Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fiction for August 30 2013

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sara over at Fiction Fusion. Don’t miss Sara’s creative story, or the other submissions!
Last week’s story was a short Steampunk Character sketch, and my plan is to incorporate the characters into a new chapter or two in “Clockwork Deacon.” Different writers have their own ideas of what elements to include in the Steampunk genre. Some include supernatural elements such as zombies and vampires, or alternate dimensions, or time travel, and some even include a little magic. That’s the beauty of fiction – we write the rules for our world. Myself, I prefer to stick to the idea of the kinds of things that could have been theoretically possible, given the scientific laws we know at this time, applied to the scenario of Victorian Era Mad Science. In essence, sticking to this world, but with a hypothetical divergence in history.

As such, Steampunk can easily retain the potential in Christian Fiction. It was fun to play with the idea of a character whose ability to communicate is severely limited, and with whom so much is left as an enigma. How the other characters in Loma Roja deal with Deacon, and their perceptions of him, gave me a great deal of story material. I especially liked how this played out in this chapter.

Chapter 11
The Typewriter
From “Clockwork Deacon”

It might have seemed strange, that Loma Roja had an Automaton in the town before a typewriter, but that was how it happened. Oddly enough, the Reverend was responsible for both. A conference in Phoenix called him away from the small town, and when he returned, he brought back the Underwood with him.

The device was something of a curiosity, and folks made a special trip to the pastor's study to view the marvelous writing machine. He extolled its advantages, particularly those of readable archives of sermon notes and church records, though there was some speculation that the man had simply discovered a new toy.

He retreated to the study in the evening, and locked the door. Deacon waited in the corner, while he began to type out notes. The typewriter was positioned on the desk to that Deacon could easily see what the Reverend was doing. He said nothing to the Automaton, and gave no indication that he required anything from the copper servant.

He would glance from time to time at the metal face, and then return to the typing. Each night, he took the paper from the machine, and locked it in a drawer of his desk. A fresh sheet of paper remained in the typewriter, and the Reverend would retire to bed, leaving Deacon in the study.

Mrs. Randolph placed his breakfast in front of him. AJust what are you up to all these nights in there, all by yourself?@ she asked.

AI'm not all by myself,@ Reverend Randolph replied. ADeacon is with me.@

AAll right, so you're not by yourself. What are you two doing in there?@

AI am working on a project, that I would rather not divulge at the moment,@ he said.

AWell, I would ask Deacon, but he wouldn't be able to answer me anyway. It just concerns me that you're staying up so late every night.@

He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. AIt's nothing to worry about, my dear. I assure you, I won't over-tax myself on this.@

After breakfast, he went to his study, and looked at the paper in the typewriter. The paper was blank, and Deacon had gone about his chores for the day. He heaved a sigh, and started on his sermon notes for the next meeting of the church.

That night, he locked the door of the study, and pulled a chair in front of Deacon. In one hand, he held a sign with large letters. ADeacon, do you know what this says?@ he asked.

Deacon looked at the sign, and gave a single nod.

ACan you read the sign, or do you know what it says based on what has been taught to you previously?@

There was no response.

AHow clumsy of me. I asked the question in a manner that you cannot answer with a simple yes or no. Deacon, can you read?@

The head clicked side to side.

ACan you learn?@

He processed the question, and then gave his nod.

ADeacon, if you learned to read, then you would be able to write as well. You would be able to communicate with us in more than just gestures, or just by nodding or shaking your head. Do you understand?@

He nodded.

AI do not expect you to master penmanship, but I believe you can easily learn to use the typewriter. Have you been watching me use it these past couple of weeks?@

He nodded.

ADo you understand its function?@

The single side to side shake.

AThe typewriter is a machine that imprints letters onto a sheet of paper, that anyone who knows how to read can then understand. These letters, when grouped together in a specific order, represent the words we speak. You could put words onto paper, that I could know what you are thinking. Do you understand?@

Deacon nodded again.

Reverend Randolph went to his shelf, and removed a children's reading primer. He turned to the first page, and began with the letter 'A'. It was difficult to judge how well Deacon understood the lessons, since he could not repeat back the information being imparted to him. At the end of the evening, though, the pastor put a fresh sheet of blank paper into the typewriter, and had Deacon stand over it.

