Short Story: The Rejected Pilot

trans pilot

Click the link to download the story.

Another friend challenged me to write a story about a trans-gendered pilot who was kicked out of America’s new Space Force and then sought revenge.

I wrote a piece of revenge fiction. Be forewarned, there’s explicit violence, swearing, sexually explicit descriptions, racism, politics, terrorism, and other R rated content not really suitable for young readers. If any of that bothers you, please do not read it.

This is not a political blog nor will it ever be. Nor is this work of fiction out to prove a political point. I merely work with available trends in political and social thought and weave them hopefully into an interesting character who does interesting things. In the end, whether you love or hate my hero/heroine, I hope you find the story entertaining.

Trans Pilot

Short Story: The Dog Detective

After my surgery in December, my friend called me and gave me a one hour challenge to write a story about his dog. So I did. I was glad of the challenge, as I had no substantive pain medicine. It was nice to focus on something creative.

There are inside jokes, such as Huck taking a slice of pizza from Oden half asleep on the couch. But if you look past the inside jokes, I hope you find it entertaining. Click the link below to download it.

HucksPoop2

Example Of Revising – Artur and the Forest Guardians – Story Fragment

I set out to revise a chapter I wrote previously here:

Mushroom Hunting

 

I did not like how the first version came out.  I wanted to evoke more mystery and awe with the Forest Guardians.  And yes, I’m pretentious, they are male and female to represent the two aspects that create life, and I tried to play with that in this bit of writing.  So below is a revision of the above chapter.  I paste in from the fight scene onward.  The beginning of the chapter is largely unchanged…

After a couple hours the basket was about half full, and they reached a swamp. Artur sat on a fallen hemlock to relax and let Borussa do his thing. The pig wandered for a bit, and just as Artur felt a nap coming on, there was a crack, a crash, and a loud squeal. In Artur’s mind he could feel Borussa’s broken leg, and he sprung to his feet.

There was another squeal, and Artur homed in on it, and ran as fast as he could over the mushy, rooty ground until he found a hole. Someone had dug a pit and covered it with sticks and leaves, and Borussa was in the bottom some seven feet down. “Father! It’s a trap!”

From the north and the east came the sudden rustle of leaves and the crack of twigs, and then heavy rapid footsteps. Artur drew his sword and looked about, and saw several hairy, apeish, pig faced looking orcs charging through the foliage. They wore animals skins, and had crude spears and clubs. Their elongated yellow canines glinted in the sunlight. Their cries were not unlike pig squeals, but a mockery of pigs.

“Go father.”

“No.”

Artur prepared to meet the oncoming creatures, and quickly counted them. He could see five. He charged the lead orc with a roar, and let his sword fighting instincts take over. It was Artur’s fight to lose, and he didn’t. He slew four with relative ease, and the fifth managed to dodge a decapitating blow, but tumbled headlong into the pit. Borussa sunk his teeth into the creature’s neck. It lost its bowels.

“Father I’m in a pit covered in orc shit.”

“That rhymes.” There was a distant crack, like someone stepped on a thick, dry branch.

“Father?”

“Shh!”

There was another crack. Artur spun about, scanning around the swamp and the forest, and then an arrow whizzed by his head and stuck into a pine tree. Then another arrow from another direction. Then there was a great roar, and from all sides came another dozen orcs, some firing arrows from crude bows, and others twirling their weapons. Some emerged from the trees on the other side of the swamp, slowly slogging their way through, and others from behind distant trees on dry ground.

Five were doable, twelve were not. At least, not if Artur had to maintain defense of the pit. Artur whirled about, trying to pick targets, and dodging arrows all the while. “Father, go now!” urged Borussa from the bottom of the pit. Artur could not bring himself to leave his son, and could not fight all the orcs coming from all directions.

No harm in calling for help when you need it, he thought. So he did. “Help me!” he shouted, and the orcs replied, “Oh we’ll help you to your grave, warrior!”

Suddenly the plants in the swamp grew longer, and entangled the orcs, and pulled them down into the water, drowning them. The trees in the forest bent over and plucked weapons out the orcs hands. Bewildered, they lept and snatched at their spears and bows and clubs, but to no avail. Pines, and hemlocks, and birch trees all ensnared the orcs and choked the life out of them. One screamed, “It was a blood trap! Damn the rats!” All but one were slain, and the last and bolted for his life.

