Flooded Planet

Exploring the World of Writing to the Very Last Drop...of Ink

Author: G2 (page 1 of 8)

INVICTUS by Ryan Graudin

As a follow-up to my post titled Fire Sale, I offer my second update regarding those reading assignments I have handed myself. This, as a way of improving my own science fiction writing pursuits by digesting the efforts of others.

Although it is probably among the best of good writing exercises to provide in-depth critique of other writers’ yarns, I’m certain it’s one I’m no good at, and I’m probably not desirous to become so. It’s enough for me to know internally why I did or did not like a certain book. To communicate those reasons with conviction is the realm of the critic. I’m happily a hesitant stranger there.

Yet, it was undeniably me who said that we should compel ourselves as readers to be honest in our assessments of books, even to the extent of providing written justifications as to why our read was a smash hit or a big stink bomb. That said, I feel compelled to give this an honest shot.

INVICTUS by Ryan Graudin is a fast-paced, perpetually unpredictable romp through time and space aboard the book’s namesake with a claptrap crew of young over-achievers trying to “right their ship” as they also attempt to right past wrongs. As they soon discover, however, no bad deed goes unpunished forever, with more trouble never farther away than the next jump’s horizon.

While stealing valuable relics from civilizations long since perished for a greedy and dangerous black markets dealer, the crew quickly learns that their collective future will forever bump into the misdeeds of an ancient past until a surprise visitor-uninvited, and definitely unwelcome-provides the mind-bending clues they’ll need if they’re to escape a most unfortunate fate.

Everything the ship’s captain and his crew thought they knew about themselves, their past, and their mission will be turned on its head.

**

Graudin is a powerful writing talent. With great plot twists and turns, beautiful command of the written word, teenage emotions dripping off nearly every page, and imaginative settings I could envision in my head, she kept this reader mostly well-invested. She pulled me in strong with her opening scenes and I was off to the races. As I mentioned, the pace was breakneck, and probably a bit too much so for me (this coming from a guy who requires that plot move along briskly to stay interested in the story).

Better put, perhaps it wasn’t the pace so much as the details packed into that pace. And because of that ever-increasing mental burden, I felt the cantering story slowly leaving me further behind with every chapter.

I always try to imagine what a book’s tale might look like on the big screen. I threw this one up on the silver and, in my mind’s eye, it seemed to come off pretty well…until I envisioned the director attempting to translate in footage that stickiest of widgets in fiction-Time Travel. Trust me, this tale gets very involved, very quickly. Many passages required a double back by me, just to be sure I understand the intricacies of the tech.

In the end, and literally toward the very end, where I should have been exhilarated in the turn of each new page, I found myself actually a bit fatigued. Ultimately, I burned out, pulling up lame before concluding the last few pages. I’m not sure why, though I have my suspicions, and I believe the fault may be as much in my court as it is in Graudin’s.

The teenage chitchat became too tedious for this old man. And I didn’t swoon where I was probably expected to (again, I’m not the author’s target audience, so swooning at my age is just hard on the knees). Some of the later scenes-piling up on top of one another like the wardrobe-strewn time machine that served as home-away-from-home for these swashbuckling amateurs-became too bursting with emotion-filled longing for love’s first kiss. And the unknowns that were racking up, as well, began to make my head spin.

In the end, the dizziness induced by this adventurous race against time demanded that I dismount while I could still look back at all that ground I’d covered and not feel too much regret for failing to cross the finish line. The plot line was a lot to take on, and probably more than enough for me. I was disappointed to find that I was not in need of yet more INVICTUS adventure.

So yes, not so memorable characters (Eliot was by far my favorite), some interesting tidbits from history (with a particular focus on the Titanic and ancient Rome), inspired, imaginative, extremely well-thought out plot that I personally was never able to fully understand (again-Time Travel…requires suspension of disbelief through and through, and especially from someone who readily acknowledges he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed).

One problem for me might stem from the fact that I cannot properly decide if INVICTUS is primarily character-driven, or plot-driven, since it seems to possess an even measure of both. Is that a good thing? Possibly. For me, however, the author who can captivate me by hooking me, reeling me in slowly, steadily, revealing ever-deepening recesses of each character’s personality, motivations, and best-kept secrets-she’s the one I’m going to follow.

I think Graudin might have better scratched my reader’s itch had she shown me yet more of Farway, Gram, Priya, and even the bad guy, Lux. Even if this meant sacrificing an action-packed scene or two.

Then again, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m not Graudin’s target reader, and perhaps the level of personal backgrounds she afforded her story’s main actors was just about right for a target reader a third my age.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being stellar, I would rate this mostly solid read as a strong 7, and would definitely recommend it to the children’s children of friends and family.

Hard – Science Fiction

As a follow-up to my post titled Fire Sale, I offer my first update regarding those reading assignments I have handed myself. This, as a way of improving my own science fiction writing pursuits by digesting the efforts of others. I’m only somewhat pleased to relay (because I realize now that choosing so many books at one time was probably overly ambitious) that I have finished exactly one. If I’m reading, I’m not writing…a conundrum I must accept and conquer, heartburn be damned.

Carbide Tipped Pens is an anthology of seventeen short stories, collaboratively put together by Ben Bova and Eric Choi. Mr. Bova I fondly remember from his days at OMNI magazine some decades ago, and the sole reason I selected this book (name-recognition). I should include that for a young teenager longing for good reads over sometimes boring summer vacations, a subscription to OMNI, with a fresh issue arriving in the family mailbox each month, was about as magical as it gets.

After diving into one or two stories, I realized rather abruptly that I probably should have left this title on the shelf. Certainly not because of the stories, which are just fine. The problem, I’ve discovered, lies in my court. I wasn’t careful enough when selecting to realize that this one is stuffed full of “hard science fiction.” Took me no time at all to notice that I’m not a big fan.

Right now, I’m looking at the titles of all seventeen stories as they appear in the Table of Contents, trying to decide which ones best held my interest. Of those (almost 400 pages worth), perhaps only three mostly fit my reading style and interests. Of those, perhaps two were satisfying for the most part. And perhaps only one thoroughly entertained me from start to finish. The remainders proved to be difficult reading for me, not because it was uninspired writing, but because the plots left me feeling uninvested.

Not that I don’t like science as much as the next guy. I certainly do. That is, if the next guy isn’t too serious about it all, doesn’t get all hung up about the feasibility of the physics, and isn’t too bothered by dialog that, at times, feels like stilted conversations between engineers arguing over the finer points of unproven theories that are a bit beyond, if not his mental prowess, at least his reading stamina. Ignoring such indiscretions meant that only a small percentage of these shorts held enough entertainment value to keep me from scanning and skipping forward.

Short stories, more so than formats that have the luxury of time (read word count), must draw a reader in super quickly. If their whole plot only spans perhaps 20-30 pages, reader interest has to be established in the first precious paragraphs of page one.

It makes sense, then, to dwell on that very quality-“reader interest”-for just a moment. What is it that creates this thing in us, this desire, this yearning to know more? As we consume more stories over the years, we will come to know what kind of stuff draws us in quickly, then holds us in a stranglehold for the duration. We will also recognize those genres that may or may not hold us within their grasp as we do our level best to remain focused, giving the story a fair shake, so to speak.

And certainly, we will also come to know well what simply never trips our trigger, no matter how many soft fluffy cushions and delightful snacks we pile high around ourselves.

Such is probably the case for “hard science fiction” and me. Too much science, not enough fiction. It’s not likely that the hard stuff will ever become my good buddy; nor will we likely hang out together on the weekends. Just not a good fit.

The lesson I’ve learned is that reading is a journey of self-discovery, an exploration of one’s own palate, a refinement of its likes and dislikes as we invest our precious time in the experience, caring enough to acknowledge what gives us joy and satisfaction, and what does not. If something’s not clicking, don’t think of it as wasted time. Think of it as something newly realized about your own personal preferences. That’s a good thing!

If you want to throw a book against a wall, ask yourself why, then take the time to offer up a sincere answer. If you refuse to go to bed at a reasonable hour because you simply can’t put the thing down, again demand a reason. Write things down, make them stick.

In my case, I know I like action, suspense, plot twists, interesting characters, unexpected conclusions, themes that hold personal meaning for me. I won’t read something that is otherwise uninteresting simply because I’m supposed to care about the theme according to society. I’m selfish that way, and I hope you are, too. Diversity and divergence are expected. What you love I might shun. What I embrace you might reject.

So it goes.

