The Rules

Henceforth:

1) All restaurants will give you free bread. Good bread, not the cheap peasant loaf they keep on hand for disliked relatives and poor tippers. Violators will be jabbed at with the jagged crust until they learn their lesson or require medical assistance.

2) No restaurant will require me to say anything like “Triple Moo-tini Milksplosion” in order to obtain a beverage or foodstuff. Violators will be required to have an equally ridiculous nickname branded on their foreheads.

3)  All dogs will be issued a memo that they may regard me from a respectful distance (let’s say 300 yards) but must not in any way lick, nuzzle, touch, smell or shed on me. Violators will be shaven in the style of a Standard Poodle, regardless of breed, and re-named “FiFi.” Ditto for their owners.**

4) Phonetic spellings are immediately illegal and must be corrected at the shop owner’s expense. Shops with names involving both “Kwik” and “E-Z” will be burned down and the earth salted.

5) All customer service staff will be friendly and eager to assist. All managers will  be solicitous and defer to the customer in matters of dispute. All stores will be laid out in such a way that a reasonable woman in her early 30’s armed with semi-concrete notions of what she wants can find it. Violators will be abandoned in the labyrinthine innards of a decrepit Meijer and forced to attempt escape while fleeing baggers infected with whatever everyone had in 28 Days Later.

6) All cute shoes will come in sizes larger than “zygote.” Clothing for larger girls will NOT be emblazoned with four enormous flowers, nor millions of tiny ones. All bras will fit properly the first time.

7) Slanket and its bastard offspring are immediately and indefinitely illegal. Anything combining a Slanket with a Popeil product is extremely illegal.

8 ) Grammar, syntax and punctuation will be cherished and used properly. Using LOLspeak, IM-ese or L33Tspeak will be punishable by tattooing of The Elements of Style on the inside of the offender’s eyelids.

9) Michael Bay is now illegal. Anyone found to be aiding and abetting Michael Bay is hereby sentenced to star in a remake of their all-time favorite film, directed by Michael Bay, written by Michael Bay, and co-starring Michael Bay.

With a special guest appearance by Michael Bay.

10) All Americans will appreciate the inherent value of other cultures. All other cultures will appreciate that we are so loud and big and boisterous because we have enormous hearts. Everyone, everywhere, will take better care of this blue rock we share. Violators will be locked in a room with both Paulie Shore and Yahoo Serious. Repeat offenders will be handcuffed to them.

Thank you for your cooperation. We now resume our regularly scheduled reality.

[**ATTENTION DOG PEOPLE: I know, I know, I am a soulless creature from beyond Hell because I don’t want dogs touching me. I’m at peace with this. Also, of COURSE I didn’t mean YOUR dog.]
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I’m Not Just A Member, I’m Also The President

So here’s the thing, kids.

I have, over the years of scratching a path into the dirt on this blue rock,  organized a series of book clubs. They have all come to untimely ends, and I’d like to say it was because schedules got in the way, or the selections were terrible, or I have a bad habit of  pontificating at length about some bit of literary minutia fascinating to me but of incomprehensible and tedious mystery to the rest of the group, but that’s just not the case (except maybe that last one, but come on, it’s ME, people).

No, the reason my book clubs fail is this: I put the cart before the horse.

When I start a book club, I have this vision that we’ll be tucked into cozy chairs somewhere, sipping port, eating fine cheese and water crackers while we discuss the latest selection.  I imagine a roaring fire (or a summer breeze, as the season merits), witty repartee, insightful commentary. I picture a group of like-minded intellectuals mining a book for its treasures, our picks biting deep, unearthing shining bits of truth and wisdom and hilarity.

Now, I know that this sort of thing can smack of elitism, that it can be intimidating or off-putting simply because intellectually rigorous pastimes have become work rather than fun in this country. I know that it can, in the wrong hands, become The Finer Things Club.

And you know what? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I LIKE reading. No, I LOVE it.  I love every part of the process – the smell of the paper, the warm solidity of the book in the hand, the ability of a truly well-written story to swallow me up like Jonah’s great fish and spit me out onto the shores of reality hours later, weary but wiser for the experience.

But that’s only half the reading experience – I also enjoy the vivisection of the patient. I like to peep behind the curtain and look at the gears and cogs that make everything dance so prettily. Are the characters fresh, or archetypes we’ve seen before? If they are old friends in new clothing, how has the author made them important to us in this context? What about plot? Dialogue choice? Content, both obscure and familiar? What about thematic and allegorical subtext? Where is the book within the cultural framework on which it rests?

These are the questions that consume me when I read.

Ah, but my members are a different story.

My most recent book club, The Super Fun Book Club of Fun-ness™, fell victim to what I call “Life Intrudes” syndrome. At the time of its death earlier this year, the club was four years old. It consisted entirely of friends from work, and the idea was that we’d meet every six weeks for lunch to discuss a book selected by vote.

By the end, it had devolved considerably. Hardly anyone read the book, and I had to be “Mean Mommy,” breaking up chatter about work, the latest peccadilloes of the Hollywood elite, and television in order to bring the group back to the topic at hand.

I let the club die a silent death this year. Nobody protested. In fact, only one member even asked what had happened to it (my friend Mona, who always read the book and contributed regularly to discussion).

