10-Year Tax Day

And now, a randomly generated scene…

This is getting ridiculous. Maybe I should watch My Little Pony before generating words. That might help the end product become something with a slightly lighter mood.

Nouns: fabric, sky, change, punishment, tax, food, laugh

Adjectives: charming, verdant, fierce, utopian, automatic

Verbs: discharge, attend, deliver

Adverb: remorsefully

MP900341400

It was Tax Day. Nathaniel shuffled along, profile pinned to his thin chest, shoulders and hips jostled with every step. According to the chatter, some within the massive throng were from as far away as half a day, as the crow flies. He believed it, too. There was just so many.

They’d all had to attend. Nathaniel knew very little about Tax Day apart from that. His parents had left him with a few tears, a fierce hug each and a simple instruction: do as you’re told. And they’d been told to queue. Formed into thick, haphazard lines supervised by imposing adults in suits, they were herded towards the warehouses like peckish cows to verdant pastures, but not nearly so eager. The vibe was far from cheerful.

Nathaniel listened to his closest neighbours. They had no more idea than he what awaited them. Many feared some sort of punishment. Nathaniel wasn’t worried about that. He hadn’t done anything wrong. His profile said so. Perfect attendance at school, middling to high marks in all in classes. Enthusiastic participation in military games. Strong predisposition towards language and arts – only five other kids in his class had strong predispositions for anything! Nathaniel was more occupied by his aching feet and the hole in his stomach begging to be fed. He’d been standing there all day and had only just passed into the shadow of his warehouse.

Though cool shade was a welcome change from sweating in the sun, he’d have preferred some bread and a cup of water. His parents promised a celebration with a few precious items from their food parcel once he got home – they’d even promised a fizzy drink. He thought enviously of those who’d entered the warehouse before him and could already be sucking down cola, bubbles tickling their noses.

At last at the front of his queue, an automatic door whizzed up and Nathaniel stepped inside, the rush of air on his back cold as it shut him in.

Confining metal corrals steered them across the warehouse, lit blindingly bright. Banners strung across the high ceiling shouted patriotic slogans in monstrous black letters. Hundreds upon hundreds queued, and this was only one of two dozen warehouses. Coupled with everyone who still stood beneath the sky and those who’d already passed through… the sheer number of children was too great for Nathaniel to fathom.

The aura here was starkly different. Outside, there had been nerves. Inside, the silence was oppressive, broken only by the occasional jittery, high-pitched laugh that made his stomach knot, genial Nathaniel wanting to snap at their owners to shut up. After hours more enduring the uptight atmosphere he started to squirm, in dire need of a bathroom.

“Hurry up,” he moaned under his breath as he slowly processed past the midway point of his corral, bladder distending and starting to hate Tax Day. He already dreaded the next he had to attend. At least there’d be a long, 10-year gap.

Hours later again, Nathaniel reached the front of his queue for the second time. Forcing down the unbearable need to relieve himself as the gate was unlatched, he was led to one of ten identical desks. A steely, grey-suited woman sat behind it, looking bored. The young man – he couldn’t have been more than 19 – who’d led him there flashed Nathaniel a charming, but weary smile.

“Profile,” the woman said disinterestedly, barely sparing Nathaniel a glance.

The young man held out his hand and Nathaniel, fighting not to wince and dance on the spot, unpinned his profile.

“Nathaniel John Laker,” the young man read. “Strong predisposition for language and arts. Daily participation in military games, perfect attendance…”

He read Nathaniel’s profile fluidly, easily navigating the difficult words near the end – Nathaniel had no clue what they meant. He tried to listen, but kept getting distracted by his bladder.

Finished, the young man placed it on the desk. The woman’s eyes flicked across the profile.

“No room for more arts boys.”

“But look at his school marks, his ancestry,” the young man wheedled as Nathaniel blinked, bewildered. “Look at his health – almost perfect. No family history of serious disease.”

