Sunday, August 30, 2009

An open letter to the person who broke into my car and stole $1.50 in change,

Alright I get it, man. Of course, I’m assuming you’re a man. I guess that’s probably sexist, but let’s just make that assumption for the sake of easy writing. I’m also going to assume you’re the same person who broke into my car last time, as the pattern of robbery was the same…shattered rear driver’s side window, you left everything but my battery jump-starter and my chump change and you didn’t take my CDs, which either means you (or possibly *I*) have bad taste in music or you’ve decided that MP3s really are the future of the industry.

I should probably thank you for being relatively gentle to my car for the second time. While the shards of glass did leave a small scratch in the plastic below the window, you didn’t touch my factory CD player or my on-board electronics, nor did you leave any peculiar odors or stains. I will say that without the battery jump-starter that you stole, I experienced my first dead battery in several months, and was without a way to jump the car. Also, just to let you know for the future, the Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid vehicle, has a pretty complex electrical system and you can’t get it out of park if it won’t hold a charge. Apparently when the mobile window repair man fixed my window, he shorted something out in the door, which means my car was stuck in the parking garage.

But, I don’t blame you. The heroin, or meth, or tithe, or whatever it is you needed that money for, was, to you, worth the 200 dollar window repair and day and a half of inconveniences it caused a perfect stranger. That $1.50 was a free deal to you. One car window is as good as the next, and my car is one of the nicer looking ones in the parking garage, I’ll admit.

I’m afraid I won’t be leaving any more change in my car for you. I know it’s sort of a petty revenge. I mean, chances are you didn’t see the change anyway, and that you simply targeted my car because of its make, sheen, or location in the garage. Maybe my custom license plate pissed you off. So, next time you break in, just realize: no jump-starter, no change. It’ll be a waste of some kinetic energy for you, and another bill for me, and that’s about it.

On a positive note, I think you might have inspired a short story.



Wednesday, August 12, 2009

News: Hiatus

I'm in hiatus from writing Wayside while I get some other stuff out of the way. I haven't abandoned it, I promise. I just need some time for the story to stew.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Manuscript: Wayside, Chapter 14


Noura opened her eyes. She was in a small room with a window that admitted so much light Noura thought there must been spotlights outside shining directly into the room. She was in a bed, and there was gauze wrapped neatly around her brow. She blinked and touched her forehead. The last thing she could remember was a phone ringing.

The door opened, and her mother swept into the room with the drama of a diva and gave a cry of joy at seeing her daughter with her eyes open.

“Angel!” Mrs. Naysmith ran to embrace her daughter. “They thought you might be in a coma or a vegetable or on the brink of death.”

“Oh codswallop, ma,” Noura rolled her eyes. “There’s no way a doctor would say something that ridiculous.”

“Well. Maybe he said it was a mild concussion. But western doctors are prone to understatement, you know.” She fiddled with Noura’s pillows and sheets and picked at her until Noura thought she might have to swat her away.

“How long was I out, then,” Noura asked.

“Well, we tried to call you when you missed your shift at the restaurant.” Mrs. Naysmith lifted a hand at her daughter’s sudden look of distress. “Edina picked it up. But after several tries we decided to have someone check up on you.”

“Your father found you in a heap on your floor. Dinah still had food in her bowl, so I suspect you weren’t there for too long. What happened, dear?”

Noura’s headache recalled her expulsion from Wayside and her failed attempt at returning there. She sighed. “I must have tripped on the rug and hit the coffee table or something.”

Her mother smiled. “My clumsy daughter,” she said as she stood. “Well, no work for you for a few days. I’ve given away all of your shifts.”

“Oh mother, I—“

Mrs. Naysmith tutted. “You’re father’s still in London and the doctor said when you woke he’d check on you and then let you go. I’m going to get him and then I’m taking home.”

Before Noura had time to protest her mother had vanished down the hall. The doctor, a nice young woman who didn’t look much older than Noura, examined her and deemed her fit to travel. After a few stacks of paperwork, a nurse wheeled her through the ward and the lobby and down a concrete ramp where Noura’s mother awaited in her gray Audi sedan. She insisted on walking Noura to the car, through a wave of rebuttal, in case she “wasn’t to strength yet.”

It turned out that by “home” her mother had not meant Noura’s flat on Meadow Park, but her parent’s home in Morrowbridge, a half-hour’s drive outside of the city. Noura had protested, citing her cat’s well-being and the work she needed to do on her computer, but when Asha Naysmith – devoted wife, loving mother, and demanding restaurateur -- got it in her head that things should be a certain way, it was almost entirely out of the question to do otherwise, family or not. Besides, she had retrieved Noura’s laptop and fed Dinah before visiting Noura at the hospital, so the argument was lost before it had begun.

