Categories
Writing

Waterbug

This is the introduction to what may become a longer story.


He was dragging himself through the window, sodden foot sliding as it sought purchase on the sill, when that old familiar tingle registered at the back of his mind. In an instant he dropped into a somersault that brought him the rest of the way into the room, just as a creak on the stair reinforced his immediate dilemma.

He tore at the mask, wrestled his arms and chest free of soggy blue and red, and cast about for something to hide his legs.

The comforter from his bed would have to do. Thwip!

No sooner had he embedded himself in folds of fabric than the door squeaked open and in came Aunt May with an armload of laundry.

“Peter!” she gasped upon seeing him. “When did you get home? I thought you were out studying.”

He shivered involuntarily, and her eyes went to the drops of water clinging to the tips of his hair. “What on earth?” she said. “Why are you all wet?”

“Um…shower?” said Peter Parker, adjusting the blanket on his shoulders and glancing quickly down to make sure his feet weren’t visible.

“If you’ve just taken a shower, Peter, you didn’t do a very good job.” Aunt May’s nose screwed up as she set the neatly folded laundry on Peter’s desk chair. “What is that awful smell?”

He could hardly tell her the truth, so he shrugged helplessly. “Sorry, Aunt May. I’ll try again.”

“You do that, Peter.” Aunt May turned to leave, giving him one last sidelong glance. “And this time, try using a towel.”

Categories
Writing

A writing exercise

This morning I made the acquaintance of writer Mac Logan on Twitter. Since then I’ve been poking through his blog, and I discovered an interesting writing prompt.

I’m doing an experiment today: I’m going to open up the first spam or selling type of email I receive from the top of my email inbox.

The task? Go five lines down and seven words in, then write 250 words based on the word I find, and complete the rough text in under half an hour.

I thought I’d try it myself. Thanks to Gmail’s spam filter and some judicious unsubscribing on my part, I don’t receive much spam these days, but this morning a message from an advocacy group slipped past and I got my word: white. Here’s what I wrote in about 20 minutes. (I did minimal tweaking because I had hit precisely 250 words.)


It’s all stained, all of it. Nothing is pure. Nothing pristine. Even the palest shade betrays some hue, some blue or red or brown that saps away the essence of a thing. Of a creature. Of a person, if you can even call it that.

There’s no soul there. Or if there is, it’s corrupted.

Every day I fight back. I know I am losing the battle. But what I do has purpose. It creates something from nothing. It brings that purity back, if only for a little while. It shows the world what’s possible.

The main thing is to remove the colors. And there are so many colors.

I take my time. I make small steps. I choose one thing. One small mark at a time upon a world drenched in putrid dye.

Last week it was a chair. It took a certain combination of chemicals, meticulously determined over many trials, to purge the darkness. You cannot create purity with paint or lacquer. The subject must be fundamentally altered. The rot must be forcibly removed, leaving only the splendor of the original soul.

It cannot be rushed.

This week I have a far more difficult subject. There are so many colors, so many materials. I will carefully test new methods on each one until I find the perfect treatment.

When I am finished, her blood, her organs, her hair, her nails, her skin, her eyes, her all will be free of corruption. She will shine the most brilliant white.

Categories
Review

Quasi-Review: A Song of Ice and Fire

This quasi-review contains spoilers through the first part of book five.

I can’t really review George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga until it’s complete, but I’ve been wanting to talk about why I’m reading it in the first place, what I’ve found compelling about it, and why I’m afraid I’m going to ultimately wind up disappointed.

First of all, there’s the general writing style. I tend to be very picky about writing, as longtime readers of this blog probably know. I like prose to flow, to either be so lovely or clever I can’t help but notice it or to be completely unnoticeable. A piece of writing should only be enhanced, and never encumbered, by how it’s written. I would not call Martin’s writing beautiful, but it never trips you up, and it is occasionally clever. The only thing I might complain about would be the long lists he likes to include of what people ate at a feast, but to be honest, I enjoy reading those and imagining how all the food might taste.