I won’t dwell on what I didn’t like about Carbide Tipped Pens. And I won’t tell you which of these stories I liked best. I will share with you the reasons behind embracing what I did: superior character development, fast pace, lots of scene changes, interesting settings, plot twists, beautiful prose, tragedy, death, and all the rest. It’s a wonderful thing to see all the qualities of a good story done well. Nothing beats good writing. Nothing trumps a satisfying read. And if it takes sixteen so so reads to get to that one brilliant find, so be it (next time, however, I’ll be more careful in my selections).

Now go write! Or go read…something.

Inspiration

Many of the writer’s reference books I read frequently now suggest that every serious writer should be gathering ideas for stories nearly all the time. The authors of these books say that inspiration can strike nearly anywhere, and at nearly anytime. We should be ready to receive this spark when it happens, since the same idea might never visit us again.

Some of the books even offer methods for encouraging the muse to come and sit on one’s shoulder, murmuring in the ear of the would-be-novelist as she meditates in the living room, takes a long soak in the tub, or sits idling in traffic on her long commute back home from work.

I’ve always had ideas come to me while communing with Nature. A leisurely walk in the park will surely trigger a flash or two of insight, as well as biking, walking, kayaking, or just sitting quietly on the back porch while the breeze blows through the trees and the birds sing me into a nap with their happy little songs.

Such was the case today while I was outside for several hours, engaged in the intensely laborious task of mowing my weeds. I have about an acre and a half, much of which could be categorized as mangy and feral. I had actually lived on my property for several years before stepping foot on much of it, some areas so thick with trees, bushes, brambles, and thorny things, that I was simply unable to penetrate there. A few years ago, I was motivated to clear some paths. This is an excerpt from a post I made on this blog in October 2016 titled Backyard Playground (my daughter came up with the trail names):

“It is only very recently that I set foot on parts of my own property, simply by deciding that I would cut through the undergrowth (along with the overgrowth and middlegrowth, if those terms can properly describe the thick mass of vegetation that crept and hung and tangled its way across my path from head to toe). Now, after several weekends of effort, we have forged, for our walking pleasure, trails with the following names…Deer Run, Walking Stick, Three Sentinels, Armadillo Hideaway, Picky Vine, Knife Fork and Spoon, Brown Bench, and one or two more. I blazed two of the last ones today (Sunday), before deciding that the look and feel of the place is just about right for now.”

Hurricane Michael roared through our neighborhood two years later, and it is only just now, in April of 2019 (six full months after the life-altering destruction) that I have ventured back onto my trails to clear them out once again. The task has been anything but easy.

But let’s not get side-tracked. We’re talking about inspiration here, and not the kind that drives a person to wage war against jungles that spring up on the sides of country roads, but the stuff that drives writers to create best-selling novels.

There was an episode today, and a comical one at that, during which I stepped into a hole about a foot deep, knocking myself off balance. Skittering sideways, I crashed into the stump of one of the trees that had probably been laid low by the storm. My ribs took the brunt of the impact, causing me to relinquish my grip on the handle of the mower I had been using to gain some leverage against the fall. On my way down, and with the handle of the mower now on its way up, I got cracked on the chin with an upper cut that caused my teeth to clap together, forcing me to call out in pain. The mower having gone silent, suddenly I was surrounded by the buzz of nature. My head felt full as I lay there on the ground, wincing at the abruptness of it all, thankful I wasn’t hurt too badly, surprised that I was on the verge of laughter.

I read somewhere that Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” In that moment, Mike seemed very wise to me.

In the meantime, I had knocked my glasses off, and was unable to find them, try as I might. As I hoofed it back to the house to ask for my wife’s assistance (and who would surely have something to say about my ongoing habit for inflicting physical pain on myself for no apparent reason), I realized something rather happily. I had come up with an idea for a story! My altered view of Nature, blurry in the extreme, made me realize that I, my house, the paths I had re-established, and everything all around this quaint little rural scene was constantly and steadily being inundated with green. If I did nothing to keep it all pushed back, in a year the house would be impinged upon by the foliage. By three, it would be half-overtaken. In five to seven, the structure would be well on its way to being overrun by the rightful earth-bound dwellers of the place.

And thus came about my inspiration for my latest apocalyptic story – “Creaking.” Humanity is going to be done in by Nature, and it will be at the hand of the foliage Mother sends to do her dirty work. I can’t begin to tell you how many ideas came swirling into my brain as a result of this very temporary stroll down my walkway, surrounded by these great big blobs of green, clumped together and coming at me from above, below, and every side. In this cheerful little tale, Gaia will rid herself of at least a size-able portion of her most invasive species-us. It will be a real mind-bender. I’m laying out the plot lines as we speak.

Look for inspiration. Write down your ideas as they come to you. Be on the look out no matter where you are or what you are doing. Keep the best ones. Develop one or two. Make them into something beyond just a quick moment of inspiration that you just as quickly forget. These lightbulb moments came to you for a reason. Honor them by paying attention and exploring where they might take you next.

This is all the difference between those who write and those who dream about writing. Make it happen!

Fire Sale

Terms of Lease can be something you definitely want to read carefully before signing on the dotted line. Who would think that the renter of an office space in an outlet mall would be held as the responsible party for replacing the rusted a/c hardware on the roof above their square footage to the tune of about fifteen thousand dollars? Unfair? Undoubtedly. Yet, there the owner was, up a creek without a paddle, in a leased storefront with no way to adequately cool it, and with a second blazing hot summer knocking at an already very hot door. The decision was made to close down. Sell everything and sell it fast, before everything buckled under the searing heat of another Florida scorcher.

There was more inventory to drag out than I thought the place could have held. I, myself, held out until the end, refraining for a couple of months’ worth of ever deepening discounts. Once the overly hot establishment finally began to look respectable in its emptiness, I began seriously contemplating my purchases. It wasn’t until just a few days ago when I entered the place, the brisk breeze from several large fans pushing the air around as best they could, that I was finally satisfied with the prices offered. Hardbacks were going for $1 a piece. I bought seventeen of them before stopping myself, lugging myself and my brood out of there, quite proud of what I’d accomplished.

Strangely enough, I haven’t read the works of other sci-fi writers’ all that much, and it’s high time I did. I’m excited to get started. I’ll let you know what I discover.

Keep writing!

Writers, Prepare for Endgame!

When my daughter asked me several months ago to watch a Marvel movie with her, I couldn’t possibly have known what I was stepping into. It all seemed innocent enough. Excitement, adventure, superheroes saving the world. Good stuff. My daughter is pretty low key, however, so I was caught a bit off guard to witness this imaginative personality so unrelentingly captivated by this hulking behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even less predictable would have been me, the dad, getting so thoroughly swept up, as well. I’ve sat down on the couch once, twice, now at least a dozen times. I’m hooked. I’m a fan. I can’t wait for more! Why?

It’s the beginning of April 2019, and I’m just as excited as the youngsters about the release of “Endgame,” now only a few weeks away. I’ve been casually searching my brain to pin down the source of such unbridled attraction to this tantalizing franchise. My answer came quickly and was certainly predictable, since it’s an element I find important in many creative efforts, including my own: it’s the details.

If you ever want to gleefully jump down a bunch of frivolous and entertaining rabbit holes, go to Wikipedia, then hop around in the world of superheroes. Click on the name of a specific character. Any of them will do. Let’s say Iron Man. Wow, look at all those Team Affiliations! He’s a busy guy. There’s a whole day of reading right there. Fictional Character Biography could be another hugely wonderful waste of time. Now click on his Armor link to go to yet another page dedicated entirely to that one aspect of Mr. Stark’s character. Oh jeez! So many links beckoning me. I don’t have time for this. And yet, I find that I actually do, and there’s a good reason why – I’m honing my craft by studying the pros, seeing how they do it.

For someone still learning the tricks of the trade in fictional writing, this is not trivial stuff. It’s a gold mine to be discovered and explored. MCU is not just for kids. Oh no. I’d be willing to bet the adults love the storylines even more than the young fans. And for me, the guy still putting “pen to paper” after all these years, the value of spending ridiculous amounts of time ogling the special effects on the big screen, trying to figure out the web of intricacies that tie it all together, wondering how I’ll ever keep it straight, then realizing that, slowly, I actually am…this all counts as a very good investment in my book. Not to mention Marvel has given my daughter and I something very fun and endlessly entertaining to share and talk about, and that’s always a good thing.

So I’m happy to sit on the couch, my little sidekick by my side, both of us riveted to our seats, watching, listening, waiting, only to be surprised, time and again, by something new, or an unexpected someone coming to steal the scene in surprising, mind-bending ways.

