Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday Fiction for January 29, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Julie, on her blog, Surrendered Scribe. Check it out for links to some great short (and sometimes not-so-short) fiction.

My submission is running a bit late this week, but rather than posting an excerpt this time, I have a new story in work specifically for the blog. This coming Tuesday, Nancy and I will celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary, and this story is derived from a comment/suggestion that she made a while back. This will be a multi-part adventure, so I hope you enjoy it enough to come back for more.

I don’t know if I’ll keep this title or not. For now, it just struck me as fun.

Reef, Her Madness

By Rick Higginson

Timothy watched the sunrise from the veranda of the beach-front bungalow. There had been quite a bit of discussion about his decision to take a vacation alone, beginning with the question of why he needed a vacation in the first place. It wasn’t like being a member of the Pod involved much work, particularly since most of the appearance requests they’d received since going public specified female guests. People were more interested in seeing the mermaids than the mermen.

His timing had been another point of contention. While the Pod rarely made big events out of birthdays, there had been some talk of doing something special for his 25th. Their idea of “something special,” however, hadn’t included him spending it alone on a distant tropical island.

He took an apple from the fruit bowl and bit into it. Robert’s words from a couple of months back replayed in his memory for what had to be the thousandth time. Francine says that Annette wants to know if you’re ever going to grow up. You’re both almost twenty-five, and she doesn’t want to wait forever.

He finished the apple, and dropped the core in a wastebasket. I wonder if it ever occurred to Annette to ask what I wanted. With the Sun now fully above the eastern horizon, he crawled through the sand to the clear water, and began his first day of exploring the nearby reef.

He enjoyed over an hour of solitary swimming, fascinated by the abundance and variety of sea life in the lagoon, before other guests of the resort made their way to the beach. Even then, the snorkelers stayed to the shallower reefs, while the scuba divers boarded boats and headed to more distant locations. While the noise of other swimmers carried to him through the water, the far reach of the lagoon remained blissfully deserted throughout most of the morning.

Shortly before noon, he hovered a few feet from the reef, watching a colorful shrimp foraging across a mossy rock. The crustaceans living around the Pod’s island were drab by comparison, and having a chance to see something that wasn’t dulled by years of familiarity was another reason for the vacation.

A flash of light startled the shrimp, and Timothy turned with annoyance to look for the source. A woman in snorkeling gear gave him a smile and a thumb’s up, gesturing with the camera she held in her other hand, before heading to the surface.

He kicked after her, easily reaching the surface before she did. “You could have at least waited until I was finished watching it, before you tried to take a picture of the shrimp,” he said, before she could spit the snorkel from her mouth.

“What shrimp?” she asked, slipping the mask from her face to hang around her neck. “I was taking a picture of you.” She grinned. “Oh. Unless you consider yourself a shrimp, in which case I’d have to wonder how big a merman has to be before he’s regarded as normal sized.”

There was life and wonder in her pale blue eyes, and staring into them, he completely forgot his aggravation. “I, uh-” he stammered, and felt the heat spreading across his face.

Her eyes went wide. “You’re blushing. Wait – you didn’t think I was referring to -? No, no, no! I meant your overall size, like head to toe – I mean tail.” Her face flushed a deep red of embarrassment. “I heard there was a member of the Pod here, and when I saw you floating there, I just wanted to take your picture because I’ve never seen one of you up close before, and I thought I might never get another chance to, and-”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I was just watching a little shrimp on the reef, and the flash of your camera scared it away.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were looking at something special. If you want, we could go back down there and see if we can find it again, and take a picture with my camera. It does video, too, if you’d rather.”

“That’s all right. I’ve got a whole week here, and I doubt it was the last of its species or anything like that. I expect to find a lot more fascinating stuff before it’s time to go home.” He looked around. “Are you out here by yourself? This is a long ways to swim out alone.”

