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This morning's freewriting produced this fragment.

In June I would sometimes climb onto the ruined trampoline )

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Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/5810.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
radfrac_archive_full: (writing)
You can hear everything that crosses the roof of the Beautiful Shed, including squirrels, cats, rain, raccoons, and hail. My sleep was thin last night; I think I heard each in turn and in combination. I definitely heard the hail sometime in the small hours. Therefore, here is another bit of a story about the cold, since it is on my mind.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

No particular title )

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Mostly I was wishing for the lyricism of a recent post of [personal profile] aldersprig's.

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Audio version of this post here.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/4617.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.
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I've been reading Hemingway. Here's a thing.

* * * * * *

I took the bones and scraps and put them in the bag and took the bag out to the trash. On the way back an armless hand leapt out of the air and grabbed my sleeve. I jerked back and dragged Henry from the deep evening shadow behind the cans.

“Jesus Christ, Hank, you scared me.” I shook my arm; his fingers clenched, then let go, and he flexed them as though they were sore. His knuckles were cut.

“Sorry, Tom, sorry,” he looked around quickly. He was wearing a woman's close-fitting cloche hat, blue. His coat was a woman's coat as well, but it was cheap and plain and old, so it was less noticeable. The hat was at once rather modest and extraordinary. What made it extraordinary? A man in a woman's hat is joking, or destitute, or drunk – but not in himself (or in his hat) extraordinary. I think it was because it looked a bit like an aviator's soft helmet from the war. He had set it too far back on his head, so that his own balding forehead stuck out. It was like a baby's bonnet on him--so he looked like an infant lady aviator.

“Tom,” he said, “Tom, for God's sake, don't tell on me.”


“All right, Hank. Come inside for a minute.”


“Don't tell Helen on me, Tom.”


“Come in and have a drink.”


His coat was too short in the sleeves. Four inches of bony arm stuck out. Where the hell had he got it? It wasn't any coat of Helen's. Some woman—not too well off, yet too proud to go on wearing it—had given her old coat to a church or a neighbor, or thrown it away, and now Jake was wearing it and he'd buttoned it up wrong. Underneath his trousers were rolled up and his bare feet and legs filthy with mud. Reeking river clay.


You saw how skinny he was in that coat, how long it must have been since he had a decent meal, how his joints bulged like knots in a tree. He used to be a big man, Henry, before the war.

* * * * * *

I'm doing something very complicated on the Internet in a fresh attempt to read ebooks from my library.

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I have something here in my hand, she said.
What is it? Shouted the children, though we all knew.
It's a story, she said.
About a girl? Shouted one child. About a boy? Shouted another.
Yes, about a girl and a boy, she said.
Were they brother and sister?
Yes, and they were twins. They looked exactly alike. And they had a beautiful blue boat.
Did the boat sink?
It did, she affirmed.
Did they die? I cried out in an ecstasy of catastrophism. I had seen a picture of a shipwreck, bodies green and beautiful wrack upon the waves.
No, they didn't die, she said. They sank very deep down into the sea, and there they met a mermaid who taught them to breathe underwater. But I had stopped listening out of embarrassment, since I was the only one who had not known that for a story to be a story, it must go on.
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So I was thinking about why the last story felt kind of limp.

First I thought it was the length, but I think actually it's not a formal issue -- not the thing that's bothering me, anyway. It's the emotional content--it wants. I think probably a story shouldn't want anything (or shouldn't appear to.) It should present something, and leave you to feel how you feel. Hopefully really bad.

So maybe this, written over lunch, gets a little closer to what I wanted to do with the previous story. )


(901 words)
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I seem to be interested in red and green just now. This is actually almost one and a half k -- that is, in this increasingly nonsensical conversion, 275 words, give or take.

I had this nice orderly idea to post a series of stories graduated from 100 to 300 words in length and then comment thoughtfully about the differences in building each one, but production did not precisely accommodate itself to my schema and I feel too worn out tonight to insist. Anyway, I'll think about it.





True Red


This isn't a true red. He holds two paint cards against one another, frowning to intensify the contrast. That little bit of red-green colour blindness undermines not so much his perception as his faith. He could be choosing something too brown, because he likes brown, or likes that colour that he sees while other people are seeing reddish-brown and brown and greenish-brown. Dried blood, mossy grave-dirt. Or worse, he could be choosing something too bold because he's over-compensating. The names should be helpful, but they draw him down avenues of uneasy speculation. Sweet Wild Cherry might have blue undertones. Sticky Candy could be too stark. Raw Carnelian would be faded, sickly. He thumbs the striped sample cards. His fingers are tacky under a thin coating of sweat.


The clerk is making helpful faces and offering him a colour disambiguation lens, attached to the paint display by a chain of plastic beads. He is supposed to look through the lens with his non-dominant eye to clarify the shade. The clerk has a hand-held scanner that will match anything they present to its glassy gaze: a peony, a photograph of someone's gaping mouth, a pinprick of blood. The clerk gestures to a luminous surface on which he can test out phantom versions of his colour. None of this can help.