Artur was bewildered but grateful. Never had he seen such a thing. So he looked about at the trees, and said “Thank you?”

There was a sudden ripping sound, like ripping roots from the ground. “You’re welcome.” said a masculine voice. Artur whirled about and saw a man looking creature about his height, with bark-like skin, and long hair and beard like moss. He had antlers like a deer, and was naked. Artur didn’t feel threatened.

There was another rip, and Artur whirled about again, and there was a naked female figure, with a darker, bark-like skin akin to beech, and long hair like curly dried red and orange leaves. She smiled, gently, and her amber eyes met Artur’s.

Borussa called out, “Father! What goes on?”
Artur felt mesmerized for a moment, and then called over his shoulder, “it’s okay. The orcs are gone.”

“Well get me out of this pit then. This orc stinks!”

The male figure said, “Don’t worry Artur. We will help your son.” And he and the female walked over to the pit, and their feet seemed to make no sound at all. The knelt down and whispered to the ground, and the roots from the trees pushed through the sides of the pit and under the pig, who panicked again, thinking he would be crushed by the roots.

“It’s all right sweet pig.” And suddenly Borussa was calm, and the roots lifted him out of the pit, and then he lay atop a bed of entangled roots. Artur ran over to him, dropped his sword, and shoved the dead orc off.

“Oh Borussa, I’m so sorry.” And then Artur looked to the two strange people, and said “Thank you sir, and madam.”

The male and female both chucked. “I haven’t been called sir in ages,” said the male. The female said “You’re welcome, Artur Zootaloot.”

“How do you know my name?”

The female now approached, and put her hand on his shoulder, “We heard the animals speak of you. And we’ve seen you come year after year to collect mushrooms. So…we like you.”

Borussa winced with pain as Artur studied the broken leg. There were two breaks. “Don’t worry, Artur,” said the male, who then scooped up some clay from the ground and molded it into a bowl. He breathed on it, and the clay dried instantly. He then gave the bowl to the female, who squeezed a sap from her breast, and filled it. She then went to pour it into the pig’s mouth.

Artur held a hand out, “Stop. What is that?”

“Come now, Artur,” said the male. “We wouldn’t save your lives just to poison you and your son.” Artur hesitated, but he let the female proceed and she poured the sap into the pig’s mouth. Suddenly the pig convulsed, and he squealed, and then Artur could hear a crack as the leg snapped itself back together.

“Why, that feels better,” said Borussa. “Thank you madam, and sir.”

The male laughed, and his mossy hair seemed to rustle gently. “I’ve been called sir twice in one day. You can call us Moss and Leaf. We’re Guardians. Though I think you figured that out now.”

Indeed Artur had heard rumors of the forest Guardians, but never met one, or known anyone who met one. He stood, and Borussa rolled over and got up on all fours, and grunted contentedly as he walked about the forest floor. “I’m in your debt,” said Artur to the two Guardians.

“Nay,” said Moss. “There is no debt. Let us be friends.” And Moss and Leaf each held out a hand, palm open, and Artur put his hands in theirs.

“Friends.” He withdrew his hands and went to studying the orc bodies. For orcs, they seemed rather unremarkable. They had crude hides, primitive weapons, and necklaces strung with human ears and fingers. Some had short handled spades for digging. “I’m concerned how they got this deep into our land without being noticed.”

Moss and Leaf stood over Artur as the man studied the bodies. “They didn’t come overland,” said Moss. “Yesterday, we were about the forest when we felt a tingle, like the air in a thunderstorm.”

“Only there was no storm, of course,” said Leaf.

“And then Orcs were here,” said Moss. Artur noticed how the two Guardians seemed to continue each other’s thoughts.

Artur dropped the Orc trinkets and stood up, brushing himself off. “And you let them wander here?”

“We were more concerned with how they got here,” said Leaf. The two Guardians then went to each orc body, and they whispered together, and from all about, flies gathered, and the carrion picking beetles came out of the leaf litter, and the earth worms tunneled out of the soil and began sniffing about the bodies, and lastly some crows arrived to pick at the dead flesh. Then a vulture landed nearby and startled the crows, but it went to its own orc to pick and tear. Unseen, the bacteria and fungi of decomposition multiplied far more rapidly than normal, and the bodies of the dead fermented at an increased rate.

