Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Whole New World

Here's comedian Julie Nolke doing a clever video about Da 'Rona:



She does a few other clever "future self" talking to her older self videos.  They're pretty great.

I'll pause here so you can look them up.

It's pretty wild how six months have changed the world.  Nothing seems the same.  Nothing seems quite right.

Some conversations with my family have ventured guesses about what the future may look like: the waning playgrounds, the bankruptcy of big-box movie theaters, the lesser number of small businesses.  I have no idea if any of this will be true in the future.

What I am going to venture to guess about is the world of books and writing.

In the last twenty years, the written word and the publishing business have evolved.

Getting into the traditional publishing business has become more cutthroat.  Print books and bookstores are slowly declining.  Online publishing is increasing.  Self-publishing has increased.  Authors need to learn marketing and business to promote themselves and their work.

In the last six months, the written word and publishing have changed more.  In the Corona isolation, people have been reading more.  The long-term effects of isolation and political upheaval may affect our world of writing in ways we cannot foresee.

I am not really sure what this means for us writers and the written word, but here are a few guesses:
  1. More entertainment and genre fiction.  People might be reading more, but they are reading to escape.  Easy reading, fun times.
  2. Less "speculative" and experimental fiction.  We have too much real-life drama going on.  Who wants to be challenged in fiction?  That stuff is scary.
  3. More ebooks.  E-reading means that people don't have to come in contact with anyone at the library or the bookstore.  No worries of social-distancing or even offending people if the cover of your romance has a scantily-clad white man with a white German shepherd on the cover.  And if a library burns down, will anyone miss it?
  4. Less libraries and printed books.  That stuff costs money.  Besides, environmentally conscious people might take offense to printed books in the future. 
I am a writer of primarily speculative and experimental fiction (I have tried my hand at romance, but this makes me a little chagrined to admit), and this concerns me.

Will readers in the future demand an easier, more electronic, more entertaining book?

Will that change what any of us write?  Do we want it to?

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Tiger Lilies

It has been hard for me to concentrate lately, my friends. I mean, my mind is normally just one shiny object away from going completely off track but the state of things of late has left me adrift. It's not that I don't want to write. I truly do. Rather, it's that there are too many things teasing away my concentration. There are too many things that I want and need to put to paper (figuratively speaking) that I just can't focus on any one of them.

Yet, I cannot let my mind wander aimlessly like this forever. I must calm the storm, as it were, and alight on a single subject. It being Father's Day I have decided that this is a good place to start. I would like to tell you all of the man that was my father.

It has been almost a year now since my father passed away. He died on August 19th in the wee hours of the morning in a run down nursing home on the east side of Indianapolis. It had been ten days since we first took him to the hospital until that final moment - a victim a failing heart. I don't know what I expected the end of his life to be, but I suppose I imagined something...more dignified. Not to slip away plugged into an oxygen machine set on full, desperately trying to force oxygen into your body. And yet...this was his end.

He deserved better.

My father was an Eastsider man and boy. Save for a brief time when Uncle Sam called him to service during the Vietnam War, he remained a scion of Indianapolis to the last. A graduate of Arsenal Technical High School and IUPUI he was on the forefront of computer programming. These were the days of punch cards and main frames the size of a city bus that had less computing power than my phone. I remember many nights when he would get the call to come and fix an error in the "code" (do punch cards count as code?) when the company would run its inventory and accounting. He always answered the call no matter what the time and stayed for as long as it took to make the thing go. It was only after 40 years and light years of change in the computer industry that he powered off his mouse and left the building for good.

He was a man of passions. Golf was chief among these. There was not a time when he was not considering playing a round. It was only thunderstorms and blizzards that kept him away, though I suspect he would have braved even those if he could. My mother used to tell the story that my dad was out golfing the day I was born. This was in a time before they let fathers in the delivery room, so it can be forgiven.

Now, when I was 11, I declared my intention to learn to play golf. It wasn't so much that I wanted to be like all the other members in my family as much as it was that I didn't want to babysit my little sister anymore while they were all away golfing. This was particularly true on our summer vacations to Michigan. However, it turns out that I am truly terrible at golf. I was so awful at it that is was painful for others to watch me try to play. My father, though, would come back from playing 18 with my relatives and then take me out to a small 9 hole course nearby to let me play. Oh, he would get aggravated with me and repeat the constant refrain of, "Keep your head down." but he would always take me out.

Fishing was another of his endeavors. Nearly every Saturday in any given summer would find us at the Mallory Conservation Club since I was the age of five. Now, at that age, I was mostly interested in chasing frogs and blowing bubbles in the water through the hollow bit of my bamboo pole, but he brought me (and later my sister) there week after week. I also remember always wanting to pluck a water lily flower for my mother. These were at the back of the pond and were notoriously difficult should your hook get entangled in the stems. Yet, he would row me back there at least once or twice in June and July to get some blooms for her.

He never told us out loud that he loved us. Men of his generation did not do such things. Yet, it was in his actions that we knew that he did. It wasn't just the golf and the fishing, but also the band concerts and academic awards "dinners" that he attended even though I am certain he would have rather been anywhere else. It was through these acts that we knew he loved us and it is these things that I will remember of him the most.

