Because I Simply Don’t Talk Enough.

So here’s the thing:

I’m turning this blog into a podcast. I bought the domain over at http://www.ClaireDeLunacy.com and I’ve migrated this blog over there.

In addition to the occasional scribblings you get from me here (or, er, there, in the future at least), there will be (God help us all) the Claire De Lunacy podcast. That’s right, a whole hour, every week, of yours truly, with call-in guests (it’s true!), some commentary, and a few new surprises (e.g., every tenth caller is randomly either hugged by a stripper,  hit in the stomach by a large, angry Hungarian, or given the power of flight*).

Every week starting NEXT SUNDAY, MAY 2nd, 2010, I’ll be hosting an hour-long free-for-all discussion covering topics (in no particular order) that I’ve posted here on Claire De Lunacy.

I already have the call-in set up, I’ll be posting the info as we get closer to the big day. In the interim, my dear, sweet friends, ruminate on these topics:

1) The hubbub surrounding Israel Luna’s odious “transploitation” film “Ticked Off Trannies with Knives.”

2) Clash of the Smitin’s: Unnecessary Remakes and Why They Suck.

3) And speaking of Things That Should Not Be™, a whole new slew of, er, Things That Should Not Be™ (got a nomination? SEND IT TO ME…NAO!)

4) LGBTidbits™ (Those of you familiar with my Twitter feed will recognize this topic. Everyone else, just be prepared to discuss the week’s LGBT news. Well, I mean, not SUPER prepared. There won’t be a quiz or anything.)

5) The Super-Fun Book Club of Fun-ness™ returns! Our book for the month of May is “American Lion,” a very compelling biography of Andrew Jackson by Jon Meachem (you don’t have to read the entire book for the first podcast, we’ll be discussing it in general and also you get to sit and listen to me explain how the SFBCOF™ works…I know, I know – does the fun ever START?)

6) Random Review: NetFlix for the Wii Or, as I like to call it, “My television’s desperate final ploy to remain relevant to my existence.” (as ploys go, it’s surprisingly effective)

7) SPECIAL BONUS TOPIC!  CASTING: UR DOIN IT WRONG We’ll be discussing how remakes SHOULD be cast, as well as remakes we’d like to see, and a whole bunch of other nerdy stuff that will make the non-nerdy among you (should you exist) throw up your hands and say “But I LIKE Matthew McCan’tActy as Dirk Pitt!

Eventually, I’ll be taking these podcasts into Audacity to strip out all the “erms,” and “uhhhs” and “Doyyyy” sounds. But for the first month or so, it’s the Wild effing West, baby! (something tells me that we’ll earn our “Explicit” rating within the first ten minutes. I know how you think, Hordelings!)

Each week’s info will also be posted to the web site, so don’t get your collective panties in a bunch if there’s something we natter on about that catches your…ear(?) and you don’t have a pencil handy.

I hope to hear from you, friends. It’s sure to be a fun time, or at least more entertaining than having your pinkie torn off by an iPad thief.**

*No, not really.
** OK, to be fair, some people might get off on that, so I will say it’s LIKELY to be more fun. You sick bastards.

OSI: “Reincarnation”

I’m once again participating in the poetry fun over at One Single Impression. If you enjoy poems and awesomeness of various stripes, why not pay them a visit?

This week’s prompt is “Reincarnation.” I’ve always been fascinated by this concept; the idea that the universe lets us keep trying until we get it right is both reassuring and (for some people, I’m sure) a little scary. With this in mind, I give you:

Reincarnation

Next time I come back,
I will be glamorous and
charming, glib and svelte.

I won’t make the same
Mistakes, won’t let my fool heart
Choose the primrose path.

As Tolkien once wrote,
“All shall love me, and despair.”
But I’ll be smiling.

And although I’ll hint,
Imply, and allude that I
Could give you my heart,

I’ll crave not your love,
Only your adoration;
This door is one-way.

And standing on high,
Ablaze with reflected light,
I’ll know what it’s like, darling

To be you.

