Story Fragment: A side tale

I had writer’s block last week,  I worked a lot of overtime, and didn’t make time to be creative.  Even my weekly D&D adventure was a bit of a joke.  I’m at a point in the novel where I want to wrap up the story, get the Rhinos home, get Artur home, and then move onto other characters.  I also want to write a few short stories about Tana growing up and learning things from her parents.

So today I wrote about Tana going fishing…

 

[Finish this chapter. Send the Rhinos home. Get Artur back to his family. Do a reunion and a epilogue, then move back in time two months to the Cow tribe.]

[I have presently one or more short tales to tell about Tana growing up. I don’t know how to fit them into the book. There are events in different parts of the world that happen out of sequence with the main story and I need to get them in somehow. I do not wish to jump around like the Joyluck Club by Amy Tan, where you’re not certain when the events in the book are taking place until a few pages into a given chapter. Time jumps are fine if done properly.

In any case, this is a chapter about Tana learning about balancing her empathic gift against the human need to eat flesh]

Fishing

In the spring time, when the leaves were just beginning to open on the hardwoods, Artur took his four year old daughter out on Sunflower and they rode southeast over the hilly farmlands. The sun shined bright overhead, and slivers of both moons could be seen on the horizon as they ascended. The tulips and daffodils were up, and the dandelions had sprouted their first flowers. The grasses were green, and the warm, humid air was rich with faint pollen and the odor of dried manure spread on the fields.

The bald Artur looked regal in his crimson tunic and Frostbane strapped to his hip, and his bald daughter Tana wore a little blue dress with a profile of a pink pig sewn to the chest. Tied to the saddle were fishing rods and a small basket, for they headed for the river Hogwash about an hour’s ride away.

They cantered down the dirt road a while, taking in the sights and smells. Artur noticed a smoke plume to the northeast, and took to deliberately steering his horse as the observed it. “What do you smell, Sunflower?”

The horse whinnied. “Meat cooking. Unwashed human stink.”

“Hunters then, perhaps,” said Artur.

“Do we stink?” asked Tana.

Sunflower said, “Yes, but I like your stink.”

Tana leaned forward in the saddle and sniffed Sunflower’s mane. “I like your stink too! We stink! You stink!”

Artur chuckled at this, and after a while they turned south to meet the river. They ascended a small hill and then down a gentle slope to the edge of a mostly coniferous forest through which the river ran. A slight breeze blew a cloud of pollen from the new anthers, filling their nostrils with the scents of new growth.

They slowed to a walk and rode carefully into the forest. The bed of pine needles cushioned Sunflower’s footsteps, and they moved almost silently, with only the distant babble of the river disturbing the quiet. They approached a rocky bank on this wide river and dismounted. The river here was thirty yards across and moved slowly, and downstream a ways it narrowed and sped up around the rocks, making a pleasing tinkle of churning water and foam.

Artur took the gear off Sunflower’s saddle, and told her to forage close. The horse went upstream a little to nibble shoreline grasses and to drink.

“There are some delicious trout here,” said Artur to his daughter. He prepared his fishing pole, and the little girl tried clumsily to mimic her father and string her own pole. She quickly grew frustrated, “I can’t do it.”

Artur smiled. “I’ll do mine again.” He untied the string from his fishing rod and sat down with his daughter, carefully showing her how run the wound twine down the length of the rod. With a bit of effort, she managed to mimic her father’s motions, and installed the spool of twine on the rod, and threw a hollow walnut shell, and tied a hook to the end of the string.

“Well done Tana,” said her father.

“Now I can fish?”

“You need a worm.” Artur took out a little box filled with soil and earthworms, and offered his daughter a worm.

“It’s all slimey!”

“Yes they are.”

“It doesn’t like me holding it.”

“It’s best not to get into their minds, dear. Let it be.”

Artur showed his daughter how to hook a worm, and then, his arms around her, helped her cast the line into the river. “Now pull in the string slowly, so the fish chase the worm.” He worked with his daughter for several minutes, casting and retrieving, until she was comfortable doing it, and then he cast his own baited hook out, and the two waited for fish to strike.

It wasn’t long until Tana’s rod jerked suddenly, and she squealed. “Oh papa I got one!” Artur tossed his rod aside, and rushed to help his daughter as she panicked. “What do I do?”

“Press on the string real hard here. Use your thumb. There I’ll put mine on yours. See it splashing out there? You got a big one!”

Tana’s eyes went from excitement to bewilderment. “It hurts!”

“It does?”

“My mouth. I’m scared.”

Artur recognized this. Like every child with the Gift, she hadn’t learned stay out of the minds of the animals she focused on. “Tana listen to my voice. Sing along with me.”

Fish fillets for breakfast

Fish strew for supper

Fish nuggets for a snack

I’m grateful for fish

They make my belly fat

How about that?

He repeated the simple melody, and Tana sang with him as they pulled the thrashing trout to shore, where it flopped on the rocks for a bit, and then on the dirt, and then it lay still, it’s gills panting.

“Quickly now,” said Artur. “Hold it down so it doesn’t suffer.” Tana sat next to the fish, and pushed on it’s midsection with her little hands. She felt like she could not breathe, she felt terrified, as though she were thrust underwater for too long. Artur drew a long, thin little dagger from his belt, knelt down, and stuck it between the eyes of the fish, and then it stopped panting. Blood trickled around the wound as he withdrew the knife.

Tana stared in wonder. Her lungs ceased to ache. “I can’t hear it anymore. Oh…” and she began to cry. “We killed it.”

Tears welled up in Artur’s eyes as he empathized with his daughter. “Yes. To eat, one thing has to die so another can live.” Tana’s sobbing increased, and her father dropped the knife and put his arms around his little girl and kissed her bald scalp.

“I—I—I’m sorry little fish.”

“I’m sorry too,” said Artur. “Let’s be thankful for the fish. It died so we can eat.” He let go of his daughter, but stayed crouched behind her. Tana sniffled and wiped the tears with the back of her hand, and knelt forward, and kissed the fish. “Tha…Th..Thank you fish.” While Artur considered kissing a fish to be a bit absurd, nonetheless he did not berate his gentle daughter who then and there found her own way of honoring their prey.

He let her sniffle and stare at the fish for a minute, and then said, “Let’s make a fire and eat! Help me gather sticks.”

He set about picking up fallen pine branches, but his daughter did not come. She remained, hands on knees, staring at the dead fish. He considered his daughter’s disobedience, and didn’t correct her on account that she had never caught a fish before. He let his daughter grieve and set up a good pile for cooking, and put dried kindling beneath it. He ignited his tinder, and blew it into a flame, and before long the kindling began to crackle and roar with flame.

Artur then went and picked up the fish, drew out his knife, and began to descale the fish. He ignored his daughter’s grief, and tried to focus on the lesson. “Now the scales are off, we can remove its guts. Cut the belly here, and pull out the guts! Toss those in the water for the other fish. That was easy, wasn’t it?”

Artur took two branches and gave one to his daughter. “Now use your knife, and scrape it like this. There you go! Cut away from yourself like this so you don’t cut yourself.” Tana used a tiny knife and worked at making a skewer. The smell of the fire and work took her grief away, and before long Tana and Artur each had a piece of fish on a skewer, and they cooked it over the fire.

