After the First Hurdle

And now, a randomly-generated scene…

Nouns: loss, bite, breath, record, peace, silk, wash

Adjectives: handsome, aberrant, gentle, guiltless, slippery

Verbs: defer, ensure, write

Adverb: alluringly

Pebbles

A butcher’s son, Dom could appreciate a good cut of meat. But the smell as his dish was uncovered, tender chunks of goat dusted in flour and spice, fried in the best oil with leeks and strong garlic – on any other day, he would have fainted.

He wanted to enjoy his meal. His stomach begged him to – they’d been without supplies for four days, robbed in the Wastes as they travelled to reach this oasis city.

‘Go by night, when you can,’ Calahur had instructed as Dom hurriedly made preparations, shoving smoked pork and fresh underwear into a pack and stealing his father’s second-best cleaver, belting it to his waist. ‘This is not a task we can defer any longer. Avoid being seen – take the secret ways, not the road. I will point you through them,’ the aged record keeper—if taking census was really all he did on his travels—had said, and then sketched a map. In a narrow, slanted hand, he wrote a few lines telling Dom how to navigate the paths.

‘Memorise, then burn,’ Calahur had said, thrusting it at Dom and waiting, Dom under his heavy gaze – it was unsettlingly frantic behind his customary sternness—until he crumpled the paper and threw it in the fire.

‘So not quite as less-travelled as the record keeper claimed,’ Dom had grumbled after they were robbed.

‘At least petty thieves aren’t likely to report to… well, them that Calahur warned you about,’ Ral had remained cheerful, though their stomachs growled and their sunburnt skin froze in the night wind, coats taken along with their packs and weapons.

‘Who knows how big their network is,’ replied Dom moodily, slapping his sore arms and rubbing his chest, trying to keep warm as they trekked on.

‘Well, at least we’re travelling light, now. We’ll make the oasis in no time.

‘Eat, will you? That’s a handsome dish you’re letting cool.’

Their first night in the oasis they’d spent in the gutter, sleeping outside the magnificent inn where they now ate. That morning, Ral had pinched several glass bottles from street corners, washed out what liquor remained, and juggled a fistful of coins into her pockets, entertaining market goers and buying a few days at the inn, meals and baths included.

Ral nudged Dom under the communal table where they sat cross-legged.

‘Eat, or I will.’

She’d nearly finished her own share.

Urged on by Ral along with his empty innards, Dom picked up his fork.

‘We don’t have time for this,’ he said between mouthfuls, eyeing a trio of robe-swathed patrons at the end of their table. He was sure they sneaked looks his way, speaking in low voices over their steaming bread. Dom’s hand crept to his trouser pocket, closing over his handkerchief stuffed beneath. It was knotted about a glossy stone that shone shades of blue and green. Ral had stopped teasing once the thieves rode off – Dom had no clue what would have happened had they found its aberrant hiding place.

‘We need time to recover,’ Ral insisted. ‘You, especially.’

‘Why me more?’

‘My boundless optimism keeps me upright. You, on the other hand, my dear pessimistic friend, look like you’re unravelling at the seams. And it’s only been a week.’

Only a week.

Dom couldn’t believe it.

And there was still such a long way to go…

‘And we’ll be off again once we’ve seen this mineralogist fellow to get your stone looked at and all.’

‘Keep it down,’ Dom hissed thinly, shooting a glance down the table to ensure the trio had their attention elsewhere. ‘You’re unbelievable, Raleven. What have we just been through, and you’ll bring heaven knows down on our heads with your massive mouth.’

‘You need to relax,’ Ral announced, as cheery as ever, but Dom didn’t miss how she looked on him with deep concern.

He felt terrible, sick with exhaustion. He could barely fathom what was happening to him, Calahur cryptic and unknown dangers and responsibilities playing on his mind. Ever anxious and so tired, after only a week this quest-business he’d once dreamed about had already taken a hefty toll. Right then, all he wanted was to be home with his father, wielding a cleaver and smelling of carcasses for the rest of his life.

