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“The river stole the gods.”

That’s what my grandmother used to say, anyway. “The river stole Them away from us, and left us alone. Left us to survive without Them.” They had belonged to our people for centuries, longer than we’d been maintaining a record of our tribe. I still remembered the stories that we would hear every night, that the elders of the village would share. Stories of how the gods came to be, what They did.

The First of the gods had come to us from the river, so it never seemed strange to me that the river had taken Them back. It was perfectly logical to me, but I was always a bit strange, according to my brother. The First was born to us from the reeds and the mud, given shape by the flowing water that still sustains our village. The sun looked down and saw the shape, and baked Him into hard clay, and the full moon looked down on the empty body and saw fit to give Him a soul, and then the moon began to wane, and He rose up and made His seven sisters and brothers in the same manner. Soon, all of the gods had been given Their shape, with the First asking the sun to dry Them, and the moon to give Them souls as well. The sun complied willingly, for the sun is always hot again with each new day, but the moon replied that there was but one soul left, and that it was the moon’s own soul, for there could be nothing more given until the moon was full again. So the First god took His own soul and broke it into eight pieces on a rock at midnight, when the moon was gone, for He could not wait for the moon to return with new souls. My grandmother told us that this was supposed to be a lesson about patience, but I never really understood why. I wanted to ask her if the rock the First had used to break His soul was still there, if she knew where He had done it. Instead, I’d just smile and nod and encourage my brother to do the same so that she wouldn’t yell at us for not learning from her stories. Father and Mother would have spanked us, so even the yelling was preferred if it came to that.

One fraction of the First’s soul, He took back into Himself. The remaining seven fragments were given to His brothers and sisters, and once They too possessed souls, They stood by His side. Together, They then set about naming all of the things, and dividing the world into parts that each of Them would oversee. The seas, the skies, the stars, the earth, the plants, the beasts, time. Each of the First’s siblings was god of these things. The First presided over Them all, giving Them guidance, since He was connected to all of Them through His soul. For centuries, our people lived in peace under Their rule, and They would return to our village every month to visit the place of Their birth. “We would watch Them from a great distance, and we could see that every one of Them stood at least twice as tall as my father, who was the tallest man in the village,” my grandmother said. “And we would hide, but still try to see what They were doing. Their gatherings always lasted from sunrise to moonrise, as They honored the place of Their birth. They appeared at dawn, They stood at the river’s edge in the mud from which They were formed, and They vanished as the moon took its place in the sky.” We asked my grandmother to describe Them, beyond Their great height. “They were the color of the river, bright when the sun shone on Them, blending with the night save for a subtle shimmer when it didn’t. They were beautiful.”

The gods were kind, benevolent, and very slow to anger. My grandmother only knew of one time when They had seen fit to punish any of the people of our village, just before the river took Them. It was harvest time, and one of the men of the village had been found having killed his neighbor. Murder was unheard of in the village. Death was not uncommon, but it was not the explicit realm of any of the gods, and so it was deemed to be something far beyond the control of men. After all, if the gods have no power over a thing, what hope does man have of controlling it? When this man was found with another’s blood on his hands, he was locked away until the next time the gods came. The villagers had no idea that it was going to be the last time. The gods returned as was Their fashion, and instead of hiding from them, my grandmother’s father stood near where he knew they would appear. When They arrived, he called out to them, and my grandmother and the others hid in the usual place. “My father spoke to them,” she says, “but we couldn’t hear him or Them from our hiding place. Eventually he came back to us, saying that the First had demanded the murderer be brought to him. We brought him out, and my father took him to where the gods waited for them. They looked at the man, and instructed my father to come back to hide with us.” Here she always grows sad. “We heard the rushing sound of the water, and saw the gods step into the middle of the river, the killer up to his neck. There was a great rush of white and blue, and when the surge passed, there was no one left. No murderer, no vengeful gods. We never saw any of Them again after the river stole Them away. Punished him, and punished us all by leaving us here without Them.”

Note: This story was written for a “Story from a Sentence” challenge from Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds. He hosts similar challenges weekly, and I’m trying to get back into the rhythm of writing for them. Hopefully more microfiction will continue to arrive here on a somewhat consistent basis. Thanks for reading!

Question: Ever have a conversation that goes something like this?