After they finished working, Artur asked them, “How did they get here?”

Moss said, “Wizardry of some kind.”

Artur was disturbed to hear this. He didn’t like the thought of Orcs traveling unchallenged in his country, or in anyone’s country for that matter.

Suddenly Borussa said, “Well Madam, yes! Thank you!” Leaf knelt down and offered a puffball mushroom the size of a football to Borussa, who greedily began chewing away. Artur and the Guardians chuckled, and they waited for the pig to finish his meal.

The day was getting on, and so Artur once again thanked the Guardians for their help, and with Borussa at his side, set off for home. The two Guardians watched the bald warrior and his pig leave. Then they turned to each other, holding hands, and dissolved into the ground. Their essence traveled the roots of plants, the tunnels of ants, the burrows of creatures great and small, the ripples of water in the swamp, and the tangled networks of mycelium in the soil. They fell with every acorn, leaf, chestnut, walnut, and beech nut. They took flight with every gnat that emerged from the swamp mud. They wiggled with every worm, and pushed up slowly with every mushroom, and with every moss they broke up stone at an infinitesimal pace. They were in one place at some times, and another place at some times, and sometimes every place in the forest.

Imagination Sometimes Never Matches the Written Word — Story Fragment

I wrote a scene disconnected from the main story about Artur and Borussa going mushroom hunting together.  The whole point was to have an awe-inspiring encounter with a pair of Dryad type characters — forest spirits — but my first attempt turned out to be a flop.  It’s really hard to put into words exactly what you had in your head.  I want to revise this chapter heavily.

In any case, here’s the chapter about Mushroom hunting…

 

Mushrooms

In the early autumn, Artur wanted to go hunt for truffle mushrooms. One day he got up extra early and took Borussa with him to go search for some. It didn’t take much persuading, as Borussa loved mushrooms even more than Artur. So Arthur slung a basket over his shoulders and belted on a sword, and the two of them set eastward from Zootaloot Farm across about three miles of rolling farm and grassland until they reached a bit of forest. The Maples, Birches and Beeches leaves were turning, and with the rising sun the tips of the treetops were like a fantastic fireworks display of orange, yellow and brown with the orange sun and pink sky above.

The air was crisp and chilly, but the birds still began their morning song with enthusiasm.

Here the comes the sun again

to shine upon the beasts and men

Evil things go into hiding

the morning sun brings happy tidings

The deer are nibbling in the field

the farmers harvest their summer’s yield

the Troll has left, no one to sack

maybe the stray sheep will come back

And here comes Artur and his pig

I suspect they’ll make their bellies big

with berries, roots, shrooms and nuts

those Pigs are quite gluttonous!

Artur was disturbed to hear of a troll so close to home, but trusted the singing birds. He suspected the troll ate the stray sheep and went off for easier pickings. All the same he was glad he had his sword, just in case.

The two entered the forest, and their feet crunched on some dry fallen leaves, and the earthy smell of fallen leaves filled their nostrils. Borussa immediately began snuffling on the ground, and crunched on acorns for a while.

“Son, we’re supposed to be hunting for truffles.”

With a mouthful of crushed acorns, the pig replied, “Oh yes. I’m keeping my nose open. I just need a little breakfast.”

“I thought being hungry would make it easier to find them.” And with that, Borussa got down on the ground, and rustled in the leaves, and sniffed around the bases of maple and birch trees. He had found truffles on his own before, but it was pure luck. The odors at ground level were far too complex for the untrained human nose. It was said that some of the Horse tribe spent their whole lives learning to find mushrooms by scent, but Artur never observed this.

Satisfied with his breakfast, Borussa began snuffling about for mushrooms, and before long he found clusters of puffballs, and oyster mushrooms, and Artur split these with his son, taking half for the basket, and letting the pig eat the other half. He pat the great boar on back, “come on Borussa, Truffles!”

