“International Bake Off Season 1 on Netflix, Episode 1”

Episode 1: Cake Off!- Drama unfolds as the newly introduced contestants are put to the test. Poorly baked cakes go home, well baked cakes live to see another day!

 

Elon White, culinary genius and Season 1 host, stands before a group of ten contestants, each from a different part of the world. The kitchen is a large, cylindrical beast; all stainless steel and chrome offset by rustic wooden chef stations. The roof is entirely skylight. Outside, the Miami skyline bleeds a reminder of the 1980s in pinks and neon greens for the camera. Japanese influences flank the walls; bamboo thickets and pagoda molding set around two seven foot suits of Samurai armor.

The action kicks off quickly, as each contestant is given the task of baking a simple Bundt cake. Sam Brown, ex-linebacker for the Chicago Bears and contestant from the USA crushes raspberries for compote, red juice staining his apron and dying his dark hands an eerie crimson. Jenalee Wolland of Britain preserves lemon, mummifying it before topping her Bundt with slim pieces and a lime meringue. White counts the clock down like Orson Wells while dangerous horns score an uneasy overture. The contestant from Jamaica, a muscular, rail thin woman named Betty, deconstructs her Bundt with a machete. Richard Rand of Australia sings a traditional lullaby to his Cake, smiling wide as it wobbles with each lilt of the natural minor scale. Amir Usif, representing Turkey, crushes pistachios individually with a hammer twice the size of a normal man. “Ouch!” each one screams, but Usif continues to harvest with a deaf ear.

Sean O’Malley, the contestant from Ireland, pays tribute to his roots. He was born one of the fairy folk; a beautiful fairy, her hair waterfalls of gold and red, twirling, dancing in the forest around long forgotten rocks marked by Catholics who, despite praying to the Holy Trinity, knew better than to disturb the world of the fairies. Formerly Slethá, now Sean, bakes a white cake he sprinkles with copious amounts of magic and, for a touch of zing, cinnamon. Adonis Letapolis, a centaur from Greece, makes a giant Baklava cake, his syrup mixture of honey, water, sugar, cinnamon and lemon boiling in cauldron. Bianca Peterón, proudly carrying Spain on her back, liquefies the pure essence of citrus, distilling it to two eye drops worth of liquid that she adds to her long, flat cake that soaks in Rum and is topped with a coconut meringue.

The judges come out, recently outed Vampire Raleigh Simone, her hair four shades of blue and pink, her fangs proudly displayed, and the enormously fat Jeff Londing, former chef turned critic turned exploiter of the free food these sorts of competitions give out. They taste each cake, Londing remarking that Betty’s has “A really nice bake and lovely consistency.” Simone flirts shamelessly with Adonis Letapolis, picking his cake as ‘Gold Level’ for the week even though, as White and Londing point out, it was technically not a cake. Rand almost goes home, but, after deliberation and a pause for a commercial break (that never materializes because the show was made not for television but for online binge watching ‘fill your craving with watching cake instead of eating cake!), and a dramatic gong solo, Rand survives for one more round while the contestant from Japan, a humble Shiba Inu named Dolly, is sent home.

The Very Counterfeit of Death

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Voice’ This is my fiction piece

 

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, 1923

Hans Kroeger strolled through the plain wooden door, its frosted glass guarding the outside world from seeing inside, and set his briefcase down heavily. He set about brewing a pot of coffee, from which he poured himself a large cup and stared out the window.

Thomas Todder, his business partner of five years, interrupted; slamming the door behind him and pointedly avoiding eye contact with his partner.

Thomas poured himself an equally large cup of coffee and added two fingers of whiskey. He sat at his desk and began to sweat under Hans’ nervous stare.

 

 

Though the two men departed from their office the night before and retired to their own homes, they found themselves reunited in a dream. It was a shared dream, impossible yes, but seemingly less impossible than the landscape around them. It was made of crimson reds, violets, oranges the color of the sunset and teals that flirted with indigo but never gave in. They stood in a desert, wavering cacti stretching for miles. It was night in their dream, daytime seemed a ridiculous notion, and under an oversize moon hung six or seven big dippers.

Death a voice repeated, simultaneously in Spanish and English.

Hans and Thomas found themselves tied together, back to back, palm trees sprouting all around them and dancing violently.

We know. We know and we will rinse your soul clean.

 

 

If you asked Hans Kroeger or Thomas Todder about their newspaper, The San Antonio Voice, they’d say it was the most popular paper in Texas, the National Paper, hard journalism, and the best read since The Declaration of Independence. It was the same paper that had unmasked the Cattle Killer as Carlos De Sueña, discovered the Texas Desert Ape and proved it was Ricardo Jimenez and his wife Maria, and had proved the corruption charges against Mayor Jonas Rodriguez true, running him out of office.

It was a three man operation with only enough glory for two. Matta Zoltón, the young man who ran the presses, cleaned and maintained the machines, and loaded the cars for delivery, was a shadow stuck behind the scenes.

This morning, Hans and Thomas found their hubris deflated, both wondering about the strange dream they had, unaware the other had dreamt the same nightmare.

They moved slowly, but by lunch both men had put the terror out of their minds and, by evening, felt jovial enough for a drive up to the Hill Country for a drink at the Beer Hall.

They left Matta with a full night’s work. Tomorrow’s headline read: SANTOS CERO: OFFICER OF THE LAW, OR KILLER OF LOCAL BATS; CHIROPTERA KILLER.

 

 

Hans’ crimson tie lay on the table next to Thomas’ teal and purple diamond print one as the two men readied themselves to leave the Beer Hall. It was not a large Hall with mostly outdoor seating, but the warm night air of the Texas summer kept patrons comfortable where walls and ceilings did not. The owner brewed his own Ale and kept a plethora of pretty daughters behind the bar, both contributing to the continuing success of the establishment.

It was dark and the moon had not yet risen when the two men decided to call a car and return home. Without the blanket of stars, the sprawling, open fields of the Hill Country remained seemingly unconquerable. Thomas grabbed both men’s ties and encouraged Hans to follow him on the short walk to the road where they could more easily meet their driver.

As they trudged through the wet grass, the moon rose violently, stars coming into view under a wavering orange band of light. Trumpets sounded around them, playing a dark melody in an incongruously snappy, crisp performance.

The sound of hooves snuck up on the two men until they spun around to find a glowing white figure atop a horse. It was clearly, even through the haze of a few pints of Ale, a skeleton wearing a General’s uniform, a tailored black and red coat with black pants that made the apparition resemble some sort of vampire if not for the unnerving, grinning skeleton face the two men could help but fixate upon.

The hands and head of the skeleton sucked the glow from the full moon and illuminated fully in the space around the men. Its face was adorned in the traditional Dia De Los Muertos Calavera Skull, flowers around the eyes, with smaller more decorative lines in oranges, teal and crimson all across the face. On the forehead a small sun faded to crescent moon and back again every few seconds. The Skeleton pulled the reins of the horse and jumped in an acrobatic spin, landing in front of the two men and knocking them to the ground.

Hola! It cried.

“Who are you?” Thomas demanded.

