Skunked or Bamboozled

With the warm weather, the skunks in my neck of the woods are emerging from their winter sleep.

The other week, my coworker got sprayed just outside the front door of our office – this led to the entire office reeking of skunk for the next two days, as a blast of skunky air swept through every time someone opened that damn door.  It’s not his fault, though, I blame immigration for failing to alert non-North-Americans of the key difference between Pepe and Penelope upon entry into Canada.  He’s Scottish, and they don’t have skunks.  If my nose weren’t so angry with him, I’d suggest that it’s kind of sweet that he was going out to find out what was wrong with the cat hanging out beside our front entrance.

Poor guy thought he was safe even if the cat were mean, since it had its back to him.

For future reference of people who’ve never seen a skunk.  If it’s between late evening and mid-morning, and it’s got white markings on it – even if it isn’t a skunk, it’s a skunk. Skedaddle.  If you want more particular details, they kind of look like a long haired black and white cat from a distance, but they waddle.  They stamp their feet when they’re angry/anxious, and the end you should fear most is the tail end.

I’ve had a few close encounters with skunks and their smell, but have not yet been skunked myself.  I’ve got a dog, though, and nearly everyone I know who owns a dog has, at one point or another (or, in the case of my neighbour with a beagle, 5+ times) gotten skunked, or at least had to deal with a skunked dog.  And, if your dog gets sprayed – there isn’t a chance in hell that you’re getting him clean without long exposure and contamination.

I know it’ll happen, though I do my best to fight the odds.

With all of this in mind, when I was out in my back yard this morning getting ready for a dog walk, and heard a strange watery spritzing noise right beside me, it’s no surprise that my response was a low wail of “Nooooooooooooo” and a Mr. Bean-esque retreat.

Adrenaline pumping, I ran right out of the  yard, unleashed dog close on my tail, with the sole purpose of getting out of the line of fire.  Panting and wild eyed in my front yard, I, bloodhound, I sniffed suspiciously at the air… the dog… my knees… before throwing the leash around Gwynn and quick-stepping out into the road.

From the safety of the middle of the road, I more securely fastened the dog and acknowledged that skunks probably don’t make a noise like someone charging a water gun before or during their spray.  And that, if our sump pump pipe had frozen almost solid, it would probably make just that kind of gurgling hiss.

If you see this view of a skunk then, well… it’s probably already too late. “Image by Ken Bosma under Creative Commons license

SciFriday – Salt

Post-apocalyptic City, by Peter Siegl, on DeviantArt. Follow the picture to see more of his work!

In the hunt for immortality, there are always fads – the ‘real’ way to stay healthy would sweep the nation, be disproved, discarded and replaced.

Some things stick, though, to the point that the government takes it to heart.  The connection between sodium intake and blood pressure was clear.  Heart attacks were nearly eliminated, along with fast food chains.

Too bad our civilization’s salt addiction was all that had kept the snails off our backs.

The remaining officials strongly encourage the surviving populace to relocate to the coast – and remember that a high-sodium diet is a healthy diet!

***

This is a piece in response to Chris White Writes’ new SciFriday posts – he provides a piece of art, you provide about 100 words of sci fi.  win-win.  Head over to read the other submissions and submit your own piece!

Red Dress Club – A New Road

You can see the prompt from Write on Edge and submit your own by clicking the image below.

I’d also like to mention – I mean no disrespect by using the word Gypsy.  But not using it would kind of take away any level of authenticity from my MC.  After all… what farm boy ‘way back when’ would have known that ‘they prefer Romani’?
  Sam stumbled down the rutted road, shaking in the cold night wind off the plains.

Icy fingers clutched tight at the thin cloth of his coat.  Teeth chattering, he looked longingly back down the road, his entire world out of sight.

The girls would be snug in bed, he knew, their dolls tucked under their arms.  Who’d take care of them now?

He scrubbed at the tears coursing down his cheek and steeled himself.

No going back.  Pa’d always done right by the girls, at least.  They’d be fine.

Sam blew on his hands and broke into a clumsy jog, pain stabbing him with each jarring step.

The moon was nearly set when he saw the fire.  Exhausted and aching, he didn’t try to hide.  They could be murderers as long as they let him die by the fire.

