A Death Among my Friends.

Posted: September 12, 2016 by Bill Maxwell in Personal

Someone I was very close to chose to end their life early. Near that end, she and I weren’t on speaking terms — her choice, not mine — as she tried to sort out some incredibly complicated things in her life.

I know she tried to reach out to me about a week ago but in a way where I couldn’t reply without dishonoring her explicit wishes (and don’t think that’s not going to haunt me for a while).

So just for me, for her, for today, reach out to someone you love. Hold them a little tighter. Let them know you love them a little more. That’s there’s some light in the world for them and that together we’re a bit stronger than when we’re alone.

And for wherever she may be, having left this life, I hope she’s found the peace she was searching for and that whatever force may be behind this beautiful little universe holds her tight and says “Welcome home.”

My heart grows heavier as it sifts through everything we shared, good and bad. It grows heavier as I meet with the people she cared for, burdened as they are with her death.

The universe is as kind as it is cruel. There’s been plenty of things telling me to hang in there. There has been support and offered support. And I know by keeping a person’s story they have a link to this side of the world.

I just ache and with every wave of emotion comes the fear / knowledge that this tide will ebb in time and how I feel, how I react to this will solely become a faded memory. And I hate that. I hate that people who impacted us and loved us will only live on deep in our bones and not by our sides.

But you can’t fault the world for turning and the universe for moving on. And I can’t stop loving the world and all the people in it. We’re all stories in the end — that’s the quote I remember. My Zen dentist buddy will probably lecture me for hanging on to attachments for too long but this pain marks a person’s impact in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of man who will grow tired of that trade.

A Helping Hand?

Posted: September 7, 2016 by Bill Maxwell in Los Angeles, Mythic Ecology, Personal
Tags: , ,
Well, this could be uncomfortable

Tataviam tribe: mapOn Columbus Day (2015) a social justice committee at a church invited me to talk about the day, due to my previous work with the Tataviam people.  As you might figure out, the local tribe views that holiday just a wee bit differently.

I laid out the foundation of a conversation for the attendees: that the U.S., by its own admission, is in active occupation of 500 – 1000 sovereign nations in the continental U.S. and that the Los Angeles tribes (who are very much alive and still culturally active and yes, there’s even a tribal government) never had a ratified treaty.  If you live in L.A., you’re squatting on tribal land.

I also pointed out that the act of genocide, specifically attempting to annihilate the “Indian problem”, is still in full swing; it’s just out of the full-on murder phase and into the abusive plundering of tribe resources to make them into trinkets and historical items and fictions.

We had some very animated dialogue back and forth. One participant asked what the ideal solution would be and I honestly answered that I wouldn’t invent one.  The affected tribes could provide that answer far better than me and the answer would probably be complex and uncomfortable and angering and frustrating. But it’s a hell of a lot better than not having the conversation.

In the course of this same discussion, several people offered up that they felt the real solution was to offer up education and opportunity. With apologies, but it’s not their place to make the offer. That’s the province of the tribes. When you’ve (that is to say ‘us’ the settlers on this land) oppressed people for so long, you have to recognize the very real fact that the tribes may NOT want to play with you anymore and would like to take some time to repair all the damage you’ve done.

A Small Parable

A guy comes across a hole; it’s deep, it’s obviously artificial–maybe a well or a disposal site.  Someone is crying for help from the hole.  About halfway down, somebody is trapped. The smell from the hole is terrible.

“I need help” a voice from the well calls out.

“Give me your hand.” the person outside responds.

“Get me a board!” the voice replies.

The person’s just within reach. “You don’t need a board. Give me your hand.”

“Get me a board!”

“Just give me your hand!!!”

“I need a board!!!”

The guy’s upset. This person in the hole sounds unreasonable, right? The guy’s just trying to help, after all and in disgust, he turns to walk away. But he can’t resist one last biting question: “Why the hell do you need a board?!?!”

“I’m trying to save the kid beneath me.”

A Little Note on Importance

Here’s the point. No matter the good intentions of the folks living now, they can, in no way shape or form, relate to the struggles the tribes face. They can’t anticipate or intellectualize what the tribes need. The people can listen. They can understand if the tribe says “we want a spot over here and we don’t want to deal with you.” They can supply what’s requested. Because maybe the next generation of the tribe really needs help. Maybe it’s relatives. Or the landbase or the culture or generational damage.  Maybe the tribal authority requesting the help gets it wrong in the details. Hell, we’re only human! It doesn’t matter. We can’t see what’s going on nor are we required to.

Is it so hard to admit our shame and start acting like adults? We have the money, the will and the land to truly alter the future.

I harp on this because Los Angeles has an unprecedented opportunity to work on this and make a meaningful change. We need to restore history all the way back to its pre-European roots and admit that horrible mistakes were made.

I ask again, wouldn’t that be amazing?

 

About a week back (more or less), I was witness to one of those curious interchanges that occasionally leapfrogs its way across social media. This one was about art. Insults were exchanged, friendships were broken, and both sides rushed to sooth the wounded. Pretty typical. But its commentary on art and its placement in society got me thinking.

Since I make my living on art, I figured I might as well jot those thoughts down.

I’ve probably heard this about a few thousand times over the years (maybe I exaggerate a bit, but probably not): the birth of human culture is found in art. Not tools, not domestication of fire, or habitats or funerals or settlement or brain weight or body type or agriculture. Art. Some consider art proof of ‘abstract thought’ and most recognize art as a skill that combines both technical expertise and imagination to evoke a visceral response. It’s how our ancestors talked to their children across vast seas of time.  It’s how cultures first talk to each other; through analyzing their aesthetic.

The first recognized arts are visual, blobs of paints on different media from stone to bone, exquisite in their window onto the lives of ancient cultures. Writing is the far-removed, bastard step-child.  It’s a visual media that takes lines and curves to create hallucinations (the much better quote is from @KatieOldham is below) that are vaguely consensual among users. It condenses visual information down to two-dimensional points and still manages to explode it across a person’s cortex, transporting them across time, space and sanity.

Given the power of such artifice, that it literally forms the foundation of human culture and arguably forms the glue that binds societies’ current forms together, why, oh why, are terms “artist” and “starving” ever used together? Why is funding cut for art in school? Why are young adults wanting to go to art school considered to be childish dreamers, as opposed to fearless visionaries, which is much closer to the truth? After all, art is quite possibly entirely why we are human.

Animals require three things in this world.  First, a healthy body, able to deal with the various standard challenges of the day. Whether it’s waking up when the stimulus is right, understanding how to find food that keeps you going, to recognizing your own physical needs for comfort or family.  A healthy mind is next up, a net of input that is filtered by that organ (in whatever form it takes) to allow one to sift through one’s relationship to the environment.  Food vs. medicine vs. threat vs location. The last piece of the trilogy is the heart, which holds the core of memories, allowing things to connect to you, whether it’s lovers or friends or foe. It both warms and warns an animal, affecting the behavior.