The odor of fresh fish invigorated Artur, and he sighed with contentment. His daughter studied hard, rotating her fish when her father rotated his. It didn’t take long to cook, and the two ate fish on a stick, and they were happy.

As they ate, they both felt an intelligent animal mind downstream, and they looked over and saw a brown bear approaching the water’s edge on the other side. It paid them no mind, and waded into the water a ways, and then scanned the water that spilled from around the rocks.

“Father what is he doing?”

“I think he’s fishing, Tana.”

“With no pole?”

“Oh they don’t need a pole. Watch and see.”

The bear studied the water for a few minutes, and then suddenly lunged in with it’s clawed paw, and pulled a fish up into its mouth, and returned to the shore to eat it. It tore apart the fish, and licked its lips, and then sat down to clean itself.

The fire popped, and the bear looked up in alarm, and stood on its hind legs. But after seeing that the humans were on the other side of the stream, it seemed satisfied there would be no problem, and went back to cleaning itself.

“Can we catch fish without poles?” asked Tana.

“Oh for sure, but its very hard. We can use spears, or swords, or our bare hands. Alan McDougal- do you remember him – he will sit in a river all day until he catches a fish with his hands.”

The bear finished cleaning itself, and wandered off into the forest. Artur said, “Let’s catch some fish for mother and your brothers, and we’ll take them home.”

The two put fresh worms on their hooks, and cast their lines, and in about an hour they caught three more trout. This time Artur held the fish down, and Tana stick the knife in their brains, and he helped her descale them, and to gut them. Artur cut long poles and put the fish on them, and built up the fire, and,they let the cut up fish cook in the smoke.

They washed up in the river, and Tana disrobed and waded in the water while her father stood guard. Tana found minnows and snails, and she picked up the snailed and studied them. The snails retreated into their shells, and she tried to coax them out. “Come out little snail!” she said. But they snails didn’t want to come out. Sunflower came to the stream to drink, and then waded in and splashed around with Tana for little bit.

After swimming, Tana got dressed and reclined with her father under a fat hemlock tree. Artur played jaunty tunes and then soft lullabies on his flute, and before long Tana grew sleepy and dozed off. The day waned on, but before sunset the fish was cooked, and Artur roused his daughter to finish the lesson. They packed the smoked fish into a sack, and tied the gear back on Sunflower’s saddle, and the two rode home.

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Story Fragment, Artur and the Rhinos

I worked a lot of overtime in the past couple of weeks, so finding time to write has been difficult.  When it comes to hobbies, of course, you need to make time for them.  Even if the product isn’t very good, it’s no good passing up opportunities to try.  I took some time to give the chapters names, but I didn’t number them in case I want to insert other chapters.  That will save me from tedious renumbering.

Artur and the Rhinos are returning from their adventure.  I’m preparing to have them part ways so the Rhinos can get home and Artur can be reunited with his family, and be done with this bit of the book.  I want to move on to the adventures of the Cow tribe, and the Poisoners of the city of Anarch, and the horsemen of the north.  And then I want to jump ahead some ten years and get on with Tana’s adventures…

 

The Return

Artur, Oak and Acorn walked hurriedly over the mountains and down onto the main road headed west for Pig country. Invigorated by their victory, the Rhinos felt the summer air seemed fresher, the leaves brighter, and the bird and insect song all the more lovely.

Artur, despite being pleased with the success of their adventure, had a heavy heart. Most of his adventures were morally unambiguous. Meddling in the politics of the Frog people, the witch who cursed her ex husband, the ex husband who tried to kill him repeatedly, and then stealing the latter’s pet. All this to save the Rhinos from a wasting disease.

The Rhinos tried to make conversation, but Artur was lost in thought, and they realized that while his body was with them, his mind was elsewhere. Artur witnessed his deeds upon a mystical scale that weighed the balance of good and evil, and for the first time in a long time, the good didn’t outweigh the evil. And then he remembered all the Rhinos who died from the horrible disease, and how many would be saved from his deeds, and the pan filled with good became heavier. Then he remembered that it’s usually the wicked who cause the moral conflicts to begin with, and the pan filled with evil became lighter. He felt better, but was grieved that it took effort to weigh out the balance of his deeds.

Artur was jolted back to reality when Oak said abruptly, “We’re going to turn South tomorrow.”

“Oh?” said Artur, suddenly on a dirt road amid a grassy plain dotted with little copses of maple and white birch.

“We’re going to make for the Great Sea and hire a ship to take us across. It’s faster than going over the road,” said Oak.

“Very well,” said Artur. “You will come back to visit, I hope.”

“Of course my friend,” said Oak. “When time allows. We’re always escorting wagons and caravans. And since you helped save my people, I think I owe you one now.”

Artur shook his head. “We’re even.”

Acorn interjected, “Then let’s enjoy each other’s company while we’re together today, and not worry about tomorrow. My bagpipes are broken, so let’s have a song or two.”

Oak smiled at this, and said, “Which song?”

Acorn cleared his throat, and began to sing.

One day there was a terrible storm

and the waves crashed onto the village

The buildings were ripped and torn

the water itself did pillage

And then came a thousand rhinos

and waded into the tide

shoulder to shoulder, their shields held firm

and the waves could not break their hides

The ocean broke and retreated before

the might of the rhino dam

the humans returned to their village

and cooked everyone some yams

“Yams?” laughed Artur.

“Holding back the sea is hungry work.” said Acorn, who patted his belly.

“Is that a true story?” asked Artur.

Oak said, “I don’t know. But it’s inspiring. When faced with hideous monsters, or even dragons, we’re reminded that the sea itself was no match for the Rhinos.”

Revised Fable: The Used Car Salesman

I noticed all kinds of verb tense, grammar and punctuation errors from the previous posting of this story.  I cleaned it up tonight after my weekly game of D&D.  Here is a revised version of my fable The Used Car Salesman.

 

CAR_SALES2

 

Consider a car that won’t pass inspection. Vacuum it out, spray some new car smell. Put a coat of paint on it. Add a racing stripe. Reset the Check Engine light. Pre-tune the radio to something with a lot of bass and crank the volume to add to the excitement. The dash board looks pretty with the vinyl polished up. The door handles work. The wheels roll on the axles.

Now sell it.

It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character and so will you! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! Picture yourself, burning up the highway in this hot, sexy car, the wind in your hair, the stereo blaring. That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

And it sells. Time and time again, people buy similar cars, because the sale is so good. That first day driving it, the second day, or maybe the first couple of weeks are fabulous. They feel stylish. They feel sexy. That grinding wheel bearing really is character! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust let’s the world know that they’re there! In this car, they are a person to be reckoned with.

Then the check engine light comes on, and its too expensive to fix. So they buy another one.