She shrugged. “It doesn’t seem that far to me. My best friend was supposed to be my swim buddy, but her boyfriend decided to meet us here and now I’m the third wheel. It wouldn’t bother me so much if he wanted to do something more than just order drinks and lounge around the bungalow all day with her. I mean, the three of us could snorkel, but he doesn’t like to swim, and hates being alone.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “So, where’s your swim buddy? You’re a long ways out, too.”

“This isn’t a long ways for me. The crawl from my bungalow to the water seemed longer than the swim out here. All of us used to swim a lot farther than this, in colder water, looking for food, so this seems like nothing to me.”

“So, why do you assume it’s such a great distance for me?”

“Well, because you’re normal. You have legs.”

“Normal? I don’t get accused of being normal very often at all. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was ten years old, and I still regularly swim laps for more distance than this without fins.” She gave him a gentle poke in the chest with one finger. “Just because I’m not a mermaid doesn’t mean I’m not at home in the water.” She replaced her mask over her eyes. “Put up or shut up. If you’re that concerned that I need a buddy, then let’s go - unless, of course, I’m just too normal for you.” Placing her snorkel back in her mouth, she dove for the reef, giving a quick tug on his fluke as she descended.

He watched her make an easy kick towards a thick growth of coral, scattering a large school of small fish in her path. Normal? Weird is more like it. I came here to enjoy spending some time alone, not to baby-sit some weird, overconfident tourist. She glided smoothly near the reef, seemingly unconcerned whether he followed her or not.

With a short leap, he descended after her. Then again, who am I to criticize anyone for being weird?

To be continued.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Friday Fiction for January 22, 2010

This week, I’ve been working on a rather serious piece of historical fiction, and the factual setting is one that is emotionally draining. Therefore, I wanted something fun and pleasant to post for Friday Fiction this week.

In “Eridanus Comes,” I had another of those cases where a secondary character really came into his own and took on much more life than I had originally intended for the story, and T’qa is one of those. When the Priestess S’Bu returns to Earth after her priestess training on Epsilon Eridanus, she finds that the decision to have sent her to her mother’s world has caused a long-festering rift between her parents and her siblings. Her nephew agrees to throw a party on his farm to welcome her home, and during this party, some of these grudges come to a head.

The Men’s Dance

From “Eridanus Comes,” Chapter 11

The mood in the barn was subdued as they came through the door. His mother was sitting next to Grandma B’Tra, and while both faces showed ample emotion, neither was speaking at that moment. S’Bu was standing with her face raised as if in prayer, with Aunt Kate standing next to her. Uncle John was nowhere in sight, but he couldn’t have gone too far since his wife and daughters still sat at the table, all three looking disinterested with anything that had gone on. The rest of the guests remained in awkward silence, apparently waiting to see what would happen next.

It sure wasn’t turning out to be the soiree of the year.

The uncomfortable quiet persisted for a couple of minutes before T’qa got up and moved to an open area of the floor. He sang a quick phrase in Eridani, and then began a rhythmic clapping of his hands. Every eye in the place turned to him, most with surprise and a little outrage at such a display during such a tense moment. He began dancing in time to his clapping, moving about the floor in what appeared to be a carefully choreographed step.

Grandma B’Tra was on her feet now, looking at the young man with tears pouring down her face and laughter escaping her lips. Both she and S’Bu were clapping in unison with the man, and it was clear that no matter what anyone else in attendance thought of the display, they were delighted with it.

Grandpa Cohen raised his voice above the percussive sound. “T’qa, husband of the priestess S’Bu, said that no gathering of the family of Re’Fa would be complete without the Re’Fa men’s dance.” He looked at the younger man. “T’qa, I have been a husband of the family Re’Fa for some fifty years, and there has never been another man of Re’Fa to teach me the dance. Will you teach it to me now?” He switched to Eridani, apparently repeating the question in the other language.

