A Sinking Feeling

Inspiration Monday is back, so I am too.  Check out this week’s prompt and other responders here.

I used the prompts Canned Music and Sink Chronos.  And, not going to lie, I’ve been watching a large amount of Leverage lately.

“Where were you?”  The five members of their crew were at the docks.  The duffels full of cash were not.

“I know, I know, my timing was off.” Doug stared at his feet, engrossed in his chosen task of scraping sand into a perfect square.  Gulls cried overhead.

Miranda snapped her fingers under the getaway driver’s nose to get his attention. “But we synched our chronos for that exact reason! So how come your timing was off? You screwed the entire team over, we nearly got nabbed and we had to ditch the goods!”

“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘sunk’, M.” Doug smirked. He was always happy to be able to correct Miss high-and-mighty. She was always acting like she was better than him, but really, how could any job go according to plan, no matter how good her plan was, without a good getaway driver. And Doug was great. Most of the time.

“What?”

“The past tense of sink is ‘sunk’, Miranda. Say what you may about your higher education, but I learned plenty in high school.” He snorted. “Sinked, ha!”

Miranda’s face darkened and Doug gulped. Maybe right after a botched job wasn’t the time to rub it in. “When did I use the word ‘sink’, Doug?”  Her voice was a warning, but Doug was riding the high of correcting her, and didn’t hear it.

“You radio-ed in and told us the time was 12:01, and said sink chronos on my mark, 3, 2, 1, mark.”

The rest of the crew’s expressions had become stormy. Miranda’s expression was homicidal. “And you…”

“Threw my watch in the lake.” The entire crew took an ominous step forward, and Doug shifted nervously, adding, “If I’d known we were getting rid of our watches, I’d have made sure the clock on the getaway van was functional. I just had to kind of wing it, y’know? After you guys went radio silent. I really did my best, you guys, but it’s hard to time things without anything to measure off of. I based the 40 minutes off how many songs got played on the radio.  Luckily all this canned music they play on the radio is pretty standard at 3 minutes.  Though the commercials kind of threw me off a bit.  I think that’s where I went wrong.”

Sam, the crew’s heavy, guffawed. Doug was relieved that someone in the crew could appreciate the humour of Miranda’s screw-up.

“I’m going to kill him,” the weapons expert said, drawing his gun and moving forward.

Doug lost his smile and backed away, madly waving his hands in denial. “Guys! Sam no! Isn’t anyone going to stand up for me?”

Miranda folded her arms. The other two took a step back.

Their safe hacker, normally anti-violence, said, “Let me put my ear plugs in first, I can’t afford any hearing loss.” She didn’t even look at Doug as she pulled a box from one of her vest pockets.

Doug burst into tears. Miranda sighed and he felt a brief moment of hope. “You won’t let him do it, will you? I’m so sorry, I don’t know why you guys are so angry at me!”

She stepped forward, her face calm. “We’re not going to kill you, Doug.”  She took him by the shoulders and stared into his eyes.  “S-Y-N-C-H.  But I hope you’ll S-I-N-K.”

“Hah, Oh, geez, homonyms, eh?  Whatcha gonna d-” Miranda shoved him, hard, and Doug yelped as he cartwheeled over the short curb on the top of the dock wall.

Miranda and the rest of the crew headed back towards the getaway van.

“Guys?” Doug called, treading water with difficulty and trying to find a grip on the tall sheet piling dockwall. “Guys, you’re not gonna just leave me here, are you?  It’s not my fault, it was homonyms!”

An engine started nearby and a vehicle drove away.

“Guys?”

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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!

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!

Write On Edge: The Road Ahead

  Write on Edge this week provided a quote and a photo, and I decided to use both for my response to the prompt.  click the link above to go to the prompt page.  Submit your own story (500 words or less), or read some of the other responses.  The quote and image are below.  The picture, I have to say, gives me the willies.  There was a time that farmed lumber could be planted in neat and tidy rows.  It isn’t allowed any more in Canada (I think, anyways), but there are a few such old plantings you might walk through in provincial or national parks – it gives you the oddest sense of wrongness, as every tree in all directions abruptly lines itself up perfectly with every other step you take.  That’s what the prompt this week reminds me of.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953)

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

“The past is a foreign country.”  Marta smiled smugly down at her sister from her perch on the wagon seat.