Father's Day comes at the same time of year that tiger lilies bloom. My father always told me that he liked these flowers more than any other. He would ask me year after year what they were called knowing that I knew of such things. And now, whenever I see them growing in the roadside ditches or in clumps in old fashioned gardens, I smile and wipe the tears from my eyes thinking of the good man that was my father.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Kindling


Growing up in Southeast Alaska, my Dad’s house was heated by a wood-burning stove.  

We mostly burned logs that would wash up on shore.  We cut the logs into rounds and loaded the rounds in the back of Dad’s truck to take home. Through out the week, we would split the rounds down and pack the split wood into the woodshed to dry.  This was an ongoing process throughout the late spring through early fall.  The goal was to have the woodshed filled by October.  

Part of my childhood chores was to start the fire in the stove when I got home from school.  I was always the first one home, and my Dad wanted the stove to be burning hot when he got home from work.  

So at the age of 8 years old, that’s what I did each day when I got off the school bus.  

Another part of my childhood chores was splinting kindling.  Every weekend I would split enough kindling to last us through the week. 

This lasted from the age of 8 until I moved out after high school.  

We had a large wood round on the back porch that I would use to split kindling.  It stood about waist high.  My axe was always right next to the round ready for me to use.  Each weekend I would go out to the woodshed, find chunks of dry firewood with straight grains to split kindling.  Red cedar always made the best kindling and it was the easiest to split.  

Living in the Midwest now.  When I tell people about how we used red cedar to burn to heat our house, they cringe with disbelief.  

Red Cedar is everywhere in Southeast Alaska.  And yes people use it to heat their house--other evergreens, too. Hemlock was the best…my Dad’s preference.

Firewood was part of my childhood.  I loved it and I hated it at times.  

After high school I moved to Seattle.  I would come home in the summers to work.   One week during my first summer back, my Dad and I had the house to our selves. The rest of the family was out of town visiting other family.  So it was just my Dad and I batching it.  This meant we mostly ate steak for dinner or just snacked on smoked salmon.  Let the dishes pile up.  

I came home from work late one night.  It was about 8pm.  I parked and walked around the back deck knowing that my Dad was probably out back or out in his workshop.  As I turned the corner to the back porch, I stopped in my tracks.
  
The large wood splitting round that I used to split kindling was covered in blood.  My first thought was, “What the hell.  Why is Dad cleaning a fish on the splitting round.”  Then I looked down at the deck.  Blood everywhere.  It looked like a scene out of a horror slasher movie.  Splattered all over.
  
There was a trail of blood going towards the back door of the house.  I followed.  Inside was more blood on the kitchen floor.  The trail continued onto the carpet through the living room.  It turned down the hall.  The blood trail continued down the hall.  It turned again into the bathroom.  More pools of blood on the bathroom floor, counter top and sink. What the hell happened was all I could think as I started calling out, “DAD!”

I ran down the hall to my parent’s bedroom yelling, “Dad!” the whole time.  He wasn’t there.  Ran down the hall back into the living room hoping he was lying on the couch.  Nope, no Dad.  I went to other bathroom yelling, “Dad, where are you?”  He wasn’t in the second bathroom.  I looked out the bathroom window that looks out onto the drive checking to see if his truck was still there.  It was.  

By now, I was freaked out. 

I went out to the back deck and yelled out, “Dad, where are you?”  Just as the words left my mouth, I see my Dad come walking out of his workshop, yelling, “Here I am,” and waving his left arm, which was wrapped in a white towel with red blood blotches seeping through where his hand was inside the towel. A cold Rainier beer was his other hand.

He took a swig of beer and came walking down the stairs from his workshop, and I asked what the hell happened.  

He explained that he was splitting some kindling so that he could make a fire in his workshop.  His hand slipped just before the axe hit the wood and his left thumb took the hit from the axe.  He said he wasn’t sure how bad the injury was, and that he couldn’t feel his thumb.  

I asked, “Why haven’t you gone to the hospital yet?”

He replied, “It’s fine. It will be O.K.  Besides I’ve had a few beers and shouldn’t be driving.  So I’ve been waiting for you to get home.”

“How many beers?” I asked.
  
“Two before the accident, three or so after… I don’t know for sure,” he said.  

“How long ago did this happen?” I asked.

“I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes ago,” my Dad said.

I told him we had to go to the hospital.

He was not in a hurry. I think he was a bit embarrassed. He wanted to finish his beer so he downed it.   He grabbed another one and said, “I need one for the road.  Let’s go.”


We drove to the hospital. Dad was feeling good from the beer and adrenaline in his system.  He would laugh now and then, calling his left hand nubby.  

We got to the hospital and checked him in at the ER. Dad told the nurse that he had a nub for them to look at.  The doctor stitched him up and checked for nerve damage.  
He, and his thumb, survived the accident.  He has a little nerve damage but it doesn’t seem to bother him. 

20 some years later, he still has a light scar on his left thumb, and me to remind him of his lack of focus.

Photos by Dad Dyakanoff 




Saturday, June 6, 2020

The River of Sacrifice

I am told where the desert joins the sky, the river is borne from the snowmelt of Mó-ha-loh. The water is cool and desirable as it ripples over hard stones of the Red Willows, bathes the root of marshes, freshens the skin of the cracked desert, and cedes to the Rio Grande in the bed of the canyon.

