Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Battle for October Sky – Part One


Author's Note: this story takes place in the same world as my fantasy/steampunk world featured in a previous story:  Badlands Journal

Captain Reginald Beaumont stared out over the sea of dunes searching for signs of life: a dot suggesting a head, natural oases, a line of tracks in the sand, fresh kills, man-sized shadows. In short, anything that could harbor a threat to his airship. One loony with a rifle would be all it would take. One lucky shot to deflate the wrong air sac, or jam an elevator, or the rudder, to consign his airship and crew to a slow death upon the sands. Damn the desert heat! Beaumont reached up to his collar buttons but stopped short. No, better to wait until he was out of the crew's view. Let them see sweat, not weakness.

A faint cough sounded behind him, more as an announcement of presence than actual need to expunge the lungs.

"Yes, Chevket?" Beaumont said.

"Sir," the younger, taller, and much thinner man said, "the engine room reports that our powerplant will need changing within the hour."

"Have we lost the capability of hot-swapping deaders?"

Chevket turned his head and gave an apologetic bow. "The engineer feels it would aid the deaders' recovery if we did not subject them to the undue stress of swapping while under load."

"Duly noted. Inform Mister Wallace to proceed with the hot-swap."

"Sir." Chevket moved to the brass tube and began relaying the order to the engine room.

Engineers, thought Beaumont, must have fears of becoming deaders themselves the way they coddled their charges. More interested in their unnaturally-animated husks and the precious engines they powered than for the integrity of the of the October Sky's gleaming silver envelope floating the airframe and all the truly living souls aboard. Such was the luxury of a ship’s engineer, but not its captain.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Letter to Colleen

Over the last couple of weeks, I've tried and tried to write a fitting memorial to my old friend Colleen. I failed. Everything sounded like an obituary. Fact is, I still can't believe she's gone. When I left Colorado two Fridays ago to see family and friends in the Midwest, my plan and hope was to visit with Colleen, provided she was up to it. I'd be in the area for three days and kept my plans loose, hoping that on at least one of those days I'd be given the go-ahead by the Powers That Be to stop in. Instead, I had lunch with another one of our friends and got a chance to hug her tightly.

Every time I think about Colleen, it's like I'm talking to her in my head and because there were things I wanted to tell her, my good-bye won't be a good-bye. It'll be a letter, a letter I should have written long ago.

Hey Colleen,

In the 35 years we've known each other, I don't think I ever told you how much I admire you. Yeah, that sounds way too sentimental and let's change the subject and all that, but it's true. And here's the thing, that's exactly what you are: true. True to yourself. True to the ideals you've held all your life. True to the friends you've gathered along the way.

I think I was a bit intimidated by you when we met, but you know how my memory is. You were so damn sure of yourself, so amazingly smart and perfectly at home in the world. I could tell just by watching you walk. Your loose-limbed amble belied your sharp eye, taking in the stories that surrounded you. And, for you, everything and everyone had a story, even if you had to make it up. Of course those were the best stories, but it took me a while to figure that out.

Still, you befriended me and I count myself lucky to be included in the posse of characters that pepper your life. I wish I'd recorded some of our marathon phone sessions from the early days. What the hell did we talk about for hours at a time day after day? Our kids? No, too mundane, unless they'd done something off-the-wall. But I do have every one of our party invitations for the Winter Solstice One-Size-Fits-All Sing for Your Supper parties you so loved to host. Every once in a while I take them out and read them, always ending up with tears of laughter streaming down my face. I can hear your voice; I can see you sitting at the typewriter(!) pounding them out as we tossed off ideas. It was easier, though, if I did the typing because you liked to pace and wander about the room.

Wandering has always been your specialty, one of the things I most admire about you. (I know, I know, stop with the praise already!) In my own travels I was never as mindful as you about how important the journey is as compared to the goal. The journey, after all, is fodder for new stories and introduces you to countless interesting folks that you can either turn into the heroes of your stories, or kill them off. Killing them off is so much fun!

We lost touch for a while, but when we reconnected, I was sad to know that you had a place on the city council and that I was no longer there to dutifully document its foibles for the newspaper of record. How much fun that would have been! I can see the worst of them rolling their eyes and gritting their teeth every time you called them out for a stupid idea. And there, right there, is one of the best parts of Colleen Sutherland: your ability to point out flaws in someone's reasoning with calmly stated logic. Often, they don't get it and while you never suffer fools gladly, you often choose not to waste your time. The patented Colleen shrug and a mumbled "idiot" have to suffice.

Misfits, though, misfits always have a friend in you. Anyone who has been deemed too odd, too complicated, too scary to be taken seriously can count on your advocacy, if not your friendship. And if some sacred cow needs to be slayed, you're always there to pick up the knife. Remember how we took a bottle of wine out to the cemetery to watch the Perseid meteor shower? I was all for just lying on the top of the car, but nope, it was a grave or nothing for you. I forget now whose graves you chose, but we spent a few giddy hours lying side by side in the dark, sipping wine and watching the skies.

Then there was my 30th birthday party. It was back in your old house and you even made a cake; cucumber-shaped with sickly green frosting. Only a few of us knew why. One of my relatives showed up and completely ruined the party, at least for me. You rather liked that relative at first, found her stories fascinating. But you saw how distressed I was and wasted no time asking the woman to leave, politely, but pointedly. Later, you took me aside and asked me why in the world I would allow such a person in my life. That was long before the phrase "toxic relationships" was part of the lexicon, but you knew all about those.