He passed a tree strung up with charms, and even in the thin moonlight, the wagon was brightly coloured and intricately patterned.  Gypsies.

Thieves and murderers, the lot of them, his memory growled in his father’s voice, fetch my gun, boy, don’t dawdle.

Sam shook his head.  Pa’s opinion of good and bad wasn’t very trustworthy.

A branch snapped under his foot and the murmur of conversation around the fire died. One man called out cheerfully,”Ye’re late, lad – what took ye?”

The others around the fire laughed as though the man had made a joke.  Sam sidled forward and smiled cautiously.

“I-you-um…” he stared, wide-eyed, at the motley group and swallowed. “Wha’?”

“She told us to keep dinner.”  a hulking man leaned forward, a wicked scar cutting his face in two, gold teeth gleaming with fire.

A boy about his own age grinned less ominously and added, “Yeah, Shuv’ni shoulda said t’make ye breakfast!”  He nudged the girl beside him, who snorted sourly.

“What do you expect, me reading in a moving wagon?”

Sam blinked at that - Readin’s fer the rich, Pa said.  But what did reading have to do with predicting his arrival?  Magic, his imagination hissed.  He shuddered.

“Come closer, boy, warm ye’self,” an ancient woman with bright birdlike eyes commanded from her rocking chair.

Sam  stepped forward, blushing at the Gypsies’ gasps of dismay.  A woman made a low pained noise, like a kicked dog.  He had a good idea of what he looked like.  Pa never bothered avoiding the face.

The old woman pursed her lips disapprovingly, “Shuv’ni didn’t warn o’ that neither.”

The girl darted forward, grabbing him by the face.  She prodded him everywhere it hurt, making him yelp.

“I need to read the bones,” she muttered, turning away.  Before she disappeared into the wagon she added, “By the by, your ribs’r cracked.  Gran’ll do for ye”

Gran rolled her eyes and said, “Come sit by me, boy.”

“Why… why are you all being so nice?”

The gold-toothed man laughed, tugging a woman out of the shadows.  “We do right by family, don’t we, luv?”

Sam gaped as a ghost from his memories stepped into the firelight.  Wordlessly, the woman hugged him tight.

“Ma?”

This is a pastel and ink drawing by my sister, Doodle. You can see more of her work by clicking the image (it’ll take you to her DeviantArt page). She also blogs over at DrawninandQuartered. I do love having an in-house artist for my stories!

Master Class – Rewired

Last week on Master class, the following was given for a first line of a story.  Click through to add your own piece or read the rest of the submissions!

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. I was on the fast track to any school I wanted – my fastball was clocked at 106 MPH.  A motorcycle accident, two weeks in a coma and three surgeries to straighten my leg out, and I found myself with an awful lot of time doing not much of anything, with no-one around to keep me company.  Turns out, the people who hang around with popular-you aren’t always the ones who stick with you through the tough times.  My extraordinary life plan was as out of reach as the sun. Laid up in hospital with my life in shambles, I wasn’t much in the mood to read my usual sports mags.  Reading was a great escape, though, and I went through the hospital library pretty quickly.  My brother rolled his eyes when I asked him to hit up the public library for me.  But since my accident, he’d hung up his helmet – the star quarterback learned his lesson from the has-been pitcher’s accident - so use of my parents’ van was granted in return for ‘helping your brother out’.  Not one to go above and beyond, he’d swing by the library once a week, check out a shelf of books at random and return the ones I’d read. His lazy library visits did one good thing – they brought me the book that would change my life. Programming Your Life, by Franko Brunne, had an overly cheerful picture of the man himself giving two thumbs up on the cover.  I know what you’re thinking… so this is what hitting rock bottom sounds like. I didn’t even have a laptop, but reading this book, I just had to try it out.  Franko’s shtick was that writing the computer code for things you wanted to come true would “rewire your world”.  It sounds lame, but hey, rock-bottom-jock, here.  I was willing to try anything. His coding wasn’t quite like any programming language I’d already read about.  And, with my brother working his way through the ‘computer’ section of the library, I’d read a lot. My first attempt was to write a code for my brother to bring me a coke.  Easy enough, right?  It could even happen, theoretically, without the code.  If Jon weren’t such a tool. Nada.  He didn’t even come into my room with a coke of his own.  I found where I went wrong - no time requirements – and rewrote it. It was the most refreshing soda ever, and little bro didn’t even know it wasn’t his own idea. I practised on small things.  Jon’d moved into the sci-fi and fantasy shelves, which definitely gave me some ideas. I fixed my leg – a miraculous recovery, my doctors said – but I never did get that sports scholarship.  My leg wasn’t even my biggest accomplishment so far.  Making things that already existed change wasn’t nearly as impressive as what I could create from nothing but a bit of led and lined paper.

