Tuesday, July 30, 2013

excewrig7 Cinder: Earthrose and Seabourne

Note: This is a partial chapter excerpt from Cinder: Book One of the Dragon Alliance. Dragons and humans are meeting in the Labyrinth, (the home of the Dragon Mage,) to discuss what to do about a concerted attack on dragon-kind from an unknown source. The Mage (a very old dragon) tells the story of Earthrose and Seabourne to those assembled. Cloud, is the proud leader of the sky dragons who have not yet been attacked. We see the scene through the eyes of Cinder, an orphaned earth dragon who has spent time living as a human girl.


It has been said in recent centuries that Earthrose and Seabourne were dragons, that we, dragonkind, were the first upon the earth, but the oldest tales say that is not so. When I was young I heard the legend pure. Earthrose and Seabourne were the first of the wizards. Though some called them gods, they were human.”

There was a snort from Cloud, but nothing more. Cinder thrilled to hear the sound of the mage’s voice. It was not a roar like the sky dragon’s. It rumbled low but clear. Her voice kissed the walls of the hall, but did not bounce. In her demesne no echo would gainsay the Dragon Mage.

It was an age of chaos. Humankind wandered the lands and seas in packs of two or three. They hunted and were hunted in turn. There were no leaders, and humans were lost in confusion. They could not fly, they had no scales or feathers, and they had little fur or claws or teeth. Their legs were slow, their arms were weak, and their offspring were helpless for years after birth. They were easy prey.

When a predator was too sick or old to eat anything else, it ate human. The taste was never good, but they were filling and easy to catch.

No one knows why humans survived this first age. Perhaps they were fertile. Perhaps most predators remained healthy enough to find more appetizing meals. Some say a spirit kept watch over these, the most defenseless of creatures.

The earth is a tester of the living. Though you see around you thousands of different kinds of creatures, for every one you see today a thousand have ceased to be. When times of reaping come, many types of creatures die at once. It was at the beginning of one of these times, the time of great ice, that Earthrose and Seabourne came to be.

Though Seabourne was born in the islands and Earthrose from the vast inland, each was raised in the shadow of a volcano.

While still a helpless child, Earthrose crawled down a lava vent and found herself in a sea of magma. She was too young to know fear. She knew only wonder. As she looked about her and saw the stones become liquid and then become stones again, she learned a sacred word.”

Ah, to know the sacred word.” Cinder spoke the response words along with each dragon in the lair. Earthrose and Seabourne was not just a tale of teaching, it was a tale of life. A tale of life is shared as well as told.

The mage nodded her satisfaction.

Earthrose understood as a child understands. It is a way an adult cannot. Instead of flame consuming the child’s flesh, a flame lit in her heart.

Seabourne was older when he walked to the top of his island’s volcano. He did not seek prey, but to see. He was still too young to hunt, and his mother could not take him when she sought turtle and shellfish along the shore.

Seabourne reached the top of the mountain when a venting of gas exploded around him. Seabourne did not worry that his flesh should be melting and his bones cracking, for he saw something that distracted him from death. The dust and vapor and air mixed before him. Some fire came from the sun, and some from the earth. As he watched the elements mix, he saw the sacred sign.”

Ah, to know the sacred sign,” came the response.

Seabourne did not try to draw the sign in the sand, but preserved it in his heart, and then, as with Earthrose, a flame was lit within.

Years later, ice moved across the earth. All life fled before it. Earthrose saw the shadow of ice gray the horizon. There were storms and cold winds such as she never felt before. The cold was uncomfortable, but it was the darkness that frightened her.

Her father took her hand. They must flee the wall of ice. She told her father there was heat and light in the volcano.

Though the fire was life to her, it filled her father with fear. Fear is the great life taker. Earthrose went alone.

Earthrose wandered through the roots of the mountain and across the bones of the earth. She felt neither hunger nor thirst, for her nourishment came from the life fire around her.

The journey was one of wonder each day. The voice of the deep spoke to her and told her the truths that remained hidden to those on the surface. Though Earthrose did not know day from day, she knew that time was passing, for as she wandered she became a woman.

Seabourne was also on his journey across the bones of the earth. Like Earthrose he knew neither hunger nor thirst. The wonders of his days were visions that played constantly before him as he passed.

Both Earthrose and Seabourne were satisfied in their lives of wonder. They also shared a common regret: that they experienced the wonder alone.

When they met beneath the earth, there was a celebration in their hearts. Fire danced about them as they touched hands, embraced, and mated.

It was here in the deep places that Earthrose and Seabourne paused in their wandering. Together they built a home.

Earthrose took twelve small stones that fluxed between hard and molten and spoke into them the sacred word.”

Ah, to know the sacred word.”

Seabourne took volcanic gas that fluxed between gas and liquid and envisioned the sacred sign.”

Ah, to know the sacred sign.”

They took the twelve molten stones and placed them in the pool of cloud, and treasure was born on the earth. The twelve stones became jewels of surpassing brilliance. Though they were solid, they contained within them the flow of the sea and the light of the sky.

