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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Short Fiction: The Beanstalk and the King

(This is just a silly little bit of short fiction that I wrote for a writing challenge somewhere. I ended up really liking the setting and the characters, actually, and I’ll probably be working with it in another story somewhere down the road. For now, though, this is a tiny little introduction.)

No one knew where the beanstalk came from. One evening, as the kingdom went to sleep, it wasn’t there. When the first of the farmers woke up before dawn the next day, suddenly there it was. It replaced one of the towers at the corner of the castle wall, crushing and displacing the stone there.

The King’s Magicians couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. The growth of plants was nothing new to them; they had ensured fruitful harvests for many seasons now, after all. But to see a vine so enormous — broader than the largest trees at its base and stretching up to beyond the clouds — baffled them so. If this was magic, they said, it was of a far greater kind they had ever seen.

The King, being a pragmatic sort, was more concerned about whether or not the beanstalk posed a threat to the kingdom than where it came from. Guards watched it, farmers got together to try and chop it down, and it did nothing but heal itself faster than they could cut it. Many of the townsfolk lost good axes to the enormous stalk, but other than that it didn’t appear particularly malicious. By nightfall of that first day the alarm of the people had settled into a bemused curiosity.

Guards were stationed at the enormous stalk, of course. The night was moonless, and they had plenty of torches to see by. No one understood how the giant that came down managed to evade their detection until it landed. It hopped the last several dozen feet to the ground with a tremendous crash that threw the guards off their feet and the sleeping townsfolk out of their beds. When it rose, its shadow towered over the wall considerably; the tower the beanstalk had destroyed would have only risen to the bottom of its chest.

The guards panicked and ran. Someone sounded the alarm and threw the entire castle into chaos. The giant came closer to the castle, each step shaking the walls more and more severely, until at last it came into the feeble circle of firelight all of those dropped torches provided. Its features came into view, revealing a set of whiskers the size of bell ropes, a twitching pink nose, and two black, beady eyes that reflected the light eerily. It looked like a demon from the old stories, blown up impossibly large. It looked at the men and smiled, displaying a fearsome set of rodent-like sharp teeth. Then it spoke, its voice deep and loud enough to be heard in the next valley over.

“FE FI FO FUM,” it roared. “I SMELL THE BLOOD OF ROYAL ONES.”

Panic grew deeper. Guards were rushing towards the wall to defend their king and castle, but more of them dropped their spears and torches and ran off to any place they thought might be safe. The giant simply watched them, then leaned over to see over the wall. It placed hands on the lip of it, crumbling rocks that have stood for ages and countless sieges. “Excuse me,” it said, in a quieter voice that still rumbled. “Can I have a word with the king of this fine castle?”

It took some time for the chaos to recede, and when it did the King was suddenly there under the beast along the wall. He thrust his sword high in the air and lifted his shield. He spoke in as commanding a voice as he could muster. “I am the King, and what foul business do you have with me giant devil?”

The giant blinked. “I beg your pardon, sir, but I am neither a giant nor a devil. Rather, it is you all who are…incredibly small.” It leaned over further to investigate the King. It had rounded ears, and its face was covered in fur. It looked like a mouse. “And without fur or tails, by the look of it.”

The King didn’t know what to make of this. “We’ve…gotten on quite well without them, thank you. Now, state your business or be off!” He tried not to let his confusion show, for that would be a sign of weakness and just the opening the Giant needed to be more aggressive.

“I…was wondering, er…you see, I’m…um, quite poor, and we’ve heard such tales of the lands below the clouds. You wouldn’t believe them!” The Giant’s claws scratched the stone on either side of the King as its fingers tightened. “Well, perhaps you would! But…well, I’ve heard tell of your riches, and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to…um, share them. With me.”

The whole castle had fallen silent by now. All of the King’s subjects had awakened at this point, and were hinged on the Giant’s every word. No one knew quite what to make of it’s request — it wasn’t just that it was asking for gold from the royal larders, but that it was doing so in such a nervous, meek fashion. The King stroked his beard for a moment, and stared at the Giant. It was a strange creature indeed, a mouse that walked like a man, that stood higher than his tallest towers. It could have easily breached the wall and taken what it wanted, and yet it didn’t.