Oh, senior Todder, you do not recognize me? Is it perhaps because I am dead? It does alter the face a bit, no? the apparition laughed, drawing his face in close to Thomas’.

“I know that voice…” Hans murmured.

It is General Posata you odorous gringos!

“No, no you’re dead.” Hans retorted. He had only met the man a few times, but this did not sound like General Posata. Or did it? Perhaps having no vocal chords altered the voice?

I AM??  The General cried, looking back in forth, his features pulled into exaggerated surprise, like a glowing, undead tragedy mask. He laughed heartily, a meaty chuckle that sent shivers down the two men’s spines. Walk with me. He said, and set off.

“No. Leave us alone,” Thomas spat.

Wasn’t asking. Posata said, and Thomas realized his feet were moving independent of his brain. They were no longer in the Hill Country; the landscape had changed to that of the desert far west of San Antonio.

It is cold here at night, but not as cold as death. Did I mention I’m dead? Posata said lyrically. I believe that you two had something to do with that. And I believe you two have had something to do with a number of deaths, all which number among the Mexican men and women of San Antonio.

The desert was indeed cold. The Big Dipper fell from the sky, crashing to earth and revealing itself to be seven souls, each men and women The San Antonio Voice had proved guilty a crime that had sentenced them to death.

Posata circled the men. I am a blunt man, so let me say this; You have brought death upon too many who did not deserve it, including myself, all in the pursuit to prove a your so called truths. You are not journalists, but prejudice harbingers of death. Tonight, this ends, unless you can report from this desert, your new home Someday, you will feel the cold of death, but first ,you will burn in this place.

Hans and Thomas could not protest; their voices were stripped from them. The big dipper danced around in cold, fiery torment, and the coyotes of the desert laughed and laughed.

 

 

 

No one in San Antonio ever figured out where the two men who ran The San Antonio Voice had gone. The bar maids at the beer hall said they had wandered off and were captured by wolves. Others claimed the old Native American Gods who protected the land had taken them. Matta swore it was an Angel sent from hell to take them.

Matta took over the paper, proving swiftly that the previous management’s versions of the truth were both fabricated and dangerously askew. The Mexican community rejoiced at his ascension and fine work running the paper.

He was not only a fine journalist and well respected member of the community, but also the best horseman in all of San Antonio

And the coyotes laughed and laughed.

Six Feet Small

 

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Float’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

 

“Stop it,” she said tersely.

Daron raised his eyebrows. “What?” he asked, surprised.

“Floating. Stop it,”  She said.

“Oh. You noticed that?” Darron asked.

His date scoffed. “Yes.”

They stood at the bar of an upscale Italian Restaurant that was trying a little too hard not to be Italian. Darron liked to bring his dates here because the bar was impressive and the food sounded lavish. Darron touched his feet to the ground just as the host called his name for a table for two. His date looked like she was seriously entertaining the idea of leaving. Darron sighed.

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

 

He had been the first person to float in over three hundred years, all thanks to a blood-red, leather bound book he had found in the garbage room of his building. Under a precariously placed gold statue of Krishna and an old Ralph Nader button he noticed the book, which he promptly picked up and leafed through, skepticism swarming his face.

“Um,” he said to no one in particular, wondering very much if this was a joke.

He brought the book upstairs and never let it go.

It was without a doubt an old book of handwritten spells. A Witch, at least Darron had a strong sense she was a witch not only because of the spells but due to the large meticulously scrawled “I AM A WITCH, HA HA HA” written in the front cover, had spent considerable time gathering these spells together and making sure they were recorded.

They were mostly inane spells; how to make a stone fly or how to preserve beets without pickling them, but there were more complicated spells every now and then. It wasn’t just that they were complicated; to Darron they seemed unnecessary. Why would he ever need to turn a pig inside out? Or create a second moon?

All in all they were pretty helpful and, all things considered, Darron really liked beets, so he considered the finding of the book positive event. He found a spell permanatly removing dust and another to summon an obedient Cat, which he did late at night by candlelight. The cat was very friendly but not very obedient, which was fine with Darron because he needed the company and never really believed in such a thing as an obedient feline anyway.

But, for all the multiplying pennies or unlimited shade spells, Darron found the most useful to be the spell that made him float. All his life he’d been short, and Darron always felt that the only thing holding him back from meeting more women was a few inches.

Now, he could float himself to six feetntall. The only problem was, woman always noticed.

 

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

“She didn’t fall for it either, huh?” Darron’s sister asked, snickering.

Darron sat behind the counter of the Magazine shop he owned in Long Island City, a small but quickly growing part of Queens nestled under the shadow of the 59th street Bridge.

“I’m not trying to trick anyone, C.” Darron groaned, unpacking a box and extricating an invoice.

Catherine scoffed. Where Darron was short and squat, with a face like a boulder and dark features, she was light and energetic. She was like a sunrise; Darron was like a water buffalo.

“I don’t get you Darron. You’ve always tried to trick people into thinking you’re something you’re not. “

“I have not,” Darron said, counting a shipment of magazines.

“Yes, you have! Remember in High School when you tried to make Layla Riccoritti think you were Turkish?”

“Hey, we could be! Mom’s family doesn’t remember which Mediterranean Island they came from.”

Catherine laughed. A few customers poked their heads up from reading to try to locate the source. “Let’s review. You find a book of magic tircks-“

“Spells,” Darron muttered.

“Spells, fine, you find a book of spells which grants you powers-“

“C, it doesn’t grant them, I had to master them!”

“Like magic tricks?” Catherine smirked.

Darron fumed silently, typing commands into his computer.

“You find a book of spells and instead of, oh, I don’t know, conjuring piles of gold to get out of selling Hipsters lame magazines for the rest of your life, you use it to trick women.”

“My clients are not Hipsters and my magazines are not lame!” Darron said through gritted teeth. A man with gauges in his ears wearing a tank top with suspenders approached the counter. He handed Darron a copy of Integrated Clockworks. Darron rang him up with a smile, attempting to inject some warmth into the tension.

“I like your Elk tattoo,” Catherine said to the man. He blushed and muttered a thank you.

After he left, Darron rounded on his sister. “Don’t you have something better to do today?”

She laughed again, but more serious this time. She punched her brother’s shoulder and locked eyes with him.

“Stop trying to trick women. No one is ever going to fall for it.”

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

 

A few hours later, the Spring sky had darkened late, leaving the reflection of the Manhattan skyline in Darron’s window. He dropped a box down on the counter and stretched his shoulders, trying to get the knots out. No one was in the store as The Queen is Dead by The Smiths played from the store speakers.

A woman with shoulder length chestnut hair walked in. Darron greeted her with a hello and was struck by how pretty he found her. She nodded at his hello but did not smile; not in reaction to Darron but because she seemed like the sort of person who saved her smiles, perhaps for decrepit graveyards or a murder of crows closing in on a smaller, weaker bird.

Darron shook his head, trying to clear it of such bizarre images. While her back was turned, he floated a few feet, raising his height to what he judged was taller than she.

She spun on her heel so fast Darron doubted whether she had ever turned her back.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Um,” said Darron.