A true red. Moulting Cardinal. Dying Caesar. He pulls out colours he knows are nothing like what he needs. Vintage Burgundy, Sugar Plum Fairy, In the Navy. Whatever he brings back will be wrong, will be glanced over and set aside—no, ignored—no, laughed at—no, greeted with semi-compassionate silence. Still, hands stuffed with wrong answers, he feels compelled to choose.



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That was the house where the hot water tank burst. I was going to say boiler, but it was a hot water tank. The house was heated by oil, and that system may have used a boiler, or anyway a furnace, since I don't think that it actually boiled the oil, but this was definitely water. I think it's just that boiler sounds better. More Victorian. More substantial.

The hot water heater burst and ruined sixteen boxes full of clothes, linens (though none of the towels or sheets were actually made of linen), books and electronics peripherals. I say burst, but obviously the heater didn't explode. It didn't pop, blister-like. I guess it leaked. Badly. It ruined a bunch of other things no one really wanted but no one had thrown away, things that still had the smell and texture of utility, though they were not actually used. Several rolls of ugly maps made archaic by wars and apps. A strange pair of short, broad, blunt-nosed skis no one claimed. An old-fashioned tennis racket that warped like a melting mirror. These things got moldy and rotten and ruined just like the useful things, but no one knew how to feel about that.

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So I defended my master's paper. That happened. And now I've signed up for a spring course because I missed being out of classes so much. It's just an undergrad course -- second year, which is almost embarrassing.

I have to stop myself from speaking up too much because, you know, probably in this case it's not my job to compete with people half my age to Impress the Teacher. Especially since he knows me.

Anyway, here's a 100-word story. I used to do things like that.



I am waiting for a blizzard so that I can kiss you. No blizzards are predicted for this year. In fact, it has been unseasonably warm since Christmas, probably due to changes in global climate patterns. We're unlikely even to get a good hard frost. I may have to wait a year or two or more until I can kiss you, since the climate here is so temperate, but I know I'm in the right place. You told me that you would kiss me when hell froze over. This is certainly hell. Therefore, all I need to do is wait.
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That's right. I write stories, don't I? It's spring and I am coming back to life, unfurling like a fiddlehead.

Here are two depressing and aseasonal tales. Hurray. 1k stories, if you recall, and I don't see why you would, are not stories of 1000 words, but stories that would take about 1k to store, at least at the time I read that random statistic, meaning that they're about 200 words long.

One's a bit short and one's a bit long, but together they make about 2k. They bear no known relation except that I wrote them both in the library on Friday night, before [livejournal.com profile] inlandsea and [livejournal.com profile] stitchinmyside and I went to the movies.


war love revenge grief )




mermaids )

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Fruits of a week off: an actual tiny fragment of fiction. Apparently what I've been calling postcard fiction is known webside as The Drabble.

Their Palimpsest Was Dust

Plotting war was their delight for aeons. They'd never gotten farther than obtaining a huge roll of parchment and some colourful chalk. They scribbled, wiped out, redrew, bickered over the meaning of their own symbols, and swept out whole campaigns with an angry, a contemptuous, or a conciliatory twitch of one glittering powder-streaked wing.

Our plague felled them. I was their enemy, but I stepped among the wreckage of their silly grandeur with regret. By my order, a squad dragged away the empty scroll. A bad death and a blank page are no fit end even for fools and dragons.

I guess that's DragonDrabble.

I enjoy the paring down that very short fiction requires. I take issue with this: "There is no room in microfiction for... digression." I call it a hat trick if you can pull off a successful digression in 300 words or less. (Or, say, two digressions, for three full threads.)(Did you know that hat trick was originally from cricket? I always assumed hockey.)

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Last Day

He was reading Les Liaisons Dangereuses under a tree when the aliens landed. He didn't look up, and eventually they went away. He heard the cries of alarm and surprise, and distantly assumed it had something to do with a dog or a frisbee. One ship hovered for a good half-hour. He thought a cloud was passing over.

When it left and the sun shone out, he let the book drift to his chest and sat musing in the warmth, pondering vaguely on a feminine-inflected danger, a dangereuse, and trying to remember the masculine form. From there he drifted to regret about not keeping up his high-school French, to regret in general, nostalgia, wishes for one's self as a child, and how these wishes transfer to one's own children. Then it was time to go back to work.

The park was next to the oatmeal and saffron buildings that housed his office. He'd taken a long lunch, but it was the last day before his vacation started, and things were as quiet and dozy inside as out. The temp receptionist was playing idly with the phone in a patch of sunlight. Suzanne and Mike were arguing companionably in Suzanne's office, the one with the better view. The repair guy from the copier company was tinkering. That seemed to be the whole population.

