Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 26th, 2008

There are two of my stories that I have not excerpted for Friday Fiction yet. “The Eridanus Dream” was the first novel-length manuscript I ever finished, back in 1987. I rewrote the story in 2004, both to correct errors and problems with the original draft, and to transfer the story into an electronic format.

The story takes place in a distant future when the corporations of Earth are exploring and developing other worlds. The Voidship Columbus has traveled nearly eleven light years to the Epsilon Eridanus system, releasing the Lander Pisces to descend on the fourth planet in the system. The Pisces crew finds the world is already inhabited by humanity, and through an odd phenomenon the Lander Technician, Sean Scott, is joined to Y’La, a priestess from a nearby village.

After walking for three days to cross a mountain pass, the crew arrives at the stream between Y’La’s village and the forest.

Crossing the Stream
From “The Eridanus Dream”
By Rick Higginson


Just over two hours later they came upon a stream where several men were hunched over washing clothes, gossiping and not noticing the approaching group until Y’La stepped into the gurgling water just upstream from them to wash her face.

Honored priestess,” one of the men said, lowering his eyes. “We were instructed to watch for you this morning.” He turned from his laundry and called for a child playing in the brush nearby. “Run quickly and tell the priestess Noma that her daughter has arrived with her guests.”

The young girl looked wide-eyed at the strangers for a moment before turning to sprint away from the stream with unbridled enthusiasm.

The women of the crew imitated Y’La’s action, washing their faces in the clear water and relishing the numbing cold after the morning’s exertion.

Welcome to our village, honored guest,” one of the men said to Lorraine.

“Uh, hi,” Lorraine said.

The men exchanged puzzled looks with each other. One of them whispered something, just loud enough that Lorraine could hear it, and watched for a reaction that never materialized. The one next to him turned questioning eyes towards Y’La. “Honored priestess, can she not hear us?

They cannot understand us, Berus. Their speech is different from ours in every way,” Y’La said. She stepped back on the bank of the stream and gestured for Sean to stand beside her, explaining to him mentally that custom dictated they wait there for her mother.


***


The plump man named Berus nudged the younger man next to him. “Look, Rej; that must be her intended.”

Rej studied the couple for a moment, and then without response returned his attention to his work.

He is so tall,” Berus continued. “I did not think She would match a woman with a taller man. He dresses strangely too, Rej.

Rej expressed annoyance. “Why must you taunt me, Berus? She had the dream and let me go. We all know it can happen, though I know you were disappointed at her dream; it certainly stopped your gossip about what she and I might have been doing.” He gathered his laundry in his arms and stood. “There will be another woman to take me from my mother’s house; perhaps even a B’sela dream for me.” Without waiting for rebuttal he carried his laundry to a nearby tree and began wrapping the clothing around a low branch to twist and wring it out.

Berus watched him go and grunted to himself before attacking a stubborn stain in his wife’s robe. From time to time he glanced up to watch the unusual couple.


***


A growing commotion sounded from the village. A tall, stocky woman in a more ornate version of the blue robe that Y’La wore approached with a regal air, and a small parade followed along behind her. She proceeded purposefully until she stood on the opposite side of the stream from where Y’La stood with Sean. The men along the stream all stood and lowered their eyes respectfully, each muttering the traditional greeting of “Honored priestess.” The woman lifted her face and regarded the couple with a knowing smile.

Honored priestess,” Y’La greeted, lowering her eyes momentarily.

Following her prompting, Sean likewise lowered his eyes and greeted, realizing as he did that he had committed a serious social blunder by not doing so even before Y’La had.

Honored priestess,” the woman replied to Y’La. “My beloved; my firstborn; have you brought your intended for my approval?”

Yes, mother. God has led me in B’sela to my intended, Sean Daniel of the family Scott,” she faltered for a moment, as if something would not fit properly. “From the village of Pisces,” she finally concluded.

Sean suppressed the urge to laugh at the thought that they’d brought the whole “village” along for the trip. One faux pas in the traditional proceedings was bad enough; injecting laughter might prove too much for even these unusual circumstances.

The woman turned her eyes to Sean. “I am the priestess Noma, daughter of the priestess V’Ne, of the family T’Cha, Priestess Elder of the village of T’Cha. Come in peace to our home, Sean Daniel of the family Scott.

I am grateful for your welcome, honored priestess,” Sean replied, taking his cue mentally from Y’La.

“What the blazes is going on?” Rory asked, not concealing his impatience.

“Shh!” Maggie said. “Whatever it is, it seems very structured in ritual and I don’t think our interruptions will be welcome at all, no matter who we are.”

“Whoever that woman is,” Lorraine added, “she looks like the wrong person to get on the bad side of.”

Noma gestured, and Y’La led Sean across the stream, away from the analyzing conversation behind them. The woman first touched two fingers to her daughter’s cheek and then swept her into a firm embrace. She then turned to Sean and looked him over. “A man from the stars? He looks much like any man to me. You are really from the stars, Sean Daniel?”

Well, actually from a world similar to your own, which orbits another star that we call Sol, honored priestess. I and my companions traveled here to see what we might find,” Sean answered.

You would not try and deceive an old priestess on such a thing, would you Sean Daniel?”

No, and even if I should think of deceiving you, I could not deceive your daughter on anything.”

Noma touched her middle and ring fingers to Y’La’s cheek with one hand, and the little and ring fingers to Sean’s cheek with the other. She looked affectionately at her daughter for a moment, and then let her fingers slip down to both of their necks. She held them there for a few silent minutes. The little finger lifted from his neck and the middle finger dropped. She smiled and commented, “No, you could not deceive Y’La, Sean Daniel.”

Please, honored priestess, just call me Sean. I was only called Sean Daniel by my own mother when I was in trouble.”

Noma laughed; the sound very similar to her daughter’s laughter. “Were you in trouble often, Sean?”

More often than my mother would have liked,” he said.

Laughing more freely, she pulled him into an embrace similar to what she had given her daughter earlier. She released him to Y’La’s side and gestured expansively. “Bring your guests and begin the B’sela feast! God has given my daughter a husband!”


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 19, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction is a special Holiday story, expanded from a Faithwriters Weekly Challenge Entry for the topic, “Christmas Lights”. This story, like “Away From the Mistletoe”, also takes place during that first year Josh is with the Pod, and is hinted at in later Pod stories. I’ve wanted to write this one for a while, but an earlier attempt ended up floundering (no pun intended). It references also to "Christmas Magic", a Cardan's Pod Holiday Story from a couple of years ago.

Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate it. Hag sameach Chanukah to my Jewish readers. I’m not sure if I have any readers who celebrate Kwanzaa, but since it starts next Friday, I’ll extend my wishes for it then. Whatever holidays you celebrate or don’t celebrate, may we all find joy and peace in this season, and in the coming New Year.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy this Holiday gift. May you also find the magic in the Season.

Finding the Magic
By Rick Higginson


“I just don’t get why you’re doing this,” Marta said.

“It’s kind of a family tradition,” Josh replied, extracting another string of lights from the box. “Dad always decorated his boat for the annual Parade of Lights, and when they gave me my sailboat, I started participating every year.”

“But, what’s the point of it?”

He connected the string and looked for bad bulbs. “It’s just fun. It’s fun to decorate the boat, and it’s fun to see how others decorate theirs. Some of the bigger yacht owners really go all-out, and it’s awesome to see what they come up with.”

“Maybe I’d understand it better if I’d seen it before,” she said, shifting position on the deck. “From here, though, it seems like an awful lot of effort for one night.”

Pausing his work, he smiled. “I remember someone saying that same thing to my mother one year when she and Dad were getting ready for the parade. The guy told my parents they should be doing something useful instead.”

“Well, that does make sense.”

“Mom told him that Christmas celebrated God sending light into the world, and that the lights on their boat were just a small reminder of the star that shone on Bethlehem, and the glory of God that shown when the angels appeared.”

“Is that why you’re doing this? Do you believe that story about Jesus and the manger and all?”

He secured one end of the string to the stanchion at the stern of the boat, and started carefully wrapping it around the lifeline along the starboard side. “Yeah, I believe it, but even if I didn’t, I’d still do this.”

“Why?”

“Because even if the story is just fable, it reminds us to bring light and joy into our world. If we can embrace the idea that the birth of one baby could illuminate a time of darkness, and bring hope to so many people, then maybe we can illuminate some of the darkness around us, and bring hope to those we meet.”

She smiled at him. “Okay, now that I understand.”

Reaching the end of the string, he connected another to it and continued towards the bow. “You’re doing better than the guy my mom argued with, then. I don’t think he ever got what it was all about.”

“We spent enough time hiding in darkness and barely holding onto hope. If he’d been through what we’ve been through, he might have understood better.”

He reached the bow and swung under the forestay. “Normally, I wouldn’t do any of this until I was at the marina, but we have nice, smooth seas today. I shouldn’t get much splash on the electrical connections on the way to the bay.” He completed the circuit with the lights that ran up the forestay, to the head of the mast where a large star was secured.

“I wish I could go with you and see the other boats tonight,” she said.

He thought for a moment, and then gave her a sly grin. “Why can’t you go?”

“I can’t go to the mainland,” she objected.