They took four of the stones and set them below, and four they set above. The final four they set as a gate, and a lair formed around them. The stones transformed the walls of the lair to diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire. The floor became gold, and the ceiling platinum. So was born the great earth hoard.”

Ah, to see the great earth hoard.”

Earthrose and Seabourne did not know how long they lived in their magnificent lair. Their days were spent in discovery. They explored the earth about them. They explored the depths each found in the other.

In their paradise they began to wonder about those upon the surface. Was it right for them to live in splendor while humans above died in darkness?”

Wizards, heroes, and dragons, come forth!” said Cinder along with those around her.

Earthrose and Seabourne ascended and found the earth in darkness. The few humans who remained huddled in misery, awaiting their deaths.

The two wizards told the humans to gather sticks, and when the wizards touched the sticks, they came ablaze. The humans warmed themselves at the fire and used the fire to keep predators at bay.

When Earthrose and Seabourne compassed the earth, they found and saved twelve small gatherings of humans, six upon the mainland and six on the islands. Yet when they returned to the first, the fire they kindled was dead. The people suffered again.

They taught the humans to tend the fires, but in time each group lost its flame. They could not return to their lair. Could they spend eternity traveling the earth, relighting these fires? If they did not, was it right to let all humanity die?

Earthrose and Seabourne had no children of their own. Without these humans who were unable to keep their fires, the human creature would die. Who would there be to marvel at the wonders and inherit the legacy?

Earthrose and Seabourne returned to their lair and pulled from its foundations the Great Stone Jewels. The gold, platinum, diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire lost their anchor and scattered from the lair to all parts of the earth.

The two wizards brought the twelve stones to the surface and visited the last twelve tribes one by one. They looked into the eyes of each tribe member until they found the one with the most fire within. To this member they gave a stone. Earthrose spoke the sacred word, and Seabourne drew the sacred sign, and the human was bound to the stone.

These humans learned to call forth fire. They learned to sail the seas and build lairs. They provided for each tribe’s needs and protected all from predators.

When these stone-bound had children, some of them became wizards, some became heroes, and others became the first of the dragons.

Humankind and dragonkind spread across the earth in such power that the walls of ice fell back before them. The humans built their towns and planted fields. The dragons watched and preserved the twelve stones and gathered the legacy of Earthrose and Seabourne wherever they could find it.

At the peak of the golden age, ten thousand dragons blessed the sky, sea, and earth.

The dragons were strong, and much of the legacy was found and preserved. It was then that the taking began.”

The mage fell silent. It was an odd ending to the tale. Cinder didn’t move. No one else moved, either. They wanted to hear the rest.

The mage looked over the dragons and humans present. For a moment her eyes fell upon Cinder.

Are you worthy? The mage’s words were clear, but they were not spoken.

I do not know, Cinder thought. She didn’t try to project the thought; she just thought it.

It is well that you say so. A testing will come.

Cinder did not hear the mage speak to anyone else in the room. The questions and answers were private.

When the mage met Cloud’s eyes, he met her defiantly, then looked to the floor.

Cinder did not know how long the silence lasted. Finally, the mage spoke aloud again.

Dragons came to being in order to preserve the legacy. Our hoards are rich, but our numbers fail. A year ago our numbers were less than a thousand. Since the killers have come, who knows how many remain? When the last of us is gone, will the legacy of Earthrose and Seabourne die with us?”

Dragon Mage,” said Cloud. “You have no reason for such fear. Nearly two hundred of us remain strong on Sky Mountain. We keep three of the Great Stones there, and we will not rest until we’ve secured all twelve. We will not fail in our diligence. The legacy will continue.”

It is well, Great Dragon Cloud,” said the mage, “that the legacy remains. It would be tragic if, in fighting to preserve the fire, we quenched it ourselves.”

excewrig7 Chapter 29 of Cinder Book 1 of the Dragon Alliance

Note: This is a chapter excerpt from Cinder: Book One of the Dragon Alliance. Alex is an apprentice to a wizard. Darla is a store-clerk who is sweet on Alex. They are out at sea. Alex is recovering from wounds fighting a griffin, and is in a fevered delirium. Mank is a chesh cat.  The mad poet?  Nobody knows till the end.


I was young, my love

I thought I was strong though I never was

I trusted in words

I swept, I cooked, I changed bedclothes

With castles built of fancies to make me strong

But I am broken, my love

And I am yours

The Book of the Mad Poet

The griffins kept coming. There were too many of them. Alex moved his stave to cross and thrust, cross and parry. Next to him a dragon was fighting griffins, too. It wasn’t Cinder. This dragon was blue and gray. Thrust, parry, cross, cross, sweep. The dragon picked up a stave like Alex’s, only bigger to fit his body size. The griffins were gone.

Show me how to use this,” the dragon said.

Darla was above him. The sky was replaced by a low wood ceiling. Darla laid a cloth on his forehead. It was so cold that he shivered. How did Darla get the cloth so cold?

Show me how to use this, Hero!”

The dragon was back. Where was Tig? The dragon must be talking to Tig.

Hero, come and show me!”

