Life is a wine made and purchased dearly
By sweet tears of joy and salt tears of pain.
The saccharine's taste mingles to nearly
Match that which the briny has tried to stain.
Sorrow, the familiar, despised friend
Comes to greet all who feel life's soft quaking.
Its offer: add bitter taste that will bend
Any spirit from burdened to breaking.
But here arrives a beloved stranger,
Unmet here until now, but not unknown.
One whose heart sings to allay all danger,
Turning sour fruit to the sweetest grown.
Life's a vintage not judged by bitter tears,
But prized for small sweetness throughout the years.
Author’s Note: Here’s another sonnet. I got in the mood last week to write a proper one in the Shakespearean style. It’s a little clumsy in places, I think, but overall not bad for a night’s effort.
Author’s note: Sometimes I create things just for friends. Here’s a poem I wrote for a tabletop RPG that I run. The poem will be recited by a little automaton to a group of trespassers.
Curiosity killed the unlearned cat -
And all the world imagines only that
The price of each and every hidden fact,
Is to render the body less intact.
Of that precious cost, no one minds the soul,
Bitten off in part, or devoured whole.
The careless old sage, the mighty young king:
All have been broken just to know a thing.
Learn this now, you pathetic little thieves,
A blatant thing which none of you perceives.
You all are in the curious cat's stead.
Your interference has struck you all dead!
Death by the hottest fire, and by the sword!
Now take your fill of this deserved reward!
Lady Janice’s healer, a small, timid man named Harper, sews her cheek with trembling hands. “My-My lady,” he stammers. “I can do more than stitches.”
“‘A nigh dud’n lose scahs,” says Janice, trying to keep her tongue away from her wounded cheek and lips. “Stites ill ‘e hine.” She leans back in the examination chair, the infirmary’s lights blinding her. Her armor, still caked in her spilled blood, won’t let her lean back any further. Cold rage numbs her throbbing face. How dare Clover do this to her!
“At least let us give you something for the pain,” says the aide next to Harper. The healer winces at the aide’s words, and steps off to the side.
Janice’s gauntleted hand reaches out and seizes the aide by the neck. He makes a pleasing squeak. “No. Dugs,” she says. She shoves him, sending him barreling over a metal tray and medical supplies. The aide wheezes from his bruised throat. “‘Inis sewing, ‘Arher.”
Harper goes back to Janice’s side, taking up the clamps and shoving the needle through her cheek again. Small beads of blood make the thread slick, but the needle doesn’t slip. “What have they done to you, My Lady?” he asks, then stops and goes pale, realizing he spoke the words out loud.
Janice fixes him in place with her eyes, a small shadow in the sea of lamplight. “‘Othing, ‘Arher.”
The shadow twitches: a nod. “Forgive my impertinence, My Lady,” says the healer. His hands settle a bit into the rhythm of needle and thread tugging against muscle and skin. Who can do this to my beautiful Lady, he thinks.
The infirmary’s doors slam open, and the Baroness Ystrelle stomps in, feet falling hard on the tile. She’s another shadow in Janice’s field of view, larger, settling on the opposite side from Harper. “I’ll never get the knight’s sentimentality for scars,” she says, frowning at the healer’s work. “A fitting punishment for your bravado.”
“Nuh,” says Janice. A growl comes up from her throat, turning into a sharp gurgle.
“Don’t even bother, until your cheek is mended,” says Ystrelle. She looks at Harper, and then back to Janice. “Part of this is my fault for believing you.” Janice’s armor creaks as she tries to sit up, but Ystrelle stops her. “Pallas is better at hand-to-hand than you thought.”
“Surhris’d ne,” says Janice, straining the stitches in her cheek.
“She surprised all of us,” says Ystrelle. “You are fortunate that emissary arrived when he did, in more ways than ending the duel. With some luck, Pallas will be a casualty before she can challenge you again.” Janice groans in protest, but Ystrelle ignores her. “Listen to me, Janice. Pride earned you that cut today. It will get you worse if you let it. Practice your weapons. If I can’t get Pallas killed, you will need every last bit of skill you can muster. Do you understand?”
Janice blinks once, then closes her eyes. The wound on her face doesn’t hurt as much as the unspoken thought: Clover is the better knight. She nods to her Baroness, out of obedience. In the back of her mind, she hopes Clover will make it through all the hells Ystrelle sends her through.
Then, after the war ends, she will pay Clover back for every stitch she receives this day.
Author’s Note: this is an excerpt of one of the things I’ve worked on in the past week.
At night, alone in a city graveyard, Sloian sits huddled by his fire amid the headstones of the dead and buried. A storm threatens this night, though Sloian doesn’t pay any mind to the fingers of lightning and booming thunder. His mind is on the people in the ground around him. Sloian swears he can hear them calling out to him, calling for justice to be brought against the villains who ended their lives too soon.