“No, you can’t be seen,” he said. “What if you stayed in the cabin? You could lie on the bunk, and watch the rest of the parade out the window. The most anyone might see of you is a small portion of your face.”

“Do you think I really could?”

“Why not? It’ll just be you and me aboard, and we’ll cruise back out here after the parade is over. Just let the Pod know you’ll be gone, and everything should be fine.”

She rested on the bunk hours later, pillowing her head with her arms and watching through the window. The lights of the boats around them shimmered off the small waves, creating an ever-changing mirror display. People lined the nearby beaches and docks, waving and cheering at the vessels, while through the window on the other side she could see minimally lighted boats with occupants watching the display from the bay side.

The sound system played Christmas carols as they cruised along with the festive flotilla. “And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, for the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King,” echoed from the speakers and across the normally dark water.

Light and hope showed on the briefly glimpsed faces nearby, but most of all in the faint reflection in the glass in front of her, and she smiled. This, she understood.

Josh came into the cabin as the boat floated offshore after the parade. “So, what did you think?”

“It was beautiful,” she said. “I never imagined Christmas could be like this for me. Is this what it’s like for you every year?”

He shrugged. “It varies; last year, I hoped the Holidays would be special since it was the first year I was married. I imagined we would have the kind of Christmas season my parents always had when they were alive, but instead it was a rather blasĂ© holiday.”

“I thought last Christmas was magic, because Eva wished for enough food for the Pod, and I caught a big block of cheese some people dropped off a boat. Tonight seems so much more magical; I’ve seen more of the world tonight than I’ve ever seen before.”

“Wishing for food; that sounds like Eva, all right.” He looked at her with a wry smile. “I imagine your wish was much loftier. What did you wish for, Marta?”

She turned her face back to the window, and her voice became quiet. “I hadn’t thought about my wish since then. When Eva got her wish, I actually started believing that, just maybe, I might get my wish, too. When Christmas Day came and went, and everything was still the same, I put it out of my mind.”

Running a light touch up her back, he took a seat on the bunk beside her. “What was your wish?”

“I wished I could be a normal person, and that I could have a Christmas like we saw in the movies,” she said, and then sniffed. “Silly, huh?”

He leaned down and pushed her hair off to one side, kissing the back of her neck. “It’s not silly at all.”

The lights of decorations on the mainland shone in the distance and reflected off the surface of the sea, tempting her to once again believe in magic. “Take me home, please, Josh,” she whispered. “I can’t bear to keep looking at what I can never touch.”

***

She felt a muted anticipation, waiting with the Pod a week later for Josh to return with the supplies for the week. He’d had a party to attend with his company, and promised he would be home early afternoon on Christmas Eve. Rather than venture out into the cold wind and choppy waves that day, they remained inside the Pod’s cavern. Some played in the water, while others rested on their beds, enjoying the warmth of their blankets while reading or talking.

Her attention was drawn to the ladder by the sound of the hoist operating, meaning Josh was sending something down the vertical tunnel. A large, heavy cloth bag appeared and settled at the bottom, followed shortly thereafter by Josh. He unhooked the bag, pushed it to one side, and then walked over to her for a kiss. Her mood lifted a bit on seeing him, and especially at his smile as he knelt down beside her.

“I missed you,” he said.

She kissed him. “We all missed you,” she said. “What’s in the bag?”

“You’ll see; I have to go back up top and lower another first, though.” He stood up and winked at her.

The Pod was gathering close to the first bag as he returned to the ladder, voicing their greetings to him and receiving his in return. The second bag was as large as the first, and when Josh again appeared, he was wearing a furry red and white cap.

Marta stayed back from the ladder, next to Eva.

“I thought Santa was supposed to be fat and have a white beard,” Eva said. Her eyes twinkled with mischief.

“Ho ho,” Josh said. “With the exercise I get out here, I don’t think I’ll ever get fat.” He opened the top of the first bag, and extracted a book from the top. “While we still have some light, I have something here for the kids, so let’s get the children gathered up close here.” He took a seat on the stone, and rested his back against the bag. “My mother used to read this book to me when I was a kid, and it was always one of the highlights of Christmas to me.”

“You’re going to read to us, Josh?” Patricia asked.

“Well, unless you don’t want me to.”

Eva lifted herself higher on her arms. “You’re not getting out of it that easy, Josh,” she called over the rest of the Pod.

“Well, I can’t argue with that, can I?” Josh said, and then laughed. He cleared his throat, opened the book, and started to read. “Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot…”

***

The two bags were empty, and a large artificial tree stood on a level spot, bedecked with shiny ornaments and glittering with battery-operated lights. Christmas music played through a portable stereo, and the Pod rested about the cavern, enjoying the satisfaction of the special treats that had followed dinner that night.

Marta stared at the tree, lying on her belly with her pillow under her chin. Eva crawled up beside her.

“Now this,” Eva said, nudging her, “is Christmas magic.” She waited until Marta met her eyes. “Did you get your wish finally, Marta?”

“Some of it,” she said. She returned her gaze to the twinkling tree. “I’m still a mermaid, though.”

“Well, we don’t have stairs, and we couldn’t run down them even if we did, and I suspect our Santa Claus arrived in a sailboat instead of a sleigh, but I’m betting we’re going to find gifts under this tree in the morning.”

“You think so?”

Eva laughed. “You don’t really think Josh is up in his office taking care of some work stuff this late on Christmas Eve, do you? I’ll bet he’s up there, getting presents ready for all of us.”

“You’re probably right, and now we don’t have anything to give to him.”

“We’ve already given him the one gift he could never buy, Marta. Didn’t you watch his eyes as he was reading to the Pod earlier? We’ve given him a place here in the Pod; a family and a home.” She reached a hand to Marta’s chin, turning her to face to meet her eyes. “He had that same look you had last year, when you came back with that cheese and believed the magic really worked. I don’t think in all our years I’ve ever seen you looking that alive before.”

“We gave him the magic?”

“No, Marta; he found the magic all on his own, just like you did last year. We just gave him a reason to look for it.”

She thought for a moment, and then a smile formed on her lips. “It was just a block of cheese someone dropped,” she said.

Eva smiled back, her face painted the changing colors of the tree lights. “I think you just found the magic again.”

“I guess I just needed to remember a reason to look for it.”
-
(Excerpt from "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss. (c) 1957, 1985 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 12, 2008

For Friday Fiction this week, I thought I would post an excerpt from one of my stories that I hadn’t directly featured in this blog before. While “Penance” back on August 15 was based on the situations and characters from “The Daedalus Child”, it wasn’t an excerpt from the actual story.

“Penance” mentioned that Daryl and Geneva Malach had genetically modified their son. What they did was to engineer his arms to become wings, much like a bat would have. If he stands straight, his elbows will rest near his ankles, even while his wrists are up by his shoulders. Only his thumbs look normal; his other fingers are all elongated to support the membrane of skin that creates the wing surface, and when he stretches his arms out, the tips of his index fingers will over twenty-five feet apart.

The story really begins after the government has declassified his existence when he’s around fifteen years old. Advised to get an agent, he agrees to let Toby represent him, and ends up with a contract allowing his image to be used for a new cartoon superhero named Daedalus, with provisions for him to make appearances at the entertainment company’s park as the character.

Now sixteen years old, Bobby is struggling to find his own identity as the popularity of his animated character takes off.

Becoming Daedalus
From the novel, “The Daedalus Child”
By Rick Higginson


The pilot episode premiered a few weeks later, following a popular show to guarantee it the best exposure. Bobby was able to review each subsequent episode before it was aired, though it wasn’t long before he had little to say concerning the content thereof. It still felt strange that all he had in common with his cartoon persona was his shape and the ability to fly. Other than that, he wasn’t any more Daedalus than his grandmother was.

Along with the preview discs, he also received weekly reports on how the show was doing. The popularity of Daedalus was climbing at a rate that was almost skyrocketing; bolstering the already popular show ahead of it. Viewers were watching the other show because Daedalus came on next.

“You’ve arrived,” Toby told him, bringing up a webpage on his laptop. “You’ve got Fan-Fiction being written about the Daedalus character. It’s not just kids, either; the polls are showing a strong viewership among the mid-teen to young adult sector as well.”

He read over one of the pages of fan-fiction. “Wow; some of this stuff is pretty strange.”

“Yeah; it can get that way, but it’s also an indication of your popularity. People want more Daedalus stories.”

“But it’s not my popularity; it’s the popularity of a fictional representation of me.”

“Bobby, it is as much you as you want it to be; you can stay here and keep telling yourself you’re just Bobby Malach, or you can go for it and tell everyone you’re Daedalus. It’s a role you can play for all it’s worth, and if you get into it well enough, it will carry you as far as you want to go.”

“So you’re saying I should go ahead and act like Daedalus?”

“No; don’t act like Daedalus; be Daedalus. If you just think of it as an act, so will everyone else. Don’t tell the world you’re Bobby Malach playing Daedalus; tell the world you are Daedalus, and they’ll eagerly embrace the fantasy with you.”

“Be Daedalus; you make it sound so easy.”