Behind the dragon stood a girl, black as midnight, with white fire in her eyes and irises of soft brown.

Alex was beside the dragon: thrust, parry, cross, cross.

Yes,” said the dragon. “I see! Show me more, Hero! You needn’t worry. I will leave plenty of griffins for you to fight.”

Why would he want more griffins?

Do not die for me, Hero,” said the midnight girl. “Save the dragons! Do not die for me.”

Hello, Alex,” said Mank. “It’s time to stop fighting now.”

There are so many griffins, Mank!”

I will make them go away.”

But the dragon, the midnight girl.”

They will be here when you return, Alex. Breathe deeply. Touch my fur.”

And it was all gone: the griffins, the dragon, the midnight girl. Alex couldn’t see anything but the chesh cat.

We’ll spend a little time here,” said the cat.

Alex thought they were in a field, but as he looked around, the only thing that made it resemble a field was that it didn’t resemble anything else.

What do we do here?” asked Alex.

Mank surveyed the blank horizon. “I don’t see that there’s a lot of doing to be done.”

It was true. Alex saw no enemies to fight, no dinner to cook, no hut to take care of. “What is there to do if you are not doing?”

We chesh are not so intent on doing, but if you wish, you may start doing by being, and of course, don’t forget to breathe as well.”

That doesn’t sound so complicated.”

Perhaps because you haven’t given it much thought.”

It was hard for Alex to argue that. Who had ever given thought to breathing or just being? Why should it be more complicated when you think about it? The puzzle bothered him.

Let’s take that thought away,” said Mank. “I’ll give it back to you when you need it.”

Alex still didn’t understand, but he stopped thinking about it. “So where are we?”

Where we are,” said Mank, smiling, “is where we are not, for this place no longer exists, and by the time we came to be, it was gone, so we couldn’t be there.”

Alex didn’t understand the cat’s answer, but he wasn’t worried about it. “Is there a reason to be here?”

That,” said Mank, “is a much better question, but there are too many answers to go into now. This is a place we chesh remember. Remembering is doing, but so little doing that we thought it a reasonable pastime. It’s a painful way to live, but we saw no harm in it—until recently.”

So this is the beginning?”

A good guess!” said the cat. “It’s not the beginning, but much closer to the beginning than you have ever known.”

Alex decided to be silent.

Your best response yet,” said Mank. “Here we were, and that is all.”


Were so much that we didn’t even need to remember to breathe. We were the same so much we didn’t even know we were different. Chesh cats and owls, dogs and griffins, we were indistinguishable. Even the humans and dragons didn’t know they were as different as they were.”

Humans and dragons are very different.”

Not at all, Alex. Humans and chesh are different, but humans and dragons are only a stone’s throw away. I think I’ll let you keep that thought.”

The cat touched Alex’s forehead with a single claw, and Alex heard a voice in his head saying humans and dragons are only a stone’s throw away.

What was that?”

Just a joke,” said the cat.

Was it funny?”

Chesh smile a lot. We don’t need to be funny.”

Alex didn’t completely understand what the cat was saying. He also wasn’t worried about it, and so it made sense to him. “So,” he asked, “why isn’t here a place that exists anymore except in the memory of a chesh?”

A well-crafted question,” said Mank. “I’ll tell you a possible answer. Doing became more than being.”

Alex couldn’t think of anything to say, so he waited. The cat smiled and nodded. “You’re really much more intelligent when you stop worrying so much.”

It started innocently enough,” the cat explained. “We breathed. It was quite the sensation. Some thought it would go out of fashion, but once we got started it was hard to quit. Now, in those days came the first connoisseurs: high air, valley air, dry, wet, hot, cold, air suspended in water. There was such a variety, and people had their favorites, of course.”

Of course,” said Alex, though he’d never thought about it before.

We didn’t know it. How could we know it? Knowing was a doing long after breathing. By the time we had the knowing, we couldn’t go back to the being, so we started the killing.”

Killing?” asked Alex, thinking he’d missed something.

Of course, killing. Doing is always killing once the breathing begins.”

Would you tell me why?”

Mank’s lips didn’t move, but Alex heard a voice. It didn’t sound like the cat. “Alex! Nobody tells me anything. Are you awake, Alex?”

Darla?” asked Alex, though he couldn’t remember what a Darla was.

No time for that now.” The cat touched his forehead.

You were saying?” asked Alex.

I was telling you,” said Mank, “why breathing is killing. We burn. All of us burn. We need to burn in order to do, and when we burn, things die. A cow eats grass. Is grass not alive? A griffin eats waterlogged dragon if it can get it. Kill, eat, burn, do, we’re all in the process.”

But not the chesh?”

Most certainly the chesh,” said the cat, “though we note and remember each death. It’s what we do most and why we are so sad. We smile in our sadness and remember all, even though we know that because we know and remember and smile, more will have to die.”

Did that make sense? Alex didn’t worry about it.

It all started,” said the cat, “with the breathing. We chesh are addicted to doing, and so we kill, though we try to kill as little as possible.”

You look fat enough to me,” said Alex.

Why thank you!”

