Lake Vostok

The waters of the lake are cold and deep, and the sunlight never makes it through the ice.

 

 

Steeplechase

Just awoke on this Monday morning from a dream of running and scrambling through the fields, racing my good friend to a point we knew well. No euphemisms, nothing clever here, just a steeplechase in the old meaning of the word, where a man on horseback, out riding with his friends, would say something on the lines of “See yon steeple of St. Nyaralathotep’s? Race you!” and the game would be on.

We, of course, were dismounted, because this happens in very nearly the real, and the objective wasn’t a steeple, but a point well known to both of us, down at the bottom of the hill. He’s taller than I am, and has the advantage that way, but I knew a course through a field and sliding skittering down a hill through the backlots that gave me an edge, putting the contest at very nearly even.

One day two other professors, visitors from America, decided to join in and they were fast, so fast, so I showed my friend my shortcut. I marveled that he hadn’t discovered it before, as it was well beaten down with my footprints, and in the dream, I still wore the old “black Cadillac” combat boots, with their distinctive self-cleaning tread, and we ran, we ran down the hill, and this is when I knew it was a dream, because I was young enough that running was a joy, strong enough that jumping over obstacles was a pleasure, and supple enough that slipping sliding glissading down a hill was no cause for fear of the sprain of the ankle, the twist of the knee, the stumble and attendant impact that wreaks a life-changing crunch in the shoulder.

We didn’t win, and like most dreams, the memory of the joy of just racing is fading from my brain already.

Watching

Emma was a difficult baby. She’d fuss, but when I tried to get her to nurse, she’d just turn her head away. If I pushed her too long, she’d begin to howl, a sound that started out low and built into a scream of defiance, “ananananananaNANANA!” and when she finally ate a little, it seemed like she’d spit half of it back up when I burped her.

Still, it didn’t mean much to me at the time. She was my first, so I figured it was just a baby thing. There couldn’t be anything wrong with her, she was my perfect little girl.

She loved playing with her dolls. There was Parker the dog, and Runny Bunny, and a plush R2-D2 that was, inexplicably, named Tom, but the one she refused to be separated from was a big-headed, hollow-eyed terrycloth ragdoll named Annie. To this day, I don’t know where that damned doll came from, I just found it in her crib one day. Todd denied having anything to do with it, but when I took it away, Emma went ballistic, screaming like I’d never heard before.

So the doll stayed.

When she was four, she asked me if it was true that the pork chops we were having were “piggies”, and, upon learning that they were, declared herself a “vegabularian.” Annie had taught her the word, she said.

She said Annie would be angry if she ate piggies and moo-cows.

It was a struggle, but we finally managed to banish Annie from the dinner table. Emma said it didn’t matter, Annie was watching, and would always know.

When she went to kindergarten, I put my foot down and said that Annie had to stay home or she might get lost. On the forms, I left the “Special Dietary Requirements / Allergies” box blank.

She came home with a note from her teacher. She’d refused lunch, saying that Annie didn’t want her to eat it.

Every day, every meal, became a struggle. She went from being a vegetarian to a vegan by the time she was seven, and then, when she was nine, she learned about celiac.

From Annie.

Even the most carefully prepared meals went unfinished; we’d find hidden napkins full of things we thought she’d eaten. She grew dangerously thin. The counseling helped, but only for a while.

We did our best. It wasn’t good enough.

And when she died, we found her notebooks, notebooks going back years, full of drawings of big-headed, hollow-eyed girls, with a list of “The Thin Commandments,” a horrorshow of self-hating nonsense about starving yourself pretty, starving until your ribs show, never being skinny enough, and the phrases “Ana is watching me, Ana is always watching me,” written over and over on the pages.

Emma is gone now, but the little hollow-eyed girl is still there.

Todd tells me to eat, and I know I should, but I don’t feel very hungry anymore.

Because she’s watching me. Ana is always watching.