ADo you see the letter 'A' on the typewriter, Deacon? If so, press the key.@

The mechanical hand reached forward, and typed a single letter.

His excitement turned to disappointment. AThat is the letter 'H'. Look at the 'A' in this book again, Deacon, and see if you can find it on the typewriter.@

It took four more tries before Deacon struck the correct key. Subsequent letters of the alphabet took similar numbers of attempts, and by the time it late enough to call it a night, he'd barely made it through half the alphabet. ATomorrow evening, Deacon. We'll resume tomorrow evening.@

The next evening, he started back at the letter 'A', and was pleased to find that, at least he didn't have to start all over again. Deacon correctly identified each letter he had successfully learned the night before. Before they finished that night, Deacon knew the entire alphabet.

Over the next week, though, teaching him how to use the alphabet proved to be an even greater challenge. Still using the children's primer, Rev. Randolph prompted Deacon to form simple words. He would type the letters as the pastor dictated them, but when told to type the word 'cat,' the Automaton sat there and waited.

ADeacon, do you understand what a cat is?@ He felt like he was giving a scolding to a recalcitrant child. AI have explained what letters form the word cat, and you know where these letters are located on the typewriter. It should be a simple matter, then for you to write the word.@

Deacon rested in front of the typewriter, as still as if he were waiting in the back of the church for services to finish.

Reverend Randolph settled into his chair, next to the Automaton. His voice became soft and pensive. AYou've been part of this family almost as long as my sons have, and a part of this community for all the years since we moved here. We can speak to you, and you respond to us with your actions, but do you know how much we long to have you respond to us in the means that we understand best?@

That was the frustration; he spoke candidly, and yet Deacon gave no indication of the statement having any impact upon him. He neither inclined his head to look at the Reverend, nor gave any gesture whatsoever to offer any clue to what his response might be.

AYou learn so many things that we never expected you to learn, nor that we even thought to teach you. You simply learned by watching us, or maybe by reasoning out the process in your own mind. Surely, you can learn this, can you not? Surely, the thought processes built into your mind must mimic our own in some way, or least be able to be translated into words we can understand. All the things you've done for this family and this town, there must be wisdom and intellect within you. Surely, you can either confirm or deny that with a simple yes or no answer?@

Deacon still did not respond, and the minister lowered his head into his hands. Lord, is this how we are to Thee? Dost Thou ask us questions, and we go about our daily lives as if we did not even hear Thee? Does my my spirit remain quiet and unresponsive, when Thou tryest to teach me how better to pray? Lord, am I to Thee even half as good a servant as Deacon is to me? I would that I could confidently say 'yes,' but Lord, I know if I tell Deacon to go and work here, he will go. How many times hast Thou commanded me to go and serve, and I have instead gone about my own business instead of Thine? Father in Heaven, what could he teach me, if Deacon could but speak?

There was a touch on his shoulder, and he raised his face to look at the Automaton standing over him. The static eyes were turned his way, and one hand rested on him in a close approximation of a supportive gesture, before the face turned towards the door and Deacon rolled away.

Rev. Randolph stood and followed, retrieving the key from the door after Deacon had unlocked it and passed through. The Automaton led him outside, and to the dark area behind the church, away from any light escaping from nearby windows. The copper face turned skyward, and stared out at the myriads of stars shining overhead.

The Pastor looked up also, wondering if there were something out there special to see, or if Deacon's focus was on a particular asterism, but he could not discern anything beyond the general area the gaze was aimed at.

ADo you wonder about the stars, Deacon? With words, you can ask questions, and maybe receive answers.@

He just stood, staring, and not moving.

Rev. Randolph sighed, trying to fathom whatever might be holding Deacon's attention. He quoted the first Scripture to come to mind. AWhen I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.@

The clockwork sound of motion drew his eyes away from the sky. Deacon nodded at him, and then rolled to his shed. The door of the shed closed, and he was left alone in the dark.

I don't understand. Did he bring me out here just to get me to quote that Psalm? Or did that Psalm satisfy whatever question he had in his head? Was it for him, or for me? If man is a little lower than the angels, what does that make Deacon? If we question why God would be mindful of men, what must that imply to Deacon? He is a most complicated device of man's ingenuity, and yet, compared to all that God has made, he is as insignificant as those toys that he made for Christmas some years ago.