Used car salesmen are ready to sell them another one, because it’s all they have to sell. And people are buying because they’re not buying the car, but the sales pitch itself It becomes the norm…

A man named Fred was curious about selling cars, and had a few decent cars to sell. They cars were not perfect. But he changed the oil every 5,000 miles, and fixed those things he could fix. He even upgraded the fuel systems to make them more efficient, and installed good struts to absorb the shock of traveling, and the wheels were always aligned. The cars had manufacturer defects, and occasionally he neglected to check the tire pressure, because he was not perfect. The basic paint was sufficient, and he saw no need to upgrade the less important features. On the whole, he took good care of the cars, so by any objective measurement they were worth buying. He was acutely aware that the cars had some problems, and he was honest about their flaws, so who would want to buy them?

Nonetheless, with great difficulty, Fred sold a few cars. He thought he was happy to sell his good quality used cars. Then he fell prey to a few scams. Then someone wrote a bad check. They kept bringing the cars in on the pretense of warranty service when the warranty didn’t apply. The finance company downgraded his business’ credit rating. All who bought his cars drove them into the ground. They didn’t change the oil, or failed to shift before red-lining, or aligned the wheels, or repair the struts. They picked the manufacturer’s defects he tried to correct, posted about in all the newspapers, and made it a miserable task for him to sell cars. Each of his customers tried to ruin him, and he despaired of selling cars. Not all customers, said his friends, would try to harm him. But in his experience, they did.

Fred got out of the used car business for a while. He ran a plant nursery and bred dogs. These things brought him joy. He could have bred plants and dogs for the rest of his life, but a small part of him missed selling cars.

Then in time Fred made the acquaintance of some used car salesmen. They met at a gentleman’s club every Tuesday to drink Martinis and boast of their sales. He saw the joy they got from selling their cars, and others in buying them. And he talked about how difficult it was for him to sell his cars.

So the used car salesmen checked out Fred’s cars, and they were amazed he wasn’t selling them. They were good, reliable cars. He just needed to make a good sales pitch. After many months of frustration, he realized that its often the case that folks with the least to sell were the best at selling. He was accused by a few of feeling entitled to other people’s money, but he wasn’t. On occasion he figured it would make sense, if he sold quality cars, to be doing better than folks who do not. But life wasn’t fair, and the reality was that people bought the sales pitch and not the cars themselves.

Fred eventually learned the sales pitch. No longer did he give a fair and polite introduction to the cars he had for sale. He learned to speak lies and believe them: It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

Fred sold the good cars. He was sad to find that his customers continued to write bad checks, and drove the cars into the ground, and trashed his reputation with the car finance company, and brought the car back on bogus warranty claims.

In despair, he took the remaining profits from those cars and invested in junk cars that do not pass inspection. He put a coat of paint on them, and sprayed some new car smell, and vacuumed the interior, and reset the Check Engine Light. He stopped maintaining them: no more struts for the bumpy road, to hell with the alignment that keeps the tires from wearing, and it mattered not if the fuel system was efficient. And he sold them.

Since Fred had not sold anything of value, nobody felt the need to sue him or run him down on warranty claims (for there was no warranty). Since what he sold required no credit, his credit was not downgraded. He could just sell more junk cars. Customers would sometimes gripe about his cars, go to another used car salesman, and then come back when he made a sweet sales pitch.

In fact, as long as Fred got a little cash from the sale, he didn’t care much about anything at all. It didn’t matter if he sold cars, or who got hurt driving the bad ones. He got a buzz from the sale. He didn’t really feel that good, and he didn’t really feel bad. Nothing got him up much, but nothing got him down either. In time, to amuse himself, he figured he could sell turd sandwiches, and occasionally he did. His friends he met on Tuesdays snickered when he told them this, because they were selling turd sandwiches with their cars for years.

Fred realized all the hard work and maintenance he put into his used cars in the past was a waste of time, and settled into a life of clever sales pitches. He sold the sale, and not the cars, for there was nothing about the cars worth selling.

One day he sold a junk car and a turd sandwich to someone who had been screwed over one too many times, and that person caved in his skull with the rusty tire iron from the trunk of the car. The other salesmen discussed this over Martinis on Tuesdays, and thought not much of it. Each of them had known fellow used car salesmen who were killed in the same way and for same reason. As nothing really got them up or down, it was just passing news, and they went on discussing the sales they made the previous week.

The End

Story Fragment, Singing to Bees

I mentioned early in the book that Diana knew how to sing to bees, so here’s a singing scene…

 

After all the other humans turned in for the night, Diana walked with Borussa out to the bee hives. The bees too were settled in for the night, but a few milled about at the entrances.  Borussa was wary of this place, for he didn’t much like being stung by bees, and so stood back a little while Diana approached the hives. After all the violence of the week, and missing her husband, she turned to the one thing that brought her peace and serenity.  She took a deep breath, and then began to hum in the back of her throat, a peculiar kind of singing that few in the word had mastered. In this she produced several notes simultaneously, in harmony, and the bees, while deaf, picked up the vibrations in the air.

First they awoke from their rest, and then in twos and threes climbed out of the box hives, and then before long in bunches of ten or twenty, until the surface of the hives were covered with bees. In the moonlight it looked like ripples of water.

She increased and decreased pitch simultaneously, and the tempo of her song increased, and the bees took to flight and orbited about her, until she was like a planet with several rings, all illuminated by the stars and the moon.

The bees danced as she altered pitch, tempo, and rested one note while continuing the other. The rings broke up into semi-circles, and then a ray from each semi-circle to a pyramidal apex some five feet above her, like children wrapping a maypole. Later they swarmed into a ball eclipsing the moon from Diana’s sight, all holding onto each other and flapping their wings furiously.

The bees, in file, all twirled down and swirled about Diana like a tornado of buzzing insects, and then returned to their respective hives.

Borussa startled Diana out of meditation with a snort. The moon was already on its way down. She had lost hours while the bored pig dutifully stayed nearby to watch out for trouble. Diana realized her own fatigue, and went to pet Borussa on the head. “I’m sorry Borussa. You must be sleepy. Come on.”

The two returned to the house, and Kevin there in a long chair smoking a pipe. “I was beginning to wonder where you were off to, mother. Then I heard you singing.” Borussa quietly trotted off to the barn.

Diana walked over and kissed her son on his bald head. “Thank you for coming,” she said.

“What else would I do?”

“Yes I know. Codes of honor. You still made a choice to help.”

“Are you alright, mother?”

Diana yawned, “I just miss your father.”

“He’ll be back soon. No monster, or dragon, or army of orcs could stop him. He doesn’t know how to die. How about a pipe to help you sleep?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“How about a zoot?” He hopped up and embraced his mother, and blew a zoot on her cheek, and she chuckled and tapped her other cheek. “This side’s jealous.”

So Kevin blew a zoot on her other cheek, a high pitched, squeaky zoot, and it tickled terribly so that she pulled back reflexively. “You’ll wake everyone up,” she hissed with a smile.

She hugged her son and went to bed, and he stayed up until some insomniac birds began to sing their premature sun welcoming hymns.

Here comes the sun

It’s a bright new day

No it’s not. Shut up and sleep!

But here comes

Be Quiet!

Oh…

Another PDF Work-in-Progress of my book “Zootaloot”

The Download link is below.

Zootaloot40

I’m posting another update of my work-in-progress because I’ve made the acquaintance of a lovely lady who appreciates literature.  I’m making it available to her to read at her leisure if she feels so inclined.