MCU has become my classroom. For those of us drawn to speculative fiction, Marvel can teach us a’plenty about character development, plots and subplots, world creation, twists and turns, pacing, good dialog, danger and suspense, and unexpected endings that leave us yearning for more.

If you, too, are a writer, struggling to get your creative juices flowing, I urge you to spend some time with Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, and all the rest. Consider it study time. A fun homework assignment. Your portal to see how the professionals go about bringing their audiences back, time and again. How many of your own story ideas might your cranium generate as you watch, glued to the screen, imagining new characters coming to life on the page, your own new worlds springing to life, your own new plots being planted like seeds in a vast plain of potential.

Can’t wait for April 26. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing. You should too. Seriously…go get busy!

Little Gems of Addiction

(fiction…sort of) I’m sitting in my house. It’s the weekend. I have some time. Precious little. What to do? I already know. Right in front of me, sloppily stacked, one tossed on top of the other, is a hastily acquired collection of Little Gems, aka writer’s reference books. I showed not the least hesitation in bringing them home, scoring one more hit each time, the last one, the last one, my mantra, until I needed another, then another, individually, sequentially, collectively hoarding them, now all residents in my home, unhesitating in their role to quench my thirst for more.

How could I deny myself? Their titles so titillating, their promise so unbearable, seducing me with subtitles suggesting that I can master plot twists, can write with emotion, tension, and conflict, can change the world if I so desire.

“No I can’t,” I’m arguing with myself.

“Yes…you can,” squeals the Little Gem from its perch. I swipe out quick with one hand, then thumb through quick like.

“Of course I can,” I whisper quietly, like I’m in a library or something.

“of course i can, of course I can, of Course I Can, Of Course I Can…” The Little Writer Who Could, I find myself plodding, yet again, toward the front of the store, my supplier, a dingy little outfit daring to include the word “Noble” in its name. Ironic, since there’s nothing noble about the way it feeds my addiction, my thirst for knowledge. Surely I’m not alone. The experience is debilitating. For me…for all of us.

I stand there at the checkout counter, silent, not making eye contact. Smiling quickly to myself, I feel grimly satisfied with my latest Little Gem, furtively snatched from uncomfortable nest, it squeezed tightly on both sides by competitors, all fighting for that same rite of passage-to be purchased by a complete stranger.

Driven home to unfamiliar surroundings, fully aware that I, its new owner, will only care for the briefest of moments about its pretty cover. It knows, it confesses, without a doubt, that I, the stranger, won’t hesitate the slightest bit to find out just exactly what hides inside. I almost sense an exhilarated shudder from the Little Gem, struggling only slightly to free itself from my grasp, the smallest of doubts lingering about leaving its safe haven.

An addiction. What else can I call it when the only happiness I can find is to stand at the checkout, yet again, quietly waiting my turn. I wonder if that lady behind the counter, who now knows my face, can sense my sickness, my compulsion. Some people turn tricks. I turn pages, God help me, and I don’t even care. She fires a glance my way, even before I’m half-way to the swipe, nervously smiling all the while. Then she fires another quick shot down toward the freshly harvested Little Gem that will be getting in the car with me, plucked from its temporary orphanage at the very back of the store.

I sense her artificial satisfaction. We’re all complicit. Without me, she gets sent home, as well, another casualty of a shuttered supply house. I know they’re disappearing all across the nation, the authorities intent on shutting them down, trying to stamp out the addicted, the ones like me frequenting such establishments, all of us feeding our needs and wants, our hopes and desires. It’s all so twisted. So raw. So…literary.

She’s anxious to get me out the door. Familiar with all the many flavors of obsession trudging toward the exit, she’ll have something personal to say to each of us. About me and my particular brand of weakness? She’ll ask if I’m a member yet, knowing I resent the insinuation.

“Hell no!” I’ll say.

“You can save a lot of money,” she’ll reply, reprimanding me for abstaining from that indulgence.

“I don’t want to save money,” I snap back. “Why must we have this little dance every time. Who are you to exploit me!”

She calmly smiles, almost expectant of my outbursts now, as though she knows it’s probably just a matter of time. I dread what’s coming next.

“Well, here’s a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a cookie, and you have a nice day.”

It’s all very non-committal. I stare down at my paunch, then explode.

“Don’t you think you’ve already done quite enough? You’re the one who needs to have the nice day, Lady, not me. And don’t look so smug. I’m not the only one addicted, you know?”

I traverse her up and down with a critical stare, sneering all the while. She knows that I know. It’s no accident when I drop my coupon on the floor. Everyone watches it sway, back and forth, fluttering down for the longest moment. One guy makes a leap for it. I cut him off with nothing more than a step, trapping the little shred of wood pulp beneath my shoe. Everyone feels sullied. Shaken. The checkout lady drops her head in shame. I’ve called her out.

Everybody standing around virtually applauds me in silence, all the while gripping their select Little Gems a bit tighter, shuffling forward in the line, anxious to make their own purchase, to get home as soon as possible, only caring for the briefest moments about their individual exteriors, hesitating not a bit to find out just exactly what hides inside.

I’m sitting at my house. It’s the weekend. I have some time. Precious little. What to do? My symptoms are on the rise. My head is spinning. I’m dizzy and overwhelmed, caught-up in this frenzy of information overload. I’m an addict, doing what addicts do. Situated comfortably on my couch, mindlessly sipping coffee, cradling my latest Little Gem in slightly trembling hands, a trickle of sweat slowly sliding down my back, a roaring raging river of unbridled writing desires carving out huge swaths of an interior shoreline badly in need of a makeover for untold years.

I take another sip of coffee, feeling pathetic. My wife is staring at me curiously. Does she know. Can she tell I’m daring to believe? Maybe I’m too far gone to care.

“What?” I say.

“Oh nothing…it’s just that…”

I bring the Little Gem toward my nose and sniff deeply of its fragrance.

“Don’t judge.” It’s all I can manage and she knows it. She turns away, barely stifling her amusement, heading pridefully toward her own coddled collection of Blue Rays, mostly unaware that a freshly minted universe is violently exploding itself into existence inside my aging cranium.

I casually play with the corner of my Little Gem’s cover, scarsely aware of its glittering exterior. Something about mastering plot twists. Whatever. I tear open the cover to get at the meat. What I find waiting inside leaves me utterly astonished. And yet, I remind myself, it’s been hiding there all along.

The Humbling Act of Honing

I mentioned a few blogs back that I’m working once again on a novel I initially started about ten years ago. How that passage of time occurred, or where I was while it unfolded, I truly cannot say. It’s rather eye-opening to think how much productive time I lost by avoiding the pain of really buckling down. Had I worked out the kinks in the manuscript back then, the story could have more quickly resembled something close to the state it’s in now, lo these many years later.

What’s most humbling to me, however, is the idea of how much I absolutely did not know about writing a novel ten years ago, but was thoroughly convinced that I did.

The difference between the opinion that I held of my writing back then, as opposed to what I think about it now, is the acquisition of knowledge. Specifically, knowledge about the art of writing. More simply put is to say that I have recently decided to dive deeply and take the time to hone my craft. Now that I have started in earnest, I can confidently say that I’ve begun to accomplish a whole new level of writing.

It’s not that I became a better writer. Perhaps I did not. ‘Better’ is a subjective term. It is only that I became a more involved writer. What does that mean? Mostly that I am now aware of many more components of writing. This awarenesss, while wonderful to be sure, is also perhaps responsible for the anxiety that more intensely accompanies my efforts. The devil is in the details. More details, more devil. Damn!

The same question that surely must have always been there in my mind, even as I was only beginning to understand what it means to pick up a pen and write, now cries out in a voice that is deafening – Am I getting it right? The worry, the stress that I feel now is surely more intense than it was when I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

And certainly I’m not suggesting that I’m done with the honing. No no…the self-flagellation shall continue. So the future surely carries only one message for me: be prepared for more suffering. Oh, what misery have I wrought?

This must be why the saying Ignorance is Bliss feels comfortable sliding in here, since it seems so appropriate to express such sentiments. Knowledge is power? Maybe. But be prepared to acknowledge that, the more you know, perhaps the more you don’t want to know.

To hone your craft can only mean one thing-you will become much more unhappy as a result. But maybe, it might also mean that you will one day achieve literary greatness. Hmm…

Better keep writing, anyway, you wretched, miserable soul!

Persistence

The other night, I had the honor and privilege of watching my youngest child try to figure out an insolvable problem. This is the very same girl who, I learned quite some time ago, must never be told that something is not possible. Such silly pronouncements mean nothing to her. Whenever I’ve been foolish enough to tell her such, she has promptly proven me wrong. I smile big in response, beaming with joy, acknowledging that I’m the only one who’s being silly.