To be fair, my friends are busy women. They have families to raise, other interests to pursue, and limited time in which to accomplish their goals – in short, women who are too busy for a book club, or at least too busy to make the time for one. To measure their wheat by my bushel is not only arrogant but wrong-headed, and so releasing them from the guilt of a “fun” club that they didn’t have room for was my only option.

Which brings us to today. I’ve decided that, rather than gather up my friends and build a book club around them, I am building my club and saying “This is what is expected when you join this club.”  I am building a cart and saying, “all right, which of you lot wants to schlep this thing round the track with me?”

To wit:

I’ve christened this new club “Bibliovore’s Delight.” We meet every six weeks on Saturdays. Membership is open to anyone who agrees to follow the rules of the club, which are as follows:

1) You read the book. The whole thing. Yes, even if Survivor is on and Leroy is trying to steal immunity from Corncob by forming an alliance with Skeeter. If you haven’t read it, don’t bother to show up – or, if you do show up, prepare to have the ending spoiled for you.

2) You digest the book and produce a few germane comments for sharing. You needn’t bring a thesis (even I don’t want to hear “Harry Potter As Christ: Redemption for Muggle and Mage“), but take note of things that caught your fancy (what did you like? What did you hate? Who was your favorite character, and why?).

3) You have an opinion and don’t mind sharing it (or defending it). Literary endeavor is not for sissies. You want to go toe-to-toe over Heathcliff’s sexuality? Want to engage on the morality of George’s choice to kill Lenny? Let the discussion begin! Naturally, civility will be our watchword, but spirited discussion is most welcome indeed.

[By the by, I was referring to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, but if you’ve got some sort of dirt on the ersatz Garfield of the same name, we can discuss that, too.]

4) You believe in active, on-topic participation. There will most likely be theme parties for the books we read. I might have a screening of the movie version for comparative discussion. Members may have supplemental material they’d like us to read and then add to the discussion. The point is, this is a club about thoroughly digesting and enjoying books. Wallflowers can stay home.

As this is a club that is democratic in operation but autocratic in administration, I will choose our first book. We’ll be reading Dashiell Hammett’s excellent final novel, The Thin Man (available here, among other places).

The first meeting will be Saturday, August 15th, 2009 (location TBD) at 6 PM.

Those of you in the Dayton area are welcome to join me physically for the meeting (we’ll most likely have dinner and drinks before/during/after as necessary).

For those of you too distant to join us, I’m on MSN (Claire.M.Jackson@hotmail.com) and will be happy to friend you!

We’ll be doing a live video chat of the meeting via Windows Live Messenger from my laptop, so our more remote members can chime in!

I’ve set up a club site over at Book Movement...e-mail me for details!

If you’re a serious reader who’s looking for serious book-related fun, I hope you’ll join me as I launch Bibliovore’s Delight.

Happy Reading!

Stuff from the Attic (June 2009 Edition)

In the wake of the recent (and, let it be said, extremely fun) Claire De Lunacy blogoversary, I’ve found myself struggling to come up with something blog-worthy to fill this site. I’ve had several false starts, but they seemed too facile or insubstantial to sustain an entire post (and if something on THIS site is too ephemeral to support a post, you know we’re in trouble). So, just to keep the blood pumping, I present to you the following list of topics currently banging around in my noggin’.

1) Henchmen of shared nationality and language who, despite being utterly alone unless fighting the hero of the pic or book, speak English with each other. We’ve all seen this a thousand times. James Bond is scampering about, chopping necks and turning his shoe into a shaped charge against the wall of the evil mastermind’s lair, and miles away, Sergei and Boris are walking the perimeter, conversing in a language they no doubt had to learn for solely professional reasons.  “But,” I hear you asking, “what if they’re under orders to speak English, so that the dastardly associates of their employer can speak with them directly? What if, in the underworld of crime and perfidity, English functions much as it does in the world of legitimate business, a sort of koine that assures everyone is at a mutual disadvantage during negotiations?”

To which I reply, “Oh, piffle.”

Seriously, if you’re in another country (even for work) and you’re back at the hostel, waiting for dinner or to be abducted and sold into white slavery until rescued by Liam Neeson, are you chatting with your mates in Castillian about the latest episode of 30 Rock? Of course you aren’t.

[NOTE: Obviously, this rule doesn’t apply if you’ve brought a potential love interest back to the apartment, in which case you behave as though you were steeped in the same cultural and linguistic influences they were, so that they see you are a person of substance, and also so that they will let you touch their naughty bits.]

But Sergei and Boris aren’t interested in gettin’ it on, they’re (presumably) trying to pop a cap in the gent from MI-6. Plus, in accordance with the Convenient Plot Furtherance Act of 1982, they are inevitably childhood friends who dreamt of one day working as the muscle for one of many human embodiments of evil, and are therefore no longer trying to impress one another.

Bottom line, henchpeople who are nowhere near people who do not speak their mother tongue should converse in it without feeling obligated to help the audience along.

[This goes double for Klingons.]

2) And speaking of James Bond, why can’t we have a movie about Q-Branch? James Bond is 007. That means there are at least six other 00’s out there (unless they start with 000, in which case there are seven), and I’m betting that they give Q-Branch as much trouble as James does. Are we meant to believe that wacky hijinks ensue only when The Man Who Really Should Only Be Played By Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan comes around? I think not.

