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Monthly Archives: March 2017

A Game of Cat and Moose

Once upon a time, there was a bisexual cat named Don Arminigo who was very good at hunting mouses. He would catch them, he would torture them; sometimes, if he got bored, he would eat them, but more often he would let them go. He had noticed that once he let them go, they became more of a challenge. And he liked a good challenge.

But the Insignificant Humans squatting in his palace were fearful of the mouses. They set traps for them, which Don Arminigo found quite distasteful. And one day, a particularly bold but stupid mouse Don Arminigo had caught, told him “This is the last time, Don Arminigo! Your masters are putting down poison and we’re all going to take it, because we’re all so sick of you!”

Once Don Arminigo had figured out whom the small creature meant as his “masters” (it had to be the Insignificant Humans! *scoff*) he was quite upset. But he got the better of those mouses—he found the rat poison in the pantry and he ripped it open, spoiling the Insignificant Humans’ plans.

“We can’t have that stuff in the house around Fluffy,” the broad one with the bald face said. “It’s too dangerous!” Fluffy was what Don Arminigo suffered the Insignificant Humans to call him.

And so it was that Don Arminigo protected his domain.

But he grew tired of chasing the mouses. Even the smartest and most agile of them were no match for his strength. He needed better prey. Larger and more terrifying. Which is why he trained the Insignificant Humans to leave the window open for him at night.

In the forest outside his palace, there lived an extraordinary Moose named Janet. She was eight feet tall and had antlers that could beat most trees in a fist-fight. “Antlers?” her friends would ask, “But I thought only male Moose had antlers!” Then she would turn her nose up at them and dare them to question her gender identity.

When Don Arminigo heard of this magnificent creature, of her grace and majesty, he knew no other beast on earth could slake his lust for blood. He saw her through the trees one autumn evening, munching on local leaves, and carefully plotted an attack until finally he threw himself out of the underbrush, leapt up onto her shins and clawed at the fur there like catnip.

It was several seconds before Janet the Moose even realized that anything was the matter. Assuming that the ticklish itch just over her ankle must be foliage, she lifted it up and then noticed it was still itching and finally looked.

“Ha-ha!” said Don Arminigo the bisexual cat. “I have caught you at last!”

“Oh dear,” said Janet the Moose. “I guess I’m in trouble now.”

“You have guessed rightly!” said Don Arminigo, renewing his assault on the rough fur.

Janet, now that she understood what was happening down there, soon realized she found the sensation quite pleasant. But, fearful that the valiant little hunter might stop or lose interest, she yawned “Oh, please, sir! Please! Not there! Not there! Oh, no!”

Satisfied that he had triumphed, Don Arminigo returned to the palace, where the Insignificant Humans had placed his food out for him as a reward for his bravery and skill.

This episode repeated for several nights as Don Arminigo ventured out and never noticed that Janet the Moose crept subtly closer to his domain, to cut down on his travel time. But then one day, Don Arminigo overheard the Insignificant Humans talking around their table.

“I’mana git that Moose!” said the furry-faced one, “He’s gon’ be food this winter and a nice fur coat for Betsy!”

The small, fast one’s face turned red at this and Don Arminigo grew fearful. Would they really do it? Would they really steal his prize? He found this most distressing.

That night, when he came upon Janet in the Glade just the other side of the fence from the property, Don Arminigo wondered how he could go about tricking the large, stupid beast into making it to safety.

“Gee,” said Janet, who had noticed Don Arminigo in the underbrush and wondered what was taking him so very long. “I wonder where that magnificent predator is! Maybe he’s forgotten about me! I hope he doesn’t come to me tonight! Maybe he’s lost the knack for tracking me!”

Unable to withstand such a taunt, Don Arminigo leapt out of the bushes with a fervor spurred by fear, crying “Aha! You thought you were safe, but I will show you how unsafe you are!”

“Oh, no!” yawned Janet, as Don Arminigo ventured further up her fur than he had ever dared till then.

“I’ll teach you!” cried Don Arminigo, “I’ll teach you to come close enough to my palace that the Insignificant Humans can see you!”

