Tuesday, May 29, 2018

This isn't the trolley problem

The whole "there are more people killed by x than by y so we should only focus on x" argument simply doesn't work when it comes to being pro-life. The way it's set up, rhetorically, is that on the one line you have the thousands of lives lost to one thing and, on the other, you have the innumerable number lost to abortion. Choose one or the other.

It's a false dilemma: PICK THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS. Except, here, it's pick the greater good.

I pick no evil. I pick the good - because it is the same good.

I mean, it seems to make sense to focus our energies on whatever is most urgent: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty (though some would say even THAT is controversial). And some people are called to speak out about the truth of the human person via a particular charism - the Sisters of Life, Talitha Kum, and so on, come to mind. There are times when these issues must to be emphasized SO MUCH WAY MORE - i.e. during an election.

On the other hand, where do you find time for all the rest of the issues? The ones that kill --- but not as many? The ones that dehumanize and rob of dignity --- but still leave you breathing. Things like racism, human trafficking, systemic injustice/oppression, homelessness, healthcare, etc.

I *get* that we have limited energy, so we tend to fight what is most egregious and obvious: the ending of innocent human life at its most vulnerable stage.

But if it's not good to focus our energies on other issues now then when?

And are these issues even taken seriously by the more vocal segment of pro-lifers who have a wide reach?

The first question is rhetorical.

As regards the second question, my experience is mixed - and it is just that: my own limited experience with a defined set of people or speakers/writers/figures. I suspect it may be a broader problem, tho, and it's certainly an impression held by many folk who are not pro-life. (Though, for some, it seems nothing more than a talking point kept in a back-pocket, as a sort of "aha-gotcha-there!" instead of an actual conviction.) Whether that impression is true or not is a separate question.

There's a reluctance to address racism (for example) because there is conflation with political parties and their ideologies. With that comes a fear, on some speakers' part, of losing followers who do not, cannot, or refuse to make finer distinctions. So you don't raise those other issues: they are perceived as divisive and detrimental to the urgent message against abortion. For other speakers (writers/figures), the issue and the party are perceived as inseparable and they spread that view to others. Don't ruffle feathers! Or - don't align yourself with them on some issue because WE are right and THEY are wrong so they are also wrong on THIS. The more disingenuous cynically use pro-life speak as a political tool only.

Part of it is lack of personally knowing those who are affected and being able to empathize with an individual instead of an amorphous concept. We have trouble helping others or recognizing how pressing an issue is when we aren't confronted, face-to-face, by their pain - when it is not made real, concrete, and present to us. The unseen and unheard are easier to dismiss.

These acts of violence all have the same root: denial of the truth of the human person.

Here's the thing: speaking out against racism/torture/discrimination/etc. doesn't dilute the message against abortion. It strengthens it. Speaking out against any issue that is contrary to human dignity makes your position far more credible to others and those who disagree are more likely to listen to you when you try to tell them about the sanctity of life in the womb. If you are there for your neighbor, others can see what motivates you is a thoroughgoing conviction regarding human dignity, that there is integrity of thought.

And these things need to be said because they are the truth and we are to be witnesses to truth: that there are no categories of human persons more deserving of dignity, of humane treatment. The convict, the child in the womb, the illegal immigrant - all loved by Christ, all formed in His image, all deserving of having that fundamental reality recognized even prior to talk about what such persons have or have not done (i.e., their state of innocence). These are our brothers and sisters.

Pointing out that others have glaring gaps of reasoning and lack intellectual integrity is no justification to ignore those other issues. STOP BEING SO DEFENSIVE AND GET YOUR OWN ACT TOGETHER.

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"What happens when people, especially the most vulnerable, encounter a clenched fist of repression or manipulation rather than a hand of hope? A first group of examples pertains to the heart. Here, the dreams and longings that young people pursue can so easily be shattered or destroyed. I am thinking of those affected by drug and substance abuse, homelessness and poverty, racism, violence, and degradation – especially of girls and women. While the causes of these problems are complex, all have in common a poisoned attitude of mind which results in people being treated as mere objects ─ a callousness of heart takes hold which first ignores, then ridicules, the God-given dignity of every human being. Such tragedies also point to what might have been and what could be, were there other hands – your hands – reaching out." -Benedict XVI (Src.)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Part 2 of #12

Part 1 is here.

Finally, at the end of one of the aisles, the three thin men espied fuzzy light spilling out from under a closed door. They nodded at each other and carefully slipped through the narrow crack under the door. A small chime went off.

Blinded for a moment by the light inside, the men shielded their eyes and blinked until they saw that now they were in an office room. In the middle of the room there was a round wood table. Atop the table was The Tablecloth. Atop the tablecloth were three pennies and a dried flower.

Behind the table, there was a dark chair with a high back that faced away from them. Someone sat in the chair and mounds of flesh peeked out from either side. With a creak, the chair turned around and the three thin men saw it was filled by an enormous woman with whale-eyes, dressed in a purple and lace gown, stroking a grey chinchilla.

"Cistern, cistern, cistern," she said, menacingly. The chinchilla let out a squeak and the three men saw that it had on an eye-patch and had a bite-mark in one ear. It looked as if it were a chinchilla from the wrong side of town.