Yeah, fine… but what does this have to do with art? Art is the ability to make our own personal environment interactive, mutual. It’s our attempt to reach out and connect proactively to the Other. To any Other. Whether it’s the girl you want to woo, the other band of humans (or Neanderthals or Denivosans or Norwegians), that head of cattle, or that pack of wolves, it’s art that gets you there. Art is the cauldron within which body, heart and mind cook and combine to produce a healthy human. We produce Art to interact with the world around us and you can look at the world around us to see where our current art is targeted.

You want to know where all the non-starving artists are? In marketing. In graphic design. In advertising. In legal writing. In tech writing. In convincing you that there is no world out there, save the one we make, in which there are things you can consume, manufacture or trash. The primary art of this culture, and it’s been this way for a long time but not forever, is mirrors and obfuscation.

This places creative art in the service of rebellion. Sometimes it’s productive; sometimes it’s futile. But like all the revolutions, the folks in charge / the folks invested in the system will consider it childish. They will ridicule it, even as they buy little bits and pieces of it to consume. They will let talent starve to prove how ‘unrealistic’ their talent is.

That’s why, at my core, I applaud anyone who takes up the pen or the brush or the camera or the instrument and completes something. Even attempting is worthwhile. It’s been in our blood for so long, it’s ingrained in us and for good reason. And it is the best way to reclaim our selves from a society that threatens to devour us.

[Next Post: On being a professional Rebel]

Forgive us

“I know. I understand. It’s a lot to ask. But please forgive us. We had no idea at the time of what was to come. After all, who really can tell what’s the difference between a banishing and a summoning. Who can? Not me. Not us. Not then.

I can’t say it was the most unusual thing we’d ever seen. After all, this rocky, biting cold, miserable little piece of coastline had been on our radar for years. Well, that’s more of a truism than you know; that’s literally why we discovered it. Radar had been brand new and the Home Office was having fits. Every time a plane or balloon or flock of birds flipped over that stupid spit of land, it was blip off the radar. They thought they had a failure. Or a hole. Or who knew what. They just got concerned that Jerry would find out and a fleet of Nazi bombers would somehow take advantage of the phenomenon and flit in to wreck the dreams of freedom, liberty and all that trap.

So, they co-opted a bunch of birdwatchers, too flat-footed to be on continental duty, and threw in a D-grade scientist or two to oversee the bunch, and set up Project Finch. Day after day, they’d go over to the coastline and run their little tests and watch for the fighter wings that never came. It would be delightfully ominous to say that the original scientists went mad or that there was an unexplained murder or two, or horrible mutation. Sorry. Nothing of the sort.

There were some lights. Certainly. Could have been the local equivalent of marsh gas. The smell of rotting sea was certainly notable.  And a couple of the early folks got the screams. Nightmares, they said, waking ones sometimes. But they were sorted out and sent away and replaced by a hardier crew. After that, not much to report.

A birdwatcher and a scientist got married. Another more salacious but less legal coupling led to a Section 11 sentencing, the same thing that took down that chap, Turing. Oscar Wilde, too. That comes to mind. A little random but I suppose I can be forgiven for the slightest bit of whimsy, given the current circumstances.

At some point during the 60s, some idiot in America accidentally released information on the spot, during some old fart’s search for foo fighters. Across the pond, it turned into Project Blue Book. Over here, it turned into a very quiet diplomatic incident, where the Queen’s Service politely requested that the Central Intelligence Agency stop handing out their secrets like effing candy and then handed Project Finch a sizable check to protect the land against the inevitable lookie-loos.

I’m a little disappointed to report that my predecessors used most of it to update their scientific equipment and hold quite a number of lavish little parties for the local birds. A fence went up and a couple of chaps hired to walk the perimeter, but when the unwashed masses arrived, our ‘guards’ proved to be amenable to letting people have their look for a packet of fags and a couple of bills.

Truth be told, there wasn’t anything to worry about back then. I mean some flower power folks, in the 60s and 70s, claiming it must have been a vortex or a new Stonehenge or a fairy circle or a ley-line nexus. But the place was so gray and miserable that after a few stormy hours, no one saw the point of staying. There was that one time when a group of Satanists got out there and the local constabulary had to be called out to stop them from sacrificing a goat but that was the worst of that crap.

I do know a couple of folks who said we dodged a bullet; that a sizable percent of our visitors ended up having run-ins with the Bill long after their visit. Violent ones. The kind of cult violence you get with the penny dreadfuls back in the day with the stabbings and self-mutilations. But I can tell you, having read the files and seen a couple of the old reels, that wasn’t the case when those folks were here. They’d come, they’d dance or chant, then they’d get the hell out after the cold got into their bones. That’s about the extent of it.

I know it probably seems odd that folks were hired to still watch the place, even after the war, but it was an odd time. All the cockups with the Soviets, everybody thinking that this was going to be it, that some idiot in America would piss up the wrong rope and either the cowboys or the commies would let one egg loose and boom, there we’d all go. It didn’t seem to be all that hard to sign off on an “observation station”, especially one that guarded such a ‘prominent hole’ in our defenses and cost so relatively little to maintain. A couple of dozen lads and lasses. Most amateurs, a couple of professionals.

A little out of order, I know, but I want to talk about the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was built somewhere in the paranoid 50s, I think, to cover the barracks that were Finch’s primary labs, spotty though the labs were. The local townies were actively avoiding the project members by then. Poor dears thought the Lighthouse was some sort of missile silo or radar base. Wish it was more interesting. It was basically a platform to look down on the anomaly, while keeping out of the weather. The Lighthouse also marked the edge of the phenomenon, so you knew there was that. ‘Here There Be Dragons’ some idiot carved in a rock on the other side of the boundary.

Boundary. Again, I make it sound so bloody spooky and it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. I mean, maybe if you were a scientist and you couldn’t figure out why your readings were so blooming off. Or some of the bird watchers noted that birds didn’t enter the area, except a rare few and they were just blinking mean. I can’t even tell you how many reports were written up on fish that were caught just off the cliff, for testing.

You’d have to go out in this boat, this tiny little dinghy, because anything larger would risk crashing on the rocks in that rough sea and, hell, dinghies were expendable and people, with their bright orange flotation vests could just cling to a rock and yell for help until somebody lowered a line and pulled them up the cliff. Happened more than once. The person would end up battered, bruised, and pissy about why they couldn’t get funding for a better collection system than a stupid boat but no one would do anything about it. Nobody ever died collecting fish.

In fact, the only person on base who did die in the seas was Skinny. That was around the early eighties, I think? Sandra saw it when it happened. Silly sod was out there on the edge when he seized. He was an epileptic and he pitched right over. She said he got the strangest expression beforehand, out there, watching the stars rise. Like someone looking hard in a two-way mirror, trying to see who’s on the other side. And this look of surprise, right before he soiled himself and tipped off.