The cat continued. “We eat to feed our doing addiction, but chesh take away as much as we can before we kill, so we kill very little, even if it’s a good sized animal.”

You take away,” said Alex, “like you took the fight and my worries and the Darla I can’t remember.”


But you took these things from me. Will you then eat me?” Alex didn’t know if he worried about the cat eating him. Did the cat take that away, too, or was he too tired to care?

The cat smiled. “Alex, I told you that I’d give those back when you needed them. We are killers and doers, but lying is rarely part of our doing.”

Alex wanted to scratch his forehead, but he couldn’t find his forehead or his hand. The cat seemed to know where they were, but he wasn’t telling.

Among the reasons I won’t eat you is, first, my promise, second, that you don’t taste good, third, you’re too big to eat in one sitting, and also, I like you.”

You like me?” asked Alex

You gave me a wonderful nap, most refreshing. Thank you.”

You’re welcome.”

So some kill more graphically and some more cruelly, but all breathers kill, and so we’re all the same, except two.”


Dragons and humans.”

There was that voice again. Humans and dragons are only a stone’s throw away. “Why are dragons and humans different?” asked Alex.

They build.”

Alex nodded.

Now,” said Mank, “I know what you’re going to say. Ants and termites and birds build nests. Beavers build dams. On the surface it looks like everyone builds, but it’s different with humans and dragons.”

Alex wasn’t about to bring up ants and beavers. He might have thought of it in a day or two. The chesh must have thought him smarter than he was.

The cat was staring at him. Was it his turn to talk?

Why?” he asked.

You wouldn’t understand,” said Mank. “There is still some argument about the beavers. They hide their secrets well. That’s one of the reasons we don’t eat them, but remember this: if you see a dragon, touch the stone, and you get a human.”

Another joke?”


Is it funny?” asked Alex.

Apparently not.”

The cat sighed, then he went glassy-eyed.


What is it?”

Someone’s calling me,” said Mank. “How delightful! I need to leave you here awhile.”

Will you come back?”

I come here often. If you’re still here when I return, I’ll bring you back.”

So, what do I do while you’re gone?”

The cat smirked. “That again!” he said. “I told you to be, and to breathe. That’s enough doing for now. Here, let me take that away.”

The chesh pointed at Alex’s forehead. The cat took something away, but Alex couldn’t remember what it was.

Mank gave him a big smile, and then he was gone.

Alex was there.

There was no point in looking around, because there was nothing to see. There wasn’t even anything not to see. He would have been bored, only he had no idea what that was.

Be. Breathe. Now be and breathe. It took everything he had just to do those two things. The being wasn’t so hard, but the chesh was right; the breathing part did complicate matters.

Humans and dragons are only a stone’s throw away. If you see a dragon, touch the stone and you get a human.

He would have wondered why he remembered those things, but the wondering seemed to be gone too.

Be. Breathe.

It was complicated, but Alex stayed with it.

excehaus8 Trouble in Taos, Chapter One

Note: This is the first chapter of Trouble in Taos by Headley Hauser.

Chapter One


So now we’re a town.

Taos has been around for four hundred years, and I’ve been living in it for sixty years. But we were just living in a bunch of buildings all this time. Now we’re finally a town.

I don’t see much of a difference. Sure, we have more art galleries than saloons now, but that’s been true for fifteen years. Sometimes people just feel a need to name and number things that were just fine without them. Instead of heading down to the courthouse, you can go to 400 Camino De La Placita. It doesn’t help you know where you’re going, it just sounds more town-like.

Frenchie White Feathers took me out in his truck to the Hemmings Ranch this morning. I’m sure the road has a name now, but it’s still just the road to the Hemmings Ranch to me. We took a load of picture frames to the artists there. I used to rent a wagon from the livery to do that, but there are too many automobiles, and I’m too old to control spooked horses. Frenchie rolls with the times better than I do. It must be his continental blood.

I like the Hemmings place. They’ve got the oldest flush toilet in the territory. It used to be one of the wonders of the world. Now it’s just old and not too reliable, though the seat is more comfortable now that forty years of behinds have worn it down.

I stopped at Carson’s Mercantile. It used to be Basset’s Mercantile before Norry changed the name for the tourist trade. There was a rack of dime novels about Kit Carson right by the counter. It’s always good to have toilet paper, so I compared the different editions for softness and number of pages. That’s when I saw it: Slimy Beach, the Tornado of Taos, by W. G. C. R. Colmes.

Now, I’ve read dime novels and heard fearsome stories about Billy the Kid and Jesse James. It’s hard to judge which gunfighter was the toughest. I never saw Billy in action, and I never even met Jessie, but I knew his brother, Frank. Frank and I agreed that the one man you most feared crossing was Slimy Beach.

Slimy killed more men than any three gunslingers I’ve ever heard of. His twin double-barreled sawed-off shotguns looked scary as hell even lying on the bar. They looked even scarier flashing in Slimy’s hands. Even without them, no man in his right mind would get within horseshoe-tossing range of Slimy. He smelled worse than a skunk and was the most boring man alive.

No man in his right mind but me, that is. Slimy was my best friend.