OSI: “Rescue”

I’m once again participating in the poetry fun over at One Single Impression. If you enjoy poems and awesomeness of various stripes, why not pay them a visit?

This week, the prompt is “Allow,” a verb that affects a lot of us in very different ways.  For me, understanding that a life without risk is a life without reward was an uphill battle. By (slowly) learning to relax my guard, I’ve learned that being open may leave you vulnerable to harm, but it’s also the only way to really connect with yourself, the world, and others.

With that in mind, I give you:

Rescue

She was fond of rules
They gave a shape to her world
Reined in all her fears.

As if by saying
“You may do this, and not that.”
She was in control.

Such a flimsy shield
Against the terrors without and
The chaos within.

She told herself that
A heart safe from harm, a soul
safe from slings & arrows

Justified a life
Bound by reserve and distance
Of closing herself

Locked away inside
This fortress, her heart still sang,
Her soul still yearned.

But in those grey walls,
The song was heard but faintly,
her soul could not soar.

There came, then, at last,
A day when fear of chaos
Fell to fear of rot

And she saw the walls
As they were – not a fortress,
But a grim prison.

A shelter from harm
But also a barrier
To love and to life.

She threw wide the doors
Sweet summer wind rushing in
Warmth replacing chill.

Shoulders squared, she
Clung fast to heart and soul, and
Stepped into the sun.

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!

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.

CDL Blogoversary, Day Four: “The Bride Comes to Black Hawk”

We’re celebrating Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary, and I’ve invited some very gracious and awesome friends to contribute to this mess, sharing their words with you, my beloved readers. Through June 10th, there will be a new post from a different guest each day, culminating with a new, full-length short story by yours truly. I hope you enjoy my guests’ work as much as I do, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens during the NEXT year.

[Today’s Guest Blogger is Stacy Stephens.  She was born in Omaha’s Near North Side, spending much of her early childhood in the same neighborhood where Malcolm X had spent his. However, she spent her adolescence in Gerald Ford‘s old neighborhood, her family having moved out of the aptly misnomered Pleasant View Housing Project.

Like Henry Fonda, she graduated from Omaha’s Central High School, where she attained the rank of Cadet Corporal in Army JROTC, and got good grades in the classes she liked. During and after High School, she worked a number of food service and telemarketing jobs, finally settling into a retail position at a locally owned pharmacy, ultimately becoming manager of retail merchandise, over-the-counter pharmaceutical products and liqour before marrying, having a child, and divorcing.

While raisng that child, she attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she was elected to Student Senate three consecutive years, made Dean’s List twice, and was selected for membersip in Omicron Delta Kappa. She majored in Secondary Education Language Arts, graduating with a 3.08 GPA. Her formal writing classes included Journalism as well as Poetry and Fiction Studio.

You can find her online at http://www.msstacy.com]

“He paused as if,
though this was too dark a chapter to be gone into,
it must have its place,
its moment of silent recognition.”

Willa Cather
A Lost Lady

I don’t suppose it would be correct to say that David had returned from the Yukon.  He had been there, had set out among thousands of others hoping to find gold in the wilderness, and found only wilderness.  He had given up everything, which in his case probably wasn’t much, to invest in corn meal and back bacon, picks and pans, canvas, rope, tent pegs and a mule, which he ate before spring came.  Having thus survived the winter without profit, other than experience, he again gave up everything and made his way south once more, his wherewithal being adequate to bring him no further than Black Hawk, Nebraska, which was nowhere near where he began.  So he had not returned, but only found himself here.

Among those who bothered to hold an opinion of him, he wasn’t considered much of a man, but what man is?  That’s only my opinion.  He might be called wiry, if the speaker were polite or had nothing to imply.  Otherwise, he’d be called wispy, to suggest a delicacy which might approach criminal behavior of a sexual character given the right wrong circumstances.  This is, once again, only my opinion, but I had always sensed the fragrance of sour grapes when any man spoke of him like that.  Whether he was too innocent or too discriminating to accommodate the rough-cut pansies who fancied him, I couldn’t be sure; I could only be certain, when they spewed their vitriol, that he had spurned them, if not naively, then gently.  And none of them seemed ever to realize that their sinister implications cast more profound aspersions on their own characters by inference than they were casting on  him.  It’s only the man who burns his lips on a tin cup who complains about the coffee being too hot.