But at the mention of Humans, Janet’s eyes went wide and dilated. “Humans!” she exclaimed, and with Don Arminigo on her back, she charged back into the wilderness, never to return.

And there, far from the Insignificant Humans and their various schemes to thwart Don Arminigo’s natural instincts, Janet the Moose and Don Arminigo the Bisexual Cat lived happily ever after as cat and moose.

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Factasy

When I was writing my first Master’s Thesis, which was on using Semiotics to define the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found a typo in one draft that caught my attention: I had spelled “Fantasy” with a “c” where the “n” should go. I burst out laughing when I found it. I thought that was a beautiful word, potentially a portmanteau in the making. So I defined it.

It would be easy in the current political climate to find a decisive use for it and turn it to derogatory uses, and I am well aware that this will happen if the term ever takes off, but I still want to root the idea in something real, something that could have its uses in something approaching intellectual pursuits, if not quite (yet) academia.

The definition is as follows: a work of Factasy is a work of fiction that pretends to base itself on actual-world sources. One of my favorite examples is Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Clarke uses footnotes to quote and reference sources on the study of magic. These sources are so convincing in their detail that it took me a good three hundred pages to remember that there had never, in our actual world, been a Raven King ruling the North of England for several centuries after the Middle Ages.

But on the other hand we have novels like The Da Vinci Code. It was very popular, but I didn’t like it. Part of the reason I didn’t like it was because it seemed to play fast and loose with its sources, which put it on uneasy footing. It’s one thing to have an expert in a field make discoveries over the course of a novel of “facts” that aren’t representative of any reality outside that novel, but the sources in Dan Brown’s most popular novel were confusing enough that I never figured out which sources he made up and which I could track down myself and read, if I took a fancy. And that was very dissatisfying to my reading experience in the long run—perhaps in part because I wanted so much to believe the version of reality that he presented.

So if I were to write up an instruction manual as how to incorporate aspects of Factasy in one’s work of fiction, my first bit of advice would be to be absolutely clear from the beginning on the relationship between the world and the sources. If they are tongue-in-cheek and all-encompassing like Clarke’s, then commit to them fully, but if your main character is a “world-renowned expert” in the field in question, and there is nothing utterly different about the world (i.e. if this is or could be the world we are living in) don’t be casual with the Factastical sources. Be careful. Be respectful of reality.


Deer in the Headlights

He likes to go hunting. He’s got his dogs, he’s got his boys, he’s got his guns. He likes deer and so does his wife—fresh venison really gets her going and after three kids in three years, not much else does.

It makes him eager. Eager in all the wrong ways.

He follows a buck and doesn’t even realize how hopelessly lost he is until he misses his shot. As the prey walks off, he curses and turns around. He calls out. There is no answer. He fires in the air. No one around fires back, or calls. He’s alone in the woods.

That’s where he finds her. At the bottom of a waterfall, in a pool by a spring, he finds her bathing. He doesn’t believe his eyes at first—why would he? What would a young woman like that be doing way the hell out here? At first all he sees is a human shape, beautifully light-skinned, with dirty-blonde hair flowing around it in the water. Curious, he moves closer.

She steps out of the water and he can tell, right there, dear God, she’s completely naked. She emerges from the water with perfect form, poised, only her wet hair clinging to her skin down her back. She seems so small…

Suddenly, she stops moving. Slowly, she turns around and he becomes self-conscious. He calls out to her, “Hey, what you doing out here?”

He doesn’t want to bring up her nakedness. He thinks maybe if he just doesn’t bring it up, she’ll think he just hasn’t noticed.

But now she’s turned to him and he can see her face. That face… she looks so young. Why, the girl can’t be more’n fourteen, could she? No breasts to speak of, no hips really, either, and yet what seems like a small thatch of—

Why is he looking?

“Look, hey, uh…” he begins again, “If you’re lost or something…”

She’s completely turned towards him now. She takes a step forward, leading from her shoulders and he finds himself raising his gun at her, at this poor helpless girl. He catches himself, then, lowers it back down.