I picked up the Slimy book. There weren’t a lot of pages, but they were nice and soft. Norry Basset gave me a wink. I wanted to punch him in the nose, but I winked back because bad things happen when small, eighty-six-year-old men punch large, middle-aged storekeepers.

I put my dime on the counter and, without asking permission, headed straight for Norry’s crapper.

Walter,” Norry called, “why don’t you wait ’til the Sears and Roebuck catalog comes in before you use my toilet? The pages don’t clog up the works so much.”

I pretended not to hear him. There are advantages to being old. No one can say for sure what you hear and what you don’t.

Norry installed an expensive brass crapper back before Wall Street crapped on the country. It was one of the fanciest bits of seating I’ve ever been pleased to utilize, but it was too high off the ground for my taste. I guess a big man like Norry likes to keep his knees from cramping. It’s a good thing he didn’t have children. A three-year-old might fall right in a toilet that size.

I climbed up to take a seat and cracked the cover of my new purchase. The book had the usual illustrations of horses, saddles, and six guns you see in every western dime novel. I’d never seen Slimy shoot a six-shot Colt in my life. It wasn’t a promising start.

The text wasn’t any better. According to W. G. Chesterson Rawhide Colmes, Slimy was a large brawny brute with fists like railroad sledges. Such a statement indicated that Mr. Colmes probably acquired his “rawhide” from sitting on a barstool in Philadelphia.

I’ve been accused of being an ounce shy of pint-sized, but at five foot three, I had the clear better of Slimy Beach. Slimy’s railroad sledge hands were smaller than I’d seen on a few ten year old boys, and I imagine there were a few boys that age that could whip Slimy in a fair fight.

Slimy didn’t believe in fighting fair.

His perfidious reign of justice began when Beach was only fourteen. The rapacious giant, Mike Finn, forced his unwanted attention on Miss Purity Homebody, Beach’s beloved schoolmistress. Finn was an infamous brawler who routinely killed and maimed men with his bare hands. Young Beach traded thunderous blows with the titanic Finn before the exhausted villain reached for his gun. Beach drew his pearl-handled Colt 45 and spun the weapon twice in his hand – just to give his opponent a chance. Slimy Beach dropped that evil violator of feminine virtue with one shot through the eye. So the legend began.

W. G. C. R. Colmes, Slimy Beach, the Tornado of Taos, p.18

Well, the page was nice and soft anyway, but Norry was right. The pipes of the fancy brass throne didn’t sound too pleased after I flushed.

Just in case a flood was coming, I skedaddled as fast as an old fart can.

I wasn’t there when Slimy shot Mike Finn; I was still trying to make it as a painter in New York. But everyone who was there (and ones who weren’t) was happy to tell me the tale.

Colmes had a few things right, Finn was the first man Slimy shot, and from what I understand, he was a good-sized man, being the village blacksmith.

According to Two-Bucket Joe (one of the ones that was really there), Slimy and Finn were sitting at the bar. Slimy was never much of a drinking man, but he loved to sit in a saloon. Slimy was telling Finn about his watch. Slimy, like many people who weren’t very bright, liked to advertise it by telling stories. One of his favorite themes was his watch, and I don’t doubt that Finn had heard the story more than he cared to.

I should probably tell you about Slimy’s watch, because it was the thing he was proudest to own. According to Slimy, his dear mother bought him that watch for his seventh birthday, spending the entire sum of five Confederate dollars.

Slimy turned seven in the fall of 1864, and by that time Confederate money wasn’t worth much anymore, but you could never convince Slimy of that fact. He always emphasized the word Confederate to impress on his listener the tremendous value of the watch in question. Confederate money was, to Slimy, the finest money there ever was. In his adult years, he insisted on being paid in Confederate scrip, as opposed to silver or federal money. Slimy hoarded his Confederate funds and never spent a single Jeff Davis if he had any worthless Yankee notes to spend instead.

The watch was made of tin, and the glass was long gone. By the time I saw it, the minute hand was gone. Slimy told me how he loved to hear it ticking, but I don’t think the watch worked past his eighth birthday. Though he missed the ticking, Slimy didn’t care about the watch not working. He never learned to tell the time.

So Slimy was sitting at the bar with Mike Finn, trying to interest the blacksmith in the virtues of his watch. I’m told that Mike was a patient man, but he had had enough.

I tell you, Slimy,” said Mike, “I know as much as I care to about that watch of yours, and I’m sick of hearing about it. I’d much rather look at Flossy.”

I suppose W. G. C. R. Colmes was referring to Flossy when he wrote about Miss Purity Homebody, Slimy’s schoolmistress. I met Flossy years later, and I’m pretty sure she was never a schoolmistress. Learning and purity were not the first thoughts that came to a man’s head on making Flossy’s acquaintance.

Not that Flossy was what you’d call a pretty woman. Broken and dented as it was, I’d have to say that Slimy’s watch had a more pleasing face. But being out west makes a man lonely, and many a frontier man was happy to settle for cow pie if the only other choice was no pie at all. Mike Finn, like many others, used his imagination to make up for Flossy’s unfortunate shortcomings.