“Some day, Edna,” David said to me one spring morning as we rode out to mend fence, “I’ll have put enough by to invest in a shop in town.”

“A shop?” I asked.

“Reckon I can sell dolls,” he explained.

“Dolls?”

“And trains of cars for boys.”

“You mean a toy shop?”

“Exactly.”

We stopped at a post without barbed wire and began looking.  If it had merely worked loose, we could just hook it to the post again.  If it had broken, we’d have to splice it back together with a strip of new wire joining the loose ends.  If it were entirely gone, we’d have to string up a new length from the previous post to the next one.  It’s the kind of work where strength is wasted.  You just need the dexterity to use pliers with gloves on your hands.

“Can’t people order toys from a catalog?” I felt compelled to ask.  The proposed venture struck me as inherently risky.

“Of course they can,” he replied, reaching down to grasp a snarled strand.  He gripped it just loosely enough to let it slide through his glove as his horse crept along.  “Whoa!” he instructed the horse as he came to the end of it.  “Cut me yea much,” he instructed me, tilting his head to indicate the distance to the next post.  He didn’t have to tell me to add the extra length needed for twisting the pieces together.  “But just imagine a girl actually seeing her dolly in a window,” he went on with our discussion as I snaked the vicious wire from its spool.  “Not just a little ink drawing on paper.”  He paused as I cut the fresh strand.  When I handed it to him, a loop raised high above our heads and our horses, he resumed.  “Think any daddy won’t buy his little girl a dolly once he sees her eyes light up?”

I had never had a dolly.  My eyes had never lit up when I looked at one.  Still, I could see his point, and knew it was valid.  He might not have found gold in the Yukon, but he had learned how to prospect. He had the splice knotted tight.

“And I reckon I can put a train of cars in the window,” he added as he nudged his horse toward the post, pulling the wire taut.

“What makes them toy trains go?” I asked.

“Alcohol burner,” he grunted as he cinched the wire around the post.  “The locomotive is a real steam engine.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Sure,” he admitted as we moved on.  “That’s why little boys love ‘em.”

He knew his product and his clientele.  How could he fail?

“Then I figure I’ll find me a good Christian woman,” he added, almost as if it were the moral of his story.  He’d never said or done anything that gave me the impression he would know what he ought to do with a woman, although it was clear that if he wanted a man, he would have had one by that time.  Perhaps he believed the sort of woman he hoped to marry could guide him into the uncharted waters awaiting him, or perhaps it was truly a matter of still waters indeed running deep.  Although I was a bit curious about this, it was really no concern of mine.

* * *

Eli McNichols had arrived in Black Hawk when I was still a child.  I assume his arrival had something to do with a potato blight, although my grasp of history is imperfect and indistinct.  I only know that while he found no particular advantage in being Irish, his being Catholic was no detriment to him, either.  The protestants of the County, divided into several congregations, lacked the political clout contained in the County’s single large and united Catholic parish, which elected him sheriff once he marshaled it behind him, not long after his naturalization.  He then learned that by exercising his authority regularly, he could keep it strong.  It was often observed that while the Governor commanded the militia, Eli commanded respect.  Accordingly, no one remarked on his bride simply arriving on the Burlington, having departed Ireland at his instruction and expense some weeks earlier, other than to say that she was lovely.  She was, of course, covered with damp soot, but this standard veneer of rail travel scarcely detracted from her obvious charm.

“Sure an its a warm reception your town’s folk are giving me, Eli,” was the first thing I heard her say.  I was struck by her Irish way of rhyming “warm” with “arm.”  We had all come to see her, not only out of curiosity, but from a wish to avoid explaining to Eli why we hadn’t done him the honor of welcoming his fiancee.