He smiled, and called up another website. “Daedalus discussion forums; I’ve already reserved the Daedalus log-in for you, and your password is Malach. Go ahead; log-in and introduce yourself. Some of the people are going to call you a liar, but you know better. Just keep being Daedalus here, and when we’ve got your first appearance scheduled for the Park, drop a hint. The execs aren’t going to announce it; they’re going to surprise the public with you. You, however, are going to be subtle and let the folks in this forum know that you’re going to show yourself, and when you do, they’re all going to know it really has been you all along.”

“But it isn’t me; it’s Daedalus.”

“Bobby, repeat after me; ‘I am Daedalus.’”

“I am Daedalus.”

“Louder.”

“I am Daedalus.”

“Get up and come with me.” He led the way out the door, off the porch, and towards the hill. “Say it again.”

“I am Daedalus.”

“You still don’t believe it. Say it like you mean it.”

“I am Daedalus!”

“Say it as if you were saying it to that girl you keep writing to.”

“I am Daedalus!”

“Jump off this hill; feel that rapture of flight that only you can feel, and shout it to the people on the other side of this mountain.”

He dove off the crag and pulled hard with his wings for altitude. He circled over the hill, catching the small thermal that sometimes rose from the rocks. “I AM DAEDALUS!”

“Make me believe it!” Toby called up to him.

He climbed higher, heading a short ways downwind of the hill. He pulled his wings in short, and swooped back towards the small figure of the man below. He squeezed his eyes almost closed against the onrushing air, and as he drew close to his agent, he pulled up in a strafing-type pass. “I – AM – DAEDALUS!!” he screamed as loud as he could.

Rolling as he climbed back over the hill, he felt an exhilaration he had not experienced in many years. Toby was whooping and cheering, and he let out his own exuberant cry. The mythical Daedalus had used fabricated wings to carry him away from exile to freedom, and with the thrill of revelation he understood that his wings could also carry him on that same path.

He looped back around and descended to land back atop the hill. “I’m Daedalus, Toby; I’m really Daedalus.”

“Yes, you are; and that, my boy, will make the world your oyster. Now; let’s go tell all those fans in that forum who you are, and let them start guessing what we’re up to.”

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 5th, 2008

As promised, for this week’s Friday Fiction , I have an original story. This is one I’ve thought about for a while, and decided this was a good time to write it. This story takes place within the time frame of Cardan’s Pod, and occurs at Christmastime that first year Josh has settled in with the Pod. As the owner of Cardan Pharmaceuticals, though, Josh still has business obligations to attend to, one of which is the annual Holiday Party. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded in crafting this scene such that it stands alone well enough without you needing to read Cardan’s Pod first.

Be sure to check out the other submissions this week, and feel free to leave comments.

Away from the Mistletoe
By Rick Higginson

The open door revealed a crowded room, where holiday music played over the sounds of conversations and laughter. The hotel staff had done a terrific job, decorating the room and setting the atmosphere, and from the smells that wafted through the air, the caterer had likewise delivered on all that had been promised. He stepped into the room and surveyed the scene from beside the door.

He worked his way around the room, shaking hands, extending holiday greetings, and making generic small talk with his employees and their families. As duties went, it was a pleasant enough one, and while no one had forgotten the events of the previous summer, at least for the evening, there were no questions raised about it.

He finished the circuit by the hors d’oeuvre table near the Christmas tree, and watched the festivities while snacking on some crackers with cheese.

“Mr. Cardan, you are not being very cooperative tonight.”

He turned towards the voice. “I didn’t know I was supposed to be cooperating with anything, Tina.”

She walked her fingers up his arm. “How is a girl supposed to get you under the mistletoe if you’re not going anywhere near it?” She reached to set her drink cup on the table and missed. “Oopsy,” she said, and laughed at her clumsiness.

“Just how much have you had to drink already?”

She gave him a pouty look. “It’s a party; aren’t I supposed to have fun?”

“Fun, yes; I just hope you’re not planning on driving yourself home tonight.”

The pouty look turned just as quickly to a teasing smile. “I was kinda planning on just staying here tonight.”

“I think that would be an excellent idea.”

“So, how’s about that mistletoe?”

“You do know, Tina, that I’m seeing someone, don’t you?”

“Oh, right,” she said, and made a weak attempt at a whisper. “You don’t wanna be seen flirting with other women, do you?”

“No, I really don’t want to flirt with other women, and I don’t want to get under the mistletoe with anyone but her.”

“Gotcha,” she agreed, leaning even closer to him. The mixture of perfume and liquor created a rather unappealing aroma. “I’ll catch you later, Mr. Cardan.”

She sashayed away, glancing back to make sure he was watching.

Maybe next year we’ll have the party in-plant, he thought. That way, maybe we could get through one holiday without at least one employee getting so drunk they embarrass themselves. The standing rule of no liquor on company premises would make for a convenient excuse to not have an open bar at the party.

Glancing at his watch, he wrestled with the question on whether he’d made enough of an appearance, or if he needed to stay around a little longer.

He picked up a slice of sandwich from the buffet table, and quietly walked out the nearest exit. Waiting to eat it until he arrived back at his room, he placed it on the desk and fired up his laptop before removing the tie and dress shirt. He started the coffee maker, and then kicked off his shoes by the bed and stepped out of the dress slacks. He put on a soft, terry robe, and settled into the chair at the computer.

Playing solitaire while eating his sandwich, he decided an early bedtime wasn’t such a bad idea.

There was a gentle knock on his door, and he quickly finished the last bite of sandwich before walking over to look out the peephole. Seeing who was outside, he returned to his laptop, made a few quick clicks, and then went to open the door. “Is there a problem, Tina?” he asked.

She giggled and tugged at the robe belt. “Only that you’re ready for bed in there and I’m still out here,” she said.

“I’m ready to go to bed alone; I told you that I’m seeing someone.”

“Uh huh; but she’s not here, and I am.” She licked her lips. “I know you want to keep up appearances, but now we’re all alone, so no one has to know anything.” She reached her hand to wrap behind his head.

He directed the hand away from him, deflecting the kiss attempt. “There’s nothing for anyone to know.”

“Of course there isn’t,” she agreed. “And tomorrow morning, I’ll sneak away. Your ‘someone’ won’t have to know a thing.”

“Tina, you’re drunk and you’re not listening. You’re not sleeping with me tonight or any other night. I’ve been on the receiving end of a cheating relationship, and there’s no way I’m going to put her through what I was put through. I’m not going to do anything that I will either need to confess to her, or that I’m going to have to lie about for the rest of my life.”

“Aren’t I pretty enough for you, Mr. Cardan?”

“You’re very pretty, Tina, but that has nothing to do with this. I don’t believe ‘pretty’ excuses cheating.” He pulled his cell phone from the robe pocket, and initiated a speed-dial. “Yeah, Rob; would you send Janice and Tina Kinney’s supervisor up to my room right away? No, no trouble; I just need to make sure someone watches over her so she doesn’t try to drive home. Thanks.”

She gave him a hurt expression. “You’re not going to let me in?”

“No, and I want you to give me your car keys. If this was your idea of staying here tonight, then you’re going to need to make other arrangements.”

The hurt turned to anger. “You’re so worried about your reputation; what if I just tell everyone we’ve already done it? How’s that going to look, huh? You think your precious someone is going to believe you then?”

“You don’t want to play that game, Tina. I’ll give you some slack because you’ve had too much to drink, but if you try that threat on me, it’s going to backfire on you.”

She lowered her face, and let her arms fall limp.

“Your keys, Tina; please. I don’t want you hurting yourself or anyone else driving home tonight.”

She reached into her small purse and extracted the ring, and slapped the keys into his open hand. Standing quietly, she waited.

The ding of the elevator arriving on the floor drew his attention for just a moment, and suddenly, she had her arm back around his neck. She planted quick kisses on his face and robe, even as her other hand tugged the knot from the belt. “Explain that,” she whispered with a triumphant expression.

He struggled to disengage her even as Janice and Tina’s supervisor stopped short, with shocked looks.

“Mr. Cardan?” Janice said. Usually, in her capacity as Executive Secretary, she just called him Josh.

Flustered, he quickly reclosed and tied the robe, and then held the keys out to Janice. “Ms. Kinney has had a bit too much to drink; please make sure she either has a room here tonight, or is taken home in a taxi. Tina, go with Janice and wait for Mrs. Armstrong by the elevator.”

The woman tried to object, but Janice placed an arm around her and ushered her away from the room.

“Mr. Cardan, I’m not sure what to say,” Mrs. Armstrong began.

“Dora, Tina came up here tonight hoping to get in my room, and when I wouldn’t let her, decided to try and make it look like she had anyway. You don’t have to take my word for it; my laptop has been recording everything since before I opened the door, and you’ll have the complete video on your work computer before I go to bed tonight.”

“Are you serious?”

“You’ll have the video; review it yourself.”

“What should I do about Tina?”

“It’ll all depend on what she does when she sobers up in the morning. If she realizes she made a dumb mistake and leaves it at that, then let her know it will be overlooked this time. If she tries to carry through with the deception, though, take the video to HR and let them handle it.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Cardan.”