I’m picturing a series of films starring John Cleese. Music by Danny Elfman, with special guest Eric Idle as “Zed,” the lowest-ranking member of Q-Branch whose zany antics create problems for R at first, but ultimately provide the solution to the crisis facing the team.

Gold, I’m telling you. GOLD.

3) Cable Internet should not just fail for no discernible reason. I pay top dollar each month for Road Runner Turbo. When it works, it is a heavenly connection to the global information stream. When it fails (which it does with alarming regularity ever since Time Warner sent me an “improved” replacement modem to exchange for the old one that worked PERFECTLY WELL WITHOUT ANY TROUBLE, EVER), my wrath becomes a molten volcano of  earth-scorching magma, eager to strip the flesh and sinew from those who have denied me the chance to show Dramatic Prairie Dog to the one friend who hasn’t yet seen it.

Even now, THIS VERY SECOND, my Internet is out for the fourth time today. The FOURTH TIME! It often lasts for an hour or more. Requests for assistance are met with blank stares or infuriating questions (especially to an IT person) like “Have you restarted your computer?” and “Is your house properly wired for both electricity and cable?”

No, jackass, I’m living in a sod house on the banks of Plum F-ing Creek with Mary and Laura.

Bah!

[This topic may grow into a full-blown entry, depending on how my next volley of requests is handled by the TWC crew.]

4) Hormones make you fat. OK, I’ll admit that the pepper-and-olive pizza I eat a little too often is aiding and abetting the ‘mones in their evil quest to turn my ass into an earthwork, but my regular workouts don’t cut the difference anymore. When, last week, I realized I had not only stopped losing weight (even with the help of Fullbar), but was GAINING, I knew it was time to take drastic measures. So, now I work out twice a day…strength and flexibility in the morning, aerobic exercise at night (if you know what I mean, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Oh, who am I kidding, I’m riding a freaking bike).

So far, I’ve stopped gaining. However, my overall wimpiness and disturbingly taut pants suggest even more drastic measures may be necessary, e.g. not eating a bowl of cereal every night even though cereal is a gift from Ceres to show that we are worthy of deliciousness.

And if I have to eliminate cheese, there may very well be no point to living.

Also, I could probably stand to workout harder. And longer.And, God help us all, join a gym.

Me! Be a joiner! The mind boggles. Ah, well, no one said being a glamor girl was easy.

But if that fails, I am just biting the bullet and shopping around for an eating disorder like my friends. Well, I mean, an eating disorder that makes me thin rather than saurian.

5) Chaz Bono has a rough ride ahead. I feel Chaz’s pain. Here’s a person who has spent their life trapped in the wrong body, and has weight issues to boot. Chaz, buddy, I am pulling for you! I hope that, as they did for me, your weight issues start to resolve as you resolve your gender issues. Plus, the testosterone will help you build muscle, which, as the Lotte Berk method teaches us, eats fat. Sure, you’ll have to work hard, but I’ll bet that with your limitless financial resources and access to Hollywood’s beautification professionals, you’ll be running through the surf, Hasselhoff-style, in no time flat.

Just remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “You don’t have a soul. You ARE a soul. You HAVE a body.”

Also, please remember that I was so supportive and send me any extra trainers and/or plastic surgeons you have laying around.

6) Going back to school is nerve-wracking but also exciting as hell. For those of you who don’t know, I’m going back to college in the Winter quarter of 2009-2010. I made a promise to myself when I was but a sprout, and that promise was that I would become a doctor of philosophy in the science of linguistics. As of this year, that dream begins to come true. I’m writing essays, I’m gathering letters of recommendation, I’m purchasing raccoon coats and little football pennants that say things like “Rah!” (just in case I’m thrown back in time and have to wrap things up in the 1920s). I suspect that my mania regarding this process is the real reason I’ve been blog-avoidant of late; I’ve been trying to conserve my creative and intellectual juices so that I may make a favorable impression on the doyens et doyennes of academia who will determine my worthiness for further growth.

Not that they want to hear about my juices, creative or otherwise. In fact, I’m fairly certain no one does. Let’s just pretend I never said it and focus on my casual usage of French in a context designed to make me appear worldly without being a pompous ass.

There – that’s better, non?

7) My being transgendered does not give you the right to disrespect me. I didn’t want to take a whole blog post with this topic, as this particular saw has several busted teeth, but a recent incident freaked me the hell out and I had to say something.

I keep an announcement board on the window of my office, a little dry-erase deal with the names of myself and my assistant written along the left-hand side, with a magnetic dot indicating whether we are “in” or “out,” and a space to clarify as necessary (e.g., “in a pointless meeting,” “saving children from burning orphanage,” “having lunch with the Married Crush in the hope that my telepathy will finally kick in and she will find herself immersed in the golden sunbeams of my undying adoration, whereby she will realize she has been a fool to toy with me and loves me as well,” et hoc genus omne). Usually, I don’t even look at the board; I just slide the dot from “out” to “in,” unlock my office, and begin counting the minutes ’til five o’clock.

That day, however, I noticed something different.

Someone had erased “Claire” and written my OLD name. Not the name by which I was known, mind you, but my old LEGAL name.