She looked still more beautiful the next day, at her wedding.  Her dress, which was sparkling white and had arrived in town several days before she did, was rumored to be no less than nine yards of the finest silk available.

Even if Eli had been a lesser man in the county, it’s unlikely that anyone would have talked much about Alice’s increasingly obvious clumsiness.  It went without saying, generally, that the bruises and black eyes revealed a propensity toward walking into half-open doors in the darkness, and that she ought to be more careful.

* * *

It was well into summer when, on a Sunday morning after mass, David went to fetch the buggy for my parents and I went with him, being restless.  We saw Eli and Alice, who didn’t notice us, walking slightly ahead of us.
We couldn’t quite hear what she said, but did see Eli raising his hand, drawing it back.  As he did this, his head turned, and he saw us behind them.  He lowered his hand.

“Mind yer lip,” we heard him say.

David trembled, and I realized that I had never seen him angry before.  When we stopped to unhitch the horses, Eli and Alice continued on their way.

“Ought to be a law,” David said as he shook the reins.

“If there were,” I observed, “we could hardly expect him to arrest himself.”

“Whoa up,” he said to the horses when we were at the church.  Mother and Father got in, and we said nothing more about it.

* * *

It was a few weeks later that we saw the badger.

We had just finished dinner.  Mother was pouring coffee.  Although the day was hot, it’s never too hot for coffee after dinner.

“What ails that creature?” she asked suddenly, gazing with an uneasy intensity at something outside.  I stood and looked.  A badger, having emerged from the shallow draw beyond the yard, was ambling toward the house.  At night, this might be only slightly strange, but in the heat of the noonday sun, the best explanation and certainly the safest assumption was that the animal was in the earlier stages of rabies.  At once, I had my rifle loaded and was soon outside, quickly kneeling and firing as soon as I had my aim.

The badger flew backward, flipping in the air and landing several feet behind where he had been.  Already, David had brought a shovel.

“If I’d had you in the Yukon with me,” he said as he began digging a firebreak around the carcass, “I wouldn’t have had to eat my mule.”

“Do you even have a gun?” I asked.

“Just a pistol,” he told me.  “The only thing I brought back from the Yukon, besides the clothes I was wearing.”

After putting my rifle away, I fetched a tin of kerosene, soaked the animal down, and put a match to it.  We watched it burn from a comfortable distance, and that evening we turned the earth over on it to a depth of a few feet.

* * *

After the incident with the badger, it occurred to me that since rabbit tastes like chicken and their fur does fetch a small price, I could prolong the lives of our best layers and help David put by a little for his toy shop while keeping in practice with  my rifle.  We began hunting rabbits.  I’d shoot them, he’d skin them and dress them, and my mother would cook them.

On toward Autumn, we had accumulated a large number of pelts, and the night of the Czech festival, David figured there would be several people on hand to buy them, although we would have to wait until late, since nobody would want smelly rabbit hides with them all evening.  By that time, his buyers would also be drunk, which would doubtless enhance his negotiating skills.

We were riding into town, each with a pile of skins across our horses’ flanks, when we saw a couple walking in the moonlight, going away from the activities.  We knew, when we heard Eli’s voice carrying, that it was him and Alice.  We couldn’t make out what he was saying, but could tell that he was drunk and surly.  We heard the impact of his fist on her cheek just moments after we saw her sprawling away from him and stumbling to keep her feet.  Instantly, David was at the gallop.  I reined my horse in and dismounted, noticing then that my rifle, in the saddle holster, was still loaded.
I saw David’s pistol sparkle in the moonlight.  I couldn’t hear what he said, but I heard Eli.

“Are ye daft?  This is the twentieth century, boy.  This is nineteen-aught-three.  We don’t have gunslingers here anymore.”

A number of people were hurrying out from a brightly lighted barn, where there was still some dancing going on.

David spoke again.

Eli replied, “As ye will, then.”

I saw moonlight flash on the barrel of his gun.  There were shots, I saw splinters fly from the side of the barn, above everyone’s heads.  The breeze dispersed them behind the crowd, from the midst of which came several screams.
Eli lay on the ground.

