CDL Blogoversary, Day Seven: TV is Life

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 Megan Gesing, a pal I met on The Twitter. Megan is a 27 year-old Instructional Designer, Actress, Filmmaker and Artist.  She’s from Cleveland, OH but lives in Las Vegas, NV for the time being.  Contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t live in a casino and hates gambling. She really loves the sun and doesn’t eat meat.

Megan writes a blog called Love, Megan.  Check it out! http://www.lovemegan.net]

I watch a lot of TV.  I always have.  I’ve been acting since I was a kid, so I attribute this to research.  With all of this TV watching, I began developing this theory… See, my life can be pretty bizarre- Sometimes unbelievably so.  Stuff happens to me that you only see on TV… so, I’ve come to the conclusion that my life is a TV show- or more accurately a series of TV shows based on the same character.

When I was a kid, I was the cute little girl on a family comedy.  The kind of girl who’s mom dressed her up in pretty clothes and dress shoes, but who insisted on going outside and attempting to climb a tree anyway.  This always ended badly… but not horribly, so the audience (whoever and wherever they are) could laugh and shake their heads at her.  “Aw, that poor girl.” There were ups and downs, laughs and tears… Just like any good family comedy.

Through Junior High and High School, my show was more like “Boy Meets World” or something like that.  I had a great group of friends and we were pretty wholesome.  There was always just enough excitement and embarrassment to make the audience cringe and fall in love.  C’mon- you know the kind of show.  There were some great characters that got their own spin-offs and you always knew it was going to end at some point.  It may be sad, but high school can’t last forever, right?

Well, then I went to college.  My show got a complete overhaul: new location, new cast, new attitude.  It wasn’t really “wholesome” anymore.  It was dramatic and intense.  I got into trouble, I got my heart broken, I learned a lot about myself. I’m pretty sure it made for great TV week after week.  We always had summer break and a new season started every fall.  Each spring, something shocking would happen that would leave us all hanging waiting for the “season” to start in the fall.  Each year we’d welcome new characters and say good-bye to others.  People were scandalous, crazy, supportive and loving.  I mean, it was college.  Then I graduated and I’m pretty sure my show got cancelled.

But, audiences must like me because I landed a part on a wholesome kids show, playing their sarcastic-but-loving daycare teacher.  I couldn’t take this for too long, so I moved to Las Vegas.

That’s the show I’m on now.  It’s been “on the air” for three years now.  It’s exactly what you’d expect from a 20-something dramedy.  Insane roommates, ridiculously unhealthy relationships, challenging jobs, new friends…  It was a great show for a long time- but it’s pretty boring now.  I need a change.

I’ve been doing my best to change to the storylines myself, but sometimes I get the sinking feeling that I have no control.  I get the feeling that nothing’s going to change right now.  Maybe the writers are on strike, or the production company gets a great deal to shoot in Las Vegas.  Something completely out of my control is keeping me stuck here.

We’re going on summer break.  The show’s going to be in repeats for a few months and for the first time in a lifetime, there’s no big cliffhanger ending… There’s no big mystery to solve or surprise to wait for next fall.  Just a 28th birthday. Woo!

Think about it, we’re all stars of our own TV shows.  People make guest appearances on each other’s shows and shows spin off from each other.  We’re all the star of our own show… or at least we should be.  When the storyline falters and you start to feel like a secondary cast member on someone else’s show, there’s a problem.

Actors have shown us that it’s possible to demand quality from your writers: more face time, a more interesting plotline for your character- whatever you need. Just look what it did for the cast of Grey’s Anatomy- OK, maybe not the best example…

But as the star of my show, I’m demanding better storylines.  This fall, it’s going to be the start of the BEST SEASON ever.  Something big is going to happen.  Things are going to change.  I just really hope I don’t get a brain tumor or hit by a bus…

Stay tuned.

[It’s me again. Speaking as the star of literally dozens of mental television shows, I can confirm that we are each living in a program of our own making. Be sure to tune into Megan’s site for more fun and a possible season-ending cliffhanger involving ninjas, ferrets and a surprise special guest!*

*NOTE: I am, in fact, making this up.

Coming up tomorrow: The CDL Blogoversary celebration comes to a close with a COMPLETE short story from the Circe universe, courtesy of yours truly. Walk, don’t run, to your nearest chair and perch on the edge with anticipation, won’t you?]