I am as insignificant as one of those toys, and I am in infinitely more complicated creation of God's ingenuity. I can't even puzzle out the workings of a less complicated toy. He turned his eyes back towards the house and the study. I'm not even sure how the typewriter works, yet, I can't help but feel that Deacon studied it that first night, and deciphered every mechanical detail of the machine. So, why can't he make use of it the way it is intended to be used?

He returned his gaze to the stars for a while, before retiring to bed.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Fiction for August 23, 2013

Welcome to Friday Fiction, hosted this week by Karlene over at Undaunted Devotion. Don’t miss the other submissions for your weekend reading pleasure!

My wonderful Nancy’s birthday was this week, so I wanted something special for her. We’ve been working on Steampunk costumes for a little while now. If you don’t know what Steampunk is, think Jules Verne taken to the next level. Steampunk is a genre of fiction and costuming/cosplay that imagines a Victorian Era wherein Mad Science truly ruled, and fantastic inventions powered by steam and clockwork were commonplace – where the skies were crossed by behemoth dirigible airships, and men such as Nikola Tesla were the most celebrated heroes of all.

Nancy’s Steampunk character is still in development, while mine is fairly well defined, so I’ve been a bit vague on hers in this sketch. Still, I wanted to have some fun with the characters, and just explore a little bit how they might interact given the current direction they’re going. The setting is the very early 1900s, in the southern part of the Arizona Territory. I hope you enjoy this brand-new piece of fiction!