“In my culture,” the King said. “A man earns his riches by doing honest work. I’ve earned mine by leading my people to great prosperity and protecting them from threats. If I were to give you some of my wealth, I would expect you to perform a service for me in exchange. What would you be willing to do?”

The Giant’s beady eyes glittered in the firelight as it considered. “I…don’t know, sir. In my culture, the largest of us has all the wealth, and the smallest of us must fight for whatever is left. I have fought for what little I have, but I am weary. And I…do not know what I could do to earn even a small part of your riches.”

The King chuckled. “You could be a great service amongst my people as a protector, you know. I doubt an entire army could withstand your might. Would you do this for us? Fight for us if we have need of you?”

The Giant smiled. “Of course! You lot are so small it would be no trouble at all for me to take care of a few of you. I…I would be glad to!”

The guards were nervous at this statement, but none dared question the judgement of the King. For his part, the King looked most pleased. “Then I decree it so. This Giant is now a Protector of the Realm, for which he will be duly compensated at the first of each month for his services. Duncan!”

One of the King’s personal guards stepped from the shadows, looking up at the Giant the entire time. The King turned to him and smiled. “Bring a chest filled with gold for our new guardsma–, er, giant. It will be a show of good faith between us.”

Duncan disappeared, and moments later it was done. The Giant looked inside the chest and its eyes grew wide with the amount of gold within. He looked for a moment as if he were about to lay hands on the King, but thought the better of it when the guards advanced.

“Thank you, Your Highness.” The Giant was breathless with gratitude. “My mother will be most pleased. I will return tomorrow to begin my duties.”

It clenched the chest in its teeth, and in its mouth the vast box that it took four men to carry looked as small as a walnut.

The King stopped him. “Ho, there, Giant. What do they call you?”

The Giant smiled, then pulled the chest from its teeth with a few fingers. “I am called Jack, your Highness. What do they call you?”

The King drew himself up. “I am King Humbert of the Nine Realms, Lord and Protector of All, Benevolent and Wise.”

Jack smiled, and his nose twitched. “I am honored to have made your acquaintance, King Humbert. Until tomorrow.”

“The pleasure is mine, Jack.” The King bowed, and watched the Giant ascend into the clouds. “Until tomorrow.”

That was how the people of the Nine Realms came to be acquainted with the Giant races, beasts who walked like men and were far, far larger than any of us had imagined in our stories. It was a long and fruitful relationship, but not without many troubles…

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Furries, Writing

 

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The AFI Top 100 Movies: Taxi Driver (#47)

Taxi Driver (1976)
Starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Directed by Martin Scorcese
Written by Paul Schrader

Taxi Driver is a movie that’s more fun to think about than to watch. It moves with a rather ponderous pace, with long shots of characters staring or significant gaps in conversation that seem to encourage you to contemplate along with Travis Bickle and the people in his life. It lends itself to a naturalism that’s admirable, but most of the time I simply wondered where all of this was going. Your mileage may vary, of course, particularly if you’re quick to pick up on the themes that director Martin Scorcese and writer Paul Schrader were laying down in those long silences.

Even though I found it tough to remain engaged, I was impressed by how long the movie stuck with me. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to read a couple of critiques to get where Schrader was coming from, but even before then it reminded me a lot of a couple of Harlem Renaissance novels I read in high school — Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Travis Bickle would have felt right at home with the protagonists of those two stories, and all three of them struggled to find their place and purpose in society at large. They find themselves at odds with the world for various reasons, and the stories are driven by their attempts to figure out what to do with that.

For Travis, he feels that the world is lacking a moral fiber he considers essential. He likens the streets of New York City to a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, too broken to fix and ripe for destruction. Despite his hatred of the people around him, he longs to be a part of it. At the beginning of the movie he even says that man should not spend too much time in self-reflection. It’s important to go out and be a part of the world.