"So, you have come for my Happy Dancing Onions tablecloth, eh? To steal it from an old woman like me?"

The three men narrowed their eyes and watched her closely. Behind them, the birthday balloons that crowded the hall began to float into the room, so many, that the red ribbons that hung off them resembled a forest of kelp.

One of the men stepped forward and bowed politely.

"Fair lady," at this the one of the other thin men coughed and the one speaking frowned at him and then continued: "...we will pay for the Tablecloth if we can. What is it's price?"

The old woman grinned at them and the men noticed she had perfect teeth.

"The price," she said, "is TWENTY-DOLLARS (and ninety-nine cents)!"

The three men gasped and took a step back as the red ribbons began to coil, ever-so-subtly, about them. The ribbon ends looked as if someone had curled them with a sharp pair of scissors, they curled up so.

"We do not have twenty-dollars," said the thin spokesman, "so I suppose we shall have to steal it."

As the thin man said this, two things happened simultaneously: the men dove for the tablecloth and the old woman hurled out a command, shrieking in a language that was incomprehensible and staccato, like hail on concrete. The red ribbons on the balloons immediately snaked out like tentacles and wrapped around the necks and hands of the three thin men, drawing taught and restraining - choking! - as the happy birthdays bobbed cheerily above.

Two of the thin men managed to slip free and lay hold of the tablecloth, whipping it off the table and holding it between them as if they were ready to set a banquet. With that motion, the three pennies jingled off the cloth and rolled around on the table, onto the floor, and into corners. The dry flower sent out a delicate soapy fragrance as it flew through the air and landed on the floor by their entangled comrade - it might have been a lily once.

Then the third thin man was no more.

The lady grabbed her chinchilla and, with a whirl and swish of purple fabric, ran out a backdoor, leaving it wide open and staring into the deepness of the night. The two remaining thin men spared a glance back at their friend and saw they could do nothing for him. The balloons advanced and the thin men fled out and into the forest, clutching their stolen tablecloth, as the balloons bubbled out the door and up, up, up into the heavens - pinpricks of yellow against the black.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Oakland

Come with me and I will show you where the birds wake up in the morning, where the street markings have faded, where bottles of piss gleam golden in the sun. Here the walls are concrete, painted over with visions of towering golden poppies. There a lake and it is beautiful to walk there at night as the lights gleam softly on the surface of the water. Get too close and you see goose shit and the rats scurrying about the edges as trash floats gently in the weeds. Round each corner is something distinct: neighborhoods dominated by taco trucks and lime wedges, the Brunch street you avoid on weekend mornings, the areas where you do not walk alone.

Loophole

*Mother prays to St. Therese of Lisieux*
*Goes to Mass on Mother's Day and gets a rose*
Check. Mate. No take backsies.

Monday, April 16, 2018

#12

Once upon a time,

There was a young man named Don who loved coconuts, febreze, and tablecloths. It was July, so Don took out a tablecloth that had a thousand firecrackers exploding across its surface, and set it on his table.

"Perfect for a dinner party," he murmured, as he set out some decorative half-coconuts and delicately placed swirly green straws inside them.

But no one ever came to his house with its musty old nooks and corners that had suspicious black mold slowly creeping and claiming more of the wood and tile as its own.

Don was ironing a tablecloth when he heard the postal worker coming. He set the iron down and pressed #2 on his playlist. The deep sound of a dog barking and snuffling angrily bounced throughout the house as the mail was pushed through the slot and the metal flap swung shut with a creak. Don had a feeling that one should have a dog that barks at postal workers, so he did on the principle of the thing.

He picked up the mail and saw that his favorite catalogue had come: Finest Tablecloths. He set it to the side and went throughout his daily tasks, casting longing glances at the magazine's slippery smooth sheets every now and then. Finally, he was done with ironing his collection of tablecloths, dusting off his febreze containers, and checking coconuts for ripeness, so he picked up the magazine and thumbed through it. His eyes eagerly devoured the fabric types, properties, and patterns.  There was one tablecloth not in his collection. Yet. It had happy dancing onions on it and was spill resistant.

Don took out three glasses. In the first, he poured Peach Schnapps. In the second, a Latte. In the third, a Peanut Dipping Sauce. He hit #12 on his playlist and waited as the melody of trucks backing up floated through the air and out the window. After three minutes, he hit the stop button and waited.

Three Mourning Doves flew into his window that he'd forgotten to open.

They fell, stunned, into a spiky rosebush beneath, droplets of red scattering to the ground below. Don sucked his teeth sympathetically, opened his window, hit play on #12, waited another three minutes, then pressed the stop button.

Three other Mourning Doves flew in through the window, one to each cup, and lapped up the contents. They peered at Don and cooed at him. He showed them the tablecloth that he wanted and said "If you bring me this tablecloth, I will reward you handsomely! Peach Schnapps for life!"  Then he read to them the address of the business where the tablecloths were to be found.

The doves bobbed their heads knowingly and went out in search of Finest Tablecloths. After a few days, they found the store in the middle of a wood, with roads radiating out from it to every corner of the world. Perhaps the roads were all meeting there. The doves picked at the earth, sat in a tree and pooped, and wasted the time away until midnight. At midnight, they turned into three thin men who looked at each other, knowingly, and then scurried down the tree branches, nails sharp as claws.