He desperately tries to keep looking her in the eyes. He swallows.

“Do you like what you see?” she asks.

This is a trick question and he knows it. He knows what he should say, something along the lines of “Come on now, let’s get you home,” completely ignoring it. But instead, he finds himself saying “Yes.” Because he does like what he sees and he suddenly finds himself utterly incapable of lying.

She takes another step closer, landing at the edge of the water. “Do you like hunting?” she asks, much more enthusiastically, as though genuinely curious.

As she’s struggling to answer, she dips back into the water. “Yeah,” he concedes.

She asks him “And do you like to be hunted?” and at that moment, she disappears into the water.

Actually disappears. He cannot see her form beneath the waters, nor even a ripple above.

“Hey, you still there?” he calls. Then he thinks, somewhat benignly, But where are all her clothes?

The fact is, though, now he can’t even see her in the water.

The next thought to occur to him should be to wonder if the entire encounter was just some fever-dream caused by deprived horniness and guilt for it, but this is a thought that doesn’t occur to him because it doesn’t have a chance to. Because before it has a chance to, pain shoots out of nowhere across his entire body. I hate my name, he thinks, at the same time thinking that he’s melting.

But soon enough, the pain is over. His clothes lie in a pile next to him on the ground where he stands on his four legs and raises his antlers high. He likes being a deer, he thinks. His wife likes deer. He finds something on the ground to munch on until his dogs and his boys with their guns track him down and shoot him.

His clothes and gun are found, but his body never is—at least not officially. Though his wife is given a leg of venison to share with the children, and his friends make sure she’s taken care of for the rest of her life.


“We Don’t Care”

Blake Morrissey was not the only black kid at Trinity High but it sure felt that way sometimes. Especially being the only black kid in the tri-state area (whatever the fuck that meant, but it sure felt like it) who doesn’t listen to rap.

But when they catch him listening to Funkadelic or to Lenny Kravitz or Jimi the hell Hendrix, they screw up their faces and ask him “Boy, why you listening to that white people music?”

He looks at them like Are you kidding me?

“This is Ben Harper,” he’ll say, or whatever, try to turn the tables on them. “You don’t know Ben Harper? Shi-it.”

“Man,” said Mike Cobb one time, “You really oughta get the fuck outta rock, man. I’m telling you.”

“Black people started rock’n’roll music. We founded it, that’s our baby. Then white folks come in, pour bleach on it, give it surgery, some shit, and what? We s’posed to just walk away? That’s our baby, dude! You don’t walk away from no damn baby. Besides, you never heard of Eminem? You ask any white person name five rappers, you know who they say? Every one of them goes for Eminem. Maybe even Vanilla fucking Ice. Probably round off with the Fresh Prince. Yeah, you heard me. But you think they listen to Dr. Dré? Snoop? Biggie? Tupac? Nah, man.”

Mike Cobb crossed his over-sized arms. “Do you?”

It was a sore spot for Blake socially, possibly even more so than the cutesyness of his given name, which far too many people just simplified to “Black”.

It was also what made him nervous when he heard that Angst was forming.

“Black folks got rhythm, right?” he’d said recently, spinning one stick. “So when’s the last time you heard of a black drummer in a rock’n’roll band? Man, they go bitchin’ and bitchin’ and bitchin’, just bitch bitch bitch about ‘can’t find drummers worth a shit’—you hear the shit they talked about Ringo back in the day? Ringo! That ain’t right! It’s a public service, me taking up the drums. Gonna do for drums what Jimi did for gui-tar.”

That wasn’t the real reason he’d taken up drums. He actually had a thing for a girl in the school band, Marjorie, a white girl, nice girl, turned out to be gay, though, long story. But once he was in it, he actually kinda liked it, and once he heard there were freshmen wanting to start a band—

“Hey,” Declan finally approached him. “You’re Blake, right?”

He endeared himself by not pausing over the irony in the name. My brother, later on, was not so gracious.

“You play the drums, right?”

“Who’s askin’?” Though, of course, by then he’d heard some stuff.