She crossed her arms and glared at Darron. He smiled.

The woman snapped her fingers and turned Darron’s eyebrows into Seagulls which, Darron later reflected, was the most painful thing that had ever happened to him.

She returned him to normal, albeit sweating profusely.

Darron pointed at her and shot a small, violent tornado at her which she scooped up like a kitten and quelled very easily.

She smiled, making Darron feel very much like a small, weak bird.

“Would you like to go out for a drink?” she asked.

“Ought to Do Right By Me”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Ticket’ This is my fiction piece.

 

You could see the lake from outside the venue; a usually an ominous dark blue monster now rendered incongruously beautiful by the reflection of a sunset of pinks, oranges and reds. At the entrance to the music hall, a young man stepped up to a large, bearded ticket taker wearing a shirt that said ‘SECURITY’

“Ticket please.” the bearded man said.

“Here you go,” the young man said, handing him a ticket.

The bearded man examined it, and then scanned it.

“This is not a ticket.”

“Yeah it is.”

“It’s not a valid ticket.”

“What? Why not?”

“Well, it looks like you drew this ticket.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. So, that is not a valid ticket.”

“Yeah, it is. You need a ticket to get in, and I have a ticket.”

“No, see, hand-drawn tickets are not valid tickets.”

“That’s ridiculous. Where does it say that?”

“If you look on our website, you’ll see the rules and regulations for buying a ticket.”

The young man made a show of bristling. “I’m offended!”

“I don’t think you are,” the bearded man said.

“I am!!!”

“Nope.”

“Now I’m offended that you don’t think I’m offended.”

The bearded man raised his eyebrows. “I’ll live.”

“I demand to speak with your manager.”

“Don’t have one.”

“Your supervisor.”

“Don’t have one.”

“Your boss!”

“No.”

The young man stared pointedly at the man’s beard.

“I still don’t get why I can’t get in. Bermuda 467 is my favorite band and I have a ticket; this should be a simple transaction.”

“It’s a shame one of us is making it hard.”

“I agree.”

“I meant you.”

“And I mean you!”

“Listen, kid,” said the bearded man, brandishing the hand-drawn ticket. “This isn’t a valid ticket because you didn’t pay for it. You have to pay to get in.”

“Oh! Here, hold this,” the young man said, placing something in the large, bearded man’s hand. He took the ticket back. “There!” he said. The bearded man unfolded his hand and found a quarter.

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“I’ve purchased my ticket, and here it is. Thank you!”

“Tickets are $55 plus tax.”

“I’m a college student who works to put himself through school; I don’t have $55 plus tax for a ticket I already paid for!”

“I’m not letting you in.”

“You will let me in!”

“I won’t.”

“You will!”

“I won’t.”

“You won’t!”

“You’re right.”

The young man snapped his fingers. “Bah! That usually works.”

“When?” the bearded man asked. “When does that usually work?”

By now, the bearded man’s boss, a thin, elderly man who resembled an oil painting of a crane, had wandered over.

“Is there something wrong  here?” he asked, lifting a pair of glasses on a chair to his eyes.

“No,” said the bearded man.

“Yes!” said the young man. “This,” he motioned vaguely to the bearded man, “man refuses to accept my ticket.”

“It’s not a ticket,” explained the bearded man.

The young man scoffed. “Who are you to say that!? What’s a ticket anyway? Just a piece of paper that grants you access to an event, right?”

“A ticket,” said the bearded man, “ is a piece of paper or small card that gives the holder a certain right, especially to enter a place, travel by public transport, or participate in an event.”

“Um,” said the young man.

“Further more,” continued the bearded man, “for this venue, a ticket is said piece of paper purchased from the venue or through a valid third party distributor. Not, and I can’t say this enough, something hand drawn.”

“Aha! By definition, the ticket is simply a piece of paper or card, regardless of its origin, as long as it’s a piece of paper that gives the right to participate in said event if purchased from the venue. The quarter in your hand is proof that I purchased this ticket from the venue. Therefore, I should be granted access!”

No one spoke.

“He’s got you there,” said the bearded man’s boss. “Come on in.”

“Thank you!”

“Wait,” said the bearded man. “He would have me there, except I am authorized only to take tickets and work security for the band. I am not an authorized ticket seller, rendering your proof of purchase invalid, rendering this ticket invalid.”
“Oh,” said the man’s boss.

The young man sighed.

The bearded man smiled. “The line for tickets is over there. You can purchase one for $55 plus tax.”

The young man walked away without saying anything.

It took about a half hour to make it through the line. By that time, the sun had set and the lake had returned to its inky color; an ever-watching behemoth in the distance.

The young man reached the ticket window and pulled out three crumpled twenty dollar bills.

The ticket seller eyed him. She checked a note someone had left for her and examined the young man.  “Your ticket has been paid for. Here you are.” She handed him a ticket.

The young man narrowed his eyes, but the ticket seemed to be valid. He approached the bearded man again.

“Ticket please,” The bearded man said.

“Here you go,” the young man said, handing him a ticket.

The bearded man examined it and then scanned it.

“I’m not letting you in.”

“You will let me in!”

“I won’t.”

“You will!”

“I won’t.”

“You won’t!”

“I will!” The bearded man blinked.  “Oh, that does work.”

The young man walked in, but turned back. He opened his mouth to say something to the bearded man, but stopped. The bearded man tossed him a lanyard. “Eddie, the bass player, he and I grew up next door to each other. I asked him for a VIP pass. Have fun kid, and tell him Rick sent you.”

“Thanks, Rick.”

Rick, his beard an inky color,he himself an ever-watching behemoth; smiled.

“SUNY West-Cayuga Men’s Basketball”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Leviathan’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

It was the first time in the history of March Madness a 16 seed had beaten a 1 seed. For those who don’t speak Basketball, all that needs to be known is that the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans won a game they weren’t supposed to win. Not the don’t-win-this-game-or-your-family-will-be-mysteriously-relocated-to-an-island-in-the-South-Pacific-no-one-will-discover-for-another-150-years kind of not supposed to win, but the team-they-beat-has-bigger-stronger-faster-and-better-players-with-better-scholarships-and-are-all-one-foot-taller kind of not supposed to. From there, the miracle run lasted far beyond anyone’s expectations. In the blink of an eye and the space of a few weeks, the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans were playing in the National Championship game.

 

 

==========================================================

Poseidon loomed over the battlefield, a web of shallow rivers in a dry plain filled with palm trees. Odin, grinning a grin from a cartoon noir, stood tall over the other side of the battlefield. Poseidon’s Leviathan had fought better than expected in the Tournament of the Gods, first beating Bast’s Wildcat, followed by Loki’s Azure Frost Giant, The ‘Blue Devil’, Hephaeustus’ scrappy Wolverine, Badb’s menacing ‘Fighting Irish’ Crows, and Tyr’s new alliance with Fenrir’s Wolfpack.

All in all, it was surprising to everyone involved that the Leviathan was able to defeat such strong opponents, but with her long neck, sharp teeth, narrow, gar-like jaws, mud colored scales that shone blue in the water, and sharp mind and focused eyesight, Poseidon’s creature was the feel-good story of the Tournament.