Now that I think about it, I don’t recall any schoolmistress in Taos ’til long after Mike Finn’s muscular frame was reduced to bones and dust. There was a feller, a schoolmaster I suppose, that taught some of the children at Saint Frank’s. I don’t know if I ever met him. I don’t think he was there very long.

But back to the story. I’m pretty sure Slimy never thought of taking up fisticuffs to defend Miss Flossy’s honor. Being so small, Slimy was not one to resort to fisticuffs if he could avoid it, and certainly not with the village blacksmith. Furthermore, Flossy was not the sort of woman who expected, or even desired, men to defend her honor. That would be economically inconvenient.

It wasn’t the liberties Mike Finn took with Flossy that irked Slimy; Slimy just never could tolerate being ignored.

Slimy grabbed the barkeep’s scattergun from the top of the bar and shot Mike Finn dead. He also winged two poker players and shattered the chair that Claybourne Petree, the undertaker, was about to sit in. According to Two-Bucket Joe, Claybourne was pretty scared for a minute, but took it pretty well. Of course, he got some business out of the deal.

This was Slimy’s first killing, and it came as a surprise to the people of Taos. He’d been in town a year or two and was, after his own fashion, a successful businessman. People found him tedious, and nobody liked the way he smelled, but no one thought of him as dangerous before.

Slimy grunted an apology for the mess and offered the smoking scattergun back to Estevo, the bartender.

Estevo, not a man known for his courage, failed to take it.

Looking back, a lot of lives might have been saved if Estevo had reached over and taken that shotgun from Slimy. Others might point fingers, but I'll wager that not a single one of his accusers ever ran a saloon in a 19th-century western town. Bartenders dealt with the rowdiest (and drunkest) characters in what was already an unruly and violent environment. Lawmen rarely spent time in saloons, and it wasn’t because there was more business elsewhere. They knew that if you sat around in a bar with a gun and a badge, someone would eventually think it a good idea to take a shot at you – maybe in the back.

Bartenders like Estevo didn’t have a friendly jailhouse to retreat to. If they started disarming their clientele, some clever fellow might figure things out. If he managed to smuggle one gun into an unarmed bar, the only thing he needed to do to be king of the bar was kill the bartender.

I’m sure there were a few brave bartenders in the West. A couple might’ve lasted a year. Estevo lived to sixty-eight and would have lived even longer if he hadn’t eaten his way to three hundred pounds by the time he was fifty.

It was a younger, slimmer Estevo who said to Slimy that day, “No, Mr. Beach. Please don’t be concerned about the mess. Accept the shotgun as my gift. Here…” And at that point, Estevo reached under the bar and produced a matching weapon. “Please accept this one as well.”

That’s nice of ya, Estevo,” said Slimy. “Thanks.”

Ordinarily, even back then, there was some fuss when one man shot another in cold blood. Most people figured a hanging might be the proper thing to do, or at least a search to find the sheriff, who habitually left town whenever he heard gunshots. He could usually be found after a day or two at Miss Katherine’s House of Comfort.

It was Estevo’s response that changed the mood. At least it confused the thinking of men who were already in a group stupor from Estevo’s mud, a mixture of beer, whisky, cider, turpentine, and tobacco juice. (The tobacco juice was mostly from the backwash of half-empty glasses, the contents of which were the main ingredient in mud.) It wasn’t just Estevo’s mud and mood that confused those present. Estevo was what passed for an educated man in those days.

Estevo spoke Spanish, English, Tiwa, and a couple other Indian languages to boot. He could even read and write a little. He was also an inventor, if you consider mud an invention, and Two-Bucket Joe, along with the others present, figured that any man with such intellectual accomplishments had to know more about the law than they did. If he hadn’t been such a coward, Estevo might have been mayor, or even the territory governor – or more likely just dead.

But this story is not about Estevo, who really wasn’t all that interesting; it’s about Slimy, who was even less interesting. Slimy had shot a perfectly good blacksmith, and blacksmiths were pretty useful and hard to come by in the West. Not only that, he wounded two poker players and destroyed what was, by western standards, a very fine chair.

The poker players were understandably annoyed until one noticed that the blast also surprised Lefty Hagar enough to drop his extra hold card from his sleeve. Lefty was a man of uncommon luck, which is to say, a real unpopular guy. Those who had the most cause to call for Slimy’s hanging were perfectly happy to trade a cold-blooded murderer on the gallows for a card cheat. The point, according to Two-Bucket Joe, was to have a hanging, and when it comes to people who needed hanging, card cheats come first.

Jacques de Tiwa, a man who claimed to be the son of Maximillian, the dead ex-Emperor of Mexico, went down to Miss Katherine’s to wait for the sheriff to show up. The injured gamblers split Lefty’s winnings and purchased bottles of real whiskey to treat the house. After the second round, most people had not only forgiven Slimy, but thought him a fine, though smelly, fellow. Some even admired his watch.

