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Naked Bitch

Oh naked bitch with whip and chain
You flay my soul, you burn my brain
You give me hate, and only pain
(Yet here I am with you again)
Oh naked bitch with eyes of flame
It’s not for me your heart to tame
To you it’s all a boring game
(I cannot seize your secret name)
Oh naked bitch when will it end?
My dreams you break, my soul you rend
In hell with you, my time I spend
(It’s me who’ll break, you’ll never bend)
Oh naked bitch with hip and thigh
Oh hear my prayer, and heed my cry
You bind my soul, my life you tie
(Please stop the hurt, and let me die)
Oh naked bitch, my life you crush
My dreams all torn, their contents gush
And yet to you again I rush
(And when I cry, you tell me hush)
Oh naked bitch, I made you so
With deed and word, and even blow
The things I did you’ll never know
(Oh naked bitch I love you so)
Oh naked bitch who I adore
Though thousands lay upon the floor
We run to you and ask for more
Oh naked bitch
Your name is War

This poem came to me for unknown reasons, and is one of the darker things I’ve written, though one of my favorites. I truly didn’t know where I was going with it, until the last stanza, when I found I wasn’t writing about a woman, after all.

And, like most people who foist their poetry off on others, I have other bad habits. Thankfully, those I do in private.


Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Poetry


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Batman Is My Role Model – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Batman Is My Role Model – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Part of a series of articles for the new writer

Batman Is My Role Model


     People sometimes ask me what books they might read to learn the craft of fiction writing, and I usually suggest, Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, or perhaps Debra Dixon’s, GMC: Goal Motivation and Conflict. But lately, I’ve been telling them to read a comic book, because everything that matters can be found there. Batman can teach you how to write.
     People often look down on comic books, and those who write them as unworthy, but many of them are master writers, who know their craft, and know what really matters, so far as getting a story told.
     So let’s look at a typical comic book and see what makes it tick:
     When we enter the story things are going well. Our hero, Atomic Wedgie-Man, has a nice supply of criminals to thwart, who never seem to wise up to the fact that they can’t win. So, life is good. This is pretty much what you can expect at the beginning of any novel. We meet and get to know the characters. They have dreams and plans for a predictable future, but we know that’s not to be. Things will go to hell pretty rapidly, because it’s the nature of stories to have that happen.
     And sure enough, on a routine patrol Wedgie-Man encounters a problem, the foe who refuses to be classified. Our hero tries the usual things, but they prove ineffective, and because of some unexpected ability or device, the criminal escapes. It’s more annoying than troublesome. But still, our protagonist seems to have lost the skirmish. He needs to treat his wounds, salve his damaged pride, and decide what to do next.
     In a novel, we often call that the inciting incident. Your protagonist’s comfortable and stable world has been knocked over. Perhaps he’s just met the woman who makes him say “wow!” and she seems uninterested. Perhaps the pilot of an airliner has just learned that one of his passengers is a madman. Whatever it is, uncertainty has just entered the story and a new long-term goal has been introduced. It might be revenge, survival, or a date for the prom. But no matter what it is, it’s something the protagonist both wants and needs. And, it’s something with just a bit of urgency to it, which brings with it what the reader feeds on: tension.
     So, with a new plan and renewed dedication, Wedgie-Man reenters the fray. But, victory is not his, and his nemesis not only wins again, our hero must retire from the field or lose everything. Things have just gotten a whole lot more serious. Our protagonist may be wounded. He may escape thru some “just in case,” contingency he carried into battle. But make no mistake, he has lost the battle, and knows it.
     As in our novel, despite everything our hero has done, the girl he favors still thinks him a fool. Worse, she’s showing interest in the man who wants her only to thwart our hero.
     And that sequence continues: regroup and rethink, try the new plan and fail again—in scene after scene, as the stakes are raised and the focus inexorably narrows. One by one the options fall away. In fact, things become so serious, and so personal, that Wedgie-man questions his own dedication, and the need to continue—as do we. As readers, we may even suggest he say to hell with it. Yet, what choice does he have? One by one, as we watch, his options disappear, till all that’s left is to run or risk all in a hopeless final confrontation. But flight, while it may be attractive, isn’t one of his options. Perhaps the city is held hostage, endangering many lives. Perhaps a woman who Wedgie-man loves or respects will be harmed if he fails to act. Whatever the reason, he has no choice but to continue, though the situation appears hopeless.
     And so we have the black moment, when the climactic battle has been joined, and our hero is on the threshold of defeat. In that moment, in desperation, our hero looks around seeking something, anything, that might be used to turn the tables. And there it is, the lucky break that poetic justice says must be there. It may be a piece of discarded chain lying within reach. It might be a handful of dust snatched from the floor. It could be the admission or compromise the protagonist swore never to make, thus changing his definition of what he will and will not permit himself to do. For Wedgie-man, it might be a chance glimpse of the antagonist’s waistband protruding at the back of his pants as he bends over to administer the death-blow. But whatever it is, we take advantage of the hero’s one true and reliable weapon, dumb luck, in order to snatch victory away from the antagonist. A reach, a grab, a quick pull and Atomic Wedgie-Man is once again victorious.
     And that climactic moment, as always, brings us to our feet, cheering. Our hero has prevailed, and all that remains is the denouement, where the hero learns what the prize is, for having been steadfast and heroic.
     Okay, laugh if you will, but that sequence encapsulates humanity’s hopes and dreams, and has been bringing cheers from listeners, viewers, and readers for thousands of years. It’s what made the movie Rocky so memorable, and it fueled every Batman film. It played out in The Devil Wears Prada, and in every Nora Roberts novel.
     But is it simply a formula? Is it, “Do this,” followed by “Next, do that,” with no talent or creativity involved?” Does it reduce our writing to a sheeplike, “me too,” status? Of course not. Godzilla and Changeling both follow that same path, as did, Lord of the Rings, and, Harry Potter. Does that mean there’s no creativity that went in their creation? No. A great deal of creativity is required to convince the reader that this story is unique, and not at all like those they’ve already read.
     Are they simply different tellings of the same story? Yes, they are, in the respect that there is constantly rising tension, interrupted by places where a reader can “catch their breath,” followed by the climax and the denouement, playing out as they always have. But are they lifeless retellings because of that? Of course not. They’re a recognition of human nature, and desire. They’re what has often been called the hero’s journey.
     Can we vary from the formula? Sure, if we do it knowingly and with purpose. But would you want to invest hours in following a protagonist who, in the end, turns out to be unworthy of the time you’ve spent with him/her? Do you want the story to end, after the hero has been steadfast and resourceful, in defeat with no hope of redemption, and the hero unchanged from when we met him/her? Maybe, as a change of pace, and if the author can deliver an exciting and satisfying reading experience. But, read that as a steady diet? Absolutely not.
     So what should you be looking at to learn how to write? I’ll still go with the two I usually recommend, first, but for a good overview of how and why it works, go read a comic book.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Author’s note:
     These articles are not presented with a, “Do this and you’ll be a published author,” attitude. Anyone who tells you they can provide success via a few words on a blog page is scamming you. Instead, they’re one writer’s view of the ideas put forth by the writing teachers I admire and respect. I’ve done the series as part of what’s sometimes called a Benjamin Franklin debt. If some of what I say seems to make sense, I urge you to seek the teachers themselves, people like Dwight Swain, Debra Dixon, and a host of others, and read their advice directly.