He sat down at his desk and sorted papers. Most of it had to do with people he hadn't heard back from because they were away on vacation themselves. By the time he returned, they'd be back, panicking from all that rest, and demanding to know the state of their files. He looked forward to this with ironic affection for humanity. He could afford to, with two empty weeks ahead of him. He sorted out several piles and labeled them with sticky notes.

He printed off his notes for Suzanne and carried them in to her. She thanked him abstractly and set them down in a pile of receipts. He knew she'd lose them, and this too made him smile.

He went back to his office and reviewed his email, thinking that in terms of an epistolary novel like Liaisons, blogging and its comments function worked much better than email, because at least a little bit of editing went into blogs. Still, he couldn't help reading extra narrative into his long exchange with Simon at the printing company about the logo.

"Hmh." he said, halfway between a sigh and a yawn. He set his autoreply, writing in a small joke that in two weeks the recipients would be very sick of.

He slapped his thighs in satisfaction, felt silly, and slapped them again ironically. He got up. He looked out the window. The alien ships were hovering just above eye level. They looked like a picnic of silver plates. He frowned. There was something unsatisfying about their size. Too large or too small.

He went back to Suzanne's office. She and Mike were contemplating the view.

"Is it a publicity thing?" he asked them.
"We were just saying." said Suzanne.
"Whose is it?"
She shrugged.
"It's not bad." said Mike.
He shrugged. "Yeah... it's a little simple."
"The best ideas are simple." said Mike. It was a paraphrase of his much longer email signature.
"Yeah." he said. "Well, I'm gonna head."
"This is your last day, right?"
"Before vacation." All three made faint laughing noises.
"Yeah." said Mike. "I didn't mean on earth or anything." He was writing something into his palm pilot.
"Yeah. So... see you guys."
"Yeah." said Suzanne. "Enjoy the trip."
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The ex-co-con asked after my cherry tree the other day, when it was still only spotted with blossoms, as though they'd blown there randomly from another tree. A day or two later, I noticed it was covered with dark-pink buds. Today it's in full pink cotton candy blossom, which makes me feel both nostalgic and slightly nauseous.

Yesterday on the coffee break (my new job has a coffee break. With coffee. And milk. And sugar cubes. For free.) I was sitting at the table between the head curator / general boss and the staff curmudgeon, who were discussing, um, some artists I didn't know anything about. English ones. And then Russian, I think. And then a contemporary painter, Freud, who I actually had vaguely heard of. And then the head curator said, "Wonderful texture on his canvases, Freud."

Dear dog, children. I work at a place where they talk about brushwork on their coffee breaks.

I only wish I could keep up.

I am going a little bit mad with the extra-long workdays. It's only for a few days, and it's not exactly a terrible burden, but I'm still too tired when I get home to do much other than watch Buffy and wish I were writing. I'm one of those people that if they don't write in a day, thinks, "What if I died tomorrow? I'd feel like such an idiot."

So I'm tightening up on enforcing the write-every-day rule, and in aid of that, I present a ten-minute timed writing. Not exactly a story. More of a Snippet.

cell phones )

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I've finished The Eye in the Door. I think I'll probably have to buy the series at some point. You know. When I'm Rich.

Books, formative and otherwise )

I'm including last night's bit of timed writing, for your potential entertainment. Hmm, it's sort of roughly depression-era struggling family saga material. Probably residue from reading Grapes of Wrath. No fantasy elements, although I think the poor bastards could use some. And having said that, now I want to put some in. Feel free to suggest What Should Happen.

Ten-minute tale: Triptych )

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I think I have to take a vow to write something upbeat, active, and forward-looking. Just to give my style some exercise. I've been looking back to the lost since before I had anything to lose.

Here's another 1k tale. (I shouldn't say the 200 words thing is unverifiable –- it's easy to verify. I just imagined that it must vary among applications.)

* * * * * *

Miracle Escape Pilot Comes Home

Meteors showering onto the house woke her. As she struggled up from sleep's void, the meteors shrank to fists of hail pounding holes in the shake roof. She rubbed her face on the pillow, and the hail became pea-sized. She opened her eyes into darkness, and lay listening to the rain.

The little rental cottage trembled under the storm. She thought about rogue waves, logs caber-tossed through the front windows. She tried to be uneasy; instead she felt quietly amused.

The storm was loud, though. She got up and, perversely, started the washing machine. The old front-loader's glass dish rattled in its door. Inside and outside were one sloshing din.

She closed her eyes. Tried to feel the tremor of machinery surrounding her. To contract the tiny cottage until it fit her space-cramped senses.

A lurch, a sleeper's stumble. She opened her eyes to wood and damp air, no burning womb of white metal. Falling, she'd only thought how strange it was that coming home would kill her.

She fixed herself a cup of tea. "It's still falling." she told the washing machine. She tasted a crystal of salt from the table. There was a newspaper rolled up next to the trash. She knew what it said without looking. Micrometeor Fells Doomed Mission. Miracle Escape Pilot Comes Home.

