Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: February 2013

There’s an incredible overwhelming
Silence that comes at 3 AM,
After the hum of the television
Dies. When the mind is free
To wander without the distractions
Of the day.

A stillness settles on the world,
Broken only by the soft scratch
Of a pen on paper.

Outside the darkness rests upon
The field of fallen white,
But the wind has passed,
And the storm is at an end,
And the fire is now but embers,
And in the fading light I strive
To make some memory of it all.

February is Library Lovers Month, so I’m going to share a little love for libraries that I found today. Courtesy of the folks over at Daily Infographic, here’s one titled Libraries Are Forever.

libraries-are-forever-972-640x4094

This is my entry for Chuck Wendig’s latest weekly flash fiction challenge, which asked us to write what we know, but with a fictional twist. Here’s “Before the Dawn” for your enjoyment.

My father wakens me before the dawn. I dress myself in the dark, preparing to go to work with skill born of endless days of practice. Within minutes I am ready, and I leave my bedroom to find my father seated at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee before him, a glass of orange juice at the seat next to his. I sit beside him, questioning him about the day ahead of us and what it might bring. He is tired, though he tries not to show it. Work has been hard on him for the past few weeks, more so than normal. It’s harvest season, and it’s nearly over.

I glance out the window and I can see the last traces of the second moon fading as the sun peers across the distant horizon. The red tinge of our world is barely noticeable in the larger cities like Valentine, but out here, Mars is still Mars,  and it still feels like home. My family and I have lived here my whole life, and soon I will come of age, but not yet. I find myself dreaming of Earth sometimes, but I am grateful for the opportunity to be where I am. My mind drifts to what a boy my age on Earth would be thinking as my father tells me that it’s time to go.

We climb into the truck and head north, toward the field that we finished cutting last night. Since the terraforming, wheat has grown better on Mars than it did in the last hundred years or so on Earth. We’ve got almost a thousand acres left to harvest, but our crew is great this year. Two of my uncles, my grandfather, and a small army of cousins will be reaching the field soon, but since it’s one that’s close to our house, Dad and I are the first ones there.

I stretch as I climb out of the truck. A cool breeze is blowing across the stubble, and I think about how wise it was to bring a thermal sweatshirt this morning. Dad is already starting his half of the pre-harvest tasks, preparing the combine for operation. The equipment that we use was manufactured here on Mars, assembled by my grandfather and his brother from pieces that were printed upon their arrival on the planet. It was the only practical way to get the necessary machinery to another world, and it was achieved using Martian minerals. The technique had proven itself on Luna, and had only seen improvement by the time the terraforming process was complete on Mars.

My side of things is relatively simple. As has been my job since I was thirteen, I prepare the grain cart and the tractor that pulls it. I pull our truck alongside the tractor, lining up the fuel tank in the truck’s bed with the  tank on the side of the tractor. Once the fueling is in progress, I grab a grease gun and a rag from one of the tool boxes and begin the hunt for the the various zerks that are found on bearings around the tractor and the auger on the grain cart. Dad likes to tell me that farming has changed very little since he was my age. The only real difference is in location. And a little bit of gravity.  Okay, quite a bit of gravity.

I jump up to the top of the auger, greasing the bearing there before dropping back to the ground. Greasing the grain cart takes about ten more minutes, and the fuel pump clicks off just as I’m finishing up. As I’m wrapping the fuel hose back around the pump, the rest of the harvest crew arrives to service their machines. A swarm of family members pours out of a handful of other pickups, quickly preparing the other four combines, the tractors and grain carts, and the semi trucks that will haul the wheat away.

As the sun rises higher, the crew piles back into their various vehicles to make the move to the next field. We’ve got a fifteen kilometer trip there, so we form up into a convoy with the combines at the front and the pickups at the rear. At the max speed for the combines, it takes us about forty-five minutes. Upon our arrival at the new field, my grandfather takes the lead with his combine, cutting a small swath in the corner of the field where the rest of the vehicles will initially park. Once he’s done, he begins to cut a path through the wheat at the field’s perimeter. My father and uncles and one of my cousins follow suit, taking the next header width in. As my grandfather finishes his first round, the hopper on top of his combine is nearly full. It’s a good sign of the quality of the wheat, a sign of a good yield on a field this size.

Seeing this, I slip my tractor into gear, driving across the stubble to line up with the now-extended auger on the combine, matching my speed to his as the auger begins to feed wheat from the combine into my grain cart. My cousins fall in alongside the other combines, and as each grain cart is slowly filled we peel away to transfer our loads to the semis.  When the semis are in turn filled, other members of the crew will drive them to a storage facility on the outskirts of Valentine, about twenty-five kilometers away. It’s a familiar operation, one we’ve carried out every summer for as long as any of us can remember. We stop in shifts to eat packed lunches in our tractors and combines, and the day goes smoothly. Soon we will have provided a good portion of the wheat necessary for the growing colonies.