There’s been only a few pages since my last posting of the work-in-progress, as well as some revisions for sentence structure, spelling and verb tense.  On days when I get a little writers block, I spend time editing for those things.

The aforementioned lady and I got to discussing the challenges of writing, and we exchanged some interesting thoughts.  I’m getting fairly close to wrapping up the introductory segment of the novel, and I’ve debated just cleaning it up and releasing it as Book One.   Partially because I anticipate editing a some 500 page book (if it gets that large) to be a monumental task (but of course it has been done by the great authors of the past).  I figured it might be easier to take the scalpel to a 50-ish page book and tidy it up.

However, once I finish a Book One, the canon is established, and I may find myself wishing I added one thing or another to the beginning of the story.  It’s not like I’m going to post it twice to Lulu.com saying “And here’s version 2.0 of Zootaloot Book One, with extra material.”

So with a little anxiety, I’m going to try to finish the whole thing and then publish it.  If Tolkien can revise The Lord of the Rings through several drafts, then my work which pales in comparison can be done in the same way.

We also discussed how you sometimes learn things about characters as you create them.  I didn’t anticipate the witch in the Foggy Swamp to be a petite pretty Ogre.  At first I pictured her as a stereotypical withered hag.  Nor did I anticipate her sticking her nose into the affairs of the world aside from brewing the cure to the Horn Rot.  Now I had her using her powers to smite the rat who gave the the disease to the Rhino Men.

I didn’t anticipate Troy and Martin McDougal being friends.  When I first thought of Martin, I imagined him as a try-hard outsider that would do anything to fit in, and so clung too much to Troy.  I’m glad that changed.  He’s a bit clumsy and eats a little too much, but otherwise he’s kind and sincere and loving, and I like that a lot better.

I Wrote a Fable, The Used Car Salesman

I was inspired to write a fable.  Make of it what you will.  You of course may disagree with the premise.  That’s great, because the world would be boring if we all thought alike.

The Used Car Salesman

Consider a car that won’t pass inspection. Vacuum it out, spray some new car smell. Put a coat of paint on it. Add a racing stripe. Reset the Check Engine light. Pre-tune the radio to something with a lot of bass and crank the volume to add to the excitement. The dash board looks pretty with the vinyl polished up. The door handles work. The wheels roll on the axles.

Now sell it.

It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character and so will you! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! Picture yourself, burning up the highway in this hot, sexy car, the wind in your hair, the stereo blaring. That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

And it sells. Time and time again, people buy similar cars, because the sale is so good. That first day driving it, the second day, maybe the first couple of weeks, fabulous. They feel stylish. They feel sexy. That grinding wheel bearing really is character! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust let’s the world know that they’re there! In this car, they are a person to be reckoned with.

Then the check engine light comes on, and its too expensive to fix. So they buy another one.

Used car salesmen are ready to sell them another one, because it’s all they have to sell. And people are buying because they’re not buying the car, but the sales pitch itself. It becomes the norm…

A man named Fred was curious about selling cars, and had a few decent cars to sell. They cars were not perfect. But he changed the oil every 5,000 miles, and fixed those things he could fix. He even upgraded the fuel systems to make them more efficient, and installed good struts to absorb the shock of traveling, and the wheels were always aligned. The cars had manufacturer defects, and occasionally he neglected to check the tire pressure, because he’s not perfect. The basic paint was sufficient, and he saw no need to upgrade the less important features. On the whole, he took good care of the cars, so by any objective measurement they were worth buying. He was acutely aware that the cars had some problems, and he was honest about their flaws, so who would want to buy them?

Nonetheless, with great difficulty, Fred sold a few cars. He thought he was happy to sell his good quality used cars. Then he fell prey to a few scams. Then someone wrote a bad check. They kept bringing the cars in on the pretense of warranty service, even when it didn’t apply. The finance company downgraded his business. All who bought his cars would drove them into the ground. They wouldn’t change the oil, or failed to shift before red-lining, or aligned the wheels, or repair the struts. They picked the manufacturer’s defects he tried to correct, posted about in all the newspapers, and made it a miserable task for him to sell cars. Each of his customers tried to ruin him, and he despaired of selling cars. Not all customers, said his friends, would try to harm him. But in his experience, they did.

Fred got out of the used car business for a while. He ran a plant nursery and bred dogs. These things brought him joy. He could have bred plants and dogs for the rest of his life, but a small part of him missed selling cars.

Then in time Fred made the acquaintance of some used car salesmen. They met at a gentleman’s club every Tuesday to drink Martinis and boast of their sales. He saw the joy they got from selling their cars, and others in buying them. And he talked about how difficult it was for him to sell his cars.

So the used car salesmen check out Fred’s cars, and they’re amazed he’s not selling them. They’re good, reliable cars. He just needs to make a good sales pitch. After many months of frustration, he realized that its often the case that folks with the least to sell were the best at selling. He was accused by a few of feeling entitled to other people’s money, but he wasn’t. On occasion he figured it would make sense, if he sold quality cars, to be doing better than folks who do not. But life isn’t fair, and the reality was that people bought the sales pitch and not the cars themselves.

Fred eventually learned the sales pitch. No longer did he give a fair and polite introduction to the cars he had for sale. He learned to speak lies and believe them: It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

Fred sold the good cars. But he was sad to find that his customers continued to write bad checks, and drove the cars into the ground, and trashed his reputation with the car finance company, and bring the car back on bogus warranty claims.

In despair, he took the remaining profits from those cars and invested in junk cars that do not pass inspection. He put a coat of paint on them, and sprayed some new car smell, and vacuumed the interior, and reset the Check Engine Light. He stopped maintaining them: no more struts for the bumpy road, to hell with the alignment that keeps the tires from wearing, and it mattered not if the fuel system was efficient. And he sold them.

Since Fred had not sold anything of value, nobody felt the need to sue him, or run him down on warranty claims (for there was no warranty), and since what he sold required no credit, his credit was not downgraded. He could just sell more junk cars. Customers would sometimes gripe about his cars, go to another used car salesman, and then come back when he made a sweet sales pitch.

In fact, as long as Fred got a little cash from the sale, he didn’t care much about anything at all. It didn’t matter if he sold cars, or who got hurt driving the bad ones. He got a buzz from the sale. He didn’t really feel that good, and he didn’t really feel bad. Nothing got him up much, but nothing got him down either. In time, to amuse himself, he figured he could sell turd sandwiches, and occasionally he did. His friends he met on Tuesdays snickered when he told them this, because they were selling turd sandwiches with their cars for years.

Fred realized all the hard work and maintenance he put into his used cars in the past was a waste of time, and settled into a life of clever sales pitches. He sold the sale, and not the cars, for there was nothing about the cars worth selling.

One day he sold a junk car and a turd sandwich to someone who had been screwed over one too many times, and that person caved in his skull with the rusty tire iron from the trunk of the car. The other salesmen discussed this over Martinis on Tuesdays, and thought not much of it. Each of them had known fellow used car salesmen who were killed in the same way and for same reason. As nothing really got them up or down, it was just passing news, and they went on discussing the sales they made the previous week.

The End

Story Fragment: The rats defeated, for now.

Here is more from my book in progress, “Zootaloot”. 