"Eventually." she said.
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The Spirit of the Law had not counted on technical problems. The Letter of the Law was nothing but technicalities, and he did not care if one contradicted the other; but the Spirit had to achieve, even in Her most profound paradoxes, something like an integrity, a wholeness of purpose, and though she was much more flexible that Letter, some things could stop her cold; whereas he could grind happily along, producing justice and injustice in varying measures, but always keeping to his One Clear Track.

Which is by way of saying that I did not, after all, post a ten-minute story the other night. I was going to get through on a technicality by posting in the same 24-hour period, but instead technical difficulties intervened.

That is, technically, there isn't really any good time to get ahold of me while I'm in Work School, so people have taken to calling me in the middle of the night.

Let me instead introduce a new story format, and invite discussion and, er, partacion. Partaking. Participation. You can do it too.

I was told the other day that 1k of data works out to approximately 200 words. It was one of those unverifiable bits of trivia, but it made me want to coin another short format -- the 1k story.

That's about twice as long as the postcard stories I was doing, which were to come in within ten or so words of a hundred. That format makes me strip away extraneous words -- it makes my style much cleaner. I lose the elaborate formations I enjoy for their absurdity, because I am trying to crush in as much narrative as possible, or fit in an extra character detail that I hope will make a reader see what I do.

What happens when you double that length? You give yourself space for a little more narrative or a little more description, but you also introduce the possibility of slack. How are your judgements about what can fit changed by the new length?

Here is my first 1k story. I am still feeling 'round the form, so I expect better things later, but I really wanted to post some writing, as token to myself that I am putting some effort into this, so here it is.

* * * * *

In the morning, I find a glass eye under the bathroom sink.

I'd put some towels in there the night before -- I keep forgetting until I'm in the shower, and having to dry myself on my pyjamas. There may have been an ant-trap in there. No eye. Also, the towels seem to be missing, but I'm not positive they went in. I've had unpacking dreams all week. I keep finding the birdcage in odd places, its cover shivering.

The eye looks antique. Older than a 70's-vintage apartment with gold-leaf mirrors and 'intimate' ceilings. It's not an everyday prosthetic. A Dress Eye?

I hold it up in front of my puckered left socket and meet the gaze of my brother in the mirror, his sudden glaring symmetry. Strange not to see out of what observes me there.

"You don't tempt me." I tell my mirror-twin. He smiles.

At first I was afraid of the cavern in my skull. Now I know what it is: My spirit cabinet. The gape of mortality. The space in me where heaven would be, if it existed. I imagine that if the eye were restored, I would forget; the space would close, and I could put away fear and shock, death and remorse.

The eye is cold and heavy on my cheek. "I am not tempted." I repeat. But I am.
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Everyone knows that the ahhhtist feeds on beauty alone; if that beauty happens to come in the form of roasted-garlic potato soup, as it did repeatedly for me this weekend, so much the better.

Friday, Bee (not a Honey Bee, exactly, though sweet, nor yet a Spelling Bee, though well-read; a Queen Bee in spirit, but of a more democratic bent; in this circumstance, a Wine Jelly and Chocolate Chip Cookie Bee) came by with bagels (I am trying so hard not to be alliterative and failing so badly) and an array of other delicacies to feed my, er, soul. (But I *do* find the soul is very well-satisfied by milk chocolate. I really do. Dark chocolate is delicious, but it is more of an intellectual substance; or, say, a spiritual *challenge* rather than comfort. Dark chocolate makes me feel bleak and noble.)

Saturday Grumpy Bastard repeated his Hell and Gone feat and we drove out to Bee's Mum's pottery studio for her yearly craft fair. The studio is a gorgeously rambling shake-covered being (surely not just a building) heated by a central woodstove, on which they brewed hot apple cider. Off to one side is the hobbity (or -- more playful -- Barbapapa-y) outdoor kiln. Windows in the downstairs studio framed views of mist-filled trees. Upstairs was the show-room, with slanted attic ceiling and not only Bee's Mum's work, but that of her students as well, and some lovely knobbly-yarn scarves by a Young Artist arcanely connected with Bee. Bee's Mum makes gigantic teapots in the shape of rhinoceri. Everyone else pretty much made bowls, but they were terribly nice bowls.

And if you had gone, you too could have had a marvel of a little pottery cup to take home, for everyone who had cider got to take their cup home. Mine is speckly blue, and I believe G.B.'s had a glossy blue-green glaze. I wandered around repeating "This is wonderful!" every few minutes, and people were in such a good mood that no one hit me with anything heavy (and there were lots of heavy things about.) G.B. more sensibly got a scarf. (The latest incarnation of the Eternal Scarf, but that is not my story to tell.)

Today I spent most of the day doing housework and ironing anything that would lie flat long enough. Tomorrow morning I go for my job interview, and as Caro-mi-caro says, we know not what outcome to pray for. Pray anyway, children. Pray very hard. Every time a bell rings, some poor sod has to answer the phone.