 

“What’s the obsession with secret passages?”
“Huh?”
“In stories, every old house has a secret passage hidden away somewhere. Why’re people so preoccupied with something so impractical?”
“Dude, did you ever play CLUE as a kid?”
“Yeah, once or twice. My brother and I were really too young to understand the actual rules, so we mostly just played around with the little fake weapons that came with it.”

 

Answer: NO! No one questions the awesomeness of secret passages.

Now, questioning the practicality of secret passages is another matter altogether, but that’s not why I want to talk about them. The secret passage is a staple trope in fiction, and is surprisingly common in real life, depending on the location of a building and the era in which in was built. Case in point: the more literal aspects of the Underground Railroad. Hidden doors and tunnels crop up everywhere. Even Alexander Dumas was subject to using them in his work, even if it meant using only a partially accurate location to describe an existing tunnel. “But Dumas was not a man to waste a good subterranean passage.”

I’ve always loved tunnels and caves. Kind of a claustrophilia, if you will. When I was growing up, I would dig tunnels in snowbanks during the winter. When a wind storm created a massive pile of tumbleweeds against the trees at my local park, my sister and I (along with some of the other neighborhood kids) dug in and built an enormous tunnel and fort in them. When we got a new refrigerator, I was thrilled to get the cardboard box it came in. I cut a doorway and windows in it, put it over the top of my bed, and turned it into a Calvin and Hobbes-esque spaceship. My older sisters and I shared an adjoining closet with a bookshelf separating the two halves, and we could sneak into the other bedroom by climbing over or around the shelf. When we were installing a new center pivot sprinkler on one of our fields, we had to install the power cables and such in pipe that was going to be buried underground. This pipe was in two sections in our shop for a portion of the winter, a ten-foot length and a twenty-foot length. At fifteen inches in diameter, it was just big enough for me to crawl through. My little sister and I took turns making our way through them.

This is what I think of when you say sprinkler.

This is what I think of when you say sprinkler.

In college, I learned that I could fit through the campus housing office’s parcel boxes. Suffice to say they ceased use of them, since it meant that people like me (read: skinny bastards with too much free time) could access staff-only areas through said parcel boxes.

In my mind, every one of these things was a special pathway. It didn’t matter if the tunnel didn’t lead to Narnia or Hogwarts. Even if somebody else knew about the passage, I didn’t care. I was thrilled that I had something I could do that not everyone else could.

I wanted the stories about secret passages to be true. I wanted to live in the CLUE mansion, because it had not one, but TWO secret passageways. I’ve researched sites like these and dreamed of building a house complete with at least one hidden doorway. Now that my sister is an architect, I might be one step closer to that dream. It may not end up being like House of Leaves (though I’m totally okay with that, I don’t need a sentient house [at least not a malevolent one, anyway]). I’ll settle for a hidden closet, or secret writing room. Until then, I’ll read more, and I won’t question anyone else who loves secret passages as much as I do.

 

 

 

I never had the honor to meet Leonard Nimoy, and I am greatly saddened to know that now I never will. I have been a Star Trek fan for over two decades, thanks to my Oma and Opa. I would sit on their couch or living room floor with a bowl of ice cream and watch The Next Generation episodes with them (Oma loved Data, and even had an action figure of him).

I remember very few specific episodes, but I recall very clearly the sense of wonder I felt every time I heard that theme song. TNG was the Star Trek I grew up with. I was only a few months old when it premiered, and it aired its finale just after my seventh birthday. It was a massive part of my childhood. While TNG was my first Trek, it was by no means my last. I watched every episode of every series I could find (including a happy discovery of the first three season of Deep Space Nine on VHS at my local library’s book sale one day). I learned as much as I could about the different characters, and even bought a Klingon dictionary for me and another for my best friend. I have continued to return to The Original Series over the years, due mostly to a long-ago viewing of The Wrath of Khan on some almost forgotten Saturday. I didn’t know who Khan was at the time, but the death of Spock was incredibly poignant, even if it was a foregone conclusion that Nimoy would be returning in the next movie (the TV guide said so, and the TV guide was never wrong).