Steampunk Characters
An Experimental Sketch

            He waited in subdued light. The only window not fully shuttered was the one he sat beside, and it was only open enough for him to watch the street. His hat hung on the nearby bedpost, and his weapon rested across his legs. With a stained and faded bandana, he mopped the sweat from his forehead. While the worst of summer was over for the year, it was still hot, and whatever breeze might have been blowing outside did not find its way to the narrow gap in the window.
            The rumored riders should arrive soon, provided the information was reliable. The nearby copper mine took careful measures to protect the secret of when the couriers with the payroll would arrive, but information could be obtained in many ways, including from sullen clerks after a few too many drinks. He hadn’t even needed to buy a round for the two underpaid men.
            Two horsemen came around the buildings at the far end of the street, and he leaned closer to the window. The weapon was in his hands without so much as a conscious thought, but he kept the barrel well within the dark room. All it would take was a stray glint of metal to betray his presence, and ruin all his preparations. I been waitin’ a long time for this one, and I might not get another shot.
            The two riders dismounted in front of the mercantile, seemingly unconcerned with the possibility that they were being watched. If this is them, they’re either certain the secret is safe, or they’re foolishly confident in their ability to handle trouble.
            He brought the end of the barrel to rest just inside the window, where he could easily lift it and aim quickly. Continuing to watch, his focus narrowed on the two men. They did not enter the mercantile, but stood chewing the fat as though waiting for someone. That fits the information – act like they ain’t got nothin’, so’s nobody has any cause to think they have somethin’. This has gotta be them.
            A commotion erupted from somewhere farther up the street, and he shouldered the weapon. He slipped the trigger from the safe position to the ready, and used the barrel to push the shutter just a bit farther open. Shouts of surprise and alarm drew closer, along with a chaotic mechanical sound.
            The two riders stood staring up the street with confused looks. Don’t just stand there like a couple of ninnies – move, you fools!
            An old brass Automaton careened into view, kicking up dust in its chaotic path and filling the air with oily smoke and steam. He aimed his weapon at the dull, oxidized torso and tracked it as it came closer. When it reached the middle of the street nearest to him, he pulled the trigger. The room filled with a rapid popping sound, just before a blinding arc flashed from the barrel out to the metal man in the street.
            The Automaton spun in place, with its arms twitching as though it were having a seizure, before it simply stopped.
            He held the weapon in his left hand and threw the window open with his right. Drawing his old revolver with his right hand as he climbed out the window, he scanned near the two riders for his real objective. A man dressed in old cavalry trousers and a stained muslin shirt stood just outside the mercantile, and for just a moment, he caught the man’s eyes. There was surprise and fear in the man’s eyes, and he turned to sprint up the street.
            He gave chase, with the Lightning Rifle in his left hand, and the now-cocked revolver in his right. He didn’t bother yelling. In all his apprehensions as an Arizona Ranger, he’d never had an outlaw that had just stopped and surrendered because he shouted.
            The man ducked between two buildings, maybe fifty yards ahead of him. If he’s got a horse waitin’ there for him, then I’m gonna be lucky to get one shot.
            Coaxing as much speed as he could out of his old legs, he reached the gap between the buildings and brought the revolver up to level.
            A woman stood in the shade between the buildings. “Gonna shoot me, Seth?” A copper handgun version of his Lightning Rifle was in her hand, aimed at the man who now twitched on the ground at her feet.
            “I was wonderin’ if you were gonna show up here,” Seth said, lowering the revolver. “What’d’ja do to him, anyway?”
            Her lips curled into a sly smile, and her eyes were almost obscured by the short brim of the bowler hat on her head. “Clumsy me; I grabbed my Lightning Pistol instead of my Derringer.”
            “You shot him with the Lightning? You know them’s for the Automatons, and not people.” He stepped over the prone man, and held the revolver trained at the face. “There’s no tellin’ how long the effects’ll last on a man.”
            “Interesting that it seems to have about the same effect on him, as it has on Automatons.” Her finger stayed on the trigger. “I could always hit him again, unless, of course, you’d rather haul his dead body all the way back to Phoenix.”
            “He’d be less trouble that way.”
            “Not sure he would smell much worse, either.” She nudged the man with a booted foot. “I know this is a desert, but there are baths available. You really should avail yourself of them from time to time.”
            “So, are the Pinkertons gonna take credit for this one?”
            “Well, I did capture him for you.”
            Seth removed the man’s pistol, and rolled him onto his belly. “So you did. You still got them fancy cuffs of yours?”
            “Of course.” She dropped them on the man’s back.
            “Much obliged.” He bound the man’s hands together, just as the local sheriff and a deputy ran up to them.
            The sheriff had his gun on them. “You wanna explain what’s goin’ on?”
            “Seth Holtwick, with the Arizona Rangers.” He stood up, and turned so his badge was showing. “We’ve been after this feller for a while. He’s been stealin’ Automatons, tinkerin’ with ‘em somehow to make ‘em act all crazy, and then uses ‘em for a distraction to make robberies easier.”
            “You came to my town, and didn’t think you oughta let me know?” The sheriff had his gun lowered, but didn’t holster it.
            “If you knew a Ranger was in town, then likely others’d know, too. If he’d gotten wind that I was here, he’d’ve been miles away by now. You’re welcome to take it up with the Governor, if you’ve a mind to, but I don’t ‘spect he’ll tell you much different.”
            The sheriff released an annoyed huff, and slid his revolver back into the holster.
            Seth smiled. “If you’n your deputy would be so kind as to take this man back to your jail, I’d be much obliged. I need to send a telegraph to Phoenix to let ‘em know we have him, and make arrangements to take him in for trial.”
            The two local lawmen lifted the man, and dragged him off towards the jail.
            “I’m hurt, Seth. You didn’t introduce me.” She put the Lightning Pistol into a safe condition, and slid it out of sight.
            “Yeah, well, I figgered if he wasn’t none too happy with an Arizona Ranger in his town, he might be even less happy with a Pinkerton.”
            “He probably would not have even believed I’m with Pinkerton.”
            “So, what do we do now?”
            “Well, you could buy me a drink.”
            He offered her his arm. “Always good to see you, Shal.”
            “You too, Seth.” She patted his arm as they turned towards the saloon. “I see you still have a cannon up your sleeve.”
            “Always afraid to ask what you got up your sleeve.”

            “Maybe I’ll show you someday.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Friday Fiction for 16 August 2013

It's my turn this week to host Friday Fiction, and if this works correctly, the Mr. Linky Widget should follow this header. Join in the fun and share your short fiction blog this week, and enjoy the other submissions!

I commented two weeks ago that I had taken the short story, "Reef, Her Madness," from early 2010 as my outline for NaNoWriMo last year. I completely rewrote the story, start to finish, expanding it from a 7 part short to a 65,400 word novel. Where the original story started ended up as Chapter 7 in the rewrite, and I thought it would be fun to post the new version of that scene for comparison. The rewrite allowed me to lead into this scene, as well as share other parts of the story from different POVs, while still keeping it a very fun story to write. The original first part of "Reef, Her Madness" posted on January 29th, 2010, and can be read here, if you wish to compare.