And so he does. He gets a job as a taxi driver and tries to date a girl he fancies. It turns out he’s not very good at the social aspects of his mission — he takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) to what basically amounts to a porn flick on one of their early dates, prompting her to break things off rather abruptly. Stung by the rejection, Travis retreats further into himself. What we find in his heart of hearts is a rather ugly disdain for the world even though he enjoys its seedier elements (porn theatres).

His last hope for salvation is the young prostitute Iris (Foster), who he sees as an innocent who’s been swallowed alive by the awfulness of the city around her. They strike up an unlikely friendship, and Travis begins to think that if he can save her, just this one person, then maybe he’ll have saved himself.

Hooray for me, I did it!

The ending can be taken a number of ways, and almost all of them are interesting. Travis’ quest comes to a violent end, and depending on how you see the outcome you can take a few different lessons from it. I think it’s more interesting if you take the ending literally — the movie hasn’t engaged in flights of fancy before, so there’s no reason to think it would start then. When Travis meets Betsy one night sometime later, he picks her up, answers her questions with a confident stoicism, and drops her off by telling her that ride was free of charge.

Iris is saved. Her parents never meet Travis, but write him a letter of gratitude. His quest made the papers, and he’s widely considered a hero for what he’s done. It all wraps up neatly, and Travis’ moral compass seems validated by external acclaim. However, there’s a discordant note there that I think is intentional. Travis still doesn’t understand the world around him; he never determined why Iris made the choices she did, or why Betsy rejected him in the first place. He’s no closer to resolving the boiling pit of trouble in his gut — at best, it’s only quieted for a time. Even though we leave the story with Travis in a happy place, there’s no sense that it will last. There are too many unanswered questions.

The invisible man in Ellison’s novel reaches a level of self-awareness at the end that enables him to make the attempt to rejoin society. Richard Wright discovers that writing is his way of satisfying the hunger he has to put a mark on the world. Both of the protagonists there absorb their experiences and still feel capable of becoming a part of the larger world around them. That sense doesn’t exist here; Travis may have learned the wrong lesson. Instead of becoming a part of society while honoring his own set of virtues, it feels like he views himself as bigger than society, someone who can exert his will on the world around him without being touched by it. His rejection of Betsy at the end is a rejection of the world, and that spells trouble for him later on.

But then, I could be reading this movie all wrong. I get the sense that Bickle is seen as a bit of an anti-hero, and I can’t agree. Despite the fact that his actions have lead to a good outcome, he’s still dangerously unbalanced. There’s still an isolation, a lack of responsibility for the people around him that can’t be admired. Human beings, for better or for worse, are social creatures, and I think Bickle is an example of what happens when we reject that part of our natures. Our thinking gets warped, and even when it comes from a reasonably pure place (Bickle’s longing for a moral world) it can become misanthropic if left to fester.

I think there’s a way of honoring our individuality while still finding a way to integrate into society. Some of us will always have a place as outliers, people who see the group from a perspective most people don’t. It’s a struggle to fill that role; it can be lonely, and more often than not it’s rife with misunderstanding. But part of the job, as it were, is to find a way to explain your perspective and individual beliefs in a way that the whole will understand. That requires patience, persistence, and a self-knowledge that is quite difficult to attain. Ellison’s Invisible Man is a great example of someone who’s managed it. And Travis Bickle is a great example of someone who hasn’t.

Rating: 7/10.

 
 

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Sleepwalkers Fiction: The Gateway

(Here is a short bit of Sleepwalkers fiction that I’ve written. I wanted to establish the voices of some members of The Trio (the more problematic ones), and get a bit of a feel for the magical aspects of the setting.)

“This is my grandmother’s house,” the rabbit with the trenchcoat said. He placed one big ear on the door while he picked the lock with his tools. “It’s been in my family for generations.”

Brendan rolled his eyes and looked around. He was in a stranger’s backyard, somewhere in Towson. There weren’t a lot of neighborhoods like this left, with the plot of grass, a couple of trees, the white picket fences. Those that managed to hang on were typically lived in by the very rich, those that could afford neighborhood watches and security systems. On nights like this, when the moon was full and the sky was cloudless, he really didn’t want to be out with a pooka who could simply disappear at the first whiff of trouble. He’d be caught with locksmith’s tools that he couldn’t explain, for reasons he didn’t even know. It’d make a great story in the papers, and a bad end to his career.