They approached the door to the Finest Tablecloths. An old security guard with a scruffy beard, smelling of whiskey, was patrolling back and forth, shining a big flashlight that illuminated the woods and the roads in a ghostly purple light. The guard heard a twig snap and swung the light slowly around, calling out “Beware! Ye shall not pass neath the lintel nor purloin, lest you meet a bad end! Ware! Ware! Fine table wares!” But the three men were so thin that the cast only a thread of a shadow when the light passed over and the guard did not notice them.

The three thin men then slipped through the front door's keyhole. The front door itself was wrapped in three long chains, draped with caution tape, with hand-written signs in black ink that read “DO NOT ENTER.”  Inside, the tablecloths were laid out in gorgeous array: dazzling purples, unctuous reds, floral patterns, and checkered Italian. There were also hundreds of balloons drifting slowly around that that said "Happy Birthday!"

The three thin men split up, moving with such speed and purpose that they left balloons drifting in their wake. Up and down the aisles they zipped, peering with their beady eyes at each tablecloth for a moment, not finding what they were looking for. And the balloons accumulated behind, in the air currents left from the running, in a solemn yellow procession.

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To be continued...

I have been doing a lot of writing - but most of it isn't any good, so it goes onto (virtual) paper, receives feedback from my class or writing group, and then is consigned to the bin. So long, half-baked story, ill-conceived, and executed!

Life has been full. Not in the swinging from chandeliers while guzzling pink champagne and chatting up roguish gentlemen type full, but the work, duties, and dropping to sleep on the couch at the end of the day from exhaustion (after lobbing purse and keys into some dark corner of the room) sort of full. That oozes into everything and numbs. If I could, I would take a vacation somewhere for a few days by the ocean - but my next vacation isn't until September.

Still, it's not so bad. Simply full.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Arche

 A short piece for my writing group. NB - this isn't the sort of thing I'm drawn to write, but every two weeks we agree on some sci-fi/fantasy-esque prompt and work from there. Working in this genre doesn't feel quite natural or unnatural: it feels like a jacket that doesn't quite fit.
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"As I told you before," I said, "That is simply our policy. We cannot make any exceptions though your situation is certainly quite unfortunate."

The young man's face crumpled into itself and I felt an unaccustomed twinge in my pancreas. Sympathy? Surely not. The process all of us in HR had gone through effectively cauterized emotions for the period of our employment.

We were well compensated, of course, and underwent screenings to make sure we weren't the personality type to not even bother getting out of bed if there were no pain or joy to push or pull and mold our day. Those of us who made it past the screenings usually were creatures of habit and not terribly passionate about anything whatsoever. No hobbies, no mood swings, no proclivities one way or another. Give us two choices and we will obligingly shrug and take one as we say either is fine. And we would mean it - it wouldn't be some idle pleasantry. We would choose between two things simply because society expected us to: but we would have been content infinitely poised between the two.

One of the procedure's requirements was that we could have no children with whom emotional bonding was important - or anyone dependent on us as primary emotional support giver. No spouses, no significant others, no being an only child. We are the drifters of society who ghost-like haunt social or familial gatherings, picking up the odd styrofoam cup of tea and grasping it furtively in a corner, before disappearing in the night to who knows where. We are not objectionable. Our presence barely even registers on any scale.

"I've lost everything - is there nothing you can do?" the man said, softly, dragging my focus back to his plight. His hands were trembling as he placed them in a gentle gesture of supplication on my table.

"The Company offers its condolences, but there is nothing we can do. Your work was found to be unsatisfactory. We wish you success in your future endeavors."

The young man turned at the tonal finality and made his way out of our offices, shoulders slumped, lifting each foot slowly up as if there were an immense weight fastened to the bottom of each shoe. No one in the department spared him a glance. I took a sip of tea and pulled up the next employee file on my screen.

"Next," I said, and went about my business.

Once our period of employment ended, the process was reversed and some employment details scrubbed (cases we'd taken, privileged data, etc.). But we didn't become as we were before. Experiences offer the buffer of accretion: of memories, associations, repetition. What shocked us the first time does not shock the second. After the reversal, we return to our first feelings, before the cauterization, before we became careless drifters in the first place, as if some primordial reset button had been pressed.

We didn't really hear much about the lives of those who had gone through the reversal - medical literature we were given assured us that both the process and reversal were safe, with relatively few ill side-effects, and numbers and columns regarding lives post-reversal showed that the majority seemed not-unhappy. Not that we were doing the job for the happily-ever-afterwards, or for the pay. We were doing it because it was expected.

A few weeks later, I went through the reversal. Blinking my eyes open, I saw a nurse bending over me to check my vitals and began to sob in confusion as her supremely maternal hands tucked a blanket tight around my body.

"Whoops, that wore off fast! Go back to sleep - you're doing great," the face said, smiling. It was as if the sun had blossomed in my soul. A mask descended, a few breaths, and I then had the soundest sleep of my life with those words of benediction set around me like a shining fence. When I woke, she was gone, and I had never been so utterly alone.