Closing the door, he returned to the laptop and stopped the recording, saving the file before transmitting it to Dora Armstrong’s computer. He went to the sink, and washed the smears of lipstick from his cheek. Stay away from the mistletoe,his friend Diego had jokingly warned him that morning. When he’d explained the custom to Marta, she’d reiterated the instruction, and he’d promised her he would.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough to just stay away from the mistletoe.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Friday Fiction for November 28, 2008

Welcome! I'm privileged this week to host Friday Fiction, and at the end of this piece, you'll find the Mr. Linky widget with links to other terrific works to read on this long, Thanksgiving weekend. Be sure to check out the other submissions, and leave comments. We all enjoy those comments!
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This week's submission was a column I wrote for Collector Times some four years ago, and in keeping with my promise of lighter fare this week, I wanted something humorous and fun. I had originally planned on composing a new piece for this week, but ran out of time with everything else going on.
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Interview with a Dragon
A Collector Times Exclusive
By Rick Higginson

We here at Collector Times go out of our way to enhance your gaming and collecting experience, even if it means we have to make stuff up. This month, I journeyed to the deep forests of Mooselvania to find the lair of a dragon to interview. It was a journey fraught with discomfort, danger, lousy food, and hostile natives, and that was just getting through the airports. No sacrifice, however, is too great to bring the readers of Collector Times an exclusive, so without further ado, I'll transcribe for you this exclusive interview with a dragon.
Collector Times:
Hello?
Dragon:
Over here. Let me light a few lamps for you. (gout of flame strikes and lights up several torches on the walls) You humans have notoriously poor night vision.
CT:
Yeah, but we compensate for it by overconfidence. Anyway, it's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Rick, and I'm with the online magazine, "Collector Times".
Dragon:
(extends a large scaly paw) Kilroy, and the pleasure's mine, I assure you.
CT:
Kilroy? I thought dragons had names like "Vermithrax" or "Smaug".
Dragon:
Hey, at least it isn't "Puff". It's bad enough when every time you run across someone, they say, "Don't tell me, let me guess: Your name's Puff?" It'd be even worse to have to tell them they're right. Besides, having a non-descript name is always better. Fame isn't always a good thing for a dragon.
CT:
Well, anyway, nice place you have here, though I was really expecting a much larger and more, er, decorated chamber.
Dragon:
Decorated?
CT:
You know, treasure, jewels, all that "dragon's hoard" stuff.
Dragon:
(snorts back a laugh) What would I do with treasure? It's not like I can stroll into some mercantile somewhere and spend it.
CT:
I thought you dragons like sleeping on huge piles of treasure?
Dragon:
Listen, there are a lot of myths out there about dragons, and that's just one of them. "Sleep on a pile of treasure"? Think about it. Would YOU want to sleep on a big pile of gold and gems? The dense, cold metal would suck the warmth right out of a body, and the gems would poke into you every time you moved. Just because we have scales covering our bodies doesn't mean we enjoy pain, you know. (lifts up his body a bit) You want to see a dragon's "treasure"? Check out what I'm laying on, here. Go ahead.
CT:
Looks like, what? Rotted hay?
Dragon:
Compost. Who cares about gold and jewels?
CT:
But I thought dragons liked the shiny gold and gems?
Dragon:
Do I look or sound like a simple minded ferret to you, that I should be distracted by something shiny? This lair is dark better than 99% of the time. How is something supposed to be "shiny" in a dark lair? No, I'll take some large hay bales anytime over gold or gems. See, we dragons like our comfort. We're reptilian, so we spend a lot of time relaxing after a meal so that it can digest properly. To do that, we need someplace warm to lay, not a hard pile of cold metal and stone. Feel the ground beneath you here.
CT:
Huh. It's soft and warm. Is there geothermal action beneath this mountain?
Dragon:
No, little man. It's compost, like I already told you. I take organics like hay and straw, work them into the soil of the lair, and let the composting action produce a steady source of heat, not to mention a softer, more comfortable place to sleep. It might not smell as pretty, but a quick dip in the lake will wash away the compost smell. Muscle aches from sleeping on hard metal are much harder to get rid of.
CT:
Ingenious.
Dragon:
Of course.
CT:
You mentioned having to digest after meals. Tell me about your diet?
Dragon:
We dragons tend to be opportunity feeders. Catching a deer or mountain goat unaware makes for a quick meal. Sometimes a dip in the lake brings me near a school of fish which I can snap up some of.
CT:
Deer? Goats? Fish? No young virgins?
Dragon:
Is that old line still floating around? Let me tell you about that one. If we were into eating humans, do you really think we could tell the difference in flavor between a virgin and someone who had already indulged in conjugal relations? You know how that myth got started?
CT:
Well, no. But I'd heard it, and read it in books so often, I figured it must be true.
Dragon:
It was started by a man, trying to wear down his girlfriend's resistance to his advances. Once he convinced her that we dragons have this odd, marked preference for virgins, he was able to offer her a "solution" that would keep her "safer" from our predations. You human males; the extents you'll go to in trying to satiate your mating drive. Of course, once it worked for one man, the story got around and the line was used by large numbers of amorous males. Eventually, even they started believing the line.
CT:
So, if you don't have a marked preference for young virgins, what do you have a marked preference for?
Dragon:
Cantaloupe.
CT:
Cantaloupe?
Dragon:
Did I stutter? Cantaloupe. I love cantaloupe.
CT:
But I thought dragons were carnivores?
Dragon:
No, like you humans, we're omnivores. I already told you; we're opportunity feeders. When game like deer or goat is plentiful, we'll take those. When the produce is ripe, we'll feast on that as well, though we've learned to not get greedy. Landing in some farmer's field in the middle of the night and eating half his crop is a good way to get an angry mob storming up to your lair. Angry mobs can be such a nuisance when you're trying to sleep and digest a stomach full of cantaloupe. Er, not that I'd know that by experience, mind you.
CT:
Of course not. I notice that you're here alone. Are dragons primarily a solitary creature?
Dragon:
Only by necessity. One dragon feeding in a given area can be easily overlooked, but when more than one starts frequenting an area, it draws more attention than we care to endure. A dragon passing through my territory will be welcomed to feed and rest for a short time, but we tend to respect each other's territory and security. We always enjoy a short visit, though.
CT:
So, what do you do when another dragon visits?
Dragon:
If it's another male like myself, we'll discuss current events, debate philosophy, maybe go out and hunt together, and often play games. We especially like playing "Dungeons and Dummkopfs".
CT:
"Dungeons and Dummkopfs"?
Dragon:
It's a fantasy game where dragons get to fight against foolish warriors who think they're going to come into our lairs, kill us, and take our "treasures". It's loosely based on what used to happen many centuries ago before most humans quit believing we existed. It's quite a fun game, you should try it sometime.
CT:
I'll keep that in mind. You said that was if another male dragon showed up. What if the visitor is a female?
Dragon:
Let's just say we dragons don't need lame lines like "humans prefer killing virgin dragons" and leave it at that, shall we?
CT:
Oh, Okay. So, how long has it been since a female dragon visited these parts?
Dragon:
Not so long that you're looking good, as if that were any of your business. Next question.
CT:
Er, right. So, dragons are very long lived, I hear?
Dragon:
That much is true. I am many of your centuries old.
CT:
You must have witnessed quite a bit of human history, then.
Dragon:
I have.
CT:
What would you say is the greatest human invention, to date?
Dragon:
Catsup.
CT:
Ha, ha! Take your time; I'm sure that there must be many human innovations to consider before you answer seriously.
Dragon:
I am serious. Catsup.
CT:
Catsup. Humanity has developed instantaneous electronic communications. We've gone to the moon. We have supersonic flight. We're discovering new medical advances almost daily. Yet, you picked catsup as our greatest invention?
Dragon:
What good are all those other innovations to dragonkind? Catsup, however, can do wonders for an overcooked or undercooked meal. If I get a little too zealous flaming a mountain goat, I can cover up the charred taste with catsup. Old and tough? Catsup. Flame ran out a bit too soon and it's still mostly raw? Catsup. Chased it too long and it got gamey? Catsup. Check with the warehouses. From time to time, they'll end up losing a carton or two of the big restaurant sized bottles of catsup. They always chalk it up to either a miscount, or an employee pilfering some. It's really one of us dropping in at night and resupplying when no one is looking.
CT:
Catsup . . . huh. So, are there many of you dragons about?
Dragon:
Enough of us to be a viable, self-sustaining population. Whether your governments would put us on an "endangered species" list or not is debatable. I'd be surprised if our prospects for long term survival are better than humanity's.
CT:
So how is it that most people don't believe in dragons, and never see you?
Dragon:
I'm sure you've noticed that you humans have a remarkable capacity for willful ignorance and denial. If you think something cannot be so, or you want it to not be so, your minds will tend to ignore any evidence to the contrary. That suits us dragons just fine. If humans don't believe in us, we don't have to worry about people trying to prove how brave they are by hunting us down. CT:
But what about this interview? If you prefer to remain unknown by the bulk of humanity, why did you agree to this interview?
Dragon:
This interview will be received as a joke; a work of your imagination. Humans love fiction. They'll gladly believe in an honest lawyer or a politician that cares, while all the while denying that dragons exist. The few of you who will get past your petty biases to see us are not only no worry to us, you're welcome in our world. Wizards were almost always welcomed in a dragon's lair.
CT:
Wizards?
Dragon:
Oh, wait. You probably have the mythological view of a wizard still. You see, a real wizard wasn't some odd worker of magic. The word itself derived from the Old English, "Wizened". Wise people who realized that we dragons had much to teach humanity would come to our lairs with offerings of food, in exchange for the things we could tell them. Because they came back from our lairs with ideas that seemed almost magical to the common people, and because they not only associated with dragons, but even appeared to have somehow enchanted us, the superstitious among the people thought that the wizards were delving into deep magic. Well, in a way they were. They were actually using their brains to approach problems, instead of simply trying to solve everything by hacking away at it with some crude weapon. By the way, you owe me a large basket of cantaloupe. A few honeydews mixed in might be nice, too. Maybe a carton or two of catsup.
CT:
I'll see to it that it gets delivered here promptly.
Dragon:
Thank you.
CT:
You're welcome. So, wizards were welcomed into your lairs. Anyone else who was particularly welcomed in?
Dragon:
Children.
CT:
Children? Wouldn't they be afraid of you?
Dragon:
No, that's the beauty of it. Adults are the ones who have decided either that we don't exist, or that if we do, we're evil. Children simply see us as big scaly adults who tolerate their endless questions without complaint. Besides that, they see our bodies as big living jungle gyms to climb on. We listen to them, we talk to them, and we're fun to climb on. We're like a grandpa who lives forever. What more could a kid want? It isn't until they start to get older and the adults start convincing them that we're either just a figment of their imaginations, or that we're going to eat them that they quit visiting.
CT:
But that sounds a lot like the song?
Dragon:
You got it. "Puff the Magic Dragon" has a grain of truth in it. Oh, sure, the whole song is a romanticized retelling of it, but the basic plot of the boy who befriends the dragon, only to grow out of it, is true. It's happened many times in most dragons' lives. The only thing we hate about the song is that now everyone thinks we're all named "Puff".
CT:
And I think that brings us full circle back to where we started. Kilroy, I'd like to thank you for your time, and for your patience with my questions.
Dragon:
You're welcome. Just don't forget the groceries.
CT:
This is Rick Higginson, for Collector Times, with Kilroy the Dragon, wishing you another happy month of gaming and collecting.
Dragon:
Drop by sometime for a game of "Dungeons and Dummkopfs". I'm told I run a great dungeon.
CT:
You heard it here, folks. Next time you're in Mooselvania, be sure to bring your dice and drop by. I'm sure you'll find Kilroy as gracious a host as I have.
Dragon:
Bring cantaloupe, too.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Friday Fiction for November 21, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction is another excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel for this year. “Precocious by Design” is now a finished draft, and while I likely have a lot of things I’ll need to correct in the revision process, the story itself is plotted out and written.