He’d been with the project since the 60s, a bit of a hippy himself, but dedicated enough to volunteer to be a part of the Finch. The site manager had ended up teaching Skinny all that he knew; told a bunch of fellows how he thought Skinny should go to university and that just being on site was a waste of time. But Skinny liked Sandra and he liked the one-on-one mentoring and the quiet and reading, so I suppose it wasn’t a waste of time to him.

Sandra sort of wandered off after Skinny died. I want to think I heard someone say she’d slit her wrists but I doubt it. It’s not in her file. Not like Davis. Now there was a nut. Mid-eighties, I think. Berlin Wall coming down and some clerk with a wicked sense of humor sends Davis to the site. So get this: three eggheads in charge at this point; high-energy physics I think, but that might be too early for that, so forgive me if I’m wrong. About, no surprise, a couple dozen watchers who basically man the Lighthouse, watch the grounds, gather samples. And then this rabid we-need-to-stop-the-Reds shows up, orders in hand. Total stereotypical lead chewer. Watched one too many American action flicks, if you ask me.

Davis started out in a complete state; he was so sure he was being shipped off to a secret project to defeat communism. And here he’s got this steaming turd to deal with; his words, I might add, and his first words on the record to the bloke one step down from him in the very loose chain of command. About then, the townies were getting downright unfriendly. Words tossed around about us like ‘freaks’, ‘ pale as a dead fish’ and ‘moon-eyed.’ Truth be told, a lot of it came down to my father, Wooster, who turned heads even before he came to the project and the isolation did him no favors. But you get a draw for that sort of project and Davis, all bark and bristles, fed the flames high.

He was the one to start the exercises; sun-up and sun-down. He cut out the singing–a bunch of old-timers had taken up humming together to pass the time–on account Davis considered it ‘unnatural.’ Hell, everyone remembers the time he pulled a pistol on Wooster and threatened to plant a penny through each eye. The women, though, they had it the roughest.  Davis held that the project leader, a position he unofficially held by benefit of rank, had certain privileges he had the right to ask for.

I don’t know of anyone who fell for that. I do know that the infirmary records of that time showed a marked uptick in reports of bruises and breaks among the women. Then the men, and finally Davis. It is known that about the time he ended up in the infirmary, he decided that taking out his aggressions on townie-women was a safer bet than dealing with the Finches. He never really was one of us.

I’d like to say his suicide was a surprise but after a couple of years of trying to get transferred, all the fight just seemed to drop out of him. The letters to Home Office were unanswered or, in some cases, intercepted by the team simply to torment him. The townies were banding together to minimize his damage while still parting him from his wages. The team only talked to him through increasingly complicated and deliberately incoherent reports that numbered in the hundreds of pages, weekly.

The site itself was hit by some sort of nasty mold or fungus or something. Whatever its source, it caused a skin rash that left scaly-looking skin for months at a time. Davis catching a nasty case of it in his crotch was the last straw. The books report he took the long drop off the Lighthouse during a storm. The body hit the mosses at the base of the structure with a quiet thud. Folks confused it with a possible pop of thunder and ignored it until they went searching for him the next morning. His head was never found, thankfully; that’s the issue with the long drop. The rope doesn’t so much as break your neck as it does yank your head clean off. The theory was that the head went towards the cliffs and the storm blew it over.

The local constable and a bloke from the Home Office came to take a look and that was what they both said. They didn’t take too hard a look though. Said that the storm would have washed away any solid evidence, so barring someone coming forward from the town or the base to confess to murder, it was a shrug, sign the death certificate, tag-and-bag it kind of moment. No one stepped up so the body got carted away. Things were a little less tense between the townies and the Finches for a time, a little while at least.

The 90s, when I was born; a few of us were born to the team at this point. It was kind of a thing, the Finches having been together in one form or another since the early days. Wooster met Sandra. Yeah, I know. Same name as the earlier lass who had loved Skinny. This young lady was a city girl, fan of turn-of-the-century dreadfuls, lover of walks under the “blasphemous moon” and adopter of goth about a half-decade too late for it to be fashionable. Needed a clean start and was clerking for the expenditures division at the Home Office when she came across the Project. Like so many before her, she thought it was a UFO thing and checked up on it for a lark, but the thought of doing it for real — being part of the Finches–appealed to her in an in-the-guts kind of way. So when she spotted a request for personnel replacement, the official paperwork for ‘someone’s died and we need another’, she was the first to file in.

Funny sense of humor, my mum. Thought my Da was “as ugly a halibut that could walk on two legs” but she loved his sense of urgency. When he set his mind to it, he’d move heaven and earth to make it happen, and by the heavens, it happened when Mum breezed into his sight. I was their odd little duck, growing up, schooled in the base after that bit with Lily and Max back in town. Truth be told, I thought they were my friends. Townie folks, they buttered me up for about a year before getting me to climb in a “fish box” for a “joke.” Joke was on me. The box was the freezer used to store the local catch and I would have kicked off right there if some sod hadn’t come through with an early catch to store, finding me wide-eyed, blue and listless on top of some salted cod.

I remember telling my story to the town council and the provost and a couple of other folks. I remember something like “boys will be boys” and “kids can be cruel.” Things like that. I had to wear some special goggles after that. Something about my retinas being scarred by the cold. I never got back all the feeling in my fingers or toes but it’s something you could live with, I suppose. About a year later, Lily and Max ended up in some industrial steamer, the ones that cannery used to take the flesh off the fish. I suppose some parts of them worked their way into some poor chump’s tuna dinner. I was never really told for sure. But the thought stuck. Word around the Finches was that the two were working out a prank on some other mark and it went wrong for them. Still, I remember the night when it felt like half the town showed up, guns in hand, screaming for us to come out and face the music.

Yeah, you got that one right; they blamed us. I remember the calls made from the lighthouse, the men stacking up stuff against the only door. The barracks burning. Home Office sent is some squadies to sort it out by the morning, quick as they could.  End result? “Kids will be kids”, “kids will be cruel”, local constable and the bloke from the Home Office saying not enough evidence for anything foul. Terrible, terrible accident. That’s what they said. That was the year we started getting supplies by truck so no one would have to leave for town again.

The Finches, my make-shift crazy family, called it the Great Isolation, but hell, they were not unhappy with it. They had self-selected for folks who liked the solitude. I hope you get that from everything I’ve said. It’s not that we liked the placement. Absurd little crap piece of land. It’s that we found a community of loners that didn’t mind being alone together. Does that make sense? I hope it does. It might give context to what happened. To why it happened. That kind of, perhaps, siege mentality?

I want to carry that thought for a moment, three years out from the defleshing of those two kids. That’s the night that Wooster and Sandra, my mum and my da, took off for some personal time. That’s all the Finches would tell me, after it happened. Personal time. Not where or why. Just that it was going to be a short, short trip. I was safe and being schooled. There hadn’t been an incident between the townies and us for three years, remember? Both sides kept that uneasy distance.