--------------------

He leads me to the marsh with his hand in mine; a hand he says I should not hold.
“My hand is only to take me from the watchful pueblo.
Come undress me, two-spirit, with the stars by the river.”

He gives me a drink that he cups with his hands; a drink he says I should not taste.
“The water is only to quench my searing thirst.
Come drench me, two-spirit, with the rain by the river.”

He touches my lips that he found with his own; a kiss he says I should not linger.
“The kiss is only to stifle my smoldering fire.
Come douse me, two-spirit, with the snow bed by the river.”

He blends his flesh and heat with mine; a communion he says I should not destine.
“My body holds captive a restless spirit.
Come release me, two-spirit, with the windstorm by the river.”

He settles my head on his drum beat chest; a song he says I should not hear.
“My heart belongs to one high elder’s flower.
Come abide me, two-spirit, with the shadows by the river.”

--------------------

He calls to me from his house of rooms; a home he aches to part.
“My wealth is burdened by nettled secrets.
Please welcome me, two-spirit, to the river of old!”

I dry his face with my trembling hand; a hand both bare and aged.
“You offer me only the shelter of night; no blessings beyond the dawn.
Do you pine for the love of me, one-spirit; or want for the river alone?”

--------------------

He leads me through the nights with his hand in mine; a hand I wish I could hold.
His hand only steals him from his pueblo house...
and leaves me with the break of dawn by the river, alone.

--------------------

I am asked by signs as I wander the homes of spirits to not touch the sacred water of Mó-ha-loh. The water is vital and faithfully serves the pueblo as it ripples over hard stones of the Red Willows and succours the marsh root, soothes the bare-boned desert's scorch, and bids the will of the Rio Grande in the canyon's deep swallow.


Photo is the property of Randall S. Wireman

Monday, May 25, 2020

Flower Boxes and Hummingbirds

These are strange times.

Every time I try to think about society and politics and the economy, I'm glad that I don't really need to consider any of these things very much.  Lately, I have been going out to dig in the dirt.

Gardening is a new thing for me.  With lots of help from my parents and my husband, two new planter boxes sit in our back yard.  I'm practical.  One has seedlings for vegetables--I insisted on this.  I watch for tomatoes and beans to sprout so we can cook them for dinner.


The other planter box is very intentional and impractical.  My grandmother moved into an assisted living home last fall, and before she moved out of her home, we went and dug irises and mums and peonies and lilies out of her yard.  Now, they live in the planter box in our backyard.


I didn't have high hopes, but the irises are incredible and everything else seems to be loving the Indiana spring.  This week, I sent pictures of the deep purple irises, and another is two-toned with deep purple and light blue.

After sending pictures to my grandma, we talked about gardening and flowers, but Saturday, we got to talking about hummingbirds.  I know she's glad to see the pictures of the irises I send her, but she misses watching the flowers and birds in her garden and back deck.

This made me remember an essay about hummingbirds.  I really enjoyed the essay--I used this essay back when I taught.  I went back to read the essay, and it is both sweeter and sadder than I remember it:
 Joyas Volardores by Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle died three years ago.  I didn't know that.  I do know that this beautiful little essay touched my heart.  Even today, when my grandmother mentioned hummingbirds, the words of this essay, "So much held in a heart in a lifetime.  So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment" echoes with me.

It's funny and strange how a brief conversation about hummingbirds can trigger a memory about an essay I haven't read in years.

That's the lovely and wonderful and universal memory in great writing.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Social Distancing





Covid-19.  What is it and what does it do?

I’m over it.  

Scientifically, yeah, it’s interesting.  To me, I find the social effects that this virus has created more interesting.

Bottom line, the current situation that we are in sucks. 

The virus/shuts downs have not effected employment much for my wife and me.  She has been working from home most of the time.  And I go into work as normal.  
No issues with traffic any more.  And going to the store is super interesting to me.  
I kinda like not having to deal with people anyway.  

Yesterday was the first day that I was really upset by the virus.  

My wife and I have been spending a lot of time with her parents on the weekends.  Her parents have been retired for about a year now. Both are very active in traveling to see family/friends across the US.  They have had to postpone their travels because of the Virus.   

So we have been taking her father out hiking and showing him some of Indiana’s hidden features.  

He’s a very active man and he is really enjoying the exercise on our hikes.  But I think he really enjoys spending time together more than anything.  

We have been telling him about Shades State Park for some time now.   It’s one of our favorite state parks and we usually visit the park a few times a year.  

Yesterday, we decided to make the drive to Shades State Park.  It was a beautiful sunny day, low 50s.  We were ready to go explore and hike.

When we got to the park entrance, signs all over the gate house said Covid-19 this Covid-19 that.  No camping due to Covid-19.  

Due to Covid-19, only Trail 6 and 9 are open for hiking.  

You have got to be kidding me. 

I knew that camping was shut down, but shutting down trail systems?  They left the two simplest and shortest trails open to the public.  

It didn’t make any rational logic to me.  Social distancing.  What does it even mean?  

I was very upset yesterday.   Sure, Social Distancing is important.  Close all the trails down but leave two of them open, forcing park visitors to only use those two open trails.  Funnel all the visitors into the one area of the park.   

We did hike the 2 short trails that were open at Shades Park.  

We left Shades and made the 10-mile drive west, to Turkey Run State park.  Hoping that at least one of the open trails at Turkey Run would be a longer, harder trail.  But no. Only the simplest and shortest trails were open.   And there were a lot of people at Turkey Run.  So we left.  

