Monthly Archives: July 2018

Word of Mouth


When’s the last time I tried a flash fiction? It’s been a while. This one’s apropos of nothing; just a little seedling that took root while I was falling asleep a few nights ago.

***********

The man behind the counter is exactly as promised. His face, grizzled and careworn. His beard, long with a braid that dangles just above his belt. His arms, corded steel sleeved in jagged patterns of ink.

This is the forgemaster, all right.

Jad flicks his cigarette into the gutter and swaggers into the shop. A quaint tinkling bell announces him.

“Evening,” Thierry mutters without looking up. His knotty fingers work delicately away on a blade and stone in his hands, putting Jad in mind of a patient spider.

Jad strides right up to the counter. Lays his hands on the glass. Looks hard at the older man, willing him to look back. Thierry lets the moment linger, then lays down his tools. “Help you?”

“You’re the forgemaster.”

At that, the old man folds his arms and leans way back. He arches an eyebrow as he takes Jad in from head to toe. The ragged hair, gaunt face, sinewy body. All the leather. “Are you asking, or telling?”

Jad’s gaze flicks down to the glass case full of knives set between them. Each one beautiful and terrible, like the teeth of ancient megafauna honed to an evil point. Blades of bone, steel, and materials Jad can’t identify. The master’s work. “It’s you. You made these. You’re him.”

“Sure, kid. You got me. But … ugh. Forgemaster. Just call me Thierry. What do you want?” He asks as if he already knows, and, way Jad figures, probably he does.

“I’m a hunter.”

“Uh-huh.”

Jad flinches. Usually the title carries a bit more gravity. But he presses on. “A damned good hunter. I’ve had the visions. I’ve slain nightwalkers in droves. I am chosen.”

Thierry gives an approving frown. “I’m sure you’re doing just fine for yourself. What do you want with me?”

Jad grins, opens his palms and shrugs. “I need a weapon.”

“Got some fine ones here,” Thierry says. “What’s your fancy?”

“No,” Jad says. “I need a real weapon.”

Thierry’s eyes roll skyward, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. “You’ve done your homework.”

“Yes.”

“You learned I was still alive. Tracked me down. Sought me out. No small feat. I don’t see many hunters these days.”

Jad can’t help himself. His smirk widens. “Wasn’t easy.”

“You must also know I’m retired.”

Jad gestures around the shop. “Don’t look so retired to me.”

“I sell these. I don’t forge anymore. But you know that, too.”

“I know that you gave it up because the hunters let you down.” Thierry’s gaze has drifted off across Jad’s shoulder. Jad shifts himself into the older man’s line of sight. “But I won’t let you down.”

It’s Thierry’s turn to smirk at the kid. “What’s your name, then?”

“Jad.”

“Jad. I like you. You’ve got spirit. But I’m retired. No offense. I don’t work for the hunters anymore.” And Thierry picks up his knife and stone and goes back to sharpening.

Jad blinks in disbelief. “For decades, you’ve made the weapons that keep the shadow at bay.” He starts, then stops, then starts again. “You can’t just quit!”

“I can,” Thierry says, “and I have. You want to fight the nightwalkers? You’re welcome to any weapon you see here. Free of charge, even. Because I like you. But I’m nobody’s slave anymore.”

Jad recoils like he’s been slapped. “Slave? The hunters never –”

“Don’t.” Thierry’s eyes are as sharp as any blade in the store.

“I’ll pay you, of course.”

“No.”

Jad is flabbergasted. “I’m the most talented hunter in an age. The elders have said so. I’ve got a chance to destroy the nightwalkers for good. I need a proper weapon to do it. Not one of these … kitchen knives.”

Thierry looks almost bored, scraping away at the blade in his hand. Shiiiiink. Shiiiiiiink. “If you’re such a great hunter, surely you already know: the greatest weapon is the one in your head, not the one in your hand.” He meets Jad’s gaze one last time. “The answer is no.”

The kid moves like lightning. In a flash, Thierry’s blade is in Jad’s hand, the point of it thrust behind Thierry’s bushy beard, its point drawing a bead of blood at his neck.

Thierry actually chuckles. “You’re fast, I’ll give you that.”

