Missed Connections

So there was that guy that you killed.

You wanted to say that there were a bunch of people alive today who wouldn’t have been, but for you, but then you realized you put down that headset twenty-odd years ago.

Long enough ago that you not only don’t remember the day, but you’re not even sure of the year.

And some of them might be, probably are, dead by now.

So there were a bunch of people whose lives lasted longer than they might have because of you, and the one guy that you kind of killed.

You know it went down in your record, and, if you remember correctly, you were even punished for it.

You hate Picasso, and Joan Miro’s stuff belongs in the trash next to the fridge, to save the space for better artists whose medium includes macaroni and spray paint, but one of those fuckers did impressionism, or expressionism, or stuff that records the feelings imparted by a scene while completely rejecting the accuracy of the scene itself.

Probably Picasso, with those fucked up doodles of cows meant to evoke a Fascist napalm attack.

Whatever, the point is, if you want to understand what it is to work 9-1-1, you need to watch two horribly inaccurate movies, and one of them isn’t even about “public safety dispatch”, although it is.

There are two accurate points in Martin Scorcese’s “Bringing Out the Dead”. One is that there is, indeed, a city called Yew Nork in Damnerica.

The other is that there are ambulances.

You know this from experience; you passed through LaGuardia once, on your way to Chicago.

Which is, if you recall correctly, the setting for “Pushing Tin”.

Also, you worked for a 9-1-1 agency for more than long enough to get certified, and just short of long enough to get fired.

That is all, all other “(n)ames, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”

But watching these two movies with your factual eyes off and your third eye open, gives very clear and accurate view of what life behind the phone, on the other end of the radio is when everyone you talk to is having the worst day of their lives and for you, it’s only Monday and you’re juggling a 12×12 panel of phone lines, and you’ve got three monitors, a foot pedal, a pushbutton, and a headset.

And one day a little girl calls in. A few hours ago, her sister got into an argument with their mom, took her schoolbag, and ran out the door crying. A nice man just came by the apartment with her bag; he found it where the tollway meets the state route and thought it might be lost. So you put in the ticket and your coworker dispatches the appropriate officer to take the report and the phone rings and it’s another call, a traffic accident, a barking dog, a man beating his wife to a pulp with the phone as she’s crying for help, and one of your units is on a traffic stop and another is stopping by the school and a third is rattling door handles downtown.

But about that guy you killed. It was a fight in a parking lot in the middle of the night, and you didn’t get enough information, didn’t ask about weapons and the stab wounds from the broken beer bottle killed him. You weren’t the only one to take a call on it, but you got less than the minimum and put in the ticket, moved on to the next call, took a suspension day or so later on, but they ruled it a justifiable homicide, which is the legal system’s way of saying everyone is better off with him dead, so you spent your suspension day having a beer with a coworker whose regular days off you didn’t share.

That other call though, the one with the little girl. You did everything right that time, got all the data, put in the ticket, but she and her sister are still gone, gone, gone except for when you wake up twenty-four years later, give or take, and wonder.

The Spaniard

I’m finding myself more and more fascinated lately with people almost lost to history.

It’s hard to remember, at times, that everyone who ever lived, lived.

He wondered if he would ever see her again.

But who was he? Am I talking about the Egyptian King Iry-hor? He’s the oldest person whose name we know, and that’s about all we know about him.

Or were those the thoughts of the Altamura Man as he hung, upside down, broken and dying in that cave?

Or the anonymous soldier I’ve watched fall five, a dozen, a hundred times as he came out of the surf onto the beach that day in June.

And so often the “he’s” aren’t men at all; our culture, all of our cultures, are much more likely to leave the lives of women unnoted, unrecorded, unnoticed.

Why did Elinor Curry agree to marry him?

Why did they get divorced?

All of them lived. All of them ate, and drank, and laughed, and maybe even loved, and lay awake at night, unable to sleep, worried about the future, got up in the morning, bleary-eyed, took a shit in the manner appropriate to their culture, station, and situation, ate meals which likewise suited them, and all of them almost, almost, almost disappeared.

But not quite.

“He took some informal guitar lessons in his twenties from a Spaniard he met next to a local tennis court. After a few weeks, he picked up a flamenco chord progression. When the man failed to appear for their fourth lesson, Cohen called his landlady and learned that the man had killed himself. In a speech many years later, in Asturias, Cohen said, ‘I knew nothing about the man, why he came to Montreal . . . why he appeared at that tennis court, why he took his life. . . . It was those six chords, it was that guitar pattern, that has been the basis of all my songs, and all my music.’”
The New Yorker

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.