We then made a 40-minute drive northwest to go hike at the Portland Arch Nature Preserve.  

And this time, no trail closures.  

The Portland Arch is Indiana’s only naturally formed stone arch.  

The park has two trail systems.  We hiked both.  

Between the 3 parks that we visited yesterday, we hiked about 6.5 miles.  Not a bad day.  

The pictures below are from yesterday’s adventures.   


Sugar Creek

Virgin BlueBell 

Built in cable

under the arch

Big Rock



Sunday, March 22, 2020

Writers are Socially Distanced and Some Frankenstein

Last weekend, I was supposed to attend the MWW Agent Fest in Muncie, IN.  Of course, this, like so many events, has been postponed until further notice.

Our fiction writing group, too, has gone virtual.

I've been working from home, enjoying the life of my cats, alternating my sweat pants and drinking lots of tea but also working long and undefined hours of work.  Not seeing many people aside from my husband is a lovely break from the typical stress and chaos of my normal life.

On the other hand, I am like many other writers.  Introverted.  Withdrawn.  Not open about my writing or myself.  This silly social distancing is lovely--but I want more time in front of my laptop and with a book.  But this is never different.

These are strange times.  I'm making the most of this (I don't watch much news, so I don't get too upset by any of this), so although I suspect I am becoming more withdrawn and introverted, this feels like a lovely vacation with lots of work.

Anyway, because of my anticipated trip to the Agent Fest and hopeful rescheduled conference, I have been reworking and revising my Frank and Gala stories.

I'm posting my pitch here:

Pitch for Frank and Gala 
There's nothing new under the sun, right?

This is another Dr. Frankenstein story.  Sort of.

Dr. Frankenstein--Dr. David Levison--moves to small-town, southern Minnesota.  He teaches at the local university in the engineering department, and he brings large grants from out East somewhere.  

He is strange.  He is a mystery.

We, the town of Winona, start to talk about Dr. Levison when he starts to do really odd things.  He engineers the introduction of a woman into town.  And we, the local people, spread lots of rumors about Dr. Levison and Sherry, his unexpected monster.

Dr. Levison tells people that Sherry is his perfect woman.  He created her.  Like Pygmalion crafted his perfect woman, Dr. Levison claims he formed Sherry to be his perfect companion.

So we start calling her Galatea, and of course, we call him Dr. Frankenstein.

We tell stories about them.  Some people think she is a robot, and some people think she is a lobtomized metal patient because something is weird about her.  Very off.  She is very beautiful but not right.

These are the stories of Frank and Gala, otherwise known as Dr. David Levison and Sherry.   The stories spread like small pox in county school.  We tell about what happens to them in our little town of Winona and how Dr. Levison's experiment is much worse than we could have imagined, much more devious than we thought.
Any thoughts or comments?  Want to read this?

Feedback?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Antecedent: Gold Hill and Virginia City, Part II

The house was furnished with matching sofa and two chairs, kitchen table, four lamps, some uninteresting paintings of potted flowers, and two single bedroom chambers, and one master bed chamber. Lillian was not happy with the color of the furniture (an unfortunate shade of muddy green), but she was clearly satisfied with the house’s size and condition overall. She wanted to waste no time in finishing the homemaking, eager to shop the stores in the city for supplies and grains, so made a list on the back of an unused Chicago postcard of what she needed.

After a quick lunch of smoked ham and fresh coffee at the house (purchased almost immediately upon arrival to Virginia City), the family left for ‘C’ Street to do purchase the items. The strangely graded blocks of Virginia City took some getting used to and would soon make fit anyone who took to them on a daily basis, if inhaling the gritty smoke could be avoided. Roads were clear, yet icy in places. Thankfully, Virginia City had excellent boardwalks along C Street -- though walking them demanded patience due to the overcrowding. Alastair had never seen such a mixing of classes participating so openly together and consuming from the same hands – the same stores -- as if everyone were equal in wealth and education. English, Cornish, and Irish miners were sharing the same air? Miraculous! And, they were courteous towards each other -- or, so it seemed. He was told the Cornish kept to themselves -- but Alastair clearly heard Breton. A validation of both the isolation of Virginia City and evidence to the odd functionality of this strange American culture and their homogenization experiment was all around him. This was liberty; in all its forms.

Indeed, isolation gave everyone a significant role in the maintenance of civility no matter the trade. Alastair was surprised to find such an array of commerce on a single street: lawyer offices, banks, hotels, grocers, restaurants, saloons, fabric and dressing shops, and assayers – all plying their trade practically on top of the other, each commanding attention with large, often gaudy, advertisements and paid street reciters. Lillian laughed at it all –shook her head at the silliness as if she were watching a circus. The children, too, took it all in as something close to magical. So much that Alastair realized within the first hour that his arms were going to be numb by evening with all the tugging Seán and Evelyn did to get his attention of a ridiculous or marvelous sight.

However, both Alastair and Lillian had to apologize profusely to three elderly Chinese women loading a small cart with bags of grain -- for Evelyn’s probing questions and yes; even her touching their faces.

“You understand, she has never had the privilege of meeting someone like you women.” an embarrassed Lillian appeased. “From China? Yes?” though no response was received.