Netflix and DVD releases have allowed me to maintain access to Star Trek whenever I feel the desire. I’ve seen more of Spock’s adventures in the last two years than I ever did as a kid. I’ve come to know more and more of Leonard Nimoy’s work, Trek and non. I have to say that the man was admirable, on-screen and in real life. Spock told us the “Live long and prosper,” and Leonard Nimoy did. I’m going to do my best.

A while back, I wrote a post about some of the best books that I’d had to read over the course of my academic career. These were books that I might not have read had they not been on the syllabus for a class. I’m pleased to say that my own horizons were greatly expanded by this. Here’s a few more of the titles that were part of my college life.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Like Beowulf from the first iteration of this post, I was familiar with the core story, but I’d never read the full text before. In my first literature class as an English major, we focused on British literature from the 19th century (this might explain my fascination with the Victorian era…). This was one of the first times I’d intensely studied the life of a writer and their times while simultaneously reading their work. The story of the creation of Frankenstein caught me almost as thoroughly as the narrative. I loved the idea of Mary Shelley taking part in a competition with her husband and friends to write the scariest story. Not just taking part, but completely rocking it, to the point where her single novel is more well-known than Percy Shelley’s collected works. Frankenstein is brooding, Gothic genius.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. While Johnny Depp did a fine job of portraying Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s perfectly trippy adaptation, there’s nothing like reading the novel itself. Part of that may just be the result of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations  throughout the book. Thompson’s narrative weaves autobiographical elements and biting social commentary with detailed depictions of copious drug use. It’s stream-of-consciousness at its finest, and difficult to define in any other way. This one was assigned by the same American Literature professor who introduced me to the work of Alison Bechdel, and certainly caught the attention of the students in a manner unlike any other piece we read that semester.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. In my Modern British Literature class, we were given a book of short stories based on famous fairy tales. Let me start with this: these are NOT for kids. These are as dark (if not more so) than the Grimm Brothers’ versions, and are unflinching in their handling of the subject matter. They’re full of bold, strong women who handle traditional roles in non-traditional fashion. According to Carter, “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” These renditions of Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and others will leave you questioning what you might have missed in some of your other childhood favorites.

Reading is good for you, especially when you read outside of your usual range of authors or subjects. Branch out. Try something new. I hope that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The literary world is rejoicing today at the announcement that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be releasing a sequel this year. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, was actually the first novel written by Lee, but was not initially published. Her editor advised her against the publication of the book, which focused on To Kill a Mockingbird‘s heroine, Scout Finch, as an adult. Instead, flashback scenes of Scout’s childhood were reworked into the classic novel we know. According to initial press, the sequel will follow a now-grown Scout returning home to visit her father, Atticus. July 14th is the current planned release date for Go Set a Watchman, and frankly, I can’t wait to see it.

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in junior high, in Mrs. Crocker’s English class. It’s been far too long since I watched Gregory Peck star in the film adaptation as Atticus. I need to make another trip to Maycomb, Alabama, because it’s tragically clear that the prejudices Lee wrote about in 1960 are just as present today.

I quit my job.

Well, one of my jobs. As many of you are aware, I’ve spent much of the past two years working for a local bookstore in addition to my job at the local public library. For better or for worse, the bookstore and I have parted ways. The time had come, and so I turned in my two weeks notice for the first time at any job I’ve ever held. My official last day is going to be on January 2nd, but as things currently stand, I may have already completed my last shift, dependent on Friday’s as-yet-undetermined schedule.

I’m not certain what 2015 will bring. A lot happened in 2014, both good and bad. I had to say goodbye to far more people than I would have liked, and there have been great periods of painful silence. Still, a great number of positive things have happened too, and I’m hoping to see much more of those things in the future. My life is going to be changing drastically in 2015, and I can’t wait to see what else this year has in store for me.

Neil Gaiman said it best, and so I’ll leave you with this quote.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” -Neil Gaiman
Happy New Year, everyone!

 

No, it hasn’t been a writing day. However, I’m getting caught up on lots of other things today. Paperwork is already done for both “real” jobs. I finished the last of my Christmas shopping (and all of my Christmas shipping) just in time. Everyone else on the list is getting a homemade gift, which is ready to go but requires packaging. That’s just fine, as it can wait until just before the holiday to hand out. There’s still gift wrapping to be done all around, and some finalizing of plans for the day to still take place, but I’m effectively ready for Christmas.