Hermes blew the horn that signified the start of battle. The Leviathan darted forward through the system of rivers, plunging without fear into the fight. From a cloud of darkness and static electricity emerged her opponent, Odin’s Great Bruin.

 

 

===========================================================

SUNY West-Cayuga huddled around the bench, grief and consternation brushed across their faces. In 4 minutes, UCLA had gone up 28-3. After sinking the first three point shot of the game, SUNY West-Cayuga had lost the ball, missed blocks, fouled far too many times, and allowed three Sports Center worthy dunks.

“SUNY West-Cayuga is going to call a timeout here, Jim,” said one commentator.

“They’re going to see if they can get the tires back on this thing. Only 3 points, allowing UCLA to score 28, I can’t think of a worse start to a game.”

“Arlington Roberts has a stat line that reads 0 points, 0 rebounds and -2 assists. I don’t even know how you can get negative assists Jim, but this team found a way.”

“It’s a shame too, because SUNY West-Cayuga has really played some great games in this tournament, but the narrative around them was that a 16 seed in the Championship Game would lead to a blowout. That’s certainly been the story so far.”

Over in the huddle, Coach Cavanaugh took a breath and tried to compose himself.

“Okay guys, listen up! I didn’t think I’d have to make this speech until the last minute of the game, or until the last three minutes, or at least halftime. Or, at least the last minute before halftime. Or-”

“Coach!!” Arlington Roberts cried.

“Sorry,” Coach Cavanaugh said, waving his arms as if to clear the thought. “Sorry. You guys deserve to be here, so don’t give up. You’ve got nothing to lose at this point! Those guys over there? Yeah, they may be bigger, they may have scholarships or a chance at the NBA, but they don’t have the wild run you guys have had. No one expected you to be here, so get out there and keep fighting! Keep fighting your butts off because tomorrow, you either wake up the greatest underdog champions or the greatest underdog story. Either way, people will be talking about you for years to come. We might as well give them one more shock, huh? Alright hands in, Leviathans on three!”

 

 

===============================================================

Odin’s enormous Bruin swatted a morning star sized paw at the Leviathan, who, to her credit, dodged the brunt of the attack. She darted forward, nimble jaws outstretched to close around the bear’s throat, but was knocked away by the other paw. The Bruin pounced onto the Leviathan’s back in a thunderous bolt of crackling energy.  The Leviathan screeched in pain, a cry that echoed around the battlefield in a sickening Doppler effect. She dove underwater as fast as she could; losing the Bruin’s snapping jaws to the surface of the water. She turned and gave herself a burst of speed and rammed into the furry mountain, managing to knock the wind out of the bear as it was pushed back to land. It recovered more quickly than she thought. Machine-like jaws clamped down on her back, blood flowing under the scissors of teeth. She flailed awkwardly and detached herself. Poseidon called timeout.

The Leviathan swam lazily to the God of Water, his long white hair tied back in a ponytail. He set his trident down and knelt to greet her.

Poseidon gave her a few reassuring pats on the head.

“I’ve been thinking,” he murmured. “Now, no one expected you to get this far, but we did, and I have an idea of how to win this.”

He looked across the way to Odin’s plastered smile. Odin laughed in Poseidon’s direction.

“Go for the bad eye.” Poseidon said, staring at Odin’s eyepatch. “It’s the fat man’s weakness; it must be the Bruin’s.”

The Leviathan nodded. A horn blow from Hermes signaled a resume play. The Leviathan dove as far as she could, letting the deep silence of her underwater world surround her before she propelled herself out of the water. The Bruin was waiting for her, but she managed to snap forward, jaws closed together like a jab connecting with the Bruin’s eye.

Nothing happened. She splashed back into the water and peeked her head out to examine Odin.

“Other eye!” Poseidon yelled.

The next jab she landed.

 

 

==============================================================

“Another three!!”

“Jim, this is incredible. But did we really expect anything less from SUNY West-Cayuga?”

“Their Cinderella story is NOT over yet!!”

“It’s incredible, with one minute left to play SUNY West-Cayuga takes a 68-61 lead. “And Arlington Roberts is fouled! He will go to the line and shoot two!”

“I don’t get it Jim, it’s almost like someone punched the Bruins right in the eyes! They cannot make a shot! SUNY West-Cayuga is playing great defense, hitting the three point shots they need and, as Roberts sinks one and they go up 69-61 with 45 seconds left, it looks like the Leviathans are going to be National Champions!”

“Fearless Minds Climb Soonest Unto Crowns”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Hair’ This is my fiction piece.

 

The whole army was behind him, their swords sharpened, their armor clanking a cacophony of sound as they marched along the river bank.

John had seen the river before, long ago, and although his men grumbled at his back, he swore on his grave that it hadn’t been this big. He had played in the water with his sister. Their father had crossed on horseback.

Now the river had swelled; that or it had eaten another river. No horse could cross, let alone a man on foot. John was unsure a boat could cross without the river greedily swallowing it whole. With the advice of the local farmers, John now lead his army three miles out of their way to a bridge.  John and the army were coming on it now, and a cry snaked its way back through the ranks of men. They stopped to rest along the banks, stretching and drinking from the flowing waters.

After speaking with a few of his generals, John approached the bridge, meaning to walk about halfway out to examine the river, when a strange sound greeted him.

It was a laugh that, at one point in time, must have sent lesser men running with chills in their bones. Now, it was half cackle and half cough that leaned more towards a lung deflating wheeze. It bordered on alarming, so much so that John searched frantically for the source so that he may try to aid it.

A troll loped up from under the bridge. Its skin was sallow and slate colored; large, sunken yellow eyes bore into him. It was not the large, land troll that John had previously encountered but the wily, river kind. At least it had been.  A mess of white hair lay about its pointed ears. One hand was missing a thumb among its long, centipede fingers. It wore a dusty tunic, perplexingly dusty given its proximity to water.

“Halt!” It cried, wheezing. “Who goes there?”

“Are you alright?” John asked as the troll fell into another fit of coughing.  He risked a look behind him, but none of his men seemed to notice the troll.

“This is my bridge and none shall cross!” the troll cried. It pointed menacingly at John, sharp teeth peeking out from a broken grin.

“I have an entire army at my disposal. Please, move or be destroyed.”

“An army?” the troll asked. John nodded and pointed behind him.  “Oh,” It said. “Well perhaps then I’ll need to kill them first.”

John laughed.

“Go ahead and try!” He goaded.

The troll closed its eyes and chanted a song strange and gruesome; something old and devastating, sung in a language that had never been written down for fear of what the words might do or where they may try to go.

The water in the river began to rise, forming a wall one hundred feet high. It stood, full of kinetic energy waiting to be unleashed, and John did not want to watch it crush his army like ants in the rain.

“Wait!” he cried. “What is it you want? Please,” he finished lamely. Two of his best generals came running up the bridge, one with an arrow notched in his bow. John motioned frantically for them to stand down.

The troll opened one eye and exhaled slowly, the wall of water shrinking with its breath.  It cackled again, this time without wheezing.