Jad’s eyes bulge a bit crazily as he bares his teeth. “You will make me a weapon.”

The air goes out of Thierry, and Jad can tell he’s won. “Come back in three days.”

#

Three days later, true to his word, Thierry presents the young hunter with his masterwork. The blade, a demon’s flame cast in hexsteel, icy to the touch. Devilishly sharp. A breathtaking weapon. “You won’t regret this,” Jad says. He drops a ridiculous amount of money on the countertop.

“Just remember what I said about the weapon in your hand,” Thierry says. “And try not to get yourself killed.”

“Don’t worry your little heart about me, old man,” Jad says.

That very night, Jad carves his way through a nest. One nightwalker after the next falls before the master’s blade. All the way to the broodmother. Jad sinks his blade hilt-deep in the nightwalker’s chest. She laughs, then tears Jad’s throat out.

Jad expires in a mist of blood and fear, unseeing eyes blinking wildly in the night. His fingers grasp at the blade that won’t help him; a forgery, a fraud.

#

Ellaree, the broodmother, tosses the blade unceremoniously on Thierry’s counter, along with a ridiculous amount of money.

“You’re getting lazy,” she hisses. “I’ve seen this weapon before.”

Thierry shrugs. “The kid hadn’t. Did he die well?”

“Does it matter?” Thierry curls up like a beetle, at that. “Nobody will know otherwise. You can even sell that weapon again, if you want.” She smirks. “Again, again.”

Thierry hefts the dagger, thinks about plunging it right into her heart. It’d be useless, of course, but it might feel good. Might be worth the death it’d earn him. Instead, he tucks it into the back of his belt, safely out of sight. Just in case another upstart hunter shows his face this night.

Wouldn’t want to miss another sale.

**********

 

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Birthday Fingers


Happy Birthday to me!

I am now … *counts fingers*

*runs out of fingers*

*surgically attaches more fingers*

*counts more, attaches more*

*is now an eldritch horror of fingers*

*forgets how to count, speak, and feel*

*sprouts fingers until the heat-death of the universe*


Yes, There Is A Try


Do, or do not; there is no try. — Yoda

That used to be my stuff, right there. Say it, little green man. You’re either gonna do a thing or not do a thing, so quit pussyfooting around and saying you’re gonna “try.”

Oh, you’re gonna “try” to get that job? You’re gonna “try” to write today? You’re gonna “try” to do a push-up? Like hell you are. You’re either gonna make it a priority and bend your entire existence toward it and DO IT, or you’re gonna not, and the opportunity is gonna pass you by, and here you will still be, a little bit sadder.

Except … life isn’t always that simple, is it?cx


Don’t Forget Your Library


Writers are supposed to read, right?

And we’re supposed to read widely and prolifically, right?

Here’s the truth: in years past, I haven’t read enough. Not as much as I liked, and certainly not as much as I should. Why? Because books are fraggin’ expensive. And a major commitment. You go and drop forty bucks on a handful of books, not knowing if you’re going to enjoy them. But because you’ve spent the money, you feel obligated to read through the whole thing, whether you’re enjoying it or not.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be buying books. (As a guy who very much hopes you may buy his books when they become available, that would be pretty much anathema.) But for whatever reason, I had forgotten about the most obvious alternative: the library.

My wife recently started her specialist’s program, and had to do a bit of research. So off she went to the library. And because, you know, libraries are good for kids books, she took the kids along, and I went, too. And so I got a chance to browse around as well. And, hey, here’s a John Scalzi book I’d been thinking about reading — I read Lock In and loved it, but wasn’t sure about his other stuff. And there, some Neil Gaiman — somehow I haven’t read much of his work, but I’ve heard very good things. And then over there in nonfiction, a bunch of titles by Malcolm Gladwell — I’ve been listening to his podcast, and it’s excellent, so why not?

I went home laden with a bunch of titles I wouldn’t have read otherwise, feeling basically no commitment or obligation to any of them. Which is really the best way to read a book — with no expectations.

I read a few, and it was good — but I quickly became a little disillusioned. Our local library is pretty tiny, and the selection isn’t much to speak of. But — what I didn’t know until recently is that basically all the libraries in the state are networked, which means that you can browse the entire selection of books in all the libraries (which is quite a lot.) Then, if some library carries a book that your branch doesn’t, you just put in a request and within a week or so, the book shows up at your library.