One Night Stand

She helped him into his coffin as the sky to the east began to brighten. “See you tonight, my love” she said, but he made no response.

“Well,” she huffed, “that was rather rude, and after all I just let you do with, no, not with, to me.” A part of her knew that this close to sunrise, he was dead on his feet, bedroom exercises or not, but that part was burned out by the white hot rage flaring its way up from her core. She’d been a fool, a damn fool, to think that a vampire would be any more considerate than a human man. Men, vampires, werewolves, shoggoths, deep down they all turned out to be the same in the end: Selfish, inconsiderate scum.

“Let’s see how you look with a tan, you bloodsucking bastard!” she screamed, and began to drag the coffin up the stairs of the cellar, into the rapidly brightening world above.

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.


Holding a big fucking knife in her medial claw.


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.

Training Day

A little bit of humor, with a bit of horror. This was written in response to a challenge to write a story with 237 words. Use the words: cart, blades, showmanship, and towels.

Look, kid, teppanyaki cooking’s got very little to do with cooking. If you done your job right, the guests’ll never notice how the food tastes, only the prep. I been here five years now, but don’t worry, coupla weeks and you’ll have it down.

First, in the kitchen, make sure your cart’s got everything you need. Checklist: Cutlery, oil, spices. Careful, them knives got blades that are sharper than God. Show you how to keep ’em that way later.

Next thing is the uniform. Make sure the hat fits right, too small and it’ll tip right off your head, too loose and boom, it’s a blindfold. Ditto for the jacket, that pocket’s gotta stay open nice and wide for the shrimp tail catch. I’ll teach ya that one later. Aright, let’s head out to a table and get in some practice.

Like I said before, it’s not about what you make, it’s about the showmanship; every move comes with a tap on the table. Get a rhythm going; place and tap, salt and tap, cut and tap, see? Okay, with me. One and two and shrimp down, spatula tap, salt the shrimp, salt shaker tap, shaker down, spatula tap, flip the shrimp, fork tap, spear the shrimp, knife tap, cut the shrim…

Shit, somebody get me some towels and call 9-1-1. And get that finger off the grill and into some ice. God I hate training days….

A Medical Experiment

Right, got to get something up here even though I’m pretty stymied in my writing these days. This is from quite a few years ago, when I was obviously heavily under the influence of the good doctor, and more or less really happened.


. . .and when the furniture started shaking and I heard the howling, I shot out from under the bottom bunk in a heartbeat. I’d been sleeping there because the cold iron in the frame helped ward off the elven and fairy mercs that my roommate had hired to. . . well, that’s a story for another time. . . Anyway, the San Jose earthquake had been only a few weeks prior, and I assumed that it was another aftershock until Jack came plummeting out of the top rack, naked as a jaybird, drunk as a lemur, and masturbating like an orangutan who’d just overdosed through the main line on Viagra and amphetamines. . . which turned out to be closer to the truth than I could ever have imagined. . . seems the poor bastard was the unwitting subject of some experimental work being conducted by a joint task force made up of elements of the DoD, FDA, and CIA. . . They were working on a new war drug which included an early form of Viagra, along with some stimulants and a powerful synthetic hallucinogen, the hope was that it would leave the enemy troops so disoriented with lust that effective resistance would be minimal. Unfortunately, field trials revealed a couple of things: First, that gas or spray dispersal was ineffective; the effects Jack had been experiencing occurred after injections that were measured in ounces, not parts per million. Second, it was found that the control group, namely Third Platoon, reacted the exact same way to saline injections and Miller Genuine Draft. . . by the time they discontinued dosing Jack, however, the residual effects from some inadvertent conditioning that had occurred with him were painfully obvious: After three or so beers, he began leering at any and all females in the area, regardless of age or apparent health. Stronger drink had more significant effects, one night after we’d all been sitting around drinking tequila with brake fluid chasers it took four strong Marines and a nearby fire hose to wrest him from the trees in front of the Navy E-Club where he’d been trying to rape one of the peacocks. . .

Irregular Updates

Well, this blog isn’t all that old, and when I started it I promised I’d update every Monday. I’ve been pretty good about that promise, but there are some family health issues going on that are taking up a lot of my time.

I’ll be updating when I’m able, and notifying (both) of my readers through the usual channels of Facebook and Twitter (@iain_aschendale).

Thanks for your patience.

Unpleasant dreams.