Natalka scowled and stomped her foot.  “That doesn’t even mean anything!  When you were my age, you got to go to market with Papa, it’s unfair!”

Gregor swung her up in a bear-hug.  “Oh, my little girl, the woods are much darker and more dangerous than they were back then.” he said, “You’ll stay here and keep your mama safe, eh?”  He set her down and swung easily into the driver’s seat and gathered up the reins.  “Remember the rule, my lovely?”

Natalka rolled her eyes and sullenly replied, “always stay behind the fence.”

“Good girl.”  He set the massive draft horses off with a flick and a shout.  As the wagon rumbled through the gate, Marta leaned out of the wagon and stuck her tongue out at her younger sister.

***

Natalka hummed to herself, winding her way through the woods and picking a bouquet of wild flowers.  Intent on finding just the right one to complete her bouquet, she hardly noticed the fence until she hit upon it.  She scowled through the wooden bars, at woodland that looked just like the woodland on her side, but more… something.  There were the same types of trees, the same ferns and shrubs and vines.  The same squirrels and mice rustled the underbrush, the same birds fluttered above, though none would cross the fence.  

And yet, in comparison, the world within the fence seemed drab and gray.  Natalka sighed and chucked a branch over the fence.  Even it seemed more… something… there.

Off in the distance, she heard her name.  Forgetting her anger at being left behind, Natalka squealed in delight at her father’s early return and turned towards the house.

His voice again, calling her name, but this time clearer, and more clearly coming from behind her.  Natalka peered through the slats at the greenery on the other side.  In the distance, she could just make out the road to town, and on it, an occasional glimpse of the cart.

“I’m coming, Papa!”Natalka laughed and slipped through the slats.  She ran through the underbrush, towards his booming laugh.  She was breathless and flush when she stumbled out into the roadway, empty but for a path of logs laid out in a perfectly delightful wave.  Perfect for a little girl to balance on while dreaming of daring adventures.  Her papa called again, and she hopped onto the logs and skipped off in search of him.

***

Marta cried and struggled as she was dragged back to the house.  “I can hear her!  She’s just over there!” she shrieked, clawing at the strong arms wrapped around her.

He set her down gently.  “You only hear what you wish to hear, my little one.  You mustn’t follow the voices, you’d break your mother’s heart.”  Fat tears trickled into his beard.  “Losing you both is more than I could bear.”

It’s a bit Muddy

When I visited my old roommate in Calgary, we spent most of our time in the mountains instead of Calgary itself.  Sure, we went to stampede, and that was cool, but really – the mountains.  The Mountains.  This trip was a few years ago, but one of my fondest memories, still, is of stopping in at the Ranger Station before going for a day hike.  We wanted to check about bear reports or any other safety issues before heading up.

I'm told plaid and a cowboy hat is a requirement, and who am I to go against local customs?

I’m told plaid and a cowboy hat is a requirement, and who am I to go against local customs?

It was mid-June and what the parks staff would have seen was two petite blonde girls, a bit tired, and bundled up against the chill air.  What they read into this, I’m not sure, but it was suggested that we not take that trail.

Alberta 2009 187

“It’s a bit muddy,” he said, sounding about as condescending as a car salesman addressing me as little lady, and turning to explain to my father why he should get me to buy the so-and-such car.

Just to be clear, that’s all the explanation of why we shouldn’t take that trail.  So I didn’t buy a car from that dealer, and we didn’t change our plans of doing the Galatea Trail.

We spent the first hour or so of our hike giggling like teenagers and dramatically creeping around the edges of any small puddles or muddy patches in the trail.

We then rounded a bend in the trail and came upon the bridge.  Not quite upon it, since the snowmelt fattened river had jumped out of its bed, and the bridge itself sat, an island, with 10 feet of icy river to either side of it.

Alberta 2009 195

“It’s a bit muddy.”