So Borussa snuffled, and wiggled his curly tail, and while he did this, the sun rose higher and the forest lit up with the tint of yellow and orange reflecting off the leaves. They came upon a family of gray squirrels eating acorns on a flat rock, and the squirrels startled, leaving piles of broken shell. In a birch tree above Artur, a Squirrel threw an acorn on him, and began to curse him out.

“Damn humans always disturbing our meals! Pigs stealing our food!”

Artur merely looked up, “I have no problem with you, go back to your meal.”

The squirrel chittered at him a while longer, then leaped from the branch to another tree, and went to find a quieter place to eat. Meanwhile, Borussa was now digging at the base of a maple tree, and the scuffing of his trotter got Artur’s attention.

Artur took out a little spade and began to dig, and there they found not one but two fist sized truffles, and Artur took one, but let his son eat the other.

They went about their morning this way, with Borussa finding truffles and each partner took half for his own use. It was one of Artur’s favorite times of the year, for he got to get out with his porcine son and have fun, and enjoy the fresh air, and escape the monotonous toil of the farm and military training. They didn’t speak much, except when Borussa found more truffles. Artur cherished touching the pig’s mind, and feeling what the pig felt, and appreciating the world from a pig’s point of view. A world of smells and sounds, not unlike a dog, only with more things to eat!

After a couple hours the basket was about half full, and they reached a swamp. Artur sat on a fallen hemlock to relax and let Borussa do his thing. The pig wandered for a bit, and just as Artur felt a nap coming on, there was a crack, a crash, and a loud squeal. In Artur’s mind he could feel Borussa’s broken leg, and he sprung to his feet.

There was another squeal, and Artur homed in on it, and ran as fast as he could over the mushy, rooty ground until he found a hole. Someone had dug a pit and covered it with sticks and leaves, and Borussa was in the bottom some seven feet down. “Father! It’s a trap!”

From the north and the east came the sudden rustle of leaves and the crack of twigs, and then heavy rapid footsteps. Artur drew his sword and looked about, and saw several hairy, apeish, pig faced looking orcs charging through the foliage. They wore animals skins, and had crude spears and clubs. Their elongated yellow canines seemed to glint in the spots of sunlight. Their cries were not unlike pig squeals, but a mockery of pigs.

“Go father.”

“No.”

Artur prepared to meet the oncoming creatures, and quickly counted them. He could see five. He charged the lead orc with a roar, and let his sword fighting instincts take over. It was Artur’s fight to lose, and he didn’t. He slew four with relative ease, and the fifth managed to dodge a decapitating blow, but tumbled headlong into the pit. Borussa sunk his teeth into the creature’s neck. It lost its bowels.

“Father I’m in a pit covered in orc shit.”

“That rhymes.” There was a distant crack, like someone stepped on a thick, dry branch.

“Father?”

“Shh!”

There was another crack. Artur spun about, scanning around the swamp and the forest, and then an arrow whizzed by his head and stuck into a pine tree. Then another arrow from another direction. Then there was a great roar, and from all sides came another dozen orcs, some firing arrows from crude bows, and others twirling their weapons. Some emerged from the trees on the other side of the swamp, slowly slogging their way through, and others from behind distant trees.

Five were doable, twelve were not. Artur whirled about, trying to pick targets, and dodging arrows all the while. “Father, go now!” urged Borussa from the bottom of the pit. Artur could not bring himself to leave his son, and could not fight all the orcs coming from all directions.

No harm in calling for help when you need it, he thought. So he did. “Help me!” he shouted, and the orcs replied, “Oh we’ll help you to your grave, warrior!”

Suddenly the plants in the swamp grew longer, and entangled the orcs, and pulled them down into the water, drowning them. The trees in the forest bent over and plucked weapons out the orcs hands. Bewildered, they lept and snatched at their spears and bows and clubs, but to no avail. Pines, and hemlocks, and birch trees all ensnared the orcs and choked the life out of them. All but one, who remained far away, and bolted for his life.

Artur was bewildered but grateful. Never had he seen such a thing. So he looked about, and said “Thank you?”

There was a sudden ripping sound, like ripping roots from the ground. “You’re welcome.” said a masculine voice. Artur whirled about and saw a man looking creature about his height, with bark-like skin, and long hair and beard like moss. He had antlers like a deer, and was naked. Artur didn’t feel threatened.