The Eridani man smiled and held out his hand, inviting the older man to join him. The steps started over; smooth and fluid for the young man, while tentative and clumsy for the old. It took several cycles of the routine for his grandfather to get the movements in order.

“David Junior and Jimmy; come on boys. If I can do this, so can you.” The laughter was back in his grandfather’s voice as he goaded the two men. Though reluctant, both men took their place on the floor, one on either side of the original duo.

More people in the audience had joined the clapping, and smiles were replacing the somber looks of earlier. T’qa demonstrated the steps again, moving in half-time so the two newcomers would be better able to see.

Uncle John stepped up beside him. “What the - ? Dad is dancing? What is this?”

“T’qa said it’s the Re’Fa men’s dance, and Grandpa asked’im to teach it to him.”

“Are they crazy?”

He chuckled. “Most likely they are, but they sure managed to put some life back in this party. Your brother and my pa ain’t doin’ too bad at it either, from what I can see.”

They didn’t escape notice. “John! Merrill David! Come on; you two are Re’Fa men; you need to learn this dance,” his grandpa called to them.

“We’re by the door,” Uncle John said. “We can beat a hasty retreat.”

“Y’know, I think there’s been a mite too much runnin’ away already this evenin’ for my taste. If Pa an’ Grandpa and Uncle David can do this, then I reckon I can too.” He took hold of his uncle’s arm. “Judgin’ from the way things is goin’, it’ll do this get-together good if’n you get out there an’ learn the dance, too.”

He all but dragged the man to the others, and before long they were joined by both his younger brother Victor and David Jr.’s son Jacob. The only one even remotely proficient at the dance was T’qa, and although the gathered family clapped and laughed, shouting encouragement, the line of men must have looked a sight bumbling their way through the steps.

It was fun, though. No one was arguing or acting angry towards anyone else during the dance. They were eight men joined by a bond of family, and all that mattered was just learning to move to the beat. Only he and T’qa seemed to handle the prolonged effort without getting winded; even Victor had lost much of his stamina with the administrative job he’d taken.

“Not that I’m complainin’, but just how long are we s’posed to do this, Grandpa?”

Answering between almost gasped breaths, his grandfather still managed to smile. “According to the traditions of Qi’le, once we have started to learn, we don’t stop until we get it.”

“So what’s the point of this dance?”

“Each family has a unique dance, taught by fathers to sons and by the male relatives of the bride to the groom at their wedding feast. When a family gathers, it is the responsibility of the husbands to help foster an atmosphere of harmony, and hence the tradition of the dance. It is also a form of identification. If a man is traveling without his wife and enters a village where members of his wife’s family reside, the dance confirms to them that he is truly a part of the family.”

“So if’n one of us was to travel to Eridanus?”

“You’d be expected to dance with any Re’Fa men in the village you went to.”

He started to laugh, finding the steps easier with each pass through the routine. Looking over at T’qa, the man met his eyes with a knowing smile. It took more than just some shared relatives to make someone family, he had told T’qa aboard the shuttle back to Earth.

His father had often said that words spoke in a hurry would spin around to bite you, and in the laughing, panting line of men his words did just that. It took more than just shared relatives to make someone family, and the Eridani man had known that even better than he did. On an evening filled with tension and stress, the quiet, unassuming young man had done more with a simple dance to reunite a family. Even Uncle John, who had needed to be dragged to the floor, was laughing and having more fun than David could remember ever seeing him have.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Friday Fiction for January 15, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sharlyn, on her blog, Dancin’ on Rainbows, where you’ll find MckLinky and links to the other submissions.

Looking over my Friday Fiction index, I realized that I hadn’t excerpted much from Marta’s Pod, even though it is the single longest story I’ve ever written. In the early draft, it topped over 150,000 words, though I’ve been working on paring it down, and now have it back to around 134,000. Trust me; trimming 16,000 words from a story isn’t easy, but it is sometimes a necessary part of the revision process.