The next morning, a special car came and brought me back to my apartment. I saw no one, talked to no one, and had a packet with a set of tapes and exercises to perform, to help me integrate back into society. The packet warned that the instructions must be followed closely, informed me that my progress would be monitored, and had a calendar of milestones: first ice cream, first love, first heart-break. It was all there. But I'd already experienced the height of euphoria and the depths of despair. I wanted more, now, at once.

I tossed the packet into the garbage and stepped out into the quiet neighborhood I lived in. No one was around at that moment, but the trees were a dazzling emerald, the dark concrete glittered with flecks of glass, and the air smelled of life pulsating and reaching and extending in every direction and dimension.

There was a bar a few blocks down and I gingerly made my way there from one vivid experience to the next: the first flower smelled, the first car honking at me, the first red light. Opening the bar door, I saw the bartender checking his phone as a young man quietly nursed a shot of something, his head bent, his hair ruffled. Somehow, I could smell the salt of his tears from where I stood. Something about the man looked familiar. The first unnamed dread crept up my spine.

I backed out, slowly, went back to my apartment, and took the packet out of the garbage. This was safer.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Little Bits of Writing

I'm working on two short stories at the moment - but sometimes things (feelings/situations/what a character might think/etc.) occur to me and I jot them down for later use. Below are some of those - not much, but for the record:

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The waft of bleach should have been warning enough, but he was too eager to plop himself down and let out a massive shit. He dropped his pants and settled down with a contented sigh. His bum began to tingle just a tiny bit as he went about his business and he idly thought "this is a minty fresh toilet." The tingling did not go away but grew and built until the smell and the feel clicked together in his mind. He leapt from the toilet with a scream of pain and danced around fanning his bottom and shouting curses. A lighter ring of skin was his memento. He told doctors it was an unusual birthmark.

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He drove as you'd imagine a high-class man in a British period drama piece would speak.

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Ever notice how it's the shorter finger-nails that have the dirt under them? You might assume it's because manual-laborers and what-not are plunged up to their elbows in the soft loam of the earth or a greasy sink of dishes. But that's not true. The longer nails act as a buffer -- for those who can grow them long. Anxiety can eat away at nails, as can poor health, or even a musical instrument. The longer the nail, the greater the real distance between a person and the things in life that wear them down. It is a status signal, but not the one you'd necessarily assume.

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Sometimes she popped a single 200mg ibuprofen pill, so that, for just a few hours, she could experience the fog lifting from her brain, her body deflating to a normal-er size size, her mind responsive and awake to the world around her. She felt like she could be witty instead of plodding, and able to enter into regular discourse instead of huddling like a dull grey mass in the corner and going home early after issuing gentle regrets to the host/hostess. What a miracle it was, she marveled, that some people felt like this ALL the time - or *better* - and STILL complained. Their bodies were capable: they could build muscle, never had a twinge of nausea (unless they ate something that had gone off), and seemed to have energy to accomplish all their daily tasks without collapse - in other words, boundless. And most of them just wasted it.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ya Basic

Saw Mary and the Witch's Flower tonight. It was goodiiiish in parts -  some of the smaller moments were enjoyable/charming, the world building for the magic academy was good (the rec room was uuuh-mazing), and a couple of the characters piqued my interest.

Buuuut:

1. There was no strong voice for most of the characters - they felt aimless *except* for the young witch at the start (no spoilers), the gardener (sort of), and the broom dude. Everyone else: ya basic. The characters bumbled into and out of scenarios with motivations that weren't entirely convincing to me. And fertheloveofallthatispurple FIND A WAY TO EXPRESS WHAT THE CHARACTER IS THINKING *WITHOUT HAVING THEM SAY IT OUT LOUD EXPLICITLY*.  So yes. Let them have a voice BUT NOT THAT KIND OF VOICE.

2. While the world-building was good in scene-setting, none of the people they passed by in the academy (exception: broom guy) felt like more than stage props -- not a single one interacted with the main characters, that I can recall, in any meaningful way. So the world felt rich but unexplored and a good avenue would have been to use the academy people to REALLY bring it to life and literally flesh it out.

3.  Peter. UGGGGHHH. I hated Peter. So. Much. Not the good sort of hate. Peter was the worst. He needed to go.

4. The story itself lacked cohesion (parts of it overtly didn't chunk together well) and a good emotional arc. The stakes never felt very high, so even the finale felt a bit...one-note? I think one of the reasons it lacked cohesion was that whoever adapted the story had no story *they* were trying to tell using this as a template (so to speak). It felt a bit like a hack job where the important bits of a book were pulled and then sequenced. I could be wrong - I have never read the book - but that was how it *felt*.

It was an absolutely gorgeous movie (as one of my friends put it "it barfed scenery"), and is pleasant enough, but it's nothing great. It did have flashes of brilliance and the promise of potential, but the creators need to grab the story and shake it about a bit so that they care about it - then we care for it, too. Not all the visual beauty can atone for a bad story.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Mash Up


The Full Bitonto

My writing teacher described this as "a mixture of Kafka and Jane Austen." I'll take it.
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Once there lived a cockroach named Bitonto underneath the boards of a great house. Bitonto was the youngest and had many brothers and sisters who called him Bitty for short. His siblings would dare each other to amazing feats when food was scarce or when they were just plumb bored. One dare was to crawl on bigger-person flesh and see how long you could stay before being flicked off and the person went shrieking and wriggling away, doing a funny dance. Another was to run across the floor of the ballroom when there was a party: if you made it to the other end alive, you got an additional mark on your exoskeleton - but it didn’t count if you lost a leg or antenna or something.