This particular night, I turned her loose (granted permission, really…she turned herself loose) on hooking up a brand new DVD player to a rather dated TV set, given to me a few too many years ago by a dear friend. Several lessons were learned by me that evening, not least of which is the idea that unbridled enthusiasm can be a beautiful thing to witness. My daughter’s relentless effort in trying to make something work that, of the two of us, only I concluded would be impossible, was quite touching (if not a little hard on my heart).

I also learned that, if you don’t believe (or know) that something’s impossible, there’s nothing in your mind to second guess any of your best efforts. My advice, as the evening progressed, was that we were probably not going to enjoy success, neither with the hardware and cabling, nor with the interface. I’m sure I know how her mind processed my assessment. She continued undaunted (mostly because the viewing of Spider-Man was at stake). She didn’t realize, as I already had, that our task was, indeed, impossible.

In fact, her unflagging efforts actually accomplished some things that I was not capable of pulling off. To be blunt, whereas I lost patience and interest somewhat quickly (let’s call this giving up due to known constraints), she sallied forth (let’s call that sheer energy, youthful exuberance, and an unwillingness to yield in the face of adversity). Between the two of us, I’d definitely want Daughter on my team, not Dad.

A mere child with no experience in these electronic incompatibilities, her only methodology was one of tinkering her way through a problem. No know how, no prior knowledge, just a stubborn working out of an intractable challenge. Try try again. Brilliant.

The exertion was truly admirable, concluding in results not too shabby by any stretch of the imagination. Not success, but certainly not failure. I smiled at her, hugged her, told her I loved her, then casually added that her earnest struggle, although ultimately ending in our mutual disappointment (I wanted to watch Spider-Man, too), was something she should be exceedingly proud of. I used simpler language, too.

How can any of what I just relayed possibly be related to the act of writing? Mostly I can sum it up in a single sentence of advice, revolving around a single, simple word:

If you want to continually improve your chances of realizing success, it comes down almost exclusively to just one thing…persistence.

Thank you, Daughter of Mine. You are my best teacher.

Conversion

It’s been a year and a half since I made any entries on this blog. A lot has happened in that time. So much change has driven me to shift gears. Flooded Planet is going to stick around, but its focus will no longer be on Climate Change. Instead, we will be talking about writing here, with a strong emphasis on Science Fiction. The motivations for such a drastic change cannot be summed up directly or intuitively.

The main reason is that, well…Climate Change has still been marching on in the year and a half that I neglectfully chose to stay away from this space. Nothing has reversed, slowed down, lessened, gotten better, eased off. No, I’m quite certain such wishes will go unanswered in my lifetime, and I’m already two-thirds of the way finished-assuming I even get to those golden years.

In the meantime, while I continue to watch the news, shake my head as I must, more concerned than ever about what’s coming our way, I’ve been writing a lot about things that have nothing to do with Climate Change. Intense efforts on a novel I started about a decade ago have resumed. Surprising to note that the source of my renewed motivation was my youngest daughter, one of my biggest fans (I will soon share with you the wonderful pain she put me through by forcing me to watch nearly the entire collection of Marvel movies together. While that doesn’t seem like an obvious tie-in to writing motivation, it’s still an important link that we must soon explore).

As I get older, the realization that unforeseen circumstances can keep us from our craft is more pressing than ever. We can be delayed, distracted, and discouraged in ways we find simply astonishing. With that in mind, should we not passionately pursue what brings the most joy to our hearts? Persistently? With a sense of urgency? I vote we say Yes.

Climate Change is being written about by the world at large, and there is little I can add that is fresh or insightful beyond the heavy-laden conversation that is already taking place. Consequently, this blog shall now devote itself to writing about the art of writing. Yeah, me, your host, G Squared (G2) hoping to share with you all the ups and downs that I’m sure to encounter soon as I put my final spit shine on that novel I mentioned and slap it up for sale on Amazon.

Let’s stay in touch!

To Live On (My Humble Beginnings)

(This story was originally written by Gary Gunter in 2002)

For the longest while, I considered the biggest drawback of my immortality to be the necessity of having to constantly find new friends.  After about fifteen years, twenty at the outside, my companions, true to form, no matter what the age I was living in, would increasingly realize that, although they were wrinkling steadily, no corresponding progression in my own features could they find.  Then the questions would follow, driven by their abiding suspicions and nagging doubts, all of which they desperately wanted to abandon, if only they could persuade me to explain the apparent paradoxes.

Now, you might imagine that my existence would be somewhat allayed of its stress were I to reveal the true nature of my abilities to the world at large, reassured that the governments and militaries of the mighty nations would find little in my novel biology to gain their interest.  No reasons to compel me to become the ultimate Soldier of Fortune, correct?  A mind engulfed in a body that doesn’t seem to die under any circumstances would have little use, yes?  A weapon like that, unique in all the world, couldn’t possibly hold the attention of any group and its righteous agenda for long, could it?  No, I didn’t think so.

Pardon my mockery on the matter—unfortunately, I have journeyed up and down the streets of civilization enough times to know what darkness awaits in the shadowy beating hearts of at least some of my fellow countrymen.  The Devil’s minions are always about, whether it’s the 3rd century BC or the 3rd millennium AD.

[Sidebar—Yes, I am painfully aware that those acronyms have changed recently, out of an overwhelming “sensibility” toward all nations, credos, and religions.  Oh, dreadful PC—such an unruly and misdirected beast you have invented for yourselves, the impetus of such lofty ideals originating more out of petty, yet lucrative, litigation than anything its practitioners would deceive themselves into labeling as noble and philanthropic.  What cynicism you have made out of your legal systems.  But, then there is always a new pair of eyes to receive the blinding wool.

Even with all this time on my hands, I would never be so misguided as to think I could sway the least fool who believes he (or she) can disseminate all of Mankind’s (I mean Humankind’s) solutions within the stuffy walls of the courtroom.  But wait, the beast is beginning to turn on its master.  Quick, save yourself, toss the legal types toward its maw.  Oh go on—it will heal and restore you beyond your wildest dreams.  You would be amazed how refreshing society could be once again when purged of the law offices of X, Y, and Z on every forsaken corner.  In the meantime, thank you, I will continue to use the old acronyms, the ones that prevailed before the common era (or should I say error).  Now back to my story.  Incidentally, for you youngsters, PC only meant Personal Computer for the briefest moment in time]. 

The only situation that could make my conundrum any worse would be the prospect of having to live interminably under the yoke of an endless stream of cruel wardens.  No, my secret will be staying with me as long as I have any say so in the matter.  [After all, this is but a journal, meant only to be revealed to the world at large upon my untimely death.  If you are reading these words now, you can be certain that I have most assuredly passed from your presence].  Besides, I have a few talents up my sleeve which I have yet to share with you, my reader, allowing me to extricate myself from virtually any situation I find to be, shall we say, a bit too confining.  Those details, like so much else, will have to wait until later.  For now, let’s get back to my friends.

But first, I suppose introductions are in order.  It’s not that I was being rude; it’s simply a matter of not knowing where to start and, because of this, I’m not quite sure as whom I shall introduce myself.  Currently, I go by the unassuming moniker “Lance McAllister.”  Am I Irish?  Not by a long shot, although the kind of blood that’s actually keeping my skin and bones alive is anybody’s guess.  I suppose it could be Irish as much as anything else, though, somehow, I doubt it.

Actually, I came upon the name by opening up the phone book one day in the spring of ’68, somewhere around Atlanta, if I recall, scanning down the list of tiny little names until I found one I halfway liked.  I’ve been wearing it ever since.  That doesn’t mean it will be with me tomorrow, should trouble find me again, as I’m sure it will.  Then I suspect I’ll be gliding my finger down a list once again.

Incidentally, ’68’s change of ID was due to an unfortunate death of a second party at my own hands, at which time I went into hiding for a short while, venturing back out into society as a new (though not improved) version of my former self, only after the smoke had long since cleared.  I shall share the whole sordid affair at a later date.  In the meantime, as you come to know me, you’ll see how much I prefer keeping a low profile, throwing the hounds off the scent, as it were.

So these friends I keep referring to—they were an eclectic bunch of blokes, and we enjoyed each other’s company as much as any group of men could, I suspect.  The cycle was always predictable though: the growing suspicion in their eyes, first in this individual or that, then in the whole group at a glance; the inquisitive stares, and the quiet conversations; the knowing looks and the pointing of fingers.  I never could be certain when the whole cauldron might boil over into undisguised animosity.  The day of reckoning did arrive, however, and there I was, caught in the thick of it, yet again.  On that pivotal evening, which I still remember well enough, much of what transpired would guide me in all my subsequent decisions regarding intimate company and how long to keep it.

