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(Friday Fiction) The Only Winning Move

Writing 150I keep thinking about the Br’er idea — I think it’s a potent one that could be used to explore a lot of different themes floating in my head about the black experience. I just need to drill down into it and find out where the trouble spots are; I understand not everything is going to scan, and my inexperience with both writing and social metaphor can lead me to dangerous minefields without me even realizing it.

So here’s a bit of fiction set there, just to explore one or two aspects of the world.

Rone found his mother in the dining room, sweeping vigorously and muttering to herself. He stopped in the doorway with his ears perked to see if he could make out what she was saying, but could only make out snatches. Enough to know she was muttering about him. Wisps of his fur were floating up around every stroke of the broom, performing lazy somersaults before floating back down to the wooden floor. The sunlight caught strands as they danced. It made the whole room look like some kind of weird snow globe.

He folded his burning ears and hunched his shoulders around the pit of embarrassment in his stomach. The facility he had come from was air-conditioned the entire 18 months he was there, and since he was never allowed outside he never had to deal with the weather — just sixty degree air blowing from the vents all hours of the day. In that environment the worst thing he had to deal with was dry air, at least until they discovered his fur responded well to leave-in conditioner.

But he was back home now. It was April in Baltimore, and the weather was beginning to turn warm. He started to shed his first night back and hadn’t stopped since.

The scientists told him that his fur was virtually indistinguishable from that of an actual rabbit. Maybe a bit longer, maybe a bit thicker, but just as soft and fluffy. A few of them had even joked he should keep any sheddings to sell as sweater material. He didn’t really like the joke; it was gross imagining people walking around in clothes made from his fur, and he didn’t think there was any way he could shed that much.

A week of eighty-degree-plus days quickly disabused him of that notion. He spent more than an hour each morning brushing out his pelt and discarding blown coat. There was a trash bag full of it in his bedroom, and even still the air was saturated with it. If his mother found it as gross as he did, there’s no wonder she would be muttering about him now.

And that’s why he was here. Maybe there was a way to come to some arrangement that made everyone more comfortable.

He walked up behind her and grunted. He hadn’t learned to use his throat or strange muzzle yet, but the scientists said he might eventually learn to speak in another year or two. In the meantime, he had to learn sign language to communicate — an unexpected benefit of his…condition. Even though they were prompted to, his family hadn’t beyond a few phrases and most of the alphabet. That meant communicating through spelling slowly or simply writing things down.

Mom didn’t seem to notice him until he tapped her on the shoulder. She whirled with a start, nearly hitting him with her broom; he leapt back, his powerful legs nearly launching him into the ceiling and then into the table as he landed. He clutched the edge to steady himself, his eyes wide and his heart racing. She looked just as surprised.

“Boy, don’t sneak up on me like that!” she said, turning towards him. “You know how I get when I’m cleaning.”

Rone dipped his ears and nodded. He did indeed. He pointed to the broom and made sweeping motions, then pointed to himself. It was crude pantomime, but he hoped it was good enough to get his point across.

She blinked at him, her eyes unfocusing as she worked out what he meant. Then she shook her head. “Oh, no…thank you, though. I got this. It sure would be nice if you stopped shedding so much, though.”

Mom must have saw the way his ears flattened. “Never mind. I know you can’t help it. What did you want?”

Rone pulled out his phone and stylus. He had prepared for this. He showed her the few sentences he had written out in his Note app for this.

I think it would be best if I cleaned out the basement and stayed there for now, don’t you?

His mother stared at the phone for a long time, then looked at him. “No. Where is all the stuff in the basement now going to go? Why would you want to move your room down there?”

Rone took the phone back and typed with his stylus as quickly as he could. He wished, for the millionth time, that fur-covered fingertips didn’t prevent him from using a touchscreen. It’s cooler down there, which means I’ll shed less. It’s more private. And you won’t get as much hair floating around. We could move the basement stuff up to my room.

Mom read his phone, then shook her head. “You wouldn’t be able to move all that stuff out of the basement up to your room. Those doctors said you shouldn’t be lifting heavy things right now.”

Rone rolled his eyes. The scientists weren’t sure if his back would be able to take a lot of strain. The spines of rabbits were fairly sturdy, but had a tendency to break if they struggled too hard. The fact was no one had any idea how Rone’s body worked, even him. This was all completely uncharted territory.

I’ll be fine, Rone wrote. Besides, I can get Neek to help me.

“When?” Mom snorted, she gave the phone back to him and began sweeping again. “She’s not going to help you move furniture after she gets off work. You’re lying to yourself if you think she is.”

Rone stood there, tapping at the phone with his stylus, then erasing all the things he was about to say. One advantage of being mute is you couldn’t blurt out something you would regret nearly as easily. After a few moments, Mom stopped again and sighed.