The character in this chapter is seen once before, through the eyes of the main character, Lt. Lloyd Timmons. In this chapter, I wanted to bring the reader into her mind. I’m not sure I can adequately convey all the emotions this woman is going through at this point in the story, because in many ways, I cannot fully comprehend them myself. I’m not sure anyone truly can without having been there, and frankly, I would not wish that on anyone, including myself. If you have such insight, and would not mind sharing it, I would humbly appreciate comments helping me to better portray such a mental state.

Next week, I get to host Friday Fiction (provided I can figure out how to incorporate Mr. Linky into my blog), and I promise a lighter, more enjoyable entry. Please be sure to visit the other submissions this week, and thanks for reading.

“Ilsa”
From “Precocious by Design”
By Rick Higginson
NaNoWriMo 2008

Chapter 22
Saturday morning

She rose from the bed after a night in which she had slept very little. It was the second night in a row of almost no rest, and the images from the dreams when she had slept remained painfully vivid in her mind.

Dropping her pajamas on the floor, she entered the bathroom and started a hot bath running. She didn’t bother with her normal bath oil, reaching inside the medicine cabinet instead for a particular item. With the razor blade resting on the side of the tub, she lowered herself into the hot water and leaned back, waiting until the water was almost as deep as it could get.

She turned off the faucet, and slipped low in the bath. Memories of a once hopeful past flowed through her mind, and ran through to that moment of despair when she hadn’t even been able to cry out her anguish at the news.

“Ilsa,” she had almost said when the detective had shown her the photograph. How long had it been since she’d been allowed to see her? There was no more hope. She would never see the girl again.

“Ilsa,” she whispered towards the ceiling. “Forgive me.” She couldn’t begin to list all her failures, or hope to atone for them. What was one more?

She picked up the razor and stared at it, studying the edge with a detached interest. Just a couple of quick cuts, she told herself. It couldn’t hurt worse than the pain she already felt.

Wrist or thigh, she wondered. The wrist was shallower, but the thigh was faster. She had studied biology for her career in the U.S., and a cut to the femoral artery was one of the worst for bleeding out quickly.

Will they bury me with Ilsa? Or will my co-workers take up a collection to bury me someplace else?

Who will bury Ilsa, then?

She stared at the razor, and the reality of Ilsa’s death pressed in on her. The first tears blurred her vision, and the blade became a silver-gray haze. “Ilsa,” she cried, dropping the razor outside the tub. Sobbing, she sat up and buried her face in her hands.

“Anna?” Her roommate knocked on the bathroom door. “Are you all right?” The door opened just a crack. “Anna?” It opened all the way, and the other woman entered and rushed to the side of the tub. “Anna, what’s wrong? What’s the matter?”

She threw wet arms around the woman and buried her face in the soft nightgown. “My daughter,” she wailed, losing all ability to articulate anything more in words.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Fiction for November 14th, 2008

For this week’s Friday Fiction, I’m presenting another chapter from my NaNoWriMo project, “Precocious by Design”. One of the challenges in this story is to work with characters that have a trait that most of us, including myself, find repugnant. There are two pedophiles that play prominent roles in the story – the killer, and the man the victim was supposed to have met on the night she died.

We teach in the Church that God is able to redeem the worst of sinners, and that the blood of Messiah is sufficient for anyone. Like many Christians, I have found myself in the past wondering how God could reach out to someone I found repugnant, and one element in this story is the main character being pressed by God to similarly look at another man, and see him the way that God sees him.

Something Better
From “Precocious by Design”
By Rick Higginson
NaNoWriMo 2008


Chapter 29
Monday afternoon

Lloyd rolled up outside the apartment building, and shifted the car into ‘park’. The complex was nice, and appeared to cater to young professionals before they entered the child-bearing stage of their lives.

He walked by the well-maintained landscaping, with the periodic barbecue grills spaced along the walkways for the residents. Things were quiet in the mid-afternoon, and he guessed the management required a signed agreement to keep the atmosphere that way around the clock.

The block he was looking for was painted in muted sandstone, with a darker contrasting trim. Copious ferns grew in planter boxes along the walls, with flowers bordering the walkways. The small lawns in front of each ground floor apartment were recently mowed, and the grass was vibrant and healthy. It was a nice place to live, and he noted that it did not seem to have any families with children living there.

He knocked on the door and waited, and was just about ready to give up when the door finally opened.

“Lt. Timmons,” Gary Duddeck said from inside the door. “Did you come by to add one more lousy element to this day?”

“Can I come in, Mr. Duddeck?”

He made a helpless gesture and stood aside. “You might as well; if you’re going to make this day any worse, I’m not going to stop you by making you stand outside.”

Lloyd entered, and Gary closed the door behind him. He walked into the living room, and glanced around. The apartment was clean and smartly decorated, laid out in an arrangement that made sense. A red guitar stood on a stand in the corner, next to a stool and music stand. He took a closer look at it. “Do you play?”

“I was barely beaten out of a music scholarship when I graduated high school.” He flopped into a chair. “Another of my failures in life, I guess.”

“How many other students did you beat in the scholarship competition? Seems to me, a close second is nothing to be ashamed of.”

He waved off the suggestion. “It doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Life is all about perspective, Mr. Duddeck. To a single mother down in the welfare housing, you’re rich. To the chief executive of a Fortune 500 corporation, you have nothing,” Lloyd said. “To the kid that just barely beat you, you were not quite good enough. To the other kids that didn’t do as well, you were right up there with the kid who won.”

“What can I do for you, detective, other than giving you someone to spout pretty platitudes to?”

He sat down on the couch, and stretched his arm along the back. “I had a phone call this afternoon from your boss. He wanted to know about Miss Polinichenko, which I thought was rather odd. How did your boss know about her?”

“Let’s just say he got word that I was out with her on Saturday night, and now he’s convinced I was on a date with an eleven year old.”

“Wasn’t that the whole purpose behind contracting a performance from her in the first place?”

“Lt. Timmons, if you just came by to gloat, I’m really not in much mood.”

“Is that why you think I’m here?”

“So far, you haven’t given me reason to believe anything else, have you?” He turned his head to the side and looked at the floor. “Maybe you couldn’t bring me up on any charges, but punishing the pedophile anyway must feel awfully good to you, doesn’t it?”

“Your boss told me you had given him this 'ridiculous story' about Miss Polinichenko being twenty-four years old, and that you had said I could verify it. I think he figured I should know I was being used as a reference by a pervert. I assume you did give him my number?”

“Yeah, I gave him your number. At that point, I decided my job was lost anyway, so at least he should know I wasn’t yanking his chain about Katya.”