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     The meeting room was small, with that seedy drab sameness possessed by service organizations the world over. The graffiti flecked walls were a dirty pastel green and mildly in need of paint, while the flickering fluorescent lights had long lost their reflective grillwork to the ravages of mid-city air—the once white paint coated to a greasy tan that absorbed rather than reflected what light remained in the old bulbs.
     The audience numbered less than twenty, and were scattered among the rickety chairs, whose battered desk flaps attested to the multiple uses to which the room was subjected.
     As a group, the people gathered there were unexceptional, a cross section of American culture, though something, perhaps a slight tenseness around the eyes, and a reluctance to indulge in close conversation, indicated that this was not another Monday night literary association or religious group. These people were gathered for more serious purpose.
     In the front portion of the room the inevitable rickety podium, and the also inevitable row of chairs for the comfort of those conducting the meeting, gathered. In the rear, the coffee pot burbled to itself as it prepared for the onslaught of the social period at the meeting’s end.
     The ritual of opening the meeting and reading the minutes was completed, as was the equally dull invocation of God’s blessing on those gathered there. It was finally time for the introduction of the newest member.
     The chairman glanced behind him, to verify that the man had not fled before the time of his presentation. In spite of a mental bet that the man would not be able to go through with his ordeal—a common occurrence among those who came to that room for help—he remained. It was a good sign. Those who stood to testify could not be coerced or cajoled into speech. When it was the right time for them they would know it. Until then, nothing on earth could drive them to stay. In this case, surprisingly, the man remained, although the tension lines on his face overshadowed the pain the chairman had seen there earlier, when the little man had quietly slipped into the room.
     He could not long remain unnoticed, however. His dress alone gave him away: torn and patched pants below a shirt that displayed a veritable menu of his encounters with life. He wore shoes of a sort—cast off sneakers with gaping holes through which his toes peered—but socks were a luxury he obviously could not afford. In the life he had probably been living, even removing his shoes to sleep was not allowed, lest he wake to find those meager symbols of status gone.
     His eyes, too, gave him away, the shifting distrustful eyes of the street-person, overlaid with the driving urgency of his need. He had hit bottom, and in his despair had finally admitted to himself that he could not go it alone. At last, he was ready to turn to others for help. It was his time.
     The chairman turned back to the podium. His voice, as he began, was deliberately calm and matter of fact, and his words chosen with care. The man sitting behind him needed reassurance. He needed to know that he was not unusual, simply another in a long line of those seeking the support the people in that room could provide. There was warmth in the chairman’s voice when he said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new brother with us tonight, a man who needs us, and the help we can give him. I’ve spoken with him, and have explained that each of us here in this room have, at one time, stood in his shoes. Each of us has taken the step of unburdening their souls to those who understand their suffering.”
     He turned, motioning the little man forward; urging him, when his resolve seemed in danger of giving way. “Please, even I took my turn here,” he said, gently. “It’s easier than you think.” He smiled reassuringly. “Believe me, only the first few words are hard.”
     The man finally sighed, and, seeming to steel himself against what was to come, stood and moved to join the chairman at the podium. That man smiled and patted his guest on the shoulder, whispering reassurance as he stepped to one side, motioning toward those seated and waiting. “Go on, Sam, you’ll do fine. I’ll be right here.”