This is a photomanipulation type piece of artwork by FictionChick on DeviantArt. Click the image to go to her site and check out more of her work. It’s all wicked, and I love the surreal landscapes she creates. Every one of her pieces looks like it’s got its own story, and, if we’re judging books by their covers, I would totally read them all.

 

Algonquin in Winter

This past long weekend, I finally made it out skiing.  Not just any old skiing, but a trip to Algonquin.  I love Algonquin – not even just the park… the whole area.  Anywhere from Algonquin to Northern Ontario (anyone who’s been to Sioux Lookout knows Algonquin Park isn’t in ‘Northern Ontario’… not really), give me wilderness.  The woods, the trails, the lakes the rivers, the rustling of the leaves.  If I could live in the woods and commute a reasonable distance to my work (or just not work at all), I wouldn’t even hesitate.  If I could live up there, but couldn’t take technology with me, you all might just be lucky enough to get a brief final note from me.  “Gone forever to woods, bye”, maybe.  

My hermit-type habits are a discussion for another day, though, because I wasn’t solo on this trip.  I didn’t even sleep in a tent!

My friend S (my friend who does cross-country skiing too), Gwynn, and I stayed at the Motel 6 in Huntsville.  If you’re looking for a dog-friendly place to stay in that area, I cannot recommend them enough.  They don’t charge extra for (or make a fuss about) dogs, they actually welcome them!  They might have really weird motel-6 sheets, but just look at what they gave Gwynn when we got there!

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poop bags (gentle reminder, I’ll take it), a ball, and an assortment of cookies. The last place I’d stayed at with Gwynn before this tried to claim that they had no ‘pet friendly’ rooms available, and that their records didn’t show that we’d called and booked and said we were bringing the dog. it’s a nice change

We drove up Saturday morning at some unholy hour, stopping on our way up at Henrietta’s – this amazing bakery between Huntsville and Algonquin.  Try their Muskoka Clouds, or their bread… or anything, really.

We spent our morning attempting to ski one of the ungroomed trails.  It was a learning experience, and what I learned was simple:  A trail I remember as being flat-ish in summer is not necessarily a good trail for skiing!  It was lovely, though.

When we stopped by the front gate to get a day-permit to the park, we were told of three spots where the trails were groomed.  And no-dogs-allowed.  Well that’s just no fun, though I could understand it.  It put a bit of a cramp in our plan until I remembered the Rail Trail.  For those of you not often in Algonquin, it’s a bicycle trail (in summer) that runs along where there used to be a lumber train through the park.  Even ungroomed, that trail would be guaranteed to be flat!

My suspicion about why this trail isn’t advertised as groomed is that, having an access right in Mew Lake Campground (one of the few that remains open in the winter), they expected the trail to get at least partly ruined by all the people walking on it.  I feel no guilt about bringing the dog out on that trail, especially not after witnessing the number of walking groups that came out and almost on purpose walked directly on the ski lines.  For those of you who don’t cross-country ski – if you see those perfectly spaced ski-trail lines?  Don’t walk on them!

I also had a chance to take out a coworker’s snowshoes.  Gwynn was unimpressed at my ability to completely block the trail when he was trying to get through, but I definitely appreciated them on the steep parts of the trail – they had a lot more grip than my boots would have, and I didn’t need to slide down on my bum or clamber up hoisting myself from tree to tree.

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We also had pie and deep fried foods and were asleep before 10pm, so you just know it was a good time.