Their car was forced off the road, off into the ditches just outside of the far side of town. Away from us, away from safety. The official report made it that a stone had penetrated their petrol tank. That a sparking electrical connection had lit them up. Every Finch knew that was crap. Scientists, remember? Or at least exposed to science, to the rigors of the scientific method. They saw right through it. The Home Office didn’t want to kick up another feud between the townies and the base. They didn’t want a repeat of that siege, didn’t want the expense. Yeah, the townies killed my folks. Blamed them for Lily and Max, waited for years. And yeah, I’m bitter about it. Wouldn’t you be?

But you have to understand the Finches. We don’t usually reach out. We retreat inside. There wasn’t a way to track down who specifically did the deed and general revenge was never my style. So I dove into my studies, worked to make my parents proud. And I’d like to think they would be. Youngest Finch to ever attain Project Leader. I led the push to link the site to the internet and I made the contact to CERN and the particle physics community. I invited leading scientists in to take their readings. None staid for long and none came out with answers but it was worth it.  Worth overcoming my sense of social anxiety and existential dread to put our little project back on the map.

All of this leading up to what happened. Was it only a fortnight ago?

He appeared on the heath one morning. Middle-aged fella, solid build. Pepper hair and grim face. Walked down to the cliff, sat down and spent some time with a sketchbook. Just a couple of notations, nothing fancy. Not an artist. Not there to write notes. We first thought he was a townie. We never knew them all and he seemed so sure as to where he was going. Then he came back.  Same time, same spot. Watch, wait, note, note, note. Get up, leave. Maybe he was a scientist? One of the younger ones, like that rockstar one on the TV that explains the stuff to kids. Too cool to meet with us until it was the right time.

It was about Day 10 that we realized he had a knife.

By Day 12, we realized that he was cutting himself on that cliff’s edge, the last thing he’d do before leaving.

We were up all night figuring out what to do. Call the local police? What if he was a townie and they just let him do what he was doing? Since when did the townies favor us? Call the Head Office? And get berated when it turned out we couldn’t take care of ourselves, that we’d pissed away any money for guards a decade ago, laying in fiber-optic networks and high-speed connections instead? What we did next wasn’t rational but you can see how we got there. We waited for him to return, to reach the cliffside, and then we jumped him. The struggle wasn’t pretty; it’s not like we were trained for combat. And to be frank, none of us were surprised when he fell over the edge, leaving us with little answers. At that time, we were trying to save Clifford, who almost went over the edge with him. What we were left with was a small speck of blood and the sketchbook.

This was what was in the sketchbook:

be ba bo bi be bo ne bo ne ke

|    \    ~    ~   ||  \/   |   ~|  +   |

be no ke

+   /|    —

In between the phonemes and the symbols were smears of his blood, pressed into the paper. We sat there, even in our shock, and tried to figure it out. Why during the day? What did the words mean? Were they words? Why these symbols? Why the blood? We talked it to death and then ran an internet search and a reverse-image search, checked out star configurations. Nothing sensible. Someone suggested magic. Someone asked whether we would even know the difference between a banishing or a summoning. They were going for a laugh, to cut the tension. Instead, everyone got very quiet. Nothing felt very funny anymore.

The ping on the radar was quite the surprise.  As was all the instruments, quiet for, since, ever, coming to life.  The timing was so perfect, Allison started laughing hysterically. I’m sorry to say that Franklin hit her and I’m equally sorry that nobody stopped him. We were all moving outside by then. It just came coming out and coming out and coming out. By the time it was dark, its head had eclipsed the moon. And I’ve heard that its body can be seen all the way from the continent. From some of the major cities, now that the lights have died.

I can see the flames of the town from here. A bright glow to illuminate the bone white of the Lighthouse. Franklin was the first to take off his clothes, walk off the cliff to fall to his death. The others have been following his example. Sometimes in batches, sometimes alone. I haven’t been stopping them. There’s a place you go to when shock has left you behind. That’s where they are. That’s where I am. But I wanted you to understand, even as I peel away this last bit of my life, step back into what I was wearing at birth, that I am so sorry. We had no idea what was to happen and we have no idea what is to happen. Only the screams on the wind, only the storm and I’m so sorry.

Please forgive us.”

–William T Maxwell (c) 2016

Screenplay done & in the Hands of Hollywood

Posted: August 16, 2016 by Bill Maxwell in Personal
Tags: , , ,

I’m going to have to remember to light a stick of incense, dig up the corpse of an unholy monster, sacrifice to the gods of the Everdeep or otherwise prostrate myself in front of the forces of Entertainment.

Yes, it’s correct. I have finished a screenplay and it is in the hands of a producer.

So take a group of students, add what they believe is going on, and then sidestep right into an ancient evil. That’s where the script takes you.

Can’t wait to see what -they- think of it.

New Tabletop RPG supplement + update

Posted: July 13, 2016 by Bill Maxwell in Personal
Tags: ,
RPG Villian
Update: 6 months into 2016

Working on a romance novel + the edits to Silence in the Chapel. Have submitted “No Love For Emily” to an anthology. Finished the “Angel” script — have I mentioned Angel? Picture Michelle Rodriguez as a doctor in a broken down hospital who discovers a cult worshiping an ‘Angel’ with horrifying consequences.  Then there’s that nasty supernatural screenplay I’m halfway into: “That Which Remains”. College students, medical experimentation in the dead of winter, ancient curses, NOT the result they were looking for.

I’m checking into the possibility of updating a live-action system I worked on and having an amusing time brainstorming an art-centered curriculum for middle schoolers.

And then there’s this!

violet

A fun diversion while working on Peregrine Dunn, thank you Adamant Entertainment!

the-red-gift-template

Some people spend New Years Eve alone, some with family, some in celebration with a bunch of raucous strangers.  Peregrine Dunn (the protagonist of my upcoming novel, Silence in the Chapel, and the narrator below) tends to spend his time a bit quieter than most.  In a version of L.A. where angels actually do come down to visit on Solstice, this is probably a wise thing.

Too bad that’s not how this night will go.


THE RED GIFT

Confession time, people – this time of year, when angels come soaring in on the Winter Solstice and hang around until the Epiphany, while everyone else is out celebrating and ringing in the holiday cheer, I lay low. No cases, if possible, no last minute assignments to wrap up, no digging into problems. Just take time off and refusing to be judged.

Course, that means no booze. Sometimes I get a little testy on the sauce, or inquisitive. Which might make you wonder why I was hanging around a classy whiskey joint like the Seven Grand on a Wednesday, listening to a hell of an axeman wail out the blues.