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CDL Blogoversary Day Five: “Simon Velour Retaliates”

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 Stuart Beaton. Stuart’s something of a mystery to me, I only know him through his strange – well, to be honest – warped persona on Twitter. He masqueraded as a stuffed monkey for several month, then threw in the towel, to move on to “somewhere else”.

Somewhere else, it seems, is China. There he pretends to teach English, whilst trying to do as little work as possible.

Judging by his website, “The Small Picture” (http://rastous.spaces.live.com), he’s succeeding. It seems he’s a plump little thing with a penchant for food, guns and an expanding collection of Totoros, Spongebobs and Doraemons.

Which leads me to think he’s probably right round the twist, but, hey, who cares, right?

Anyway, Stuart’s Australian by birth, educated at Adelaide Uni, and has lived and worked in both China and Japan.

It seems that occasionally, he’s struck by brilliance – so here’s a short piece of fiction, weeded from the normal dross he produces.]

The man opposite Simon was unusually tall for a Japanese, and muscle filled out the lines of his Armani suit. He gripped a tumbler of whiskey and ice in one hand, and a punch corona in the other.

“Velour-san, let me understand what you’re asking of me… you are asking me to help you to recover something stolen from your government, by a rival clan?”

Simon sipped at his drink, and shuffled gently on the soft leather sofa. “Er, well, yes. It’s rather embarrassing really… I can’t make it official, but I must get the briefcase back. And I understand that you have no love for this other mob, anyway.”

“Ah, Velour-san, perhaps you do not realise that your request, as it stands, is very unusual. Why should I help you with this endeavour?”

“Oh, Kenichi, you have such a short memory… who saved your arse last year, when those bastards tried to blow your head off in the bar, eh? Weren’t  you glad that the lads and I were there that night?”

“Verlour-san…”

“That guy did have the barrel of a pistol to your head, Kenichi, when I hit him with the bench.”

“Ok, Velour-san, we’ll do what we can to help you. Now, what do you need?”

“Kenichi, old son, I’m going to need a light for this cigar for starters….”

*

The black limo rolled to a halt outside the office block, and Simon stepped out of it onto the footpath.

“Jesus, this is their headquarters? At least the Guineas have a little more style.”

The grey block was two minutes walk from the Kashiwa train station, but a world removed from the department stores that the Station Mall housed.

Barely 15 stories tall, it was a light weight beside its Shinjuku cousins.

The ground floor housed a run down bar and a florist, which were separated by a small lobby.

Simon stuck his head into the limo, and told the driver to keep the car running.

“Ok, Kenichi”, he muttered under his breath, as he strolled across the lobby, “we’ll try it your nice, polite way first.”

A reception desk was located next to the lift wells, and pretty young lass behind it rattled off a string of Japanese at him as he approached.

“Sorry, M’Dear, I didn’t quite catch that – come again?”

“I said, sir, can I help you?”

“Yes, you most certainly can. Get on that phone, and tell Mr Suzuki that Mr Velour is here to talk to him about a briefcase.”

“Er, sir….”

“Do it. Now.”

The woman picked up a phone, and held what sounded to Simon like a rather heated conversation, before she replaced it again on its cradle.

“Mr Suzuki will see you now, sir. If you’d like to take that lift to the top floor….”

As if by magic, the lift doors glided open, and a pair of heavyset guards stepped out. Simon got in, and the goons flanked him as the doors closed.

Simon was quickly but efficiently patted down for weapons before the lift arrived at the top floor. When the doors opened, Simon was stunned for a moment by the subtle opulence of the place – a far cry from the shabby exterior of the building.

“Ah, the remarkable Simon Velour… you honour us with your presence. To what do we owe such an honour?”

Simon slipped walked across the polished floor towards a large mahogany desk, by which a short man in a dark black suit stood. Behind him, a pair of cleaners worked diligently on a descending rig, polishing the large plate glass window.

“Mr Suzuki, I presume?”

“Yes.”

“I believe you have something that belongs to me… a briefcase one of your lot lifted from a cargo terminal at Narita. I’d like it back… and I’d like it back now.”

Suzuki’s face flushed red, and he snarled, “You have a lot of impertinence, even for a gaijin, Velour. What is to stop me from simply killing you now, and keeping the briefcase?”

“Because, you idiot, there are two men with machine guns standing behind you.”

Suzuki turned, and gazed at the smiling faces of the two “cleaners” who stood holding H&K MP5’s outside his office window.

“No use calling for help, either, Suzuki mate, your lads are a bit tied up with a punch up in your bar, too. Now… about that briefcase?”