 

*I’m happy to announce that this story was the winner of the 43rd Flash Fiction contest at Writingforums.org

A Moral Dilemma

Case A: “If you move, I swear to God, I will shoot you!”

Assuming that the speaker is a Christian (and between 70 and 80% of Americans are, so it’s a safe, if not ironclad assumption), they’re probably in a bit of trouble with God, as Matthew 5:34 teaches us that Christians aren’t supposed to “swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne”.

But there’s a second problem.

A knottier one.

Let’s say that the person being spoken to moves, but in a non-threatening, compliant way, perhaps by assuming a submissive posture. Alternatively, the person with the gun could receive assistance from a third party, thus rendering use of the firearm unnecessary.

Has the gun-wielder compounded his sin by not firing, thus breaking his oath?

Case B: “If you move, I swear to God, I will kill you!”

This looks pretty much the same as Case A, but there’s an additional complication. The person being threatened moves, and the gun-wielder fires, striking their target center mass. The injured party slumps to the ground and ceases all motion, and when the shooter carefully checks for a pulse, he doesn’t feel one.

Then the ambulance arrives, and the medics heroically patch the wound the wound and perform CPR all the way to the hospital, where the doctors are able to resuscitate the shooting victim.

Did the shooter fulfill his oath when the victim fell to the ground, apparently without a pulse, or have the actions of the doctors, through no fault of his own, caused him to break his oath?

And which does God view as the greater sin; Killing a man, or breaking an oath?

And if it’s the latter, can he fulfill his oath and get square with God by later hunting down and killing the person he initially only seriously wounded?

Need answer fast.

Work in Progress: Battle Language

I’m not sure exactly where this is going, but it’s triggering lots of good ideas.

My stomach growled as I pushed the plastic curtain of the stall aside and thumped myself down onto one of the calf-high stools that lined the counter. There was an English menu, at least, but I went cold when the cook crawled into view.

Knarlanti.

Holding a big fucking knife in her medial claw.

Shit.

Then I noticed the markings on her carapace, so I carefully reached over and pulled up my sleeve to show the tattoo of a winged octupus, twin to the one scarred into her thorax plate. She made the grating noise that I recognized as Knarlanti laughter, and placed the knife down between us.

“Ghaz!” It felt strange to be using BL to order in a restaurant, but that was the only thing we’d both be able to understand. Still, manners. “Ghaz, tchukru!”

Rations, shipmate!

Battle Language was simple enough. Although most of the Knarlant had sided with the Thlee in the war, enough of them had joined the human-led Alliance that we’d been forced to come up with a language that could be used by all members of the Allied forces.

It contained no pleasantries and had almost no grammar, only the imperative, interrogative, and simple present, but its entire 2000-ish “word” vocabulary could be spoken and understood by all three of the Allied species……

RIP Fictionpost

It was a step up for me, but it’s gone now. Time to step up again.

Becka

Ka-bar

image credit By Nuno Silva – Foi criado por mim, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5756259

 

There was a monster in her room, but Becka wasn’t afraid of it anymore.

Daddy had taught her about monsters; he’d read her the stories about the hobbitses. Hobbitses were like people, but small, like her. He’d tickled her and called her his little hobbitses, his precious, and let her wear his magic ring so he couldn’t see her, but then he’d had to go away to a rock. He put on his special clothes and said he’d be back but then he never came back and Mommy cried and cried. Becka had checked behind the rock at the end of the driveway, past the sidewalk, where Mommy said she shouldn’t go, and even snuck into Missus Johnson’s yard, but Daddy wasn’t at any of those rocks. Maybe he was in the park?

A TRIANGLE has got THREE sides, not like a square, and Mommy had pointed to the blue triangle with the white stars and said that Daddy wasn’t coming home, Daddy was the triangle now, but the triangle didn’t have Daddy’s magic ring. Mommy kept that in the treasure chest by her bed.