“I hear you like Rock, lot of the old stuff?”

“I like Rock’n’Roll,” said Blake. “Don’t know how I feel about the ‘Rock’, though. Seems to me it doesn’t roll much anymore.”

“You down to give it a shove?”

Blake liked the repartee. “What’s in it for me?”

“Right now, not a damn thing other than the music.”

Liked the honesty, too. “I’ll think about it.”

“Take your time.”

But it only took him about five minutes to decide.


The Faces of Sayuni

Sayuni had two faces, one either side of his head.

He stood in the middle and when he looked around, he had no idea.

He couldn’t tell what was where.

An Old Woman came to Sayuni out of the Void.

She carried two Eggs.

She told Sayuni to watch the two Eggs for her until she returned.

Then she disappeared back Beyond the Veil.

As Sayuni stood scratching his head, one of the Eggs shook.

It hatched and out popped Tychael, a young woman full-grown.

This is was bad news for Sayuni–he was supposed to watch the Eggs.

He should probably get word to the Old Woman, he thought.

So he said to Tychael: “You, Newborn, go find the Old Woman!”

But he had two faces and no idea.

That’s why Sayuni sent Tychael out the Wrong Way.

Sayuni waited a long time for Tychael to return.

While he waited, he got hungry.

So he ate the second Egg.


The Death of Romance

DARRYL: Hey.

AMBER: Hey.

DARRYL: If you’re busy, I can–

AMBER: I’m not. Particularly, just… you know, trying to keep my mind… How you doin’? Have you talked to her?

DARRYL: She doesn’t want me to talk to her–

AMBER: You don’t know that. Do you want to talk to her? That should be a factor, too–I mean, to a certain extent.

DARRYL: I don’t know if I do want to talk to her.

AMBER: Why would you not want to talk to her? Look, you’d never know if you don’t try.

DARRY: Exactly. I don’t want to know. Do I? Do you know something I don’t?

AMBER: Sorry. Look, all I know is, she hasn’t talked about you in that way.

DARRYL: Because she doesn’t feel that way about me.

AMBER: That doesn’t mean she never will, you have to open that door–

DARRYL: And endanger our friendship?

AMBER: Yes.

DARRYL: … OK.

AMBER: Why do you think it’s gonna endanger your friendship?

DARRYL: Because she’ll know! And I’ll know, and it’ll be weird.

AMBER: Know what? What will she know?

DARRYL: She’ll know how I feel about her.

AMBER: And why will that be weird?

DARRYL: Because of the power dynamics! She… has this power over me, and I…

AMBER: And you don’t want her to know that she has this power? So you’re thinking of this as, like, a military operation?

DARRYL: No! It’s just… it’ll be weird…

AMBER: And you don’t think it’s weird that you have all these feelings for her and she doesn’t know? You don’t think that’s a bit creepy?

DARRYL: If she doesn’t know… If she doesn’t know, how can she feel… weird about it?

AMBER: That’s not the point.

DARRYL: Well, then what is the point?

AMBER: The point is choice. She has the right to know how you feel about her. She’s your friend. You want her to be more than a friend, but she… doesn’t even know that that’s an option.

DARRYL: It’s always an option.

AMBER: Is it?

DARRYL: She’s straight, I’m straight. How is it not an option?

AMBER: I’m straight.

DARRYL: Hold on, are you… are you saying this… right here… That this is an option?

AMBER: Are you saying this is an option? ‘Cause if all it takes is two straight people, and this is what we’ve got…

DARRYL: OK, I guess I see your point.

AMBER: How do you actually feel about her?

DARRYL: What, you mean, like…

AMBER: Say the first thing that comes into your head. How do you feel about her?

DARRYL: The first thing that comes into my head? I want her. When I look at her, I… The bounce and flow of her hair, the curl of her lips when she smiles–

AMBER: How do you feel about her?

DARRYL: I want to hold her. I want to… be close to her. I want to tell her stories and see what kinds of stories she’ll tell in return–

AMBER: OK, good. That’s good. What is your favorite thing about her?