“How about we get some of those fans from the basement and put them up in your room? Maybe that would cool things down in there, OK?” She took a step towards him and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. “I know this ain’t easy on you, being home like this after all that time. It’s rough on all of us. We just have to…get through this until things feel like normal again.”

Rone stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Mom gave him a weak smile, then went back to sweeping.

He slipped away silently, resolving to move himself down to the basement the next time Mom and Neek went out to church. It’d be tough to get everything done in those few hours, but he was pretty sure he could.

He had to feel like he had some control over his life, even if it meant pushing things with his family. Somehow, one small corner of the world had to be his.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Urban Gardening

Writing 150I’m currently at Biggest Little Fur Con, a furry-fandom convention in Reno, NV. One of the things this particular con is known for is its incredible attention to theme and atmosphere. In 2015, a propaganda-filled dystopian theme slowly fell apart through the weekend to reveal the theme for the following year — the Resistance. This year, only its fifth, they developed an intriguing alternate universe centered around kaiju. Their website has a ton of great art and stories on it, and I can’t wait to see what they do with the hotel space.

In honor of the convention, I thought I’d try my hand at a small piece of fiction exploring the theme. Enjoy!

Ash didn’t pay any attention to the air raid sirens until the first hard jolt shook the library. Dust spilled from the ceiling and the hushed buzz of conversation quieted as the main lobby grew still. When the building shook again, the librarian at the reception desk stood up and spoke in the loudest voice she could muster.

“The city is under attack, folks. This is not a drill. Please make your way to the shelter below the library as quickly and orderly as you can. Walk, don’t–”

The library rocked suddenly, as if another building slammed into it. Books and animals fell to the floor, and then there was panic.

Ash watched as patrons poured towards the exits, screaming. He flattened himself against a bookshelf at the edge of the lobby as the crowd grew, filling the space between the huge glass double-doors and the reception desk. The librarian, an old groundhog with fur streaked silver, barked and whistled to bring everyone’s focus back to her, but it was no use. She couldn’t be heard over the screaming.

The meerkat swallowed the hard ball of panic rising from his stomach. He picked up a large volume — it looked like one of those atlases that, while thorough, were outdated as soon as they were published — and clutched it tight to his chest while he wracked his brain. The pressure helped, but he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do in this situation. Was it better to shelter in place right now? Or should he try leaving the area as soon as possible? What would it be like outside?

The entire building rolled unnaturally, a visible shockwave popping tiles from the floor and cracking the brick walls. The lights flickered, then went out. The crowd was briefly quieted by the sound of steel and glass bending in ways they were never meant to, then surged and roared its panic once it realized what that meant. The library was no longer safe. There was the very real danger of collapse.

Ash felt his hackles rise and his heart thump inside his chest. The sudden realization that he could die here turned him cold, made his fingers and toes tingle. Images of unimaginable destruction flashed in his head — news reports of attacks in other cities featuring entire neighborhoods flattened, smoke and debris obscuring bright red smears that had been scrambled and blurred “for sensitive viewers”. But never enough to miss what they were — all that remained of the victims.

He threw the atlas to the side and rushed towards the opening more than a hundred feet away before he realized what he was doing. He couldn’t die here, not now, not researching for a paper he didn’t even want to write. He was supposed to go to college; he was supposed to figure out the great mystery of the kaiju appearing in cities all around the world and destroying as much as they could before the military put them down; he was supposed to at least have sex once before he died.

The set of stairs leading to the underground shelter was to his left, and the thought that he should go there instead slowed him down just enough. A horrific, high-pitched whine exploded over his head as the ceiling and the top floor of the library peeled away to reveal the impossible hulk of a kaiju peering down at the space it had just opened.

It was covered in black fur and had vaguely lupine features — pointed ears, a broad boxy muzzle with sharp fangs, wide shoulders and a barreled chest. Its eyes were a solid sanguine red, the same color of the hard, round “pearl” that sat in the middle of its forehead. As massive paws curled around the edges of the hole it had made, Ash saw two matching pearls on the back of each one.

The midday sun was hidden behind the monster’s deep shadow and the smoke from fires that were no doubt raging through many of the blocks around him. The whole building shuddered as it tugged at the edges of the ceiling, widening the jagged hole it had made so it could fit its head and shoulders in. Ash couldn’t hear anything but his own heart. He stared dumbly, like everyone else trapped in the room.

Then the kaiju growled, its lips pulling back to reveal double-rows of sword-sized teeth. The crowd in front of him howled; animals threw themselves at the sheet-glass windows until they broke. The librarian, finally seeing that there was no hope of saving order for this situation, threw herself at the small opening at the back of the circular desk.