And yet here he was, with Prescott the rabbit. He trusted the pooka with his life, but he would never ever believe him. It was the curse of his kind to speak in lies and riddles, and it made work out of finding the most simple truths. Dealing with him for very long was nothing short of exasperating, and in a situation like this it could be dangerous. But if what he thought Prescott was telling him was correct, then it was a danger that had to be faced.

“Right, you told me this before.” Brendan tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice. “And you’re sure that your grandmother is asleep? There’s no chance anyone will catch us?” He looked around again. There was no one in the neighboring yards, nothing but a few cats in the alley beyond. He still felt incredibly exposed in the shallow stairwell that lead from the lawn to the basement door. All it took was one person looking out of the window right now…

“The lady of the house is bound to come into her dark, quiet basement to cure her insomnia sometime soon.” Prescott shrugged. “And the neighborhood watch makes door-to-door checks on nights just like tonight to make sure there aren’t a couple of weirdos in her house for no reason.”

Brendan sighed. “All right then. Let’s just…get this done. Show me what you’ve found and we’ll get out of here.”

The lock clicked and the door swung open a few inches. Prescott gestured him forward with a grin. “I’ll be glad to, as soon as I can get these lockpicks to work.”

He stepped in to the dark room as quickly as he could and stood to the side. He heard Prescott hop in after him. The door creaked when the rabbit closed it, and it felt like the sound echoed off the empty stone walls. He took a deep breath, tried to still the beating of his heart inside his ears, and let his eyes adjust to the weak light.

A human’s eyes would have never been able to resolve the shadows in front of him, but Brendan’s kind had been around when there were only stars to light the way through ancient forests, before men had figured how to harness fire to light their dwellings. Though he didn’t have every ability known to his elven ancestors, he at least had this. It took a few moments, but boxes and old furniture soon crept out of the shadows in his vision. He could see the stairs leading up to the main part of the house forward and to his left, a boarded-up window across the room that clearly offered a view of the street, and the detritus of a long life sprawled out before him.

Prescott brushed his arm as he made his way past. His eyes flashed as he turned to look at him. “You’ll want to stand right there while I show you the door. Really, far away is the best way to see it.”

He followed the rabbit to the far corner of the room, picking his way past boxes and stacks of magazines, chairs and tables and oil lamps. Various scents leapt out of the dust at him as his passage disturbed the air. There was old wood and polish, glass and metal that had been heated and cooled dozens of time. As he made his way to the corner, he smelled something else as well. The long-settled call of dreamstuff suddenly tickled his senses, and it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Prescott got down on one knee and planted his hands on the brick. His luminescent eyes closed and darkened the room just a hair; Brendan found himself shuddering in response. He leaned in to see exactly what the rabbit was doing.

“Do you–”

“Shut up!” The rabbit hissed at him. “You’ll wake the old lady.” He turned back to face the wall. His face deepened in concentration.

Brendan straightened and frowned. That tone was unacceptable, he thought. The varmint needed to learn his place again, obviously. Then he blinked and stepped back, surprised at himself. That…thought was unacceptable. Where did it come from?

A door that wasn’t there a moment before clicked and opened. The air in the room changed, and a small breeze ruffled the nearest stack of papers, pulling the stale basement dust towards it. Prescott’s face was bathed in a milky glow. The rabbit opened his eyes again and looked towards Brendan, his whiskers twitching. He was obviously pleased with himself.

It was a door about four feet high by four feet wide. Through it, there was a winding road made of moonlight that cut through a forest of blasted, gnarled trees. Brendan could hear voices, quiet and insistent, whispering foul things to him. He saw a set of red eyes glowing in the periphery of his vision, but they would disappear when he looked directly at them. It took him only a moment to realize what this was, what Prescott had found.