“I’ll need four pigs, a knife of infinite sharpness, five pounds of gold, the liver of two chickens,” it began.

“They are yours. Anything else?”

The troll smiled an evil smile. “Yes. Your hair.”

“Um,” said John.

“What is it?”

John removed his helmet. His bald head shone in the sunlight.

The troll said, “Oh.”

“Yes.”

“Oh my. You’re, um,”

“I am,” John said.

“But you’re a young man! How?”

“It runs in my family, I’m afraid. I lost it all completely a few years ago.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“Yes, well, now you’ve gone and made me feel bad about it,” John said, annoyed.

“I didn’t mean to!” The troll protested.

“Doesn’t matter if you meant to, you’ve done it. It’s bad enough that I’ve no hair left, you had to go and rub it in.”

“I-“

“It’s shameful, you know? Shameful to be the young, virile King of an entire land and be completely bald, but you don’t care do you? You just go about, willy-nilly demanding hair from people, and why? Because you’ve magic powers that can drown an entire army?  My men don’t even know, by the way. But perhaps I should show them? Perhaps I should go show my bald, shiny head to my men so that they can laugh right along with you. That’s what you want too, isn’t it? To humiliate me!”

“No!” cried the Troll, shaking its head miserably.

“It is! You magic folk are all alike, picking on humans. You’re no better than the elves that come to the castle, laughing away, calling me ‘Baldylocks’ and ‘King Hairless III’. I’m not even the third! I’m John the Sixth! Cheeky buggers!”

“I am sorry King John, I- I did not, please I did not know, I swear!”

“No, it’s fine. You may have your other demands. I am sorry I cannot provide you with hair. Perhaps we can shave my steed. It is only fitting, I suppose, for a bald King to ride upon the back of a bald horse!!”

“Please, please no!  It’s no matter, really. I am sorry! Let me make it up to you! You and your men may cross my bridge, no charge!”

“Are you sure?” John asked.

“I would be an honor for a great King such as you to pass overhead,” the troll shook John’s hand and retreated back under the bridge, bowing repeatedly to cried of ‘all hail!’ King John and his two generals made their way back to the banks of the river.

“Your majesty?” The taller of the two Generals asked. “Permit me, Highness but… well, you’re not bald.”

“No, I am not.” John said, smiling.

“So, you knew-”

“Let’s get a move on, men!” John called. He smiled and mounted his horse. “When faced with the unexpected,” he said running his hand over his smooth head, “Always prepare.”

The Gravity of Ken Sulane- Part II (Short Story)

“They all have a story or a grudge or a debt,” Ken said, locking eyes with the god. “They’ve always come, my whole life, so forgive me if I’m a little sick trying to make up for something someone who lived hundreds or thousands of years before I did.”

“You don’t understand, Ken. This is coming for you regardless of you accept or not. You don’t need to accept or decline, it will affect you either way. You see, back-”

The large, red bearded man cut Apollo off. “Oh, so you’ve accepted his quest then?” he accent was thick, not quite Irish, not quite Scottish, not quite easy to understand.

“No, I haven’t Brian.” Ken said wearily.

“Lad, how could you?” Brian whined.

“How could I what? I haven’t done anything!” Ken protested.

“The god said.” The giant Samurai noted, stepping forward. “If you accept to right the wrongs he brings you, please, reconsider my plea-“

“There is still our matter to be settled!” The Renaissance man spat. “Ken, your great ancestor, Antonio Di Siricusa is the true artist and creator of the works attributed to Michelangelo!”

“I’m sure he’s not.” Ken said testily.

He is not allowed to go anywhere!” All twelve of the shadowy figures that hung from the ceiling said in a wavering, robotic voice. “You must pay for the sins of Huang Zhiyuan,. The feeble tendrils of your life belong to us. Ken Sulane, we are owed a soul that must come to the netherworld, at the last gate at the base of the Mountain of Spirits.”

“Yeah, I’m not going. I’m never going with you guys, so you can stop waiting.”

It is not a choice, Ken. You will come.”

“I won’t.”

You will.

“You cannot take him,” said the woman that had been talking with the Renaissance man. “Kenneth, you must come and save me. I have awaited the prophecy to be fulfilled, for a man of your bloodline to rescue me from my imprisonment.”

You will come.

“Leave him be!” she implored the floating figures.

“Hilda,” Ken said. “We’ve talked about this. It’s 2016, you are a strong woman and you don’t need a man to rescue you! Also, you’re dead.”

The Union soldier spoke up, his wife grasping his arm. “Ken, you promised you’d help find our lost war treasures. As your great-great-great grandfather, I think I take precedent.” Ken’s great-great-great grandmother nodded frantically.

“YOU MUST HELP FIND MY TREASURE THAT YOUR ANCESTOR, THE FIERCE AND BEAUTIFUL TSUWEI, HID FOR ME,” the Dragon roared from outside.

“We would like our treasure!” Great-great-great-Grandfather protested.

“I WOULD ALSO LIKE HIS TREASURE,” the Dragon yelled.

Ken’s great-great-great-Grandmother harrumphed loudly.

From the middle of the room, a dark man faded in from nothingness. He was a warrior, armed with a thin, ovular shield and a pointed, sharpened spear.

He was so tall that he needed to kneel to speak with the sitting Ken, which he did, opening his arms wide.

“I implore you again, many-great grandson of mine, to find my brother, your many-great uncle, my assassin, the one who took from me my life with poison, and regain our rightful throne.”

Ken sighed. “I’m sorry man, but like I keep saying, I really think you have the wrong Ken Sulane.”

Apollo tried again. “Ken, I apologize for what is clearly an ongoing problem with your bloodline, but-”

Ken laughed, unhinged a little. He stood and walked to the bed, where he scratched Wixon behind the ears. “It’s more than a problem, Apollo. You want to talk about my bloodline? Thanks to all of you, I can trace every movement of every ancestor I ever had! Who they screwed over, who they screwed, what they made or lost, what insane magical beast they befriended or made an enemy of. My father’s ancestors came from Greece, wise politicians and rumored to be of a god’s bloodline, someone I’m sure you knew Apollo. Probably someone who did something you’re here to warn me about! Right? Well they moved from Greece to Italy, to the Greek colony of Syracuse, later Siracusa during the time of the Romans, where they stayed for many, many years before moving North to Ireland sometime in the 1600s. There they met the other component of my father’s ancestry, as evidenced by Big Red Brian over here. They narrowly avoided the famine of the 19th century by about 80 years, moving around 1800 to America where they’ve stayed ever since.”

Apollo’s patience was wearing thin. “Yes, Ken.”

“Then my mother? She traces her family back to China, to the earliest known peoples there. Apparently someone pissed off a bunch of ancient floating shadows so they won’t leave me alone, as well as hid a Dragon’s treasure for him.”

“HELLO,” the Dragon said again, more cheerily this time.