The kaiju’s shining eyes landed on her, and a fat drop of drool fell from its lips. It landed on the librarian and a heartbeat later the air filled with a hissing sound and a whistling shriek. Ash backed against the wall as half of the groundhog melted under the viscous liquid, the other half gurgling, then spasming, then falling with a wet thump to the floor. The sludge of the librarian’s remains continued to dissolve the desk and floor. After a few moments, the smell slammed into Ash’s nostrils. His gorge rose.

The massive head followed, instantly filling the lobby as it snapped up the remains of the librarian and most of the desk. The sound of its growl and splintering wood competed with the horrific wailing of the crowd as it pushed through whatever openings were available. Ash could just see the animals sprawled in the entryway, trampled in the panic and left behind.

The monster looked up and saw the ground in front of it covered with more food. The lobby flooded with eerie red light as it squirmed its vast bulk deeper in, scooping up multiple bodies at a time with flicks of its tongue. Wherever it touched, drool burned through wood and glass and brick, adding to the overwhelming acrid scent that whirled around it.

Ash was too frightened to move. His stomach lurched several times until he finally purged his breakfast. The retching was violent and prolonged. He doubled over, clutching his stomach as if he was trying to keep it from leaping out of his throat. His head pounded with each violent heave until at last it was over.

A low growl drew his attention upwards. When he looked up, he saw the kaiju staring right at him, bathing him in the eerie red eye-shine of its gaze. Ash’s knees went weak as he stared back, frozen.

The monster looked curious, almost concerned. For a moment, it almost felt like they connected. If he didn’t know any better, Ash would have thought that the beast was forming some kind of theory about him, that something else was going on in that enormous head beyond destruction and insatiable hunger.

An explosion rocked the opening above the library, and suddenly the kaiju rose and roared. The building shook with the sheer volume of it. Ash felt his eardrums flutter and burst. Pain lanced through his ears, and the sensation jarred him into action.

Clutching one small, round ear in a hand, he stumbled down the stairs towards the shelter. He didn’t look back.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) A Birthday of Legend

Writing 150A dear friend of mine celebrated his birthday a week or two ago, and I offered him a quick short story as an impromptu present. As usual, it took me a little longer than I would have liked to finish it up, but here it is! 

Crux is preparing for a nice, quiet birthday celebration; however, one of his friends has different plans in motion and he doesn’t really take no for an answer.

The knock on Crux’s door threatened to bounce it off its hinges. The blue-furred labrador startled on the couch he was sitting in, nearly dropping his phone. It had taken him longer than expected to respond to all of his birthday wishes. He must have lost track of the time.

He shut down his texting app and checked the time — 7:00 PM. It was about the right time for dinner, but he wasn’t expecting anyone to show up at his apartment; everyone knew the restaurant the quiet party had been reserved at. He chose it because it was nice and open and quiet, a relaxed spot where his…variable-sized friends could lounge and would be encouraged to behave reasonably well. After all the…excitement of the last few months, Crux could use a break.

The door rattled in its frame more violently this time. Crux could feel the entire apartment tremble from the force of the knocking. He frowned; anyone big enough to do that would probably have a hard time fitting in the narrow halls of his apartment building. It’d be best to answer the door and walk to the restaurant as soon as possible. He didn’t want to cause any more of a scene with the neighbors, after all.

“Hold on!” he called out, slipping off the couch and jogging over to the door. He opened it…and saw the entire frame blocked by a wall of a man.

“There you are!” A voice boomed way too loudly. “I was worried I might haveta kick the door in and drag you out.”

A great, shaggy head lowered from where it had loomed above the door frame. Hux gave him a big, toothy grin from under that mop of headfur.

Crux’s heart skipped a beat and his stomach sank. As happy as he was to see the giant, he also realized in that moment his plans for a quiet birthday were completely shot.

“You should know by now that you wouldn’t have to do anything that drastic to get me to let you in.” Crux felt himself blushing already, his mind racing with all that he would need to do to change his plans.

“I’m not comin’ in, pipsqueak. We’re goin’ out!” With surprising speed for his size, Hux slipped an arm around the back of the smaller blue dog and gathered him in against his bulk. “You know how cramped these little shoeboxes you like to live in make me feel.”

Crux squirmed as he was lifted off his feet and hugged against Hux’s broad chest, but it was no use. The forearm against his back was a steel beam wrapped in velvet; that chest might as well be a moving brick wall. He wasn’t going anywhere. “Well, the apartment’s only rated for citizens eight feet tall and smaller. It’s not meant to handle someone of your size.”