     Sam stepped to the podium, regretting his decision to come and wishing he could be almost anywhere else. But it was to late. Clutching tightly to the small rail at the rear of the podium, he centered himself defensively behind its feeble protection, distancing himself from those in the room.
     He looked out over the faces gathered there, most smiling their own reassurance at him, some frowning as though in remembered pain. He took a long breath, in an attempt to steady himself for what was to come, his eyes darting toward the chairman, attempting to gain a measure of strength in his close presence. But that man had taken a step backward, making him the center of the room’s attention.
     He slumped. There was nowhere to run, and no way to deny anymore. All he could do was clamp down on emotion, to keep the despair from his voice—if that was even possible.
      But possible or not, he was committed. There was time only for a quick glance around for reassurance, a deep breath, and, “My name is Sam, and I’m…” He sighed, then bowed his head, shaking it in shame. “… I’m a writer.”
     The words were said at last, and they hung over the room, the shame in them almost like a living presence. He raised his head then, and stared at those facing him, daring someone to laugh. But there was no laughter, only the warmth of their support for his pain. Shared pain.
     He had named the devil, though, and now the words came easier.
     “I started small; letters to the editor and stories for my kids. They never published the letters, but I assumed that it was because there were many responses on the same issues. He hesitated. It was time for the brutal truth. Time to stop lying to himself. He squared his shoulders and forced himself to go on, saying, “I couldn’t see…wouldn’t see…that it was because I simply had no talent for the written word.”
     Ignoring the stir from the audience he plunged on. “I tried to improve the quality of my letters—to add humor and insight that might have been missing. It took a year, but then a disaster happened: I was published.” He leaned forward, gripping the podium. “My words had appeared in print!” His voice was strong now, as was he, filled with the self-loathing the admission brought. “No matter that the letter was heavily edited, it had been printed! My words were read by thousands! I was no longer an writer, I was an author!
     He snorted in disgust. “That simple letter was my undoing. After that it was just a matter of time. I began to carry a small pad, and, wherever I was I began to write down story ideas and thoughts for articles. I bought a word-processor and I learned to type. Slowly, the devil began to rule my life.”
     He paused, breathing hard, the chairman’s steadying hand on his shoulder helping to bring him under control. Now that he was started, the story was bursting to be freed, a catharsis of his agony.
     “You probably know the story… I began to write in the evenings, ignoring the television set and even my family, submitting my work to short-story magazines.” He laughed “I wasn’t rejected, I told myself, there were simply too many other good stories that month, and the professionals had the name that was necessary to break into the closed circle of authors. I couldn’t see!” He sighed. “I didn’t want to.
     “Then came the novels, and even more time with the keyboard. Soon evenings became entire nights, as my life began to center on my addiction.” He shook his head. “Though I could never see it as an addiction. I still thought of it as a hobby.”
     He sighed. “One by one I lost my friends. Not only did I stop returning their calls—I saw their calls as interruptions, you see…” He spread his hands. “When I did see them I saddled them with manuscripts, forcing friends to read them and then questioning them at length as to plot twists and characterization.” He laughed “They began to avoid me. I can’t say I blame them.”
     He hung his head for a moment, before continuing, in a voice devoid of emotion.
      “My regular work began to suffer as I daydreamed plots and story lines instead of paying attention to business. As time went on, and I sank deeper into addiction, I began to sneak a half-hour here and there to make story notes, finally abandoning all pretense of work.”
     He closed his eyes in remembered pain. “When I lost my job for the first time I tried to give it up. I realized what writing was doing to me, even then, but I had sunk too far…too far. By that time I was reduced to carrying my short stories with me, maneuvering conversations with strangers to the subject of writing and then forcing copies on my unsuspecting victims.” He looked at nothing for a moment, lost in memories, then snorted, adding, “The money I wasted on duplicating, alone…”
     He pressed his face into his hands as he gained strength for what had to come next. When he lowered his hands he made no effort to keep the resignation from his voice.
      “It went quickly after that. My family left me, of course. They still loved me, I think, but they really had no choice. I know it was hard for them, but I hardly noticed.
     “Without a job, and with no other source of income, I soon found myself on the street, begging for food money, but in reality, using it to buy paper and pencils to feed my addiction.
     “Even that didn’t last… It couldn’t.” He stopped for a moment, eyes focused on nothing. Then, returning to the present, he shook himself awake with a short bark of a laugh. “I woke this morning to find myself under the platform of the subway.” His voice was strong now. “I tried to make myself get up and get something to eat, but I couldn’t; I had to write something first!” His voice was a reflection of the darkness inside. “Do you know? Have you felt the soul-searing need that grips your very being?” He stepped around the podium, arms stretched forward in supplication. “I-wrote-on-a-wall! I had no paper, and still I couldn’t stop doing it!” He sank to his knees, reaching out, pain a tearing shriek in his voice. “Please…please help me before I write again.” He collapsed on himself then, a miserable figure of a man, alone in his need, sobbing, face pressed against his hands.
     But he was not to remain alone. Heedless of the stinking filth of his clothing, a woman hurried forward to gather him in her arms. Quickly, the others came forward to form a human bulwark against his pain, helping him to his seat and remaining for a moment, whispering individual words of encouragement to him before slipping back to their places.
     Once more the chairman stood at the podium. He spoke to the group, but his words were really meant for the man behind him. “We all share that affliction with Sam, and well know his pain. For so many years, the disease of writership was unknown, masked by the success of that small group of people who possess an actual talent for writing. It was assumed that those of us who suffered and starved for the written word were simply misguided. It has only been a few years since Stafford’s great discovery that writing is an addiction, one as darkly destructive as alcohol or drugs…one that destroys more lives each year than even tobacco.”
     He paused, nodding. “But now that the sickness has been identified for what it is, we can treat it, and even identify it in the young, preventing its taking hold in children; possibly the worst tragedy of all. With avoidance therapy, and the latest advance, ridicule therapy, those of us who have fallen may rise once more, to control those terrible urges and become productive members of society again.” He leaned forward, his eyes bright. “There is even hope that in time we will find a way to allow social writing by addicts without triggering a relapse in their condition.” That statement brought a stir of interest from the audience. He held up a warning hand. “Nothing definite yet, I’m afraid, but in the latest issue of Writer’s Anonymous, there was an article on just that possibility.
     The meeting slowly dragged its way to a close, the closing prayer signaling a release from the hard chairs. With a final comment of, “Don’t forget to feed the coffee kitty,” the chairman turned to Sam, only to find him gone. With the prayer he had slipped quickly through the nearby door, unable to face the group on a personal basis. The chairman shrugged, then turned to the podium to collect his things. But the podium was bare. His notebook and pencil were gone. For a moment there was a flick of anger, but he suppressed it. The book was gone, and this was not really unexpected—though he had hoped that the little man was ready. Many of those who visited this room for the first time could not stay for long. But it was a start. There always had to be that start: an admitting of the problem. When he was ready he would be back. They always came back.
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     Author’s note: Please…help me. Stop me before I write again.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.

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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Short Story


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It Never Gets Old

It Never Gets Old
     Releasing a novel is very much like releasing your grown children into the world. You’ve had your time to shape and guide them, but now your job, that of preparing and advising, is complete. Now it’s time for them to accomplish whatever they can on their own.
     But still, like any proud parent, I cannot help but point with pride.
     And so, Foreign Embassy, my third released novel, appears—hopefully to provide as much pleasure in the reading as I enjoyed during the writing. I’m especially pleased with the cover, a Deron Douglass original. Using my comment that the Talperno Embassy—the foreign embassy of the title—was a slightly futuristic, albeit flying, office building, he captured exactly what I’d been visualizing.
     Embassy is a first contact story, but not one you’ve seen before. The Talperno didn’t just come visiting, they came prepared. Forget the idea of traditional spacecraft and intergalactic landing fields. They flew the whole damn office building, then set it down on the grass by the reflecting pond, next to the Washington Monument.
     It’s only three minutes after landing and they’re already open for business, welcoming their very first guests, a group of boy scouts from Philadelphia.
     There’s an excerpt, here.
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Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Baby Talk