This changed everything.

I’ve now got a queue of books ten deep and a stack of five or so on my bedside table. I’m reading books on philosophy and sociology and nuclear weapons and all kinds of things that I just couldn’t pull the trigger on before, for whatever reason. (The fact that it’s summer helps.) You might even say I’m reading so much it’s to the detriment of my writing, but that’s a discussion for another time. (It’s easier to pick up and put down a book at will than it is to pick up and put down your novel.)

Point is, I’m shoving words into my facehole at an unprecedented rate lately, and it’s entirely because I’ve rediscovered the library.

So, you know. Visit yours. Check out a book. Learn something new.


Accidental Philosophy: Staying in Bed


Just try staying in bed all day waiting for something to happen; you will find yourself assailed by the impulse to get up and do something, which will require increasingly heroic efforts to resist. — Sam Harris, Free Will

My wife asked me the other day why I keep getting up early.

It’s the summer, after all, the Sacred Time for all teachers, where we have basically two months to forget about life and work and students and classes and just be ordinary humans for a while. (Of course, being a teacher kind of ruins the concept of being an ordinary human in its own right, but that’s a discussion for another time.) It’s more or less expected that teachers are going to sleep in as much as possible over the summer. Why wouldn’t we? Sleep is awesome, and we lose out on it by the bargeload during the school year.

Still, I can’t sleep much past six. Seven, if I’m really sawing wood. Partially I know the kids are awake, or will be soon, and it feels like somebody should at least be conscious in the building to make sure they don’t start causing collateral damage immediately. And partly, I guess I’m just getting older, and my body more or less syncs up with the sun these days (if the sun is up, my brain seems to say, so should you be).

Maybe even a part of is is that plague of the young, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Some unconscious part of me wants to know what’s happening out there in the world, as soon as possible. So I have to get up and turn on the news, check Twitter, troll Facebook, etc. (Incidentally, my day doesn’t feel complete of late if I don’t spend a good hour or so hate-watching CNN. Which is a seriously messed up state of affairs.)

Also, of course, here in the South in the summer, the morning is really the only time of day you can reasonably Get Things Done. If you want to exercise or do yard work or, I dunno, wax your car or something (I guess people do that? Maybe?), you’d best get it done before the mercury climbs out of the top of the thermometer.

And then I think, too, about the people I know who do sleep in late. Family members and friends or friends of friends who, it seems, are always sleeping. Sometimes this is out of necessity: they work odd hours or nights and have to sleep during the day. Sometimes it’s chemical: they’re depressed or on a “down” cycle and they can’t summon the energy to get out of bed for more than a few hours. Sometimes it’s sheer laziness or obstinacy: they sleep in because it feels good, or because they’ve stayed up all night doing whatever it is people stay up all night to do. In any case, the person seems in a very real way to have vanished from the meaningful part of life for the rest of us. And I don’t want to be that, or even be perceived as that.

Suffice it to say that I not only do I find it difficult to stay in bed for very long after I wake up, but I have no desire to. I have better things to do (even if those things only include hate-watching CNN).

All of that is a little tangential to the quote above. For context, Harris is talking about a common argument against his position on free will (i.e. that we don’t have it, at least not in the way most people think we do). If we don’t have free will, the argument goes, everything must be pre-determined; if everything is pre-determined, what I do doesn’t matter. Therefore if I’m meant to become a millionaire or a famous novelist (or both!), I could just lay in bed all day and it will simply happen.

Which is ludicrous. Ergo Sam’s statement above, which I absolutely loved when I read it. Especially the idea of “increasingly heroic efforts to resist” getting out of bed.

For me, as it happens, it never seems to get that far. There is no such thing as a “heroic effort” to stay in bed; the sun comes in or I hear my kid in the hall, and I’m up.

Whether that’s a product of my free will or not, I can’t say I’m bothered by it.

Free Will, anyway, is a 100-page or so treatise by noted atheist and neurologist Sam Harris, and is a fascinating read worth your time regardless of your feelings on the subject. (Incidentally, I’m pretty convinced, as Harris is, that free will in the conventional sense is an illusion.)

 


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