One night, there was a particularly huge party on the floorboards above - the biggest in living memory. All the cockroaches peered through the cracks and jostled each other for the best view.

There was a fairy and a centaur who were making high pitched keens and deep rumblings at each other over a bassinet that held a baby.

“Bet you can’t run across,” his oldest sibling Frida mouthed at him, cuffing his unmarked back,
“scaredy-bug!”  The other cockroach siblings sniggered and nudged each other.

“I can so TOO,” Bitty cried out.

A sudden silence up above made him afraid that he’d been heard. But then he realized that was impossible. A cacophony of sound began to fill up the room and ooze through every crack and crevice.

“This is IT,” thought Bitonto, “This is MY TIME.”

Bitonto leapt for the cracks, scrabbling through to win the smooth surface of the ballroom floor. He heard his siblings hootin’ and hollarin’ behind him and felt pretty smug for a second, prancing forward a few steps forward before a shower of sparks erupted above and cascaded down onto his
head. He felt like sneezing.  He sneezed.

And felt himself expanding. His head blossomed before the rest of him followed suit. Dizzying towers seemed to shrink and resolved into interested looking faces above stalky legs and poufs of green and black petals. Knowing that these beings mostly stood on on their two hind legs and not wanting to be thought impolite or offend anyone powerful, he followed suit. It was difficult, but he managed after only falling on his back three times. He heard a smattering of applause and bowed very, very carefully - first to the right, then to the left, then to the front where the Fairy and Centaur stood watching him.

“It appears we have another guest,” Bitonto heard a clear voice ringing out from the bassinet. In the bassinet there was no longer a baby but a young roan lady, like a horse-y satyr, dressed in a plain white dress. She was the most beautiful creature Bitonto had ever seen and he immediately resolved to ask for her hand in marriage.

This creature clapped her hands and twelve servants immediately stepped forward and coughed discreetly as one unit. One stepped up holding underwear. Another socks. A third some breeches. And so on. They marched up to Bitonto and made him dress up in these fine clothes. It was terribly embarrassing to do that in front of so many eyes and with such bad balance - plus, Bitonto knew that his siblings were watching through the cracks, too, so he blushed a bit and tried to get it over with as fast as possible.

“Now we shall feast and make merry to celebrate my name day!” said the roan-lady. “What is to be my name?”

“How do you like the name...Gertrude?” asked the Centaur, stroking his beard - but the roan-lady made a face.

“Father, that does not suit.”

“What about Carlotta?” asked the Fairy, shooting a look at the Centaur - and the roan-lady whinnied her approval. The Fairy stuck out her tongue at the Centaur and flounced triumphantly a bit chanting in a strange language. 

Someone leaned over and whispered to Bitonto: “Since you are our guest, you must lead the way to the feast with Carlotta. It is our law.” So he found himself at the head of a long line of fairies and centaurs, with Carlotta on one of his arms, entering another grand hall bedecked with trellises of Morning Glories and sheafs of Baby’s’ Breath mixed with Blue Moon Flowers that smelled so softly sweet. They all sat on wooden benches to eat and golden plates laden with cornish hens, piles of fruit, and freshly baked crisp bread dripping with honey were placed on the table. Everyone tucked in with gusto, but Bitonto toyed with his fork.

“You are not hungry?” Carlotta asked, her eyes flashing dangerously.

“My lady, I beg your pardon,” Bitonto said, “But my stomach is not used to such fine fare. I fear this would give me indigestion and that I would wind up being indelicate.” He so hoped he would not embarrass himself in front of her.

Carlotta furrowed her brows then called an attendant over and ordered him to scour the castle in search of decaying flesh, grease, and a bit of sewage - for she was wise in the ways of beasts and insects though she was but a few days old. The attendant hurried away and returned soon after with the choicest bits he could find from the garbage and outhouse, putting a sprig of parsley on top as a garnish and a slice of lemon by the side of the plate.

“Buon appetito,” Carlotta said and smiled as she raised her glass and drank some blood red pomegranate juice. Bitonto made sure to drop a little of everything he ate onto the floor for those below even if they had teased him earlier. He also sent his compliments to the chef.

After everyone finished feasting, there was dancing. Bitonto was not much for dancing, but Carlotta was and, so, he found himself in a corner of the room and chatting with the Centaur.

“Sir,” said Bitonto, “Though I have known you but a short amount of time, I admire you greatly and esteem your daughter even more. I would like to marry Carlotta.”

The Centaur eyed Bitonto up and down and finally said: “Well, what’s that to me?” before cantering off to dance with the Fairy Queen. Bitonto figured that was all fine. He had noticed that some folks squared themselves up before asking for a dance, so he tried to emulate that and gave his jacket a little tug before approaching Carlotta.