Baby Talk
     “Hey Chazz, here’s another load of dead babies. Where do you want them?”
     Charlie Kane looked up from his magazine and pointed toward a clear spot on his desk. “Just drop them here, Max. I’ll get to them tomorrow, maybe.”
     The man placed the small stack of CDs on the desk, shaking his head as he said, “How in the hell did you get such a cushy job, Chazz? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you busy, and you’re not even in your office half the week. I know the hospital had no choice after Big Al gave the order to hire you, but who are you to him? I—” The man stopped, abruptly. Apparently, it had just occurred to him that he might be prying into matters best left alone. He extended his hands, palms outward waving them in negation, as he said, “If you don’t mind saying, of course. I didn’t mean to pry.”
     For a moment he hesitated. But it wasn’t exactly a secret that the godfather of the local crime family had ordered the hospital to hire him, so he shrugged and said, “I’m Big Al’s son-in law, or was, till Frank Calasi and his men shot Susan two years ago.” He pasted on a sad face, then, and didn’t mention the fact that he was the one who pulled the trigger for Calasi. That marriage was a year that felt like ten, and best forgotten. And, his time in hell hadn’t even gotten him a decent job within the family.
     “Jeeze, that’s tough.” Max said. “But, why plant you here? Why not… well, give you something more exciting than this?” He waved a hand to indicate the modest space that comprised Charlie’s office.
     Why indeed? Certainly, he wasn’t going to tell Max that Al thought him a screw-up, and that the job was from a sense of family obligation, only. Did Al suspect him of complicity in Sue’s death? Perhaps, but since Al hated her nearly as much as he had, it probably didn’t matter.
     To Max, he said only, “It’s temporary.”
     The man left, and he went back to his magazine. But that was boring, as would be going home, so he decided to finish with the babies, to kill the evening, then take tomorrow off and spend the day getting the boat ready to go into the water.
     He moved the stack of DVDS closer, placed a tablet in a comfortable position for note taking, and slipped the first dead baby into the computer.
     Two hours later he frowned and hit the pause button. There was something odd about the video. Like the rest it was a film made by a bedside camera, as part of the study of sudden infant death syndrome. And like the others, it showed an apparently healthy baby, who simply stopped breathing and died. This baby, though, like one or two of the others, had been playing—gurgling and learning to make the sounds that would, eventually become speech. And then it died.
     But there was something odd about this baby. He played the video again, and then again. There was nothing obvious, but he had the impression of a slight flattening of the baby’s features, and movement of the baby’s head backward on the mattress, deflecting the bedding by just a fraction, as though a giant invisible hand was being used to block her nose and mouth. Certainly, the baby’s frantic movements as death claimed her seemed to support that.
     Three times more he played the recording. The average person would have missed it, but after watching as many deaths as had he, he had a feel for it that the average viewer wouldn’t have. Did the babies on the other DVDs display the same thing? It was hard to tell, because the cameras weren’t the best quality, and the pictures had been taken in near darkness, but at least one of the others did, too.
     He checked his notes, then pulled images from the archives, of other babies who had been awake and active when they died.
     And there it was. On several of the recordings, invisible unless you were looking for it, something was blocking the baby’s breathing. Those babies were being murdered. But how? And how could he make the discovery work for him? Were he able to learn the trick for himself, he could become the highest paid hit man in history. To know how to kill without leaving a trace? That would be a skill to pray for.
     For the next fifteen minutes, he searched. Then it hit him. There was a common element: the baby’s voice. Although they were babbling and making random sounds, at some point, within the moments leading to their death, they had all uttered the same string of nonsense syllables, “ba-ba-ba-kee,” as part of their play.
     He studied the transliteration of those words, glowing on his computer screen. “Ba-ba-ba-kee? What in the hell can that mean?” Frustrated, he spread his hands “Who the hell would—”
     “It means kill me.”
     “What?” Charlie spun his chair around. But, the office door was closed and there was no one there. Still, the voice had been real. There was no doubt of that. At least he thought there wasn’t. It wasn’t the kind of voice you forgot. It was deep, and gravely, and sounded like the kind of voice the earth would have, were it capable of speech.
     Reluctantly he turned back to the desk, shaking his head and wondering why his imagination was working overtime.
     “And since you asked me to kill you so nicely…” A wave of heat swept over him from behind, and the texture of the air in the room changed. Someone, or some thing, was in the room with him.
     Every hair on his body attempted to stand on end, as he whirled in his chair to face a vision right out of nightmare. How it got there he had no idea, because there was no way in hell that it could have come through the office door. It was far too big for that. Something, was crammed into his office, its bulk occupying virtually all the space he and his desk were not. There was no doubt that it was real, and solid, though. The stench of its body had a solidity of its own, bringing tears that he suspected were as much for his coming fate as for the assault on his sinus cavities.
     Slowly, he sorted out a jumble of visual impressions. Eyes came first. They were the size of basketballs, and patterned in shades of black, other than for fire-red lightening jags of what he guessed were veins. There were teeth, of course… rows and rows of them. The less he thought about them, the better. The fact that they were set in a mouth that was grinning broadly was not at all reassuring, especially given what the beast had just said.
     The body came next, though that was hard to think of in terms more definitive than, “Oh my God!” both because it was so overwhelmingly close, so huge, and so hot that he wondered if his clothing might soon catch fire.
      Holy shit, I’m sitting next to a special effect! That he would die seemed assured, but the beast was so far outside both possibility and reason that it was too much to accept. So much so, that his mind began to function again, doing what it did best, looking for an angle.
     “Hang on a minute,” he said, his mind searching for possibilities. “If you’re going to kill me, at least let me know who’s doing the job, so I can be properly appreciative.”
     Black irises focused on him from a scant two feet away, giving the beast a cross-eyed look. What he took to be its forehead creased in response to his words.
     “You’re not…frightened?” It wasn’t easy to tell if the words of a talking cement mixer carried tones of curiosity, but the fact that he wasn’t already dead brought a flicker of hope. If he could convince Big Al that he was interested in his sister—given the way she looked—perhaps he could work with this guy. The trick was to keep him talking.
     “Frightened? Sure. But I’m impressed, too. Those are pretty spectacular muscles.” At least he thought the various bulges under its pebbly skin might be muscles.
     “Really? Thank you. I work out.” The beast shifted a bit, and took a breath that depleted most of the air in the room, then flexed. It was impressive. But then it exhaled, and he had to close his eyes and focus on remaining in control of his digestive system.
     “So, who are you, and what brings you to my office?” he finally said, regaining control and opening his eyes again. The view hadn’t improved.
     “You can call me Nacky, and I’m here because you called me, and gave me permission to kill you. I really appreciate that.”