At the start of Marta’s Pod, Marta’s biological parents – the normal humans whose “genetic material” was secretly appropriated by Dr. Marcel for part of his project – have learned they have a daughter whom they never knew about. Rather than try to deny the relationship, Josh invites Gerald and Linda Lawton, along with their son Mark, out to the Island to meet Marta, their other three daughters, and the Pod. Mark has recently lost both legs about mid-thigh in an accident, and is not adjusting well. This excerpt takes place his first night on the Island, after a rather terse encounter with Eva earlier that day.

What Love Does

From Marta’s Pod, Chapter 8

His sisters slept close by, one of them holding his sleeping nephew in an affectionate embrace. Mark, however, had tossed and turned on the floor for a while before finally sitting up near the open doorway to the room. Each room was closable by a curtain, but all the curtains he could see in the dimly lit Family Room were pulled open. Once in a while, he would hear the sound of some member of the Pod moving across the floor to the bathroom and back, but other than that nothing broke the silence except the varied sounds of the sleeping Pod.

He’d spent many nights similarly awake since the accident, though most had been spent in his own bed and not on the padded floor of a mermaids’ bedroom. Mermaids’ bedroom; even thinking it sounded crazy. Agent Williams didn’t have to worry about him telling anyone what he’d seen out there. If he did break his agreement and talk about the Pod, people would think he’d been taking too many pain pills after his accident, or they’d think the loss of his legs had finally caused him to snap. That’s all I need; everyone thinking I’m crippled and psychotic, too.

He tried to think about the amusing “Movie Night” to take his mind off the stinging words that Eva had said to him, but his thoughts kept returning to the sound of her voice in the dark cavern she’d dragged him to.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of one of the Pod members moving across the floor again. He glanced out the dark door, expecting to see the shadowy figure of whoever it was heading to one of the two bathrooms. Instead, he saw one of the mermaids making her way towards the pool in the room. He heard the gentle sound of the water being disturbed as she slid into it. Mark shuffled himself closer to the doorway, hearing the sound of someone else trying to be silent as they opened one of the cabinets on one wall. The upright figure he spotted walking towards the pool had to be Joshua Cardan; he was far too lean to be the FBI agent, and the only other man Mark could remember being on the island was his own father. Even in the dark, he knew he’d recognize his father’s walk. Besides, his father wouldn’t be down there in the dark going for a swim.

Cardan dropped something close to the water’s edge before wading in to the pool, and then swam to the center, taking care to avoid any splashing noise while doing so. It was difficult to discern much of what was happening, but as Mark strained his eyes into the dim light he could just see the two alternating between swimming and floating. It seemed one would disappear beneath the surface while the other tread water, and a moment later the first would tread water while the other vanished beneath. It seemed an odd game to play in a darkened pool.

He assumed the mermaid was his sister Marta, especially since she’d come from the direction of the room she and her husband shared. It felt a bit strange spying on her that way, but at the same time, he found it fascinating. All day long the Pod had known he was watching them, and he’d wondered how much of their behavior had been normal and how much had been “best behavior” for the guests. This, however, was a completely candid display. The pair in the pool showed no signs that they were aware that anyone was watching.

In the darkness, he had difficulty at times telling which was submerged and which was surfaced at any given time. He received a clear indication of which he was seeing when Marta nearly leaped from the water to dive after Cardan, the silhouette of her tail obvious even in the dim light. Both were submerged for what seemed like far too long when they resurfaced together back near the center of the pool. It took a moment for him to realize that they held each other in a tight embrace, in which they remained without further diving and chasing around, and it finally dawned on him what they were doing.

Mark, you’re sinking to a new low, he thought. Still, he couldn’t quite turn his eyes away. He almost jumped out of his skin when the whispered voice next to him spoke.

“It’s a beautiful dance, isn’t it?” Ophelia was also looking out the doorway and watching. How she’d managed to move herself from where she’d been sleeping without him hearing her could only be explained by how solidly his focus had been on the swimming couple.