Truth is, I like the place, I like the clientele. I’ve been a customer here for, oh, about a couple of months, maybe less. Grateful client laid me out with a six month tab and an introduction into the finer things of life, the Whiskey Society among them. And Johnny, regular barman there, makes a mean cup of coffee for the designated drivers. Thick enough to stand a fork in, sweet as licking the devil’s hind tit, dollop of cream on top to smooth things out. Served in these tiny little cups he gets from the mosque in Culver City.

All told, the atmosphere’s nice, the people are good and I’ve got nothing to do for a couple of hours until I meet up with my partner. So, feeling good all around. Johnny’s regaling me with stories of his latest conquests. Green eyes. Rich brown hair like old oak. Body like a marathoner. Guy can have anyone he wants. Doesn’t hurt that he works for Cernunnos, the pub god who watches over the older Celtic bars in the city. Charisma’s a side benefit for guys like Johnny; I guess it’s payback for the fact that he is god-spelled to never divulge secrets told to him at the bar. Most of the time, the stuff you’d hear would be trivial but sometimes…

Let’s just say I don’t envy Johnny his job.

Speaking of secrets, I notice the guy at the end of the bar. Hadn’t seen him here before and hard not to notice someone like him. Big guy – and I mean burly big, weightlifter class, wrestle a bear to the ground big. Old man, too. Trimmed full beard, hair back in a loose ponytail white as the Hollywood sign. Lined face, deep and experienced. Eyes—should say eye cause there’s something wrong with one of them but the profile’s away from me in shadow. He’s got a red leather duster on, and when I mean red, I mean dark, dark red; almost black, especially in the lighting in this place. All this in a glance but what caught me was his right hand. As he unfolded it to pick up his drink you could see long white scars across his palm. Lots of them. Must have been painful as hell.

I saw Johnny walk over to him, say something softly, and then grab a bottle off the top shelf to top the old man off. The Old Man thanked him; the accent placed him as someone from Ultima Thule. Far, far north, across a continent and an ocean and hell of a ways east of here. The Old Man was a long way from home.

Johnny came by to refill my coffee. I smiled in thanks “Hey Johnny, how do I get a tab like that?”
Johnny shook his head. “His drinks are on the house.”

I shot another look at the Old Man. Hadn’t heard of a single person who drank here for free. “Studio head?” I asked. “Mayor? Owner?”

Johnny shook his head and went back to his all-knowing bartending ways. I brought my gaze back to my cup. The Old Man’s posture was tired, putting out a ‘don’t bother me’ vibe. The rest of the bar certainly had picked it up. He was there alone. I knew I shouldn’t bother him; probably wasn’t in my best interest. Probably would piss him off.

Hells. I had to know.

I got up. Went over to him. Nodded as he noticed me. “Name’s Dunn.” I said. He cocked his head to one side, and I swear to all the heavens that this slick, nasty piece of work dressed in black just sidles up to the Old Man and whispers in his ear. Then vanishes. All in about a split second. Never saw him come, never saw him leave. My head snapped up. No Man-in-Black anywhere.

“I know.” the Old Man rumbled. And when I say rumbled I mean his voice sounded like it came from the earth, like it could shake the bar off its foundations.

I really didn’t want to say anything more. I wanted to crawl up and go back to my stool after apologizing for ever bothering him. But before I could move, I felt my lips moving. Part of my idiocy, I know. Habits are hard to break. “So, what’s your story?” I asked.

He turned to face me and I got the full effect of the other eye: cataracts, cracked, shards of blue and white like icicles boring into me. His lip curled back and for a moment I thought he was going to throw down. And believe me, being the focus of that anger? I’d be on the losing end of that battle. Then he blinked, shook his head, and before I knew it, he let out a rolling laugh.

“You want a story?”  He said.He turned back to Johnny and tapped his glass, getting that instant top shelf refill. “Rank piss and straw.”

“Excuse me?”

“You wanted to hear it.” He replied. “That’s where it starts. Rank piss and straw. It was the smell that told me the Bani Móðir was pregnant again.”

Banny Mudder? What was that? I took a sip from my cup and flinched. At some point, Johnny had apparently re-filled me with something a bit stronger. Tasted like it was the good good-stuff. Hunh. Hoped I wasn’t paying for that.

“I need you to understand, young man…” the Old Man continued “—this isn’t something that happens often. Hel, if I’m very, very lucky, maybe once in a decade. Even less, some centuries. Does it surprise you that I’m that old?”

I offered him a halfway decent smile. “Don’t look a day over sixty.”

He chuckled at that. “And here I thought politeness died with your generation. I appreciate the compliment.” He tapped an upright finger to his forehead for a moment, contemplating. “This thing that happens — when the Mother of Killers gives birth — it is not a good thing when it happens but it always happens like this: she drops the calf about a month early—usually a scrawny little thing—on the Summer Solstice. I have to be there for the whole birth. It isn’t an easy one. And my… companions I suppose you’d call them— they’d be there as well, like a couple of doting hens.”

There was movement next to the Old Man, two young men, intense stares, smirks, one of them the bit of work from earlier. I noticed for the first time that they had some family resemblance to the Old Man. Grandsons, maybe? Only problem was, the Old Man was technically sitting next to a wall, so, there was really no room on the other side to have two full people standing at all. And while my brain was still processing this, the two men vanished.

The Old Man leaned forward and winked. “Sometimes, I wish I had a way of keeping them out of it, giving me a moment’s peace.” He whispered conspiratorially. “But those two bird-brains are like upright cockroaches. Everywhere and hard to get rid of.” He leaned back and smiled. “Still, I suppose I’m being too harsh. After all, they’ve served me for so long they’re like family. Family…” the Old Man hesitated. “I suppose that’s what this is all about. Who we take care of and why. You ever work on a farm?”
I shook my head no. “City boy here, through and through.”

“Pity. Lost art for many. Listen, part of birthing any calf is letting it stand on its own, then letting the mother take care of the birth caul. But this calf… its leg was twisted, deformed. And in that leg, I saw Skuld’s fickle finger messing around in the world. This calf was destined for greatness. That long cold Ride would be waiting for both of us. ‘Bani Hróðólfr…’ I named him, then and there and I held him until he stopped shaking. ‘Bani Hróðólfr. I need you. We need you.’”

The Old Man rolled his shoulders to release the tension, shot his whiskey and growled. “I am as old as the hoarfrost and the Northern Lights. My image is everywhere in the world for at least three months every year. I have a day of the week named after me. But people don’t understand me anymore. They think I’m laughing all the time, ‘jolly’, fat, surrounded by elves. The parties were done, centuries ago. I’m not the most pleasant of the companions and never have been. And elves, light or dark, were never the best company. That’s the truth.”

He took a moment to toss a salute to the stag’s head above the bar. “You understand, don’t you? You old fraud.” The Old Man smirked and turned back and pointed his glass at me. “I am what remains of a very ancient promise, one made to all of you at the beginning of the world. I work VERY hard to keep that promise. I asked for it. I wanted it. From the first time I created a covenant between the people and world to the first time I was forced to make a sacrifice of my… no.” The Old Man put the glass down. His expression darkened and sadness just seemed to ripple off him. “I can’t talk about that yet.”