“Hello, fine lady” he said. “May I have this dance and your hand in marriage, please?”
Carlotta stopped dancing and the music abruptly ended. “I shall marry you,” she declared, “if you complete this one task: the Fearsome Beast, which has lived in the hills and terrorized our kingdom for eons, must be defeated. Do this thing, bring me its head, and you shall have my hand in marriage.”

“Done,” said Bitonto. He gallantly kissed her elbow and withdrew.

“The same goes for any suitors,” said Carlotta, and hoofed it.

“Defeat the Fearsome Beast,” Bitonto murmured to himself and paced the floor back and forth.

Finally, he went into the ballroom and flopped down to talk to his siblings. “FRIDA,” he whispered loudly, “can you please get a bunch of spider-webs from Mrs. Recluse and weave me some armor? I will drop SO MUCH food down for you, like, a million times, and you can have my comic books.”
There was the sound as of a thousand cockroaches moving and Bitonto lay there on the floor, waiting. After some hours, a thin thread of white was thrust out the floorboards. Bitonto took the end of it and pulled out a gossamer suit of armor, which even had crows embroidered on it. He carefully slipped into it. The armor fit snugly over his clothes and you could not even tell he was wearing it except for the strange way that he seemed to shimmer now and then in the light. “THANK YOU,” he whispered.

Then he went into the kitchen because he was pretty sure that the Fearsome Beast would require some intricate knifework and this place seemed to have no armory. The Chef of the kitchen had a huge scar on one side of his face from when the Fearsome Beast caught him unawares walking home from a field late at night, and happily offered the best of what the kitchen had when Bitonto explained his purpose.

“This spit, here,” said the Chef, “has been in my family for generations. It has spitted many a fowl and ox along with the occasional pig and one unicorn. It is pretty sharp on one end. You can use it.” Then the Chef also let him have a cleaver, an ax, and the top of a large pot as a shield. Bitonto thanked the Chef warmly, and armed himself: the spit in his right-top hand, the cleaver in his bottom-right, the ax on the top-left, the pot lid on the bottom. He posed, he thought heroically, then snuck for a minute into the bathroom to practice some ferocious faces and his swagger.

Feeling sufficiently armed and armored, he sauntered out and made for the hills where the Fearsome Beast slept. It was a rainy, dreary day - not the sort of day that’s pleasant to be out in at all, and he happened across an old tinkerer who was selling pots and pans, huddled under a small cart and looking miserable as the cart didn’t keep the rain out and there was mud everywhere but not even a bit of warmth in sight. Bitonto felt very sorry for this old tinkerer but, not having any money, decided, instead, to give the tinkerer the pot lid he had since it was made of some shiny material and was surely worth something.

“Bless you,” said the tinkerer. “Your heart is kind and, for this, I will tell you something to your advantage: the Fearsome Beast is weakest right as he has his tea in the afternoon.” Bitonto thanked the tinkerer - or tried to, but the tinkerer and his cart had vanished. Shrugging, Bitonto picked up a large branch to replace the lid and continued on his way.

Bitonto reached the dwelling of the Fearsome Beast in the morning. Remembering the words of the tinkerer, he hid out in some bushes and waited until afternoon tea. Just as the Fearsome Beast took his first sip of restorative Earl Grey, Bitonto leapt out of the bushes and cried out “HO!”

“That is not a very nice thing to call me,” growled the Fearsome Beast which looked a little bit like a tired tan dog with brown spots and a very long neck. The Fearsome Beast gnashed its teeth and sprang from its chair with a drawn-out yowl, and bit Bitonto’s stomach! But the webby-armor held firm and repelled the bite.

Bitonto had a moment to think before he threw the branch he was holding and shouted out “FETCH!”
The Fearsome Beast looked at him as if he were an idiot, so Bitonto blushed - but then spit the Fearsome Beast to the ground and chopped off its head with two blows from the ax and cleaver.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” he thought and carefully picked up the head and brought it back to Carlotta. There was still music and dancing in the hall when Bitonto got back. Not knowing quite what the etiquette was, he went up to Carlotta and dropped the head of the Fearsome Beast at her hooves.

“Lady,” he said, “I have brought you the head of the Fearsome Beast.”

Carlotta laughed happily and clapped her hands together in delight.  “Good,” she cried, “then we shall have the finest head cheese at our wedding!” 
The End.

Reasons to love D&D

"I give three war-caws."

"What would it take to get grass and mushrooms to grow from my mask?"

"They yell out 'kree-aaaak! Which means: LET'S TRASH THESE MOTHER-F*CKERS!"

"No. I am going to say you can't open the baby bundle with a hammer and crowbar."

"My character can only speak in Disney songs/quotes."
*later, sees a crowd of orcs approaching and runs back to the group*
"STAMPEDE!!!! IN THE GORGE!!!"

Friday, December 01, 2017

Resonating

"But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart"

At times, it feels like there is not much I can contribute externally. I do not have the knack of sustaining interest or conversation - perhaps it's because I am not effusive. I'm certainly *appreciative*, though, and keep people and their peculiarities and ponder them deep in my heart.