Chasing the Sharks
Chapter 7

            Timothy slid open the sliding glass door and crawled onto the lanai. He fiddled for a few moments with the locking mechanism they had cobbled together for him, until he managed to get the door properly secured. It always felt strange when they traveled away from the Pod’s island, and had to secure things against theft. Such a consideration had never been an issue when it was just the Pod. First, they had never had much to steal anyway, and once they stated to accumulate possessions after Joshua Cardan arrived, they had tended to share freely. Why would one steal, what one could just as easily borrow whenever they wished?

            Of course, the bulk of human society was vastly different from the Pod in almost every way, and there were many that thought nothing of taking whatever they wanted. Whatever any of them might think about it, the reality remained, and they had to deal with it.

            From the lanai, he dropped to the fine sand of the beach. Even in the low morning sun, the sand was almost blindingly white, and he left a funny looking trail of hand prints and tail drag as he moved towards the lagoon. There were still few guests on the beach this early, and most were far enough away that they failed to notice him crawling across the sand.

            Small waves slipped up and back on the shore, making little noise in the barest breeze that blew that morning. His hands contacted the water first, and the warmth seemed even more luxurious than he had imagined it would feel. He proceeded in with no further hesitation, happy to feel the buoyant support of sea water all around him again. When he no longer had contact with the bottom, he gave a gentle kick of his tail, and moved towards the deeper water with effortless grace.

            The water was incredibly clear, and he marveled at just how far he could see ahead and around him. Small fish darted away at his approach, many ducking for the crevices of rocks and coral to hide. He continued out until the water was some thirty feet deep below him, and dove to skim along an extended outcropping of coral that jutted some ten feet from the bottom. Larger fish prowled around the reef, and while they tended to give him a wide berth, they weren’t as prone to fleeing from him as the smaller fish in the shallows had been.

            Although the colors faded the deeper he went, he was still amazed at how vibrant the sea life was in the lagoon. The fish around their island back home were so drab by comparison, though he had to consider that their primary interest in the fauna around the island for so many years had been for food. They hadn’t really cared that much about whether the fish they caught had been pretty. They only cared that it was edible, and valuable to stave off hunger.

            He started a slow ascent, exhaling through his nose as he approached the surface. Poking his head above the water just enough, he drew in a deep breath before turning to descend again for the reef.

            The gradual changing of the angle of sunlight penetrating the water was his only indication of the passage of time, and he decided it was something he needn’t worry about. There was nowhere he needed to be at any specific time. He could return to his bungalow when he finally felt hungry, and order food to be brought to him, regardless of the time of day. For the moment, it was a serene experience to just explore the reef.

            The sound of other swimmers carried to him through the water, but the splashing and occasional human voice sounds were distant. He suspected that few of the resort guests would venture so far out or so deep in the lagoon, and he was fine with being alone over the branches of coral.

            He drifted slowly, just a foot or so from the reef, about three-quarters of a way to the top. A brightly colored shape caught his attention, and he flipped around for a closer look. The shrimp watched him with claws raised, but it seemed fine with holding its position. Reluctant to spook it, Timothy likewise held his position, keeping what he felt was a respectful distance with just gentle movement of his hands and tail.

            A flash went off behind him, startling the shrimp into retreating deep within the recesses of the coral. Timothy spun around. A female snorkeler gave him a wave and an “okay” sign with her free hand, the camera held conspicuously in her other.

            Looking up, she swam towards the surface, with the yellow dive fins fluttering at the end of her legs.

            He looked back to where the shrimp had been, and there was no sign that it was going to emerge again anytime soon. With a feeling of annoyance, he sped after the girl, surfacing almost at the same time she did. His face had barely cleared the water before he was speaking. “What are you doing? You could have at least waited until I was done looking at the shrimp before taking a picture of it!”

            She spit the snorkel from her mouth, and flipped her head back to get the hair from in front of her mask. “What shrimp? I was taking a picture of you.” She gave him a mischievous smile, and slipped the mask from her face to hang around her neck. “Well, unless you consider yourself a shrimp, in which case, I have to ask just how big a merman has to be before he’s considered normal size.”