My then cherished acquaintances, who had become so dear to me over the years, stopped just shy of physically attacking me in their pursuit to arrive at the truth regarding my eternal youth.  That night, chilled as we were by the final embraces of a protracted wintry season, with all outside hoary and bound for frost until dawn, the blokes and I were enjoying several bottles of cheap table grapes together, as we often did, gracing our favorite English pub, The Serving Wench, just south of London proper.

In response to what must have been someone giving the nod, five of them pressed in tight, all around and on top of me, their ignoble host, a suffocating mob closing ranks, at my own humble table, to boot, breathing their insinuations, accusations, demands to hear a suitable explanation—all this, no less, just after I had bought the last two rounds.  I attributed much of their quarrelsome demeanor that night to cabin fever, a way of relieving their frustration at having been shut in for so many weeks.  It is difficult, however, to defend against such veracity, even when it is muddled in drunken conclusions whose darts don’t quite hit the mark square on (but certainly strike close enough to the bull’s eye).

Ultimately, in order to free myself from the group’s mass hysteria, I confessed to them, drawing them round about me with wide eyes, near whispers and barely restrained animation (acting really isn’t the high art form it seeks to become, if only for self-respect among its practitioners); yes, it was true, I said, dejectedly, yet enthusiastic to an extent, they were quite correct in their skepticisms about me.  They had Found Me Out.  This was received with more than a couple of raised mugs, followed by a round of raucous revelry and swaggering dance, then finally, a willingness to be done with the whole thing by gathering about me once again, ready to give a good listen to what they hoped might be my plausible explanation.

Indeed, I did (hiccup, belch) draw of a potion that would bestow upon each one of them, regardless of their present years (sputter and swagger, slopping of ale all over floor), a cessation (slurring of words, dramatic pauses, loss of concentration) in the aging process.  All I asked in exchange for the information I was, against my better judgment, now inclined to divulge, the means by which they might endure time without end, was that each bloke ante up one of his livestock.  [These I later happily disposed of at one Lady Weatherly’s, the keeper of the local orphanage house, before embarking on the journey.  Ms Weatherly was that rare breed who, as head of a children’s home, actually loved her little charges.  She had a heart of gold, and a coffer as empty as a watering hole in a Texas drought.  At any rate, that kitchen probably gave off delightful aromas for months to come, involving pot, rump, and rib roast, the likes of which the children had not enjoyed in some time, all compliments of my merry band of idiots].  But there was slightly more to the inebriated proposition than just offering up one’s skinniest heifer—there was some hiking to do, as well.

Sharing with them, in genuine secrecy and feigned stupor, a purely fabricated tale regarding this fabled brew, residing in liquid form within the dancing waters of a hidden pool, adjacent to the meres belonging to what we now call the Lake District, I drew out, in an instant, the gullibility of my pals.  The particulars of the topography weren’t as important as the overly explicit description of distance, sacrifice, and large undertaking by everyone to be involved.

By the time I was finished with my long-winded account of the essential rigors involved in becoming immortal, I had, by design, pruned my following down to just two.  Of these, one slipped and fell along the way, breaking his ankle, ultimately left behind at a roadside inn that was wanting of a paying resident.  He, of course, was only able to secure a room by way of the little coin he had to his name, reluctantly parted with by ostensible comrades, the joyous men who, overwhelmingly, had chosen to gain passage into the eternal by way of barter.  The cows and pigs reluctantly parted with would ultimately come back to them in the shape of a delivered bottle or two, filled to the brim with “everlasting life.”  Amen.

In the end, as the booze wore off, perhaps it was a lingering doubt in the efficacy of my story that ultimately kept most of them at home.  Preferring a cozy tavern, a warm bed, and the idea that an end to one’s travails on this earth might be preferable to the discomfort and shivering required by those on the road to Shangri-La, they settled in for the rest of the cold winter, hugging their wives tighter at night, happy in their knowledge of the secret shared among friends.

Well, they had been deficient of a worthy explanation and I, being of grand imagination to begin with, delivered a splendid load of old cobblers which, in due course, led only myself and a duped procession of one into a small valley’d area not far from the mountain tarns made famous centuries later by several poetic types.  Had I not been immune to the hardships of this, and any other journey, I would have been hard-pressed not to believe that I had been taken in by my own joke.  Nature, however, is unparalleled in the telling of riddles.  I was happy to see the mighty struggle my traveling companion willingly undertook, never questioning the validity of my tale.

It was one of those strange perverse predilections of history that should assign the name of “Coleridge” to my faithful follower.  He was no lake poet, however, probably uneducated beyond, say, the modern-day kindergartener; his open-mouthed appreciation of the splendor all around him, however, was enough payment in my book.  I should think a poet might want to write on the topic of unadulterated belief one day.  ’Tis a wondrous thing to behold, and would make a most pleasing sonnet.

In the clear, deep water of a refreshing hidden pool—one I had passed by many years earlier and which had moved me with its unassuming tranquility—this was where Coleridge was to find the answers to his most sincere, if rather simple questions, regarding life in all its boundless mystery, just as I had promised.  In the absence of the genuine article, the placebo principle can achieve astonishing results.  I say none of this disparagingly.  It might surprise you to discover about me what I can call nothing other than a wholesome curiosity for what comes next in my own existence.  Why should I deny Coleridge similar fascinations when it was so easy for me to grant them?

During my effortless escape from the described oppressiveness of this inquisition, I envisioned, not without humor, the scene which I could have brought about, had I been so inclined, taking place along the banks of any tributary I had singled out as being the magical one.  Had I assigned the place of “stepping over” somewhat closer to their own beloved pastures, perhaps several more of my anxious friends would have lustily slurped from their cupped hands, the powerful elixir “…that pools, fleetingly, by the steep south canyon walls of that ancient and mystical place known only to myself and three others as Mer-Narriamsterenthicus (had I really just thought that up on the spur of the moment?)…under the gentle light of the pale full moon.”

I quickly would have cleared my throat at that juncture, trying to rid my countenance of the giddy expectation I felt for the farcical display they would have provided me, without hesitation, much to my undying chagrin.  It would have made for most splendid entertainment, I assure you.  How quickly they would have all memorized the enchanting and strangely familiar incantation I would have imparted to them, remembered most likely from some old fairy tale, probably recited by their great grandcestors, yet only remembered by me.  I alone could reach my hand into the somewheres of the way-back-whens; what I could effortlessly bring into the present never failed to amaze me, as well as those in my circle of influence, which was, by choice, generally quite small.

“It is imperative,” I would have stated emphatically, earnestly pounding one fisted hand into the palm of the other, “that these verses be quoted, word for word, without error or pause, immediately after the consumption of three handfuls of the panacea…lest you negate, and even accelerate in the opposite direction, the restorative aspects of this spell.”

The only thing I could fancy as becoming injured or bruised in those jovial proceedings would have been their individual and collective pride.  I supposed, once the first one passed on, the deceived group would have ultimately fingered me as the scapegoat for his untimely demise, even though he might have achieved to the ripe old age of 74, or 83, or 96, if by no other means than sheer willpower.  Ahh, but then, our time here is never enough.

Coleridge peered deep into the water, while I stood beside him, my arm around his neck, my hand resting on his small shoulder.  I had to admit, I loved this boy as if he were my own son.  I wanted grand things to happen for him.  Faith plays such a large part in the recitation of one’s chapters.  Each of us simply has to decide what is the most deserving of that faith.  Is it religion?  Humanity?  One’s own self?  Those are easy questions for you to answer, but, back then, humanism was still just a glimmer in society’s eye.  God ruled all men with a rigorous and unwavering hand.  I deduced that Coleridge already feared for his soul in the afterlife, feeling that perhaps he had just struck a deal with the Devil.  It was up to me to put those fears to rest.

“It was destiny that you alone should arrive here, my boy.”

“Do you really think so…Sir?”  I suppressed a grin upon hearing such a title proffered on my behalf, one he had never used before.  I assumed he was viewing me with newfound veneration, quickly forgetting that night, not so long ago, when we drank ourselves into a fond stupor quite along with the rest of our cadre.

“Don’t address me as such, Lad, for it is not I you have to thank, but only yourself.  Such persistence I have not otherwise seen.  Many a better man would have fallen by the way side long afore now.”  I gave the small round shoulder a little squeeze.

“What do I do now, S… I mean, how shall I call into service what you have brought me all this way for?