SciFriday 1 – Commute

This piece is called Tracks, by Sandara. Click the image to go and check out more of her work.

Travelling the abandoned byways of this, the ancient home of our foolish godly ancestors, I curse my own foolishness.  The ghostly silence groans with concrete and steel losing to gravity and time.  

The rumbling coo of pigeons  is nerve-wracking.  Massive and wily as they are, my best chance is to take advantage of their poor eyesight – move slowly, steadily.   

My camel’s metal claw rings against buried rail and the birds hone in on the noise.

Next station’s in 2km.  I can see their evil red eyes gleaming.  Too far.

Ducking under the bot’s torso and pulling out my bow, I scan the horizon and pray.

When the first enormous rat bites into my calf, I’m ready with a knife.  Commuting downtown really is deadly.

***

Chris White Writes put out a photo prompt today, more specifically, a sci fi prompt.  I love reading sci fi, but I’ve got to say, it’s not my strong suit.  What better way to improve than by practising, though, eh?

Click the picture to check out the artist, or go to Chris White Writes to submit your own prompt response and read other submissions!

Unfocused

Gwynn and I have been working through some issues recently.  Despite being 4 (!), he’s apparently decided to try out that doggy-teen-angst thing that usually strikes sometime between turning 2 and 3.  He’s a late bloomer, I guess.

He’s started barking at people, and attempting to run towards them (fun! not.) on our walks, and is developing dog-park-bully tendencies (ditto).

I know pretty much everyone says you never just reach a point with your dog where you can stop training, but I kind of assumed that I’d be able to keep adding tricks, agility moves and general improvement on his recall and sit-stays and call it a day.  I wasn’t expecting new things.  Behavioural things.

New things like suddenly, other dogs are really really interesting – in a hard-eyes and rigid posture, jumps over the barrier separating us (mid-agility run) from another dog (ditto, but also with fear-of-dog-issues, of course) like it wasn’t a foot and a half taller than the jump height we’re working on, spend 10 minutes yipping hysterically until I just get the fuck out 20 minutes into class kind of way.

Awesome.

What does all this mean?  Well, apparently the bullying might be a mixture of the herding and poodling (poodles were originally hunting dogs, so I’m not quite sure what instinct it is here, other than… being bouncy) instincts kicking into high gear from his ancestry – lots of darting in and back, barking and general over-excited-not-listening-to-other-dog’s-discomfort-cues.

And his complete loss of interest in running the agility course with me when he could instead go cry and run the fenceline?  Lack of focus combined with the whole over-excited-at-dogs thing.  His groovy ‘do means that his eyes are a thing I don’t necessarily see when training focus-work, and apparently this is an issue, because it means that I’m rewarding the wrong thing.  He’s, more often than not, getting rewarded for face-pointing in my general direction, but actually looking at the treat in my hand/pocket/whatever it is I’m trying to get him to stop looking at.  Instead of actual eye-contact.  Yup, 100% luring, not actual training.  Mea culpa.

Yes, also I high-pitch my voice to try and make him more interested in me… but when that fails… well…

My agility instructor has recommended that I cut all the hair around his eyes, but he’s already got a bit of a mullet thing going on from the trimming I already do, and I love his hair, so I’m going to try out a few alternatives for the interim (until it’s warm enough out that I can get him fully groomed).  What are your thoughts on his style?

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She also said she thought we’d be fine continuing with agility and just adding a dog obedience class (one that focuses on, well, focus, and working on newly developed issues), but frankly, I don’t give a flying… rice-cake… about whether Gwynn and I succeed at doing 6/8/10/etc weave poles, I just want my friendly/happy/not crazy dog back.

All this over-excitement directed at people (barking/lunging), and dogs (bullying, and hard eyes/stiff posture), to my mind, means that Gwynn is not feeling safe, he’s not sure how to act in a given situation, and, for these reasons, not happy.  

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

On a deeper level, I mean.

He’s also on a bad track towards possibly developing aggression issues (if you don’t already call his occasional barking and bullying a form of aggression), and, well NO.  If you’ve got experience in this type of thing, feel free to link me to useful stuff on the web or leave your best tips.  I’ve already been trolling back through old posts at SUCCESS JUST CLICKS and other dog trainer blogs, but repeated information isn’t bad information.