“Math and science is what we’re after. We’ve had a shortage the last few years, remember? But his profile is decent, I’ll admit. I’ll make a note to keep the next male of his ancestry.”

“But Ma’am, this one’s worth keeping.”

“They’re all worth keeping to you. That’s why we’re past our quota for arts already.”

“Ma’am, I think…”

“Don’t think,” the woman snapped, silencing him immediately. She scribbled briefly and threw Nathaniel’s profile into an overflowing box at her feet. “Deliver him left now or I’ll be sure that’s where you’re delivered next year.”

A flash of fear was replaced by a set jaw of unwilling compliance. The young man nodded once.

“Yes, Ma’am. This way, Nathaniel.”

He took Nathaniel by the hand and led him past the desk. More adults led other children, accompanying them either left or right where two doors led in opposite directions. A banner hung over each. On the right, it simply read “Congratulations”. On the left, the banner read, “Help Us Keep Our Utopian Society Great.”

“Just walk that way,” the young man said, sighing remorsefully. Unexpectedly, he gave Nathaniel’s hand a squeeze. “Be brave.”

He gave him a gentle nudge towards the left door. Confused, but need for a place to piss and his parents’ advice to do as he was told overpowering any desire to ask questions, Nathaniel set off at a brisk trot. To his disappointment, the first thing he came across was another queue. At least this one was short. There had to be toilets on the other side of this door. Then he could go home and forget about Tax Day for another 10 years.

Three away, now two. This door wasn’t as well-maintained as the others, Nathaniel thought distractedly as he took his place at the head of the line. It made intermittent muffled popping sounds, almost like the sound his rifle made through his earplugs when it discharged during military games.

Finally, a rush of air blew his fringe back from his forehead. Nathaniel stepped through the open door into a short passage and was immediately confronted by another door. He waited impatiently, hopping from foot to foot, convinced his bladder was about to burst.

That’s when fabric dropped over his eyes.

Sketchbook Memories #3

Was writing a randomly generated scene, but started work on it too late. Plus, I want to keep reading. Kind of concerned about what shape I will be in once I finish this – John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Got some good work done on it; the scene should be ready over the weekend.

The long-haired young lady below, I believe, is a soil guardian – a sub-elemental spirit, of sorts. The story and absolutely massive cast she belongs to is, unfortunately, the very last on my agenda.  Probably won’t get to it until I’m at least sixty, if at all, which is a bit depressing. But it does give me a target for when I have to have everything else finished by.

Soil Guardian

The soil guardian. Unsurprisingly, she gets on very well with the rain guardian. Farmers dig them both.

(Pretty sure I drew this while watching ER)

Sketchbook Memories #2

Here are a pair of fire dancing feet.  Most likely they belong to the nice not-elf lady from Sketchbook Memories #1, but many folk in that particular story partake in fire dancing.  Most don’t wear sandals to dance, though. They wear strange, pointed shoes that look a little (in the pictures…) like they are carved out of wood.  Sandals make more sense, I think. You’d burn through a lot of shoes, otherwise.

Fire Dancing Feet

The feet of one partaking in the art of fire dancing. Rather a dangerous pastime, really.

(Maww, I didn’t see when I took the picture the shadow splitting it in two.  Oh wells.  It’ll do)

Sketchbook Memories #1

I kept a few sketchbooks from when I was about 14 years old to around 17 or so. Nothing contained in them is astounding, but there’s not one image unrelated to some story idea – most from various epics, one or two from spur of the moment head narratives that will never exist on any page, solid or electronic, apart from where those few rough drawings reside.

I’ve used a few pictures from these books to illustrate past posts, but as they’re all story-related and 10 years later I’m much less self-conscious about my drawing ability, I thought it might be fun to share a few now and then.