The giant snorted and rose as much as he could before his head crunched the ceiling. The cheap material dented easily, dusting a small shower of plaster and paint over Hux’s shoulders and Crux’s head. “Humph. ‘S discrimination if ya ask me. Can’t help it if I’m studly. Don’t you worry none, though. I know the perfect place ta go — you can get one of them sweet drinks you like and I’ll have room to really stretch out.”

Crux could have sworn he felt that massive chest stretch a little wider, saw the giant’s broad shoulders push towards either wall in the hallway. The whole apartment rattled as he stomped his way towards the front door. “I…actually have reservations at another restaurant, 30 minutes from now.”

“Awww, and ya didn’t invite me, little man? I’m hurt!” Hux squeezed the smaller male against him and slowly, carefully hunched down low. One shoulder pushed out of the front door, and then the other. Even still, it was a tight squeeze. Crux was almost buried against the much larger torso, unable to respond for several heart-stopping moments.

Even being as ginger as he was with the door, the frame still warped around the giant’s body. He ground his rear and package before slipping out onto the street with a grunt, rising to his full height with a satisfied groan. “There. Much better!”

Crux squirmed more as soon as he was able to. Hux had grown in the short jaunt from his apartment to the street; the canine had to be at least 15 feet tall now, maybe more. “I tried to reach you! You’re not an easy guy to get a hold of.”

Hux chuckled good naturedly as he stomped his way down the block. He took up the entire sidewalk now; other animals were brushed aside even as they scurried to flatten themselves against buildings or parked cars. “I guess that’s true. You don’t mind me tagging along, do ya? I’ll be your plus one!”

“Of course not.” Crux allowed himself to nuzzle Hux’s chest as he was carried along. “You’re going to have to scrunch down a bit though.”

Hux glanced down, an incredulous eye visible through that shaggy headfur. “Awww c’mon, pipsqueak! Yer killing me here! Don’t they have rooftop service or something? Can’t ye help a little old pup celebrate your birthday?”

“I’ll….see what I can do.” Crux wriggled in Hux’s grip to see if he could grab his phone.

“That’s the spirit!” Hux boomed, almost immediately surging up another five feet in height. “You’re the best, little dude.”

“You’re quite a handful, you know.” Crux was texting his friends, letting them know that there would be a very large change of plans.

“Nothin’ you can’t handle, lil blue. You know you love it.”

Crux’s cheeks warmed at the realization he couldn’t argue. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“Heh. Damn right!” Hux rumbled as he leapt over a car to move into the street. Much more room there. “We’ll go to your little dinner party, and then I’ll take you someplace where we can have some REAL fun!”

The two canines walked to the restaurant together, one growing larger all the while. The rhythmic tremors took that much longer to diminish; car alarms blared in their wake.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Monday Fiction) A Letter to Puxineathas Goodfellow (2)

Writing 150I’m not going to lie — the only thing more fun than writing that letter from Pux was researching more about gnomes as they’re settled in Pathfinder. The more I learn about gnomes, the more I feel like I should play them more. This will probably upset My Husband, The Dragon to hear. But the section in the core rulebook on gnomish humor? That is *totally* my jam. I incorporated a little bit of exaggeration in the letter, but I also thought it would be a good idea to have Pux come across as friendly and encouraging through at least the first exchange. As he and Malcolm warm to each other (and I learn more about them), they should let out more of their distinctive personalities in the writing.

Here is Malcolm’s second letter to Puxineathas Goodfellow.

Dear Mr. Puxineathas,

Yo, thanks for the rose quartz! You cut that yourself? I’m really impressed, dude. It looks freaking dope! I brought it in to show my friends at the last RPG Club meeting in school. They liked it, but they said it didn’t come from no gnome and it was probably made in China somewhere. They might be right, but I don’t really care. I love it, and China’s all the way on the other side of the world, so it still came a long, long way.

Thanks for telling me about your Burrow and what you do and everything. It’s pretty cool that you have this job you really like, and that you’re really good at. I bet if I had like, 80 years to study one thing I’d be really good at it too! But we don’t live that long. Some of us don’t even make it out of high school; my friend’s sister got shot last year crossing the street, and about six months ago somebody pointed a gun in my face and tried to rob me. I didn’t get shot, but they beat me up a little bit. I was a little crazy after that. I got real jumpy about loud noises for a while, and I wasn’t sleeping good so I got mad at people really easy. I talked to a counselor at school and she taught me about breathing when I feel upset or scared and sometimes it helps, but not really though.

I don’t know why I’m writing that in this letter, to be honest. I guess it’s just…nobody’s ever given me anything like that before. You were really cool about it, and your letter made me feel a lot better than I felt in a long time. I’m sorry it took me so long to write you back, but I was kind of stressing that mine wasn’t going to be as good as yours and had to build up to it. But then I thought I should just…sit down and write what comes out, you know? So that’s what I’m doing.