Now, I hear some of you asking “So? What’s the big deal?” and I get that, I really do. After all, it was just a simple scribble on a white board.

That said, imagine if you will my confusion and, yes, fear. Here was a bit of information that, while hardly a state secret, was not common knowledge, even among my friends. Here was an act that said, in essence, “I am denying you exist, and I am quite literally attempting to erase you.” Was this a harmless prank, or was some whack-a-do hiding in the creepy warehouse shelves behind me, waiting for me to be distracted so they could brain me with a pipe wrench and add bits of my body to the silver skeleton in their basement?

In erasing my name and writing the old one, they were (whether they were cognizant of the fact or not) challenging my right to exist as myself. They were attacking me, in a “safe” place, with my own possessions.

I felt violated. I felt sick.

And then I got angry.

I wiped the board clean, re-wrote my name clearly and firmly, and then e-mailed HR.

Now, it must be said that the HR department was exceptionally helpful and kind. They immediately contacted security to see if any tape was available for the time when the “prank” most likely occurred. They were sympathetic to my concerns, and assured me that action would be taken against the person who had done this. After talking with them, I felt reassured – clearly, someone cared and would support me.

Presently, the perpetrator remains unknown (at least to me). I’m not going to pretend this is as serious as the attacks that happen to transpeople every day, both in this country and worldwide. After all, I didn’t have to earn my lesson with blood or, worse yet, my life.  But to me, a girl who is already hyper-vigilant when in public, the loss of one of the few places I felt safe to relax my guard is a very real attack on me and my right to live my life.

I’m not going to let it change my desire to see the good in people, or to try my best to be an ambassador for transpeople to the mainstream world.

But just the same, Ice Station Zebra is a little colder these days.

CDL Blogoversary FINALE: “Sacrifice”

I want to thank you ALL for helping me celebrate Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary! Special thanks to my guest bloggers, who were willing to have their names associated with this shady enterprise, as well as to you, my readers, without whom this would all be sort of pointless. You rock, and I plan to continue trying to be worthy of the attention and friendship you’ve bestowed upon me.

[Today’s post is, as promised, a short story from the Circe universe. Cleo and Meander is nearing completion (please, God, let that be true!) and I’ve started the second book, entitled La Barceloneta. The story below takes place a few decades before the events of that book, but should serve as both a glimpse into the world I’m attempting to create and a preview of things to come. Thanks for reading, and as always, your comments are welcome and appreciated!]

They came for her at dawn.

The hut where she’d been sleeping, cramped with the other children, was filthy and cold. They’d been sleeping in a squirming knot near the hut’s flickering brazier, trying to conserve what little heat they could, but on this particular morning she found herself relegated to the outermost layer, her back to the unshuttered window. She’d no more than sat up when they grabbed her, the bigger one’s knife cutting through the heavy rope they’d used to tie her to the ring set in the floor. Her ankles burned, the flesh tender and pink where the coarse hemp had bitten into them, and she stumbled against the smaller man when his companion shoved her forward. He laughed and slapped her with careless ease, knocking her to the ground. The other man knelt, picking her up and holding her shoulders. “Little field mouse gonna be a big-big treat fer da Rainmaker,” he said, his fetid breath mixing with the scents of salt and sea. “Gonna bring da big catch, you bet.” He ran a scaly finger down her cheek, and she turned away, shuddering. “Why, Luc, I tink our lil’ ratonelle don’t care for you one bit,” laughed the smaller man. The grip on her shoulder tightened for a moment, then eased. Luc stood, shoving her toward the door again, this time more gently. “I doan care if she do or not, Martin…the only one we worried ’bout pleasin’ is Papa Chauc.” Martin snorted and grabbed the girl’s shoulder, pausing to kick one of the sleeping children out of his way as they moved to the door. The boy groaned, but didn’t awaken, and the two corsairs stepped into the misty morning air, their captive trudging listlessly between them.

The hike to the cave was not a long one, but the grade was steep and the girl was exhausted. Within ten minutes, she was limping; within fifteen, Luc had scooped her up from the ground, carrying her over his shoulder like a sack of corn. Despite Martin’s frequent goading, the girl never made a sound. Frustrated at being denied his fun, the Legartine poked her in the ribs with the butt of his knife, which elicited a grunt from the girl and a much harder jab from Luc’s knife handle to his head. “You doan wanna do that, heah? You can’t be pokin’ at her just cause she woan squeak.” Martin rubbed his head, checking for loose scales and glaring up at his companion “Why not? It not like she goan give us any trouble for it.” Luc turned, fixing the other man with a glance. “She may not, but I guarantee He will.” He jerked his head toward a nearby clearing, smirking. “A sacrifice wit no wriggle left is no good to Him nor us.”