“You said you made a promise.” I prompted.

“Right at the beginning. A simple one to make, a complicated one to keep—I promised to be there for you.”

For a few drawn out minutes, the Old Man pulled back into silence. Long enough to feel uncomfortable; figured he might be done talking. Johnny did a refill for the Old Man. When the Old Man did start up, it was softer; almost a whisper, like he was ashamed.

“Let me tell you how it’s done. Each morning I go down to the pen. The reindeer all chuff at me and nuzzle my gloves and look for treats. Silly things. Stupid things. Wonderful things. My friends and companions in this long life, boon to my People when they were alive, life to the Saami, my cousins as long as they are alive. And I give them my attention, my love; oh I’m not ungenerous, boy, but my focus remains on the stall at the end. There is the Hróðólfr, suckling, content and in a few weeks I know he’ll be grazing with the rest of the herd, but right now, he’s a mama’s boy. Each time, I carefully take off my gloves and set them aside. I wait for her calf to finish his meal and I then rub his muzzle, as gently as I can.”

The Old Man pats a pocket on his coat. “That piece of horn that I keep in my pocket—this one, here…” The Old Man pulled out the nub of a reindeer horn and you could see the point gleam in the light. “-it came from a Hróðólfr; the first reindeer I named that. It’s only fitting given what I do. You take the tip, like this, see? And tear across the palm.” He made a motion across his right hand; the scarred one. “Yes, it hurts. It always does and when it gets really cold, it gets hard to close my hand. I’ve done this so many, many times the scars never really go away. That why you always see me with gloves in the pictures. But I’m strong, inside. I swallow that pain and let the blood come. Then…”

He lowered his head, closed his eyes and rubbed at a now furrowed brow with the knuckle of his right hand.

“Then I paint Hróðólfr’s muzzle with my blood.” He continued “I know, I know. I understand how it sounds to you, but it’s needed. I need to leave it raw and red and dripping and shining in the growing daylight. Sometimes he takes a lick off it. Just as often, he ignores it. He never backs away, and I give him credit for that. Because I will do this same ritual every day, every morning until the night of the Ride.”

The way he said ‘the Ride’ made me not want an explanation. The Old Man looked up, got a refill and then tipped his glass towards me while looking at Johnny. Johnny nodded and poured a shot in my mug; holy gods that tasted good. “Thank you.” I said, somewhat lamely considering the liquid gold in my cup.

The Old Man chuckled. “I haven’t always been portrayed as kindly as I am today. You know…” He smiled, lost in memory. “—I once had the privilege of getting in an argument with some esteemed scholars; over drinks, of course, because there really is no better way to get into a fight. They put aside the fact, conveniently, that at the beginning of the world, my two brothers died while building It. They glossed over the little fact that my name meant ‘Mad Poet’. They couldn’t picture what a body looked like hanging nine days on the World Tree and they certainly couldn’t wrap their heads around the kind of person who would tear out his own eyeball to get a drink.”

I know I must seem thick but it took until that point to realize who he was — or who he thought he was. If the Old Man saw my reaction, that didn’t stop him from carrying on.

“Not being a well-educated fool, I’ve got a less legendary view of myself. Unlike those academic sots, I’ve had to live with the consequences. And I’ll tell you this: memories are tricky, tricky things. The curse of all ages is that you lose track of time. Some memories stay bright and green and eternally present. Others gray out and move away. How long ago doesn’t matter; only the intensity remains. I remember this young woman I bedded at the dawning of the world.” The Old Man grinned, remembering. “We screamed loud enough to shake the sky. Her hair… amazing; the texture of fine moss after a storm. And a rich, loamy smell to her and between her legs was a tangled thicket in which a man could die happily.” He nudged me at that, almost knocking me off my stool. “Strong, strong legs. As I remember it, she left bruises. A very insistent lover.” He paused for a second. “From that epic wrestling, she bore a child and though his name is remembered to this day, I don’t remember him. My only son by her and I remember the tracing of all the lines across her body. All of them. But almost nothing about him.”

The Old Man’s brow furrowed. “Fierce. He was that. Stupid, but not always so. More in the style of the recklessness of youth than slow in the head. I always imagined he would grow out of it in time. Around the time he was born, I started to realize how difficult my promise would be to fulfill. To be there for for you. I needed to see into the future and to do that, you need to see over the horizon of tomorrow. My woman could not go there with me and I had to leave her behind.  My first sacrifice but not the worst. But I saw things there. I saw that all things consider themselves eternal but aren’t. I realized that ancient giant I had slain had never considered a thing like me. And I would not be able to conceive of my own killer. But even if I couldn’t see the details of my death, there was something I could do about it. Power—and wisdom—both were readily available at a price. And that price would always be sacrifice.”

His hands shook slightly as he said that but then he took a deep breath and sat back. “It only takes a little while for Hróðólfr to get used to the ritual. To get used to me. The others, though… the rest of the herd never gets used to the blood scent. They always reject him. Automatically. And when he tries to pair with them, they force him out. Last time, I had to thin the herd to prevent him from being gored, and I don’t like doing that. They are as close to me as my own family, do you understand that? I had to choose between them and the world.”

The Old Man stopped talking and I took a moment. I’d certainly made sacrifices in my live, but hells, none as big as giving up family. Empathy only goes so far; it was hard to wrap my head around how you keep sane when you’ve got choices to make that are that dramatic. I guess he sensed my confusion, because when the Old Man started up again, he stabbed straight at the heart of it.

“Don’t get me wrong, young man. I spend many nights in the company of regrets. So many dead. So many friends gone, shuffled into the shadows of history. Regrets… nothing lasts forever and I am as likely to pass into death as the giants who gave birth to the world. But ending my promise to you is not what I want to be remembered for. So, here’s my dearest secret, Mr. Dunn. Here’s how I pull off the magician’s trick of living forever. And it’s the most simple thing in the world.

I cheated.

I sacrificed an eye and the perspective that goes with it for understanding. I learned that the fate of everyone—everyone!—is inscribed in the bones of the world.

I hunted those bones down—the roots of the tree that stretched between worlds—and then I sacrificed to it. I let myself hang for nine days and get as close to death as I could so I could learn its language. Because once you know the language, you know Spelling. And once you know where Fate is written and if you are very, very crafty and just a touch mad you might be able to change it. Here! I’ll share them with you; the words inscribed in the fabric of the world: The mad poet faces the all-devouring wolf and the mad poet is swallowed whole. The world dies in fire and ice but the good bright lord comes from Death to lead the way into a new world. Those are the words that have meaning to me. Part of the Ragnarok. The end of me and my people. The final battle and the destruction of all my dreams. Unless… unless… How much would you sacrifice to save the world?”