“You found a Silver Trod. To Nightmare. How did you…?” Brendan backed away from the door. He had seen what he needed to, and he wanted the voices to just stop.

“Ancient Chinese secret,” Prescott said, and obligingly shut the door. The portal disappeared as soon as he did, sinking back into the wall. “I’m sure it was attracted by all the sweet dreams this family has had over generations and generations. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to connect the dots.”

Brendan thought about how scarce Prescott had been lately. Suddenly, it all made sense. He felt his annoyance with the pooka melting away. “And no one else knows about this?”

Prescott grinned. “Oh, I Instagrammed it as soon as I discovered it. The Ominous filter was a bit of a disappointment, though.”

Brandan laughed, despite himself. Prescott swatted his arm and put a fuzzy finger to his lips. He quieted immediately. The rabbit’s ears flicked and they both looked up, listening. No sound came from the floor above.

Outside, he clapped the pooka on the shoulder and smiled at him. “Tremendous work, Pres. Really. Trods are getting increasingly rare, especially obscure ones. This will be a huge help to us.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.” The rabbit batted his eyelashes, reached into his trenchcoat and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Tell me more.”

Brendan swallowed the snappy comment he would have made and pinched his eyes instead. Maybe he could get Vitaly to join them at the diner. He always felt better when there was a buffer between them. “I will over coffee and pie. Come on, let’s go. My treat. It’s the least I could do.”

The elf and the rabbit snuck out of the old lady’s yard and darted between shadows in the alley. When they departed, it looked like any other suburban street, a dwindling pocket of Americana special only in its blandness.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Writing

 

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The Joys of Getting Older

I meant to have another bit of flash fiction up today, but my body hasn’t been cooperating the way I’d like. So instead I’m in the cafe of the local medical megaplex, awaiting my early-morning doctor’s appointment so we can figure out what’s going on and (hopefully) fix things rather quickly.

The details are a little too gross to mention here — I’ll just mention “persistent gastro-intestinal distress” for posterity and leave it at that. It’s been going on for a few weeks now, getting worse a little bit at a time, and when I finally mentioned it to my husband he strongly recommended I talk to my doctor about it. So I did, and here I am.

There are an increasing number of instances where my previous health plan — ignore something until it goes away — doesn’t work any more. Before I could simply stop doing what caused something in my body to go wrong and in a couple of weeks it would stop complaining and I could start doing it again. This worked for injuries sustained while running, drinking, eating seafood and a number of other mild ailments. After a while, you train yourself to think that your body is tremendously resilient, and will generally bounce back from almost anything you do to it.

Now, the ailments are either too obscure to figure out what I did to cause them or too persistent and fundamental to ignore until the ship rights itself. I find myself going to the doctor more and more often, and the number of pills and inhalers I take on a daily basis have edged up over the years. In the past five years I’ve been diagnosed with chronic depression, asthma, G6PD deficiency, diastasis recti and lactose intolerance. A lot of this stuff I’ve had with me for years, but my coping mechanisms for them have failed and I’ve needed a little extra help managing them.

My view of my own body is shifting as a result. The stories I tell myself about the way I work have been forced to make room for my own fallibility. I never particularly thought I was invincible, but I’ll have to admit that I thought I was a lot stronger than I am. And I don’t mean that in a tragic, self-pitying way. The title of the post isn’t sarcastic or ironic. It’s fascinating to watch the habits of my past catching up with me, forcing me to deal with their consequences bit by bit. I suspect by the time I’m 40, I’ll have completed my transition from teenager and young adult into…something else. It’s interesting to speculate what an “adult” me will look and feel like, what he’ll do, and how he deals with his limitations.

I’m not that old. I’m only 32 years of age, and already I’m getting to the point where my body is saying “No more, you can’t keep doing the shit you’re used to doing.” Its message is clear: adopt a different way of doing things, or things will go badly for you. I’m doing my best to heed the call, but it’s difficult to change the path I’ve walked for half of my life.