“You’re not calling her Katy anymore.”

“She likes being called Katya. It’s what her mother called her.”

“What did you two do Saturday night?”

“We went and bought her an adult dress, and then attended an orchestra concert in the park.”

“And then?”

“I brought her back here, and she sat on the floor while I played my guitar for her.” His voice broke as he continued. “For the first time I could remember in years, detective, I was really happy for a night, because I was enjoying the company of a woman my age that I found attractive, and for whom I didn’t have to pretend to be something else.”

“So you didn’t go out with Katy; you went out with Miss Polinichenko, then?”

He nodded. “I figured out that she was just as tired of always pretending to be something she wasn’t, and we decided to just be ourselves Saturday night.”

“Did you sleep with her?”

He shook his head and laughed. “No, because she said she didn’t feel like it, and I told her it was okay, because real people don’t always feel like it, and she’d already given me the best night of my life.”

Lloyd stood up, and gave the man a gentle touch on the shoulder. “I told your boss that Miss Polinichencko is twenty-four, and that I had verified that information personally on her passport.”

“Thank you.”

“He then wanted to know how I happened to be acquainted with both of you. I told him the truth; that you were questioned as a witness in a case I am working on, that you had voluntarily assisted with my investigation, and that you were not in any trouble with the law to the best of my knowledge.” He stepped in front of the chair and made eye contact with Duddeck. “I wanted to tell him that I caught you meeting a prostitute that impersonates children for pedophiles. I wanted to tell him I found you disgusting, and that I hoped you would leave my city and never come back. I wanted to tell him if your company has any sense, they’d fire you so fast it would make your eyes water. I wanted to, but I didn’t.”

“Why didn’t you? It’s all true.”

He took his badge holder out of his pocket and set it on the coffee table. “I can’t say what I’m about to tell you as a representative of the Sunny Grove Police Department, but I can say it as Lloyd Timmons, private citizen. I didn’t, because someone else didn’t reveal the whole truth about me when it mattered.”

“You?”

“Yeah, me; I was a hot-headed soldier, and adding alcohol just made me worse. One night, after a stupid argument, I came this close to knifing another man. The next morning, I stumbled into this rescue mission church, and this bean-pole of a preacher introduced a dirty, stinking, hung-over hell-raiser to God. I had some lapses after that, and he saw most of them, and never once gave up on me.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at the ceiling. “One day, I met his daughter – his one and only, precious little girl – and I fell head over heels in love with her. That scrawny preacher, who I don’t think has ever taken a drink in his life, or ever raised his hand in anger at anyone, didn’t tell his daughter that I wasn’t good enough for her.”

“Did you marry her?”

“Yeah, so now I have a bean-pole preacher for a father-in-law. I asked him before the wedding why he never told her the kind of man I was, and he said that was my job. His job was to listen to God telling him the kind of man I could be, and to help me on the way.” He sniffed. “I don’t know what you’re going through right now, Gary. I don’t know if maybe I’m just reading into you what I saw in myself all those years ago, but I’m going to tell you the same thing that preacher told me. God doesn’t turn His back on us; we turn our back on Him. He’s waiting to show us the potential for good in all of us, no matter how bad we may think we are.”

“I’ve tried religion; it still didn’t make the urges go away.”

“They don’t go away, Gary; I still have the urge to drink. I still have the urge to use my fists instead of my brain. I still have a hot head. God didn’t make those things go away; He gave me the strength and the motivation, instead, to bring them under control. The only thing that changed is that I learned to not allow my urges to rule me; I learned to rule my urges. Potty training a baby doesn’t make the baby quit pooping; it enables the child to control the bathroom urges until the right moment.”

“My urges are a bit different; everyone knows it’s normal for babies to poop. It’s not normal for a man to find children desirable.”

“Answer me honestly, Gary – just between you and me, and it never leaves this room. Were you telling the truth when you told Dr. Germain that you’d never actually indulged those desires on a child?”

“It’s the truth; I never molested any actual children.”

“You’re showing a good start, then; you’re not giving those urges unrestrained control over you.”

“It still doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change what I am, or how the world is going to perceive me.”

“Don’t worry about how the world perceives you; worry instead about how God receives you. I came here to see you today, because whether I wanted to see it or not, God forced me to see the potential for good in you. He made me take the place of my father-in-law, so that I could pass along the same gift that was given to me.”

He started to laugh. “Do you have a daughter you’re going to let a man like me marry?”

“You know, I’ve wondered sometimes what my father-in-law would have said that first Sunday morning, when I came forward in that Rescue Mission, if someone had told him I would marry his daughter. I think, sometimes, God is merciful and doesn’t let us see the future until we’re ready for what He has in store. Let’s just say for now that I’ll give you the same grace that bean-pole preacher gave to me.”

“It all sounds good, but I’m not really sure I’m ready to accept all that just yet.”

“I understand, and I just want to leave you with this – that way you felt with Miss Polinichenko on Saturday night, like you don’t have to pretend or to be anything but precisely what you are?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Did it also make you feel like you wanted to be something better?”

“Yeah, it did, but an honest better, not a pretend better.”

“That’s the way I feel before God. He knows me, and I don’t have to pretend to be anything but what I am, but just knowing He cares makes me want to be something better.”

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Friday Fiction for November 7, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction comes from the current rewrite of “Precocious by Design”, and is the first chapter in which the main character’s wife is introduced. I wanted my character to have a high level of empathy for his victims, as opposed to the detachment that many in such fields learn to develop so that they can work without the horror of the situation inhibiting them. How would such empathy affect someone outside of the job? I also enjoyed taking a look at the main character from the perspective of another character, since much of the narrative is from his POV.

Be sure to check out the other submissions this week, and I hope you enjoy this excerpt.

Sleeping with the Dead
From Precocious by Design
by Rick Higginson
Chapter 12
Wednesday night

She walked out of the bedroom, wearing the lightweight nightgown he’d bought her for their anniversary a few years ago. Faye Timmons had never had the kind of figure the popular media told her a woman should have, and two children hadn’t helped that at all. Still, Lloyd had always expressed an appreciation for her and a desire for her, and the feeling had been mutual.

The nice thing about the kids being away at college was that she could walk out in a revealing nightie without worrying that the children might see.

Lloyd was in his easy chair in the living room, sitting and staring at the blank television screen. She slipped over the arm of the chair and into his lap, taking his face in her hands and giving him a suggestive kiss.

He smiled back at her and sighed, but made little move to reciprocate.

“Aren’t you coming to bed soon?” she asked. “You were out late last night, and tonight you’re just sitting in here watching imaginary television.”

He shrugged. “I’m just – thinking.”

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” She caressed his thinning hair back from his face. “Let me guess; it’s the case you’re working on.”

He nodded, and gave her a squeeze.

“There was a rape involved, wasn’t there? You always get like this when there was a rape involved.”

“The girl in the paper Tuesday morning; that’s my current case.”

“The juvenile cases always get you more.”

“He killed her slowly, Faye. I think he took his time because he was enjoying it. If it’s the guy we think it is, he’s more than strong enough to have made it quick.”

She kissed him again, gently, and brushed the tear away that escaped his eye. “You can’t keep feeling these cases like this; you’re going to make yourself sick if you let them affect you all the time.”

“I can’t help it. It’s like I hear God telling me that my service is to be the advocate for the slain innocent, and I start to feel the same kind of pain I imagine Him feeling when these things happen.”

“God also made you my husband, and you’re letting this get between us. I love that compassion you feel for the victims; it’s so much part of what makes you the man you are, but I need you to save some of that passion for me. I need to feel like I’m at least as important to you as the murder victims are, and sometimes I just need you beside me in our bed when we’re not going right to sleep.”

“I’m sorry; every time I start to think of making love with you right now, I think about what he did to her.”

“Lloyd, it’s not the same. You’re not that killer, and I’m not a victim. You are my husband, and I am your wife, and what we do is nothing like what someone like him does to a victim.”

“I tell myself that, but I still see her lying in the middle of the bush, with the marks of the cord around her neck.”

“Come to bed, sweetheart. Even if you can’t be my lover tonight, you can still be my friend.” She stood up and pulled gently at his hand.

“I’ll be along in a little bit.”

She released his hand with a hurt expression. “No, you won’t. You’re going to sit in this chair until you fall asleep right here, just like you’ve done all the other times you’ve had this mood. Maybe you’d rather sleep out here with the dead, but I want my living husband back.”

“I’m sorry, Faye.”

“You’d better solve this case quickly so you can exorcise these ghosts from your mind. If this lasts too long, I may not be waiting when you finally decide you’re ready to be a husband again instead of just a detective.”

Folding her arms across her chest, she hurried back to the bedroom and sat down on the side of the bed. She thought about praying, but felt too hurt and frustrated at the moment to formulate any kind of coherent entreaty.

Maybe, the thought crossed her mind, you wouldn’t judge him so harshly if you’d stared into the eyes of a corpse this week.

Maybe, she conceded, and lay down to go to sleep.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Friday Fiction for October 31st, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction is from the third story in the Eridanus series, Eridanus Comes. In this scene, the main character is passing through a terminal – the future meshing of airport, bus station, and subway – en route to the Embassy in the Oregon district.