Mike Finn was lying there dead. There were bits of him still hanging on the bar, and being such a large man, he was hard to step around and even harder to ignore. Mike didn’t have any family, so no one knew exactly what to do with him. Claybourne Petree, who you might remember was the undertaker and had the chair shot out from under him, searched the body to see if Finn had enough money on him to pay for a decent casket and hole. It turned out that Mike’s pockets were bulging with silver. No one knew that the smith was such a rich man.

Of course, some of that silver went for more whisky, which greatly relieved Estevo who had lost two shotguns and a nice chair in the business. The blacksmith’s inflated fees became the topic of conversation. Finn’s fortune was sufficient to supply a first class funeral, a good drunk for a rapidly crowded barroom, and even a couple silver dollars to compensate Flossy for her loss of business.

By the time Sheriff Quick (who was quick only in the sense that he wasn’t dead) arrived, Claybourne had Finn’s body at the mortuary. Estevo had cleaned up most of the blood and other body parts, and the universal opinion (with the exception of the doomed card-cheat Lefty Hagar) was that Slimy had done no great harm. After the sheriff downed a tumbler of real whisky, he agreed, told Slimy to be careful with those shotguns, and hauled Lefty off to the jailhouse.

I don’t know where W. G. C. R. Colmes got the bit about Slimy using a pearl-handled Colt to shoot Mike Finn. I’ve only seen Slimy handle a Colt once in my life, and that was to bludgeon a man who was unfortunate enough to stand between Slimy and someone he was shooting at. The poor bystander was gut shot, and so he was going to die anyway, but Slimy didn’t club him to put him out of his misery. The man was too absorbed in his wounds to pay proper attention to Slimy’s story about the dog his mother almost bought him just before the family was run out of Arkansas.

fictmcfa2 Hauptmann Gerber

Hauptmann Gerber
by Stanley McFarland

“Honor speaks honor, Colonel,” he said to me in his thick Prussian accent. “A man carry hate in heart? I do not judge such a man. Hate is weakness. But do he what is right? Do he acts justly wit man he hates? Do he shows compassion? This is what measure man – not hate he carries.”

“They are murdering the Jews,” I told him. “They are gathering them in camps and killing them.”

“I have heard men say this,” said the Prussian. “I have heard others who say is not true. This is what I do not know. Who is right?”

“If what I tell you is true, Hauptmann…”

“That if I do not know, Colonel. I serve Germany. It is my country.”

Many of the guards spoke some English. Some used it to spy. Some used it to extort Red Cross items from the prisoners. Hauptmann Gerber used it to speak of honor and truth. He was my enemy, but I could not hate him. Just as he did not hate me for being a Jew – a fact he discovered, but had apparently not reported to his superiors.

And so we played this game, the Hauptmann and I; he pretending he didn’t know that my name was Cohen and not Card as it said on my tags; I pretending that I didn’t know that he knew. We discussed ethics and duty like two gentlemen at a coffee shop in peacetime.

The escape was well planned. I trailed the last group through B break. Lieutenant Dulais had used his Louisiana knife skills to advantage killing guards that crossed his path. Hauptmann Gerber lay in the mud. Was the mud darker around him? His uniform was slashed at the belly. His eyes opened as I approached.

“Live, Hauptmann Gerber,” I whispered. “I would not have a man like you die.”

“Neither I, you, Colonel Cohen,” he replied.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

fictmcfa4 Timyon Part One

Timyon Part One
by Stanley McFarland

“Why are you so sad?”

It was a question Timyon heard a lot – from his parents, his school-mates, his teachers. Now he was in a small office. Posters across the wall encouraged him to eat healthy, and to not be afraid to ask questions about sexually-related disease. Below the posters sat a woman in her forties or fifties. Timyon had never seen her before. She sat with her elbows on her chair arms and looked at him intently. Only the twisting of a pen in her left hand revealed that not all her attention was on him.

“Timyon,” she said. “You know that people are worried about you.”

Timyon nodded his head. He knew that people said they were worried, and he had no knowledge to the contrary.

“So why don’t we work together?”

Timyon did not wish to be rude, and people often mistook his silence for rudeness. “I do not understand what you are saying,” he said.

The woman’s pen stopped moving and she straightened slightly. “How so?” she asked.

Timyon considered her open and indistinct question, sorting through all the possibilities to find in his mind the truest one. “You asked me to work with you. I don’t understand.”

The woman appeared confused and perhaps even a little resentful. Perhaps she thought he was trying to frustrate her. He’d encountered that before. “It is though,” he said, “you are asking me to throw the ball, but I do not see a ball.”

“The ball is your sadness,” said the woman. “We should work together to help you get over your sadness.”

Timyon nodded, not because the statement brought clarity, but because he recognized it as an effort in communication.

“Do you remember,” asked the woman, “when you first began to feel sad?”

“No,” said Timyon. His parents had told him that he had been a happy toddler, but he had no recollection of being either happy, or a toddler.

“What is the first thing you remember?”

“I don’t know,” said Timyon. “Sometimes I see shapes and faces in my mind. Are they memories, or constructs of my imagination? I don’t know.”

“Have you always lived on…” the woman glanced down at papers in front of her, “Cherry Street?”