The rats are defeated in a one-sided anti-climactic battle.  More interesting than the battle  is how the humans and animals work together. I’m also interested in the mystery left behind, and how it affects the protagonists of the story.  I honestly don’t know what remains down in the rats’ fort.  What did the sorcerer leave behind?  How long with the rat skeletons stand there: decades, centuries?   I also take joy in showing how the peoples of the Pig tribe celebrate victory, even as they struggle to not scratch at their poison ivy…

The Captain of the rat guard, in dismay, tossed his weapons, unbuckled the straps to his breast plate, and returned to running on all fours. He bolted for the deepest chamber, which was the Rat Sorcerer’s room. Up the dark tunnel behind him he could hear the screams and squeals of battle, and the reek of ferret wafted down the tunnel. The captain pounded on the door, “Master! Master! We’re beaten! Open the door! Master!” He then put his shoulder to the door, and popped in, and shut it behind him, trying to catch his breath. Here he found a nearly empty chamber with a carpet, the stones arranged in a portal, and the skeleton guards who immediately moved on him. He didn’t have a chance to squeal.

The few rats hiding in the cursed trees gave up the fight when their home was overrun with ferrets, and carefully slunk away. Now all the humans walked about the rock pile, examining the constructions of the rats, and their armors and weapons, and found it all very curious and sad. Kevin went about, listening for the suffering of still living rats, and found a few badly injured ones. He put them out of their misery, all except one who limped along with a broken leg and arm. For this one, he put on thick leather gloves and picked him up, and spoke with him.

“I can take away you pain.”

“Go spit, Hew Man!”

“What kind of talk is that?” With this he took out a vial of poppy oil, and fed the rat a drop.

The rat seemed to relax after a few seconds, and he questioned the creature further. “Who set this place up?”

“The sorcerer.”

“Which sorcerer?” Kevin set the rat down on some dry leaves, and it began to unbuckle its breastplate with its good arm. Kevin took off his gloves, and helped with the other side, impressed with the handiwork of rats.

“Ours,” said the rat.

“Where is he?”

“In his chamber no doubt, working spells while we all die.”

Tana stood nearby and listened to this exchange. Then amid the milling about of the other people, and the pigs eating dead rat, and the ferrets licking their wounds and lounging, she wandered over to the main entrance, and peered down into the darkness. The hole was large enough for her to crawl in on all fours, if she wanted to.

Diana happened to glance in Tana’s direction, and realized what Tana was considering. “Tana don’t go down there,” she said, and came up next to her. “What are you doing?”

“The rat sorcerer is down there. Kevin learned it from a hurt rat.”

Looking up at the moldy, accursed trees about the place, Diana didn’t like the thought of a sorcerer down in the rat den. “Then we’ll smoke him out.” With that she asked Carberry,  Ferguson and the McDougals to fetch some deadwood and leaves. Troy heard this conversation and went to the entrance, and got on his knees next to Tana, looking into the entrance. He summoned a mild, glowing orb, and sent it down the tunnel.

They were impressed to see a well crafted passage, squarely cut, with shoring beams every so often, and this twisted away out of sight. They had a glimpse of a door on the outer bend of the passage. “More like men than rats, in some ways.”

“Did they make the trees go bad?” asked Tana.

“Yes, it seems that way,” said Troy as he combed the dirt in the entrance with his fingertips. There were no rat droppings. “Look Tana, there’s no poop.”

“Maybe they’re clean rats,” said Tana, also combing the dirt.

At this Martin McDougal, covered in dirt and scratches, plumped his fat self down next to Troy and slapped him gently on the back. He saw them studying the dirt, and said, “Maybe they eat their poop.”

“Who eats poop?” cried Ferguson with a laugh, who with Carberry, carried faggots of kindling over and plumped them down next to Troy.

“Since you’re down there,” said Carberry, “How about shoving this down the hole?”

Troy looked up at his abrasive brother and smiled. “Since you’re up there, how about you fetch me some supper and a mug of ale?” Tana kept staring into the passage as Troy pushed the wood and leaves inside. She wanted to know what other things the rats in their fort, but was obedient to her mother, and did not go down there.

Before long, the entrance was stopped with wood and dry leaves, and Carberry set it afire with his flint and steel. It wasn’t long until there fire became good and hot, and then they all helped fill the entryway with rocks and dirt to trap the smoke, and they stood around the rock pile and waited.

It wasn’t long until smoke began to come out of crevices in the rock pile, and the ferrets waited anxiously for rats to emerge. Nothing came but a few moths and beetles. All the rats were dead or fled after the battle. The the rat skeletons stood in the abandoned chamber surrounded in smoke: silent, breathless, waiting to execute the last order given to them.

* * * * *

The humans and their animals stood guard on the smoking rat fort for about hour, and the sun began to set. No stray rat shot quills at them, and the accursed, moldy trees gave up dropping branches, and seemed to slump over in undeath. The grabbing vines ceased to grab, and aside from the faint crackle of fire, there was an eerie silence.

Diana was satisfied that their menace was defeated, and called for a return home. All made ready, to leave. Kevin took the wounded rat and put it in a sling around his neck, and it slept peacefully. The O’Reillys called all their goats by name, and lead the parade out. The McDougals summoned all their ferrets, and after a difficult head count of the scrambling creatures, followed the O’Reillys. The Zootaloots made ready to go, but Tana lingered by smoking rat den with Borussa on one side and Nelly on the other.

“Come along Tana,” said Diana at the edge of the thorny ivy.

“We should go,” said Borussa. “It is finished.”

“And I want a bath,” said Nelly, who was exhausted from chasing rats up and down the rocks.

Tana had a nagging feeling like they missed something, but couldn’t express it in words. But she made a mental note to come back to this spot, and figure it out.

The party got home by dusk, and they were weary, and itchy. All the humans doffed their armor and their soiled clothes and jumped in the pond to wash the grime and itchy oils from their skin. They were naked, and not ashamed.

The animals were all happy to be back on the farm. “Mother,” said Borussa as Diana splashed in the pond, “unbuckle my armor.” But she didn’t understand. “Mother?” He made as to wade into the pond, and Diana noticed him. “Borussa, don’t come in, you’ll rust your armor!”

Carberry heard him, however, and swam to the shore, and unbuckled Borussa’s armor.  Nelly, who lounged under the willow tree, then said, “Oh! Me too!” and trotted over. Carberry unbuckled her armor as well, and the two big fighting pigs splashed into the pond and swam with everyone else. It looked like a giant pool party of humans, pigs, goats, ferrets, and a six armed orangutan. The cows wandered over in curiosity and because they were thirsty.  Upon seeing the merry gathering decided to wait until it was quieter before venturing down.

The humans broke out in rashes all over their bodies, except Martin and Donalda, who did not have the allergy, and Tana who carefully avoided touching the thorny poison ivy. They helped Kevin prepare salves to sooth their rashes, and also fetched water to drink, and food to eat, while everyone else tried not to scratch.

The elder generations of McDougals, and Cale O’Reilly, sat naked in the lamplight around a stump playing a raucous game of cards and swilled a good amount of ale and mead, and did their best to ignore their rashes. Alan McDougal alternated between his pipe, his ale, and a root he had a habit of chewing for its sedative properties. “Alan, dear” said Aine, who among them all seemed to bear her rashes with a little more dignity, “put one of those down, I can see your cards.”