“Er, yeah, a beautiful dance,” he agreed, whispering awkwardly.

She rested her chin on her arms, gazing towards the pool. “They wait until they think we’re all asleep, but true privacy is nearly impossible around here. They know we see them from time to time, but as long as they don’t know we’re watching at the moment, everything’s fine. They enjoy their illusion of privacy; we enjoy knowing they’re happy. This may be as close as I ever get to knowing what it’s like to make love so passionately.”

Mark nearly choked. She did know exactly what was going on in the pool.

“What?” she whispered. “Did you suppose that because we’re different in how our bodies are shaped that we don’t have those same feelings all other humans have? Did your desire for love, both emotional and physical, disappear with your legs?”

“Well, no, it’s just, well, watching - ”

Ophelia’s voice held a remorseful note. “Many things in life we can only watch; so many experiences we live vicariously through others. I can never ride a roller coaster, but I can imagine the experience by watching the faces of those who are doing so in a video. My prospects for a husband or even a lover are quite slim, but I can see how happy it makes Marta. It may not be much, but for many of us it’s all we’ll have.”

“I see,” Mark said. “That much I understand.”

“So why do you watch? Surely in the entire world, your prospects for love and passion are still plentiful.”

“My ‘prospects’ walked out on me.”

“All of them? Your prospects are not limited to what few visitors ever come to this island, are they? You cannot tell me that you’ve exhausted them all, can you?”

“The one that mattered, yeah; she left after I lost my legs.”

“I’d say that wasn’t much of a prospect, then. A real prospect loves you no matter what happens.”

He decided she was an incurable romantic. Once upon a time, he’d thought the same way until Silvia proved him wrong.

“If she’d really loved you,” she continued. “She’d have stuck with you and made you want to keep living, even if she had to drag you to do something. That’s what love does.”

“And you know this how?”

“Because that’s what Eva has done to all of us at one time or another. That’s why none of us would stop her when she dragged you away today. She loves this Pod, and she’ll never let us give up living. You’re our brother; that makes you a part of the Pod, and as long as you’re here she won’t let you give up living, either.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Friday Fiction for January 8, 2010

This first Friday Fiction of 2010 is hosted by Sara (or “Sawa”, as many call her) on her Fiction Fusion blog. If you weren’t there first, make sure you go there next!

This week’s submission is a little humorous piece I wrote back around this time in 2001. I thought I had lost it, but recently found a print copy I made of it. Unfortunately, the print managed to cut-off the last few words of each line, so I needed to retype it, and reinsert the missing words based on context. Looking at it now, I can see some problems with the writing mechanics, though the first person monologue style tends to make those more acceptable. The point, however, is to just sit back and enjoy. I had fun writing it, and most of those who read it way back when had fun reading it. I hope you do as well.

Home Improvement

Well, gang, I don’t know how all of you spent your holiday break, but I spent quite a bit of mine working on remodeling the kitchen. I’ve only been planning on doing so since we moved into this place something like five years ago. This year, I finally broke down, bit the bullet, and got to work on it.

The tough part about things like this is that, even if the kitchen is ugly and ancient, if it’s working, you don’t want to mess with things. However, there is something about doing jobs like this that we guys secretly anticipate – going to the home improvement store. In our case, Home Depot.

Now, for most women, going to Home Depot is about as exciting as watching grass grow. Sure, they like it if they’re going along to pick out paint colors, or tile patterns, or something like that, but generally, for them it’s like clothes shopping for us guys. “Let’s get in, get what we need, and get out.” Home Depot is different for guys, though. It’s a giant toy warehouse just calling to us. We get the urge to grunt like Tim Allen as we drool over power tools and the potential projects we could tackle with them. Hoooo yah, grunt grunt grunt.