Suzuki’s face was a mask of rage, one that would have suited any samurai’s armour, as he walked towards a large bar against the wall of the room. Simon crossed the distance to him, careful not to interrupt the line of fire of the two gun men.

“Ah, ah, ah, not so fast Suzuki”, Simon said as the man unlatched a concealed panel. “A smart man would have a weapon in there, too. Open it nice and slow, and don’t make any sudden moves.”

The panel slid silently open, revealing the plain black leather briefcase – and a pair of 9mm Glock pistols. Simon picked up the case, and gave it a careful heft.

“I trust you’ve not been stupid enough to open this? No? Good. Then I shall bid you adieu, Suzuki….”

“Velour, you gaijin dog, how do you expect to live long enough to even take that case out of this building?”

“Oh, please, Suzuki, no idle threats. Do you remember that hotel you took that little schoolgirl to in Shinjuku? The one that had all kinds of closed circuit programmes to watch on the TV?”

Suzuki’s face blanched.

“Well, smile, dickhead”, Simon deadpanned, “you’re on candid camera. I’d love to see what the other clans would say if that video became public….” He turned on his heel, and strode back in to the lift.

“Next time, you might want to dispense with the Superman outfit, too.”

The lift doors closed.

*

Still clutching the case tightly, Simon walked past a raging brawl that had erupted in the bar, and in to the waiting limo.

Kenichi handed him a cigar, and asked, “Well, Velour-san, you have the case, and I have a nice little video tape in case that little prick Suzuki decides to throw his weight around. I do hope my men aren’t getting hurt in that punch up you engineered, though.”

Simon took a draw on the cigar, and nodded. “Thanks for your help, Kenichi, I reckon that makes us even. Nice of you to lend my lads the cleaner’s outfits… just how long have you had the maintenance contract on Suzuki’s building?”

“About six hours, Simon – long enough for your purposes… and ours. By the way, what’s in the case?”

“Promise me, Kenichi, that you won’t be angry if I show you?”

“I give you my word, Simon.”

Simon extracted a slim key from his coat pocket, and unlocked the case.

Opening the lid, he revealed to Kenichi eight large black jars, each with a bright yellow label.

“For this, Simon, you would have my clan go to war, and risk your life?”

“Oh, c’mon, Kenichi, everyone knows Vegemite’s worth more than gold in this country….”

[It’s me again. He’s a funny sort, isn’t he? Pay him a visit at his site, I’m sure he’ll appreciate the interaction – it’ll give him something to talk about with the guards.

Coming up tomorrow: A fascinating piece on something I’m sure nobody ever expected to see on this blog – breast reduction surgery. See you then!]

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!]

CDL Blogoversary, Day Two: Adam Lambert’s Loss is Our Gain

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 is by Blanca Meneses, a friend I met on “The Twitter.”  Blanca is Cuban American and has lived in the US since 1969. She has an MBA in International Business, a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts and a Paralegal Certificate. She currently works as an in-house paralegal at a Fortune 500 company. When not working, Blanca focuses on her photography. She resides in Miami with her partner and their Goldendoodle, Cocker Spaniel and two cats. Visit her online at http://www.blancameneses.com]

I sit here today still dumbfounded by the results of American Idol. I still feel confusion and disbelief when I think about the results. I mean, Adam Lambert should have won, right? Right? He’s multitalented and the best contestant ever to compete on American Idol. But for some reason, or reasons, he did not win. We all know that now.

I remember that on that Wednesday evening, May 20, 2009, I was sitting in front of my big flat screen tv with my partner and our two dogs watching American Idol with the Bose stereo system blasting away just waiting for the results. Finally, after all the artists sang, some better than others, and after they dimmed the lights, my heart began to race. I was nervous but optimistic and hopeful. I was so confident, as I”m sure were many other Adam fans, that Adam would win. But when Ryan Seacrest announced Kris Allen as the winner I was in utter shock and disbelief and felt mentally and emotionally stiff. I couldn’t move! The phone rang. It was my partner’s mother. I’m screaming saying that this is BS! What?! What?! What?! What????!!!! The unthinkable had happened! Kris Allen won.

I was enraged. I went on Facebook to tell the whole world how I felt. My status was not pretty. In fact, I was fuming! I went on Twitter to tell the whole world how I felt. My 140 characters were not pretty. In fact, I was still fuming! Why didn’t Adam win? How did this happen? I was perplexed and upset! I was so enraged I even shedded a few tears.