“Now I know I really am old,” replied Alan, who spat the root away, “when I’m here naked, and all you can notice is my cards!” Everyone burst out in laughter, a great belly laugh, and it helped them forget their discomfort.

A PDF of my first draft work in progress

To whomever may be interested, here is a pdf of the latest revision of Zootaloot, my fantasy novel. Presently it’s 44 pages of utter insanity, recycled D&D fantasy motifs, and people blowing raspberries on each other’s cheeks.

Zootaloot32

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Game Sessision. Blood of Pangea, The Cave Of Elements

I’m exciting to share my first actual live play of Blood of Pangea with another person. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for over a year, and I had a great time. It just so happens that my ex-wife and I have become friends again, and I got to play this with the very person who inspired my taste in fantasy role playing games.  If you haven’t played it, I highly recommend it as a versatile, rules-lite system that easy covers low magic fantasy, sci fi, and dark fantasy genres.

I did not run the game rules-as-written. Instead of a narrative, I had her describe five things her character is particularly good at. Inspired by the first draft of my book, she named her character Tana. Which, funny enough, the character was inspired by the first Fighting Fantasy character she played who was also named Tana. So we’ve come full circle, game-wise. (No, we’re not getting back together, but we are friends)

I also used the bestiary “Out Of the Pit” to populate this dungeon. There are some custom monsters, but most come from there. I particularly like this bestiary because it’s mostly descriptions of behavior and habits, and very little in terms of mechanical crunch, and as such the monsters are easy to adapt to any game system.

Here are five noteworthy things about Tana:

1) good at communicating with animals

2) has good aim

3) has good balance

4) grew up in the mountains

5) very creative

Tana’s inventory at game start: backpack, bedroll, 7 rations, hand ax, bow and arrows, lantern, climbing pitons, rope

She also has a six armed monkey named Abu.

After briefly explaining how Luck serves as both hit points and a chance to boost die rolls, we got down into it. A young lad arrives at her village burnt, battered, weather-beaten and half drowned, but with a bag full of gems. He claims to have been to the Cave of the Elements., After surviving monsters, traps, and hazards, found great riches.

So being down on her luck, Tana and Abu set out, and after two days reached the Cave of the Elements.

 

CaveOfElements.jpg

 

Tana examines the ground around the inscribed stone plinth at the main entrance and sees many footprints in the dirt heading in and out along the stone bridge. There are daintier, lighter footprints going to the rope bridge. On either side of both bridges, a chasm of unknown depth (in reality, maybe 15 to 20 feet before hitting a cliff edge) Thinking this was a trick, she considered taking the rope bridge, but thought better of it and decided to just test each step of the bridge before putting her weight on it. Tana lights her lantern.

Given that this would take time, I rolled an encounter. A swarm of bats came up from the depth and began buffeting Tana and Abu with their wings. She rolled to communicate, and succeeded in conveying her non-hostile intent. The swarm began to leave, but she called one back and asked him if he knew what was beyond the bridge. The bat replied there’s a door that’s seldom opened, but there’s a very damp breeze that comes out when it is opened.

Tana crosses the bridge and reaches a swollen, damp oak door. She forces it open (auto-success, I just wanted to warn her this was the water room) and opens onto a damp, drippy cavern with a well and bucket in the middle. There are three other buckets of water. There’s a marsh troll here sharpening mussel shells. This is the Cave of Water.

Tana greets the troll, and I roll a reaction, and got a neutral response, and so let her play it out. She learns that other heroes have come here and tried to hurt the troll, and some got eaten. She offers the troll a ration in exchange for a bucket of water to put out the fiery door to the southwest. He agrees and eats the ration. Now on more favorable terms, she asks about what’s in the fire room to the southwest. He explains that gems spew up from deep vents in the earth, and that they’re guarded by fire creatures.

So Tana pours the water into the doorway and puts out the fire, and enters The Cave of Fire. It’s really hot in the fire room. There are little gems on the floor around the red-orange glowing vents. Every once in a while there’s a puff of vapor and debris flies up, and in that debris are gems.

Tana makes a run to scoop up some gems, trying not to get scalded. She succeeds, and two hell-hounds materialize. They have glowing red eyes and smoky breath. They win initiative, she dodges one, and the other blasts her with fire. She then escapes the room and strikes the doorway with her flint and steel to re-ignite the flames. The magical flames erupts, and the hell hounds do not pass through it. Note that I didn’t even consider that it was possible, but because she thought of it, I decided it made sense that some kind of magical field needed a spark to get the fire going again.

She asks to buy a bucket of water for a gem, and the troll agrees (he would have let her take it for free, but accepts the donation). She quenches her scalded skin and heals one point.

She takes Abu down the east corridor and the air gets progressively drier. She hears shouting and laughter around the corner. Tana sneaks in and finds three dwarfs playing some kind of chess game with animated clay pieces. They bet gems over the game. There’s some bedding here, a cask of ale, and some digging tools. It looks like they’re taking a break from excavating the cave. They don’t notice Tana until she announces her presence.

Startled, but not hostile, they laugh at Tana and say she’s yet another fool out to risk her neck in this place. Come, play some chess. She bets one gem and loses a game (opposed roll).

After this, she is dismayed and moves on. Tana and Abu reach the Cave of Earth, which is dry as a bone, and filled with soft diggable clay. Some little trenches have been dug here and there. There’s a mining cart here amd digging tools. There is also a giant clay oyster, and a giant clay toad, each about three feet high. Tana picks a spot behind the clay toad and she and Abu begin digging.

In comes two wandering giant centipedes. Tana and Abu stay put. Both Centipedes blow their notice rolls and move off to the south.

Tana finds some gems in the clay and pockets them. She then checks out the clay toad, which blinks, and then comes to life. Tana assures the toad she’s not hostile, and begins asking questions about the place. The toad can’t answer much. He came out of the oven just a month ago. Someone made him. He likes to eat bugs. Thinking of the danger posed by the giant centipedes, she sends him south in pursuit of the nasty critters.

There’s a banging and crunching ruckus, and then silence. Tana then turns her attention to the giant oyster. When she approaches, the clay mouth opens wide, revealing a fist sized pearl! She tries talking to the oyster, but it doesn’t respond. Maybe it’s a trap, or maybe it’s just a chest of sorts that opens when you approach.

She tells Abu to snatch the pearl. Abu snaps it up before it can slam shut on his arm.

They then move south to check on the toad. It is crunching away on giant centipede. It’s skin is cracked from battle damage, but slowly heals as it eats the big creatures. It then follows her and Abu to the Cave of Wind.

I drew this whole map on a white board, and put the ledges a lot closer together. There’s a brisk wind blowing out of the darkness, and her lamp light cannot reach the ceiling. I add that there’s several human skeletons in pieces on the floor, as well as a sack and a staff with a crystal knob. Tana puts the monkey in her pack, and then hammers pitons into the wall using her superior balance to get across. There are little crystal eggs on each ledge. They are translucent, but there’s no sign of babies inside. I roll for encounter at each ledge, and when she works her way down to E, six lizard-like clay bats dive down from the ceiling. Three go after her and Abu, and three go after the toad.