So I’m going all Mr Miyagi on his poor confused self, and we are going to get focused, and get happy.

Wax on, Wax off.  Click, Treat.

Trifecta: Guilty Pleasures

This week’s trifecta writing challenge required us to incorporate the following word into a story under 333 words in length.  click the Trifecta badge to go to their site and check out other submissions, or submit your own!

MANIPULATE (transitive verb)

1: to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner
2a : to manage or utilize skillfully
b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage
3: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose : to doctor
I’ve been thinking a lot about just how processed food is, lately.  Quinoa in a cookie = healthy cookie, no matter how many other, unpronounceable ingredients it has, and it is amazing what you can do to eliminate the health benefits of kale (and make it taste delicious, too!).  Organic seems almost synonymous with healthy, and that gluten-free brownie must be better for you than the plain old contains-flour brownie on the other shelf.  Vegetable juice certainly sounds healthy until you notice the salt content, and gummies are packed with ‘real fruit juice’.  We brandish these labels of healthful, non-fat, zero calorie and pro-biotic to argue that the sweet potato chips (deep fried in coconut oil), vanilla bean cake (made with real vanilla bean!  fair trade!  and no gluten!) and fried chicken (free run) are actually good for us.  I’m not trying to say what is or isn’t actually healthy, but really, what might the future hold?

Salesgirls and boys trolled the aisles.  Their slinky outfits and razor-sharp smiles stood out starkly from the burqas of the shoppers, indecent and unavoidable.

Their bold, kohl-lined eyes seemed to stare right through the anonymous shroud of his face veil.

Sensing easy prey, one undulated over to him, her perfectly manicured hand balancing a delicate tray laden with brussels sprouts.  Darting around her would be an unforgivable rudeness, so Mark stopped, sweaty hands clutching his basket like a shield.

The girl leaned close with a predatory smile.  “You,” she purred, “are going to just love what I have on offer today.”

Mark swallowed convulsively, barely keeping from recoiling from the invasion of his private space.  “Brussels sprouts?  I’m getting broccoli today, thanks.”

“Oh, but these are something you’ve never experienced before, sir,” she replied, bringing one to her nose and inhaling deeply.  “Zero nutritional value, high in fat, sodium and calories, we manipulate our  OINK! pork rinds so you can enjoy your guilty pleasures with none of the guilt and all of the pleasure.”  she plucked a single leaf and placed it on her tongue with an indecent moan.

Mark licked his lips and wondered if the salesgirls’ tactics made women as uncomfortable as they made him.  He knew, absolutely knew, that he didn’t like pork products.  That his contractual partner of two years, Cara, didn’t like pork products.  Faced with an equally anonymous fellow citizen, he could have shrugged off her offer and been on his way with little social interaction.  The citizen would never be standing within his government recommended 1.5 metre diameter column of personal space, practically naked in a translucent sheath dress, either.  She smelled of synth-sexual-hormones and bacon.  More manipulation, but knowing didn’t help.

If he bought them, she’d leave him alone.

***

Cara saw his purchases and sighed.  She pulled an identical package, half-empty, from the pantry.  “I’ve been feeding them to the dog,” she said.

Mark smiled  and replied.  “I bet he’s experiencing all of the pleasure, with none of the guilt, too.”

Write On Edge and Trifecta: It Could Happen

This week, I’m combining the Write on Edge and Trifecta Writing prompts.  Click on the above pictures to take you to one or the other of the sites for this week’s linkup.  Read some of the other submissions, or submit your own, or both.  It’s always interesting to see the many and varied stories that come from the same prompt.

From Trifecta, the following word, whose third definition is to be used in a response between 33 and 333 words:

QUAINT (adjective)

1:  obsolete:  EXPERT, SKILLED
2a:  marked by skillful design <quaint with many a device in India ink — Herman Melville>
b:  marked by beauty or elegance
3a : unusual or different in character or appearance :  ODD
  b : pleasingly or strikingly old-fashioned or unfamiliar <a quaint phrase>

From Write on Edge, we have a quote and a picture to use as inspiration, in any way we choose:

Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.”