Structurally, the series is a masterpiece. The detail, the richness, the depth of the world-building is astonishing. It’s a fun mental game keeping track of who all the characters are and what they’re doing, and trying to figure out the politics of all the different corners of the world. One time I was quite thankful to be reading on my Kindle, as I was absolutely certain a character was dead, and I was able to do a word search and confirm it. But mostly I’ve been trying to rely on my memory and Martin’s skill at bringing in references to events and people just as you need to recall them…a spaced repetition approach that I’m finding very effective.

I have only barely gotten into the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. The fourth and fifth books differ from the others in that they occur simultaneously; this somewhat simplifies the story threads but also allows for some pretty dramatic revelations by keeping certain information hidden from the reader. For example, if we’d been following Quentyn Martell throughout book four, it wouldn’t have been very dramatic when his mission was revealed to Arianne at the end of the book. Similarly, one of the main characters of the first three books is completely absent from the fourth, save for in the mind of his sister, who is terrified of him. If we’d been watching what he was doing the whole time too, we’d know that he was no danger to her at all, and that would have diminished the tension. So while at first I was dismayed that I would be getting “less story”, I ultimately ended up impressed with how the two halves of the world were split into different books; it realistically shows how slow information would flow between the two and adds to the suspense. We’ll see if my feelings change as I continue through book five.

Beyond the way Martin organizes his characters and settings and plots, I’ve been very impressed by the characters themselves. Each chapter is written from a different perspective. There are some characters whose perspectives you never see. There are some characters who are intensely boring. There are some characters who are loathsome, and whenever their name heads a chapter you want to hurl the book across the room. And there are some characters who are good, and who suffer, and you suffer with them. There is one character who goes from loathsome to good, and another who goes from good to something horrific. Regardless of whose perspective you’re seeing, you’re seeing a person. The character is real. For years I’ve considered myself a student of human behavior, and I love that I can see why these characters are acting the way they’re acting. I can see who they are. I can understand them, even if I hate them.

This understanding leads me to a hope that I’m worried is false. You see, I tend towards optimism, and I like to think that people can be saved. As I’ve read A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve allowed myself to imagine that the story is building to a resolution that will right many wrongs and perhaps even redeem some characters. There has to be a meaning for all of this, I thought, or what’s the point?

When I first started reading the series months ago, it was on a whim. I kept hearing about the HBO series Game of Thrones, and that made me curious. I got a good deal on a bundle of the first four books for Kindle and dove in.

I fell in love with the Stark family, with Winterfell. Like Arya, I thought Sansa was silly, but I didn’t hate her. I admired Catelyn’s beautiful strength and adored Bran. Ned was my favorite character of all. As things got worse and worse for the Starks, all I could think was that somehow they’d all survive and find each other again and everything would be okay. Bran probably wouldn’t walk again–the setting felt too realistic for that–but then again, this was fantasy, so you never knew what might happen.

Then Ned was beheaded.

I was so upset I literally thought I would throw up.

It was a long time before I started the next book, A Clash of Kings. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. All bets were off. Was A Song of Ice and Fire nothing more than The Calamity of House Stark? Would I be forced to watch them all die, one by one? But I was in too deep. I had to know. Would the truth come out? Would justice be served?

Of course, as the series progressed, “justice” became more and more muddled. You might argue that Joffrey had as much right to the throne as Robert. Neither was descended from the line of kings that had ruled for centuries. They were both “usurpers” in their way. And even the dragon kings were conquerors, laying claim to land that wasn’t theirs. Even as I started to wonder whether true justice could even exist in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, civilization began to break down in the story.

Now it’s not just a matter of whether or not there will be justice for Ned Stark, but whether or not Westeros itself can survive. Will a new king (or queen) be able to mend all that’s been broken? How many more will die in the struggle? What will be left when it’s over?