* * * * *

I read the following fragment to Grumpy Bastard last night, after much fretting about whether it was Too Trivial for Words. He pronounced it just trivial enough to suit words very well, but he was annoyed that it was unfinished. I thought I'd finish it today, but unless I stay up all night to do it, no. Since my time is so uncertain just now, I thought I'd post what I had.

I know you've often thought, as I have, that the real problem with A Midsummer Night's Dream is not its lack of narrative momentum, or its excessively prolonged denouement, but its insufficient levels of Gay.

I watched a recent movie of MND in pieces over the last few days. The casting was terrible. (I heart Stanley Tucci, but Puck?) The staging was awkward. (Titiana jumped around magically through the art of poorly cut film.) They used Received Standard Shakespeare Delivery, which means that you can garble your lines completely so long as you emote a lot. And Callista Flockhart... tried.

Still, lots of running around after the wrong person, and I kept thinking that it would be fun to write one of those love-potion-confused-identity comedies, but with more Gay, since that allows for so many more degrees of misunderstanding. (I think we are all agreed that the crossdressing in Twelfth Night is essential to happiness.) (Do we think MND is stronger than TN? I suppose we do. But think how much better it would be with more crossdressing.)

So, then, a midsummer night's ten-minute story. This lumpy little cake is also flavoured by C.S. Lewis, since I just re-read The Magician's Nephew courtesy of Grumpy Bastard, and by Jane Austen, since when I can't think of anything else to do I just copy Jane. Oh, and everyone has made-up fantasy-style names, but I wonder now if it might not be more fun to use the MND ones.

(Apologies to Grumpy Bastard if the horses behave unrealistically for the sake of the narrative.)

never did run smooth

By noon, the wedding site was a shambles. )
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Jack met the fairy king out walking -- the king was walking. Jack was floating down the river clinging to a plank. A few moments before, the plank had been part of a bridge, with no thought whatever of striking out on its own as a boat or some kind of smallish barge. Jack and the plank were doing their best in a bad situation, but neither one was giving the other very much support.

The king and the sinking man exchanged pleasantries -- one ought always to be polite to a fairy, even in awkward circumstances -- and eventually the king grew tired of trotting alongside the plank and offered to rescue the man if he liked. Jack acknowledged that he wouldn't mind.

The fairy king took him home -- the king's home, not Jack's. He took him to a sumptuous chamber and gave him restorative wines. Jack slept on a bed of goosedown and silk, and woke much refreshed. In the morning, he purposed to leave.

"Oh, no, you can't stay only one night in Faerie." said the king. "It's against the rules." I don't know why he used the Latin spelling for the place and the English one for the people. He just did.

So Jack stayed for three days -- three days in fairy/Faerie time, which turned out to be exactly nine days in the mortal world. Everyone at home thought he'd drowned in the freak flood that washed out the bridge. They were very glad to see him, although they made a fair amount of fun of him as well, for getting carried off by such a small river, and for not even managing to get killed.

Not-killed Jack, as they came to call him, grew a little tired of this, and one day he thought he'd get himself into a tight spot and see if the fairy king would come and rescue him again.

His efforts weren't immediately successful. He was almost gored to death by a bull -- or anyway he was fairly sure that's what it was trying to do. He picked a bar fight and ended up with only minor injuries and a debt for the price of fifteen chairs and an heirloom soup tureen.

Finally, his habit of teetering over steep cliffs murmuring "Help" nearly did him in. While turning to leave in disappointment, he tripped on a stone and fell backwards into the canyon. His nemesis the river had been cutting it for centuries, and it was very deep, with some quite pointy bits at the bottom.

Jack howled all the way down, and at the bottom the fairy king caught him, not with a net of cobweb or a single thread of silk, but in his own -- surprisingly wiry -- arms.

"You have a talent for mischance." said the king. "I could find that useful." And they agreed that Jack would visit for another three days while the fairies tried to distill a liquor of ill-judgement and bad timing from his tears. Since he was happy to be there, they had primarily to work with tears of laughter at the antics of some of the smaller brownies and imps, and the results, although interesting, were unpredictable.

Jack was surprised to find on his return to the mortal world that he had been gone, not for nine days, but for eighty-one; that his funeral had been held, a marker for his absent remains raised, and his sweetheart become engaged to a blacksmith.

"Three months?" he said indignantly.
"Life goes on." she said. "You can't stop it. How long would have satisfied you?"
It was a fair question. After some reflection, he said, "Two years."
"Hmm." she said.

After that, they called him Keep-on-Living Jack, and viewed him with awe, although he did get some ribbing for losing his sweetheart to the blacksmith. (This was a perfectly pleasant man who never had an unkind word for anyone. Jack could not help liking him, which blunted his resentment -- a poignant frustration my readers may have experienced themselves.)