Tears? Why yes, tears. Tears because I took his loss personal. Tears because I believe Adam Lambert lost because he’s “different” and obviously more colorful than the conservative Kris Allen, who, in my belief, didn’t win on talent alone. Adam Lambert has not really admitted he’s gay, but he is quite flamboyant. His black fingernails, his heavy eyeliner, his walk, his thick make-up, and at times his clothing, all gave way for people to think that he was over the top in every which way. But more important than anything, he is unbelievably talented.

Did Kris Allen win because of the conservative vote? Did Adam Lambert lose because he’s “different”? We might never know; however, there is wide speculation and much talk that the reason Adam lost and Kris won was because the conservative vote pushed Kris over the edge. So now, all of a sudden, we have conservatism vs liberalism and red states vs blue states in an American Idol competition. And here I was thinking that the election was over.

The bottom line here is that this country, although some states are making progress with LGBT issues and we have a Democratic president and a Democratic congress, is still quite conservative. It is the fight of the religious right vs those that are to the left of the religious right. I do believe that more and more people are becoming more accepting of LGBT people, but I also believe that homophonia is still alive and kicking in the good old USA.

So, in the end, I had to accept that Adam had lost this year’s American Idol crown. But, I do believe that he is well on his way to having an abundance of success. As a matter of fact, he might just be on his way to becoming the lead singer for Queen. Sweet and at the same time ironic, isn’t it?

Here’s to you Adam and to your undeniable talent!

[It’s me again. Regardless of American Idol‘s role as, ahem, “entertainment,” I do believe that Adam’s decision to be open about his homosexuality adversely affected his shot at the crown. As Blanca said, his loss will ultimately be America’s gain, especially since the runners-up from Idol seem to make a bigger splash more often than their crown-winning counterparts.

Special thanks to Blanca for sharing her views! Be sure to stop by her site to say “hola!”

Tune in tomorrow for some short fiction!]

CDL Blogoversary, Day One: What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding Transgenderism?

Today is Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary. To celebrate, I’ve invited some very gracious and awesome friends to contribute to this mess, sharing their words with you, my beloved readers. Over the next week, 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 is by my friend Sra, a very dear “friend once removed.” When she’s not sharing her adventures and insights at her own, also awesome blog, Bunsnip, she can be found preparing for the big move from Utah to Portland, Oregon for law school.]

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding Transgenderism?

Hello, everyone, my name is Sra and I write the drivel over at Bunsnip.com. I’m a real life friend of one of Claire’s real life friends, which means Claire and I are real life friends once removed, or just virtual friends, if you like. Claire is one of the funniest, most intelligent, and most bizarre people I’ve ever virtually met. Whenever she writes a comment on my blog, I’m left either laughing my ass off, or scratching my head because I don’t understand the obscure references she is able to pull out of her ass… er… I mean… her exceedingly knowledgeable brain… on any topic imaginable, but I’m sure these references would only make her comments all the more funny if understood. With this, her one year blogiversary of making people laugh and scratch their heads, Claire deserves to sit back, kick up her feet, and let other people do all the work for her for once. I’m only happy to oblige.

I’ve decided to write a little bit about transgenderism, since this seems a nice venue to do so. I am very interested in the topics of sexuality and gender, and if you’ve read Claire’s Transgender Primer for the Curious, Apprehensive, or Confused, you know that sexuality and gender are not the same thing. For instance, I was ok with “the gay”, as Claire likes to say, well before I understood and accepted transgenderism.

I don’t remember exactly when I became ok with homosexuality, but I know it was sometime before high school. Of course, as a young child it didn’t occur to me that there could be some moral difference between having romantic feelings for a person of one gender versus another. This attitude that one type of sexual attraction is ok while another is verboten is socialized into us. Sometime around maybe 4th or 5th grade, when kids are becoming more cognizant of their sexuality, I became aware of the fact that people recognize straight versus gay, and that straight is perceived as normal, while anything else is considered aberrant.

When I was a tween and young teenager, it was a regular part of slang to call things “gay” to mean “stupid”, and I partook of this slang like everyone else. Then sometime in high school, well after I had decided that homosexuality was a perfectly viable and completely amoral way of life, a friend of mine pointed out that using the word “gay” to mean “stupid” sent a message that I was actually much less accepting of homosexuality than I claimed. For some reason, I needed a little convincing (looking back now, I can’t remember how I might have rationalized my use of that slang), but I finally came to understand her reasoning and made the effort to change my slang usage.