In just a few moments, it was known that he was dead.  Holding his pistol between his fingers, David surrendered it to one of the men nearby.  Several of them escorted him to jail, where he waited with them until a deputy could be sworn in to officially arrest him.

* * *

The jury, made up of Presbyterians and Lutherans, couldn’t see hanging David for shooting an Irishman.  The argument his attorney presented allowed them to consider it as a crime of passion, what with Alice being so strikingly beautiful, and they found him guilty of manslaughter, sentencing him to ten years.  The circumstances having occurred in full view of the public, there was no autopsy, or even a careful examination of the body.  So it was never known that David had, in fact, hit the broad side of a barn.  The fatal bullet had been fired from my rifle.

[It’s me again. I hope you enjoyed this great story as much as I did – be sure to swing by Stacy’s site to say “hi,” or catch her on “The Twitter” at http://www.twitter.com/msstacy13.

Coming up tomorrow: another great short story!]

CDL Blogoversary, Day Three: “Flight”

We’re celebrating Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary, and I’ve invited some very gracious and awesome friends to contribute to this mess, sharing their words with you, my beloved readers. Through June 10th, there will be a new post from a different guest each day, culminating with a new, full-length short story by yours truly. I hope you enjoy my guests’ work as much as I do, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens during the NEXT year.

[Today’s Guest Blog comes from my charming Tweep Mari Kurisato. Her short story, “Flight,” is set in the same world as her upcoming short story “Lurker,” to be published in M-Brane SF Magazine later this year.

Mari Kurisato is a 32 year old recovering hikikomori (shut-in) digital illustrator, Twitter addict, and unpublished novelist, working on her third novel. She lives at home with her wife and cat somewhere in the US. She has an irrational crush on Masamune Shirow, and considers Elizabeth Moon her personal deity. Despite her pen name, she is not Japanese. Her website can be found at http://www.marikurisato.com]

The young woman whipped through the air, large black feather wings angled sharply behind her. Thermal drafts helped Sumiyo rocket upwards through blue sky of the Realm. The cold wind stung her face, and strands of her black hair snapped about in the breeze, but it didn’t hurt her at all. Here she had nearly infinite power, and was respected by nearly everyone else who lived in these lands.

She banked on her right wing, hung in the sky a moment, and stretched her perfectly muscled frame, before allowing the gravity to tug her body back towards the trees below. She plummeted towards the forest. Sumiyo rolled and flexed her shoulder blades at the last moment. Her great wings whispered against the leaves of the tree canopy as she swept away just above the aspen trees.. She inhaled a great deep breath of warm fragrant air into her lungs, and sighed. She didn’t want to go home.

A small golden sphere like a miniature sun appeared in her vision, and tinkled like a cat’s bell. She frowned as she sped along inches above the treetops, her shadow dappling the green and yellow leaves. She thought about swatting it away, but the glowing sun bell would only get more insistent, and not even she was that powerful.

Sumiyo rose into the air and scanned around for a place to land before settling on a high, jagged blade of red granite that over looked the valley. She braced herself, and whistled the log out tone.

The brilliant and warm world slithered away into cold darkness.

Leaving the Realm was always hard, not just because of the mental fuzziness of the Sensemit cable Sumiyo pulled from the port at base of her skull. (She hated the popping sound.) Her office was dark except for the glow of her thirty inch touchscreen computer where the small golden sphere sat on screen, chiming.

She touched the glowing ball; it chirped and unfolded into a video mail from Koichi Yanagata  (Mr. 770 he called himself.)  He appeared on the video screen and squinted a moment before speaking.

“Kurimotosan. Something has happened with Kajiyama. She has-”

Sumiyo slapped the pause button onscreen at the sound of that name. Her. Ryoko Kajiyama.  The memory of the incident came to her mind’s eye in great detail, as if created digitally in brilliant  colors and sharp focus.