“In the meantime they moved to Japan. I know this because I get more ghostly kitsune spirits than anyone should have, not to mention Mr. Samurai the Giant there. They moved back to China at some point and then from there to California during the Gold Rush. In between that, my ancestors really got around. If you’ll notice there is a fully armored Dragoon on horseback outside that has sworn to protect me and my kin from any harm as long as I live, the ghost of a Great Dane, who’s purpose here is still unknown to me and this fucking gnome who will not stop snoring and…. just wake the fuck up! Come on seriously, who sleeps this long WAKE UP!!! So no. No, no no Apollo, I really don’t care. I cannot add another. I am full. No Vacancy. Please. Please I beg you to leave me alone.

I’ve never had a normal life. I never had a normal childhood. When I was 13, a Pegasus came to me and told me I, by proxy of my ancestors, was his true owner. He tried to follow me everywhere and at first, it was amazing. How many other kids have a flying horse? He, by the way, was the one that told me you’re the last of the Greek gods. We had fun for a few years, but after everything, after all the people and creatures that came to me, I couldn’t stand to look at him anymore. It made me feel sick, like I made a Taco Bell run at 4 in the morning. A few months ago I sent him to the moon. I told him I needed a very important rock and off he went, flying higher and higher until he was just a small white speck. I sent a fucking horse to space, Apollo, because I am so burnt out on hearing about my ancestors and whatever it is that they did. I don’t even know if that Pegasus can breathe in space! There could be a dead flying horse on the moon for all we know. I can’t handle it anymore, Apollo. I am only human and I just do not have the capacity for this. ”

“Ken,” Apollo said, and it was not a question or even simply his name, but a command ushered into the world for the first time where it cemented itself as a force, hanging in the air for a moment, tense and sharp. “You do not have a choice.”

Apollo began to explain, but he barely moved an inch before the breeze in the windows faded and Ken’s room systematically, inch by inch, blackened. Ken and his nuisances remained as a large, motley group, floating in the nothingness of a blank, black canvas.

“Shit. What is this?” Ken asked.

Apollo shook his head. “What I tried to warn you of.”

There was nothing all around Ken, but he still felt as though he were standing on solid ground. His brain, however, screamed to any synapses that would listen that Ken was falling, that there was nothing beneath him and he should currently be panicking; finding any way to survive a fall into an abyss that apparently did not exist. Ken felt a sort of dizzying seasickness. He closed his eyes, but found he couldn’t tell if they were open or closed. The darkness seemed to contract for a brutal moment before expanding. Ken opened his eyes and saw earth, the size of a marble, hanging in the sky. It grew as he watched it, until he found himself standing under the Earth, slowly spinning on its axis like an exhibit in a dark, forgotten room of a museum.

It was different than it looked in pictures, in part because Ken’s brain couldn’t quite process that he was staring at the planet he should be standing on and in part because of the giant, robed Lizard Man holding the earth on its shoulders. The Moon hung in the sky near the Lizard Man’s head; a ghostly after-image of the Earth.

The Lizard Man peered down through a pair of golden slits Ken supposed were eyes. Its tongue flitted through the air like a dragonfly. It locked eyes with Ken and from somewhere deep inside, rumbled a growl that rumbled its way to a roar.

“Thermistocles!” it shouted at Ken.

“No, Vrssa, this is not Thermistocles,” Apollo called to the creature.

“Thermistocles!” it shouted again. “The time has come for you to fulfill your promise to me. It is your turn to hold the earth!”

“What happened to Atlas?” Ken asked.

“Your ancestor, Thermistocles, was tasked by Hera with killing Atlas,” Apollo explained. “But he needed someone to hold the earth in the meantime. He convinced Vrssa, a Lizard man from the Nile delta to hold the earth while he disposed of the Titan. In return, he would give Vrssa Ra’s golden scepter.”

“Let me guess,’ Ken said. “He never had a scepter. He told scaley-face over there that he’d come back and never did. And Atlas probably paid him off not to kill him.”

“Yes,” Apollo said, impressed.

“Why don’t you ask Heracles!?” Ken called to the serpent.

“Don’t-“ Apollo began, but Vrssa let out a primal, guttural roar.

“YOU DARE SPEAK TO ME OF HERACLES?”

“Heracles killed Vrssa’s wife,” Apollo explained.

“Okay, sorry! I’m sorry!” Ken said. “Listen, Vespa,”

“Vrssa,” Apollo corrected.

“Whatever. I’m not Thermistocles. My name is Ken and I’m not going to hold the Earth for you.”

“You look like Thermistocles!” Vrssa growled, squinting so much that its eye slits almost closed.

“No, Thermistocles was my great ancestor. But I have no plans of making up for whatever it is he promised you. See these people with me? They’re waiting for the same thing you are, but it’s never going to happen.”

“Thermistocles or not, it is your responsibility to take the earth from me and give me the Scepter of Ra.”

“It is not my responsibility!” Ken bristled. “Vrssa, no one has to hold the world! No one, including you, has to hold the Earth because there is a thing called gravity! Just put the earth down!”

“I cannot!” Vrssa cried. “If I put it down, it will tumble out of the sky and I will lose my hordes of gold, my salt mines, and the favor of Set!”

“I can’t imagine any of those things are there anymore,” Ken muttered.

“If you do not take the earth from me, as was promised, and give me the Scepter of Ra, as was also promised, I will disembowel you and feed you your organs in small pieces before using your skull to pick your coagulated blood from my teeth.”

“Oh,” Ken said.

“Um,” Apollo said.

“EW,” the Dragon said.

Apollo cleared his throat. “Vrssa, please, there is no need for that. Ken will take the earth from you.”

“The fuck I will!” Ken cried. “No one needs to hold the earth! There is gravity to hold it up!” Ken waved his arms in the air emphatically, moving from person to person in an unwavering, non-determined zigzag. “I don’t understand why that is hard concept. I don’t understand why you all want to live in the past, to live forever focused on one deed or one act a long dead ancestor of mine may or may not have perpetrated. It’s not the past anymore, there is no treasure and no debts to be settled, there is no need for gods and warriors! There is gravity! No matter what, there is always gravity! But none of you know this! No one bothers to find anything out about now, about what governs the world now. You can’t keep yourselves in the past and drag me back there with you. Feel the gravity! Okay, maybe not here because we seem to be standing in the atmosphere, but you know what I mean.

I will not take the earth. I will not, under any circumstance, avenge anything or anyone, I will not find treasure or travel to the gate of the dead or the valley of the lost or whatever other depressing fucked place you want me to go to!  I won’t put up with any more bullshit from the past!” Ken turned, locking eyes with Apollo. “Is that clear!?”

Apollo did not say anything, but kept his eyes locked with Ken’s.

“HE MAKES THIS SPEECH ONCE A MONTH. YOU DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO HIM IF YOU DON’T WANT.” The Dragon said to Apollo, attempting to whisper but failing.

“I never do,” The Renaissance man said. The others murmured their agreements. The ghost of the Great Dane barked once. The gnome still snored.

Ken sighed.

“Fine. I’ll take the earth.”

“Ken, you can’t.” Brian said. “It will crush you. You’re only mortal.”

Ken stepped forward, growing in size with each step he took towards Vrssa. By the time he reached the Lizard Man, he towered over the retile, towering enough to take the earth from the Lizard and rest it atop his shoulders. Apollo’s mouth hung open. The others gasped as the Dragon shouted “WOW!”