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My cockroach story is proceeding apace and I am rather pleased with how it's shaping up. It still needs a bit more spice and the fulfillment of the quests - I am excited about depicting a cockroach wielding four swords as it battles a fearsome beast:

Once there lived a cockroach named Bitonto underneath the boards of a great house. Bitonto was the youngest and had many brothers and sisters who called him Bitty for short. His siblings would dare each other to amazing feats when food was scarce or when they were just plumb bored. One dare was to crawl on bigger-person flesh and see how long you could stay before being flicked off and the person went shrieking and wriggling away, doing a funny dance. Another was to run across the floor of the ballroom when there was a party: if you made it to the other end alive, you got an additional mark on your exoskeleton - but it didn’t count if you lost a leg or antenna or something.

One night, there was a particularly huge party on the floorboards above - the biggest in living memory. All the cockroaches peered through the cracks and jostled each other for the best view. There was a fairy and a centaur who were making high pitched keens and deep rumblings at each other over a bassinet that held a baby.

“Bet you can’t run across,” his oldest sibling Frida mouthed at him, cuffing his unmarked back. “Scaredy-bug!”  The other cockroach siblings sniggered and nudged each other.

“I can so TOO,” Bitty cried out.

A sudden silence up above made him afraid that he’d been heard. But then he realized that was impossible. A cacophony of sound began to fill up the room and ooze through every crack and crevice.

“This is IT,” thought Bitonto, “This is MY TIME.”

Bitonto leapt for the cracks, scrabbling through to win the smooth surface of the ballroom floor. He heard his siblings hootin’ and hollarin’ behind him and felt pretty smug for a second, prancing forward a few steps forward before a shower of sparks erupted above and cascaded down onto his head. He felt like sneezing.

He sneezed.

And felt himself expanding. His head blossomed before the rest of him followed suit. Dizzying towers seemed to shrink and resolved into interested looking faces above stalky legs and poufs of green and black petals. Knowing that these beings mostly stood on on their two hind legs and not wanting to be thought impolite or offend anyone powerful, he followed suit. It was difficult, but he managed after only falling on his back three times. He heard a smattering of applause and bowed very, very carefully - first to the right, then to the left, then to the front where the Fairy and Centaur stood watching him.

“It appears we have another guest!” Bitonto heard a clear voice from the bassinet. In the bassinet there was no longer a baby but a young roan lady, like a horse-y satyr, dressed in a plain white dress. She was the most beautiful creature Bitonto had ever seen and he immediately resolved to ask for her hand in marriage.

This creature clapped her hands and twelve servants immediately stepped forward and coughed discreetly as one unit. One stepped up holding underwear. Another socks. A third some breeches. And so on. They marched up to Bitonto and made him dress up in these fine clothes. It was terribly embarrassing to do that in front of so many eyes and with such bad balance - plus, Bitonto knew that his siblings were watching through the cracks, too, so he blushed a bit and tried to get it over with as fast as possible.

“Now we shall feast and make merry to celebrate my name day!” said the roan-lady. “What is to be my name?”
“How do you like the name...Gertrude?” asked the Centaur, stroking his beard - but the roan-lady made a face.
“Father, that does not suit.”
“What about Carlotta?” asked the Fairy, shooting a look at the Centaur  - and the roan-lady whinnied her approval. The Fairy stuck out her tongue at the Centaur and flounced triumphantly a bit chanting in another language.

Someone leaned over and whispered to Bitonto: “Since you are our guest, you must lead the way to the feast with Carlotta. It is our law.” So he found himself at the head of a long line of fairies and centaurs, with Carlotta on one of his arms, entering another grand hall bedecked with trellises of Morning Glories and sheafs of Baby’s’ Breath mixed with Blue Moon Flowers that smelled so softly sweet. They all sat on wooden benches to eat and golden plates laden with cornish hens, piles of fruit, and freshly baked crisp bread dripping with honey were placed on the table. Everyone tucked in with gusto, but Bitonto toyed with his fork.

“You are not hungry?” Carlotta asked, her eyes flashing dangerously.
“My lady, I beg your pardon,” Bitonto said, “But my stomach is not used to such fine fare. I fear this would give me indigestion and that I would wind up being indelicate.” He had so hoped he would not embarrass himself in front of her.

Carlotta furrowed her brows then called an attendant over and ordered him to scour the castle in search of decaying flesh, grease, and a bit of sewage - for she was wise in the ways of beasts and insects though she was but a few days old. The attendant hurried away and returned soon after with the choicest bits he could find from the garbage and outhouse, putting a sprig of parsley on top as a garnish and a slice of lemon by the side of the plate. “Buon appetito,” Carlotta said and smiled as she raised her glass and drank some blood red pomegranate juice.

Bitonto made sure to drop a little of everything he ate onto the floor for those below even if they had teased him earlier.

After the feast, there was dancing. Bitonto was not much for dancing, but Carlotta was and, so, he found himself in a corner of the room and chatting with the Centaur. “Sir,” said Bitonto, “Though I have known you but a short amount of time, I admire you greatly and esteem your daughter even more. I would like to marry Carlotta.”

The Centaur eyed Bitonto up and down and finally said: “Well, what’s that to me?” before cantering off to dance with the Fairy Queen.

Bitonto figured that was all fine. He had noticed that some folks squared themselves up before asking for a dance, so he tried to emulate that and gave his evening coat a little tug before approaching Carlotta.