This is another difference between guys and gals. If you buy the lady in your life a more powerful vacuum cleaner, she is typically less than thrilled. She sees it as just something that she has to work with. But if she buys us a more powerful circular saw with the Piranha blade and super blade brake, we see it as a new toy that is just begging to be used. We look for the first available piece of wood that isn’t supporting the roof. Yeah, we’ll claim that we’re “working hard” with it. Still, ripping through a sheet of plywood with a screaming saw blade just speaks to something deep inside of us. Give us a toy that we can pretend to be working with, and you’ll likely believe us. Hoooo yah, workin’ hard out here, grunt grunt. Yep, more cuts to make.

But I digress. The problem with jobs like this, though, is that we do have to go to Home Depot, and for most of us, the budget does not support the desire for the toys that we will see there. As we wander around the store aimlessly, gathering the necessary supplies, we will be continually drawn to the tool section, where from one shoulder, a little “handyman” voice will tell us how much easier the job will be if we buy the new Sawzall with the variable speed motor. We will rationalize that the money spent will be recovered in time saved on this job, and the Sawzall will be very useful in future jobs. That little Handyman voice can be very persuasive.

On our other shoulder, though, sits the Accountant. He’s a dweeb – doesn’t know a Sawzall from a drill press, and would likely catch his tie in either one. The only thing he drools over is a new calculator, which is why it’s dangerous to go to the electronics department, too, because the Handyman will also agree, since the calculator can be used to figure out how much wood we’re going to need for that next big project. Anyway, the Accountant reminds us just how low the balance in the checkbook is at this very moment, and how we’ve only budgeted enough for this project’s materials, and NOT new tools. So, much to the chagrin of the Handyman, we reluctantly head for the check-out lanes without a new Sawzall (though we may need to make a few more strolls past the Sawzall display before we finally convince ourselves that the Accountant is right).

Once home again, we begin our task of tearing out fifty year old walls, disturbing dust that likely contains the remains of an Egyptian mummy, all while listening to the Handyman remind us of how much faster this project would go if we had a Sawzall. We wield the hammer, catsclaw, and circular saw in a fury of destructive power, all while our lady apologizes for causing us so much work. At this point, the Handyman suggests that this would be a great time to mention the Sawzall to her, and how much easier it would make all this work (that really feels like playing to us). The Accountant, fortunately, is coughing and gasping from the dust, and cannot really offer any objections.

Like any job, this one takes about three times longer than we figured from the start. Once you begin such a project, you find the little things you hadn’t counted on, which add a whole bunch of extra time to the job. Tomorrow, it’s back to the old Bomb Factory, but after work, it’s back to the kitchen.

And with any luck, that little Accountant guy will trip over the circular saw cord and drown in a can of paint.

You know, I could have saved him if I had a Sawzall…

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tuesday Fun!

Snarky Answer Contest

This post is a result of a comment our 27 year old daughter made today. Since she has a rather youthful appearance, she is often asked by people coming to the door if her parents are home. She does not find this question either amusing or flattering. My co-worker and I started bantering ideas back and forth for humorous ways to answer such questions, and I decided it might be fun to open it up to other suggestions.

I don’t know if there will be a prize for this contest yet, other than the fun of participating and reading, but I haven’t ruled out the idea of awarding the best answer something tangible. Please offer your suggestion by adding a comment, and try to keep the language to a PG-13 rating for some of our more sensitive readers.

Our daughter’s first idea was to break down sobbing and say, “No, they were killed yesterday in a car accident!”

We came up with a few more.

“Are you with the police?”

“Yes, but they’re in the BDSM Dungeon, and hate being interrupted.”

“Yes, unfortunately. Are you the Ghostbuster we called to get rid of them?”

“Yes, they are. Let me get them for you.” (Calls the dogs. They have two Corgis.)

“Why? What did my brother do this time? Kill another door-to-door salesman?”

“No, I sold them on Craigslist! You’d be amazed at what you can get for a pair of healthy, middle-aged white folks these days!”

Have fun. Make us laugh. More important, make our daughter laugh.