DARRYL: The way she understanding things. I’m… I really have a lot of trouble sometimes with… expressing myself? With making myself understood? And I don’t… know… like, I’m not sure that she does always really… understand me. As it were. But she never holds it against me. Or she doesn’t seem to.

AMBER: But what do you like about her? Understanding you is one thing, but…

DARRYL: Well, it’s not just me, it’s… sorry, I got a bit side-tracked. No, it’s… We’d be in class, and… our brains are really similar, you know? I can… she says… things that… it’s the stuff that she says, OK?

AMBER: So you love her because she’s like you.

DARRYL: No, I love her because–

AMBER: Pay up.

DARRYL: I don’t know if I have a dollar on me–

AMBER: I’ll wait.

DARRYL: All right, here. Fine. Although you did use the word first.

AMBER: Not in relation to my guy!

DARRYL: I do love her, though. Now that I’ve paid, I guess I might as well say it, right?

AMBER: Do you love her, though? I mean, I know you love the way she looks, and I know you love the way she makes you feel…

DARRYL: What do you want me to say, Amber? What are you fishing for?

AMBER: Do you actually care about her?

DARRYL: Of course I do! This isn’t even about me, is it?

AMBER: A little bit, yeah.

DARRYL: One bad relationship and you’re giving up on love?

AMBER: I am not giving up on love! And it was not a “bad relationship”, we were just… He was gay. You know? It didn’t mean that we didn’t love each other. It just meant that we… Look, I care about you, Darryl. I love you. You’re my friend. And I care about her, too. I want you both to be happy.

DARRYL: And you think that we could make each other happy?

AMBER: It’s not about what I think. It’s about what you think. You have to want to make her happy–

DARRYL: Oh, is that what you were driving at?

AMBER: Yes!

DARRYL: You could’ve told me that!

AMBER: But that would’ve–whatever. Look, the point is… You have to want her to be happy.

DARRYL: Why do you think I don’t want to tell her? Right now, we’re friends. And she seems to like it like that. Friends seem to be… comfortable. For her. Makes her happy. If I tell her I want to be more than friends… That could make her unhappy.

AMBER: You don’t know that.

DARRYL: I don’t know anything!

AMBER: Well, at least you know that.

DARRYL: Beginning of wisdom, right? God, it all used to be so much simpler. You like a girl, you… write her a poem. Recite it at her window at night. Now…

AMBER: Have you ever tried that?

DARRYL: Yeah.

AMBER: … Really?

DARRYL: Hell, yeah. I went to high school. You gotta be a romantic at some point before you can earn the right to be a cynic.

AMBER: You’re not cynical.

DARRYL: Challenge accepted!

AMBER: Good luck! You don’t have it in you! So what happened?

DARRYL: Hm?

AMBER: With the girl? Reciting a poem at her window?

DARRYL: Oh, she um…

AMBER: She didn’t call the cops, did she?

DARRYL: No, but she told everybody at school. I was a laughing-stock. People started calling me Romeo. Obviously. Then some guy called himself the Prince of Cats and drew a knife on me–

AMBER: No!

DARRYL: True story. I reminded him Romeo kills Tybalt in the play, and then I got suspended for three days.

AMBER: ‘Murika!

DARRYL: Oh, God.

AMBER: So, because some guy drew a knife on you one time, that means there’s no such thing as love?

DARRYL: Well, when you put it like that… no. It doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as love, it means there’s no such thing as romance. It means romance is dead.

AMBER: Or… It means you just haven’t found the right person. You don’t get to be cynical after just one try, Darryl. You don’t “get” to be cynical at all. You just have to get up, get over it. Try again. Do you feel the same way about Michelle that you did about that other girl? Did you trust that other guy?

DARRYL: No.

AMBER: Then don’t go telling me things that aren’t true. Tell her. Tell her how you feel, let her make the decision.

DARRYL: I should tell her.

AMBER: You should tell her!

DARRYL: Should I write a poem?

AMBER: Do you think that she would like a poem?

DARRYL: I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.

AMBER: I’m actually not sure that she would get it. It’s just… she might think it was a joke. Or ironic.