Two visits to Faerie leave no taste for mortal things, at least not if you haven't been enslaved for a hundred years under a hill or changed into a tortoise. In Faerie, Jack was a lucky mortal, whereas in the mortal world his mischances depressed him. Which was quite the wrong way to think about it, but people are like that.

He didn't like his chances over another cliff, so he decided to take a different sort of risk -- one for his soul. He walked out to a crossroads, where the gibbets hang and the suicides are buried, and he spat three times on the ground. Death appeared, looking surprised and not all that fierce. He'd been in the middle of losing an argument with his sister. He governed death, and she governed death-in-life, and they were forever fighting about semantics.

Gruffly, rather than fearsomely, Death asked Jack what he wanted.
"I want to go back to Faerie," said Jack, "And I seem to have to risk death to do it. Will you play a game with me for my immortal soul?"
"Yes, all right." said Death. He didn't feel like going back to the underworld and arguing about the sailors anymore.

Unfortunately, they didn't know the same games, or had contradictory rules for them, so they settled on hide-and-go-seek. Jack was crouched behind a gorse-bush, snickering, when the king of Faerie whisked him off to the Other Lands, "In the nick of time," as he insisted when Jack pointed out sulkily that he'd been winning.
"Nobody beats death." said the fairy. "He was toying with you."

This disagreement marred the first of the three days somewhat, but by the second, the wine and perfumes, songs and tales of Faerie had won him again, and it was with real sorrow that he cut short an impromptu lute lesson on the third day to be sent home -- or rather back to the crossroads, where Death had long ago given up trying to find him and taken the soul of a rabbit instead. It proved a general favorite among the dead, and became a special pet of his sister's.

Our hero noticed that in his absence (something like a year, he guessed) the crossroads had taken on quite another character. The roads were paved, for one thing, with even yellow stones and high curbs, and there was a new gibbet with a fresh coat of paint. These improvements struck him as he walked home; as indeed a wagon of strangely light design nearly did, jouncing past him while he lingered, lost in observation, in the middle of the road. The driver cursed him as someone-he-hadn't-heard-of's son, and sailed on.

He was more surprised to find when he got home that not a year, but about eighteen years, had passed. His parents were dead. His sweetheart had three sons almost grown, and charming worry lines about her eyes and smile lines about her mouth.

"You look just like a silly boy I once knew," she said when she saw him. He tried to smile.

Jack had aged only three days, of course, and those who believed he was himself called him Deathless Jack. Everyone was a little uncomfortable with him, whether they believed him a liar, a madman, a distant cousin, or a person of eccentric habits. They made nervous jokes about cheating Death and were relieved when he went away.

Life seemed dreary. His old friends, who three days ago he'd laughed and caroused with, thought only of family and farming. The people his own age, who had been two and three years old when he left, seemed strangely trivial to him, as if some part of him had lived out the missing years.

Finally, he met a woman who made things seem sensible again. She'd been an awkward thirteen-year-old when he left, one of those young people unnerving in their excess of energy. She was thirty-one now, and her nervousness had become a calm humour. She liked him, and she didn't seem to care very much about the eighteen missing years.

They married. Her presence was a bridge between him and his old friends; the two of them were just a younger couple among the others. He began to fit back into things.

Some years passed peacefully. They had a daughter, and then a son, and another daughter. His mind was taken up with family and farming, though he liked still to tell fairy tales when the mood was on him.

One day, Jack was crossing the new bridge over the chortling river. Looking down, he saw a fish dart through his reflection. Its scales shone like gold and silver. On a sudden impulse, he leaned after it, and managed to catch it by the tail. It was terribly cold, and did seem to be made of precious metal, with glittering rubies set in a band about its middle.

He was just thinking he would take it home to amaze his children when it leapt from his hands and struck him across the face with its tail. He fell back, startled, and tumbled into the current. The river wasn't deep enough at this time of year to carry him away; but in the fall his head knocked a stone, and his face slid under the water.

He swam up from unconsciousness with an aching head, straining at the darkness behind his eyelids. When he opened his eyes, it was just the same, only the fairy king was there.

"Saved you again there, I think." said the fairy king. "I shouldn't have -- three visits to Faerie is the most any mortal is allowed -- but I've always liked you, Jack."
"Are we in Faerie, then?" asked Jack. "It looks different." They stood on some hard surface, but it was indistiguishable from the murky void around them.

"Well, we're on the borderlands, since I couldn't bring you entirely inside the gates, but -- yes, more or less." The king scuffed the nothingness with his toe. "I've been meaning to do something with this bit of the realm." he explained. "But I haven't had time."

"Thank you for saving me," said Jack, "But I wasn't planning on a visit to Faerie today, and I've a lot of work to do. Can you send me back?"
"Oh, yes, of course." said the King. "Not for three days, of course."
"But the farm--" Jack stopped speaking abruptly. They stood in awkward silence for a long time. The fairy king cleared his throat.