This story is writ large in our relationship with the planet. Good old mother Earth isn’t a spring chicken any more, and even though she’s not ancient she’s getting to the point where we can’t keep doing the stuff we’re used to doing. A lot of us know this, but it’s so difficult for us to change. If it’s a challenge for me to eat more fiber and leafy greens, to eat less candy, how much more difficult is it for us to use less energy, to switch from finite, dirty fossil fuels into experimental cleaner energies that haven’t been proven yet? How much harder is it for us to make systemic changes to the way we live?

Yet, we must or things will go very badly for us. Looking at the planet’s future in twenty years is a lot like looking at my own. We either learn to accept our limitations and work with them, or we continue to ignore the warning signs, the complaints, until the system fails and we can no longer ignore the consequences. We either change and become more sensitive to our needs, or we have change thrust upon us, violently and abruptly.

I have no idea what the doctor is going to tell me when I meet with him later today. We have no idea how climate change, the oil peak and a burgeoning population will affect our planet. But I am to make sure that the changes I need will be under my control as much as possible. We need to make the same commitment as a society.

 

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Short Fiction: My Father’s Last Best Memory

We had been in the bunker for two weeks, well past the time we should have all been dead. We had no idea why the world hadn’t ended by now, or if it actually had and the screams we were hearing through the windows were just extremely long death throes. We knew that nothing worked, so we couldn’t get any information where we were. The radio was dead, and so was the TV, and even if they were working there probably wasn’t anyone left reporting the news.

Our rations were holding, and would be good for ten more weeks. Mom wanted to wait it out for at least another month before we even thought about leaving. There was no telling what was out there, she reasoned. Even if everything was OK, there was no law and order to protect them. Just because the world had kept going didn’t mean society had.

That’s precisely why Dad wanted to go. Society was simply a collection of people, he said. There needed to be someone willing to help pick up the pieces and put them back together. All it took was someone willing to work towards it, and people would follow suit. Besides, there was no question that something happened two weeks ago, and he might be able to figure out what it was better than anyone.

I love my father. I wish I shared his idealism, but I don’t. Mom is right — it’s dangerous and frightening out there. The thought of him walking out the door, full of optimism and excitement, and then disappearing is too much for me to think about. I was expecting my life to be over by now, and in so many ways this is much worse. We’re alone together with our thoughts and no information. There’s just the distant noise of chaos outside.

That was, until yesterday. We heard the man before we saw him. He had been screaming for so long his voice was hoarse and raw, and he was still going as long and as loudly as he could. We could hear him somewhere in the woods around our house for an hour, and then when my mother looked out of the window she screamed for a second before covering her mouth.

He was stumbling around out there, his clothes in tatters, his skin darkened with what could have been blood, or dirt, or anything. It was hard to tell. The window only afforded a ground-level view of him, and the closer he got the less we could see.

The man’s voice was high and panicked. He had been clearly making his way to the house. He yelled and yelled and yelled for help until he was twenty feet away. Then he collapsed. He sobbed there in the dirt for a while, and then he yelled. This kept going for another hour.

Mom had turned away from the window and put her hands over her ears. It was like the man’s madness was contagious and she was trying her best not to catch it. Dad stood at the window and stared, transfixed. Then he got up and got his gear, went to the stairs leading up to the house.

“What are you doing?” Mom’s attempt to innoculate herself from the man’s hysteria hadn’t worked. “You can’t go out there!”

She was up in a flash. She crossed the room and grabbed Dad’s coat, trying to physically pull him back from the stairs. He grabbed her wrists until she let go. She broke down crying worse than I had ever seen her. Worse than even grandma’s funeral.

“I…I can’t just leave him out there,” Dad said. “What kind of man would I be if I didn’t help him?”

Mom didn’t say anything. She was crying too hard. Dad hugged her for a long time, and when he saw me hovering at the edge of his reach he called me over and hugged me too. I didn’t know what to say to him. I had no idea how to feel. It felt like I was waking up from a dream, like any minute I would be sitting up in my bed relieved that the past two weeks hadn’t happened.