DARRYL: Then I was right.

AMBER: About what?

DARRYL: Romance is dead. I think Irony killed her.


Fred the Shirt

Once upon a time, there was a shirt named Fred. She lived on the large girls’ shirts rack at a clothing store surrounded by a great many Dull Gray Shirts. The Dull Gray Shirts did not approve of Fred because she (her full name was Frederiqua) was a Loud Pink Shirt with a picture of an Ugly Green Fairy on the front. Even the store clerks rolled their eyes at her as they passed by, if they bothered to look at her at all. And the customers? The teenaged girls who passed through the store, every single one of them, looked at her, lingered on her, and laughed in her face, before carefully selecting one of the all-but-identical Dull Gray Shirts that surrounded her.

But then one day, a curly-haired blonde girl named Shirley walked into the store. She was there with a friend and the friend was just like all the other Dull Gray Girls, but Shirley seemed different. She didn’t seem as impressed by most of the selection, but when she laid her eyes on Fred’s Loud Pink shoulder, she lit up like a beacon.

“Seriously?” said the friend when she caught Shirley looking, and soon launched into an invective against Bright Pink Anythings all over the world and how none of them could bring about social success.

Shirley bowed her head and left the store empty-handed, but a few days later, she came back alone. “I’ll show them,” she told Fred while waiting in line at the register. “I bet none of them even bothered to try you on. I’m gonna rock your look, I just know it!” Then she realized she was talking out loud to a shirt and smiled at the store clerk.

There were a few Dull Gray Shirts in Shirley’s closet, but only a very few, and those, according to gossip, had been foced on Shirley by her parents. That night, Fred was carefully folded atop a faded pair of jeans that only casually mentioned the record collection without talking Fred’s ear off about it. And the next day, Shirley slid the shirt on—she fit perfectly—and strode into school like it was armor.

“Seriously?” said Heather, the fried who had disapproved at the store, and with that one word, Shirley’s confidence shattered. She crossed her arms in front of the Ugly Green Fairy all through first period and then rushed to the restroom to change into her Emergency Back-Up Dull Gray Shirt. And when she got home, Shirley took Fred out of her backpack and stuffed her into a box under her bed with a collection of ripped, torn, scorched and poorly tye-dyed failures of Shirley’s childhood.

Over the next few days, as Fred languished, Shirley started to realize that there were a lot of things that Heather said that she didn’t agree with, but went along with because Heather seemed to assume that they went without question. And yet here she was, her and her Dull Gray Shirts, trying to fit everyone else into a Dull Gray Shirt when they could talking out loud to fairies on their chests. Or on their butts—wait a minute!

It was sixth period and Shirley didn’t realize it unitl they had all stood up, but the girl in front of her, Judy Chung, was wearing a pair of jeans that featured the Exact Same Fairy floating up the calf to the left butt-cheek.

“Seriously?!” Shirley exclaimed, which caused Judy Chung to turn around and give her a quizzical look. “Sorry,” said Shirley, “I was just admiring the fairy on your… um…” She was going to say “jeans”, but Judy Chung offered, “Ass?”

“Why, yes,” Shirley accepted. “I was admiring the fairy on your ass.”

With that awkwardness out of the way, Shirley dashed home after school and released Fred from her under-bed prison—which hadn’t been that bad, really: the hole-ridden flanel was actually a pretty decent guy, once you got to know him—and she clutched Fred to her chest and promised never to let her go again. Until she needed to be washed, of course. Which would be pretty soon, probably, because Shirley was very excited to wear her again.

And the next day at school, when Shirley saw Heather and saw the expression on her face at Shirley’s unabashed display of aesthetic defiance, Shirley cut her off with a decisive “Seriously!” and kept on walking, looking for Judy Chung. ‘Cause even if she wasn’t wearing those pants today, she was pretty confident that the two fo them would still match.

But Judy Chung was wearing the jeans. The jeans were named George, which was short for Georgiana, and the minute Fred saw George, they knew from the bottom of their hearts that the four of them would have no trouble living happily ever after.