There was another rip, and Artur whirled about again, and there was a naked female figure, with a darker, bark-like skin, and long hair like curly dried red and orange leaves. She smiled, gently, and her amber eyes met Artur’s.

Borussa called out, “Father! What goes on?”
Artur felt mesmerized for a moment, and then called over his shoulder, “it’s okay. The orcs are gone.”

“Well get me out of this pit then. This orc stinks!”

The male figure said, “Don’t worry Artur. I will help your son.” And he walked over to the pit, and his feet seemed to make no sound at all. There he got down and began to whisper, and the roots from the trees pushed through the sides of the pit and under the pig, who panicked again.

“It’s all right sweet pig.” And suddenly Borussa was calm, and the roots lifted him out of the pit, and then he lay atop a bed of entangled roots. Artur ran over to him, dropped his sword, and shoved the dead orc off.

“Oh Borussa, I’m so sorry.” And then Artur looked to the man thing, and said “Thank you…sir?”

The male chucked. “I haven’t been called sir in ages. All the same, you’re welcome, Artur Zootaloot.”

“How do you know my name?”

The woman now approached, and put her hand on his shoulder, “We heard the animals speak of you. And we’ve seen you come year after year to collect mushrooms, and you only take what you can eat. So…we like you.”

Borussa winced with pain as Artur studied the broken leg. There were two breaks. “Don’t worry, Artur,” said the man, who then scooped up some clay from the ground and molded it into a bowl. He breathed on it, and the clay dried instantly. He then gave the bowl to the woman, who squeezed a nectar from her breast into it, and then put it to the pig’s lips.

Artur held a hand out, “Stop. What is that?”

“Come now, Artur,” said the man. “We wouldn’t save your lives just to poison you and your son.” Artur hesitated, but he let the woman proceed, and Borussa lapped up the nectar. Suddenly the pig convulsed, and he squealed, and then Artur could hear a crack as the leg snapped itself back together.

“Why, that feels better,” said Borussa. “Thank you madam, and sir.”

The man laughed, and his mossy hair seemed to rustle gently. “I’ve been called sir twice in one day. You can call us Moss and Leaf. We’re Guardians. Though I think you figured that out now.”

Indeed Artur had heard rumors of the forest Guardians, but never met one, or known anyone who met one. He stood, and Borussa rolled over and got up on all fours, and grunted contentedly as he walked about the forest floor. “I’m in your debt,” said Artur to the two Guardians.

“Nay,” said Moss. “There is no debt. Let us be friends.” And Moss held out a woody textured hand, and Artur took it.

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.”

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

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.

 

 

Another Story Fragment From First Draft 4/6/2019

I learned while writing today that it’s important to keep notes of the names of things and places.  In this story so far, I haved called the mysterious swamp the witch dwells in “The Misty Swamp” and “The Foggy Swamp.”  In later revisions, I must keep my terminology consistent so as to avoid confusing the reader.

So here’s a snip of Artur and the two Rhino Men meeting the Black Frog men: actual anthropomorphic frogs as opposed to humans of the Frog Clan….

 

Suddenly there was a great splash, and then several more splashes off in the distance.  The three warriors immediately readied their weapons. Artur pulled his bow and peered into the mist.

“Knee-deep!” croaked a throaty voice. To the right and the left and ahead came other similar voices. “Knee-deep!” There was only the faint sound of the churning of water, like small boats. And then the three saw what was coming. Frog heads in the mist, poking out of the water. First just as silhouettes, and then they were black frog heads with green spots, and each had a spear.

The two rhinos leaped from the boulder, trying to find cover behind nearby trees, but Artur still stood, his bow pulled to his cheek, watching the approaching frogs. “Hoy there! Who goes there? We’re searching for the witch! Steady now, or I’ll shoot!”

The frog heads slowed their approach, but did not stop, and slowly ascended as the water became more shallow, until there were six frog men standing knee deep in the pond. They were naked, and not ashamed. From behind a mossy tree Oak called, “Our friend isn’t alone. I can skewer any of you with a javelin.”

And from the other side, flanking Artur, Acorn called out. “And I as well.”