Initiative is tied. Tana dives under cliff E (success). Three attack her with a penalty. Two crash into the cliff and shatter to clay dust, and one bites her arm. Three go after the toad. He snags one out of the air with his tongue. Another fumbles and smashes to dust. The third bites the toad. Next round, Tana swipes the bat off her arm with her ax, and it shatters to clay bits. The toad eats the other bat, and then there’s only the brisk wind and no other noise.

Tana gets down to the floor and checks out the loot. In the sack is a potion of blackish liquid that’s unusually light. “Thank you Willy Wonka,” my ex-wife says, and tells me Tana drinks it. She floats up to the very top of the ceiling and sees a hole from which the wind comes and it pushes her about. There’s also nests made of clay straws, and more crystal eggs, only these do have embryos. So Tana doesn’t take them, burps and farts her way down to each ledge, and takes all the other crystal eggs. The potion expires just as she reaches the toad.

Tana debates climbing down for the staff, is puzzled at how to do it, and gives up, figuring 28 gems (counting the crystal eggs) and one giant pearl are plenty of loot. She returns with Abu and the toad to the Cave of Earth. She asks if the toad wants to come, but he’s not much of a talker, and figures he’ll stay here and eat bugs. So she says goodbye and goes to visit the dwarfs.

The dwarfs greet Tana and congratulate her on finding so many gems. Would you like to play another game of chess? Tana agrees and wins the game this time. Then they party for a little bit, and the dwarfs talk about how they made the animated chess pieces with the clay from the Cave of Earth. Mix water with the clay, and cook it in the Cave of Fire, and they come to life.

So Tana gets the idea to make a friend for the toad she left behind, and she and Abu go dig up some clay. She makes a toad and puts it in the mining cart, and pushes it up the corridor to the Cave of Water and uses the water to pack the clay tight and finishes her work.

The Troll warns her that the hell hounds won’t like her trying to get into their lair, and offers to help defeat them for one gem. So she agrees, and Tana, Abu and the Troll each take a bucket of water. The troll douses the magical flame door. The hell hounds can see them now. Tana and Abu each douse the hell hounds with water, and the red glow in their eyes goes out, their breaths hiss with steam, and the two beasts whimper and run to a corner. They then fade away.

Tana pushes the cart over the fiery cracks and leaves it to cook for an hour. They then come back with water and douse the mining cart to cool it, and push it out of the room. By the time they push it back to the Cave of Earth, the new giant clay toad blinks and hops out of the mining cart. Tana tries to explain to the new creature what it is, but it hardly comprehends. It sees the older toad, however, and begins mimicking its movements. In time, she realizes, the newly born toad will learn to live like the other toad.

Satisfied that she had done good deed, and happy with her winnings, Tana and Abu escape and return home.

The final haul is 28 gems and one giant pearl.

I liked how I could tweak the adventure to suit her tastes. My ex-wife does not like prolonged combat scenes, so it’s easy to have just enough enemies to make it interesting, and I made them all one-hit foes with success on 7+. As things went, she only had to fight the bat-lizards in the Cave of Air, and used diplomacy and puzzle solving for the rest of her adversaries. The troll would have taken two or three if she decided to fight him. I’m glad he wasn’t hostile right away, because I think parleying with such a creature early in the game is a lot more entertaining, at least at first. Maybe things go sour and you end up in a fight. If she went down the well and held her breath, she could have swam to a mucky cave where the troll slept and try to pilfer his treasure.

All in all a great time and I’m so glad I finally got to play BOP with someone else.

Sometimes You Need a Good Fight Scene, and Story Fragment

Before the age of twelve I wrote a lot of short fiction, which were more or less narrations of battle.  As a child, the only conflict I could conceive of was physical conflict.  Over time my tastes and styles evolved, and learning from the many great authors whose books I’ve read, I learned that conflict can take many forms.

Anyone who has ready Stephen King’s novels knows how his books have a couple hundred pages of dramatic build-up as the horrors betrayed become all the more threatening, and then pow, it resolves itself in an exciting, terrifying, bloody mess.

Quite often  the existential conflict of the characters is merely a backdrop for more subtle, transcendent conflicts of the soul.  In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo bore the One Ring around his neck and felt the daily, hourly temptation to do evil and had to strive to not partake of it.  The physical threats to his life, the Orcs, Boromir’s attempt to take the ring, and the Ring Wraiths themselves, in some ways paled in comparison to the misery he endured by carrying the Ring.

As my writing evolved, I tried to focus more on conflicts of the spirit, of everyday decisions, of hard choices, more-so than bloody conflict.  I also realized that avoiding violence in my stories is as absurd as focusing exclusively on it.  There’s a time and place for everything,  In a fantastical, medieval world filled with hostile creatures and unchecked lust for power, battle is a way of life.

Sometimes, too, you need a good fight scene, just because its exciting.  TV medical dramas use Emergency Room scenes in the same way, because they’re exciting.  If you stripped warfare of pain, suffering, misery, and destruction of life, nature and property, you’d get a pretty exciting game.    Anyone who has played fantasy role playing game knows that a good fight is quite satisfying, and is a good way to introduce the next phase of a story.

I almost finished the story of Artur and the Rhino Men retrieving the cure for the Horn Rot. I now want to focus on Tana, Diana and Troy back on Zootaloot farm.  I needed some kind of conflict with the rat sorcerer and his minions, and figured a raid on the farm was a good way to get that going.  Here you get a taste of Troy’s budding magical powers and Tana’s inclination to sleep in the barn.

I present to you, in rough draft form, the raid on the hen house:

Tana awoke on a pile of straw, snuggled next Borussa, who snored contentedly. The air smelled of animal dander and dried grasses. Twilight crept into the barn through the windows and illuminated the silhouettes of the barn animals. Some rabbits slept atop hay bales in one corner, and a donkey in another. The goats were awake, and a baby goat, hearing Tana awaken, approached her and began nibbling her cheek.

“Good morning, Thistle!” she whispered, and kissed the baby goat. “Maah-Maah!” bayed the goat.

“You’ll wake everyone up, Thistle,” came another goat’s voice.

Borussa suddenly stopped snoring, and jolted awake with a snort. “Who….who is making that racket so early in the morning?”

Tana sat up and pat Borussa’s hairy back. She whispered, “Go back to sleep.”

Knowing it was nearly dawn, Tana got up, and ushered the baby goat outside with its family, and gave them all kisses atop their heads. “Good morning Blackberry. Good morning Locust. Good morning Rose. Good morning Cactus,” and so on, with all the goats named for prickly trees and shrubs.

Tana then set about her pre-breakfast chores. The cows were nearby, so she decided to milk them first, and hustled the pails of fresh milk to the kitchen. After placing the pails, Tana listened. The house creaked, and from her brother’s room she could hear a snore. Tana frowned, and her stomach grumbled. Breakfast would be late if Troy didn’t get the cook stove running soon. She remembered how her brother would be leaving soon for the wizard’s academy, and she would have to take over his chores.