Oh.

We held our boots at chest-height, and switched to shorts, meltwater rushing up over our knees and the river so forceful each step was like wading through molasses as our toes turned numb.  We re-warmed our extremities with a snack and a break on the bridge then waded through more water, dried off and carried on.

Alberta 2009 192

It was my first hike in the Rockies, and I seriously considered begging my roommate to just turn around *now* as I sweated and panted my way through our third hour of hiking.  Over and over, I thought, if we don’t get ‘there’ soon, I’m not going to make it.  The elevation change going up into the mountains and then exercising there is no joke – I felt like I’d spent the past year bedridden and eating pudding competitively.

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The Lower Galatea and Lillian Lakes were both stunning.  The Upper Galatea was an additional hour or so of hiking, though my mind might be playing tricks on me, so by ‘hour’, I mean it could have been a minute or a mile, what difference does it make if I absolutely can’t make it any further?

The hike to the Upper Galatea was across a brutal screed slope of fist-sized rocks all smoothed and clattering down the hill as we scrambled up the slope.  I wondered if I’d somehow developed rapid onset asthma.

Alberta 2009 208

you want me to go up that? um… no thanks

The Upper Galatea was still half frozen, in June.  There’s nothing quite like having to don a hat and gloves while you eat your lunch overlooking a mountain valley half coated in snow and ice.

Alberta 2009 215

absolutely worth the death-scramble up the side of the mountain.

Staff had corralled the river back in its banks by the time we were on our way back down.  Crossing the river was a bit less epic with just a bit of mud to walk through.

On our way back to the car, we were already discussing which hike we should do the next day.

We might not have used the trail at all if he’d phrased it differently, but I’m pretty grateful to the ranger who tried to dissuade us from our hike with the verbal equivalent of a thrown gauntlet.

Master Class – Castle, Stormed

We’re into the first full week of Nanowrimo, so while I hope to keep up doing one or two blog posts a week, chances are they’ll be bits and pieces of the story I’m working on for Nano.  Case in point, this prompt response.  If you’re doing Nano as well, feel free to add me as a friend on the boards – Lexy0387 is my username.

This week’s master class is from Dragonflight, and the challenge was to use it as the beginning or end of a story.  Click the image below to go to the prompt and read some of the other responses, or answer it yourself!

The photo below is by a flickr user named Helena.  Follow the link to see more of her stuff.

Dragon

“What are you doing here?”

Mara had been training for this moment for so long, and now that it finally had, an actual man speaking the male part was throwing her off.

“I’m… I… I’m… I live here,” She stammered.  “Hang on.  Let me start again.” She cleared her throat. “Good Sir Knight, you have rescued me.  Prithee take this – ” she snatched up a kerchief, “This token of my gratitude.”

The scruffy man gingerly plucked the kerchief from her outstretched hand, but made no move to cherish it.

“Um.  Perhaps you could also do me the favour of directing me to the treasure?”

“What treasure?”

“You know, the priceless treasure, found beyond the dark wood in a dragon-guarded castle?”

“I think that’s me.  I’m a princess, so you get the priceless treasure of true love.  And living happily ever after.  Theoretically…”  She wished he’d stop gaping at her.

“I was hoping for a golden harp or maybe a magical golden sword.”  He glanced about, as though hoping the chamber would reveal its secret stash of magical golden objects.

“What kind of knight are you?”

“No kind of knight at all – Monroe the Treasure Hunter, at your service,” he sketched a bow.  “Could we speed this up a bit?  I’d like to get out before the dragon wakes up.”

“You didn’t slay the dragon?  What’s wrong with you?!”

“I just happen to not like killing intelligent creatures unnecessarily.  I thought a princess would be less bloodthirsty.”

“Well you try living trapped alone for nine years, see how bloodthirsty you get.”  Tears built in her eyes.

“N-nine?” he stammered.

“YES, Nine!  I’ve been stuck in this stupid castle for nine years, and someone finally shows up and defeats the dragon – sort of – and he just wants some stupid gold sword, and now I’m probably going to have to wait here another nine years for a real knight to come along!”  Mara could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks and hated him for being witness to it.