And it would only get worse. So he didn’t protest when Ral, after watching over every bite he took, led him to the inn baths. In his own cubicle, Dom stripped, scrubbed the Wastes from his skin with fragrant lotion, rinsed in the flow from the ceiling and donned the silk robe that had been folded for his use. But it had no pockets. And, unlike in the Wastes, he wore nothing beneath where he could shove his potentially-precious cargo.

Too tired to think straight, Dom stood motionless in his cubicle, stone in hand, until Ral rapped on his door.

‘You’re taking forever. You were no filthier than me… what’s the problem?’ she asked, seeing dilemma on his face and slipping inside, swiftly closing the door.

Wordlessly, he held out the stone. Without missing a beat, Ral unravelled her braid, shaking out the black cord that had held her hair back through the Wastes. Clucking patiently, she took the stone and bound the cord around it, knotting so it hung safely around Dom’s neck.

‘Everyone will see…’

‘It looks just like the cheap glass gems in the market, now. And who would wear anything valuable in a public bath? Not someone as paranoid as you, for sure.’

Taking his hand, she gave Dom a comforting kiss on the cheek.

‘You’ll be fine, you know? This’ll all sink in, and you’ll be fine.’

Still unable to summon words, unimaginably grateful Ral was there with him, Dom rested his head on her shoulder as she held him, relishing her warm support. Then, she led him out into the bathing chamber.

In deep rectangular pools and waist-high bathing pots, water glittered alluringly in the sunset, almost open to the outside beneath the massive glass ceiling. Decorative pebbles edged the pools and marked paths, leading bathers across the slippery tiles. On the other side of the chamber were towering shelves stacked with soft towels in every size.

‘I’ll grab us a towel or two,’ Ral said, leaving Dom by a vacant bathing pot. ‘Don’t wait for me—plenty of water for the both of us.’

Used to doing what Ral told him and the water increasingly inviting, Dom grew almost convinced a long soak would help him feel sunny again, even just for a minute. So he hung his robe on a nearby stand and gripped the edge of the pot, hoisting one leg over into the blessedly warm water.

‘Hey, boy!’

Dom started at the hiss, a dark shadow falling over him. His neck snapped around violently to find its source.

Inside the pot, his foot slipped with the sudden movement. Above, his legs tangled with the edge, and he lost his grip on the pot’s edge. A moment later, Dom toppled, striking the tiles headfirst.

It wasn’t a guiltless death, nor was he at peace. But it was fast; Dom was gifted that, at least. The almighty agony in his head faded along with everything else, gentle pressure failing to hold in all that seeped from his cracked skull. He barely had time to panic for himself and his father—what would he do when Dom never came home? By the time his thoughts reached Ral—he couldn’t see at all, but imagined she was at his side; she always had been—and the task Calahur had charged him with, he could only worry dimly.

It’ll be all right, he even managed to decide with his last ragged breath, though he felt bad he’d failed, fallen when there was still so much he was meant to do.

Ral will be all right.

Ral…

Ral was with him. He’d asked her to come with him.

Perhaps he hadn’t failed, after all.

*

Above him, her usually-merry mind numb with sudden, sickening loss – dead, the inn doctor had already pronounced him, covering him with a robe—Ral clung to Dom’s hand, stroking it, ignoring the questions and sympathy from the crowd of bathers. But though otherwise blocked out to anything besides herself and Dom, over the kerfuffle Ral heard a door creak. Not letting go of her friend, Ral peered through the dripping legs of onlookers.

The creak had come from Dom’s wash cubicle. The door was ajar.

A shadow rifled through Dom’s belongings.

Ral set her jaw. Leaning over Dom’s silk-draped form, she kissed his cheek in farewell, hearing as a few sensitive bathers began to cry.

She could cry later. Right now, she had to get the stone from Dom’s neck and around her own before anyone – particularly whoever searched Dom’s cubicle – noticed. Even with her juggler’s cunning, this would be some feat.