“Hello, fine lady” he said. “May I have this dance and your hand in marriage, please?”

Carlotta stopped dancing, her hoofs clattering to a stand-still, and the music abruptly ended. “I shall marry you,” she declared, “if you complete three tasks. First, I would like an invisible cloak. Second, I would like the most beautiful puppy in the world. Third, the Fearsome Beast must be defeated. Do these three things, and you shall have my hand in marriage.”  

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I had three strange dreams lately.

The first two were apocalyptic and I had the option of saving myself or others. On the first, I saved others and woke up feeling rather smug. On the second, I selfishly refused to save others (saved myself) and woke up mortified. 

The third dream involved a great battle being waged - it felt cosmic and weighty. We (self and a crew) were in the thick of it when we stumbled across a Marian shrine. Immediately, I fell to my knees and began praying which was REALLY annoying to all the fighters around me. But I refused to move and no one died during the time I prayed. So then I mocked those around me for doubting in divine providence (or think I did? dreams are hard to remember).

It's always a mixed bag.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Writing Exercise - Short

The day started off badly. Laetizia felt the rumblings around her and bits of plaster and drywall sprinkled down onto her, her bed, and her papers - she waited for a few seconds to see if the intensity would increase, but it stopped abruptly. The clock read the seventh minute of the seventh hour. As good a time as any to get up. Laetizia groaned, dusted herself off, and rolled over to peep out the window. Day was breaking and the distant red glow of a sunrise was reflected in the window opposite hers. These buildings were old, built to withstand much, and had assumed personalities of their own what with chunks of them coming off in the tremors and the graffiti that graced the exteriors. They looked a bit like giant tattooed gargoyles.

She got up and stretched, set her Moka Pot going, then ate a meager breakfast of a dry slice of toast. Today she presented her paper on Situational Ethics: a small branch of philosophical thought that rejected the notion of any robust/stable character traits. Experience seemed to bear out this tenet - frame a person in a situation just so, taking into account their historical accretion of situations, and you could guess how they’d react. Sometimes. People could surprise you.

Laetizia pulled on her favorite black calfskin boots with buckles on, paired with a dress and blazer, then added her mother’s heirloom necklace of semi-precious gems, said to be a good-luck charm, which glinted in the morning sun. Her mother had sent it to her a few weeks before for the occasion. "You can do this," she mouthed as picked up her papers and looked at her reflection in the mirror. It might have been her imagination, but she thought she felt something standing behind her. The mirror contained only her reflection. “No more magic,” she thought to herself, firmly, and left the room.

Outside, it was already bustling: businessmen, women, children - all were heading into the city center, jumping onto trams, busses, and, sometimes, whizzing by on their velocipedes. The preternatural investigatory unit had cordoned off an area of the sidewalk, right under her window, and a body lay covered with a sheet. The investigators had their hand on someone’s shoulder. It looked unfriendly. A few spectators talked in hushed tones about how terrible these things were and one was holding a newspaper with the headlines visible: “OFFICIALS STILL PUZZLED BY SPATE OF MAGIC-ASSOCIATED DEATHS.”

Laetizia shivered and crossed to the other side of the street to the tram stop. The tram passed over the River Whey - a deep, dark river choked with refuse and steaming run-off. “Excuse me, excuse ME,” Laetizia called out as she elbowed and shoved her way onto the next tram and wedged herself in-between a stocky man in a ripped leather jacket and an old lady with a granny cart. The doors closed. Everyone was so tightly packed together that there was no need to reach for any of the dangling handholds: the mass of bodies supported each other.

As the tram moved along its tracks, Laetizia noticed that people were looking slightly uncomfortable - wrinkling their noses and side-eyeing each other to see if anyone else noticed anything. Then Laetizia smelled it. Something plastic was burning. Dark smoke puffed out of the ventilation chambers. Everyone began to shout: “FIRE, FIRE!!! CONDUCTOR, OPEN THE DOORS! FIRE!!!” But the tram continued chugging along. The next stop wasn’t far but it wasn’t close, either, and the smoke gathered ever more thick and dark. A lick or two of flame shot out and the heat became palpable. “DO SOMETHING” wailed a mother holding a baby. Those around became more panicked and looked at each other to see if anyone would take risk. Laetizia kept her head down. “Not ME,” she thought, and clutched her good luck charm.

A stoic looking elderly man with wispy white hair finally began to mutter something under his breath and made small somatic movements. The tram jerked to a halt, metal screeching, and the doors slid forcefully open in their grooves. Everyone cried out in relief and poured out through the doors. Laetizia barely escaped being trampled. She’d have a few bruises to show for this the next day. At a safe distance from the tram, she paused to look back even though this whole delay meant she’d be late for her presentation.

The old man had taken a seat amidst the flames and closed his eyes. The skin on Laetizia’s neck prickled. Something was there by the man - though she couldn’t see anything. The man stiffened suddenly and his eyes roll back in his head. Unable to look away, she saw him convulse for a few moments before slumping down into his seat. The feeling of another thing faded. “DEFINITELY no more magic,” she swore, breaking into a cold sweat. She said a silent prayer for the old man, then hailed a taxi.
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NB: This is for a class I'm taking. The assignment was to create a story of ~750 words with an element of fancy to it.