Dad calls me over to his combine as the sun begins to set and Phobos and Deimos appear in the sky.

“Good work today, sonny boy,” he says.

I’ll answer your questions, certainly. But I’m going to answer them in the manner that I see fit.

1.) Yes, I’m still alive. I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but would I be able to give this interview if things had ended differently?

2.) No, I’m not going to tell you who I really am. I used a pseudonym on the plane for that very reason.

3.) I love the internet. Just because I’m old doesn’t mean that I can’t use newer technology. The joys of anonymity are numerous. Besides, I responded to your message board post requesting an interview, didn’t I?

4.) Yes, the bills I was given were marked. You think I didn’t expect that? You’d be surprised at how easy it was to get overseas under yet another pseudonym, exchange the marked cash, and move on back in ’71. A few similar swaps with the right contacts, and I was a free (and very wealthy) man. Marked bills serve as one thing. A paper trail. If you know you’re leaving one, it’s easy enough to set a false path. Hell, I started one before I even left the states. $5,800 in marked bills served as a perfect distraction. Took their time finding those, though, didn’t they?

5.) The briefcase didn’t have a real bomb. Again, I’m not that stupid. Even with security standards as they were in the seventies, I wasn’t about to try to take a real bomb onto a plane. I wanted to get money, not hurt people. That stewardess actually gave a surprisingly accurate description, what with the “red cylinders” and whatnot. Good on her. She stayed pretty damn calm the whole time, too. I wonder what ever happened to her. Quite a gal. Shame I couldn’t have let her in on the whole thing, but too many loose ends get real damn complicated real quick. I’d have at least donated a few grand to get her out of the stewardess business, maybe help her get an education or something.

6.) I’m well aware that they’re still looking for me. It’s funny, honestly. Some people had been making me out to be some sort of Robin Hood. What bullshit that was. It was never for anyone’s benefit other than mine, though like I said, I wouldn’t have said no to tossing a stack of cash to that stewardess.

7.) If I’d known how things were going to go, I might have gone about it a bit differently. Picked a different night, tried to find a better route out. I did bang up my leg pretty badly when I landed, but it was nothing I wasn’t prepared for. I didn’t plan to get caught, though, and I didn’t, so that’s pretty good overall.

8.) I suppose that someday I might let a memoir get published, let the feds know how I managed to dodge them for decades, but it’ll be a posthumous thing.  Oh well. I’m not anywhere they’re going to be finding me any time soon. Hell, by the time they realize where I really am, I’ll be dead and the money will be so far beyond their reach that it isn’t even funny.

9.) It seemed like a good idea at the time. Certainly caught the nation’s interest, didn’t it? Big media frenzy over the crazy hijacker, “Oh, he stole so much, how will we ever catch him?” Hmph. I was tired of regular life, see? I thought, as you kids would put it, that I needed to go big or go home.

10.) No, we can’t meet in person. Quite frankly, I’m tired of answering your questions now, so I’m going to go.

Sincerely,

The Real Mr. Cooper

In the dark there’s nothing but me
And my thoughts of what could
Have been,
And my anxiety and fear of what
Will be,
And my desires and my needs
And my tears.
It’s too much for any one person
To bear
But I know that you too carry
The weight
And so
In the dark there’s nothing but me
And silence.

The writing process varies from writer to writer. There are no guarantees that this is what writing is like for you. There are no guarantees that my process even remains the same from one piece to another. However, this is a pretty good breakdown of how most of it goes for me.

1.) Get an idea.

2.) Decide if it’s a short story or if it needs to be a longer piece.

3.) Start writing. Get around two hundred words.

4.) Change narration style. Rewrite initial two hundred words.

5.) Consume caffeine.

6.) Take a break to play video games.

7.) Try to write again. Get fifty or so words down this time.

8.) Eat dinner.

9.) Consume alcohol, usually 1-3 beers or a White Russian.

10.) Lose all track of where I’d been in my writing.

11.) Watch TV instead.

12.) Get new idea. Decide if it needs to be written down tonight, or if it can wait til tomorrow.

13.) Begin again.

“I loved him, and I love him still. I can say those words without regret now. Losing Liam somehow gave me the confidence I needed to say what I should have said three years ago.

“I still remember the day we met. He was radiant, ostensibly searching for a text on medieval literature. I was living a terrible cliché, an aspiring writer working in a small, out-of-the-way bookstore. I knew the book he wanted immediately, and found it for him with minimal effort. He smiled and called me his hero (he told me that he’d checked two other stores first and, like most of our clientele, preferred to give his business to a local store rather than some website) and paid for his book.

“I felt a brief twinge of guilt as I asked him for his ID to run his credit card at checkout. It wasn’t our policy to do so at the time, but I wanted to learn as much about him as I could before he left, possibly never to be seen again. I told myself at that moment that I’d hit the jackpot. Liam Reynolds was six months older than me, and he lived close enough to my store that I could expect to see him come in again. Subtle stalking complete, I handed his license, credit card, and book to him, and wished him a great afternoon. In the wake of his ‘See you soon!’ I was struck giddy by the thought of how green his eyes had been.