First up, we have this nice elf-inspired lady (not actually an elf…), the vaguely Aragorn-esque figure from what I still consider to be my main work (I’ll get right on it …) that was begun when I was 14. She probably won’t actually have many piercings in that form and I’m not sure about her nose here, but I like her hair and her nice pointy ear. There’s a letter C on her necklace that you can’t see; it’s for Caitlyn.

Sketchbook Memories #1

Sketchbook Memories #1 – Elf-like lady who’s not really an elf with a sort of Aragorn-like role but, then again, not really. Buy the book … eventually

(And yes, I am just taking pictures of sketchbook pages with iDevices – I’m not one for scanning)

Among the Loveless

And now, a randomly generated scene …

Nouns: cotton, fear, steam, observation, animal, attempt, butter

Adjectives: nervous, oafish, unequalled, keen, left

Verbs: consider, start, reinforce

Adverb: eagerly

rope

Once it was harvesting wheat and picking cotton, shovelling coal to make steam for power. Now all the food and textiles are synthetic and power comes from atomic funnels; we don’t work out in the sun anymore. Sure, some of us still work the mines and quarries and lay the roads, but most of us aren’t state property. We’re kept busy in factories and power plants behind switchboards and levers and conveyor belts. The foremen shout abuse and strike the slow while more distinguished men stroll about and do business as they watch us labour, the skilled, the nervous and oafish alike all lumped together in their minds.

We are as animals. They are as Gods. Thus, we are theirs.

Straightforward to them. But whenever I start trying to unravel their logic, I catch myself quick and focus on the tubs of butter sailing along my conveyor belt and again eagerly work my deft fingers, capping and stacking.

Can’t think that way. Can’t even consider thinking that way. Not with threats looped around our necks. One audible flight of fancy or attempt to wonder why is enough see an entire family disciplined. Talking back would see it destroyed. Some are destroyed for less, just to reinforce the fear.

I love plenty: Mum, Mary and Jimmy. Friends across the conveyor belt I’ve known for years. Breeding is strongly encouraged and failure to comply usually leads to discipline, so there’s not many without at least one they love: parent, sibling or child. It’s sad, I think – but never say, of course – that love’s the noose that keeps us here, silent at our workstation.  As silent as we’d been in the fields and as silent as we’ll always be, however we’re made to labour.

Only the loveless don’t wear this noose. They’re alone, but free to think, to dream, to do – well, anything, anything they want, with no repercussions. At least, none they care about. I pity and envy them as my moods change. I try to talk to them – John Turner and Maisie are two – when the pity’s stronger in me, but they’re hard to keep a conversation going with.

It’s with these thoughts clouding my head that I glance up at the nudge to my ribs and murmur of my name to realise with a choking gasp – there can be no mistake – that Jimmy believes himself among the loveless.

No! How can he? Mum still tucks him into bed and kisses him every night. Whenever Mary splurges on pricey ingredients to bake, she persuades him lick the spoon just to see his reflexive smile at the taste. And I, I hold his hand when he cries and tell him soothing tales and lies. Pretend I believe them, just for him. Jimmy is sad. He’s been sad for years, but I realise with a jolt that he hasn’t cried in weeks.

Jimmy’s left his lever, young face blank and hard. He’s running, boots tied around his neck by the frayed laces so his feet make no sound. Jimmy has unequalled speed. This is his only pride, but such frivolities as races are as rare on our schedules as shooting stars in the sky; we can’t even wish for frivolity. This is the first time I’ve seen him at his fastest. Truly, Jimmy flies.

‘NO!’

I open my mouth to scream, but Mary’s lover seizes me about the head, cutting off all sound.

Jimmy, no! I fight to cry. You’re not alone! How can you think that? We love you! We do!

‘He might make it,’ Mary’s lover hisses, lips against my ear I try in vain to wrestle free. My friends across the belt watch, some edgy and others fearful. Tubs of butter soar unchecked along our belt. ‘There’s no foremen, no owners. He’s prepared, timed it. Give him a chance.’