Eventually Jack spoke again. "How much time will have passed when I go back?" he asked, with difficulty.
"A bit more than last time." said the fairy king.
"How many years? Fifty?" Jack swallowed. "One hundred?"
"Oh," said the king lightly, "Well, give or take a few years... something like one hundred and eighteen thousand years?"
"What?" said Jack.
He was looking at the king's clothes.
The king looked down at himself. He wore a gold and silver tunic with a belt of rubies. He cleared his throat again.
"If we hurry," he said, "We can be back to my palace in time for the feast."
"I thought a mortal could only enter Faerie three times." said Jack hoarsely.
"Well," said the king. "More or less."
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Well, early evening of, anyway. Here's a short Tale of Magic for you. Maybe even of Magick, if we're all feeling that pretentious.

(Points to E. at work. I told her my (deeply, if briefly, held) theory that a better past tense of "pretend" than the cumbersome "pretended" was "pretent", and she pointed out that it also formed a tidier root for "pretentious". Let us award her the Hooked on Phonics Tidying Up the Language plaque for September.)

Right, the story. Let's call it... um...

The Examination

"Like becomes like," said the examiners together.
"Like becomes like," I answered, numb to the usual pleasures of ritual.

The examiners were certainly alike, and could have been transformed one into the other without anyone, possibly including themselves, taking notice. They say that's true -- the more you transform things, move them through possibility according to their characteristics, the more nondescript you become.

They showed me the transformation exercise.
"That's all?" I said, surprised. The three shifted. A smile, a frown, a cough.
"That's all." said one of them.

I looked at the two cups. This, after all my study? Endless listing of analogies and similes. Taking random things from a sack and likening them as quickly as possible. Sorting and resorting endless nearly identical buttons. Find their differences, so that similarity wouldn't obscure likeness.

Two cups. One of blue glass, shuddering with ribbons of light cast up the river. The other (no, not other -- the same, the equal) a grey mug of indifferent manufacture, lumpy, badly glazed, unappealing.

Their only real difference was their Final Shape -- the glass cup had none, but the mug was a ring, the hole through the handle defining it, limiting the changes it could make. So. Logically, you change along the path of least resistance. It preserves energy. I thought briefly of doing it the hard way to impress them, but the rule won out.

I fixed my eyes on the glass cup, holding the clay in my mind. It gave way easily, growing thicker, shorter, becoming opaque. That handle. I split the cup's side along a thread of weakness in the glass. It folded back, lips parting to speak, petals, pages. Bent forward in a spout, a beak, a tube, an arc, then, touching, only a handle. The glass flowed into itself. I shivered. A hole appeared along the flaw in the wall of the new mug, where I'd encouraged division. I struggled to seal it. I thought of soft things, sticky things, things glad to join, but I could tell I was losing. I let go. Left the eye-shaped hole under the handle. It was a magic test, not a pottery competition.

I sat back, stretching out my neck, shaking my shoulders. I glanced up at the examiners. They'd been nothing to me while I worked: scenery. Now they moved into slow life, like unliving things animated by magic.

Together, they peered down at the table. There was a silence.

"No good?" I said cheerfully. I thought I'd done quite well. The new mug didn't look exactly like the old. It was almost a caricature of its ugliness, like a cup made out of a toad's carcass. And there was the hole.

An examiner cleared her throat. The cougher. "No, it's not that." she said. "It was a very good showing for your level." She looked towards the others, perplexed.

The frowner frowned. "It's just," he said, "Usually people turn the clay into glass."

I looked down at my two ugly cups. A flush of humiliation spread up my neck, into my face.

"It doesn't matter," said the smiler, smiling. "It's a skills test, and you did very well."

I ignored her. I knew what test I'd failed, though none of us had known it was being set. Other people knew enough to turn the ugly into the beautiful. I was a manufacturer of ugliness.
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He had that noble selflessness of a man who cares for no one but himself.

--Derek Marlowe, A Dandy in Aspic

A Dandy in Aspic began to fall apart shortly after I purchased it for $1, or 2$, (I am not entirely clear on this point) at the pleasingly cluttered used bookstore in Gibsons. I've been going there since I was a child and we were Summer People here. Now my parents are, well, what are they? Not locals. I suppose they're part of the latest wave of monstrously destructive gentrification. But, you know, nice.

This bookstore is where I first bought Dune, which I read, and Dune Messiah, which I did not finish. It is not the store where I bought my lost/loaned/stolen and much lamented copy of Tides of Lust by Samuel Delaney (I don't know him well enough to call him Chip.) This book, because some of its obscenity contravened laws created to protect you and I and our vulnerable loved ones from Fearful Notions, had to be rewritten and was re-released under a different title. I had the original. I bought it in a bookstore over a craft shop that sold local artisans' work, including tooled leather vests and, if I recall correctly, tooled leather halter tops. The bookstore has been replaced by a boutique kitchen shop, or I should say, shoppe. Damn gentrification.