Oh! So…I had to do a little research on Baltimore because you asked about it and to be honest I didn’t know that much about it. It was founded in 1729, which is 287 years ago, so like…it’s about as old as a pretty old gnome. What’s weird is that it’s one of the oldest cities in our country, but the United States is a pretty young country in the grand scheme of things, so.
We don’t live underground like you guys do or anything. We have a lot of buildings in different neighborhoods, which are like, little sections where the same kind of people live. It’d be like if all the poor people lived in one part of your Burrow, and rich people in a nicer part, but then you had like, I don’t know, gnomes of all one color living in an entirely different part and sometimes they spoke a different language. Baltimore’s like that. We each have our own little territories, and sometimes we go outside of them but most of the time we don’t.

I really like going to different places, though. One of my favorite places to go is downtown, especially the library. It’s this big, big building that you could just get lost in. Whenever I can, I try to spend the whole day there from the time it opens at 10 to when it closes at 5. I can only do that in the summer, because it gets dark too early otherwise and walking to the bus stop is kind of scary. But man, there are so many books there. I like reading a book and thinking about something else that sounds like it’d be cool to read about and finding whatever other book looks fun. I read a lot. I’m pretty sure I know the library by heart. It’d be cool to get a job there, but I don’t even know how that would happen. Maybe something in the summer.

Anyway, do you have any favorite books? How many do you have? I’ve got 37 books under my bed. They’re mostly role-playing books, but I’m getting a few novels now too. I’m saving up for a copy of Lord of the Rings, which is like, this big story about a bunch of people who have to throw a cursed ring into this volcano or else this bad guy is going to end the world or something. I saw the movies when they came out, and they were pretty tight, so I guess the book has to be better, right?

When I get some more money, I can send you my favorite book right now. It’s about this unicorn who finds out she’s the last one in the world, but she thinks it can’t be true so she goes out of her forest to find others and has all kinds of adventures along the way. She finds them in the end and they’re all free and stuff, but for some reason the ending is still really sad. I guess it’s because she found all these people who helped her and stuff, and now she has to go back to being alone. That sucks, going out and seeing all this stuff, and then coming back to your own little corner knowing that this is all there is for you forever. I don’t want to be like that.

But it sounds like you’re good where you’re at, and that’s cool. I’d really like to come visit where you live, but I don’t think that would work out too good. The ceiling is probably really low, and I’m pretty sure I can’t get to your Burrow anyway. But hey, maybe I can be a gnome in my next game or something, and you can give me pointers on how to act.

I hope you’re making awesome jewelry. I can’t wait for your next letter!

Sincerely,
Malcolm Williams

 

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(Friday Fiction) A Letter to Malcolm Williams

Writing 150I didn’t manage to put together a letter in time last week, so we’ll have to miss one missive unfortunately.

The previous letter was…something I wasn’t quite happy with. I wanted to write it in the voice of someone who just wasn’t used to long, written correspondence but I wanted to make it engaging at the same time. In hindsight, it really would have been a good idea to do some pre-writing instead of coming up with stuff off the cuff. When I get a better handle on writing these ahead of time, I’d like to maybe hit a first draft a month before the scheduled post and *then* do an editing pass a week before to make sure things are as good as they can be. But that day is not today, my friends.

Here is the first response of Puxineathas Goodfellow.

Dear Master Williams of Baltimore,

I am delighted to meet you! Please, do not worry about the “proper” way to write a letter — there are as many ways to communicate through quill as there are through speech. What’s important is finding your way. Well, and making sure you’re understood. Words do us know good if they don’t serve their one purpose, after all!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mister Puxineathas of the family Goodfellow, seventh of his name in the Burrow of Stone’s Gate. Our clan has lived in these tunnels for over a thousand years, and in that time we have expanded them to reach from the Golden Mist Valley to the east; the borough of Strahdell to the west; from the Stone Kingdom in the north; and the eastern edge of Rexpanse in the south. A thousand years may sound like a long time to you, human, but in reality it is a mere four generations of gnomish time — the equivalent of eighty years, I believe, in your span. We are a young burrow, but in such a short time we’ve grown to become one of the largest in the known lands. I say this, of course, with all due pride and humility before my elders.

Is Baltimore an old town? I am afraid I don’t know much about the realms beyond my burrow. It is one of the reasons I thought it would be nice to correspond with someone so far beyond my experience. I’m sure you have much to teach me, even if you are quite young! Humans fascinate me; they grow so quickly and learn so fast. My grandfather says that you can teach a man anything but patience — your lives are so short that you never have the time to learn it!