The crested the hill and entered the clearing, which was actually more of a widening in the path, the scrub pines and lizardgrass thinning out as the loam was replaced by the rocky soil of the coast. To the left, the path continued on, hugging the coast for a short time before curving inland and re-entering the forest. To the right lay a jagged cave, the rocks outside it littered with bones of various kinds. “Well, here we are, little mouse. Ready to meet da Rainmaker?” asked Martin with a grin. Whether from the sight of the cave or Martin’s unfortunate collection of bent and broken fangs, the girl finally lost the eerie composure she’d held and began to cry. Luc shushed her, almost gently, and set her down. He ran his finger across her cheek once more, gathering her tears, and wiped them onto a cloth he pulled from his pocket, startlingly white in the noontime sun. “That’s it, little one. Your tears for His. Your life so that we may all live.” He knelt, his leathery hide creaking as he lowered himself to look at her, face to face. Her tears were still falling, but her eyes remained closed. “C’mon, xere. Nothin’ personal, eh? You gonna go to the Green Heaven, and not gonna be hungry, nor thirsty never again! Doan that sound nice?”

Martin leaned over and wiped her tears away on another white cloth, not bothering to be gentle. “Yeah, she just gonna take a lil’ swim first!” He laughed again, a smaller roar against the boom of the sea on the rocks beyond the cave. “Gonna stop and have herself a chat with Papa Chauc, yes indeed!” He walked to the cave and pressed the white cloth against the carved wheel that blocked the entrance, stepping back as it rumbled open. He stepped inside to begin the preparations, waving the cloth like a flag before blowing the girl a kiss.  Luc rolled his eyes and was muttering about  Martin and where he could put his oarman’s wit when the girl suddenly reached out toward him, eyes squeezed shut.

She’d been much the same when they’d taken her, along with the rest of the brats, from that trumped-up fishing village on the northern coast. Flower Wars were long since out of fashion in the civilized world, but in the islands and along the coast, the old ways still held, and of course everywhere the ocean touched, the ways of Papa Chauc held firmest. The parents had squawked to the local alcalde about kidnapping and murder, but he had declared (after a clarifying “conference” with Luc, Martin, and a priest being ridden by the god Himself) that the prosperity of all could not be sacrificed for the safety of the few, especially when those few were going on to eternal glory and reward for their services. And so Luc and Martin had loaded their captives into the wagon and driven away under the hateful stares of a dozen mothers and fathers, their cries so anguished that Luc had been forced to look away. That’s when he’d noticed the girl, curled into a protective ball, the feathers and shells of her sacrificial raiment set aside, eyes squeezed shut. She’d never made a sound, not one, and he was surprised to realize she could make sounds; he’d assumed she was a mute.

He’d seen this before, of course; some of ’em, they just couldn’t be made to take the steps themselves. Sometimes, their little hearts and bodies were too slender a thread from which to dangle the responsibility they carried. He’d carry her, if he had to; unlike his shipmate, he didn’t relish this work. It was necessary, of course – no sacrifice meant a poor catch and even poorer hunting – but that didn’t mean he was unfeeling toward the children he’d brought to this cave over the years. On the contrary (he’d sometimes say after a few too many ales), he was probably far kinder than anyone else they’d met, ‘sides their parents, and in some cases, even then. He was bringing them to eternal comfort and rest, free from storms and privation. He was (and this thought he never shared aloud with others – he did have a reputation to uphold, after all) a sort of angel, bringing blessings to his people and release to his captives. So, now, when the girl reached out, he leaned forward to embrace her and offer whatever comfort he could before he took her to the well and tossed her in. “That’s it, xere, just -”

Then her eyes opened, and in those black pools he saw not fear, but his own death waiting.

Her gaze was hot, somehow, and before it his thoughts of angels and necessary sacrifice withered and turned to ash. He slashed at her, his hand curled to maximize the damage from his claws, but she was fast, so fast. He opened his mouth to yell for Martin, but somehow his voice was gone, he couldn’t breathe. Then he saw the handle of his own knife standing out from the soft flesh of his throat, and the girl was standing over him. Her eyes, they blazed, he was burning up, why didn’t she say something? His body felt remote and cold despite the fury of that gaze, his body jittering the last of its life out on the clearing floor.

“The knife hit your brain stem, I think.” This from the girl, in a whispery voice that belied her raging eyes. “It’ll be quick. You were kinder than you had to be, and for that I thank you, Luc D’Argent. Now, go to your god, and find peace.” His eyes widened – how did she know his name? – but black waves were crashing around the edges of his vision, smothering thought, drawing him deep. The last thing he saw was her eyes, so bright and yet so black, shining like the sun behind unwept tears.

She’d kicked the knife too hard, and the tip was embedded in the corsair’s spine. After several useless attempts to free it, she stood on the dead Legartine’s chest and, digging her heels into the scaly muscles of his broad chest, jerked the knife free. Blood gouted from the wound briefly, but he’d already lost so much that the gush became a trickle within seconds, and with his heart stilled, it stopped soon after. She wiped the knife clean on the edge of Luc’s tunic, reaching up to close his eyes with a silent prayer. Rummaging through his belt pouch, she found tinder, some a few lucifers, and, as she had hoped, the length of rope meant to lower her into the cave for her “chat” with the thing inside. She had no sooner fastened the pouch around her own waist when Martin emerged from the cave, looking over his shoulder.