“Fast forward a year and Liam and I had gone on three ‘official’ dates. He’d come back to the store once a week to talk with me, planning his visits around my lunch breaks so that we could have more time. He was going to grad school for a master’s degree in literature, something I’d never had the courage to consider since my BA had cost so much and done so little for me. I told him that I’d been interested in him since that first  meeting, and that his stopping by to share a cup of coffee helped me to get through each week. He told me that he’d heard about an unbelievable clerk at my store from a friend who was always looking out for him. He’d come in that first day just to see me…

“I’m sorry… I shouldn’t be crying right now. We were so happy back then. Liam was a hopeless romantic, having spent most of his life at that point looking for but never finding love. When I agreed to go out with him, I was showered with more attention than I knew how to handle. Love notes written in a messy scrawl inside the cover of books he bought for me, flowers, home cooked dinners (always a nice change from my ramen and sandwiches and frozen pizzas). Then we celebrated our first anniversary, and he said he wanted me to meet his parents.

“I panicked. I’d never met a boy willing to take me anywhere near his family, but Liam wrapped his arms around me, kissed me, told me how much he loved me, and made me feel like all was right with the world for the first time since middle school. I was scared because I knew that my parents would never accept Liam the way his welcomed me, and not just because he wasn’t Christian and he had tattoos and a lattice of pale pink scars on the inside of each thigh that no one else had ever seen.

“But I went with him. He gave me courage then, just as he does now. We spent a full week with his parents that summer. I met most of you that week, and I couldn’t believe how willing you were to welcome a complete stranger into your lives, and I can never thank you enough for being for me after…after… No, I’m fine. I’m almost done.

“Liam would have loved to see you all here, celebrating his life. He told me that he wanted this when he died, that he wanted a wake. He said that the idea of a funeral was too depressing, and that he wanted his family and friends to remember the good times. Now I think he’d hoped we’d have been a little older before that happened, but life is like that. You never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

“The last time I saw him, I told him I loved him, and he gave me that Han Solo half smile he would always do, and said ‘I know.’ I think he knew we all loved him, no matter what he’d been through, no matter what we’d managed to say to anyone else. He wasn’t always strong, but he was always strong for me, and now we have to do the same for him. That’s all I have to say, other than this. I loved him, and I love him still.”

Some time back, I’d mentioned that I was looking forward to the eventual release of J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. Turns out I had very good reason to be excited. I wrapped up the final chapters of the book about an hour ago, and I have not felt such a powerful emotional response to a book in a long time. Bittersweet is the best word to describe it, but then, the novel is set in a far more realistic world than Rowling’s other works.

Rowling’s novel is set in the fictional town of Pagford, a seemingly ideal English village where a seat on the local parish council is the highest life achievement to which many aspire. The parish council is about to deal with several major issues, including a low-income housing development that tarnishes Pagford’s image (The Fields) and a local addiction clinic with a questionable success rate, called Bellchapel. Due to a deadlocked council, it seems that neither problem will be sufficiently resolved when the unthinkable occurs.

On his wedding anniversary, Barry Fairbrother, parish council member and longtime supporter of the Fields and Bellchapel, suffers a brain aneurysm and dies, leaving his seat on the council open in a casual vacancy. The story is primarily character driven, with reactions to Barry’s death serving as motivation for most. In the wake of Barry’s passing, Pagford splits into three main groups. We are privy to the perspectives of the pro-Fielders and their staunch opponents as well as the teenagers who are caught up in the conflict. Barry’s death means that an election will have to be held to fill his seat on the council, and each side strives to arrange for someone who shares their views to be appointed. The buildup to the election sends ripples through the community, as no one is fully prepared for the revelations that will rise to the surface. Unrequited love, racism, drug addiction, teen sex, and dirty politics are only the beginning in this unflinching look at small towns and modern life. Narrative shifts from character to character in a manner akin to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, allowing Rowling to place us inside the heads of girls who are being bullied at school, heroin addicts who are being threatened with the loss of their children, corrupt businessmen who live with the constant fear of being caught, and more. Barry’s death shatters the veneer of Pagford, and life there will never be the same.

Rowling’s book is a drastic departure from her earlier writing, and I have to say that it’s a great step for her. Whether she continues along similar lines in future books is uncertain, but she has crafted a wonderful exploration of the sides of humanity that many writers are afraid to examine. The Casual Vacancy is intense, and certainly not for the faint of heart, but I loved it. It’s a damn good novel. I would highly recommend that you give it a read, but be aware that, like life, it’s rarely pretty.

Pictured: A wonderful representation of the town of Pagford. Seemingly uninteresting but hiding one hell of a story.

Pictured: A wonderful representation of the town of Pagford. Seemingly uninteresting, but hiding one hell of a story.