Somewhere out there, later tonight, my partner would be waiting for me. And I knew right them how far I’d go to make sure my partner was safe. The Old Man saw it, saw my expression and shared in that moment. “Yes… that’s it! That’s what it feels like. All the pain, worth it, like that stain I put upon my Hróðólfr, my blood. Or how I can barely curl my hand but I will still hold the reins when the time comes to fly on Solstice night. Still fight. Some sacrifices are more than worth it.”

Some memory crossed the Old Man’s face; I could see it like a shadow. “And some aren’t?” I asked him.

He frowns. “They are.” He sighs. “They are worth it even if they take you to places you never want to go.”

He tapped nervously on his glass, waving Johnny away when he tried to refill it. The emptiness seemed to fill with melancholy.

“I hope you understand, I loved my second son. Honestly, purely, deeply. I loved his mother, too–I swear it to the roots of the world–but I never told her what I was going to do. I couldn’t break her heart like that. By that point, I had ruled for so long. I had taken on so many names. Though the ‘mad poet’ stuck, I was also described as a lord, the Lord of lords, a good and bright ruler. When she gave birth, I waited until the exhaustion set in. As she slept I took the young child and presented it to the stars. I named him Baldr—‘the good bright lord’—one of the many names I too had been called. Even as I spoke the name aloud, I knew what I was going to do. That’s how it started. I sliced my palm open on my spear and gently massaged the blood into his cheeks. ‘Such a ruddy-faced child.’ His nurses said when his mother awoke. Before the reindeer, before the line of Hróðólfr, he was my first and greatest sacrifice.”

I must have backed away from him. He certainly recognized what I was feeling and sneered, angrily.
“Do you remember what last year was like? Did you feel it? Could you hear Him? The Wolf in the World, that old ghost who tears at the roots of the universe. I can feel him, always. And I’m not alone; many others can sense it too though they can’t put a name to it. Maybe you can as well? This is not the wolf of a pack. This is not something sane. This is the lone wolf. This is something that exists outside time and sanity. The focus of all the maliciousness that comes from isolation, abandonment and pain. It slides up into the spaces between your thoughts and it fills people up with a hatred and a fierce greed. This is the Fenris.

When I first fought this thing, so long ago, it had meat and shape and form. It was easier then, even though I knew death couldn’t keep it chained. If we—all the powers in the world—couldn’t chain the Wolf, death certainly couldn’t. The Wolf was the thing that I feared the most. One of the few monsters that could tear down the whole world and I couldn’t allow that; I wouldn’t. How could I abandon the people through my death, to leave them to be savaged by a ghost? There is a deep fog upon the shores of the world; the Wolf’s breath was upon us and I will always ride on the Longest Night to find him, ghost or not.”

The Old Man savagely threw his glass at the wall behind the bar, shattering it and startling the hell out of Johnny. “My son… my second son. I don’t know how his mother found out but she knew what I planned. She raced across the world and claimed favors from everything. I had to go to my stepson to stop her, to stop him and don’t think for a minute I don’t regret that decision. I will owe that deceitful child until the end of time for that favor.”

He dragged his fingers across the bar and I could see the top peel off in small strips under his fingernails. “You see, this is how it works. To all things, they are given a measure of life only so long and then cut. But what if, just imagine, Death could be bribed? Or tricked? Or mollified? Or addled? By the blood of one’s blood. By a presence so strong, it can only be yours. And when this sacrifice is taken, this one who you have cared for so much that you have put a piece of yourself within them, then Death is satisfied. I don’t have to imagine this. On the grave of my second son such a bargain was struck and answered. And no one knew that this wasn’t even my time. That I was banking it for another time to come.”

The temperature in the room felt like it dropped several degrees.

“I haven’t told you about the names, have I? The power has always been in the naming of things and that’s why I am so powerful. My very first name translated to ‘furious of mind and spirit’ in the oldest of languages. My brothers, Strength and Intelligence. My servants, Will and Desire. Bani Móðir, the Mother of Killers.  Bani Hróðólfr, the Killer of Famous Wolves. I once wrote a poem about Hróðólfr. Someone else put it into a song. I changed the words on the wall of the world with my writing. A small change: the mad poet faces the all-devouring wolf , the good bright lord comes back from Death. The good bright lord was dead now. Death had already eaten it’s fill. I was the only ‘good bright lord’ who could return.”

For the first time, I noticed blood on the back of the Old Man’s hand, from a chip that had flown out when he shattered the shot glass. Absently, he pulled the chip out and flicked it aside.

“The end of the world is like nothing your mind can imagine. It is flames and it is ice and it is screaming and it is silence. Kin and kith dying around you. The terrible scents of hollow deaths and living agony. At the appointed and prophesied time, I took my place in the battle against the Great Wolf and as I watched my eldest son die impaled on the World-Serpent’s sharp tooth, I died. I jumped down the Great Wolf’s throat, as it was written and I was swallowed whole. All that I was was emptied out and I thought for a moment I would never return. Until I was thrust up onto the gates of Hel and they would not let me pass. I could return so I did. I returned so I could watch after you.”

There was a clink as something solid hit the bar, breaking the spell. A bottle, old, covered in dust. Johnny nodded back to the stags’ head. “Compliments of the Master of the House.”

That seemed to defuse the situation for the moment. Slowly a twinkle returned to the Old Man’s one eye as he pulled off the cork and took a swig. He off-handedly offered me some but I politely indicated I’d had enough. I recognized the scent of what was in the bottle; summer meadows and sunsets, spring scents and tansy. A faery drink. Not healthy for mere mortals like me.

“I was once known for war… you know that.” He slurred. “Not presents and mistletoe and evergreens but war. Those ghosts Most ghosts were just practice for an old hand like me.  But the Wolf’s spirit lingers. So I keep convincing Death to leave me on this side.”

Hróðólfr—the Wolf Killer. Yeah. I got it. The Old Man slipping in a substitute for his own death. Every time for years, centuries; hells, eons probably.

“Let it be swallowed, let it be sacrificed and let me linger.” The Old Man said. “That has been my prayer and it has always been answered. Each time, Hróðólfr dies and I kill the Wolf and I lay there, so near to death that I draw my last breath.  And then another one comes as my doom leaves me.”

“And then you come here.” I say.

“And then I come here.” The Old Man agrees. “My present is my presence, the red gift that of my blood and my sacrifice, even in a world that only considers me a jolly, fat, useless old man. Ah… I remember the song I made for him.

Mighty Hróðólfr!
Blood-muzzled,
Battle-proud,
Alone.
In the breath
Of the Wolf,
I call you,
Blood-kin.
Sweet Hróðólfr.
Son of my Making.
Guide my sleigh,
Guide us!
And forever
Be remembered.”

His voice trailed away.

“To Rudolph.” I said, holding up my glass in a toast.