“I am leaving you alone for a little while, Coleridge.  This moment is a sanctified one.  You make all things right with your god now, y’hear? before you go to sipping what will give you eternal peace of mind.  And remember, if ever you should use your life for ill will toward others, the magic…” I lent no levity to the situation, “…well, the magic will be gone.”

“Is it then…mystery?”

“Ordained by the angels, themselves, Coleridge.”

“But why me?  I’m nothing special.”

“You’re no less than the King, himself, Coleridge.  Don’t you ever forget that.  Do you understand?”  He shook his head timidly.  I stayed beside him a moment longer in silence, then grabbed his tiny neck in my hand and gave it a gentle nudge.  “Our paths crossed for a reason, Son.  You have been chosen.”  Then I let go of him, and walked away, leaving him there alone, staring into his destiny.

I didn’t come back for Coleridge, and I suspected he knew that I would not.  I was confident that he would make his way back to the little settlement we had left behind us only yesterday, especially given the idea that he would think himself invincible now, including an invulnerability to the elements, causing a doubling of his efforts where he might have otherwise perished.

Some would maintain that what I perpetrated on Coleridge was a cruel joke of the meanest kind.  I disagree.  He had little to look forward to in his own life other than continuing the trade of his father, namely the herding of beasts.  I had given him a unique and novel feeling of hope and inspiration.  He had been the youngest of my friends, as well as the most salvageable.  It was correct that only he should wind up here, drinking the fruit of his diligent efforts.  I believed Coleridge would go on to do great works because I knew his heart.  It wasn’t pastoral, but it was pure.  I had granted him the adventure he had been longing for.  Now, if he could just get all those empty containers filled.

Meanwhile, having left these poor loveable sinners, my troupe, to their misguided pursuit of perpetuity here between the earth and sky, I sighed at being forced, once again, to take up the path that never left off, on my way to new adventures myself, same as the old ones I had just completed.  From that incident on, if I kept any friends at all, I was exceedingly careful to make note of the elapsed time since the initial encounter.  Were I careless in my calculations, compelled to witness that questioning stare on yet still another face I had grown fond of, I spared not a moment in making haste to the nearest stage coach, or sailing ship, or airplane, whichever the case might have been.

Still, it’s hard to leave, time and again, the people who feel good to be around—rather like losing a well-worn leather jacket, which has done no worse than to fit a little better with each passing year.  I’ve become accustomed to it, this mandatory bidding of adieu, simply accepting it as part of my fate, part of my calling, whatever that might be.

You, the reader, might assume that I would have worked that side of the equation out long ago—nothing could be further from the truth.  A clear picture of how I’m supposed to use my mutated characteristics for the benefit of all humanity has never properly formed in my mind.  I’m no closer now to knowing the utility I have in this world than when I first realized, several thousand years ago, how different I was from my fellow brethren.

* * *

Born on the eastern plateau of what used to be known by the beautiful word “Palestine” now the much less sonorous and unimaginative “Middle East,” I do not know, and cannot know, exactly what year I burst forth onto the scene, for it was long before my group of sapiens kept track of any sort of calendar, as you so meticulously do in these modern times.  [Incidentally, I use the term with deprecation, for the modern does not properly exist for me.  All people believe they are living in modern times, and doing modern things, not realizing that it is all simply a snapshot they are a part of for the briefest of moments.  What you see as the vivacious colors of your unduplicated life will soon be nothing more than a discarded photograph in some large unorganized suitcase that sits in the darkened attic of your progeny.  Or worse, you’ll only make it onto a hard drive, thumb drive…no drive.

Don’t let it depress you—I could paint much more bleakly, should I so desire, which I don’t.  Perhaps if you all stopped to realize how fleeting your existence truly is, you might paradoxically take more time to pursue what is rightfully the most enjoyable.  Stop working so hard, start smelling the flowers.  You’ve heard it all before.  But I’m preaching again, I admit.  It’s all just the turn of a wheel].

Nor do I know exactly where my mother reached the triumphant push that shoved me out of her womb and into the light of day, as we did not take up residence in any hint of permanent structure.  We were a band of wandering nomads, never resting in the same place for long, always following the herds of wild beasts, gathering what sparse vegetation there was along the way to sustain us when the meat ran out, as it almost always did.

I will not detain you with the intricate details of our existence; suffice it to say that your archaeologists and anthropologists have largely gotten the record straight, and, for the most part, things did evolve in a manner similar to what they have assumed to be the truth.  We kept as close to the water sources as we possibly could (although they were as unreliable as anything else in the world), afoot on any given day, relentless in our pursuit of nothing more grandiose than the procurement of our next meal.  Not very awe-inspiring, all that traipsing around, following a dinner that refused to stand still for very long—stories that might amuse a school child, or interest an adjunct professor working out her thesis statement.

I watched every morning as my father set out with his gaunt and sinewy collection of fellow hunters, he ever hopeful that the long hours (sometimes days) away from family would at least prove worthwhile in bringing forth the protein necessary to survive one more season in our inhospitable surroundings.  As the only offspring, I spent the days of my youth learning the ways of my people under the almost hourly tutelage of my loving and attentive mother.  Tagging along behind, I was ever open-eyed to her patient illustrations regarding the proper ways to coax, sometimes wrest, the life-sustaining offerings from Nature’s bosom.  On those evenings when he was due back, however, how I looked forward to the return of my father, whether he arrived empty-handed and despondent, or full of elation, wading into the fire’s light, proudly carrying the spoils of the successful hunt draped around his leathery neck.

He never tired in telling his adventures—where he had been, what he had seen.  A good man, gentleness and ferocity inhabiting the same body, I well knew that he wanted his boy to grow into manhood every bit as strong as himself, able to face the darkness of the night with a bold heart and a sharp spear.  The day finally arrived when I was old enough to take my place beside my father, an uncomplaining and smiling teacher who imparted the unfurling mystery to me, the adrenalous adventure of the hunting party.

It was a serious and joyous undertaking of Man if ever there was one, the likes of which are no longer to be found anywhere on Earth, except in the remotest pockets of the rainforest, and other pouches of undisturbed primitive cultures, where small tribes still boldly set out with nothing more than spears and arrows as their indispensable weaponry.  Thundering into the forest with a four-wheel drive pick-em up truck, laden with all the luxuries of modern life, a high power rifle or two shoved into the gun rack in the rear window all falls far short of the mark and the spirit that existed in ancient hunting rituals; still, I suppose it is better than nothing.  Some traditions are worth keeping alive, even if they are represented by a much-diluted and warped version of the ideal.

A natural part of our cruel and austere desert existence was the expectation that my father should pass away at a relatively young age.  Even when thirty or forty seasons was considered ancient, did we know, inherently, somehow, that there was the potential for so much more life, if we could only improve our circumstances?  Perhaps it was more realistic to believe it then than it is now, when Westerners expect, almost as a God-given right, at least a century’s worth of respiration.  But, as I said, it is never enough.

When my father did pass on, silently in the night, as people often did, my dear mother followed him closely behind.  It was, of course, expected that I should succeed them in assuming the role of provider.  The time to put childish things aside had arrived, and, so, as was the tradition of our people, I took my own wife (pairing off has long been the norm); we produced two children, a boy and a girl.

I don’t know how to ascertain the true age of my body when it ceased to mature any further but, based on the images I still hold in my head of my children as they began to look at me with curiosity, then suspicion, and finally, bewilderment, I estimate myself to be in the physiological health of a man approximately age 35.  This was a time of great confusion for me, not knowing the reasons behind my predicament.  Living in a time when critical thought, as we think of it today, was never a part of my existence, what with being preoccupied in just mere survival through the night, I had neither the time, nor the necessary mental tools, to even pose a thoughtful question regarding my situation.

Humanity as a whole, you have been correctly taught, was never able to enjoy the luxury of leisurely rumination until we came to understand the concepts of farming and herding, allowing us the requisite time to ponder nature with a less distracted mind.  We, as a people, were still a few generations away from such life changing events; as an individual, I had no resources to help me understand why things might be as they were in my own unique case.  Although it was an aspect of my being that I simply accepted (what else could I do with it), nevertheless, it was deeply painful and infinitely troubling to see my children surpass me in years and then die, leaving their own children behind in my care and company.

Slowly, or maybe more quickly than I recall, I came to be revered within the tribe, rising to the position of a great chieftain, purely out of my ability to go on living while others all around me passed on of simple old decrepitude.  I was able to improve the condition of my people by never failing to bring back the kill.  It isn’t a trait of biology that has a neon light flashing around it, so it goes largely unnoticed by affluent capitalists: no matter how aggressive a species’ breeding habits may be, their numbers will be sustained only to the point that their niche can accommodate those numbers.