“Luc, we’d best hurry. I’d say Papa Chauc is big-big hongry, eh? Time to..” Despite his girth, the squat sailor was nimble, and the stone that was meant to blind him merely stunned him instead. He roared, dashing behind a boulder just as another jagged stone smashed into the wall behind him, shattering. “Well, well, what have we heah?” he said, a terrible good humor in his voice. “Looks like our little mouse has some teeth after all!” When there was no response to this sally, Martin popped his head from cover to evaluate the situation, then drew back as another stone shattered on the rim of the boulder. His captain was down, and judging by the ichor soaking the sand around him, very dead. The girl was nowhere to be seen, but the only possible cover was the tall boulder across the clearing from his own. “Girly, we gonna have a chat of our own, and I doan think you gonna like it! No sir, you gonna BEG me to introduce you to Papa Chauc befo’ I’m through!” He kept it up, a steady stream of threats and imprecations designed to keep her attention on where she thought he was, rather than where he was gonna be. The heavy rock walls around the clearing made his voice a crash of echoes, and he knew she’d never be able to see him coming if he stayed low and moved slowly. He was a third of the way around the clearing when the sound of stones skipping and shattering all over the clearing stopped. He froze, certain she’d be on him in an instant, but there was nothing…not even the wind. He craned his neck and peered out from behind the low rock he was using for cover. The sun was burning high and hot, but nothing cast a shadow in the clearing.

He grinned, confident she had either fled, in which case he would soon chase her down, or run out of ammo, in which case he would leap from cover and rip out her throat before tossing her body into the Well. “Xere, you just about outta time! Tell you what – if you give up nice and quiet, maybe I’ll just take your legs befo’ I give you to da Rainmaker.” There – a scuffling in the sand. He leapt up with a roar, diving behind the tall boulder, ready to savage her and satisfy his own bloodlust along with his god’s.

She wasn’t there. Nothing but sand and the sacrifice rope, neatly tied to the tip of the bould –

CRASH!

Dust roiled, sparkling in the sunlight. She leapt down, the rope now coiled over her shoulder. She winced at the pain in her still-tender ankles, then blinked and steadied herself. As she came around the far side of the fallen boulder, headed for the cave, a hand shot from the sand, the claws broken, the armored skin rent and bloody. It grasped her ankle, a leathery manacle, and she forced herself to stand there, calmly counting the minutes, until at last the hand twitched and relaxed, releasing her. She spit, just once, and then kicked sand over it until nothing remained but a vaguely misshappen lump in a chrystalline blanket.

She stood before the cave, hair gleaming like a raven’s wing in the sun, thirteen years old but already carrying herself with the deadly ease of a seasoned campaigner. She stood there, listening to the roar of the sea, letting the sun soak her with its strength. Then, as she had been taught, she drew her knife across her forearm, her blood dimpling the bonedust that had accumulated into drifts over the milennia. She slapped a bloody handprint on the doorwheel, whispering “Blood calls to blood, tears to tears.”  Immediately, the walls of the cave began to shake, the earth shifting as something made its way up from beneath. He was coming, full of rage and hunger and – could it be? – fear.

“Uncle, are you home? My father sends his regards.”

And smiling ever so slightly, eyes flashing like obsidian mirrors, the girl from Barcelona made her sacrifice.

Excerpt: The Fugitive

Hey there, cats and kittens. Here’s another excerpt from my upcoming book, Cleo and Meander. As always, I treasure the feedback of my readers and would love to hear your thoughts.

The trouble had started with the damned door. She’d been in a hurry and left it unlocked, which meant that Rafo strolled right into her bedroom instead of being forced to struggle with the lock for ten minutes…and that, in turn, meant that he’d seen her startled face drop out of sight as she slid out the window. She was up and running in a wink, but Rafo’s angry roars were already chasing her before she was halfway across The Commons. By the time she’d made it here, to the Lost Promenade, he’d had his underwardens prowling the entire estate. If she hadn’t been able to reach the loft before he stormed in, tail swishing, she would’ve been caught for certain – and if she was caught, her house arrest might very well become permanent.

Lying in the shadows formed by stacked crates and old bits of stone, Meander thought about her options. Rafo, like most of the Felis, had a keen nose and even keener eyes, which meant that any hiding place was temporary at best. He’d no doubt notified her father of her escape, so in addition to eluding Rafo and his pack of enforcers, she’d have to give the main house a wide berth. Inching forward for a better view, she stifled a gasp when she saw a familiar silhouette illuminated by the torches in the entryway. Her father.

“Rafo, please tell me that you’ve found my daughter.” Daffyd Reynaldo was not a tall man, but nevertheless managed to give the impression of towering over the giant housewarden in front of him. “Er, no, xefe, not yet. I thought she’d be here…in fact, I’m almost sure she is here, somewhere…” His employer’s snort brought him up short. “Rafo, you’re almost sure? Are you telling me you can track a bird by its shadow but you can’t find a girl who has trouble traveling to town without three maps and an escort?” Rafo’s eyes shifted, his tail twitching against his legs. “Xefe, you know how it is with her. She’s…slippery. Especially when she doesn’t want to be found. Remember when she was a child, and she hid for three days because she didn’t want to take a bath? And even then we wouldn’t have found her if it wasn’t for her…” The felis snapped his mouth shut, biting his tongue painfully in the process…but he wasn’t fast enough. “If it wasn’t for her mother? Is that what you were going to say, Rafo? I sincerely hope not, because you know the penalty for even THINKING that name, let alone mentioning it.” For a moment, Daffyd’s eyes glowed almost as brightly as his housewarden’s, and the torches leapt in their brackets. Rafo took a step back, wondering for the second time this evening if everyone in the Reynaldo family was going slowly insane. The light in Daffyd’s eyes winked out, and he shook his head, as if clearing away fumes. “Rafo, forgive me. You know better than most the pain I carry. I should not have threatened you so.” He looked up as Rafo put a meaty paw on his shoulder. “You ask for that which is not needed, old friend. It is not an easy thing, raising a child alone, and it is made doubly difficult when that child grows into a woman as…spirited as Andi is.”