I hope that sentiment doesn’t offend you, friend — this is my first time speaking so openly with a man, so you may find me a bit too exciteable to remember my manners! Please, if I speak too coarsely, kindly correct me and I shall not make that mistake again. Others may happen, though, from time to time.

Anyway, as it seems we are equally curious about one another, I shall now tell you what I look like. I am a reasonably young gnome, aged 80 years. If Ferrakus wills it, I shall live to over 300 years. The oldest gnome in my burrow, Rundtitia, has aged 472 years; it is quite possible she has been taken by Ferrakus already and no one knows it, because she hasn’t moved from her chair in around 25 years. We got the idea that it would be rude to disturb her, so generally we let her be.

I have been told by many that I am the color of an autumn tree, with good, rich, brown skin with a healthy hint of slate and a fine head of red and orange hair. Of course, it is styled to the latest fashions and has caught the eye of many lovely ladies; I would woo them, but my apprenticeship must take the entirety of my focus at the moment, so having my pick of potential wives will have to wait until I’ve made my fortune.

You see, I am one of five apprentices under the Master Gemcutter of Stone’s Gate, Abilion Jax; if I prove my worth by the time he has decided to retire, then I will assume the title. That means kings and queens, perhaps even the great dragons, will come from far and wide and beseech me to make them the finest jewelry in the known lands! If he picks another, I will still become Accomplished Gemcutter under one of my fellow apprentices, which won’t be such a terrible life. I, however, know that I am meant for worldly renown and excellence in my profession.

Before Abilion, my grandfather was Master Gemcutter; before that, my great-grandfather. My father had no interest in the family business and left to make his fortune as an adventurer, which is all well and good — he has brought home the most incredible stories! As for myself, I cannot imagine leaving my Burrow. It is the only home I’ve ever known, and the only home I will ever need.

I am sorry to hear, dear Master Williams, that you do not enjoy your life at home. I have heard that the world of man can be cruel, especially to the unfortunate. Perhaps that is why humans are often so driven — they’ve wasted so much of their lives being unhappy, and are looking to make up for that lost time. I truly hope you find the adventure and knowledge you seek in your college, though I don’t understand why you would need to go to one to learn how to care for animals. Are there no farms in Baltimore that will have you as a hand? That is an excellent way to learn all there is to know!

I am running out of parchment, so I should bring this letter to an end…but I very much look forward to your response! As a token of my esteem, I have enclosed a small sampling of my trade — a rose quartz cut to the shape of a rose. I am quite proud of it, and I hope it will remind you of the many places you have yet to visit!

Warmly,
Puxineathas of the family Goodfellow

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2017 in Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Changeling: The Talk

Writing 150Our protagonist gets a name! I’m still feeling out how being a Changeling would feel in inner-city Baltimore. I think there’s something distinctive about the idea and I’d love to try and capture it. Here, Mr. Foster takes our narrator to McDonald’s for an explanation of what’s going on. Or not.

I don’t know if I’ve ever really SEEN the McDonald’s at Walbrook Junction before. I’ve walked past it all the time, and it’s always been the same place since I was a kid. The outside is the same fake stucco that covers the entire crumbling strip mall, and the inside is this big, open space that is way cleaner than it should be for the neighborhood but still choked with the smell of a generation’s worth of fryer grease and industrial cleaners. The tile is old, the walls are peeling but scrubbed clean, and the chairs are so worn you wouldn’t know foam was in the seat. I had always thought it was a dump, like everything there, even if the owner gave a shit about it being clean.

That was until I went in there with Mr. Foster. When he picked me up at my house, it was in a car that was twice the size I had remembered it being. The dashboard was covered with weird knobs and words in another language, but he drove it just fine. We cruised through my neighborhood, and it was like I was seeing everything for the first time. The trees were bigger and greener. The abandoned house looked like it was alive, sitting back from the street with its mouth wide open like it wanted to eat you. There were rats and cockroaches playing double-dutch on the sidewalk.

Walbrook Junction looked mostly normal, except for that McDonald’s. It was a castle with — I shit you not — an actual moat around it and banners flying and everything. When Mr. Foster walked up to it, a drawbridge just appeared. When he opened the door, one of the old mascots — the bird with the yarn hair — curtseyed and greeted him like he was a visiting noble. “Good afternoon, Sir Baobab,” is what I think she said.

Everybody seemed to know him. He walked up to the counter and the worker there stared up at him. Mr. Foster is a tall dude, but…he was really tall here. His Afro scrunched against the ceiling, and you could hear the horns coming out of his forehead scraping against it. His skin was unnaturally black but kinda brown, like molasses. And his hair was white with little flecks of black in it. That’s not how Mr. Foster looked before. And I had known him for like, five years now.