Vrssa grew smaller as he walked away from the earth, rolling his shoulders and cracking his joints. He grinned a reptilian grin; all teeth and pencil tongue, before jumping from space back to the earth, presumably to find no gold, no salt mines and no crocodile god Set. Ken stood, massive and glowing, no strain on his face as he held the earth, a blue and green jewel that spun ever so slowly. Continents brushed Ken’s back, his hair touched mountains and oceans. From somewhere on the moon, Apollo swore he heard a horse whinny.

“Ken,” Apollo said. “Are you okay?”

Ken did not respond, but instead locked eyes with the god and, in one breathless movement, dropped the earth.

No one moved.

The earth did nothing. It hung in space happily, spinning slowly, undisturbed and content to continue its existence with or without someone holding it.

Ken shrunk back to his normal size as the others admired the earth spin. Ken joined them, space slowly fading away as Ken’s room became their state of existence.

“I told you,” Ken said.  “Gravity.”

Wixon barked happily upon finding herself back in her room. The others seemed unfazed by what had happened, as they resumed earlier conversations and activities.

Ken sat on the bed next to Wixon. “I told you, we don’t need anyone to hold up the earth anymore. We’ve figured out those inexplicable fears we used to have. We don’t need debts and vengeance and spirits. We have gravity.”

He paused, staring at the floor.

After a long time, he looked up and examined Apollo with a dense concentration. “We don’t need you,” he said finally.

It stung the god, Ken could see it in his face.

“I’ll leave you.” Apollo said. Ken made a fist and pounded his leg just once, grinding his teeth.

“Still,” he said before Apollo could move. The god eyed him with a seasoned wariness. “I guess I should have listened to you from the start instead of complaining. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” the god said, his eyes like bright suns.

“Come back if you’d like, preferably without a Lizard Man.” Ken said. Apollo nodded and, like the last rays of sunset, disappeared from the room. Ken could see the light outside that had not entirely faded.

Apollo stood outside Ken’s window, a Dragoon o horseback eying him suspiciously, the great Dragon floating in the sky like a fiery kite. He heard Ken pluck a few chords on his guitar.

Ken’s voice carried outside the window in the summer sunset. He sang:

“And though I sleep tonight without my crown

Gravity could not weigh me down.”

The Gravity of Ken Sulane- Part I(Short Story)

Ken Sulane sat in front of his Mac, Garageband open and displaying a rainbow of colored, recorded tracks, tuning his guitar. It was the zenith of sunset in July, the kind of night where 9:00 comes and goes and the sun still hasn’t quite set yet. An open window let in a silent summer breeze, like cool feathers floating in the room. Opening a window wasn’t Ken’s usual course of action when recording for fear of neighbor’s lawnmowers or barking dogs showing up in his songs, but it was late in the evening and he seemed to be the only one still awake. Besides, it was hot, and the open window made the heat of his room more manageable.

He played back a track, listening through his headphones and picking out a harmony on his guitar. On his bed, his Australian Sheppard, Wixon, adjusted her position to get a more comfortable spot on his pillows. Ken took a sip of hot water with lemon before adjusting the playback volume on another track.

Ken was a 25 year old studio musician that had, by a stroke of luck, inherited his house when his parents moved south to Virginia a year ago. He had turned the house into his own, walls lined with minimalist art and vintage pieces of furniture, a whiskey collection in the basement, all while keeping his mother’s Grand Piano exactly where she always kept it and his father’s garden just as he left it. Ken suited the house and the house suited Ken; it was as if he had been given a chance to improve upon and update his childhood. He liked the neighborhood, liked the convenience to his rented recording space and favorite dive bar, Try It!, and proximity to the lake. Sometimes, it felt lonely without the sounds of his Dad falling asleep to Conan or his mom’s practicing jazz at the piano, but they had traded cold winters for better prospects in Virginia. None of that interested Ken. He wanted the space he had lived in since he was a baby.

He put on his headphones and hit the record button, singing back the same words he had recorded only a few minutes ago but this time, harmonizing. For a moment, he thought he saw a bright light flash from outside, but it passed. He smashed the mouse on the square STOP button and looked around the room, waiting for something. Just let me finish this harmony, at least, he pleaded with the universe silently. A still moment passed, and just as Ken turned to his computer, Wixon gave a short woof and jumped off the bed. Ken turned to ask her what the matter was when he saw a man sitting on his bed.

Ken sighed.

“Hello,” the man said. He had dark, brown curly hair that rested on his head as though it had been placed carefully rather than grown. It should have been too long for him, but suited him better than it if it was short. His eyes were gold, a shimmering, unwavering gold. He was clean shaven and well-dressed, with expensive sandals and nice cut slacks that he paired with a navy dress shirt.

“I don’t care,” Ken said to the man, agitated. He put his headphones on.

“Excuse me?” the man asked.

“Sorry, it’s not you. It’s just that I don’t care what you have to say.” Ken said. Wixon wagged her tail and trotted over to the man on the bed.

“I haven’t spoken.”

“Wixon,” Ken whistled, “Come on girl, don’t. Don’t encourage him. Can’t you bark and snarl like a ferocious guard dog?” Wixon jumped back on the bed and began to lick the man’s face. “Okay, great. Good girl.” Ken said.

“Good dog,” said the man, but rather than stay for an impromptu bath, he stood and crossed to Ken. “Ken Sulane, I am here to warn you. I am here to ask for your help. I am Apollo, ancient god of Light and Music. You-“

“Apollo?” Ken asked, turning.

“Yes, I am a god. I am the Apollo,” Ken read the man’s face and saw that he was somewhere between holding back a smile and a great pain.

“That’s impossible. All the old gods are dead.” Ken said, turning back to his computer.

Apollo halted. He blinked in rapid succession. “Yes, that is true. By their own choice but, how did you know that?”

Ken sighed and set his guitar down on a stand next to his computer.

“Apollo, I know why you’re here. You’re here to tell me about my ancestor, something one of them did long, long ago before the world was unsure there would be a time when I could even consider being born. You’ll tell me what a noble person they were, how they got into trouble with something or someone or some deity and you ask me, or warn me, or pledge a debt to me although I doubt you’re the type who pledges debts or is indebted to humans at all, and I’ll rush off to travel through time or to some far corner of the earth to help you.”

“I-” Apollo tried to cut in.

“No. I’m sorry but no. You think you’re the first?” Ken asked, his voice raising and carrying out the window. He worried that his neighbors might hear, but he found he didn’t care all that much anyway. “You think you’re the first deity, or being, or ghost or crazy fucking creature to come bearing a warning?”

“Well,” Apollo said.

“You’re not! Look around!” Ken shouted, waving his arms wildly.

Apollo narrowed his eyes before looking around the room. At first there was nothing, just the breeze carrying Ken’s drapes in and out of the room like a soft pendulum, but, when he really looked, he saw them: shapes that were there, had been there the whole time wishing to be unseen. It was as though Ken’s room were some sort of casting call for a piece of historical fiction that verged on high fantasy.