~ Salman Rushdie

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

image courtesy of Unsplash, click the picture to go to the site

Shoulders hunched, eyes flitting from object to object, flinching from sudden movement, Jeremy couldn’t help but to slink down the city sidewalks.

The pedestrian sign flashed 30…29… System malfunction, opposite light turns green before walk flashed to hand, the screech of tires as a truck speeding down the street tried to stop, failed, the gasps of horror from onlookers, last thing I hear before the agony of impact.  It could happen.  He licked his lips and waited while others crossed.

A couple came up alongside him.  Their dog sat wagging and grinning at her side.  She caught him staring out of the corner of his eye and smiled.  “He’s quite friendly, you can pet him if you’d like.”

Friendly dog, until I reach to pet him and he jumps up, teeth tearing at my face, hanging on, horrible horrible sensation of weight in his face, hot blood dripping down.  It could happen. Jeremy rolled horrified eyes up to the woman’s, shuddered and jerked his head no.  

A man walked towards him on the sidewalk, hands tucked deep into the pockets of his trenchcoat… pulls out the gun hidden there, I don’t give him my money fast enough, it’s not enough, and an explosion of pain blossoming from the center of my chest, it could happen.  Jeremy plastered himself against the brick and flinched away.

Pidgeons… the plague.  

Fire escape… stairs loose abruptly and collapse on top of me, bones crunching.

Jeremy escaped to the new terrors to be found in the grocery store, bought the food least likely to kill him.

“Hey buddy, wanna try our new granola bar?”

Sudden onset of peanut allergy, choking hazard, contamination, “No!”

The man hawking death-bars grinned.  “Come on, buddy, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Eyes darting between deaths around him, Jeremy barked out a bitter laugh.  “Your world seems so quaint.”  He clutched his purchases tight and escaped, keeping an eye on the shelves that might crush him.

“And yours, so small!” the man replied.

Master Class – Solace

Master class is back, and with perfect timing for my determination to keep up with writing on a regular basis in the new year.  The first one of the new year has a pretty simple requirement – use the quote from Divergent (excellent book) as your first line.  Click on the quote below to go over to the Master Class linkup and add your own story, or read the other submissions.

There is one mirror in my house.  She is my solace and my despair, as tempestuous as the sea.  At times she is docile, granting me my requests sweetly, glimpses of elsewhere and elsewhen – a bustling village market,  or a peaceful family taking their ease of an evening, perhaps.  The wind picks up and she is derisive and spiteful, twisting my desires, showing instead that same village at its end, all smoke and blood and death, the family’s suffering, the hollow cheeks and broken sobs of starvation and desperation.  Each picture worth a thousand words, look at what you’ve done, over and again.

She rages and storms, my looking glass, and for days at a time, all I see is my true self, no cruelty or disfigurement left cloaked, unswayed by my tears.  Soft as a kitten, my Lady sidles up to me, all soft words and kisses, my face as I once was reflected in her gaze, my own hideous rictus of pleasure mirrored in that long-ago boy’s delighted grin and wide brown eyes.

Whatever her mood, she is my companion, gripped tight while I stalk the desolate halls of my prison, or hugged close as I toss in restless slumber in the den of tumble-down furniture and shredded bedding that was once a grand and bright bedroom.  The only time I feel able to set her down is when I tend my roses.  Their hidden barbs save them from my fits of despair as no other thing of beauty here has done.  I long to believe that there is some beauty yet within me, unseen as the rose’s thorn.

I sit up late into the night, thinking of nothing and everything and staring into her depths.  My past, the innocent boy I was.  The gradual change in me, I pick at the threads of my memory.  Was that it?  Was that the first of my cruelties?  The first time I failed to care, to be human?  Was that when I began my descent?

I have thought of countless ways to avoid my fate, but redemption lies beyond my twisted grasp.  It is as I think on this, a full year into my captivity, one claw absently scraping gilt from her frame, that she begins to show me the girl, pale and plain and solemn.  Her path leading her ever nearer.

Perhaps there is yet hope.

another request put in to my sister.  she is very patient with me and my demands for free artwork!

another request put in to my sister. she is very patient with me and my demands for free artwork!

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