Daffyd smiled, smoothing his silvering hair with one hand, and sighed. “You’re right, of course. And “spirited” is probably the nicest thing I can say about my wayward daughter at the moment. I pray that Inri and Celene will bring her the strength to tame that spirit before it gets her killed.” Rafo, back on firmer ground now that he was reasonably sure he’d live to see the sunrise, smiled as well. “We won’t let that happen, Daffyd. She’s a good girl, she’s just restless. It’s for the best that she’s heading to Academy next month…the change of scenery will do her good.” He turned, his eyes roving over the stone pillars and alcoves of the Promenade a final time. As they passed over the storage loft, they narrowed. “Xefe, I think…” With a plaintive meow, a ginger-colored cat leapt down from the shadows of the loft, startling both men. “Looks like you’re not the only one on the prowl tonight, eh, Rafo?” The housewarden smiled, but his eyes searched the shadows again for a moment before he turned to follow Daffyd into the courtyard.

Coughing as quietly as possible, Meander thrust aside the dusty blanket she’d used as impromptu camouflage and sat up, brushing the dirt and straw from her tunic. Thank the gods for that barn cat! She’d tried to stay hidden, but hearing her father talk plainly with Rafo about matters he’d long since ceased discussing with her had piqued her interest, and she’d moved forward in the shadows to better hear their conversation. Even the faint torchlight that reached the loft was sufficient to expose her to Rafo’s sharp eyes, however, and ducking under the blanket wouldn’t have worked if the cat hadn’t been napping on it when she grabbed for cover. Sighing, Meander stood, stepping carefully across the loose boards to the edge of the loft. After a thorough survey of the Promanade, she decided the coast was clear. She was two rungs down the ladder when she heard soft laughter from the shadows.

“Rafo’s right, you know. The Acadamy will be good for you. It might even teach you some discipline.” Meander gaped, surprised to see her father standing not ten feet away. “Oh, come now, Andi, did you forget whose child you are? It’s a loft, not the far side of Maya.” He took a step forward, his face a white mask of rage that belied his calm tone. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to come back to your apartments with me, and you’re going to stay there until you leave for Acadamy next month. You are banned from not only the Lost Promenade, but from any and all stonewalking. I’m sorry, Andi, but you’re too unfocused – and far too powerful – to remain untrained.” A note of pride crept into his voice at the end, and Meander felt an unwilling thrill at this grudging praise. “Father, I know how you feel, but I told you, training isn’t essential. The most powerful stonewalkers weren’t trained at all! Training focuses your power, but it also limits it. Who knows what we could accomplish, if we only…” Daffyd cut her off sharply. “I know. I know what can be accomplished. You can lose your mind, or end up in the middle of a sun, or vanish without a trace into the spaces between the stars. Is that what you want, Meander? To end up like your mother?” To Meander’s shock, her father’s face was wet with tears. “By Inri’s Mirror, girl, do you want to see me dead? Because losing you would kill me as surely as frost kills the flower.” All the anger seemed to drain out of him, and for the first time, Meander could see just how tired and old her father really was. Her eyes flooded with tears of her own, and she moved to step from the ladder to go to him. “Patro, I never meant to…”

Then there was a loud CRACK!, and she was falling.

Even though the loft was only twenty or so feet above the Promenade floor, to Meander the fall was endless. She felt the shattered bits of ladder dig into her calf as she twisted, hands closing on nothing but air. She tried to scream, but her throat was locked shut. Her father’s face appeared at the edge of the loft like a distant moon rising above some alien ridge, calling her name, his voice as seemingly remote as everything else. She felt the roof of one of the pavilions give way as she struck it, and knew the next thing she hit would be the broken stepstone stored inside. Without thinking, she reached out blindly, and as her hand touched the cool white stone, Meander Reynaldo went walkabout.

Seafaring Mutants Amok!

Which is my way of saying “It’s fun to make anagrams.”

Of all the linguistic toys available to speakers of English, the humble anagram has long been my favorite. As I travel through the world, I find myself automatically anagramming things to see if there’s some secret truth hidden behind the thin veneer of ostensibility. I’m not alone – Lewis Carroll (he of the inspired wit and possible secret identity as Jack the Ripper) was known to take the names of others and attempt to create anagrams from them that were in some way indicative of their owners’ natures (e.g. “Florence Nightingale”= “Flit on, cheering angel”), and of course, everyone who’s seen The Simpsons knows that “Alec Guiness” is an anagram of “Genuine Class.”

I decided to see if I could apply this bit of fun to myself, and came up with:

Claire Montserrat Jackson = A smart, stern, laconic joker

Which would be perfect if I were in any way laconic. However, since I pack more words into most days than Carter has pills, “laconic” ain’t exactly the word for me.