Timyon nodded. He didn’t remember living anywhere else, and no one ever said he had.

“What I’m trying to do here,” said the woman, “is find the root of your sadness. There may have been an event in your past that brought it about.”

Timyon nodded. He didn’t know anything to contradict her statement.

“What do you find that triggers your sadness?”

This was not where he thought she was going. His first impulse was to give a glib response. There was no truth in glibness – only disrespect, or even hostility veiled in humor.

“You were going to say something,” said the woman. “What was it?”

“I was going to say something disrespectful and unhelpful,” said Timyon.

The woman grimaced briefly, and then consciously changed it to an artificial smile. “Please, tell me what you were going to say.”

Timyon did not wish to say it, but he complied. “I was going to say that my sadness is triggered by people asking me why I am so sad.”

“Is that true?”

“No,” said Timyon. “It is not true. Sometimes the question can be annoying, but it does not make me any more or less sad.”

The woman exhaled audibly. The pen moved in her left hand more swiftly than before. “Let’s put a little distance in our discussion, shall we?”

Timyon, having no objections, nodded.

“What makes people sad?” asked the woman.

Though he felt some irritation, Timyon decided to give the question consideration. Though he had been motionless to this point, he now leaned forward in his chair. He braced his elbows on the chair arms and brought his hands together in front of his mouth. He felt his breath enter through his nose, then move through his body and out through his hands.

“I do not know if my answer is true,” said Timyon, “but my answer is that sadness comes when one is not at peace with one’s self, or the world in which one lives.”

“Where have you heard that before?” asked the woman with annoyance in her voice.

“I do not know that I have heard it before,” said Timyon.

“Timyon,” said the woman, “what fifteen-year-old says things like, “when one is not at peace with one’s self?”

It was true. Timyon had not heard any of his classmates say anything like that. He was tempted to say that he was such a fifteen-year-old, but decided that such a statement would be considered snide and rejected it. He straightened back into his original posture and put down his hands.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

poemwrig4 Sam’s Last Game

Sam’s Last Game

by Will Wright

Last game of the season

I’ve still no got no hits

I’ve been walked

And been beaned

But my average? - the pits

I tell you, I can’t stand it

Every game I dread

My bat’s too short

The sun’s too bright

My arms, they feel like lead!

And then there’s our coach Slaughter

He makes me wanna cry

I’m at bat

And he yells at me

C’mon, Samantha, try!”

I wouldn’t have to play this game

If I lived down in Peru

Or took a ship

Across the sea

To ride a kangaroo.

I should join the circus

And swing on a trapeze

Or fly a plane

To Africa

And live with chimpanzees.

But eight’s too young to fly a plane

Or so says Ginny Slaughter

I guess she thinks

She knows it all

Just ‘cause she’s coach’s daughter.

She says that real ball players

Spit tobacco in a cup

Now, does she think

That I’m too dumb

To know she made that up?

Maybe they wouldn’t make me play

If I got really fat

Big enough

To hide the sun…

Oh no! I’m next to bat!

I step into the batter’s box

And squint my eyes up tight

I’m not sure but

I think it helps me

Swing with all my might.

The pitcher’s Touey Jackson

He’s not afraid of me

The best I’ve done

Is foul out once

But usually? “Strike Three!”

Touey’s tall for a kid my age

And throws the ball real fast

Next thing I know

The umpire says

Strike one!” The ball goes past

My friend Jamal is there at third

And Jackie’s on base, too

The scoreboard says

It’s eight to six

The umpire says, “Strike two!”

Coach Slaughter scowls at me, and screams

Sam, you’re our last out”

Then why put me

Up here to bat?

And does he have to shout?

Touey throws and I swing hard

I’m giving it my all

I feel a jolt

And hear a ping

I think I hit the ball!

The ball sails high into the stands

It’s caught by Jackie’s dad

It scares a girl

Who drops her cat

But, it went foul. Too bad

The cat runs out onto the field

As Touey starts to throw

He turns his head

He’s so surprised

His pitch comes in real slow.

I watch the ball as it glides in

And swing my bat around

This time, I see

The two collide

And hear that pinging sound

The ball bounces off the pitcher’s foot

Coach Slaughter yells, “Go! Start!”

If it takes a while

For me to run

Hey! I’ve never done this part!

I run along the first base line

As I throw away my bat

When Touey moves

To throw me out

The first basemen’s got the cat!

The ball zips past both cat and boy

As I turn for second base

It bounces off

The walnut tree

Three players giving chase.

Carla throws to the girl at short

As ‘round the base I run

The ball sails high

Above her head

Hey! This is kinda fun.

I head for third. The ball rolls out

To a fielder, bending over

He doesn’t see

The ball at first

He’s found a four-leaf clover!

And now I know I’m heading home

The catcher’s Ira Rosencranz

For the first time

In my life, I slide

Sure glad I wore long pants!

The ump yells, “Safe” as I slide in

I whoop and tag home plate

Ginny yells

You did it, Sam!

We won the game, nine, eight”

And now the season’s over

As I hear my teammates cheer

And though I really

Hate this game

I can’t wait to play next year.