The Naysmiths’ home in Morrowbridge was unquestionably well appointed. Robert Naysmith was a civil engineer of some regard, and his wife Asha, who had met Robert while he was helping construct a lavish hotel for Pakistani businessmen in Islamabad, ran the very popular restaurant ‘Lazeez’ in downtown Edinburgh. Robert had designed the interior of the restaurant, an homage to Eastern Renaissance design with a modern flair and color palette that Zagat had called “pleasing to both the eye and the soul”. Asha had constructed the menu from her own family’s recipes and her extensive self-taught knowledge of Middle-eastern and Urdu haute cuisine. The restaurant was very much the place to be among tourists and students of the university.

Asha Naysmith and daughter rolled up to the wrought-iron house gate, which opened automatically at their arrival. The gate always reminded Noura of the main gate of Wayside, and her stomach dropped as she watched it swing open now.

“Are you alright dear?” her mother prompted. “You look pale.”

Noura nodded and shut her eyes. “Just tired.” She felt like she’d abandoned the city. People there had come to rely on her and, at a time when they no doubt needed her more than ever, she didn’t have the strength to help. She made a silent promise that she would try again tonight, after her mother had gone to bed.

That night, her mother cooked chana dal -- a specialty that Noura equated with family gatherings and childhood. It was filling. The food, combined with being at her parents’ home with her mother, was a powerful soporific and, as her mother announced her plans for bed, Noura struggled with her promise to try to reach Wayside. Her guilt won over her weariness at last, and when her mother left Noura slipped out of the French doors and into the back yard. The motion-sensing lights popped on as she strolled into the garden -- one of her mother’s great prides. She wasn’t worried about detection, as her mothers room overlooked the front of the house and she was a deep sleeper.

The garden, with its half-acre of tilled earth and plant-life was as functional as it was beautiful. It provided her parents with fresh herbs and vegetables that the average Scot would be hard-pressed to find locally. Sweet tamarind trees lined the garden and it burst with black cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, dill, and even little saffron flowers.

Noura breathed in the tang of the plants and shut her eyes, searching for the center spot inside her mind. It was impossibly small, the spot -- a white pinhole of light that she needed to wrap mind and body around to reach the other side. The movements of her form helped, so she let her feet fall into the open step and performed the first set. She could almost see it. It was there somewhere, in the chaos. Like pulling weeds from the herb patch she attempted to pick through the static in her brain to find the doorway.

“Noura Naysmith?” A voice from behind jarred her from concentration and the memory of her attack flashed before her eyes. She cringed, ducking behind a gooseberry bush with the panicked speed of a mouse caught in an owl’s menace.

Noura peeked out from behind the bush to find a young man, garbed in olive pants and a blue vest. His hair was mostly covered with a red kerchief and as he tilted his head sideways to catch Noura’s gaze, tiny glass beads tied to his hair clinked and flashed in the light. As he addressed her again, Noura caught a familiar tinge to the words.

“You are Noura Naysmith, are you not?” the man said, putting a hand to his heart in a gesture that Noura now recognized as Caravaneer.

“What...what are you doing here?” Noura’s heart was beginning to return to a near normal cadence and her fear was replaced with numb shock upon seeing an actual Caravan gypsy outside of the Wastes.

“We are sorry to bother you at your family home, and apologize in double for invading on the privacy of an emere in the sanctity of Zeme.” The young Caravaner gave a gentle bow. “The matter is of some urgency. I bear a message from Grand Lord Connelly.”

“Is Wayside in danger? What about Grim? I’ll come right away.” Noura removed herself from the gooseberry bush and rushed to the young man, but he stepped back, raising his hands.

“Please, Miss Naysmith,” the young Caravaner said gently. “We are not permitted to interact. The Grand Lord is breaking several trusts already by allowing this message to reach you here.”

Noura tried to calm herself. She breathed in deep. “Deliver your message then, please.”

The Caravaner issued another short bow and recited what was surely a prepared speech. “His Lordship requests, with much humility, that you remain in Zeme for the safety of both you and the people of Wayside and that you do not attempt cross the veil until the present situation is rectified. He apologizes on behalf of all of Rom for suggesting a course of action, as we are aware it is not our--”

“What?” Noura interjected.

“It is not our place to issue demands of –“

“Look, I am not going to sit on my hands while Osborne and his band of merry men ‘rectify’ the situation.” She crossed her arms in defiance. “Someone tried to kill me in my city and I’m not going to let the tadger responsible threaten anyone else. You tell your Grand Lord that if he wants to stop me from crossing the veil, he’ll have to tie me to a post and force me to drink whisky until I can’t string two words together.”

The Caravaner looked momentarily shocked at her tone, but recovered with a nod and replaced his hand on his heart. “As you say, Miss Naysmith, so shall it be. We apologize again for the intrusion.”

“Good evening,” Noura muttered.

“May you know your story,” the man backed away from Noura until he was enveloped in the shadows on the garden, then turned and disappeared into the dark.