Monroe was distinctly uncomfortable faced with tears. “Why don’t you just go home instead?  I’m sure your parents will understand, and I bet you’ll have loads more luck finding a husband if you’re living somewhere less isolated!”

“Leave?” she said, staring down at the gate.  She could see the dragon, collapsed across the stable yard and a crumbled section of the outer wall, snoring peacefully.  The decision was easy.  “Yes.  You’ll return me to my kingdom.”

“What? No.  I meant, you can leave, because the dragon is asleep, and go home… by yourself…which would probably lead to you getting killed by brigands,  or something.  Maybe you should just stay here.  I’m sure someone’ll come along… eventually.  If you leave now, you’ll remain cursed.”

“I’m not under a curse, my parents just wanted to find me a prince or knight to marry.  And I’m tired of waiting for him.  Take me home, and you’ll get your treasure.  My father has tons of gold,” she added.

His eyes lit up, and Mara knew she had him.  She rubbed her palms against her thighs in anticipation of the challenge.

Master Class – I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.

This week’s Master Class (follow the link to read the other submissions and submit your own) was the following line from a novel:

I love Robert Heinlein, so this quote really excited me – it’s Heinlein!  And, thankfully, it got me out of my lack-of-writing funk, because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write something by him.

Criticism is always welcome.

Cats on unmade bed ... Re-edit...

I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.

Considering I hadn’t slept in a bed in at least six months, the violence of my previous close encounter with a man, the fact that the last cat I’d seen I had caught, killed and eaten, and my complete lack of memory pertaining to my arrival in this situation, I felt surprisingly contented.

He had an arm draped across my waist and his head nestled against my neck, breath tickling at my hairline.  His face was childlike in repose, and he stayed deeply asleep despite my own jerk to wakefulness.  I felt surprisingly safe in his arms, though I still preferred him unconscious.

The cat looked at me with distain, sitting primly upright on the man’s hip.

Last I remembered, I’d been drinking a tea of boiled pine needle and willow-bark, huddled miserably under the sodden boughs of an evergreen.  No fever, now.

Last I remembered, I was trying – and failing – to fight off the infection that would likely kill me, from the arrow wound in my shoulder.  No pain.

The cat minced its way to the bedside table and began to groom itself.  The man rolled closer, draping a leg across me and moving his hand up my side, and I judged that the usefulness of his being asleep was at an end.

I cleared my throat.

His eyes snapped open, feral and golden, and before I could think of something to say, he had me by the throat.  I kneed him in the groin and clawed at his face as my vision grew spotty.

Asleep, he’d been childlike.  Asleep, I hadn’t seen the mangled left side of his face, the clawmarks trailing from his forehead, catching at the corner of his eye and down to snag at the corner of his snarling mouth.

The pressure on my neck eased enough to allow me faint passage of air as he looked around.  He crouched, poised for action, casually gripping both my wrists to prevent me from further self-defense.

“What is this place?” he snapped, sweeping the room with his sharp gaze.

His breathing was rapid and shallow, like that of a wild animal cornered by hunters.  I saw my own death in his eyes.

The cat stepped into my field of vision, and, with a suicidal seeming lack of fear, burbled a chirruping meow and butted its head against the man’s chin.  He swore and jumped back in surprise, like he hadn’t seen the cat in his in-depth perusal of the room.

I sucked in a breath and scrambled weakly away to the relative safety of the other side of the bed.  My neck throbbed with each rasping breath I drew in.

When it seemed that he wasn’t about to do anything drastic, I relaxed slightly.

He glared at me and repeated his question.

“Hell if I know.”  I was feeling a bit hard-done-by and in no mood to answer the questions of psychopaths.

“How did I get here?”

The cat took the opportunity to sprawl playfully on its back and purr.  It was a she, with clear signs of past litters.  And equally clear scars marring the sleek black of her fur. Like some bird of prey had been keen on accessing her intestines.