I enjoyed imagining what this future terminal might be like, and particularly some of the more aesthetic aspects of it. The concept of the “solar art” is one I read about many years ago in a magazine, and which I imagine will be played with by different artists from time to time throughout the coming years.

Next week, I expect to post an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo work in progress, which I have decided will be a restart of Precocious by Design. Elements of the previous excerpt from that story will make their way into the rewrite, but the manuscript itself will be written from scratch – no “copy and paste”. Until then, I hope you enjoy this short scene.

An Insulated World
From the novel, Eridanus Comes
By Rick Higginson


The Baum Memorial Transportation Terminal in Manhattan was a modest facility, serving a mid-sized community’s needs for air, surface, and subterranean conveyances. While capable of supporting shuttles to Midpoint Station, the market didn’t warrant direct to orbit schedules from the Kansas District city. For that matter, the majority of the residents of the area didn’t want the noise and other side-effects of shuttle traffic over their homes.

The corridor leading from the surface gates to the airborne transportation pads was made from a green crystalline material, bathing the various travelers in emerald hues of filtered sunlight. By some trick of color mixing, though, the moving walkway he stood on appeared to be made of gold colored rectangles. He’d never seen it, but once a year the sun would line up just right for a few minutes with protruding stones in the main outside wall, and would cast a shadow of a witch. Six months later, similar construction on the opposite wall would spell out “There’s no place like home” for an equally brief span. “Shadow Parties” took place on both occasions, as folks from all over gathered to watch the carefully calculated and constructed solar artwork.

David had lived within a short distance of the terminal his entire life, and had never once attended either party. Rumor had it the same artist had traveled to Centauri Proxima and constructed a special piece that would act similarly just once, when the two stars of the binary system aligned just right. He wouldn’t be there for that one, either. Then again, if the rumors were true, he’d have to live an unnaturally long lifespan to be there when the rare alignment took place.

Arriving at the departure lounge, he presented for identification and was admitted to the waiting area. It would be at least another half-hour before they started boarding, and he took a seat near one of the large windows that looked out over the tarmac. One of the smaller transports lifted from the pad and pivoted off towards the southwest, corresponding to the monitor’s display of the flight to Cabo San Lucas.

His Aunt S’Bu had offered to send the Embassy’s private transport for him again, but he’d elected to travel via the commercial system. For some odd reason, it just felt better at that moment to be surrounded by strangers, many of whom would file aboard the transport for the Portland Terminal at the appointed time along with him.

The Cabo transport vanished in the distance, leaving the sky empty for the time being. A child ran to the window near him, looking with anticipation for any sign of activity in the air or on the tarmac. The remote that shadowed the girl indicated she was between nine and fourteen years of age – old enough to travel without a responsible adult accompanying her, but not old enough to be left totally unsupervised. The remote monitored her behavior and would summon terminal personnel if she started doing something she shouldn’t, and would serve as a potent deterrent to anyone foolish enough to attempt criminal activity on the child.

He’d once wondered how he would feel the first time he sent one of his sons off on a trip with a remote guardian overseeing their safety. He knew it couldn’t feel worse than sending his sons off to grow up calling another man “Pa”, or “Dad”, or whatever Bertie had them call him. He wouldn’t find out anyway; by the time he was allowed to see them again, they would be young men capable of independent living.

He had to quit thinking about it. The decision was still painful enough without rehearsing it over and over again in his head. He looked around the lounge; that time of day during the workweek, the majority of the passengers were lower level managers, and most of those were busy on their portable terminals. They paid him no attention, focusing instead of whatever it was that would benefit their corporations, their careers, or their accounts. That was the life Rosa had wanted for him; always pushing ahead and reaching for more. He’d seen enough of them to know he wasn’t suited to such pursuits, and that too many of them died still trying for that next plateau of success.

A food-service remote rolled up to one group, dispensing drinks without requiring them to look away from their terminals. The remote wasn’t programmed to care about courtesies or tips; waiting passengers placed their orders on their terminals and the drinks were delivered.

Remotes were insulating people from each other throughout the most developed areas of the Archipelago. A small cafĂ© such as the Sirius Question in Earthrise still worked the old way, with a human taking the order and delivering the food. As likely as not, the arrangement was due to the expense of buying and programming a remote as it was devotion to any form of tradition. Still, it had made the modest restaurant seem warmer and friendlier. Remotes didn’t converse with customers; they didn’t trade quips the way Marcie had with the rover. They didn’t tease, and while they could be programmed to recognize repeat customers and greet them by name, it wasn’t the same as the affection one person could feel for another. Remotes might be convenient in many ways, but there was just something about knowing the person who delivered your food or your drink actually cared whether you enjoyed it.

Some progress just wasn’t really progress, he reflected.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dad

My Dad passed away at 2:29 a.m. on Saturday, October 18th. He and Mom had been married for over 52 years, and I consider myself extremely blessed to have learned from his example as a husband and father.

He has exchanged a failing body that was reduced to frailty by cancer, for the new, perfected body promised to us by our Messiah. Dad's life verse was 2 Corinthians 5:17:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (NKJV)

Dad's old body has passed away, and he is truly a new creation now.

Friday Fiction will be back on October 31st.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Friday Fiction for October 10th, 2008

I missed Friday Fiction last week, due to being on a road trip to Himalaya Bay, Mexico for our scuba certification dives. I’m glad to be back this week.

Earlier this week, I made a comment on the Faithwriters Forums regarding poetry. It has been many years since I wrote much in the way of poetry. I have to be in the right mood to compose it, but I’ve always preferred a recognizable rhyme and meter pattern to my poetry. Maybe I’m just not creative enough for the “freeform” poetry that is popular today, or maybe I’m just old-fashioned and too locked-in to the traditional form.

Regardless, this is a poem I wrote for my wife very early in our relationship. It has resided for nearly thirty years in a “Nothing Notebook” I bought during our courtship to preserve our lovenotes and other such memories. This poem was folded along with a copy of the short narrative that follows it.


Dreamkeeper
By Rick Higginson
For Nancy, circa 1980


She’s just laid her head down low,
Closed her eyes to sleep;
And you’ve come, her fantasies to know,
Her weary dreams to keep.

Guide her steps down clouded ways,
Lead her peacefully.
Lift the veil from her shrouded gaze,
Please lead her then to me.

Morning brings the rising sun;
Calls reality.
Then you close your box and rising, run,
And take her fantasy.

You are called the Dreamkeeper,
You know what we see.
You know the mind of my own sleeper.
Dreamkeeper, lead her to me!


Seems he comes to my room night after night, this shadowy figure. He only enters after I close my eyes to sleep, and he brings a strange little cloudy box guarded religiously at his side. Standing over me as I sleep, he smiles smugly; so confident in his calling. Some have called him Sandman, and say he carries the sand of sleep in his cloudy box, but I know him for who he really is.

He opens his box and ponders the contents thereof. Though I have never peered into his box, I feel what is in it; for in his cloudy box is all that I desire, all that I love, and all that I fear. He selects an item and studies it carefully, examining the possibilities it poses, and then modulates my mind with the story he has chosen.

He can make me fly. He can excite me. He can disturb my peace with visions of phobias long recessed. He plays every fantasy in his cloudy box, teasing me with visions of greatness and glory, or of futility and shame. Yet, every morning I long to continue the game - he beckons me to. He tempts me to forever stay in my dreams.

He is Dreamkeeper.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Friday Fiction for September 26th, 2008

“Precocious by Design” is a story I’ve had in work for a little while, though it’s been on a back-burner while I’ve done some other things. This story has some similar themes to the Pod stories, though my intention is not to connect it to the other books. My main character is Detective Lloyd Timmons, and the story will follow the investigation of a murder, and the odd circumstances surrounding it. This, so far, has been one of the most difficult stories I’ve tried to write, because the subject matter is much darker than my preferred fare. I think, before I go much further with it, I want to do some more research on forensic and investigation techniques, to help lend more authenticity to the story.

This excerpt is from chapter 4, and I offer it for this week’s Friday Fiction just because I like the way it helped me get into the character’s mind.

Ilsa’s Voice
From “Precocious by Design”
By Rick Higginson



He stopped at the break room on his way back to his desk, and studied the options in the snack machine. His favorite candy bar had been stocked by the concession vendor that morning, but had two bars that he didn’t care for in front of them. He selected a package of cookies instead, and waited to eat the first one until he was leaning back in his chair.

Ilsa stared out from the photograph at him as he bit into the second chocolate chip cookie. You pretended to be a child, Ilsa. What kinds of things did you really like when you were just being yourself? Why the charade? You got off the train and left with some guy; did you know him? Did he know you weren’t what you appeared to be? I wonder how many more questions your case is going to raise before I find the answers.

People thought his job was about catching murderers; it wasn’t about that at all. His job was about asking the right questions and finding the answers which would lead him to the murderer. All too often, catching the perpetrator of a crime was the easy part. Proving a suspect was guilty was the difficult task, and his job was to provide the District Attorney’s Office with sufficient evidence to prove that he had, indeed, apprehended the guilty party.