My people experienced a high infant mortality rate, the result of an existence that was more formidable than you can possibly imagine, situated in your reclining chairs, punching your remote controls, munching on your cheese doodles.  [Do we do any great favors to the peoples of the so-called developing countries by throwing them a bone every now and again?  The problems of the world will never be solved with such flimsy attempts at humanitarianism?  Isn’t the incessant footage of all those skeletal, fly-ridden people, squatting in the sun-baked soil—isn’t that good enough proof of the “Give me a fish and you feed me for a day…” parable, thrust under our noses so we can smell the stench of our ways?  Yes, dammit, I am a preachy old bastard].

Only the strongest survived, and only if Nature decided that it should be so.  It was my ability to maintain my strength and stamina, unaffected, even for long periods, by exposure to the heat of the day and the chill of the night, which allowed me to stay with a herd for as long as I needed to before finding my targets.  Everyone knew that when I arrived back at camp, there would be a bountiful feast.  Eventually, the population of my people reflected an improved health and longevity.

Our travels in the desert expanded.  We were crossing paths ever more frequently with other nomadic clusters, itinerant lineages like ourselves, traversing the plains and steppes in pursuit of the same object as any other—food for hungry mouths.  Word got around of my prolonged existence, taking on mythical proportions.  I became a celebrity to others, a prize to be hoisted high by my own kind.  Yet, a new twist to the story began to take shape, something to be tacked on at the very end of a growing procession of exploitive narratives: the murder of the great warrior of a thousand suns, should it prove possible, would bestow the capacity to cheat death, by fiat, on his assailant.  I became the target of plotting, and war campaigns, and deception within my own numbers.  I began to wonder silently if perhaps even I would soon experience the long sleep of death.

Unaware of what my full potential for immortality truly was, and under what circumstances it might be terminated, I had performed a few experiments on myself—mild self-mutilations, leaps from distances a bit too high for the ordinary man, underwater sojourns well beyond reasonable lung capacities, starvation, dehydration, setting myself on fire…those sorts of things—all resulting in little dire consequence to my physical well-being.  But what would happen if I were to be savagely attacked by weapons that could cut deep and cause far graver harm than I had ever inflicted on myself?  I was soon to find the answers to my questions.

* * *

It was a chill, starry evening, in the late fall of a happy, prosperous year, our encampment situated more and more permanently by a babbling brook that was asking us to stay.  Lately, however, it was also whispering ominous warnings in my listening ear about a swiftly approaching future.  I often remained awake well into the night, attentive to every sound outside with one mind, yet at the same time, able to perceive the gentle breathing of my third wife—beheld in my mind as so precious, so fragile.

[You might laugh at the reference to body count, but I find it necessary, given that each marriage ended in death, as it must.  Does that fact alone not offer reason enough to behold life as dear?  Does that not qualify me to offer advice where life and death are concerned?  If you do not think so, perhaps this book would be best read by someone other than you.  I only offer such observations because I am able to.  Where you only contemplate your own death, I am witness to the demise of each succeeding generation.  What can you make of that other than something that is either highly liberating, or terribly depressing?  The light in which you view it tells me volumes about your soul.  As you go about your daily business, you should try much harder to do one simple thing—practice being humble.  The shadowy figure will also come for you one day, and he’s lurking much closer than you might assume].

While she lay there nestled by my side, her smooth skin warm against my own, her dark hair spilling over my chest, I wondered when her day would arrive.  The night was oh so still.  Then they fell upon us, we, the unvigilant, awakened by those haunting taunts that sprang up out of the calm.  I had fallen asleep on watch—now the tribe would pay.

The tranquility, a peace that had lasted for generations, was finally broken, like an heirloom, having been passed so carefully from mother’s hand to daughter’s, ultimately dropped, in one shattered moment of carelessness, irretrievable for all eternity.  The sudden commotion pierced me, as it must have pierced us all, roused from the comfort of slumber, some of us sitting up abruptly, only to be struck down at once, like so many young saplings, part of a larger tree that must fall.

Small in numbers, but large in fierceness, these savage fighting men had slunk across the desert to arrive at the edge of my world, and had then embarked on its systematic destruction.  That brutality still exists among us even today, even within the trappings that delude us into believing that we are somehow more civilized because we are more connected, more accommodated.  But we’re not above it, nor can we ever be.

They swung their clubs and they plunged their knives into everything they could catch.  Every living thing, young and old, was running this way and that, unorganized and unprepared.  Even then, I knew that I would rightfully be blamed for the loss of so many lives, for a lack of caution when it was most warranted.

The consequences, big and small, were racing through my mind when I spied him, on the far side of the melee, swinging his heavy stone club in wide arcs, making sickening contact with so many of his targets.  He seemed to relish the act of killing, this woolly mammoth of a man, whooping like a mad dog whenever his efforts resulted in the spillage of blood.  I became frantic, needing to reach this enemy far worse than I had ever needed to reach any prey that had come before him.

Then I saw her, my darling wife, running in the wrong direction, running toward him without seeing him, blinded with fear.  We were all blinded by that same fear.  I wasn’t afraid for myself; rather, I was glutted with the agony that I would be unable to prevent what I saw about to happen.   As though it were a weapon that might somehow thwart this ruthless warrior’s best attempts, I hurled her name into the night, casting it into the heavens, screaming with more pulmonous force than I had ever mustered before.

She stumbled and turned, searching for the source of her name, finding me in a flash of recognition.  I even think I observed a fleeting reassurance in those soft eyes as she watched me flying straight at her with all the speed I was capable of…but it was not enough, and I was too late.  Looking on, helpless, I felt the hitch in my throat, catching my breath as he lunged out, snagging her, just barely, by her small wrist, connected to a gentle, outstretched hand.

Reveling in the victory, he reeled her in quickly, as though she were tethered to him by a spring, then, without hesitation, he unloosed his knife and slit her open in a manner that suggested the esteem he must have held for each of us, nothing more than common desert beasts, one and all.  As her innards spilled onto the frost-dusted ground, he released her from his grip, letting her drop, sliding down and down his bare and bloody leg, until she crumpled in a lifeless heap at his dirty feet.  All the while, this killing machine never took his wild eyes off me, the trophy he so coveted, so desired to obtain.  His face was splattered with my loved one’s own blood.

Oblivious to her body’s weight pressing against his own, he stood, motionless, poised to strike, scrutinizing me intently as I came barreling at him like a wave, wishing to break over the top of him with a terrible and awesome force, wishing to break his every bone like a tumbling boulder might do to a careless climber caught in its unmerciful path.  I had no weapon, and my reasoning had abandoned me; I could think of nothing else but to throw myself at him as I would an armament, with all the momentum I possessed.

Willing my body to become heavier, thicker, denser, I launched my bulk into the air twenty feet before I reached him.  He seemed to have planned for this and, as though it were a well-practiced maneuver, swung his club with a blood-lust I had not witnessed before, nor have since, catching me squarely on the side of my head as I started my descent, arms outstretched, mouth wide open, voracious with hunger, aching to devour this monster in one gaping bite.

Now you, my thoughtful reader, always in search of clarity, must have that one curiosity answered.  Yes, I feel pain the same as any other human, but, it is different for me in that the pain is being ceaselessly followed by a healing process, a soothing hand, if you will, that eases away all injury.  Sometimes, it is more of a spirited chase than an effortless relief, depending on the severity of the wound.  It is an automatic response to any physical harm that comes to me, and I am nearly powerless to stop it or control it in any fashion.  At times, however, I have felt that, by simply concentrating intently on the area of infliction, I have hastened the progression of recuperation.  This, then, is the key to the why that is me.

The best way to describe it is to say that this healing is just like your own, only accelerated a thousand times over.  The blow my enemy dealt me in that moment would have easily split a mortal man’s skull wide open.  I do not pretend to understand the physiological methods that grant me what they do, endowing me with the ability to roam this planet through the ages, time after time denying the Grim Reaper what is properly his due.  All that I can add to this non-explanation, after having been “fatally wounded” several times throughout the centuries, is that this recuperative power residing within me becomes proportionately stronger the more profoundly my life is threatened.

I did, in fact, black out after I was struck, and my skull, most probably, was momentarily shattered.  When I came to, there was an unbearable burning sensation in my abdomen, as I watched my vivisectionist’s agitated attempts to disembowel me.  In a manner I was now familiar with, I observed him using those same unrelenting strokes of his knife to complete the urgent and selfish task he had set for himself.  As I stated before, a healing process was following closely behind each intensive stab and stroke, my wounds closing up almost as quickly as he could open me.  Exhausted and frightened, he rose shakily to his feet, dropping the ineffective scalpel from his bloodstained hands.