            He stared into her eyes, and found himself struck by just how pale blue they were, and how full of life and wonder. “I, uh, I - ” he stammered, and felt a sudden flush run through his skin.

            “Wait – you’re blushing,” she said. Her look turned to dread. “Oh – you don’t think I meant - ?” It was her turn to blush. “Oh, no, no, no. I meant your overall size, you know, like head to toe, I mean tail, I mean - ”

            His annoyance vanished, replaced by amusement. “It’s okay, I know what you mean. I was just looking at a shrimp down there on the reef, and your flash scared it into hiding.”

            “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know. I saw you down there, and I’d never seen one of the Pod before so close, so I wanted a picture. It’s kind of hard, underwater, to ask first, and I was afraid if I waited a moment, you’d move off somewhere else, and I wouldn’t be able to find you again. We could try to find another shrimp.”

            “It’s all right. I’ve got a whole week, and I think I’m going to see a lot of things out here that will make that one shrimp seem rather mundane.” He looked past her, and took note of just how far from the shore he had gone. “Are you out here by yourself? You really should have someone with you when you’re swimming this far from shore.”

            “Nope, just me. My friend Jenny was supposed to come swimming with me, but her boyfriend surprised her by coming along at the last minute, and she decided to stay in our bungalow with him this morning. I feel compelled, though, to ask where your swim buddy is. You’re just as far out as I am.”

            “This swim is nothing for me. I’ve gone much farther many times, especially back when we had to forage around our island for food.” At least, I was alone, if you don’t count dolphins swimming with me. “This is a long swim for someone like you.”

            “Oh?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Just what kind of someone am I, that this is a long swim?”

            “You have legs,” he said.

            “Thank you for noticing. I am rather attached to them, even if they are standard equipment for most of us.”

            “I mean, you’re a normal human, made for walking on land. Swimming like this is something I’ve done my whole life.”

            She laughed. “I don’t get accused of being normal very often, and never before by a merman. How do you know it’s not something I’ve done my whole life?” she asked. “Normal humans swim, too, you know, and even some not-so-normal ones like me. Many of us are actually quite good at it.”

            “The best normal human swimmer I’ve ever seen is Josh and Marta’s son, and he’s been swimming with the Pod since before he could even walk. He’s still just a child, and I think he would give your best Olympic swimmers some real competition. Even then, he’s still nowhere near the swimmer any of us are.”

            She poked him gently in the center of his chest. “I’ve been swimming for as long as I can remember, and started competing at ten years old. I swam competitively through high school and college, and still swim laps a couple of hours almost every day, going a lot farther than this without fins. I may not be able to swim as fast or as far as you can, but don’t think that, just because I’m not a mermaid, I’m not comfortable and competent in the water. Now, if you think it’s that important that I have a buddy as I swim around out here, then either put up or shut up. I’m going to do some sightseeing on the reef. You can either be my swim buddy, and I’ll be yours, or we can go our separate ways, and I’ll hope to see you around somewhere else, later.” She placed the mask over her face again, and wiggled it around a bit before releasing it. With the snorkel in her hand, she said, “Well?” and then dove without waiting for an answer.

            He watched her swim away. Well, she got one thing right – normal is not a term that fits her well. Weird might be a better choice. She didn’t bother looking back as she drew closer to the reef, and he found that all he could think about was those pale blue eyes. With a low leap, he dove after her. Then again, who am I to criticize anyone for being weird?

            When he caught up with her, she rolled over to swim facing up, and took another picture of him. There was a satisfied look in her eyes, as though she’d known all along what his choice would be, and was enjoying the vindication of being correct.

            He had to admit, her ability to stay under did seem a lot longer than most of the land-dwellers that visited the Pod, and she appeared very confident in her use of the snorkeling gear. When she headed for the surface to breathe, she did so at an easy pace, and not in the hurried manner so many people did, as though they were ready to drown if they didn’t get a breath right that moment.

            If he held his hand to block the view of her below the waist, Timothy could easily imagine that she had a tail instead of legs. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Fiction for August 9, 2013

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Vonnie, over at My Back Door. Be sure to visit, and if you have some fiction to share, feel free to jump in!