Of course, there’s always:

Claire Montserrat Jackson = A smart lactose corn jerkin

Which, since I do tend to wear fabrics made from milk and corn, is really awesome. Can’t really wear ’em for long in the sun, though. Phew!

Finally, I decided on:

Claire Montserrat Jackson = Larcenist can mortar jokes

While I do not condone larceny in any form (grand or petty), I may or may not be guilty of that crime from time to time, and of course, nobody knows a bombed joke better than I do.

Once the insanity started, of course, I couldn’t stop:

Desktop Support = Dorks test pop-up
Claire de Lunacy = Neural Delicacy (also, “I declare lunacy,” but we won’t examine that one too closely)
The Sultry but Angelic Robin Meade = Celebrated Lesbian Might Turn You (also “Try Humoring Detectable Lesbian”)

What about you, kids? Got any good anagrams you’d like to share?

The cow says…”OINK!”

OK, so occasionally I come across something in my web travels that manages to combine several of my interests into one neat little package, e.g. ridiculously cute bunnies, snow and time-wasting games, or maybe super-nerdy linguistical analysis, Star Wars and manufactured languages, or even, yes, timely news of the day’s events, ridiculously complicated clip-art flight maps, and the radiant incarnation of Eos, goddess of the dawn.

Today, however, I encountered something that not only amused and informed me, but brought back a flood of memories as well. That’s right, kids, it’s time for another sepia-toned visit to Claire’s Mysterious Past™!

I am, as it may have been mentioned elsewhere, much older than my youngest sister, Kait – fourteen years older, as a matter of fact. So, while she was trying to master the arts of walking, speech and voluntary bowel control, I was already a nerdish High Schooler with a penchant for linguistics and a love for my baby sister that, while strong, did not necessarily preclude subjecting her to scientific inquiry in the name of my Prime Directive, i.e., trying to learn everything until either I succeeded or my head exploded. Kait was no more than 2 when The Farm Experiment began. Now, lest your mind conjure fiendish visions of The Island of Dr. Moreau, please remember that my interest was solely linguistic in nature, and my experiment designed to answer one question, namely:

Could a young child, if intentionally misinformed about select pieces of information and vocabulary, incorporate this incorrect information into his or her behavior and mindset?

(The answer, of course, is yes. Otherwise, no one would ever eat Circus Peanuts or try to convince the populace that ketchup is a vegetable.)

The experiment was simple. Kait was learning to talk, and despite some difficulties with her r’s and w’s due to eustachian tube issues, she was picking up words and phrases with alacrity. Hoping that Kait was, like myself at a similar age, a budding nerd of nerdiness, I was in the habit of pointing to objects and naming them, then looking at her expectantly while she rattled off an approximation (or, more correctly, “appwoximashun”) of what I’d just told her. It was in this way that she learned about the “wo-wo” (railroad), breakfast foods (“Mow toast, pweese. And pass da butta!”), and, of course, the onomatopoeic sounds of the world around us…and it was the last of these that formed the basis of my fiendish linguistic experiment.

In the course of our travels, we would often pass one of the many farms that dot the Ohio landscape, pleasing the eye even as they offend the nose, and Kait, her natural curiosity bubbling over, would point to the various animals and inquire as to the species and call such beasts might possess – and I was happy to oblige.

CLAIRE, POINTING TO A SHEEP: “That’s a cow, honey. What does the cow say? It says ‘OINK!'”

KAIT, HER INNOCENT EYES FULL OF TRUST AND LOVE: “OINK! Cowie say OINK!”

And so on.

Obviously, I was a total shit.

However, when you are young and value knowledge above all else (having not yet learned the nature of the world and what really matters), being a shit is small potatoes next to observing the learning process in action. The experiment was doomed to fail once Kait received her first See ‘N’ Say (actually, it failed the first time Ma overheard me and threatened to acquaint me with a concept known as “house arrest”), but I was high on my own scientific daring. What if, against all odds, the information stuck, and Kait went through her whole life assuming that people who tried to correct her were lying? What if she raised her own kids to know “pigs” as giant black-and-white bovines that say “Baaaa?”  Would she, over time, actually hear the cows saying “baaa?” The implications for the language and behavorial sciences were truly staggering!

“What does all this have to do,” I hear you asking “with whatever nonsense you’ve stumbled across on the web, you terrible sister, you?”

Good question! It seems that I’m not the only one with an interest in how people hear things. Yes, the world over, the EXACT SAME SOUND is heard differently by speakers of different languages! That’s why, in Colombia, cows don’t say “Moo,” they say “Maaa…”, and why Korean pigs don’t oink so much as say “no, no, no!” In fact, onomatopoeic sounds of all kinds are a little skewed depending on where you call home, and that’s why you should check out Bzzzpeek. You’ll learn a lot about how the sounds we take for granted every day are very different if you’re in Bruges or Salamanca, and the fact that the site is so cute it’s almost fatal doesn’t hurt.

And as for Kait? Well, nowadays, of course, Kait can appreciate the, ahem, “wackiness” of her formative years. She’s long since forgiven me, and we can sit back, share a drink, and swap stories ’til the pigs…er, cows come home.

I just hope my other sister Kim doesn’t ask me why my nephew Ian keeps calling the dog “Kitty.”