I pulled at the shoulder of the loose-fitting and blissfully clean tunic I was wearing.  The wound I last remembered with angry red lines tracing away from it in the firelight – blood poisoning – was the pale pink of an old scar.  My turn for questions.  “How long ago did you get that scar on your face, Bucko?”

He touched his jaw gingerly, as though expecting to encounter something horrible.  Not finding what he expected, he dashed to the mirror and stood staring at his reflection, stroking at the scars and shaking his head in disbelief.

“I was hunting, and the bastard caught me by surprise.  Barely got out of it alive.  Don’t remember making it home.”

Unabashedly, he stripped off his own pristine white tunic.  His chest and left shoulder were lacerated with equally old scars.  Based on the claw marks at his stomach, I couldn’t see how he could have lived long enough to heal from those wounds.  Not with the loss of old-modern medicine.  He and the cat both looked to have been part of some creature’s meal-plan.

I took a few tentative steps towards the door-shape in the smooth wall, but darted back when it hissed open.

A short plump woman entered, pushing a wheeled table ahead of her.  She took in the scene with a pleased smile – me, crouched in one corner, him, half-naked and ready to attack in another.  The cat continued purring on the bed.

“Excellent, you’re awake.”

She turned to me and extended her hand, but before she could introduce herself, he had her in a headlock.  Without missing a beat, she stuck him in the arm with a small syringe and he dropped.

“Let’s try this again, shall we?  I’m Myra, and you have been saved. Welcome to ARK, the last bastion of pure life on earth.  Breakfast?”

I suppressed the growl of my stomach.  “How long have I been here?”

“Eighteen hours, dear.  And your mate’s been here nearly seventy – stomach wounds are a nasty business, even in the healing tanks. We scooped you up in the storm – it gave us enough cover to come in without alerting the mutant population to our presence.”

Mate?! My skin crawled but I kept my face neutral.

“Why save us?”

“Because you are a healthy and genetically pure female human with many fertile years left, and he is a genetically pure male human whose genes combined with yours will produce healthy, genetically pure offspring.”  She smiled in a deeply unsettling way as she said this.  “You will help true humanity begin again.”

I felt like screaming.

Thought and action were simultaneous, giving her no warning of my intention when I broke her neck.

I slapped the unconscious man hard in the face to no avail.  Feeling time trickling away, I grabbed the pitcher of water and upended it on him.

He awoke, spluttering, and I tossed his shirt at him.  “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”

“You killed her.  Why?”  I paused in stuffing the breakfast foods into a pillowcase, happy to see that he was riffling the drawers for useful tools.  Happier to see that there was warmer clothing than what we had on.

I sketched out what information she’d given me, and added, “No-one gets to take my freedom from me, and no one will ever rape me again.  Humanity be damned.”

He nodded, amusement in his eyes as he noticed the tight grip I had on the breakfast knife.  “I never did understand the purists, anyways – mutants are a-ok by me.  Damn, no shoes.  Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.  Grab the cat and let’s go.”

“Why bring the cat?”

I pictured the scars on her belly, wondered at her opinion about being kept in this cage.  I’d always been pragmatic about survival, and pets were a hindrance, but she was a survivor too.  All I said was, “Snack?”

A Family History of Pets

 I don't think I've said it before - but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they're still around - you'll regret it later if you don't.  labeled 'may, winter, 19', I have so many questions.  dogsled?  frankly, it looks like they're off to Narnia.

I don’t think I’ve said it before – but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they’re still around – you’ll regret it later if you don’t. labeled ‘may, winter, 19’, I have so many questions. dogsled? frankly, it looks like they’re off to Narnia.

When my aunt was born, my dad’s parents had to get rid of their dog, Spot.  In my dad’s own words, the dog’s name was Spot, because… well… he had spots.  I suspect my grandfather was involved in the naming.  He was original like that.  My dad grew up in a small town that is nearly as small now as it was back then, and the dentist has a farm just on the outskirts, and lots of horses.  My aunt is so allergic to animals that, when visiting her parents’ home as an adult, if the wind blew in from that direction, she would have to stay inside with the windows shut, or risk her throat closing up.  One time, a plane was emergency landed for her, because the company ignored her when she said that there could absolutely be no animals in the cabin, and allowed someone to bring on their tiny dog in a carry on.