He ordered two quarter pounders with cheese, two Big Macs, a 20 piece Chicken McNuggets, and the biggest Coke they had. I got a double cheeseburger and a McChicken, then some fries and a milkshake. I don’t know why, but it felt like I had to keep up with him. The way everybody was acting around him, it made me want to live up to something.

We got our food, and he wasn’t charged for it. He told the cashier where we were going to sit (at a table in the corner) and he said “I’ll make sure you aren’t disturbed.” Before we sat down, he took a lima bean out of his pocket and put it on the chair. It sprouted immediately, and a new chair made of vines formed over it, sized up for him. He caught me staring, but he just pointed at me to sit down.

Mr. Foster tore up his food immediately. I couldn’t stop looking around. There was a five-foot squirrel dude mopping the floor and wiping down tables. Every once in a while, a rat walking on its hind legs would walk up to him and he would chitter at it or something, and then it would go off and pick up trash or put balls back in the ball pit.

I’ve been seeing shit like this ever since I got mugged. It’s still straight-up crazy to me, but with Mr. Foster it was the first time it felt like it was a kind of crazy I could live with.

“What do you want to do with your life?” When he spoke, he demanded you listen. He had that kind of voice.

“Uhm, what?” I was distracted by the squirrel-dude, and caught off guard by the question. What did that have to do with anything?

Mr. Foster leaned in and rounded his shoulders. There was a table between us, but I still felt trapped. “I said, what do you want to do with your life?”

I stared at him for a long minute. My mind went blank. Was I supposed to know what I wanted to do with my life when I was just in high school? Wasn’t that what college was for? I reached for anything I could think of, the first thing that came to mind.

“I want to cut hair.” I felt so stupid right after I said it. Mr. Foster lifted his eyebrows, but otherwise he didn’t react.

“Why?”

I shrugged. “It’s cool to just be able to talk to people all day while doing something nice for them.”

Mr. Foster nodded. “You know how to cut hair?”

Oh shit, I didn’t even think of that! I shook my head quickly. “Naw, but I can learn. It looks like something I can get pretty good at.”

“Yeah, you think so, huh?” Now he seemed amused. But not in a way that made me feel bad. “You just need some clippers and a YouTube video, right?”

“Maybe a head to practice on or something, I don’t know.” I returned his smile without knowing why. None of this made sense. Weren’t we supposed to be talking about the fact that all kinds of impossible shit was happening all around us right now? That we were in a McDonald’s that suddenly looked like a castle? That he was some giant unnaturally-colored dude that seemed to pull a lot of respect here? Why were we talking about hair all of a sudden?

“Listen, I got a few friends who could use a haircut.” He shifted in his seat, and the whole thing groaned, vines and all. “I’m going to bring a clipper set over to school tomorrow. It’s yours. And in two weeks’ time, you’re going to come to my house and cut hair. That’s how you’re gonna pay me back. Deal?”

“Uhm. Deal.” I glanced at a small group of rats that seemed to be arguing about a mess on the floor. They were squeaking at each other in these high voices that made it hard to make out what they were saying. “But shouldn’t we be—?”

Mr. Foster put up a big hand to stop me from talking. “You’ll get to talk all you want in a couple of weeks. But if you have questions, you write them down one at a time on this.”

He made a motion like he was sliding something to me across the table. It didn’t look like anything at first, but when I looked down there was a piece of paper there. It was thick, like a page out of an expensive journal or something, colored yellow-brown with all kinds of spots in it. It looked awesome. Too good to write on, even. I gathered it up and slipped it in my backpack, not really sure what to say. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. You write the question, and I’ll see it. I’ll write a response, and you’ll see it on that slip of paper.”

“How?”

“Magic, that’s how.” The look on his face let me know he was giving me a big secret. “It’s like untraceable email, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.” I still felt weird about all of this, but kind of comfortable. “But what if my parents find it or my sister starts snooping in my room?”

Mr. Foster shook his head. “They won’t see it. Only folks like you and me can. If you want to know what I mean by that, that’s your first question.”

He got up all of a sudden, and it looked like he was going to smash right through the ceiling. But he didn’t. “I’ve got to go, but I want you to know two things. First, you’re not crazy. You’re special. Second, if you ever feel like you’re in danger or this is too much to handle, you come here and ask a cashier to get me. I’ll come as soon as I can, OK?”

I nodded. I didn’t really like it, but I nodded.

“Good.” Mr. Foster grabbed my shoulder when I stood up and squeezed it. “You’re a good kid, Marvin. It’s going to be OK.” He stared at me with those weird blue eyes of his until I believed it.