“Take care of your mother, Lowe. She’s going to need you to be strong for her while I’m gone.” He looked at me, and I looked back. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Was he afraid? Excited? It felt like he was just thinking of us, here, now. The way he looked at me, it didn’t feel like he was about to go out into a world that wasn’t known to us any more.

“I will.” I heard myself saying it without understanding what it was I had agreed to. My voice sounded flat, automatic.

Somehow, he had removed himself from us. I was hugging Mom, who was still crying on my shoulder. My dad was a tall man with brown hair and kind eyes behind thick-rimmed glasses. He favored sweaters in earth tones and puffy jackets that made him look less skinny than he was. He wore a hat and goggles, had a backpack slung over his shoulder. It looked like he was going on a ski trip.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can. When I knock on the door three times, then once more after a pause, you’ll know it’s me.” He rapped on the staircase railing three times, then hovered over it with his fist, then knocked out the last blow. “Got it?”

I nodded. If I opened my mouth I was going to cry, though I had no idea why.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, and then he smiled. “I love you.”

He climbed the stairs and opened the door to the passage behind the walls of our house that lead to this bunker. He turned awkwardly in the narrow space, then shut the door softly. I heard his footsteps grow fainter. My mother sobbed louder.

That was the last time I saw him. It took us four more weeks before we got desperate enough to search for him.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Writing

 

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The State of the Rabbit

It’s been a little while since I’ve done these, so I thought I would write a quick entry for today about where I am on various projects. I didn’t sign up for National Novel Writing Month this year (and I haven’t any other year, either), but there’s got to be something that occupies my time, right?

I’ve made the conscious decision to not do anything too “heavy” until the end of the year. I still have all the same projects that I would like to tackle — Sleepwalkers, Bird, serialized short stories and everything — but I think it might be more useful for me to back off on any ambitious projects right now. The holidays are coming up, and it’ll be all I can do to keep my exercise regiment up enough so that I don’t hit 200 pounds by New Year’s. Just typing that is a pretty frightening thought. I’m sitting at 194 pounds right now. There are only 6 tiny pounds to go. I could clear that with a Thanksgiving turkey and half of a pumpkin pie.

Anyway, I’m writing, but I’m focusing on little bits of fiction that help me to wrap my brain around a certain aspect of my craft. You might have noticed the initial results of this experimentation posted on the blog, and I hope to be putting up more bits of short fiction here in the coming few weeks. I have a number of settings that I’d like to play around with, and a number of characters whose heads I’d like to get into. If any of you out there have suggestions, I’d be glad to take them!

I’ve also stepped up my reading a bit — I just finished two apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic short story collections (The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF, The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse), and now I’m into Mad Ship by Robin Hobb. The Robin Hobb novel has gotten into “I can’t put this down” territory, and I’m on a pretty good pace to have it finished by the end of the month. I’m also reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster(finally) and I’ve just started getting into Ringworld by Larry Niven.

There are also a number of furry projects I’ve been trying to catch up on. I’m a “slushpile editor” for a furry zine, and I’ve fallen way behind on making sure that’s all organized and sorted. There are a host of short stories and bits of novel given to me by friends that I really should work my way through, and I’ve been wanting to dip my toe into the wider world of furry publishing to see what else is out there — what’s connecting with audiences right now, or what’s really gripping authors and inspiring them to write? It’d be good to know the market, such as it is.

So the short answer is that I’ll be trying to sharpen the tools in my writer’s toolbox for the rest of the year. I’ll be writing bits of short fiction with the aim of better understanding my worlds, my characters, and honing aspects of my writing that I’m noticing problems with. On the flip-side, I’m ashamed to say that the voracious reader of my youth is all but gone, and I’m working on bringing him back.

So that’s the plan for me until 2013, at least. I’ll keep you posted through the holidays.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Furries, Reading, Writing

 

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The AFI Top 100 Films: Jaws (#48)

(Ed. Note — You might have noticed that we’ve skipped a few movies on this list. We saw The Philadelphia Story (#51) fairly recently, so it wasn’t included in our watch list. And we’re saving Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for our run of Disney animated movies, coming up right after we finish the AFI Top 100 List. So that brings us to #48.)