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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 …

A Say in Politics/Pressure

And now, a randomly generated scene …

The first, in fact, not generated by random words, but by actual events. Yesterday was weird.

I feel a disclaimer might be in order for those who know something about Australian politics:  I like the outgoing PM; I like the incoming PM. I don’t really know how to feel about the situation, apart from the mildly nauseating anger as to certain issues that were involved, however distantly (some might claim) in the outgoing PM’s departure. This scene did not spring directly from their drama. Rather, it developed from the general focus on politics.

I’ve definitely gone with a certain style here and made a few grammatical choices; I’m not sure how it’ll come across. Suggestions always welcome.

And before vanishing below the picture, I’d like to throw out a bit of admiration and respect to two incredible political women:  the one in Canberra and the one in Texas.

Phone

‘Are you going to do something? You have to!’

The numbers counted up, skewing to the right – far too much skew. The pie charts and bar graphs grew more and more complicated, the experts more excited. The ticker was in a frenzy trying to keep up; results from across the state poured into election offices to be frantically compiled and conveyed to stressed news producers. Supporters chanted and waved on respective screen quarters, cheering whenever another seat was snatched. And MacGyver’s deceitful smile on the right grew steadily more smug. On the left was Tellman, unwavering in her values and as stoic as a wronged rhinoceros, defiant to the end.

‘You are going to do something, aren’t you?’

Shannon asked again, thinking Casey too absorbed to have heard; Casey’s chair was pulled close to the screen, the volume turned high. But Casey had heard.

‘What can I do? I’ve had my say. We all have.’

For all it had been worth.

‘We are not smart enough to weed twisted creeds and falsehoods from pretty speeches. Either that or we benefit from and fund the lies. And you can do something.’

Raucous applause and self-righteous screams from five thousand voices and ten thousand hands to the right. Another seat was theirs.

‘Come on,’ Shannon urged. Shannon’s knuckles were white and cold as though touched by winter. Shannon gripped a phone tight, encouraging Tellman’s troops and firing barbed messages through the fray at MacGyver’s. It was war across the state. ‘You could take control of this. You must have thought about it.’

‘Not my call.’

‘He’ll make that same call on a million people if you don’t do it to him.’

Casey repeated listlessly. ‘Not my call.’

Shannon tried to reason with Casey. ‘It’s not like it’d take an explosion. Just one little aneurysm. No one will ever know. He deserves it.’

Casey had thought about it, of course. It was impossible not to when Casey wanted so badly to act. But what would an aneurysm solve? Tellman was still losing; she would lose. If Casey stepped up on MacGyver’s imminent victory, though the mourning period would be long, the right-hand successor would step in before MacGyver was even in the ground. Those millions souls would still suffer.

It was too late.

‘No one will know,’ Shannon was still saying, the screen focused on pasty faces at Tellman’s community headquarters, their shoulders slumped, signs dangling by their sides and lips long-since drooped and morose. ‘People will think the pressure got to him.’

The pressure. That would certainly be what got to him, if Casey had a real say.

The numbers were now skewed so far it was a wonder the television studio hadn’t toppled.

‘She’s going to congratulate him!’ Tellman took up a phone even as Shannon and a million more sent message after useless message imploring she stop. ‘Casey, please!’

But it was too late. Too late to solve this mess. Too late to save a million souls from the man who had campaigned for and by their fate.

No, not a man. It was evil who sat to the right of the television screen, whose phone now rang.

Casey’s eyes blurred with pixels, so near the television. Casey’s gut wrenched, stomach acids boiled, lungs blew cyclones into being. Casey’s heart burned.

Even as he lifted the phone to his ear and greeted his opponent with courtesy so insincere, MacGyver’s eyes widened. He winced, and touched two tentative fingers to his left temple.

He wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure.