And then he drove me home.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Changeling: Emergent

Writing 150It was my first day back in school after the mugging, and people were treating me surprisingly well. I guess word had spread about what happened, which was cool, but what was most interesting was how the story changed based on who told it. The teachers talked about how I nearly got away by telling a story about this little Br’er Rabbit figure I had, which is true — I made it up on the spot because I didn’t know what else to do, and all that fear and anger and desperation just came out of me in this huge rush. It felt great. It made me dizzy, and sick, like I was high af. I couldn’t remember what the story was if I wanted to.

If you talk to my classmates, though, they’ll tell you how I started “acting crazy” after the first punch was thrown, speaking in tongues and all that. I was pointing to things that weren’t there, and having conversations with myself, and got in a fight with thin air. The people who attacked me were so confused that they were about to run off until I clocked one of them real good upside the ear. Then they jumped up and beat me down.

That’s true, too, but I don’t like to talk about it.

I’m adopted, and my mother was institutionalized for being a paranoid schizophrenic. When I was in the hospital, there were a lot of doctors who told me that I “had taken a pretty good blow to the head” and to let them know if I started seeing things that weren’t there. I couldn’t tell them that my room was filled with balloons of all sizes and shapes, that somehow managed to change color right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t tell them that these had been brought to me by a bunch of creatures that couldn’t exist — rats in waistcoats, or CPR dummies that told me where all the good drugs were, or an elephant that liked to be the size that would be most disorienting for you. I knew where that road lead, and that was one I wasn’t going to take.

So I pretended everything was fine, and I got pretty good at living a double life. In one of them, I was the victim of a violent crime recuperating from a possible concussion. In the other, I was this storyteller that every imaginary friend in the hospital would come to for advice or jokes they could take back to kids in other wings. I have no idea where these stories came from; it was like there was some doorway inside of me I could access now, and it all came spilling out. I really liked that feeling, and that disturbed me. I knew that I was getting whatever my mother had, and it was only a matter of time before things went bad.

I really did think that would be my first day back in school. There was so much going on I could barely keep it together. I saw a dragon on the roof, casually muttering to itself how these “insects couldn’t appreciate” the value of its own personal “hoard of knowledge”. I think it might have been the mascot for our football team. I saw trees gossiping to each other about who did what and when. There was a tiny bus that my mother nearly ran over, taking rats and squirrels right up to the building. The sky was made of rainbows, a feverish ripple of color that never stayed the same thing. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, but it was also terrifying.

My aunt thought that I was nervous about being back in school after my whole “incident”, and I was fine with letting her believe that. The walk from the car to the front door was the longest walk of my life.

How do you tell someone that your mind is broken forever? I knew, deep down, that whatever this was wasn’t going away. If I sat down and closed my eyes and told myself that none of it was real, the colors would fade and all of this madness would get harder to see. But it made me feel sick. I was pushing that door of stories further and further away every time I did that, and there was some different part of me that fought against that hard. When the visions came back, they were more intense than ever.

So I was sitting in homeroom, trying to ignore the squirrel seated next to me in a little desk, chattering away about how excited she was to learn about American history from the tree out in the quad. The other students either came up to me to ask if I was all right, or snickered at me for being crazy. I was just getting calmed down when Mr. Foster walked into the room.

Mr. Foster is one of those guys that everybody in your neighborhood knows. He’s been at Highland Park High School forever and taught Social Studies to an entire generation of people around the block. He lived alone, and hung out with a bunch of people way younger than he was, and he had this thing about swords. We started calling him “Ghost Dog” a few years ago, and the name just stuck. He was a tall dude with an Afro and a 70s moustache. He wore a trenchcoat like he was Shaft, even in the summer. He was an awesome guy, but he was easy to make fun of.

At least, until now. He ducked under the doorway and pushed himself into the room. At first, he looked like he always did, but then there was this weird snap, like electricity popping. Then he was eight feet tall and blue, with these little horns and ridges coming out of his forehead. The coffee mug in his hand was this this hammer as big around as my chest. His trenchcoat was this steel suit of armor that shined like lavender when the light hit it.

I startled, and Mr. Foster looked at me. He sputtered, and then stared. He flickered a couple of times, back and forth between the old teacher and this monster dude. But then he stayed there. A rat on his desk asked him who the new kid was, and Mr. Foster flicked his hand like he heard it.

When all of the imaginary rodents at the edges of the room piped up with a “Good morning, Mr. Foster!” and he grunted in acknowledgement, I knew that he was seeing and hearing the same things I was. And I have no idea how that’s true.

But if I was crazy, then so was he. We shared the same visions. And if he could somehow live his life outside of an insanitarium then he had to teach me how.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2016 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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