When I was in High School, I went through a phase of reading books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, including many of the Tarzan stories. They were pulp fiction – outrageous stories even for their day, but they were imaginative and fun. They offered adventures far removed from the urban jungles we’ve built for ourselves, and a hero that seemed to embody the best of both animal and human. When the Faithwriters Challenge topic of “Africa” came up, my mind harkened back to those stories, and I wrote this short scene. It didn’t place, but I still enjoyed writing it, and I think it’s just a fun piece. I hope you enjoy it.


The Face of Africa
Topic: Africa
Challenge entry; week of 5 March 2009

            The old man leaned on the walker, making faster progress down the ramp than I expected.  He flashed a wrinkled smile beneath blue eyes that twinkled with mischief.  I met him at the base of the ramp, and he reached a hand for mine.  His grip was deceptively strong.

            “Is it really you?” I asked.

            “Now, that’s a silly question, isn’t it?  Of course it’s me; who else would I be?”  Releasing my hand, he turned away from the house.  “Let’s walk, shall we?”

            “Should you be out here like this?”

            “Oh, posh; if I’m the person you came here to meet, then you should ask if I really belong in there.”  He withdrew the letter I’d sent from his shirt pocket.  “I used to get letters like this all the time, but not much anymore.”

            “I must confess, I’m a bit surprised.  I didn’t expect to see you in a cotton shirt and twill slacks.”

            He laughed.  “I’m over a hundred years old.  You don’t want to see me in nothing but a loincloth now.”

            We stopped at the trees.  “I’m just happy you’re still alive to meet, sir.  From the first time I read the books about you, you became the face of Africa to me.  My dad said you were the face of Africa to his entire generation.”

            “Funny, that, really, since I’m English.”  He patted my hand.  “Don’t put much stock in those stories, though.  If I could have done even half of what they said, I’d never need this home or a nurse.”

            “The stories captured our imagination; even Jane Goodall cited them as inspiration for her life’s work.”

He nodded.  “I know, but I have a confession.  It’s not me that caught so many people’s imaginations; it was this land.  If the stories about me had taken place in the swamps of Louisiana, or the Canadian Rockies, or even the Amazon rainforest, they wouldn’t have made the same impact.  Africa, though, still draws us in with possibilities to be explored.”

            “You might have a point there.”

            “Of course, I do; I’ve had a long time to think about these things, you know.  Look around you; this land has been known since before Egypt was mentioned in Genesis, but say ‘Africa’ to the average chap, and he won’t think of modern cities and agriculture.  He’ll think of jungles and the Serengeti.  He’ll see Kilimanjaro and the Sahara.  To most people, Africa is synonymous with wild and untamed.”

            “You’re right; most people I know could name more wild features about Africa than countries here.”

            “I can even tell you why you came here.”

            “I thought it was to meet you.”

            “You didn’t come here to meet an old man; you came here to meet yourself.  You’re here because – like most people – you have a deep awareness that humanity has lost something, and you saw traces of that in the stories about me.”

            “What have we lost?”

            “We’ve lost our purpose.  You see, God created man to reach between the physical and the spiritual.  We are grounded to the Earth, with hands to reach towards Heaven.  We are flesh like animals, and spirit like God.”

            “We haven’t lost that.”

            His gaze was penetrating.  “Modern man has insulated himself from both sides.  We have pavement and shoes isolating us from the Earth.  We build roofs over our heads to shield us from the sky, and hide from Heaven behind our science.  Our food arrives in plastic packages, and our salvation in pill bottles.”  He touched a hand reverently to a tree trunk.  “You saw me as the face of Africa not because I lived here, but because I lived Africa.  I moved with the land and the trees and the animals, and reminded you of what man could be if freed of society’s expectations.  When a man is that close to the Earth as God made it, that spark of the Holy in him becomes more obvious.”

            “Mr. Clayton,” the nurse interrupted from behind us.  “You know you’re not supposed to wander away like this.”

            He winked at me.  “They’re afraid I’ll die in the jungle.”

            “Uh huh,” she said.  “Then I’d have to explain to the Greystoke Estate what happened to you.”

            He put his hand on my chest.  “Stay here; stand barefoot and see if the spiritual becomes more obvious to you.”  He turned back to the house, and added, “See, then, if you find your mirror holds the face of Africa.”