And I went to go get my tires checked, because I’m an adult, and it’s winter, and I’m trying to be somewhat responsible about things. My car is far more content with me now, though, since I bought an outdoor extension cord for the engine block heater. No more cold starts!

I’m rewarding myself by going to see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies and having dinner with forgottenmoon after work, and then maybe drinks at home. Because again. Adult.

December is halfway through, and it has brought with it the special sort of self-imposed hell that comes from working in retail during the holiday season. As such, my writing on here has dwindled to almost nothing but apologies for not having written more. I seem to get to write a lot of those. I don’t like it. Two posts a month is unacceptable.

Thank you, Lemongrab.

Thank you, Lemongrab.

I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It’s not that I didn’t care, because NaNo is another special sort of self-imposed hell, and I’m rather fond of those, or so it would seem. I’ve tried before (and managed upwards of 33,000 words out of the 50,000 goal), and I probably will again, but this was not the time.

A little over a year ago, I introduced a character named Kidd Raven in a short story. Originally designed for a pirate-themed D&D campaign, Kidd Raven quickly took hold in my head as one of the most complex characters I’d ever invented. Now the campaign has stalled a bit, with some of the players moving out of town (and others out of state), and it may be that it only ever continues via something along the lines of Storium. However, when you’ve got a good character, it’s really hard to let go. So, I’m going to be repurposing Kidd Raven, bringing the pirate’s swordsmanship and spellcraft into a non-Wizards of the Coast world. A few changes here and there, obviously, due to copyright issues and whatnot, and this could shape up to be a damn fun adventure. This is new story number one.

New story number two is one that I started on in September, when inspiration struck during Nan Desu Kan. It’s very difficult to come across an image like this and not be driven to write about it.

the-white-door

I mean, look at it. That’s gorgeous. Who’s the figure in the photo? Where does the door lead? That’s new story number two. I like where it’s going so far.

And of course, I plan to continue working on what I consider to be one of my most ambitious projects to date. This one’s a novella, at least in its planned form. I don’t want to say too much more about it right now, but it’s also been in the works for a while. It may or may not make its way here to the blog, whereas the other two stories are slated to appear here for your reading pleasure. In the meantime, I’m working on getting some more short pieces, poems, and reviews up here in the very near future. Thank you all for your continued readership.

There are doors leading through
This and every other life, and we
Cannot see beyond any of them.
All we can do is trust that a door
We have chosen to open leads
To another series of paths and
Choices, neither better nor worse
Than any we have made before.
A maze, perhaps, but one that
We all must tread, no matter the
Twists. Everyone must find their
Own way through it, though we
Might sometimes ask a fellow
Traveler which way they would
Suggest. All we can offer one
Another is advice. We cannot
Lead them down any one path.
If we are lucky, we might have
Companions by our side for a
Part of our journey. We may
Say goodbye along the way,
But if we’re lucky, our paths
Will cross again someday.

Election day has come and gone. I have mixed feelings about the results, but I’m feeling positive for Colorado overall. That’s about as political as I’m going to get here, at least as far as real-world politics go. However, it did get me to thinking about the concept of politics within fictional realms.

Some stories revolve almost entirely around political intrigue. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most prominent examples of this today. With plot details inspired by The War of The Roses, among other things, ASOIAF is filled with characters who live for gain of power and wealth. They don’t care if they have to spy, steal, or murder to achieve it, and no one will stand in there way, neither kings nor innocent children.

Writers like Tom Clancy became famous for writing thrillers inspired by real-world political events, focusing on them in a modern setting. Drug wars, assassinations, and bids for the US presidency serve as the core for Clancy’s books. Events could easily be pulled from headlines and adapted to fit a plot, provided that it be done carefully.

How much sway should politics hold over your story? That’s really up to you. Do you want your piece to become an Author Tract, where it’s little more than a way to express your opinions via fictional characters? That’s okay, it can be done well. Do you want your piece to be critical of existing political systems in the real world? Or would you prefer to establish a new system as a thought experiment?

Frankly, I like the idea of trying all of them on for size, along with things that involve a complex world without getting into politics whatsoever. Developing a somewhat functional political system can be a fun part of world building, but be sure that you don’t let it overwhelm the story.

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