This, more than anything else, is why I keep reading, despite the fact that by now I’m sure there’s no deeper meaning, no happy ending to come. I have to know how it ends.

Categories
Writing

Not her mom

This narrative is drawn from a dream I had just before waking today.


She was small, with tiny features and wispy dark hair, eyes shining dark against skin so pale it was almost pallid. But she was full of energy, hurtling through the hot spring resort so fast it was all I could do just to keep up, let alone right the chaos she left in her wake.

Girls like her always had hangers-on, and she was no exception. First there was the straw-haired boy who’d accompanied the household on this vacation, the son of her father’s valet; the two had grown up together and might as well have been siblings. The second was new, the brown-haired, deeply-tanned son of a local. She’d caught his eye the moment she’d stepped from the train, and he’d been following her ever since.

If you added all their ages, you’d need yet another child to reach twenty years.

I caught up to them in an anteroom surrounded by a cluster of single rooms. The main hallway continued straight to the springs. The family’s rooms were similarly arrayed, but in a suite, allowing both access and privacy. The young mistress was teasing her local’s son, making him blush. I saw the valet’s son watching quietly, from a distance, his head lowered.

“We’ll go to the baths!” the young mistress announced, not noticing me. “But we’ll need towels and robes; our playclothes won’t do. Come!” And she turned on her tiny heel and marched into the nearest single room. In moments she was tearing drawers open and ripping the blankets from the bed.

I don’t know what happened then. I had witnessed many such a scene before, and my duty was always the same: to make amends afterwards. I did not begrudge the young mistress the trouble it took to seek out her victims and compensate their losses. Such work was the reason I was employed by the household. Such work kept me clothed and fed, and let me see wonders and amusements throughout the world alongside the family. Perhaps it was the look on the face of the dear valet’s son. Perhaps it was the careless way with which the young mistress was rifling through the stranger’s belongings.

Perhaps it was because, in my head, I had so casually concocted a group of girls like her.

Whatever it was, very shortly, I found myself screaming.

“Who do you think you are?” I roared, hooking the girl by the shoulder, spinning her around, and flinging her down on the bed. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Those dark eyes were wide. It was not a look I had ever seen on her face before. Shock, certainly. Fear, perhaps. “I–I was just–we needed–”

“If you needed robes and towels, you have plenty of your own in your own rooms,” I shrilled. “Is this your room, young mistress?”

“M-m-my–”

“Is it?”

“I-I-I–”

“Do the things in this room belong to you? Did your mother and father check you into this room? Is your prize possession, the braid of unicorn mane, to be found in this room?”

“No,” she said finally, in the smallest voice I’d ever heard come out of her tiny mouth.

“Then what gives you the right to come into this room and take whatever you want?”

She had no answer. Her face was turning pink.

“And what gives you the right to ignore your lifelong friend as if he doesn’t even exist?”

What?” she tried to say, but a sob caught the word in her throat as her eyes filled with tears.

“Have you ever thought about anyone but yourself?” I seethed. “Have you ever thought about the people whose things you’ve taken without asking, whose property you’ve destroyed just for your own pleasure?”

She started outright bawling. “You’re not being fair,” she sobbed.

“When have you ever been ‘fair’?” I countered.

“Why are you being so mean?”

And I broke. Whatever had been driving me on was gone in that instant. Her dark eyes, overflowing with tears, reamed accusatory holes into my heart that I could not deflect.

“Oh, sweetheart,” I murmured, and my eyes brimmed over as well. I slipped my hands beneath her tiny form, lifting her from where she’d lay stunned and motionless on the bed, and drew her into a gentle embrace. “Shh. Sweetheart. I’m sorry. I just…I love you so.”

She made a pathetic noise that I could only imagine signaled her bewilderment.

“I know. I know. I know I’m not your mother, and I never could be…but sometimes I feel like I am, I really do.” She shook quietly in my arms. “And I just…I don’t want you to be a bad girl.”