     “I don’t think—” Then it hit him and he pointed to the baby’s image on the monitor. That baby… You killed it simply because it babbled ‘Kill me,” in your language? Are you some sort of a pervert?” It occurred that he hadn’t been terribly diplomatic, but what was said was said.
     The beast shrugged. “Those are the rules. It was a legal kill.” Its tone on the last few words sounded a bit defensive.
     “But… you eat babies?
     “In a manner of speaking.” A finger the thickness of an elephant’s trunk pointed in Charlie’s direction “I suppose you don’t eat calves liver. Or lamb chops?”
     “I… Well, sure, but those are animals, not people.”
     The beast was smiling again, as it said, “Take my word for it. You’re not people. You’re barely above a monkey in intelligence. In any case, you have your question answered, so now—”
     Think Chazz, think! Nothing came so he went with desperation.
     “Wait! Won’t you at least explain what in the hell is going on? You don’t physically eat the babies, and you sounded like you wanted me to be scared when you kill me. Maybe… maybe if you explain, that will scare the crap out of me and make me taste better?”
     Nacky cocked his head in what seemed interest, so Charlie added, “Unless you have to be somewhere?”
     “No. I have time.” The creature settled himself, and leaned toward Charlie, something that inspired no confidence, as it said, “My people kind of screwed up.”
     “Screwed up?”
     “Yeah. Once we were geeks like your people, though we evolved from carnivores not monkeys. So, hunting is pretty big in our culture.” That squared not at all with his claim that he didn’t actually eat the prey, nor that the prey was composed of helpless infants. This whole thing made no sense.
     “I know what you’re thinking,” Nacky said, shaking his head. “But hang on for a minute, because it comes together…
     “Anyway, our science types gave us a way to live forever, move from place to place by just thinking about it, and to improve our bodies to what you see here.” He pointed toward his torso. “So naturally, we redesigned the chassis to make us even better hunters, and to scare the living shit out of our prey. And since we no longer needed to actually eat what we kill, they also fixed it so we could taste the lives of our prey, instead of their flesh.”
     “And it’s better. Plus, with nothing coming through the pipes you don’t need toilet paper no more.
     “No, I mean what happened then.”
     “Oh… well it turned out to be boring. Nothing can outrun us. Nothing can kill us. Nothing even presents a threat. So even when we moved off our own world and went exploring, we were hunters with nothing worth hunting. Worse yet, we were a threat to other races, and that pissed them off enough to do something about it.”
     Charlie rubbed his lips in thought, as his mind sought an angle. There seemed to be none, so to keep the monster talking, he said, “So… you went to war?”
     “We didn’t get the chance. Hunters like us tend to be solitary, and focused on the chase. The others, they got together to work against us. They didn’t like us wandering all over their worlds and killing their people.”
     “I can imagine.”
     “Yeah, but they couldn’t kill us, so they fixed things so we couldn’t kill them either. Then they made life even more boring.”
     “By fixing it so we couldn’t hunt them anymore—or anyone, unless we had their okay.”
     Charlie blinked in thought. “So, babies saying ‘Kill me’ are, what…a loophole?”
     “You got it. It’s not much, but it is a loophole, and makes this place a popular vacation spot.”
     “But… babies. Where’s the sport—”
     “Where’s the sport in any of it? I told you. We screwed up, and now we’re stuck with it. Nothing can beat us and nothing can outrun us.” He shrugged, before adding, “Adults are a lot better tasting, but the rules are the rules.” He scratched. “And you said the words, kiddo, so… It’s my turn in the rotation, which means I get an honest to God adult to taste.” He looked apologetic, and shrugged, as he added, “Normally, I’d give you a running start, to make you feel like you have a chance, but with me blocking the door…
     The beast leaned toward him, but he held up his hands in a wait gesture.
     “So that’s it? You guys are reduced to killing kids? The men and women from your world come here to kill children? That’s absolutely pathet—”
     “Listen, you take what you can get. You know? But no, we don’t all eat babies. The women have a thing about that—even no-brain kids like those on your world. For them, it’s fires.”
     “Fires.” Not a word of this made sense. The creature currently bringing the room to furnace temperature was so powerful it was unkillible. It could travel through space, apparently by simply willing it. It somehow knew when a child’s babbling simulated its language, from an unknown distance away. And, their females liked to watch fire victims die—or maybe they liked to personally toast them. That wasn’t clear.
     He, and the others like him, weren’t examples of the best their race had to offer. They couldn’t be. The fool who was currently threatening him was more like an intergalactic idiot, with no more actual brainpower than Big Al’s bodyguards. But, that wasn’t something to think about yet, because Nacky was talking again.
     “Yeah, they like fires. But don’t knock it. Taking lives via fire has the victim in the right frame of mind for the very best feeding. And that turns the ladies on, thank you very much. If you’ve never gotten some loving from a flame-bathed female you haven’t gotten any at all.”
     There wasn’t room for Nacky to stand, but he came as upright as space permitted, as he said, “But talk isn’t entertaining, and you’ve had your answer, so let’s get started with—”
     “Suppose…suppose I could supply you with all the victims you want—adult victims.”
     Nacky settled on his haunches, blinking. “What do you mean, all I want?”
     “Just that. Suppose I got lots of people to ask you to kill them? Suppose I even got people to shout that they wanted to be burned alive? Would a female be grateful to you for pointing to that? I mean—”
     “Go on.”
     “Here’s the thing.” He had a handle on the angle, at last, and it was beautiful. “I have a friend, and he often has people who need to be… removed. So suppose I was to send one of those people a letter, advertising a new club—an exclusive club. And suppose this club has a secret password. You figure the guy will practice it a few times before he goes to the club?”
     “… Clever. And the fires?” There was definitely interest in the beast’s voice.
     “Well… Suppose instead of asking to be killed, the guy shouts, ‘Hey, please burn me up,’ in your language? You figure a girl would be grateful for a favor like that?” Big Al was going to pay well for untraceable deaths. In fact, why limit the action to only the city, or even the country? Why not think in terms of politics?
     Still, there was one thing that nagged, so he extended a hand as he said, “But there is one thing.”
     “Mmm?” A frown replaced Nacky’s smile.
     “Well… It’s about the babies. You gotta stop that shit. It’s just not right.”
     “Done… as long as you can provide the product.”
     Relaxing and leaning back in his chair, Charlie waved a hand in Nacky’s direction.
     “Call me Chazz… I think maybe you and I can do business. In fact, I see this as the start of a positively beautiful friendship.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Author’s Note:
     This story hung in my mind, as a tickle, for years. I even wrote the opening several times, only to put it aside because the tone remained elusive—and because who wants to publish a story in which children are harmed? But one day, there it was, ready to be typed and sent out. And as I thought, who wants to publish a story in which children are harmed? =sigh=
     But it is a good story, and if I didn’t type it out it would flicker around the dark corners of my mind forever.
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.
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Posted by on May 7, 2011 in Short Story