Two years ago, Sumiyo and Ryoko were standing on the top of a brown spiral staircase in the alleyway behind the ladies’ bar Kinswomyn, in Shinjuku. Ryoko looked amazing, with long brown hair and pale blue eyes, dressed in a form fitting red cocktail dress with a flared hem. But Sumiyo hadn’t noticed. They were both drunk and arguing.

Ryoko had later told the police that Sumiyo had slipped backwards and fallen by herself, and at the time Sumiyo didn’t remember anything.

But after that night she never saw Ryoko again, and she still had nightmares about Kajiyamasan’s grinning face as she looked down at Sumiyo falling over the railing.

Doctors said she had been relatively lucky. The T10 spinal fracture had sent fragments of bone into her spinal cord. Though she had only fallen about twelve feet, she could have easily broken her neck and died, instead of being just paralyzed, they said.

Cold comfort that, thought Sumiyo as she sat staring at the frozen face of “Mr. 770” onscreen. She leaned forward in her wheelchair and tapped the play button

“has finally been formally charged in the murder of Mika Anzai. Kajiyama committed suicide last week.” Koichi said, with the empty look of a Bunraku doll. He continued, his voice flat. “I know you haven’t been out of the house since you returned home from the hospital, but I think we should meet and talk about what has happened. I’ve enclosed an RSVP for coffee if you like. I think you should talk about what happened between you and Ryoko.”

The screen returned to the text layout of the email, and Sumiyo sighed, her breathing ragged.

So, Ryoko committed suicide.

Sumiyo took a deep breath, or tried to, but breathing outside the Realm was harder, and her breath was harsh, her lungs felt full of water and she was tired besides.

That was just the psychological side of things, she thought to herself. She set the Sensemit cable down on the desk  The creaking of the wheelchair and her breathing matched the sounds of her Prime Realm computer’s constant humming. She rolled herself across the room, the lights coming on as they sensed her movement. The door at the other end of the room slid aside silently, and out in the hall way the two story arched windows splashed rainbow hued beams of light  across the marbled floor bathing it in fiery patterns of color.  The hall was large enough for a three lane street, and a carpet of deep scarlet ran the length of the hall in the middle, a river of red  against the white stone floor.

Two years ago she and Ryoko had walked that length of carpet holding hands, much to the disapproval of the house staff at the time.

Now the carpet was ribboned with light from the windows, and Sumiyo squinted a moment until she could see the outline of Tokyo’s skyscrapers and the Tokyo Tower rising above Minato. Two years ago, she would have taken a car to the base of the Tower and walked around it just as the twilight of the sky faded to night just to watch the lights of tower.

Now she couldn’t even leave her apartments in the Mori Tower. The scars on her face drew too much attention, and she couldn’t force herself to even step outside. Not that she had too, when he died, her father left her the residence and a sizable inheritance.

Though she felt guilty at the emotion, as she looked out at the harsh pale blue sky and the menacing razor straight edges of the buildings she felt grateful that she could afford to stay inside. She couldn’t be out there anymore. The one time she tried, people stared at her. Sumiyo could feel the pressure of their gazes even if she wasn’t looking at them directly. It was as if they were glaring at her in anger at what she had done. It had been her fault after all.  She had been so careless.

She had never even made it out of the building

Her father would have frowned upon her choice to remain in her apartments all the time, but he hadn’t seen her like this. He died five years ago, and back then, she was fresh out of high school and taking university entrance exams hoping to pursue a degree in economics at Todai.

That seemed forever ago.

The weeks after her father’s death were a blur of paper work, and Sumiyo found herself buffeted by the hurried rush of it all. She sold her father’s shares in his company, a move that shocked her cousins and the national press but ensured she never needed to work again.

That was when she met Ryoko Kajiyama at a coffee shop. Also forever ago. Ryoko wove herself into Sumiyo’s life easily, because she asked for nothing other than friendship. At least at first. As time progressed, it became something deeper. Taboo. They had to be careful about it, but even though Sumiyo knew her house staff disapproved they didn’t quit their jobs in protest. For awhile, Ryoko and Sumiyo roamed Nichō getting drunk together and staying up late, living careless lives when the sun went down.