Anyway, I try very hard not to be a collector-- I buy things to use and enjoy and ruin, not to put in plastic bags and pray for profit on. But the loss of Tides, and the bookshop, and innocence and obscenity, will ride with me on my Harley of Life as one of my great, or anyway favorite, regrets.

More of a Vespa of Life really.

I'm on the Sunshine Coast, for any who are confused, visiting my parents in their new house. They've just moved down, and I've come to visit and entirely failed to bring them a housewarming gift. I thought of it as I was walking past the gift shop on my way off the ferry, but I was being picked up (by a family friend, not the other kind of picked up) and I had to go, or they probably would have got a Zen Candle (TM).

Anyway, because I'm still looking for something that will let me read it all the way through, and because apparently the thing I do when moving is obsessively buy books, I got the Dandy and a fantasy novel by Diana Wynne-Jones, because Neil Gaiman speaks highly of her. Although I've noticed he speaks highly of a lot of people. Perhaps he is a Genuinely Nice Person. It's my morning routine, along with coffee and writing; read Neil, read The Good Doctor, sometimes check out Making Light or Nick Mamatas (whose book, in an act of fiscal suicide, I ordered from Munro's -- and by the way, Munro's has an awesome website. Check it.)

* * * * * *

Speaking of writing, here is a little exercise I did on the ferry. See if you can figure it out.

Wilt, Wane, Wail: A Tale

At the inn (The White Hind in Wex Lane), all in a wan daze, Delia went-- laid in ale and tended the hind. It lived in a vale at the lawn-end.

Delia had a hale, tan hand and a white, wilted hand, hexed when a jilted Neddie Wattle dealt with the vile Thane Vexhall. The deal: wealth and health for a thieved hex and a wild tale.

In the dell, Neddie and the Thane waited, while the hind ate teaweed. The hand went dead. Neddie went waxen. "The deal--"

"A hand."

"Wedded!"

"Will he whine and wail?" Vexhall lilted. "Neddie. What avail?"

Neddie waxed, vexed, at the tall thane.

"Well... wait." Thane Vexhall lit a weed-wand. "I lie. It will heal. I dealt with a thin, vain wit. He wanted wealth. And I, I welted him, head, hand, and heel."

"What healed it?"

The white hind let Vexhall halt and hold it.

"Death."

"He died?"

"He did."

"Will I?" Neddie waited. Vexhall let it lie.

"Will I?"

"All die." Then Vexhall and the hind went with the wild new wind.

The hind wended in at dawn. At the next dawn, it died. While Neddie waned, Delia tilled the teaweed and waited. He died. The hand waxed anew.

At the inn, the Hale Thane, with a tan ale in hand, Delia will tell the tale.

* * * * *

No, it's not supposed to rhyme, necessarily, although the limitations do impose an interesting assonance that becomes rhythmic, or begs rhythm.

See, I was doing this word puzzle in my Variety Puzzle Book. It was a little chart you had to fill letters into so that they spelled words no matter which way you traced through the chart. The words were WARP, WARE, WANE, WAND, WIND, WINE, WILD, and WILT. This is an evocative, shivery sort of set of words, and I thought, why not put them all in a story, as an exercise? And then I thought, or what about writing a story that only allows a certain set of letters?

I wanted to use those words (I didn't use warp or ware-- see below), so I decided I'd use the letters from the puzzle, plus, arbitrarily, enough to make up half the alphabet.

Then I realized that I was making it too easy, because the letters were the most commonly used ones in the alphabet. I still wanted to keep the word list, so I left in T, L, E, N, D, A, I, and the less common W, but I gave up P and S. I nicked H because I really wanted to know I'd be able to use 'THE' -- you can't get even vaguely naturalistic writing in English without it -- and made myself take X, Z, V and J as punishment, sort of like an extra bad Scrabble tray. With the stipulation that I actually had to use them.

It's quite possible that I slipped up --s and f, particularly, kept wanting to creep in, so if you find an error, please let me know, and I'll amend.

Anyway, this isn't the story I thought I'd get out of WARP, WARE, WANE, and the rest, if I had all my letters to work with. (I really missed s.) Maybe I'll write that one and post it next.And if you're very good children, I'll include a really, really long, explanation of how I wrote it, with elaborate theoretical ramparts and great cannons of mind-bogglingly dull structural commentary.

I was talking to grumpy_bastard about this the other day, over the most amazing coffee cake ever made (not too moist, not too dry!) and Marlboros-- how much we like puzzle-stories, stories that are not just narration but elaborate structural riddles that need to be decoded. He said he always hated story problems because the stories weren't good enough.

--rf

...Yes, I know, there's a sort of temporal flaw in the story. I'll try to work out a better sequence. With no s,q,u or c. An eene.

...Smoking is bad, and cigarettes are evil, and Phillip Morris is the devils' own backside, and Marlboros really do taste better than just about anything. And those were the super ultra pansy lights. Thanks, grumpy bastard.

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