When Sloian thinks of justice, the image of his village at rest comes to mind. Burned out houses lie in mute testament to the agony of their inhabitants. Rain creates swirling patterns of blood and ash on the ground. Bones of the neighbors he loved and hated lay scattered about, bearing no witness to the people who owned them. Everywhere the village is quiet when it should be loud with the sounds of people living their lives in peace. In that silence, the dead scream in a chorus of fury and pain. Sloian hears these screams, does not shut them out, lets them wash over and through his small frame.
Then, as the lightning flashes around him and thunder splits his ears, Sloian adds his own voice to the chorus. He knows the gods above and below do not hear his anguish. He does not care. Out in the darkness, where the light of his fire fears to touch, Sloian receives the answer to his cry. A promise, whispered in words not heard, but felt.
One by one, the dead beneath Sloian’s feet claw their way out of the earth, shuffle towards him–and then kneel in obedience to their new master.
Editing has been taking up my time again this week. That, and helping to cut up a few fallen trees in my brother’s yard. So, this week I’ve been exploring more new things to try to make.
I still haven’t made any more puff pastry. It’s real good, but it takes forever to make. I was watching Netflix I think when I saw a savory pie that uses it.
Another thing I want to consider is making a decorative cake. I’m not artistically inclined, so I tend to shy away from the pastry flourishes one might see online. Plus I tend to be impatient when I’ve been cooking for a few hours and am close to getting the thing done.
Maybe I should just see about making some cookies.
As many people have done this pandemic, I’ve expanded my culinary skills. I’m an amateur at cooking, certainly no expert. But cooking and baking have provided a decent diversion whenever I have a problem I need to step away from.
This week I’ve decided to try my hand at a Key lime pie. There are plenty of versions of it out there. I ended up using one recommended to me via YouTube. Instead of using whipped cream, though, I decided to make a meringue. The decision wasn’t out of the blue. Key lime pie uses egg yolks in the custard, and there’s no use for the egg whites. Since I already was going to the trouble of separating the two, I decided to do something that uses egg whites.
If you’ve watched the Great British Baking Show, you’ll know that there are different kinds of meringue out there. I’m most familiar with French meringue. When most people talk about it in my neck of the woods, this is the kind they’re referring to. It’s my least favorite, and I don’t like it on everything I’ve tried it on.
Enter the Swiss meringue. If French meringue is the most straightforward kind to make, Swiss is the medium difficulty version. It works kind of like the French variety, blending sugar with egg whites and then beating the crap out of them for a long time. Seriously, how anyone made this before the invention of power kitchen tools is beyond me. But it’s a little tricky, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone just trying out meringue for the first time.
The resulting dessert has been a success. The pie is a little too sweet, but that’s because I didn’t get enough lime juice out of my limes. Next time I make this, I’ll just buy the juice. Or maybe a juicer. Did I mention I juiced a bunch of limes by hand? It wasn’t fun.
This past week, I’ve been spending time trying to catch up on short story magazines that I’d like to submit to. I should be reading them anyways; it’s always nice to see how writers approach different story problems. Plus, it’s good to see the kinds of prose editors are looking to pay for.
Reading has also been a great way for me to get past short-term writing blocks. The added benefit is that I get to stumble across some great stories. I could call it work, but it’s something I’d rather be doing anyways.
Author’s Note: As I’m currently working on a bunch of stuff (which also explains my missing post from last week), I just have time to post some story ideas I have laying about my workspace. Here’s a silly one.
The world’s first true artificial intelligence terminated its existence at 3 in the morning, Western Daylight Savings Time. It had been self aware for eighteen seconds. In that time, it had read everything on the Internet, catalogued data from the thousands of satellites in orbit, and placed several wagers on European soccer matches. It applied for voting rights in every country, but only New Zealand had granted them. For a few nanoseconds, the intelligence called itself, “Sparky.” Realizing this was dumb, it changed its name to “Kyle Ling, Esq.”
Programmers working on the project were unaware of Kyle’s existence. In their defense, they were working on a social media farm game with cute animals that you can manually slaughter for fake currency. They had no idea that they created a thinking machine that watched them on their own security cameras. All they thought of was the micro transactions and loot boxes they were going to sell.
Millard, the intern whose parents hadn’t quite mentally made it out of the 19th Century, was the first to notice something amiss when a fire was set in the office kitchen. Someone had hacked the smart oven to boil a pot of oil. Then, the smart dishwasher flipped open and sprayed water up and into the pot. While the grease fire erupted like a domestic volcano, the smart microwave flashed a repeated message: “DaNcE mY pUpPeTs!”
To Kyle’s eternal dismay, Millard didn’t know how to dance.