As Tana left the kitchen, she pulled the anxiety out of her ear, and threw it away. It was a little trick she learned–a game really–were one pretends to pull uncomfortable thoughts out ones head and throw them away. Usually this worked, as long as she had something else to think about. She needed to get eggs, and she was hungry.

In the slowly brightening sky, Tana went to the garden and picked a ripe cucumber to sate her hunger on the way to the chicken house. It was sweet and crunchy. As she skipped along, eating her cucumber, the birds began their morning song, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before the rooster woke everyone else up.

Suddenly there was a commotion from the chicken house, and dozens of chickens began squawking at once. Tana quickened her pace, and she arrived to a scene that confused her. A parade armored rats, walking on their hind legs like humans, each carried an egg down a ramp and deposited their cargo in little wooden wagons. Groundhogs were harnessed to the wagons. There was a mess of bloodied feathers on one of the ramps leading into the house, and a severed chicken foot. There were chicken squawks and rat screeches coming from within.

This all confused Tana at first, and then coming to grips with the situation, called out, “Hey! Hey! Those are my eggs!” She picked up a stone and threw a stone at the army of rats, knocking one of them head over heels. There was a cry of “Human!” and some of the rats, with military discipline, drew their bows and began loading quill arrows. Not wanting to get shot, Tana bolted for the main door of the chicken house, and little arrows thudded into the wooden siding.

Inside she saw a chaotic melee of chickens and rats all fighting with each other, and the chickens were getting the worst of it. Other rats snatched eggs and hustled down the ramp. Tana was overwhelmed, and screamed in anger and desperation. She waded into the din and began kicking rats where she could find them. Rats hacked at her ankles with their tiny swords, and she was forced to retreat up a ladder to the upper loft.

Then the main door crashed open there stood Troy naked, and in one hand in his hand he held a great, eerie glowing globe that pulsed in intensity from a firefly spark to a hundred candles. All the animals stopped, startled by the sudden change in lighting, for an instant and gazed at him.

Tana peered over the edge of her hiding place, “Troy?” she whispered.

“Close your eyes, Tana.” He hurled this globe of light into the middle of the chicken house, and it exploded into bright, yellow-white brilliance of the noon day sun. All the animals screeched and squawked, for they were all blinded. Troy then went among the confused animals and smashed rats with the bird poop shovel. Rats and chickens alike panicked and charged randomly, and one rat scrambled up the ladder to where Tana hid, and feeling the flesh of her feet, bit her toe. Startled, she kicked the blind, armored rat of the ledge, where he met the backswing of Troy’s shovel.

The battle ended almost as fast as it began. It looked like a madman’s slaughter house. There were dead rats and live and dead chickens all over the house. Diana came through the door in a hurry, Frostbane glowing red hot in her hand. “Troy! Where’s Tana!”

“Mama!” called Tana, who swung her injured feet over the edge to the ladder. She winced at putting weight on her feet as she tried to climb down. Diana willed the sword cold, sheathed it, and went to fetch Tana into her arms.

Adrenaline fading, Tana broke into tears. “Mama I tried to stop them. There were too many.” She gazed over her mother’s shoulders at the dead and wounded chickens, and remembered all their names.

A gruff squeal came from outside the chicken house, and Tana and Troy understood Borussa calling out. “Is all they’ve got? Hah! More like rat fleas than rats!”

Troy stayed in the chicken house to tend to the wounded, and Diana carried Tana out. The sun had just peaked over the edge of the horizon, and the first rays hit the tree tops. Dead armored rats were scattered about, the little wooden wagons tipped over, and eggs were smashed. Several barn cats busied themselves eating canned rat. Borussa had several quills in his hide, and his face was caked with gore. He poked a dead groundhog with his tusks, turning the body over. He heard footsteps approaching and looked up. “Mother, Tana. Tana! You foolish girl,” he squealed. “Oh look at your poor ankle.”

“Mama put me down please.”

“Yes put her down at look at this ground hog.” Diana did not understand, but Tana translated for her.

Diana gentle set her daughter down, and crouched with Borussa. “What’s so special about this groundhog?”

“No blood.. And her flesh is cold. This hog was dead before I broke her neck.” Tana reached over and touched the dead animal, and was startled to find it was cold. She didn’t understand, but her mother did.

Diana’s breath caught in her throat. Undead. She couldn’t find the words.

“And the rats?” asked Daiana.

“A lively bunch. Warm and gooey.”

Diana stood and contemplated this. First there’s rats hunting like humans in the woods, and then they came to steal eggs from the farms, again like humans: armor and weapons, wagons with undead beasts of burden. They would be back.

Troy carried all the chickens out into the grass and set them down next to Tana, who gently pet the injured and softly spoke reassuring things to them. The unharmed chickens, their temporary blindness having passed, quickly shook off the morning’s commotion (as animals do when danger passes), and joined the cats in eating dead rats, savoring the eye balls and the brain matter. “How long since we had rat for breakfast?” asked one. “Spring, I think,” said another. “They taste like moles, did you notice that?” “Aye, only the eyeballs are a bit more tart.” “I can’t tell the difference to be honest.”

With the rising of the sun came a breeze and the bluing of the sky, and fresh air blew the sadness away, and things didn’t seem so grim. The humans set about tending to the wounded. Borussa stoically endured the yanking out of quills, but Tana winced at the three stitches her mother had to sew in her ankle. A couple chickens needed toe amputations, but they bore it with dignity, and then went about their lives as though nothing happened. The cats, having caught the rat archers by surprise, had only a few cuts and bruises, and were in good spirits.

The bad news was the loss of life. Ten hens out of three dozen were dead, and the rooster, too was slain. Most of the eggs were destroyed, but a nest full of fertile ones in the loft were intact, and one of the hens quickly adopted them as her own.

Early in the afternoon, Troy dug a grave for the slain chickens and buried them. They had a funeral, and wept for their lost loved ones. Diana planted a Pear sapling on the grave, as was the custom in her homeland, and called it the Chicken-Fruit tree, so her descendants could know the goodness of her chickens.

Troy, angry at what had transpired that day, skewered many of the dead rats on little sticks, and planted those sticks on the perimeter of the farm as a warning to any more that might come to the farm. Scavenging animals didn’t get the joke, and the flies, the crows, and the foxes all got to nibble on rat, until there was but skin, bones and armor on a stick.

By evening, Troy and Diana managed to clean up most of the filth from inside the chicken house and replace the fouled nests with fresh straw, and Tana an eye out for trouble, but no trouble came, or no trouble that she knew of.

From before dawn until the sunset, several blue jays watched the farm from the forest, or from fruit trees, or atop roofs. They did not tire, for they were not alive. The rat sorcerer sat meditating, eyes closed, in his lair. He could see through the eyes of the unalive birds at Zootaloot farm. He could see through the eyes of the unalive ground hogs. Then came the girl, and the boy magician, and the farm animals, and that wretched woman with the flaming sword. They ruined everything. Well, it wasn’t a total loss. They could become larger, perhaps, and take the farm by force. But then they would need more food, and would attract more attention. Rats are easily dismissed until they’re three or four feet tall.

They would need to establish themselves somewhere out of the way where nobody would find them, at least, until it was too late to do anything about it.