In the daytime Ryoko worked as a financial manager for a Chinese owned financial services company in Aoyoma  and Sumiyo spent time in Ginza shopping, or surfed the net. When she discovered 2.ch, an internet forum, she found out about the Realm, though at the time she didn’t get into it, because it seemed like a waste of time.

How wrong she had been.

Sumiyo never admitted that the night on the spiral staircase was anything but an accident, and yet, the nightmares of Ryoko grinning at her as she feel seemed too real, too detailed to be just a fragment from dreams. It wasn’t until she read the threads on the 2ch. forum about the death of Mika Anzai that Sumiyo knew something about Ryoko’s polished personality was off.

She met Mr. 770 there, as she followed his account of what might have happened to Anzai. Mr. 770 knew she was a Realm Player, and they began chatting online as Sumiyo helped his new avatar gain more power through quests. They spent time together, talking about the Mika Anzai suicide turned murder case, and a few weeks ago Koichi shared with her his suspicion of Ryoko’s involvement. After that, Sumiyo withdrew from Koichi, spending her time in the more wild parts of the Realm where he could not follow her.

And now Ryoko was dead, by suicide.

The grin on Ryoko’s pale face as Sumiyo fell played through her mind again. It was so real.

The sun slid across the sky as Sumiyo sat there, staring at the skyline, shadows moving over  the tiles and carpet.

Now Koichi wanted to meet with her to talk about it? He knew she was a recluse, a hikikomori. Sumiyo sighed and asked Hayashi to prepare a dinner for her before going back into her room and closing the door.

She dove from the red granite ridge, her black Angel’s wings beating the air with thundering cracks, like huge flags in a storm. A new avatar had ventured into her valley, a tenth-season warrior who must have thought this place would yield easy treasures. Sumiyo had seen him just as she returned, and so had the Scarlet Chimera  jumping through the trees, chasing the terrified warrior. The new avatar was running as fast as he could for the river.

The Scarlet Chimera leapt from an oak tree, tearing it apart with a crack, and the dragon’s head shrieked, a gout of liquid fire splashing the forest floor just behind the warrior. The beast flung the trunk of the oak it had destroyed at the warrior, striking him hard. He fell, and then Sumiyo slammed into the Scarlet Chimera from above.

The creature screamed as it clawed at Sumiyo for purchase, but the woman grabbed the dragon’s head and whispered the simple spell. Suddenly the beast squealed in terror and fell apart, blood and ash in Sumiyo’s hands.

Sumiyo drifted to the warrior’s body on the floor of the forest, and threw some silver dust upon his misshapen form. The dust caught fire and bathed the warrior in golden light, and he screamed in pain as he resurrected.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Sumiyo said to the new avatar as he stood up, his armor ruined.

“Neither should you, Kurimotosan.” said Koichi as he took off his ruined faceplate. “Will you join me for coffee?”

Sumiyo simply stepped up into the sky and soared away, her speed breaking the sound barrier.

Sumiyo thought Hayashi was having a stroke when she asked her head staff to ready the car.  Sumiyo had dressed herself in a blue blouse and white slacks and was waiting by her private elevator. Hayashi looked dumbstruck. Sumiyo repeated the request.

“I’m sorry this is so sudden, but today is the day, and I definitely don’t want to be late. Please?” Sumiyo said. The older woman nodded (smiling,) and agreed to drive Sumiyo herself.

As they rode the glass elevator towards the garage, Sumiyo looked at the blue sky above the city skyline, trying to project more confidence than she felt. She was trembling. As she gazed at the Tokyo Tower to the east, a lone crow flew past the glass elevator, black wings extended, drifting. Hayashi clicked her disapproval, muttering about  “pests,” but Sumiyo just smiled, remembering.

Now was the time to fly for real, she thought.

[It’s me again. I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did – clearly, Mari is a talent with many great things ahead of her. Take a moment to stop by her site, won’t you?

Coming up this weekend: the Blogoversary fun continues, with a pair of short stories and another excerpt from my book Cleo and Meander. Stay tuned!]