“The nerve,” Noura said to no one in particular. To think that Caravan would be so bold as to suggest that she stay put like a good girl and let other people deal with her problems was an insult, to say the least. She had been crossing into Wayside since she was old enough to walk, and she wasn’t going to let some demand from on high prevent her from seeing it again.

Fueled by her defiance, she spread her feet into the open step, and thrust her hands down, through the earth, through the center of the planet, rooting her as surely as stone. She cast her mind through the static and found the spark of light, the pinhole that was the door to Wayside.

She paused. Something was amiss. A shadow loomed before the spark -- resolute and angry -- a silhouetted beast whose hulking form and shining eyes blocked her path.

Noura gritted her teeth. She tried to feel around the creature, but it shifted to stop her. She lashed out with her anger and frustration, but the creature accepted the blows as the cliffs accept the crash of the waves.

“Go away!” She shouted her impotence. The creature reached out a claw and she felt her mind pushed away from the spark. With a soft howl the beast faded into the static of her thoughts and with it went the door.

She opened her eyes and wilted. Wayside, it appeared, would not welcome her.

* * *

Winter had reached Vologda Oblast, but Sasha Okhotnikov would not allow the bite of cold to distract him. He ignored the frost collecting in his trimmed black beard and steadied Iskraa, his immaculate Ruger 77 Mark II, on the target before him. He had tracked the animal for hours through the old growth, but at tracking he was an expert and the snow made the solitary animal’s path as obvious as an arrow painted on the earth. Here, at last, they were -- hunter and prey, the most basic of interactions.

Iskraa, Sasha could feel, ached for the simplicity of the action and as the stag chuffed and looked up at him he could feel the tension in the trigger, the rapt attention of the bullet within the chamber. He drew an imaginary line between it and the neck of the beast.

The stag’s winter coat gleamed in the snow. Sasha smiled. This, he thought, was an emperor of the forest -- lord of his domain -- worthy prey.

Release. A crack bounced from tree to tree, carrying the testament of Sasha’s strike deep into the woods. The white stag leapt and kicked and a dark crimson flower blossomed at his throat as he fell. He struggled and whined and a sparkling cloud of ice rose up around his thrashing form. Then, with a last rattling sigh, the stag accepted his death and was still.

Sasha cradled the spent Iskraa and waited. He let the quiet return; let the wound pump out the last of the beast’s steaming lifeblood. Then, he approached the corpse and reached down to feel the warmth draining away from his prey.

“A fine shot,” a woman’s voice praised him. He was not surprised. He had long ago denied the unexpected from invading his clarity. He casually wiped the blood from his gloves with a handful of snow and stood, scanning the surrounding forest for the source of the voice.

“You do your father well. His rifle sings in your hands.” The trees and the snow belied the woman’s location. She seemed to be everywhere. Sasha would have laughed, were he a less serious man.

“Iskraa is my own. The man who held her before was a caretaker. He held her until her true master could claim her.” Sasha began to head east, but abandoned the choice several strides later and turned south. He would keep the woman talking. “And who wanders in the winter forest with night so near?”

“A messenger,” said the voice, somewhere to his right. “Or, if you prefer, a herald.”

“That’s a grand title,” Sasha replied, adjusting his path. He felt a sudden pang of hunger from Iskraa and began to reload her as he crept towards the source of the voice.

“The charge I bring is noble enough,” the voice cooed. “Though the means perhaps less so.”

A glimmer of green caught Sasha’s eye. An impossible brightness of color played within a copse of ash trees ahead. Sasha was nearly entranced by the contrast, but the feel of Iskraa in his hands centered him and returned his clarity. He approached the copse.

It was indeed a woman. She waded in a sun-lit pool, surrounded by vibrant green grass and soft reedmace that danced in an unfelt breeze. A shift of thin white cotton veiled the bathing woman, leaving little to Sasha’s imagination. She brushed her dark hair with a comb made of ivory.

“You are a spirit,” said Sasha.

“Oh yes,” replied the milk-skinned maiden. She smiled and drew the comb down to separate some tangled strands of hair. “I do hope that is not a problem. Will you come into the pool, Sashka? It is warmer than you imagine it.”

Iskraa burned in Sasha’s hands and he brought her to bear on the spirit. “I will not.”

The spirit sank into the water and emerged on the shore. She perched with delicate ease on a rock by the water’s edge and she drew a long sigh, relief obvious in her voice. “Good.” Her tone had lost its seduction. “Let us be, then, to business.”

Sasha eyes narrowed. “What business could you have with the living?”

The spirit gave a wry smile. “I have a job for you and your beloved Iskraa.”

News: Posting Chapter 14

Woo! Chapter 14 is go. It's an interlude, really, but it introduces a few important concepts and a new character that will definitely stir things up a bit.

Here we go...