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Care and Feeding of Peeves – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Care and Feeding of Peeves – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Part of a series of articles for the new writer

Care and Feeding of Peeves


     At times, it seems the job of a grumpy writing coach is a lot like that of a zookeeper, because of the number of pet peeves I have to feed and care for. And lately, the biggest one, the podium peeve, has been a positive pain in the neck.
     I’ve been making the rounds of the various writing venues, and counting the stories that are told as a transcript of the storyteller at the podium, against those in which we seem to literally be with the character, as observers and participants. By my count, it’s close to ninety-five percent told as if the reader were sitting across the table from the writer.
     Now, good sense would seem to say that they’re on to something, and that if so many people write that way they must be right. Certainly, the reviews people give each other on such sites would seem to say that. Unfortunately, a look at the bookstores says that while many books are written in omniscient mode, few are written as an extended one-sided conversation between writer and reader.
     So the question arises: How can intelligent people make such a dumb mistake? Why don’t those stupid editors realize they’re wrong and embrace the majority viewpoint?
     It’s the answer to that question that’s the subject of this particular rant.
     First, I need you to perform a thought experiment. You’ll like it because we’re about to make you a famous storyteller, one who fills theaters with people anxious to hear what you have to say.
     Ready? Here we go:
     Tonight’s storytelling performance will be especially good, and the house is sold out. It’s a story that has love, betrayal, adventure, and a host of subplots that will grab the audience where they live, and bring a standing ovation at the conclusion—and it has every time you’ve performed it.
     There’s only one problem. It’s a half-hour before curtain time you’ve come down with laryngitis. You can’t even whisper. So what can you do? Cancel, and refund the ticket price? It looks like that’s the only choice, until…
     The stage manager says he has a great idea. His nephew has volunteered to take your place. The boy’s not a trained storyteller, of course, and he’s neither read nor heard the story. In fact, he’s never been on stage before. But he loves to read, though he stumbles occasionally on unfamiliar words.
     Unfortunately, because of the short time before the curtain goes up, and your uncooperative throat, you can’t even give the boy stage directions, or pointers on how to present the various characters. So it’s going to be a cold-read of the words of your presentation, by someone without a clue of how you want it done.
     So, here’s the question: Given that situation, what do you think the chances are that there’s going to be a standing ovation tonight? What are the odds the nephew will duplicate your expression, body-language, tone, delivery, and those little pauses you toss in for emphasis? How about where you just sigh, give the audience a long suffering look, and then spread your hands in the eloquent shrug that’s your trademark? Will he know to do that—and where?
     You had better be saying “really good,” because that is precisely the job every writer assigns their reader. And that’s exactly how much training they have for the job.
     That reader takes your words and will apply the proper voice to it as they read—but only if you make it clear exactly what that voice is. And if you don’t, they’ll have to guess, and do that before they even know what a given line will say.
     So… Would you like to know why you can’t use a transcript of you telling the story, directly, and why the techniques of the fiction writer are a lot more than just fluff? It’s because the reader can neither see nor hear you. It’s that simple—or should be. Somehow, though, no one ever seems to get it—other then those pesky editors who keep rejecting our stories.
     Since the reader can neither see nor hear you, how can you talk to them? You can’t.
     How can you let them know about your protagonist, and what their life has been like? You can’t.
     Who is there to bring the reader up to date and introduce the opening of the story? No one. You just open it. You raise the curtain, cue the actors, and you get out of their way while they perform your little play—or better yet, live it.
     Is it beginning to dawn on you that you haven’t a clue of how to do that? It should. It’s what I’ve been telling you for all along. Face it. You can’t write. Your mother can’t write, and your neighbor is even worse. Why? Because writing fiction is no more a natural skill than was learning to place words on the page in the first place.
     There you sit, ready to write your story. You’ve even diagrammed it, so you know every character, every thought, and every expression on everyone’s face. All you need do is record it. But in what medium? You have a choice. It could be told on film. It could be a play. You might tell it verbally. Or, you could turn it into a novel.
     Now, if you write it as a screenplay, do you need specialized knowledge? Of course. And if you write that film script can it be used for a stage version? Of course not, the constraints of the media differ. Having a slow motion fight on stage would be pretty silly, for example. But slow motion is an effective tool in filmed work.
     My point? Why would you believe that storytelling and novel writing use exactly the same techniques? Given that you were taught nothing about making a film in school, why would you believe you were given what you need to write a novel—or a story to be told by the campfire?
     But we all believe we know everything about the act of writing. Every single one of us, even our teachers believe that. When we sit down to write that story we’ve mapped out, we never doubt, for one second that while we would need to learn the craft-set used for what amounts to brain-to-screen translation, we already own the brain-to-novel set, and the brain-to-storyteller set. But we don’t. What we do own is the brain-to-gossip set, and the brain-to-office-writing set. And it all boils down to something I’ve already said, in quoting Mark Twain, who was an extraordinarily perceptive man: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
     So you want to be a writer? Great. I applaud you, and encourage you to go for it. The world needs more crazy people. And you want to be a published author? Fantastic. But here’s a secret: Experience is a stairway, one that leads upward. But education? That’s the Star-Trek transporter that allows you to zap past whole flights of stairs.
     If you’re looking for a shortcut to success—the magic bullet that rockets you to the top—turn to another writer, W. Somerset Maugham, who said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
     So what can you do? Where do you turn for a writer’s education that will give you the tools you need but won’t bankrupt you? Start at your local library, there’s a wealth of information there, written by those who know from experience what works and what doesn’t. And while you’re there, look for a book titled, “Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain.” It’s the book that every writer needs to have in their library, because it covers the basics of how to approach the job—the nuts-and-bolts elements that all stories have in common. It tells how to get out from behind the podium and into the prompter’s booth, giving direction and purpose to the actors without getting in their way. And if Swain’s work isn’t there, look for Jack Bickham’s, Scene and Structure, a book almost as good.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Author’s note:
     These articles are not presented with a, “Do this and you’ll be a published author,” attitude. Anyone who tells you they can provide success via a few words on a blog page is scamming you. Instead, they’re one writer’s view of the ideas put forth by the writing teachers I admire and respect. I’ve done the series as part of what’s sometimes called a Benjamin Franklin debt. If some of what I say seems to make sense, I urge you to seek the teachers themselves, people like Dwight Swain, Debra Dixon, and a host of others, and read their advice directly.
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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in The Grumpy Old Writing Coach


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My Father My Friend # 3

My Father My Friend # 3
My Father Is Possessed

Another excerpt from the memoirs of Dave Cook: My Father, My Friend—a not yet published novel. Presented just because it was fun to write. In the actual sequence this is chapter two.

