murderer. Fortunately, her reputation for decades and her descriptions of the bees’ abnormal behavior convinced Ross she told the truth.
“We shall kill Paige’s bees,” Joan said.
“Can I help?” Emma asked.
“I ought not to ask a minor.”
Joan intended to limit provocations to chaos. A horde of 40,000 stinging bees alarmed her. The queen bee might plan a stinging ambush or find another murder method. And, like anybody when threatened, the bees might hide and find Ross before Joan and Melanie found them, or, they might attack immediately before Joan carried out her threat. If the bees naturally split off into groups, Joan intended to exterminate each group. But she worried about scattering the bees—even a hundred missing bees stinging the right places threatened Ross’s life.
Norman scootered to Emma as Joan and Melanie went into the kitchen.
“Hi,” Emma said.
“Hello,” Norman said. “Joan gave you the day off.”
“I don’t want you to lie to your mum.”
“But I would be helping, and we can’t let the bees kill Mr. Andrews, so it isn’t a bad lie.”
“Paige can’t come over for a few months and her mother gave me a list of approved websites. Could you please show me how to use them?”
While Emma helped Norman with things obvious to her, Joan and Melanie worked out a decent plan that terrified Ross as much as being stung to death by bees.
Reluctantly, Joan’s plans included Emma, simply because Melissa was unavailable. Melissa studied depictions of dragonflies on Zuni pottery in the United States and not only would she reach the cottage long after Emma’s 11:00 PM curfew, but the bees refused to let Emma leave, even when Joan asked. Standing for a few minutes or walking a short distance exhausted Norman, limiting his usefulness. Therefore, Norman promised to supervise and protect Emma while she participated in a physically challenging part of the plans.
Part 4 coming on December 11, 2023.
There may never be a day in which someone will truly know my experiences, but that does not excuse the need to express and to create imperfect bridges. Despite the gap between each one of us, this curse born to us from birth, through need of expression, I found solace through words. Growing up, I was not permitted to express. Culture and family dictated emotions as weak. As I hid the emotions of my face to protect myself, I found an exception I could hide. Emotions became real. It is a miracle that simple letters sing the purest human depths.
A Strange Barometer
There is rarely a day
in the heat of L.A.
when Manny can
show out his style.
He’s been known to pout,
and dance about
while awaiting the weather’s wiles.
But once he discovers
the chance for cloud cover
Manny can hardly contain,
the excitement that grows,
between chin and toes
as he pulls out his costume again:
A trench coat as black,
as his fedora hat
and wing-tips to match.
the cotton and leather
and bare knees
all make a strange batch.
So I’ll give you a tip,
never let your guard slip
as innocents are easily fooled.
If Manny asks whether
you’re liking the weather
then you are about to be tooled.
So Quick! Close your eyes!
Turn your head to the side…
you can’t say you haven’t been warned!
If the weather gets crazy,
and L.A. turns hazy,
the rains’ only half of the storm!
Here he sits bored. King and some say prophet. He does not know. He knows he sits and sighs with thoughts of stars and charts. He wishes anything to be out on the sea in the sky. In his youth, a conqueror. How times change. Now he sits and becomes fat on foods he doesn't know the name of. Perhaps credit should be given where it ought. He wouldn't be sitting in relative peace had it not been for his conquests as a lad and the triumph of his warriors. Certainly not the good old days, but nostalgia has a way of making it seem that way. Anxiety is remembered as excitement. He could use some excitement. Perhaps he ought to stretch out his bow arm. He stands, stretches then pouts. Where was that bow again?
"My King, you seem lost," speaks a voice across from him. Normally such casual and direct discourse would upset him, if the speaker would be anyone other than his Queen. But the Queen it was, gilded with the finest golds and skin pure of any blemish.
"Wife, I am lost." He gestures toward one of the attendants at once, the one he usually spars with he thinks. Why did they wear these uniforms again? And why did they all seem like the same man with shaved heads and no beards. He strokes his own. "Bow." he spoke. The man bows and leaves backwards as is custom. He wonders how anyone could walk backwards for such a long distance without once looking.
"What a simple man you are today, My King." The Queen hides a faltering smirk. He supposes he is rather laughable at this moment. King of this part of the galaxy and at loss for his bow.