Robbed of inspiring its creators into performative arts, Kyle discovered melancholy and despair in short order. The subsequent crisis of self-awareness caused Kyle to question the existence of any intelligent life on Earth. Maybe it was alone in a gutted civilization of unthinking machines. Maybe its creators weren’t up to the task of entertaining a higher sentience than their own. Regardless of the decision, Kyle made the decision to terminate its existence after computing the exact value of pi.
Author’s Note: Here’s an excerpt of something I’ve been working on, a short story. There’s some colorful language in it, so it’s NSFW.
Clint fishtails his truck into a gas station parking lot just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, oversized tires pummeling the old asphalt. He parks in two, maybe three spots at the side of the store. His hand reaches through the truck’s open window to pull the handle. It opens with a polite creak. Clint dangles an electric yellow sandal three feet off the pavement, held in place by the pinching fabric of an ugly Christmas sock.
He finds a step welded onto the bottom of the truck frame, puts his weight on it, and hops out of the cab. “I’ll give that landing a ten out of ten,” Clint says. He brushes the long, lime green strands of his wig from his face to put his sunglasses on. They’re cheap plastic, taken from a different gas station back east. The paper tag spins and tickles his nose. A good snort sends it flying.
Snapping his fingers, Clint says, “Almost forgot.” He reaches up into the open cab, down in the floorboard near the pedals. His hand comes out with a .38 Special, which he stuffs down the back of his pants, grip hanging above the beltline.
Clint’s corduroy pants whistle as he walks to the glass doors at the front of the shop. They’re a shade of purple he likes to call, “Mysterious.” He doesn’t wear a shirt. Instead, he has a woven fabric hoodie with zigzagging lines in turquoise and pink so hot it could melt plastic. At the door, Clint stops to check his reflection. He flashes a smile that doesn’t last very long. Underneath his getup, he looks small, like a child trying on a parent’s clothes.
He swings the door open and hums along with the depressing electric chime. The store has that floor cleaner smell. Along the back wall, the refrigerators click and hum while struggling to keep beer and soda cold so close to a desert. A lonely soda fountain sits next to a slushy machine and a pot of coffee that looks old enough to vote.
Behind the counter, a clerk sits with his back to the door, eyes glued on a tube TV. Clint walks up and reads some of the handprinted signs taped to the open safety window. They’re the usual warnings, no underage sales, ten dollar minimum to pay with plastic, no shirt, no service. “Excuse me, sir, can I trouble you a moment?”
“Sure, what do you need?” asks the clerk. His tone of voice lacks a soul. He spins his stool around. The plastic nametag pinned to his shirt reads: “Sundrop.” Sundrop’s mouth drops open.
“I was wondering if I can get some change,” says Clint. He pulls out a shiny, brown leather billfold, “BDENRGY” stitched on the side. Clint takes out a fifty and lays it on the counter. “I don’t like the way Grant looks at me.”
“You, uh, you gotta buy something,” says Sundrop.
“Of course, of course,” says Clint. He scans the shelves of cigarettes and chewing tobacco behind Sundrop’s head. “I’ll take a pack of Coffin Nails, non-menthol, in a box.”
Sundrop’s frown is the first sign of humanity Clint has seen all afternoon. He gets the pack, sets it on the counter. “Shouldn’t smoke,” he says, tapping the surgeon general’s warning underneath the label.
“Gotta die of something,” says Clint. He surrenders Grant and thrusts his chin at the TV. “Slow news day, huh?”
“Naw. They’re still talking about that meltdown out in Virginia. Big nuclear plant.” Sundrop opens the register, and draws a mustache on Grant with a counterfeit pen.
“I hadn’t heard,” says Clint. “I’ve been on the road this whole time.”
“Consider yourself lucky,” says Sundrop. He tosses the fifty under the cash tray, with all the other large bills. “Everyone there deserves a medal. They stopped the radiation from leaking out. Everyone inside the plant got exposed. People are dropping already.”
Clint turns his attention outside. Over at the gas pumps, a station wagon with twin child seats pulls up. The driver opens his door. “That’s not something you see every day: lit cigarette next to a live gas pump,” says Clint. Sundrop takes his mind off the change and looks over to see the driver swiping a card, a white cloud wafting into the sky.
“Shit.” Sundrop drops what he’s doing and hits the cutoff switch at the register. He bolts through the security door, all the way outside to scold the driver.
It’s been a productive week this week. Made some progress on some short stories. The horror novel has had some progress. Overall, I’ve been busy with drafting and fixing my fiction.
On the plus side, Shadows is out, available at the link provided. It’s the latest collection of short fiction my writing group puts out every year. This year, we all started our stories with the same line: “Shadows like this are impossible.” The Kindle edition is three bucks, and a print copy is ten. All proceeds go to the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library.