His look of disbelief was a horrifying thing to behold, even to me, though I stared at him all the more, with wide, unblinking eyes, hoping to shock him to the highest possible degree.  As he turned to run, screaming, moaning, crying with misery at having witnessed the impossible, his accomplices began to back away from both of us, as well, waving their hands in front of themselves, as though to ward off the unspeakable fates I was planning to visit on every one of them, each in his own good turn.

I stood up slowly, carefully, glancing around at my remaining family and friends, seeing the masks of sheer terror on the faces of one and all.  Picking up the man’s knife, dripping with my own coagulating blood, and satisfied that no further harm would befall the diminished clan this dreadful night, I began the pursuit of my quarry, fast disappearing into the deepest shades of the dark.

Receding away, like the waning light of a spent day, the glow of the campfires’ embers edged steadily further toward the far horizon.  I listened, without emotion, to the final choked breaths issuing forth from this pathetic disbursement of field mice.  They must have realized that an undesirable demise was soon to befall each member of their scurrying war party.  They knew I was there, following in close pursuit, tickling their neck hairs.  The moon was all but gone and, but for the uncaring twinkle of a million blinking stars accentuating the smallness of our situation, it was pitch black in every direction.  A vast desert stretched for hundreds of miles all around, offering them little consolation in the form of a way out.  How the panic must have set in quickly, with all that room to run in, and yet no merciful place to hide.

I growled in my own dialect, a language they may have vaguely understood, asking if they believed all their scampering hither and yon would grant them the first rays of the new morning.  As the dawn approached, I felt the wind come up slightly, just as I moved in on my first victim, my snarling now only intended to unnerve all the players from the other side.  Making certain that death came slowly to each of these cold-blooded murderers, praying that they were related—brothers and sons and nephews among them—I was careful to ensure my techniques would force the shrill cries of pain and agony from the parched throat of my latest catch and into the ears of the leftovers.  Echoing across the dry, cracked earth, their outbursts were carried into the others’ nightmares by the morning breeze, that delicious zephyr, lofting the promise of a fresh-sprung day into the air of a beautiful and deadly landscape.

At last, I arrived at the monstrous one.  He could make out my silhouette in that dim, barely perceptible light that was creeping in from one side.  He, like the others, would die utterly alone, with me as his only company.  I would serve as his judge, jury, and executioner, concepts I had never heard of yet.  Each one had begged for forgiveness in his own unique manner, using a language that was foreign and harsh to my ears.  I could only guess what ungranted pleas their last words had held.  I was happy to crush such hopes out of existence with nothing but my own bare hands.

Somehow, I knew that this one would fall silent.  Slumped over, panting in his labored breaths, retching up his guts, having run through the night, he was now spent, his trembling paws trying to support his weight on wobbly, bloodied knees.  As the leader, he was tougher than all the rest, mentally and physically.  I raised his knife high above my head, hesitating only for a moment, awaiting any declaration that might spill from his cracked lips.  When none came, he submitted to the Pale Horse as bravely as I had imagined he might.  The blade, most likely crafted by his own efforts, plunged deeply into this mortal’s flesh, allowing me to finally acknowledge the death of my tribal family as thoroughly avenged.

I realize now, having lived these many centuries, that we were all part of a savage and brutal race, but no more so then than we are now.   Little has changed, other than our choice of weapons, now greatly expanded.  Our one true means of achieving our sincerest and most satisfying triumphs still comes by way of a single, time-honored skill: the spillage of enemy blood.  I think the reason that it flows so bright red is because of some deep-seated need within the reptilian brain of our species to visually verify its triumphs…and its losses.  Were blood the color of water, much of the allure of these brutally ruthless clashes would be lost on the battlefield.  It all must be a contrivance of God, or the Devil, or perhaps the two in tandem.  I can only wonder how much we humans might have gained had we stuffed the stolen quality of cleverness back into Pandora’s box, rather than putting it to our own good use.  And, indeed, we are a clever species.  Now, all that is required to annihilate the opponent is a series of well-timed button pushing.  The bright red colors need not be viewed close up, nor acridly acknowledged through heaving nostrils.  Progress is a wondrous thing.

With arms limp by his sides, and a head that was suddenly too heavy for its neck, he fell over, crashing into his grave, eyeing me with dead eyes all the way down.  The sound of his body thudding against the ground was as pleasing to me as any I had ever heard.

I peered into a giant yellow orb, slowly ascending into an eternal sky behind some far off mountain range, its edges being crisscrossed by the flying scavengers who would have a sumptuous feast this day.  Burdened with reluctance to take my first steps toward home, I knew that, after this morning, it would no longer be mine to possess.  My path, once again, had just changed direction.

* * *

When I came upon the desecrated scene, several hours later, that same sun had settled high overhead, bringing the events that had stretched across a desert the night before into the flat and blinding starkness of the wasteland’s midday heat.  They watched me warily as I approached, these fellow creatures I had hunted with, had shared bounty with, had told stories around the fire with, now finding it impossible to entrust their lives to me.  Never more would I fold the little bodies of my grandchildren to my breast, comforting them, kissing their fears away.  I had become the object of their trepidation, and my presence among them meant that more callous attacks would follow.  They knew with certainty that I was not like them.  I was an outsider, the thing who kept bringing danger into their midst because of my uniqueness.

Their eyes were burning into my back, quickly averted when I tried to catch a compassionate face to gaze upon, to find meaning in all that had transpired, to pick out a lone supporter amidst the subdued mob, indicting me with their united glare.  There was none to be found, not in the adults at least.  My grandchildren were crying, clinging to one another, huddled together near the center of the burned out shelters, their faces grimy with sooty tears.  When I thought about approaching them, I saw the fear expand, the way their little hands dug into each others’ flesh all the more pitiful to see.  It was now beyond doubt that I would be traveling soon.

I smiled in acquiescence at all who dared to see me for who and what I was in that moment of turning away.  Heaving a great sigh, I felt my shoulders sag, knowing they didn’t want me to leave them; I also knew they were hoping with all their remaining heart that I would.  Only moments after my arrival back at the fringe, I felt the sting of my own tears as I prepared to cast myself aimlessly away from them all, never to see them again, except in my dreams.

Then, raising a hand to my squinting eyes, shielding them from the glare of that unfeeling sun, I suffered a lump, rising in my throat, pushing its way ever upward as I watched a lone little girl running bravely out toward me.  Having broke free from the grasp of an older sibling, she raced across the rocks, being tossed this way and that by their scattered jaggedness, like a little boat braving the fiercest waves.   I feared she would fall, as she carelessly stumbled on, her long, tangled hair flowing out behind her in the hot dry wind that blows relentlessly on us desert sojourners.

Weeping with indescribable sadness, she rushed into my arms, burying her tiny head in my shoulder.  I couldn’t hold back my emotions any more than she could her own, our tears mingling together in a salty tempest, reminding us both of all our terrible heartbreak.  A few sharpened and lashed stones, some flint pieces crafted into weapons of undeniable efficiency, profoundly severing the ties that bind, more so than any natural disaster we had ever endured together.  In just a tick or two, in an endless sea of time, our lives were altered by devastation that would follow us through the remainder of our days.

In that moment, I hugged this angelic child tightly to my breast, praying that I could die, that whoever or whatever had conferred this horrible spell upon me would take it back then and there, that the ground might rush up to receive my mortal bones and flesh, that I would fall wearily into the bosom of my maker, my torments finally over.

Then, hoisting this baby girl high up in the air, I screamed, loud and long, to all my distant onlookers, assured that they would discern my meaning.  Crying all the more in body-racking sobs as I heard an uproar come across that empty expanse, no longer bridgeable, accentuated by the movement of a few brave souls, I watched their spears, thrust high above their heads, shaking in acknowledgment, shaking out of respect for their broken chieftain.

After what seemed like an eternity, I reluctantly, gently returned this little warrior to her place on the soil, then knelt on bended knee and kissed her.  Patting her leather-clad bottom softly, brushing off the dust, I told her in our rustic, undecorated language how much I loved her, how I would never forget her for as long as I lived, my darling great-great-great granddaughter, more courageous than all the others left standing.

Covering my ears to the sound of the sorrowful wailing that would not end, a song that hung in the air like the dwindling moisture over a dying oasis, I tore myself away, leaving them, alone now, forever more.

* * *

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