“Can I help you finish loading your items?” Alastair had offered; and the women appeared to have not understood Alastair’s offer and finished loading their cart without aid.

“You're lucky Evie they didn’t load you up with them.” Seán teased Evelyn, who then gave it some thought and ran to her mother’s safety.

“And you’ll be lucky if I don’t pay them a small fee to carry you off.” Lillian scolded her son.

 Alastair was impressed, too, with the selection of fine suits and gold and silver watches available; luxuries that one would least think would be available in such a barren wasteland. Norman Jacob was one particular Jeweler whose silver timekeepers were as fine as any he had seen in Chicago. While in the shop, Alastair found it easy to forget that he was not in a real city.

They spent the entire chilly afternoon on C Street, sightseeing and shopping. Though Lillian said hardly a word as the day progressed, Alastair assumed that she was equally surprised by the number of fabrics and grocers and general merchandise shops available to her. She certainly bought a number of items for the new home – linens, pots and pans, window dressings, three Knapp’s joint dressers, bed pans – anything she could think of as she examined wall after wall of hanging merchandise. The rest, she said, she would order through catalogue.

Much to Lillian’s frustration, Evelyn felt it was her duty to greet every food vendor they passed, and – unable to say no – Alastair paid for whatever fancy Seán and Evelyn wanted: mussels, corn-on-the-cob, and pork. (Evelyn spit out the mussel.) Evelyn kept her parents and brother busy looking for clean cloth to wipe her sticky hands and face. However, Lillian’s patience drained when Evelyn made quite the scene outside a small Confectioner’s; a scene so attention grabbing that Seán had to beg his mother to allow him to hold Evelyn’s hand to barter off a threatened return to the house. Evelyn sobbed for two blocks, so when Lillian and Alastair went inside Whitman’s General (and with a nod of approval from Alastair), Seán ran back to the Confectioner’s and bought Evelyn a bag of chocolate. Evelyn insisted on holding it. Lillian never discovered the transaction, for the chocolate was lost between Whitman’s and their visit to Lorraine Sisters Dress and Fabrique.

By mid-afternoon, the sun had hidden behind Mt. Davidson incredibly early and blanketed Virginia City with a dark and devilish chill. This was due to the height of Mt. Davidson as it stole the sun and cast its shadow over the eastern slope too soon. Alastair was quite surprised at the instant shadow fall; yet, no one seemed fazed by it in the slightest. He then insisted that they have dinner at one of the finer restaurants and get into warmer environs. A Jeweler suggested the International Hotel near the Piper’s Opera House. Lillian said they were not dressed for such “an event”; yet, Alastair talked her into it. The dinner was marvelous and as good as anything in Chicago – or so thought Alastair. Lillian’s mood changed for the worse when Seán, who was especially fond of the lamb chops with crabapple, had made the mistake in asking his mother if she could make her next lamb chops the same way, “… And not quite sour and tart as your jelly.” The table went silent, momentarily.

“Sour and tart, eh?” She looked as if to reason the thought as Alastair set his napkin down. “Tell you what, Lad; why don’t you plan, pluck, and pot the family’s meals for the rest of the month if you so wish to further dictate how to run my kitchen.”

No doubt, an unsettling thought in everyone’s mind, including Lillian’s, for she returned to cutting the lamb in small pieces for Evelyn and changed the subject just as efficiently.

After dinner, Alastair asked the English concierge the best way to get to St Mary’s where he could register his family. Alastair did not appreciate how the man answered. He thought the reply quite snobbish as the concierge had pointed out the window at nothing in particular and then nipped as he turned to leave that they should “find you a carriage.” An expected response from an Englishman, thought Alastair, of his wife’s Catholicism? So in defiance, Alastair suggested to his family that they find their own way to the church that he was told by a pedestrian was just south of D Street. Yet, when they crossed the street and began walking past the coach station, the concierge from the International Hotel came sliding down the alley, hollering out at them to stop and even lunging at Alastair’s arm. Out of breath, he warned Alastair that it was not safe to take his family onto that particular area in the evening -- indeed not at any time, for he would be taking his family very near the ‘vagrant villages’ and to a place where ‘soiled doves’ plied their trade.

Soiled doves?

Needless to say, Alastair hailed a carriage and ended their first day in Virginia City registering at St. Mary’s -- and meeting a dozen fine citizens and a quick tour of the orphanage.

Overall, Alastair thought they had a marvelous experience, and his family’s stay would be just one of many great adventures! Until, of course…

“Oh my Lord! The water it’s...it’s.... Alastair Fell! This water is atrocious!”