And doing so made me realize that I may not have been as accepting as I had thought. It was then that it also occurred to me that, while I understood homosexuality, I didn’t understand transgenderism at all. And again, looking back now, it’s hard for me to revert to that state of mind in which I just don’t get it. I mean, if it’s perfectly natural to think that one could be attracted to someone regardless of sex, notwithstanding the accepted norm, it also seems perfectly natural that one could personally identify as either gender, notwithstanding the body into which one was born. But back then, I didn’t understand. I felt like if I was going to become the accepting person that I wanted to be, I really needed to figure transgenderism out.

~~ Let me make a little aside here. Some people errantly believe that when you’re talking about accepting homosexuality and transgenderism, then naturally you must also be willing to accept pedophilia, bestiality, polyamory, and, hell, maybe even necrophilia; like maybe homosexuality and transgenderism are gateway drugs to throwing all limits out the window, sexually speaking. This is a non sequitur, of course. (As an aside to the aside, with the exception of pedophilia, which I do find appallingly immoral, I am not making any judgment as to the morality of those other -alities, -amories, and -philias. Some of them might be a little stomach churning, however.) ~~

At about this same time, Hillary Swank played the role of a female-to-male transgendered person in the movie Boys Don’t Cry, which is based on the true story of Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, who is murdered when his friends discover that he was born female. I happened to come across the movie on TV one night, and found it very humanizing of transgenderism. It’s a story of love; it’s a story of hate. In short, it’s a story of the human condition. The film helped me see transgendered people as, well, just that, people. Really, that’s all it took for me to find acceptance of transgenderism, and understanding came with time.

In college, I learned that one of my family members identifies as transgendered, and I felt very fortunate that by this time I had already taken the steps to achieve understanding and acceptance of transgenderism, and wouldn’t have to deal with the search for acceptance when what was really important was showing love and support of this person, who is, after all, still my family.

A few years later, a friend of mine who I had known as Jason back in high school met with me for lunch because he had something to tell me. He was reluctant to divulge the secret, but I think subconsciously I had figured it out, because one of my first guesses was, “You’re not getting a sex change, are you?” That’s when Jason’s voiced morphed into the much higher voice of Lauren, “Well, actually…”

I was shocked, not only because I didn’t expect Jason’s voice ever to reach that high, but because a year or so prior, I had welcomed Lauren home from her LDS mission, which she had taken as Jason. That just shows to go you that you can’t suppose someone isn’t gay or transgendered just because of their religion. As a matter of fact, Lauren still remains devout to her faith, as do, surprisingly, many gay, bisexual, and transgendered people of all kinds of faith.

The most difficult part of learning that someone you know and love is transgendered is having to play the pronoun game. Hard as you may try, you will slip up, probably many times, before the hes and shes fall out naturally in their correct place. Incidentally, I’ve heard people use “it” when referring to transgendered people, and I can’t tell you how offensive I find that. People are never “its”.

The greatest thing about learning that someone you know and love is transgendered is the way that the person finally starts to make sense. Lauren in particular was always a little bit strange to me, growing up. In high school, as Jason, she would do this thing where she’d get uncomfortable and suddenly lower her voice dramatically. I always just thought she was being a goof, but now it suddenly makes sense. She had struggled with her gender identity her entire life, and tried hard to convince herself that she was a boy when inside she always felt like a girl. When she felt she was failing at being a convincing boy, she’d lower her voice nervously, or do something stereotypically male, trying to cover up. Learning that my friend was always the right person in the wrong body made everything about her click to me.

Claire makes the third transgendered person I know in my life. I’m counting her on account of our real life friends once removed status. The point here isn’t that I’m keeping score on my diversity of friendship score card, but that I am a 26 year old woman from Salt Lake City, Utah, and I know three transgendered people, which means there is probably someone in your life who is transgendered as well. This is why it’s important to come to understand transgenderism, and homosexuality, and bisexuality, as perfectly valid ways of identifying, because someone you know and care about will probably identify as one or more of these things. I think in life we all just want to be accepted and understood for who we are. I think if we try to accept and understand other people, without caveats and conditions, we will in turn find it easier to be understood and accepted ourselves. Easier said than done, especially for a grouchy non-people-person such as myself, but I work on it, and so should we all.

[It’s me again. Isn’t she great? Please be sure to pay her a visit at her blog, and tune in tomorrow for another great post dealing with Adam Lambert’s failure to become The Fairest of Them All, and what it means in today’s society.]