My dad was three the last time he’d had a pet.  He didn’t have another pet until he and my mum married.

Tomcat... before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears.  First rule of cat fightclub... you run to grandpa when you get hurt... but you also don't talk about cat fightclub

Tomcat… before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears. First rule of cat fightclub… you run to grandpa when you get hurt… but you also don’t talk about cat fightclub

My grandfather kept cats – stray farm cats who found their way to him, and who were willing to continue living their lives outdoors, visiting with my grandpa on the porch.  He couldn’t invite them in because my aunt would then no longer be able to visit.  Frankly, I’m not sure if most of them got more of a name than ‘cat’, or possibly ‘gray tabby’, ‘calico’, and ‘black cat’.  The one I remember best was, in yet another highly original choice by my grandfather, named Tom.  Short for Tomcat.  Another original.  I’m sure my uncle Tom appreciated the sharing of names.

The Clydesdales - or some of them anyways

The Clydesdales – or some of them anyways

My grandmother grew up on a farm, and was terrified of the Clydesdales her father used for farmwork, and equally terrified of the cows and their horns.    Those work horses are one of my dad’s few memories of his grandfather, and he agrees – to a small child, they were immense and immensely terrifying.  My grandmother grew up with chickens as well.  She doesn’t eat eggs, though she will use them in baking.  She grew up poor, and always said, “You don’t eat the chicken if it’s still laying eggs.  You eat a lot of eggs that way.”  When we took riding lessons near her house, she would stay as far from the horses as possible, despite their considerably more petite size.

One of the strangest old family headstones at the cemetery near where my dad grew up has a small photograph in it.  I wish I had a picture to share with you, but I’m only ever there for funerals, and frankly, that is not the time for photography.  The main thing you need to know is that everyone on that side of my family has a very distinctive look.  When in a room full of us, it’s very clear who is ‘us’ and who married into the family.  Pictures of my grandmother at 17 look like pictures of my aunts at 17, and probably would remind you a great deal of her mother, and grandmother at that age.  The men in the family are even more obviously the same.  So this photograph is of a man who looks like my dad.  Dead on, in fact.  It looks like my dad… if he were to grow out a full and magnificent handlebar mustache.  And, while I have never met this dearly departed distant relation, I think we’d understand each other just a little bit.  Set into his gravestone is a picture of him and his cockatoo.

a relative I suspect is on my grandmother's side of things... based on the basket of eggs. People don't dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs...how times have changed!

a relative I suspect is on my grandmother’s side of things… based on the basket of eggs. People don’t dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs…how times have changed!

my grandfather and the creatively named Spot

my grandfather and Bunkie

cat pictures - common even in 1945

cat pictures – common even in 1945

Stay tuned – next we look at my mom’s childhood!

Winning

This week’s Master Class was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  This week it’s being reader-judged, which means, I’d imagine, that the responses of the other people participating will be even better than usual.  You should head on over to  participate or to read some of the other responses, and vote!

I’m not much into sports, but it’s kind of hard to not hear about football lately, or so it seems.  I’m not talking about that in the sense of

“The Grizzlies creamed the Wombats in a double or nothing showdown, and won with a home-run in the final seconds – what a play THAT was, Bob.”

“It was, indeed, Stan – the Grizzlies have really upped their game since that one time when one of their players shot the puck into his own basket!”

… or whatever.  More along the lines of “People who should know better let terrible things be done by football players, or people in the industry, so as not to ruin the game.”  It made me think of how extremely violent people watching sports can become – the kind of aggression that makes some people willing to turn a blind eye to terrible things.

On a completely different note, it seems that I’m doing a terrible job indicating the sex of the characters I write.  Please, if you comment, tell me which you think this character is.  No pressure.  And feel free to leave tips to improve the clarity of my storyline in that regard, and any other.

storch-badge

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

I was surprised that the parents agreed to it, but they’d agreed to a lot since the new Coach took over.