And, of course that following Sunday morning when the vigilantes hung that poor fellow from the Piper’s rafters and shot a dozen holes into him; perhaps a bit of kindness on their part to allow his soul to escape with ease.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Antecedent: Gold Hill and Virginia City, Part I

Good Day, Fiction Forge Indy Followers
I am still writing my Western that I had mentioned in a couple of posts (see B Street, Virginia City, NV). I am providing a chapter that is written in the form of a Preface, of sorts, although the story is well on its way by the time this chapter comes along (hence, the Antecedent). Please feel free to comment! Here is Part 1 of a two-parter:
Antecedent: Gold Hill and Virginia City, February 1871
He should have known of her unhappiness by the time they left the valley. As if the fear of stage coach robberies from Reno to Carson City were not unsettling enough, the railroad trip up to Gold Hill was one of fright and torture. The Virginia and Truckee rail from Carson City to Virginia City ascended too quickly for their likes and hugged too closely the sides of the mountain as it rocked its passengers back and forth as they circled up the slope. Of course, the newly laid track was far worse than any they had experienced since Salt Lake City. Rolling up along the edge of this barren land made the rails feel less secure and the steaming iron horse's endeavor to stay on it questionable.
“Did little boys lay down this foolish path? With their toy train set?” Lillian exclaimed holding on, of all things, to her hat.
She had a fair analogy. But, to Alastair, what was worse than the crooked railway that seemed to circle back upon itself and its frightening tunnels (Evelyn screaming as they entered everyone one of them); the environs of this desolate state left Alastair feeling uninspired and questioning his own judgement in removing his family westward from their safe and most civilized home in Chicago. Nevada was primitive, stark, and rugged; the vagueness unnecessarily absolute. Miles of depressing stumps of what looked to be once a mighty forest dotted the hills like grave markers. Abandoned mines and their pilings looked like giant ant hills, and derelict  shacks that wouldn’t have been fit to be outhouses had coal smoke billowing from their thin furnace pipes. With each pull of the train engine up the moonscape that was Mt. Davidson, Alastair felt a foreboding of what awaited them at the summit in a town strangely called Virginia. 
“Oh, why couldn’t we have stayed in Carran’s City?” Lillian mumbled.
“Carson City.” he corrected her with a grin. She didn’t hear him -- or she effectively ignored him. 
More tester mines. More shacks. More turns of the rail and looking away from the window. But, he couldn’t for long. He could now see for dozens of miles out below. For as primitive as this high desert appeared, the entire area had been disturbed and extracted and trekked upon. The upturned land made it all too real that symbolism of Man’s nightmarish industrious nature and ingenuity to cut, saw, erect, dig, extract, discard, and forever exhaust anything that lies in the path of Man’s greed. The wasteland all around made for want of a restart; a re-seeding of nature -- to correct a wrong and heal an open wound with the salve of nature’s green or the scrubbing by a thunderstorm. Nevada was want for recovery with deep, meandering rivers and wetlands, green broad leaves, or even tall prairie grasses and landscapes which were alive and horizontal and near sea level and...normal. Even the Washoe Lake was too thin, too fragile to be considered a true oasis. And, what of that giant lake he had been told about, Lake Bigler? “The cleanest, clearest, deepest water in the West” that could rival a Great Lake? Such a place sounded unreal to him and more a fable than fact.
“I can see right down to the bottom, Dad!” Seán had exclaimed in a wheeze; his asthma not quite going away since the night before, but thankfully, not getting worse.
Alastair was more astonished than amused when looking down at the Washoe as the sun’s reflection broke near the shore. “Most unfortunate.” He acknowledged, gently patting his son’s back. “No doubt, it dries up in summer.” For, what could keep it from soaking into the thirsty desert, or subliming to the ether?
“Dad. I hope we don’t roll off the edge. I can’t see the  --”
“Seán. Sweetheart.” Alastair warned and then whispered into his ear, “Best not get your Mum and sister --”
“Dad, please. Don't call me sweetheart. We're in public. Oh no, look Dad. Another tunnel.”
Another ear-shattering scream from Evelyn. Alastair closed his eyes and hoped this was the last of the tunnels. “Oh, this is a nightmare!” Lillian exclaimed, pulling Evelyn onto her lap and bracing her and sinking further into her seat.
Yet, Alastair was just as spooked as her. Did she not see it? They all more or less held their breaths for the fifteen mile trek. Did she look at him at all?
No. She's questioning my soundness.
And, so was he. Only when the buildings of Gold Hill and its working mines and buildings of commerce and the dozens of house rooftops came into view did they relax.
“So, we’ve reached an end?" Lillian exclaimed, "And not our end? The boys must have used up all of their tracks." She stretched to look out the window for the first time. "Please tell me we’re able to walk the rest of the way.”
Unfortunately not. They had to transfer to a carriage that would take them from Gold Hill to Virginia City, “… Just over the Divide. Ain’t long.” claimed one of the brakemen before he poured himself some coffee from a pot set up at the station.
"I bet he's got himself a fine pot of salted pork and beans." Lillian scorned, more to herself.
"Lil. We've made it. Look at all of this amazing stuff!"
"Amazing you say? Huh. The only thing amazing is that we survived this preposterous ride. You know what they say: Tis a long road that has no turning. I had so many turns on this iron horse that I long to be dragged through the straight and narrow. And now we have some divide to get over?"