You also knew I wouldn't listen. Not then anyway, but some months later I excised that particular poison from my life and have had 30 years of peace. You're the only person I never had to explain it to. Thank you for that. Thank you for making me crazy with your logic and your honesty. Thank you for teaching me how to shrug and walk away. Thank you for pushing me to write, to do what I love and how to push through fears. And thank you most of all for your love draped like a loose arm around my shoulders, never too tight and always ready to set me free ... and to let me back in.

With love,
Betty

This week's story Lightening the Load

- Bettyann

Friday, October 10, 2014

Colleen Sutherland, Storyteller


This week, we lost our friend Colleen.

In the almost eight years I knew her, Colleen was the bohemian writer and provocateur that I aspired to be. Her life was like a series of short story hooks: getting married on a lunch break, waiting out a riot in a bar, living in a house cut in half, or living through the Summer of Love. She was woman whose only regrets were never having been arrested, and not writing her stories earlier.

She was my greatest cheerleader, and often said that our writer’s group meetings were important because while family and friends could be sympathetic, they could never truly understand the maladies of the daily writer. We celebrated getting our stories published by magazines no one knew existed, thumbed our noses at rejection letters from even more obscure publications, held book sales in supermarkets, and challenged each other’s boundaries. I consider getting Colleen to kill a dog in a story to be one of my supreme accomplishments as a writer. She taught me that a writer’s voice develops naturally from writing, and writing, and writing some more.

She told me she used to be afraid of death, so she started hospice volunteering and got over it. I like to believe that at the end, she stared at the reaper and was not scared, only curious. Maybe she flipped him off. The cancer took away her words first, so I will never know. She didn’t want a funeral; she said that when you’re dead, that’s it. I urge you to keep that in mind when you read her story this week and know that while she was writing it, she was laughing the whole time. 

This week's story:  The Funeral

-Wade 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Element of Doubt

By Bettyann Moore

“Darn it, here he comes,” Kitty Nesbitt said, peering through the living room blinds. She let the slat fall with a shuddering clatter.

“Oh, you don’t know that he’ll stop here,” Pete said. “He could just as well pass us by and go to the Johnson’s or Muriel Flat’s.”

Kitty snorted. “I know for a fact,” Kitty told her husband, “that Muriel Flat hides in the laundry room where there are no windows or doors. I admire her for that.”

Friday, September 26, 2014

Royal Puppet – Part Two

Image by Richard Schofield via Wikimedia Commons


They had taken him in the night, and thrown him in an old well. His bare feet slipped in the mud and loose gravel, so the young prince had to brace his elbows against the crumbling stonework to keep himself up. He hurled threats and insults up at his captors, who laughed and dropped offal on his head. Rotten slops found ways down his clothes, slid into his ears, and threatened to slide into his mouth.

“What do you want?” he cried.

The faces pulled away, and a man in black came to the well’s edge.

The man asked questions that the prince had no answers for, and at each failure, more refuse was tossed down the well. Within an hour, the prince was shoulder-deep. He tried pushing himself higher by bracing against the walls, but his limbs found no purchase on the slick rock. The questions continued from the man in black and the garbage was replaced with loose mud, weighing down his arms.

He was going to die. His lungs would fill with mud and rot. He would never rule. He would choke and gag and die alone in a pit. He screamed.

“Oh, your’re no use to us like this,” the man in black said.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Royal Puppet

Image by Richard Schofield via Wikimedia Commons


Lord Turlough twisted at a golden signet ring. Across from him, behind a heavy desk sat Adrian Sigmund, the Master of the Wardrobe, who smiled blandly as Lord Turlough stuttered on.

“I just cannot see His Majesty agreeing to such a move,” Turlough said. “He is, after all, Vorali on his maternal side, fostered in King Mathis’ court up until–“ he looked up at the Master of the Wardrobe, who indicated for the man to go on.

“Well, up until the unfortunate events,” Turlough said.

“Yes,” the Master of the Wardrobe said, brushing a piece of invisible lint from a diamond pin at his jacket collar, “I am familiar with that fact.”

Lord Turlough reddened. “Of course, of course. My point, Master Adrian, is that I have suffered for supporting you in the past with the railroad tax, conscript levy, and procuring repeating rifles from foreign interests. My position in parliament would be in utter ruin, not to mention my own personal investments should this gambit fail.”

Master Adrian let the silence stretch for uncomfortable moments before speaking.

“My Lord,” he said, “We are caught between two great powers and war is inevitable. Our kingdom will be swallowed up by one or the other if we keep to this so-called path of neutrality. Our only hope of survival is to ally ourselves with the winning side.”

“The Sandurians, you mean.”

Master Adrian brought his palms together. “It is within our power to tip the balance between the Sandurians and Vorali. We have secured certain concessions that will put your investments at ease should we throw our support behind the Sandurian Empire, my Lord.”

“And yet we are set to host both powers across the courtyard, in the motions of peace. Moreover, His Majesty seems quite serious in his pledge for a diplomatic solution. Forgive me if I find your ability to speak for His Majesty suspect.”

Master Adrian leaned forward, pinning Lord Turlough to the chair with his gaze.

“His Majesty and I have differing opinions on domestic issues of late, but when it comes to looking outside our borders, he and I are of one vision.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Snapshots

Image by Mohylek via WikiMedia

By Bettyann Moore

Snapshot #1: Ichabod, who begins and ends this story.

It’s the only shot we have of him from that summer. From ever. He’s in the galvanized tub we rigged up as a bathtub, his bony knees drawn up to his chin, one long arm dangling over the side. His hair is wet and water sluices down his face as if he’d just dunked his head. He opened his eyes as I clicked the shutter, his look not quite surprised and not quite angry, even though no one ever touched his camera. Ichabod never got angry. Maybe he should have.