“To Rudolph.” The rest of the bar replied and the Old Man looked up, noticing the rest of them for the first time. He snorted in amusement.

“And thank you, Nick.” I said. “Or Kris. If you’d like. For everything.”

He chuckled and slid the bottle back over to Johnny. “One name is as good as another.” he lied. Then he pulled a furred, beaded cap out of his coat pocket and put it on.

One-Eye, mad poet, giant-slayer, dwarf-cheater, wolf-foe, way-weary wanderer and spear charger. Kind of a jerk. No jolly elf, that one. Odin of the Aesir. Raven God and Yule Father. The door opened, letting in what passed for winter in the City of Angels, a balmy mid-50s, and the Old Man left it all, stepping into the night.

 

Copyright (c) 2015 William Thomas Maxwell

Alternately titled: Now I want some figgy pudding too

Somewhere out there, I’m pretty sure a dialogue like this occurred:

Krissmass, amirite?

“Wee wishyewe amery krissmas.”

What in the seven stars of Sky Bear is that?

Hey! Look! We have visitors.

“Wee wishYEWE amery krissmas”

Hello! Nice clothes! And I see you like boating!

We’ve got boats too but we tend to stick to the shore.

It’s a traditional thing. We like having our families back together at the end of the day.

“Wee wishyewe amery chrissmas and a Happy New Year!”

Well, sad to say, New Year was a few months back, stranger. It’s winter now. But thanks!

And what’s all this about “Amery Krissmas”?

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;

Good tidings for KRISSmas and a Happy New Year.

Oh! Thanks for that. Always happy to have good tidings.

So what’s the Kriss mas thing about. Is that like a party?

The most IMPORTANT party. His Birthday. Born of God, he came to save us all.

Great! So he’s like your people’s hero. We have one of those! Man-Greets-the Sunrise!

No, no no. Our Son of God came to save us ALL. Everyone. Even your people!

Really? Cause I haven’t heard of him. What did he do?

God was his father. And he fed people through miracles and wise men showered him with gifts and he walked on water, and came back from the dead and RAISED the dead and made wine and threw out demons!

Are you sure we’re not talking about the same guy? Man-Greets-the-Sunrise was son of the sea god and all the leaders bowed down to him and he walked in and out of the land of the dead and he raised the sun with his penis…

NO! No penis. Our God does not believe in the penis! His son is beyond all the fleshy things.

Yeah, but he’s a son, right? That means he’s got a…

NO!

So how did your god get the baby into…

NO PENIS! It was a miracle.

Okaaayyy. So fair enough. How do you know he’s supposed to save everyone.

It says so in the buhk

What’s a buhk?

It’s this thing here.

The thing with all the lines? Are those supposed to be pictures? Cause honestly, my kid draws better than that.

No! It’s a buhk! It tells us all about the miracle. Like this. ‘In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” That’s from Luke.

Hunh. Place you come from is hot?

What?

Asked if the place you come from is hot. Cause who keeps their flock out during the winter? It’s too cold, man.

Not that argument again. Look it says it happened in the buhk, so it happened. The buhk can’t lie!

Who says the buhk can’t lie?

THE BUHK!

Okay, stranger, I think we’re getting a little heated here. It’s okay… really. So why are you here?

Oh. “Bring us a figgy pudding; Oh, bring US a figgy pudding; Oh, BRING US a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer”

Well, yeah, a cup of good cheer; we got that. We all like a cup of good cheer! But… what’s a fig?

It’s the fruit of a gynodioecious (functionally dioecious), deciduous tree or large shrub native to the Middle East of Asia.

Sorry, mate, but that’s a long way from here. We don’t have any. Would you like some casava pudding? It’s good.

We won’t go until we get some;

Well, I’m sorry about that, but I don’t even know if that would grow here.

We won’t go until we get some;

How am I supposed to do that?

It’s easy. You just take this thing called a spayduh… like THIS one (thanks, Franz!) and you RIP UP THE GROUND and then you rub cow shit all over it and if it doesn’t work there are SUPPLEMENTS and WORMS and…

That was my patch of favorite flowers! Why would you do that?

We won’t go until we get some

So bring some out here

Look mate, I told you before, we haven’t got–

<BANG>

Bring the spayduh, Franz. We’ve got some planting to do. Stupid heathens.

Hello Peregrine Dunn. What are you up to?

Started a short story set in the Peregrine Dunn universe.  Here’s how it went…

There’s a cave I was told about, long time ago. Plenty of people been in it; scrawled on the walls, smoked a little happy puff, played at being adults. Wouldn’t find a person who spent the night though. Reasons.

Go in there when the moon’s full; say, around the time of the equinoxes or the solstices, you might find the cave’s gotten a bit longer than you remember. Maybe there’s that shadowy back you never quite went down leads to something stranger, a tunnel leading to a deeper cave and then one after that and one after that.

So there you are, pretty deep under, in earthquake territory, with the walls kind of humming-or is it vibrating? Or waiting?—and you’re hoping you’re not the world’s greatest idiot when you come across the pool.

Now, you may have heard about stuff like this before, or you may not. Some pools they grow a little moss or maybe it’s a type of fish or maybe it’s some kind of chemical in the water but they have themselves a certain kind of glow. You can see something like it on some beaches sometimes—beautiful sight—but this is a little different.

Opalescent, meaning like a pearl, fainter than the beach lights but doesn’t matter. Cave’s so dark at this point, that the pool appears to light everything up like the moon. Just like the full moon, come to think of it.

So here you are, full moon pool, who in the seven hells knows how far from the surface, and you might figure that this is a place for some very, very interesting fishing. And you might have on you a very curious piece of fishing line that you’ve been carrying along for an occasion just like this.

This line might have been woven by an Ojibwe woman, in proper spirit, in proper ways, just like you’d weave  the line for a dreamcatcher, like old woman spider Asibikaashi taught her People. Except this wasn’t in the shape of a web, but in a corded line, inspired by the old dream-weaver herself but a sight bigger than most would expect.

These things do happen.

And you might also, in your pocket, have a bone fish-hook. And this fish-hook might have been carved out by an ali’i man, in proper spirit, in proper ways, inspired by Maui’s hook at Hamakua, found again by gazing up at Manaiakalani in the sky, which Europeans insist should be called Scorpius, until that bone is just the right shape and size.

These things do happen.

Alongside this spider dream-weaver fishing line and island-raising inspired fish-hook, you might just be carrying some bamboo, using it first as a walking stick. After all, long way up to the cave. Long way back, too. Figure it would come in handy. And not really inspired by anything. Nothing very magical about it. Just a tough piece of grass that holds itself like a tree. Strong too.

It might be that having something mundane is the perfect anchor when fishing for a god.

So, that’s how I happened to end up fishing, at a pool, in a cave, under the earth, and wrestled up Baron Samedi from the lands of the restless dead.

More to come…