Lillian’s concern must have grown with every block as she no doubt expected to bear the burden of yet another great expanse of emptiness between the two cities on some divide. Certainly, Alastair was concerned for her. Yet, no such expanse came as they discovered the Gold Hill scene was repeated with one-bit saloons and stamping ore mills and beer fermenters with their burnt barley and smoke stinging the eyes -- all cuddling the same mountain slope and blurring the two cities into one.
“Stinky.” Evelyn remarked, holding her mitten over her nose. 
“It’s the lager.” Seán explained, his eyes glued on the scenes passing by at a steady rate.
“Like Dad’s wiver.”
“Canal.” Seán corrected her as he wiped the fog from his window and watched in amazement the wondrous industrial municipality of a kind he did not seen since Chicago. Alastair took note of his son’s excitement, for he shared his curiosity and awe at the steam-laden, noise-riddled commotion. This place was, indeed, terrible - but terribly fantastic, just the same!
The carriage now made frequent stops due to the traffic and often without warning, hurling the family and personal belongings into the other’s knees and laps and Lillian’s huffing and puffing grew louder -- until it fell silent, having sunk into the simmering cauldron of one of Lillian’s moods that Alastair and, no doubt, Seán understood quite well. Thankfully, one of those stops lasted a good fifteen minutes giving everyone time to recuperate, and the family had nothing to do but listen in on conversations outside the carriage and hear the constant booms of the stamping mills echoing in the valley mountain as both Alastair and Seán rubbed the glass regularly of breath fog to catch a face or a passing carriage and to try to guess if the odd looking ‘bridge’ they could just see north of them was actually...finished and usable.
“Let’s hope not.” Seán declared as he stretched in his seat to look for any evidence. 
Despite the clatter and noise of the mining town, Evelyn had no trouble falling asleep on Lillian’s lap as Lillian trailed her fingers through her hair and Lillian, herself, had closed her eyes and slumped into the corner of her seat. Yet, far from being sedated or bored, Alastair and Seán watched in awe as a train engine suddenly took to that tallest and flimsiest looking wooden trestle over the small, yet perspectively deep valley to Virginia City.
“Incredible!” Alastair exclaimed.  It was a good thing, he added, that passenger trains were not allowed to take it. “Who could do so without fainting? Lillian!” Alastair, in his momentary lapse of judgement, nudged Lillian awake from her doldrums. “You must see this. What’s your best guess as to its height?”
Lillian shushed him and waved the whole scene off; not even bothering to open her eyes. “Salted pork and beans.” She mumbled; a curse of hers since Omaha, spurred by the terrible food served at the watering stations along the way; a curse that lost its meaning except to say: Nothing is worth this misery...nothing could be better than Chicago.
“Please, Lil. Let’s not judge our destination too quickly. I mean… ,” Alastair’s attention returned to the window, “out of nowhere, there’s a thriving… magnificent city of amazing industry.”
“And saloons.” Seán added with a wink at his dad who did not appreciate the addition.
“Oh dear God, help us all.” Lillian responded, ungluing Alastair and Seán from their trestle fascination and raising some concern for a few moments before he and Seán returned to their study of Man’s latest accomplishments.
As the carriage jutted forward once again was on the move, Alastair overheard two men crossing the street just then that an arsonist was terrorizing the cities. And by the looks of the new construction, he could easily see how a loose flame could render everything back to ash. Did they worry about landslides, too? Many of the houses coming into view were perched on slopes and one or two stories facing the street, yet actually built to three or four stories higher on the backside of the drop! One would think a single, unsound footing could send a house collapsing down the slope and into another. Terrifying heights all around. 
Seán, momentarily forgetting his mother hated everything about this move to Nevada, grabbed his mother on the knee to get her to witness this bizarre American town. Lillian slapped his hand away, but even she gave in and looked out. She shook her head in disbelief and seemed genuinely perplexed. But after a few traffic stops, she gave up looking out altogether, preferring to bury herself in a week’s old Omaha newspaper, the last of a stack of newspapers that she had already read on the train as they were crossing the continent.
However the nuisances of that bizarre stretch of Gold Hill and Virginia City, Lillian’s mood changed for the better once they came to their new house on a street called ‘B’. A white, two-story sat alone on the corner and seemed to have only a blacksmith shop and butcher’s across the street as well as a livery stable to share the cross street. The house was newly built; the paint was bright, and the house looked impressive against the backdrop of dreary brown and gray Mt. Davidson. Although furnished with a sitting porch, the house was half a size smaller than their Chicago house and less charming to be sure, yet was fitting for their class; perhaps opulent in comparison with the other houses further up the street. And their house had luxuries the other houses lacked, such as an iron fence, stained glass trimming the front picture window, and a secured mail box. The yard was actually larger than their Chicago home, fitting for a good-sized vegetable garden and roses… if such things could grow in this strange climate and its seemingly scrubby, dry, sandy-clay soil. Yet, that was wishful thinking.
“Huh. What’s this?” Lillian muttered as she studied a handful of near frozen soil, then crushed it and watched the grains take flight in the cold wind. “Even the Devil couldn’t grow a thicket of thorns here.”
Part II will be posted Saturday