Jaws (1975)
Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley (novel, screenplay) and Carl Gottlieb (screenplay)

Oh man, so what is there to say about Jaws that hasn’t already been said? This is one of the most iconic movies in all of modern cinema; its pacing and composition of scenes have influenced horror directors for generations afterwards, and there’s no getting around that score from John Williams. It’s a perfect marriage of menace and mystery, the cello cue alerting you to something in the background that’s just disappeared. By the time you realize you’ve missed it, there’s another note, then another, all signifying the doom that’s racing towards an unlucky, unsuspecting swimmer.

Everyone remembers those beach scenes in the first half of the movie — the first young girl to fall victim to the great white shark’s seemingly insatiable bloodlust; the disastrous 4th of July celebration where Sheriff Brody (Scheider) is telling people to get out of the water; that scene with the two fisherman where one of them barely escapes getting eaten. They’re all tremendous, set up with a nice sense of naturalism that makes the intrusion of Jaws almost supernatural, yet perfectly believable at the same time.

Everyone knows that this could have been a much different movie, if everything had worked as Spielberg intended. But because the effects failed so disastrously, he was forced to get creative, and the result is some great fly-by-your-seat filmmaking. The scenes where Jaws menaces his victims rely on those brief glimpses, and it draws upon your imagination to fill in the shape of the beast lurking underneath the dark waves. It’s great stuff, and when it’s done correctly there’s really nothing better.

Here are the two scenes that really impressed me watching it this time around, though. The first, in which Brody is gearing up to head out to sea with nebbish marine biologist Hooper (Dreyfuss) and flinty shark-hunting captain Quint (Shaw), does a wonderful job of setting these men at odds with each other, and it serves as our first real introduction to Quint. Before then, he’d popped up in a scene or two to make an offer before trundling off into the background. Here, though, we see him on his turf, in a room that is surrounded by the jaws of sharks he’s hunted and killed before. It’s an incredibly striking image, and hints at a near-obsessive man who takes his work quite seriously — and just so happens to be good at his job.

A later scene delivers on the promise of Quint’s introduction. Quint and Hooper have been at each other’s throats for the entirety of the trip, and they’re finally bonding over alcohol and scars they’ve taken from their life on the sea. Then, almost out of nowhere, Quint recalls his time working with a submarine crew in World War II. Things go wrong, the crew is lost at sea with little hope of rescue, and all through the night he hears his crewmates harangued and eventually attacked by sharks. Few of his comrades survived, but he did. Everything that’s come before is focused on that one scene, and you walk away with a whole new understanding of him. It’s a cohesive moment, not only for Quint, Hooper and Brody, but for the audience as well.

The movie changes once those three men set sail to hunt the menace that’s rocked this sleepy island town. It actually comes across as an early novel, where character study mingled freely with travelogue and impromptu how-to guide. Quint is methodical about his work, and Spielberg makes sure we see every step of it as time goes on. It’s certainly not what you’d expect in a horror movie, but it’s engrossing all the same.

And then there’s that ending. After their steady chase of the shark, the trio is attacked and their boat disabled. Hooper decides to try the tranquilizer he’s brought with him and goes down in the shark cage. Jaws completely bashes it apart in a shocking display and Hooper is forced to hide. The shark then attacks Quint, who goes down in a horrible death. Brody is the one left to save the day, the one man who knows the least. And he does it; he saves Hooper, kills the monster and carries the day.

What’s interesting about this ending to me is that it suggests what really put man on top of the food chain. Quint, with his steely determination and Hooper, with his near-encyclopedic knowledge of the enemy, are both taken out of the fight handily. Brody, with his quick thinking and adaptability, is the one who gets the job done. So it goes for the entire human race, perhaps — we’re where we are not through our will or our intelligence, but through our ability to adapt and survive against whatever nature throws at us. There’s a comfort in that, especially in these troubled times of freak weather and looming environmental disasters. We’re smart and we’re determined, sure. But we’re also masters of quick thinking and that is perhaps our greatest asset.

Rating: 9/10.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

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