Coach always got his way, and he said his Heroes had to be in peak condition.  He said you couldn’t expect a bunch of paunchy and unfit middle-aged losers to know how to look after athletes.  He called them losers to their faces and they still worship him.

You don’t realize during the day just how echo-ey a gymnasium is.  It took me a while to get used to sharing a room with the rest of the guys from school.  Not to mention Coach’s surprise midnight runs.

I like it, though – I think the special high-protein diet he’s got us on is really improving my performance.  Like Coach says, I want to be the best that I can be.  And slaughter the enemy, too… I guess.  That’s usually the emphasis of his pep-talks.

His eyes glowed with a manic light that caught us up in his words as he paced back and forth in front of us, a commander addressing his army.

“Football?!  Football’s for pansies!  Winning is everything.”  He said the same thing about college.  He had the grass ripped up in the stadium, had us training on the hard-packed clay, under the burning sun, day in, day out.  We were in the best shape of our lives.

I’d always found sports easy.  This isn’t easy, but I’m definitely having a better time of it than some of the guys.  The gym at night is full of the muffled sounds of crying.  I’d feel bad for them, but since Coach stopped football, I figure this is my best chance at greatness.  I don’t exactly have the brains to get into college based on my grades – but as the star quarterback, I stood a good chance of getting scouted.  With the new games, I’m not so sure about College.  Greatness, though… greatness is doable.

Coach says that immortality is within reach of those who crush the enemy.

The town might have complained a bit about the loss of football – we had been all about football, here – but only until they went to that first game.  That won them.  If I hadn’t already seen them at football games, I’d have been surprised at their blood-lust.

It won all of us, I think.  At least, all of us who stand a chance of winning.

I remember the silence as we walked out into the stadium.  The spectators didn’t know what was going on, couldn’t grasp the significance of the new uniforms, the modified protective equipment. They protected our vitals in new, yet familiar ways. The sun beat down on hard-packed earth, the smell of grease and sweat heavy in the air.  It gleamed on our oiled skin, our equipment, and on that of our opponents, across the field.

I don’t think I really understood what was supposed to happen until that moment.  He had changed up the training schedules, pulling us out of classes and filling our days with hours of laps, weightlifting and protein shakes.  Then he’d started us in sparring, hand-to-hand combat, knife drills, spears, swords, and chains.  It was kind of unreal.

The two teams faced each other in tight formation across the wide expanse of sun-hardened dirt.  Us and them.  The enemy.  My body felt wound tight with adrenaline.

The whistle sounded.

I didn’t hesitate, I ran.  We all did.  The clash as we made contact with the other team – brought in from gods only know where – was deafening.  Even over the clamor of noise in the fray, I could hear the panicked screams of the crowd as they realized what was happening.

There was hardly a change when those screams turned to pleas for it to stop, and then to encouragement. My Mom and Pop were almost as obsessed with winning  at any cost as Coach was.

I parried, lunged, hacked at any and every piece of exposed skin.  I didn’t hesitate in taking that opening, going in for the kill. My sword caught for a moment on the edge of his armor before it slid in deep.  He let out a bubbling sigh as he crumpled on top of me, but all I could focus on was getting around him, getting back to the fight.  I’d have nightmares about it later, in the echoing darkness of the gymnasium.

The  next one came easier.  Poor sucker didn’t even bring up his staff to block me, and his head flew off, spattering everyone nearby with scalding blood.  His face still held a rabbit-like look of absolute terror.  Easy prey.

After that first game, after the parents of the dead found out just how much their dearly departed had earned them in just this one game, everyone was on board.  Even if your kid isn’t a winner, you’re a winner in the end, I suppose.

I’m one of the best.  War-matches, one-on-one combat, lions, rabid dogs, two-on-one, three, four, I was winning them all.  Living in the gymnasium took some getting used to, but I definitely got used to being treated like this, a god of the arena.  The cheerleaders certainly made sure we felt appreciated.  Coach saw to everything.

We weren’t the only ones to have our lives turned upside down.  The gods were back, and with a vengeance.  It’s pretty obvious why we were chosen by Ares – who else would we worship after spending the entire district education budget on a 20 million dollar football stadium?