Monday, February 24, 2020

Old Gamers Never Die

Once, a long time ago when the world was younger and so was I, God looked into the neon world of the 1980's and said, "Dude, check it ouuuut! Video games!"




We mortals looked up from our Monopoly, Risk, and Uno blinking languidly at the flickering monochromatic dot bouncing off the simple paddles. It coursed across the black background in a lazy, yet hypnotic, path. We, the uninitiated youth of the time, stared at this Greek fire brought from the ether by the modern Prometheus unaware of the twitch beginning to form in our thumbs. We huddled about the RCA or the Zenith shrines as cavemen would a fire listening to the boop and bleep of the dot as it struck the paddle.



Thus began our descent into madness.

From these simple primordial bits and bytes, rose an ever evolving and ever more cunning labyrinth of mental masturbation. And there I was, one of millions alive at the dawn of it all. Watching, but unable to resist, as quarter after quarter spilled from my jeans pockets and into the token machine. I was enthralled...I was addicted.

And then came the Arcades.

Raucous dens of sight and 8 bit sound. Tempest (my favorite),



Star Wars (I always wanted to be a Jedi), Dungeons & Dragons (are you surprised?), and so many more called to me whenever we mall rats drifted near. Had I but invested those quarters.... ah, but what's the use in "What if?".

I played as the games continued to evolve. PS1, PS 2, SEGA, Nintendo, and on and on. Final Fantasy was my last great love. I played them all from I to X, losing many a night to the conquest of digital monsters. But it all changed when we found out my son was to be born.



As I considered my future now full of impending responsibility, I knew it was time to lay such things as video games aside. And I did...for a time. Raising a tiny human encompasses your life in a way you can't imagine when you are a first time parent. All your time, thought, and...well, everything goes into this diminutive version of yourself. Even the thought of gaming left me, replaced my exhaustion and a slight nervous tick in my right thumb.



But, old gamers never die.



You see, my son loves video games as much as I do. We discovered this with our first Lego video game (one of the Star Wars versions, I believe). They are easy games that are fun to play together as most of them are multi-player. It is the kind of thing that makes the gamer gods smile while giving us memories to laugh about in the future.


Sunday, January 26, 2020

Natural Killer



My wife and I have lived in our house for a little over a year now.  It is an older house, built in 1930--a two-story Cape Cod style house on a corner lot, in the heart of downtown, small town Indiana. 

Like most old houses, it has quirks.  Some quirks are expected and some are just down right comical….

Well, I find comical, but my humor is altered compared to most.  

Shortly after we moved in, we had a very surprising visitor.

My wife and I came home from some event.  It was our first week living in our house.  

It was dark.  

We walked through the house turning on the lights, settling in.  My wife walked past the stairway to turn on the lights to her office.  She quickly yelled for me.  

“Nick, there is something on the stairs… and it’s hissing.”

She quickly found me in the kitchen with a very startled look on her face.

Thinking to myself, “It’s November.  Too cold for snakes to be out about, what’s hissing in our stairway?”

I walked around to the stairway, turned on the lights expecting to find some long snake curled up on one of the stairs.  But I saw nothing.  

Just as I was mid-sentence questioning my wife, I heard the hiss.  

Looking up the stairs, I still saw nothing.  As my eyes scanned down the steps I caught a slight movement on the third step.  A sizable bat with its wings sprawled out, mouth opened, and long white fangs showing was sitting on the step hissing at me. 

Shocked and confused, I hollered to my wife, “We have a bat.”  

This was the first of more to come.  


Shortly after we moved, and after the first bat sighting, we moved in our two cats, Gaby, the wild cave woman cat, and Gracy, our princess cat.  

One weekend morning we found a pair of shriveled up wings laying on the floor of my wife’s office. 
Looking at Gaby, we knew the cave woman cat had her way with the flying visitor.  She had a proud stance about her as I picked up the leftovers to dispose of them in the trash.  

This past summer I woke up in the middle of the night.  I walked out to the kitchen with my cell phone in hand to use as a light to find a glass for water.  Standing at the sink drinking some water, I sensed something else in the house.  I heard Gaby trotting through the kitchen heading for the living room.  She has a collar with a bell on it.  Jingle, jingle, as she passes through. 

Not fully awake, I dismissed my feelings and walked back to the bedroom.  As I walked through the living room, I caught a dark flicker of something.  My cell phone backlight had just turned off, leaving me questioning in the dark.  

I tapped on my cell phone. The backlight filled the room with a dim light.  Holding my phone up I saw the flutter flutter of a black bat flying just below our 9-foot ceiling.  It was flying in circles around the ceiling fan.  I heard Gaby’s jingle bell and pointed my cell phone towards the ground. She was sitting in the middle of the room looking up, tracking the bat.  She then looked at me with a look of, “Do you see it?”

I continued on to the bedroom told my wife, “There’s another bat in the house.”  Half-awake, she asked if I closed the door to our bedroom. Stupid me, I hadn’t.  

Our other cat Gracy was in bed with us, and she started to move from her sleep.  Reaching for the flashlight on the nightstand, I lit up the room.  Gracy stood up, looking at the bat flying around our bedroom.  

By now my wife was wide-awake and full of concern.  “Get it out of the room,” she said.

I was able to flush the bat out of our room and closed the door.  

Settling back into bed my wife asked, “Do you want to do something about the bat or should we let Gaby deal with…”

Just as she was about to finish her sentence we heard the jingle jingle with a few loud crash bang thud sounds.

Seconds later the deep proud wild call that only a wide cat like Gaby can produce sounded through the house.  

She was announcing her kill. 

And she continued to call out her announcement.  

I went out to find the carnage.  

Walking out into the living room, I saw Gaby come running up to me with excitement.  Talking at me.  She turned and led the way to her kill.  Her jingle bell ringing out as well has her proud meows.  She stopped and sat next to the dead bat on the floor still talking at me with excitement.




A week later we had the roof replaced.   Our house had a dormant chimney that we had taken down as part of replacing the roof. 

We figured the bats were getting into the attic through the dormant chimney.  How they got into the interior of the house we have no idea.  

That was over six months ago.  We have not had any bat visits since.