Here the six frogs looked up at Artur atop the boulder, and to the left and the right, having their spears ready. Then one croaked, “They’re not the Greens!”

“Aye they’re not,” said another. “And I don’t fancy eating this one with the bow.”

Artur slowly lowered his bow, and his two companions peeked out from their hiding places. “I’m flattered,” said Artur, “that you don’t want to eat me. I’m Artur, of the Pig clan, of Zootaloot Farm. And I don’t want to eat you either. Let’s say we put our weapons away.”

The frogs hesitated, their spears gripped tightly in their webbed hands, but seemed to stand at ease. One of them, seemingly the leader, handed his spear to a companion, and bowed. “I’m Snark, of the Blacks.”

At this, Artur slung his bow, and returned the bow. “I’m honored, Snark. We did not mean to tresspass, if this is your land. We seek a witch. Perhaps you know her?”

“The Witch,” croaked Snark. “Oh yes.” And the two spoke, and all the while the armed frogs and the rhinos eyed each other nervously. After a few minutes, it was a agreed they would share a meal, and before long the frogs, and the rhinos, and the human sat on the boulder and on raised patches on the edge of the pond. The frogs speared small fish, which they ate raw. Artur politely ate a piece of slimy mud fish, but preferred his own rations. He had eaten with many creatures over the years, and had developed the stomach for foul foods, though he did not like them. The Rhinos ate lichen and some of their own provisions, as well as some puffball mushrooms offered by the frogs, who in turn tried cabbage, but found it not to their liking.

It turned out that there were two tribes of frog men in this country, and they feuded over territory. The Greens, preferring the drier land, and the Blacks, who preferred the ponds and swamps. Both fished and hunted the lands. At some time in the past, a Black killed a Green, or maybe it was a Green killed a Black, and the two tribes feuded ever since. Upon hearing this, Artur remembered tales of the Elvish Empire, where they tried to force all the tribes of men together under one system of law and custom, and they ended up fighting one another and resenting the elves. That resentment leading to the final defeat of the elves and the return of the men to their ancestral homelands. But where would frog men go, if they were to resettle? They both claimed the land here.

“One challenge at a time,” Artur thought to himself. “Find the witch. Find the cure for the Rhinos. The tribes of frog men would still be here.”

The witch was only a few miles distant, but for flat footed creatures like Rhinos and humans, it would be a difficult journey. It was agreed that one of the frogs, Slip, a juvenile with a bright orange eyes and a small dagger tied at his hip, would escort them to the witch, assuming her hut hadn’t moved. It was in a peaty mire of thick black gum trees, but never seemed to be in the same place on any given day, or so he said.

So the agile frog man leaped from stone to stone, or swam, or clung to trees with sticky finger and foot pads, while Artur and the Rhinos carefully and slowly picked their way through the bogs and ponds of the Misty Swamp. Slip quickly became impatient, sometimes hissing to the three warriors “Come now. How do you survive where you come from? Hop, stick, jump, swim!”

After about a couple anxious hours of picking careful footholds and enduring Slip’s incessant taunting, Oak misstepped and plopped waist deep in murky pond water. “On the open grasslands of my native country, I could outdistance a horse and certainly a frog! Come to my country, and I’ll teach you the meaning of speed!”

The peculiar creature, clinging to a birch tree, peered at the struggling Rhino as he sloshed his way to a drier tussock of mud and grass. He snickered at the Rhino’s comment. The Rhinoman pulled a fat leech off his arm, and angrily flung it as hard as he could at the Frog, whose tongue flicked out and snagged it in midair. “Thank you, good Rhino!” He then pulled a fat wood boring grub from the tree he clung too, sniffed it, and returned the shot. The gooey thing bounced off the Rhino’s nose, and disappeared into the mud. “Use your tongue!” he said.

Frustrated, Oak shook a fist at the frog in the tree. “If you don’t stop using yours, I’ll pit it to that tree with a javelin!”

Acorn and Artur, amused by the exchanged, broke out laughing. Confused, and momentarily insulted, Oak whirled about, slipped on some mud, and fell back into the pond. This was too much for Artur and Acorn, who laughed even harder, and ease the grief of their friend, they jumped into the pond as well, deliberately splashing Oak, who now began to laugh as well. The frog leaped from his tree, grabbed another branch and swung himself into the pond as well. The four played and splashed one another for a while. Slip dived under the water, popping up beside Acorn, or Oak, or Artur, and sprayed them with mouthfuls of water. They in turn tried to lay hold of him, but he was too fast and too slippery.