     I’m not quite sure when it happened, but, for a time, my father was possessed by an alien being from Beta Cignis, whatever that is. Actually, he was first converted to a robot, which led to his being taken over by the alien.
     I know that sounds confusing, but a great deal of what happened between me and my father is probably confusing to anyone who wasn’t there when it happened.
     I think I was six when I refused to go to bed for the first time. I mean really refused to go to bed. I wasn’t sleepy (at least I insisted I wasn’t), and I wanted to do what I wanted to do. My father promptly agreed with me, saying, “I don’t blame you, Davy. I wouldn’t want to go to bed if I were you, and I don’t want to have to put you to bed, either.” He continued climbing the steps, with me in his arms, as I tried to understand how I could be going to bed when we both agreed it was not a good idea. It helped a little when he added, “I don’t want to, but it’s time.” He shrugged his shoulders at that, in a “what can you do” gesture.
     Somehow, I found myself without anyone to argue with, yet I seemed to have lost the argument. It was only years later that I understood what he had done. If he had insisted I go to bed, I would have insisted, just as strongly, that I didn’t want to, which was an argument I couldn’t possibly win. It was also one that would have left us both angry, and me in bed. By refusing to force me into that situation, he saved wear and tear on our tempers and I was introduced the concept of a higher authority, one to which even he had to demur.
     I tried again about a week later, as I sincerely said, “Daddy, I really don’t want to go to bed. I want to stay up and play.”
     I looked at him for reaction, but he stared blankly ahead, ignoring me. “Daddy!” I shouted, trying to get his attention. His only response was to slowly turn his head in my direction.
     “Daddy?” I was becoming worried.
     “I-am-not-your-father,” he informed me in a droning voice, devoid of any emotion. “I-am-your-undressing-robot.”
     I think I giggled.
     “It-is-time-to-undress-the-David-person,” he informed me in a monotone, headed in my direction with machine-jerky movements.
     He came to me then knelt in front of me, saying, “I-must-remove-your-hat-first.”
     I tried to tell him that I wasn’t wearing a hat, but he paid no attention, and carefully, but ineptly, removed the non-existent hat from my head, obviously crumpling it in his hand as he did so. “I-will-put-it-in-the-closet,” he said, as he opened an imaginary closet door and threw the hat inside.
     “Now-it-is-time-for-your-coat. Stand-over-here.” He pointed to one side of where I was standing, but I made no move to comply. I was too busy laughing at him. My lack of cooperation didn’t make too much of a difference though, as he simply waited a moment, said, “Thank-you,” and began to remove an invisible coat from an equally invisible David. He ignored me when I jumped on his back, shouting, “It’s not me. It’s not me,” over and over. From the looks of his motions, though, he pretty well destroyed the coat he was removing. I was glad I hadn’t been dressed for the outside.
     After he finished pretending to hang up what might have been left of the coat, he turned to me once more, saying, “Now-I-will-carry-you-up-the-steps-to-the-bed-place.” So saying, he proceeded to pick me up in such a way that I found myself hanging upside down as he carried me upstairs; all the while talking to my feet as though he was holding me upright.
     Somehow, I was undressed, washed, and put to bed, laughing the whole time. My dad returned to his normal self, though, to read me my nightly story, give me my good night hug, and to sit with me. He always sat in the dark with me for a few moments after the light went out, to chase away the nighttime monsters, and get me settled down. He claimed it was peaceful sitting in the dark, and that went a long way toward calming my fears.
     Lying there, after my dad was gone, I thought it was really strange that somehow, after deciding that I was not going to bed without a battle, I had cooperated wholeheartedly with the process. Once again I found myself tucked in, on the verge of sleep, and feeling pretty good about the whole affair. I decided that my dad was pretty tricky, but still, I was looking forward to the next night. I did that every night of my life, as long as my dad tucked me in. Even now, getting ready for bed is a friendly and relaxing kind of thing.
     The undressing robot put in occasional appearances over the next year or so, but he was eventually displaced by the inept alien space-traveler. That happened one night when I was hoping my father would play the “dead” game. I know that sounds pretty morbid, but it’s not what you might think. My father simply closed his eyes and went totally limp, usually without warning. The idea was for me to, somehow, force him back into the world of the living. That had to be done without hurting him in any way (which made him angry and ended the game), and sometimes involved a good deal of inspiration on my part.
     Dad had somehow managed to convince me that he wasn’t ticklish. I didn’t find out until I was nearly fifteen that he had gone through hell, pretending that my attempts to tickle him were unsuccessful. Because of that, I didn’t try, which was just as well, as it would have forced the game to end long before it had.
     Part of the fun was when I forced open his eyelids with my fingers. My dad was able to roll his eyeballs back into his head, so that when I looked, there was nothing but blank whiteness, and a voice that said, “Nobody’s home.” The words were my father’s way assuring me that he was only playing. He would even argue the point with me, as I insisted that someone must be home because he was talking to me, but he wouldn’t to talk about anything else. Sometimes, when I peeled back the lids, he would be home, so to speak, and his eyes would look directly at me, the pupils fixed and staring. That was far more spooky then when there was nothing but white there. When that happened, I invariably let go of his eyelid and pushed his head away from me, saying, “Yuck!”
     I managed to “wake” him in a variety of ways, almost always fun. Sometimes it was a jelly bean or M&M pushed into his mouth; once a marble. Sometimes it was something as simple as a hug, or a kiss. Untying his shoes often worked, but I once managed to unbutton his shirt, remove both his shoes and socks, and was working on his belt before he stopped me.
     This time, however, he slowly opened his eyes, looking at me curiously, as though he had never seen me before. Then he looked around the room, equally slowly, while I wondered what new thing was about to happen. Finally, he turned back to me, his movements awkward, and his voice odd. “Is this the center?” he demanded, angrily.
     “What center?”
     Once more he studied the room, saying, “There has been a terrible mistake, for which many will be destroyed.”
     Entranced, I asked, “What kind of mistake?”
     He ignored my question, and asked, “What planet is this? What place?”
     At last I was on firm ground, and informed him that he was on Earth. I wasn’t totally sure what a planet was, but I knew mine was called Earth.
     Frowning, he said, “Earth? What sector is that in? I thought I knew the names of all ten thousand worlds in the Plampillian empire.” Before I could answer that, he suddenly glared at me and then looked wildly around, as though struck by a frightening idea. “Is this an enemy world? Have I been captured by the hated Comex alliance?” He leaned forward. “Have you intercepted the theta wave that was carrying me to Kuto?”
     He had asked far to many questions, and I wasn’t sure of the rules of this game yet, so I simply said, “This is the Earth, and we aren’t part of anything.” At least I was pretty sure we weren’t.
     That didn’t seem to satisfy him, so I asked him who he was.
     His voice was haughty as he informed me, “I am Togar, the master of the ten-thousand worlds. I am the great king of kings; the supreme ruler of the Plampillian empire.” He allowed me to absorb that for a moment, then added, “I am also now the ruler of the Earth, which I claim for the empire.” He waved a casual hand at me and said. “You are honored to be the first to know.”
     I knew it was a game, but my father was good at that sort of thing, and in the back of my mind, there was the thought that maybe he wasn’t playing, and that somehow, this was real. That was a scary thought.
     I decided to sidestep the issue, and asked, “How did you get here?”
     That earned me a sour look, but he grudgingly explained. “My mind was being transferred from my palace on Beta Cignis to the body of an id holder at the prime battle center on the planet Kuto. As usual, I was being sent via theta wave transmitter.” He indicated himself with his hand. “I am much too important to have my actual body sent there, that’s waiting back in the palace.”
     He frowned in thought for a second, before saying, “I should have arrived in the center at once, but there appears to be an sub-muvian storm, and my titanic intelligence was accidentally placed in the head of this poor excuse for a being, on this obviously backward planet.”
     I didn’t understand some of his words, but I got the general idea, and hastened to defend my homeland and my father, who, presumably, was the poor excuse for a being he had referred to.
     “This is not a backward planet,” I insisted. “We have a lot of modern things.”
     “Such as?”
     I thought for a moment. “We have television,” I ventured.
     “That is?”
     “It has pictures that go through the air and get shown on the television screen.”
     “A flat screen?” he sneered. “Glass?”
     “Well… yes.”
      He waved a negligent hand, yawning. “As I said, backward. I don’t suppose you have hypervision, or realvision, or even feelvision on this ugly dirtball.”
     I knew it was a game, but he was getting me angry. “If you don’t like it here,” I said, “why don’t you just go back home?”
     That earned me another angry glare. “I can’t,” he admitted. “I’m stuck here until they get a message to pull me back, which may never come. I just hope they have enough sense to pull me home when they don’t get a signal telling them I arrived on Kuto safely.”
     He looked unhappy for a moment, then seemed to be struck by a sudden inspiration. “Hey, I could build a theta wave transmitter here and send myself home. Do you have any tools?”
     I nodded, not sure of what he wanted.
     “A double distolated framisizer?” he asked, “and a whatsismaker with a flirp mode enhancer?”
     Now I was sure it was a game. Framisizer was what my father called a variety of things when he didn’t want to explain their operation. “No, we don’t” I said, happily. “This is a backward place, remember?”
     My father angrily pounded a fist into his other palm. “Damn,” he said. “I just wish…” With that, he collapsed onto the bed. Happily, I bounded onto his stomach and shook him, prepared to peel back his eyelids, but he opened them before I could start.
     “Boy, I feel strange,” he said, shaking his head. He glanced over at the clock, then looked puzzled. “That’s funny, I could have sworn that clock said ten after seven just a second ago. Now it says twenty after. I wonder why? Did I fall asleep?”
     I tried to explain what happened, but he dismissed the whole thing, complaining that I was being silly. It had all the earmarks of a game that was going to last a long time.