How can I let him go while he must believe such awful things?! But Mary’s lover is much sturdier than I. As pained as I feel he is from the light tremble in his solid arms, his head’s screwed on tight. There’s now nothing I can do for Jimmy.

I unwillingly slump against Mary’s lover. But not before a foreman sees my struggles. In a flash, he’s followed the direction of my distraught gaze and cried out an alarm. Now guards race – not as fast as Jimmy, please, not as fast – after his narrow back, spare firearms whacking against their sides, as he slips from the factory.

My heart thumps as though I’m sprinting with Jimmy. Mary’s lover’s arms are still tight about me; I would crumple without his support. I see the frowns of disrupted owners on the observation platform and know that if he’s caught, Jimmy won’t be brought back. The loveless are of little worth to them. Listless at their workstations or else sullen and insubordinate. They usually don’t even breed. Much more trouble than they’re worth. The bullets spent on them barely dint the workforce.

Run, Jimmy, I urge, sending all my love even as my heart breaks and sirens whir above our heads. Don’t let them catch you.

‘Is this family?’

A clipped voice suddenly asks. I don’t jump. I only register there’s anyone left in the world but Jimmy and those chasing him down when an unidentified slave replies. My friends are as defiant as they dare in their silence.

‘That’s his brother, Mark.’

‘And that’s his sister’s lover,’ another voice says, keen to speak up in case Mary’s lover is found out later and our entire conveyor belt crew disciplined.

We’re separated by guards that materialise all around us, grips on our arms as tight as any cuffs. I move where I’m dragged. It hasn’t hit home, yet; my mind only has space for Jimmy. As we’re marched into separate, tiny holding cells, I distantly recall my thoughts of barely a minute before. Only the loveless are free. They’re free, as they’ve no one to condemn.

But Jimmy isn’t loveless.  He’s lost. Because we do love him.

We love him …

Still No Scene and Suddenly Bagpipes

Okay, this randomly generated scene is taking much longer to put together than I thought.  Must be all the time I’ve left in between. Normally these things churn out between 30 minutes and two hours. I’ve put too much thought into it over the week, I suppose. It’ll be so disappointing when it eventually goes up and it’s as average as all the others 🙂 Hopefully by the end of the weekend the rest will be scraped together.

Also, what’s up with all these scenes?  No matter what words are generated to work with, they produce misery. The only vaguely non-dark story is the hungry assassins one I wrote for Michelle – that’s right, hungry assassins are the lightest thing I’ve got –  and I had to coax and ridicule that ending out of myself like the almost-empty toothpaste analogy.

I suppose my novels are the same. I’m not so good at making the happy. Misery comes much more naturally. Interesting, when I’ve very little personal experience of honest misery to draw on.

Should probably work more on the happy. Maybe a self-challenge for the randomly generated scene after this one – no chance whatsoever of salvaging the situation these words have produced – to be of slightly lighter content, maybe even a little humorous.

But probably shouldn’t set a challenge I know can’t be done.

Maybe it’s possible, though, if one of the random words is bagpipes. For the following are unfortunate facts:

Suddenly Waterworks = Me+Bagpipes

Severity of Suddenly Waterworks = (Me+Bagpipes)+((Mindset)(Situation))+Amazing Grace

It’s all true.  Sometimes the following is even true:

 Suddenly Waterworks = Me+Just Thinking About Bagpipes.

Pipers appear reasonably frequently in Brisbane; frequent enough to have developed the above equations. But through all of the suddenly waterworks, I find my reaction to bagpipes pretty funny, particularly when mindset and situation are quite low numbers, as they generally are.

Still, should probably never go to the Tattoo.  Likely it would kill me.

(In case anyone’s minded to try them out, mindset and situation are given values equal to or greater than 0, 0 being total neutrality. There is no need to differentiate between emotions when it comes to bagpipes, not when “me” is in the equation)