After a brief while, Oak figured out the Frog’s pattern, and grabbed him by the leg, lifing him upside down. Triumphant, he bellowed a victory cry and hurled the frog sprawling some five yards where he belly flopped with a great splash. The creature emerged, sputtering and giggling, and raised his webbed hands in mock surrender. “Alright, alright!”

“Damn right, alright!” said Oak, hand on his hips, feeling quite proud of himself.

“No dry land creature, not the Hunter, not the Witch, has ever caught Slip. But the great warrior Oak did! I will call you Sticky, because you caught Slip!” The frog man smiled, but having never seen a frogman smile, the Rhinos and Artur could not tell it was. Oak frowned at this, even as Slip smiled, and Acorn said to his father, “I think you won him over, Father.”

The frog swam closer, and stood, offering his right webbed hand, palm out. “Slip is honored to call Oak a fellow Black Frog.” Oak hesitated, and then held his massive three fingered hand to the suction cupped, four fingered hand of the smaller Frog. His heart tingled at this gesture, for while humans, and dwarfs, and elves tended to show a kind and sincere deference to the Rhinos, most of the hybrid species expected others to prove themselves with some great feat. And here this creature who mocked and taunted him, and them played with him, was satisfied to call him a brother. “I would be honored to be considered a Black Frog. Thank you friend.”

Artur stood, dripping, watching this exchange, and his heart tingled as well, because the two creatures were part beast, he could feel what they felt, at least the part of their animal nature. It always touched him when creatures unlikely to be friends would become friends. He had seen a rooster and a hound sleep together, and a rabbit who would ride on a horse all day. He wondered if it was common humanity the two creatures shared was the bond that grew here, or something special to beasts that only friends could appreciate. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Acorn was not surprised that his father had made another friend. Oak was a legendary figure among his people, and among humans, dwarfs and elves. He aspired to be as brave, and as kind, and as skilled a warrior as his father, but not quite as quick to get angry. He had his father’s temper, but aspired to his mother’s more mellow temperament without losing his edge as a warrior.

After this touching moment the four continued their journey through the bogs and mists, though at a slower pace, and Slip was patient with them. The heat of the day slowly came in and the fog dissipated slightly, but not much. The sunlight filtered through the treetops and the fog to make a bright haze that disoriented Artur and the Rhinos. To Slip’s delight but the others’ dismay, there were biting insects, but also moths, dragonflies, stoneflies, wood roaches, and stink bugs. For the first time since entering the swamp, Artur saw a mammalian creature. It resembled a groundhog with thick claws, oily fur and a long snout. Thre creature clung to a birch tree, sniffling about and nibbling small insects. It made a wheezy sound as it sniffed about. Artur could sense it was content, and didn’t pay much mind to the party. In fact it felt quite confident nothing would molest it.

“I’ve never seen such a creature. What is it, Slip?” asked Artur.

“We call it a Keckle. It’s tasty, but its piss causes a nasty rash. Not worth hunting, I say. Too much work to clean it.”

Artur marveled at the creature, now understanding its sense of security. “Good luck to it,” he said, and began to walk on. The four continued through the marsh. The beast went on nibbling at beetles and ants, thinking to itself “What an odd group. A frog, a man and two things I’ve never seen. Oh boy, a stink bug!” As it went to crunch down on it’s next meal, a great spear skewered it to the tree, and it knew nothing more.

Silently, a heavily tattooed, bare footed, hairy man in a loin cloth and a wide brimmed helm tiptoed from the thick lichen where he had hidden to the skewered beast and yanked out his spear. He leaned his spear against the tree, drew a knife and a bit of string, and quickly but carefully dressed the carcass. He tied off the bladder, saving its toxic urine, and stashed in a hip pouch. The carcass he placed in a sack. He would not eat frog today, nor man flesh, but the Keckle would do, assuming he had name for for all of the above. He had not spoken in thirty years, and had forgotten the words.