     It was nearly a week later when I noticed my father staring at me strangely. We had just finished with the bath game, and I was putting on my pajamas, hurrying to put my head through the neck hole. For some reason, I’ve always hated when my eyes are covered by clothing.
     My dad’s next words, and the odd tone he used in saying them, informed me that the alien had returned.
     “Oh no, not again!” he moaned. “I gave orders that I was not to be sent here again.” He covered his face with his hands for a moment, then sat up, all business.
     “Well,” he began, brightly. “How would you like to be the hero who introduces space travel to your world?”
     It sounded fine to me, and I told him so, asking what I had to do.
     “That’s simple,” he assured me. “You simply help me build a matter transmitter, and turn it on. After that, we can send the parts through from my empire to build lots more of them. In fact, after we turn on the one we build, the rest will be put together automatically, and send themselves all over this world, so the solders can come through and take over.”
     “Solders?” I didn’t like the sound of his last words, but he covered up quickly.
     “Solders? Did you think I said solders?” He waved a hand in negation. “No, no, I said Rolgers. That’s what we call the people who run the machines. That’s what I meant by take over.”
     “Uh-huh.” My dad had just established one of the finer points of the game. The objective was to conquer the Earth. Playing my role, I asked, “What do you need from me?”
     “Well,” he said, in an offhand manner. “Since you don’t have the tools I need, you can take me to the ruler of your country.”
     I shook my head. “I don’t know the ruler. I don’t even know who he is. I think he’s called the president, though.
     “Okay, the ruler of your city, then.”
     I only shook my head, then did it again as he ran through the ruler of the neighborhood, and finally just a policeman. In mock despair, he threw up his hands and said, “Okay, then just drive me around and I’ll find them for myself.”
     It was fun to watch him throw a temper tantrum when I told him that I couldn’t drive, and that my mom wasn’t home. I was sorry when the alien suddenly departed.
     The alien king game lasted until I was nearly ten years old, and evolved into quite an involved thing before I decided that I was too old to play. Until then he would appear at odd times. We might be driving to the shopping mall, or walking in the woods, when my father would announce his coming with a groan of, “Oh, no. Not again.” Before it ended, though, it got to the point where he was “aware” of the alien, and claimed that he was being forced to do things by him, simply by hearing certain words in his head—a sending from the king. When pressed, he told me the word was u-n-d-e-r-w-a-r-e, carefully spelling it out. It caused him agony when he heard it spoken, he claimed, even silently in his head. Naturally, I let the word drop into the conversation, just to test it out. Sure enough, my father feigned unendurable agony and begged me to stop. Naturally, I agreed, but managed to drop the word into the conversation at least five times before the day ended. My mother, as usual, tried to ignore my father’s bizarre behavior. I think she thought it was some sort of male thing that she would never understand.
     The next day, when I worked the conversation around to the forbidden subject, his only response was a disgusted look. When I expressed surprise, he informed me that there was a new word each day. That resulted in a battle for the current word, in which he pleaded that he didn’t trust me because of what had happened the day before. I, of course, swore I would never use the word if he would only trust me once more.
     Of course he gave me the word, and of course I used it. His lack of response, then, he claimed, was because he had given me a false word to test me. I countered that I had to use the word once to test him.
     Naturally I “convinced” him to trust me, and naturally I betrayed that trust. That was how the game worked, but I thought a lot about trust as a result of that part of the game. I think that was part of the reason I stopped playing it. I no longer enjoyed a game that condoned betrayal.
     Much later I developed a love for a game called Diplomacy, which is all about betrayal. Strange, isn’t it? I know I’ve never even thought about betraying a person in real life, though. I already know how easy it would be to hurt them, and how delicate a thing trust is. Still, it was a fun game while it lasted.
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Author’s note:
     When my own children were young, the things presented in this and other sections of this story were part of the family’s daily life, though I was not nearly so benevolent and wise as Davy’s dad—nor did the events occur in as conveniently dramatic a way. Still, it was great fun, and if, you’ve children of your own, these are some things that might be fun to try.
     I suppose it does explain why my children tend to walk into walls and fall down a lot, though.
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.

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Posted by on April 22, 2011 in Short Story


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