Top 10 Random Things I Can See In My Bedroom

Started writing haikus, but I need to get back to editing and then sleeping fairly soon after. Despite the long weekend, I’ve managed to do very little of anything useful. Instead of haikus, I shall now provide a fast list of the 10 most random things I can see in my room – my home, my writing space – in no particular order. Non-Evangelion fans may need to look up a reference or two.

10) A crochet narwhal

9) A box stuffed with writing notes from the last 12 years or so

8) Part of a spaceshuttle hanging on a picture frame

7) A Geo-front behind a collection of waving cats

6) A candle holder acting as a business card holder

5) A microphone with a charm for success hanging on it

4) A dragon’s shadow sitting on my light switch

3) Pearls draped over a wire heart

2) An iron frog

1) A cello wearing a hat

The Opposite Impressions of S and F

I was fifteen, I think, when I first considered the letter S and the letter F. There are no two letters more opposite, in my mind.  In Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice, the protagonist, while learning to read and write, gives her opinion of letters:

She liked best the O, the D and the G, for they looked friendly. Z seemed mean, X wicked; and W always made her yawn. Q was by far the most beautiful, she thought, even if it could not stand alone and must be accompanied everywhere by the compliant U (p. 74, The Midwife’s Apprentice)

S and F may also be considered by the impression their shape gives on the page. S, I believe, is prettier even than Q, a pleasing swirl, curvy and soft, that takes little effort to create, without even the need to lift the pen’s nib from the paper. And S is not only lovely to behold; its substantial base gives it strength where it rests. It is sturdy and true, and though rounded its footing will not falter; S will do no more than gently rock, too evenly distributed to fall.

F, on the other hand, is top-heavy, its weight irregularly distributed on its one narrow foot. In other words, F is doomed to fall. The only other letter that stands such is P, which at least has a soft curve to catch it should it stumble. F is all harsh angles and points, and to write well requires the effort to lift the pen twice from a page.

It is little wonder, then, that there seem so many words associated with beauty and good that begin with S, and so many words linked to weakness, grief and loneliness that begin with F.

MM900178225

sacred, safe, sanctuary, saved, shimmer, shine, soft, solid, soothing, sparkle, special, splendid, stable, strong, succeed

MM900178212

fade, fail, faint, fall, false, falter, fatal, fatigued, fault, fear, forgotten, forlorn, fragile, frail, frightened

There are some words, of course, that break this trend – sorrow and sick, faith and fortune – but for me, since hearing the chorus of Fuel’s Shimmer – hearing and understanding, not how it was heard by only my child’s ears long before I was fifteen – S is forever raised above while F remains troubled and broken below.

All that shimmers in this world is sure to fade (Fuel)

(Graphics sourced from http://office.microsoft.com/en-au/images)

Guest Blogging Over at Michelle’s

Sent in a guest post to lovely Michelle to take up space over in her corner of the internet. Michelle Proulx is a highly talented self-published author who specialises in young adult sci fi romances, a wonderfully fun genre there never seems to be enough of.

A random scene was generated for the guest post purpose by the nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverb supplied by Michelle herself. Her chosen words created an entirely different scenario to that which I usually write, featuring a magical hit-girl, a purple poodle fluffier than any sheep and a face handsome enough to banish hunger.  Twas heaps of fun.

You can check out the post here, and while you’re over at Michelle’s make sure to have a click on her brilliantly-titled novel Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight Into It.

Room of Random Shadows

I get the best shadows in my room when the light is right.

Behold the Evangelion in Middle Earth Shadow:

Eva Shadow

Now, see the Dragon Over a Calendar and Cupboard Door Shadow:

Dragon Shadow

 

Finally, marvel at the wonder of the Evangelion Takes On a Dragon in Middle Earth Over a Calendar and Cupboard Door Shadow:

Dragon Eva Shadow

 

Also, it’s my first WordPress Anniversary 🙂 Thanks to everyone who’s had a bit of a look at my stuff throughout the year and, particularly, thanks to everyone who’s commented and stuck around for more. I’ve kept this up longer than I thought I would. Hope to continue in that vein 🙂