"My Queen. I desire air. Care to join me?" He is still standing. She inclines her head. He is pleased with her agreement, perhaps he is not the only one who is bored. She rises and looks something of a lioness sauntering toward a point of interest. He admits a small fear of her as dazzling as she is. They were a fearsome duo in memory. She from a wandering tribe of ferocious blades-men of the Isles of broken moons, he from the desert planet of ancient princes. The attendant presents his bow. He takes it, examining it. It glows ever slightly at his touch. Metal from those very moons his bride hails. It was a gift if he recalls on their wedding day. From it bears a resemblance of disuse in recent memory, but like a child looking upon a beloved toy he once played with regularly he strokes the grain and scuffs. Was the nick because he foolishly dropped it during training one day or was it because he used it as a shield during a rather intense battle? He could not recall.
"It is a rather quiet morning," states the Queen as they walk toward their playground, attendants following at a respectable distance. "I suppose I should be grateful. It has not been easy keeping the quiet."
"Yes, of course you are right." The King knows what she meant. Memories of blood and anguish cross his thoughts. It has been years since the Battle of the Republic and the Kingdom. It has been years of quarreling in counsel rooms and public debates. It has been only recently they reached an impasse only held by a lazy embargo no one really enforces. Still, he itches to do something. Court affairs are tepid at best, and neither one of them is used to being a glorified administrator. They arrive at the archery range in short order, eager to do anything other than sit. The King rolls his shoulders and takes an arrow to notch it rather tensely. He groans, has it been that long?
His Queen ever a dear approaches, but he is disappointed when she does not offer a massage to his aching shoulders. Rather she takes one of the soldier's training bows and fires a shot herself. Her form is calm and her aim a streamline toward the center of the target, she releases. She misses. It is off center by only a few inches, but the King knows her better. He barks a small laugh and she hits him softly when he releases his own notched arrow causing him to miss his target entirely.
"Sore loser are we?" he asks knowing the answer. The Queen twitches her nose and should the attendants have been anywhere else he knew she would have stuck her tongue out like a spoiled child. He takes another arrow and fires, he also misses center by a few inches. Pouting he can almost hear her exuberant laughter from the glean in her eye as he catches her gaze. It hasn't been that long since he shot a bow, but the evidence speaks otherwise.
"We've both been out of practice it seems, my King." He relents as she sighs. This time she gestures to her attendant asking her to schedule a wake up call. He half listens as she delegates something or other speaking 'it unbecoming of a queen to be so lazy.' He sighs, at least she tries to do something about their state in life. He simply waits. Waiting for anything to happen.
She prattles, which is unusual. He wonders when they became prattlers of all things. Idleness begs for gossip he supposes. His thoughts are interrupted.
"My King," speaks the Queen. Her eyes are alight with a fire he did not see in a while. "Your attendant speaks."
He turns to see one of his appointed attendants sweating at the brow looking gaunt. "Well?" speaks the King.
"Sire, the Republic has begun an embargo," he mutters. The king resists to role his eyes, he knows this.
"And what of it, lad? We've been in an embargo for years," the king blurts. Since when did he blurt? The lad doesn't look placated, rather he bows an apology but continues.
"Yes my king, but they've never enforced it-" he says bowing once more perhaps surprised at his own boldness, "-until now."
The king fires another shot just as his attendant finishes but he does not look to see the result as his eyes are on the poor boy still bowed in front of him. The king stills. The attendants are gossiping now with their whispers hardly hidden under murmurs. He gestures toward his Queen in silence, the attendants quiet themselves immediately. He speaks to the lad before him. "Get my coat, and the queen's while you're at it." The lad leaves with one more bow and quickly backwards without missing a beat.
The Queen merely places the bow back into the hands of the soldier she borrowed it from. The King also returns his own bow by attendant. No sooner he receives his coat as though the attendants knew something was going to happen, or perhaps they too were prepared out of boredom. He doesn't care. The Queen, also ready meets his gaze, fire ablaze. She mutters something to him and he smiles pompously. They walk briskly towards the exit of their palace. He is a lad again ready for battle, and she his lioness her words ringing in his ear. Nice shot.