After Daddy left, the monster came. At first, Becka didn’t know there was a monster; it would sneak up in the night, and in the morning her jammies would be off, but one night she’d heard the monster, telling her that she was a good little girl, tickling her, but not like Daddy had. Sometimes the monster wrestled with her, held her, scared her, made her hurt. She told Mommy about the monster, the monster with a voice like her new Unka Roy, but Mommy had gotten angry and called her a liar and slapped her, and she cried and remembered before Daddy went away.

Becka had been quiet, like a hobbitses, snuck into Mommy’s room and gotten Daddy’s magic ring so nobody could see her, then found what she needed in the back closet, where Mommy had put Daddy’s things that had come back even though he hadn’t. She hid under the covers, wearing Daddy’s magic ring so the monster couldn’t see her, and when the monster came that night, she grabbed it with one hand, the other tiny hand barely able to grasp K-A-B-A-R, that spells STING, and cut and threw the thing that came off across the room, shouting “BAD monster, leave me alone!” and Unka Roy was laying on the floor curled up and making funny noises and Mommy ran in and turned the light on and screamed and screamed.

There was a monster in her room, but Becka wasn’t afraid of it anymore.

Four Gallons

600px-Gunto_type_98

Japanese Type 98 shin-gunto. Source: Wikipedia

This is a true story that I always thought was funny.

Then I looked up the casualty figures.

 

When I was growing up, my dad had a Japanese katana* hanging over the fireplace. He’d take it down from time to time and pull it from its metal scabbard, the curved steel blade shiny and smooth with gun oil, except near the tip, where there was a dark blemish that no amount of oiling or polishing would remove. Dad told me that my grandfather, who had served in the Navy during WWII, had captured it in the Pacific.

He said the stain was probably blood.

Grandpa had been a Lt. Commander, captaining a destroyer escort, and when we went to visit him, he’d tell, in between pulls from his whiskey and drags from the foul little cigars he chain-smoked, stories of the war. The stories were often long, rambling, and didn’t include any fighting, but it’s not only the combat vets who face PTSD. He was just twenty-seven years old when he’d been placed in charge of 198 officers and men in the largest naval conflict the world has even seen, and the faces of his brother officers who hadn’t made it back came up through the mists of time and alcoholism more often than I could understand at twelve years old.

One day I asked him about the sword.

“Captured it on Saipan,” he said, “We were escorting the gyrenes coming in, and I went in once it was over.” He ordered another drink. “I got onto the beach, and there were these dead Japs just everywhere, so I figured I’d grab myself a couple of souvenirs, but the Marines weren’t having any of it. I suppose…”

He got quiet for a while, staring off into the past, but the arrival of the waiter brought him back around, and he downed half of the fresh drink. “There were a lot of dead Americans on that beach too. Lotta good men died there. So I saw that sword laying right next to a dead Jap, and I was going to take it when this big Marine came up and stopped me. No way he was going to let some Navy officer just grab a prize that his buddies had died for.”

I was too young to imagine the scene, so I just nodded. “But anyway, I wanted that sword, so I pointed out to where my ship was.”

“’You see that ship, sergeant?’ I said. ‘That’s my ship, I’m the captain.’” He lit up another cigar. “’You gotta understand, it was hot there, real hot, and those jarheads had been fighting for ages, so I told him ‘That ship’s got an ice cream maker on board. Whaddya say I give you and your boys four gallons of ice cream in trade for letting us take a couple souvenirs off this beach?’”

He died a few years later, when I was still too young to enlist, and I hope he doesn’t mind that the sword has found its way back into the hands of a Marine, four gallons or not.

*The sword in question is not what one thinks of when the word “katana” is mentioned. It is, as far as I can determine, a Japanese Type 98 Shin-gunto, a mass produced weapon issued to non-commissioned officers as a mark of rank as much as anything else, with no markings that could be used to identify the soldier to whom it originally belonged. Had he ended his war someplace other than the Yasukuni shrine, it would have, like my grandfather’s ship, been returned to the government and melted down for scrap.

Piercing Gaze

DSCN2939

Something I made for a friend who shares a love of dolls