In the midst of that, he had to keep his sanity intact. There were voices that went with each case, and even those he had never heard in life would whisper to him in the quiet moments. It wasn’t just the victims, either; their families and friends would speak to him in words of anger or anguish, demanding some kind of answers that would make sense of the tragedies and restore balance to their worlds.

Ilsa Levitsky had a voice to go with her face and her name, though her whispering was still indistinct. Hers was a shy voice, uncertain whether to invite him closer or to keep him away from her secrets, and he closed his eyes to imagine her standing in front of him. Conversing with her in his mind, he worked to persuade her to trust him, in much the same way he’d tried to persuade frightened children in life to trust him. The eyes that looked back at him, though, were those of a woman who had outgrown the optimism of her youth.

You wish to know me, detective? The girl in his daydream said. She drew close to his face, bringing her eyes right to his to meet his gaze in bold defiance. Neither of them blinked, even as the once-youthful eyes began to glaze over and cloud. The skin lost its color, becoming the dirt-covered gray of the cadaver in the field as her stare lost all traces of the soul behind it. Be careful what you wish for.

An involuntary shiver ran down his spine as he opened his eyes. His pastor had told him once that such mental exercises were probably not healthy for either his mind or his spirit, and as the filthy corpse floated in his memory, he wondered if the reverend had been right about that.

Tearing the page with Dorothy Hensel’s number and office location from the notepad, he logged himself out of the office for the follow-up interview. That was the official reason, at least. At that moment, he also wanted the warm afternoon sunshine to banish the dark feelings, and the drive to the University Main Campus would offer plenty of chances to soak up the rays.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Friday Fiction for September 19th, 2008

Another new piece this week. I think I’ll forego the commentary this time. Friday Fiction Central.

The Meeting
By Rick Higginson

The meeting was a wonderful example of diversity. People of all ages, races, and classes gathered in the sanctuary, taking their seats to await the guest speaker that night. Oft repeated comments about “the Manifestation” were passed around, and the sense of anticipation permeated the air.

Doug Pitts took his seat and glanced around. He wondered if the tie was going to be over-dressed for the meeting, and was relieved to see everything from ratty cut-offs with t-shirts, to men in business suits. The family that sat a few seats to his right were dressed casual but nice, while the man that took the vacant chair to his left wore blue jeans and a chambray shirt, looking very much as though he’d just left his factory job to attend the meeting.

The blue-collar worker smiled at him, and then turned his attention to the program for the evening.

He’d already looked at his. It was the first night of a five night revival-type crusade for the big church, and both the advertising and the program promised an incredible outpouring of God’s Spirit that night. There would be healings, the promotional materials declared, and all who attended would be “wonderfully blessed” when the Manifestation happened. Lord, I don’t know about this Manifestation, Doug prayed, and I’m not sure I care. All I want to know is if this man really does have a gift of healing.

The music stopped, and the church’s pastor came onstage to welcome everyone. He opened with prayer, though much of what he said was lost in the loud and frequent calls of agreement from the congregation, and then introduced the guest speaker for the night. After shaking hands with the traveling evangelist, the pastor left the stage amidst thundering applause, and the service began.

The speaker started with some general statements of what they could expect that night, and then launched into some fifteen minutes of humor. At first, the response from the audience was weak, and then as people caught the mood, the laughter was freer and louder.

Laughter is supposed to be part of the Manifestation, but this couldn’t be it, could it, he wondered. This isn’t any different from what I would expect of any stand-up comedian. He wasn’t in much of a mood to laugh anyway. Please, he thought, let’s leave the Vegas act behind and get on to what we’re really here for. He glanced to his left; the worker wasn’t laughing, either. Instead, he watched the speaker with a sad expression on his face.

The evangelist began to teach, bringing out Bible verses to explain what was going to happen that night. Some of what he said was good, but a few things made Doug wonder how his home church would have reacted. The small congregation in his home town several hours away was more reserved and less given to embracing such overt displays of God’s power. The prayers of the church family were welcome and appreciated more than he could express, but Cherry wasn’t getting better. If something didn’t happen, they would have a sedate funeral in his quiet home church. It was bad enough she’d had to spend her young life with a name like “Cherry Pitts”, thanks to their father’s odd sense of humor. She shouldn’t have to be buried with a name like that, too.

The mood in the room was changing; the anticipation was giving way to excitement, and people were on their feet. The evangelist left the stage to minister directly to people in the audience, and came first to the section where Doug waited. He went to the first woman in the front row, laid hands at each side of her neck, and after a moment’s prayer, the woman fell backwards to be caught by two attendants.

Cries of praise, cheers, and applause filled the room as he repeated the process on the next person in the row, working his way down the line and leaving each to be eased to the floor by attendants. Doug’s heart pounded as the evangelist took a position in front of the man in the chambray shirt next to him, and he waited his turn for a chance to make his request.

The working man didn’t fall, though. Instead, he reached up and removed the evangelist’s hands from his neck. “No more tricks,” he said. “Hear now the word of God; you have gone among God’s flock, deceiving and stealing, as a false shepherd.”

The evangelist looked up into the man’s eyes, mortified, while the attendants stood shocked behind him.

“You have counterfeited the power of God through stage tricks and smooth words,” the man continued, and the evangelist’s lapel microphone carried the sound to the stunned audience. “Therefore, God says that for each day you have gone among His people with false words, you will find your strength gone and your words absent. You shall neither rise from your bed nor speak a word until you have fulfilled the days of your deceit.” He removed his hands from the evangelist’s arms. “God needs not constrict pressure points nor push people off balance to make them fall before Him. I implore you, when you awaken in your bed, that you repent and seek His face.”

With that, the evangelist collapsed to the floor. Doug looked from the worker to the fallen preacher, feeling a tightening in his chest. He’s a fake? What now, Lord? I came here hoping to see Your power, and that I’d be able to bring Cherry here this weekend for healing.

A low murmur replaced the silence that had settled over the sanctuary during the confrontation, and occasional angry words reached his ears. Are they angry at the fake? Or are they angry at the man who exposed the fake? He looked back up, and met the worker’s eyes.

“You came here tonight to see God’s power, Doug,” the worker said. “Now, you have truly seen it. Is your faith strengthened by what you have seen?”

He shook his head. “No.”

The smile was gentle and encouraging; nothing like the expression of distaste the man had given the evangelist. “Then this is not the place you should be looking for it.” He walked for the exit, and though many pointed at him and made loud suggestions, no one moved to block his path.

Doug took one more look at the fallen man, with the attendants crowded around him, trying to revive him. One had his cell phone to his ear, presumably calling for emergency services, while the deacons of the church rushed forward to help keep the audience at a safe distance. He grabbed his Bible from the chair, and rushed after the worker.

He caught up with him just outside the building, walking towards the parking lot. “What just happened in there?” he asked.

“God got somebody’s attention,” the worker said.

“That guy has been traveling and speaking for years,” Doug said. “Why did God wait until tonight to try and get his attention?”

“You’re assuming he was the one God wanted to speak to. No, Doug; that charlatan was merely an added bonus to my work. Why did you come here tonight?”

“My sister is sick, and the doctors don’t expect her to last much longer. I was hoping she could find healing here.”

“Then why didn’t you bring her along with you tonight?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if this was real or not, and I didn’t want to subject her to the stress of the trip for nothing.” He glanced back towards the building. “He wasn’t real, was he? Are they all fakes?”

“No, not all of them are fakes. There are some who are truly ministering in God’s power to hurting people, but there are others, like him, who figure out how to turn people's desire for God’s touch into profit and prestige for themselves.”

“What am I going to do for my sister now?”

“What were you going to do for her here?”

“I was going to ask him to pray for my sister’s healing.”

“Why would you not pray for her healing yourself?”

“We have been praying; she’s not getting better.”

“Would you like to pray for Cherry right now?”

“Here? In the parking lot?”

“God hears you wherever you pray, Doug. God has heard you every time you have prayed for your sister. He answers in His timing, though, so sometimes we might think He does not hear or does not care.” He placed a gentle hand on Doug’s arm. “We think we have to go someplace special to meet God, such as a certain mountain or even-” He gestured back towards the opulent church building. “- a highly touted meeting.”

“So I wasted my time coming here.”

“Not at all; you came seeking the right person to pray for your sister, and God has been trying to tell you all along that you are that person, and this is the time.”

He received an encouraging nod from the man. “I’ve already prayed so much, I’m not sure what else to say.”

“Just pray what’s on your heart; pray what you would have asked that guy in there to pray.”

“Father, please heal my sister,” he prayed.

“Now that is the kind of honest prayer I can say ‘amen’ to without reservation. Go home, Doug. Your sister has been healed.”

“How do you know?”

“The same way I knew your name, and your sister’s name, and why you were here. If we listen, God will tell us what we need to know, just like He’s been telling you what He wants you to do in your church.”

“I didn’t get your name, mister -?”

“Just call me Eli. Good night, Doug. Go home; your sister is waiting.” He turned and headed towards a nearby bus stop.

Doug watched him until a large RV blocked him from view, and then walked towards his car. His cell phone warbled, and he flipped it open and held it to his ear. “Hello?” Stopping short, he turned around and looked for the working man. “Yeah, Cherry; I’ll be home tonight. No, I’m not surprised you’re feeling better. Isn’t that what we’ve been praying for?”