In one corner of the room stood an enormous Samurai, a faded monolith of a man still covered in blood. Near the door a sort of Renaissance artist spoke with tragic but beautiful woman in garb that seemed older than that. A bear of a man, with red hair and skin with scars the color of peat moss stood solemn and silent by the bed. All manner of fairies floated about the room while a Roman man in a royal looking toga scowled at them.

“Um,” said Apollo.

A man and a woman, the former dressed in the uniform of a Union Cavalry soldier and the latter in a nurses frock, hovered near Ken. The ghost of a Great Dane sniffed around Wixon who paid him no mind. Near that, a fully living Garden Gnome snoozed lazily on the carpet. At least twelve shadowy Chinese figures hung about the ceiling, glowering as they shimmered between light and dark. There were more, too many for Apollo to count or take stock of. He looked back to Ken who pointed out the window.

An enormous scarlet and gold Chinese Dragon, four tiny arms sprouting along its serpentine body and a head that resembled a cartoon dog more than a reptile, mouth open to reveal huge, sharp golden fangs, twirled the shadow of a firework in the air.

“HELLO,” The Dragon roared in a voice that sounded like flint on stone crossed with a lion singing bass in a choir.

“Oh,” Apollo said lamely.

Can a Trip to Ireland Help Me Love a 101 Year Old Book?

James Joyce.

It’s been 101 years since the first publication of James Joyce’s Dubliners and I am most likely somewhere around the billionth person to have something to say about it. Be that as it may I am still going to say something, as this entry is all about Fiction written before 1950 and I picked Dubliners to read and review.

Most of the stuff I read is fiction, and most of the fiction I read has been published after 1950, so I picked publications from before the halfway mark of the 20th century to get outside my comfort zone.

I actually picked up Dubliners before I conceived of this new form of blogging and the reason was simple: I was taking a trip to Ireland with my fiancée’s family. We were there for two weeks; one week we spent touring around the beautiful country and another we spent in Dublin. I figured, where was a better place to read Dubliners than in Dublin?

What is left to say about Joyce’s work of short stories that hasn’t already been said? Can I possibly contribute anything to the overall conversation about this work that hasn’t been said and said far better?

I have to be honest, nothing, really. But I didn’t read Dubliners to study it or to find something in it that hasn’t been found, so why I won’t I try to write that. No, I’m here to reflect upon my experience reading the book fresh from a trip to the city that inspired it and to ask the question, for a lover of more modern fiction, does Dubliners still hold up?

Read on to find out.

The River Liffey screams, “Read our feckin’ literature!”

Dubliners vs. 50 Shades of Grey: My bookstore has been around since 2009 on New York City’s Upper West Side.

In our time there, we have sold 236 copies of 50 Shades of Grey.

I bought the ‘Modern Library’ version of Dubliners, published by Random House, which has sold 6 copies. We’ve carried four different versions of the book, and the total amount of Dubliners we’ve sold is 60, with the ‘Vintage’ edition, published by Knopf, being the clear favorite with 45 copies sold.

So all in all, we’ve sold 176 more copies of 50 Shades of Grey than we have Dubliners. And 230 more copies than the version I read. I was one of those 6, by the way.

And no, I was not one of those 236.

45 copies is no match for E.L. James’…uh… masterpiece? Um.

Worst Literature related Click-Bait article of the week: A recent Buzzfeed article lists the best Harry Potter themed wedding ideas, including gaudy Hogwarts House-themed high heels, exiting the ceremony through an arc of wands (where the hell do you get 150 wands for guests?) and exchanging vows over a Goblet of Fire.

I’m getting married in August; maybe I should have suggested more literature themed things to do for our wedding. Here’s a list I’ve put together that I think I’ll suggest to my fiancée tonight:

-Do the ceremony in a Slaughterhouse.

– Have the officiant speak entirely in small caps.

– Instead of suits, the groomsmen and I will wear bathrobes and carry towels with us.

– Have a band lead by a talking fruit bat wearing sunglasses.

-Before getting married, do everything I can to turn myself into a slightly bland-mid 30’s young man with a love for jazz and classical music, swimming, and cats. But I often lose the cat I love. It happens.

– Invite guests who only used to be/still are warped variations of gods, fairy tales and mythological creatures.

– Ask my groomsmen to toast me in a highly poetic, slightly political style, using hyper-researched bizarre facts that somehow lead me to the inside of a pack of cigarettes.

– Anyone who wants to get married must be crazy, and it is a rule crazy people can’t get married! But I must try to prove that I’m not crazy so I can get married, even though the desire to get married means I’m crazy and so therefore can’t get married. But If I don’t want to get married then I can’t get married but at least I’m sane? Ah!

I’ll run these by her, see what she says.

(Trying to guess which authors I’m referencing? The official Whale and the Petunias Wedding Literature Game answers can be found at the end of this post! Good luck!)

Harry seems unamused.

 Book in the Movies: With the Oscars not far behind us, I feel it is worth mentioning a few Oscar-nominated movies that you may not have known were books.

Movies nominated for BEST PICTURE:

‘The Imitation Game’ was based on Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

‘The Theory of Everything’ was based on Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking by Jane Wilde Hawking

‘American Sniper’ was based on the book by the same name by Chris Kyle

Movies with an actress nominated for BEST ACTRESS

‘Gone Girl’ was based on the book by the same name by Gillian Flynn (Rosamund Pike nominated)

‘Wild’ was based on the book by the same name by Cheryl Strayed

Even ‘Big Hero 6’, which won for best animated film, is based on the Marvel Comic Book series of the same name.

Also nominated was ‘Inherent Vice’ (for Adapted Screenplay) which is based on a Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name.

If you loved any of those movies, I recommend picking up the book they were based on.

Julianne Moore was nominated and won for ‘Still Alice’. She has yet to return my phone calls.

Book/Author news: Extremely sad news recently, as Terry Pratchett, world renown fantasy author of more than 50 books passed away. Pratchett was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s in 2007 and had fought a battle with it ever since, continuing to publish even to this year.

There is so much to be said about Terry Pratchett and I am not the only person who was a great lover of his writing. I’ve already written a little piece when I looked at Snuff in an earlier blog post. What I want to briefly discuss is Terry Pratchett and death.

And Death.

One of my favorite characters in Pratchett’s novels is Death, a Grim Reaper personification who speaks in SMALL CAPS, that exists in the Discworld Universe. Death makes a cameo in almost every single Terry Pratchett book, even Good Omens, a book he wrote with Neil Gaiman.

Pratchett created a character that offered some hilarious situations and fascinating tales. But Death is somber and intelligent, interested in humans and how they work. Pratchett’s Death is strong; he’s final. From his books, we get a glimpse of just what Pratchett thought about death. Here are a few quotes from both the character and a few others on the subject of death, dying and living:

PEOPLE CAN”T SEE ME, THEY SIMPLY WON’T ALLOW THEMSELVES TO DO IT. UNTIL IT’S TIME, OF COURSE. WIZARDS CAN SEE ME, AND CATS. BUT YOUR AVERAGE HUMAN…NO, NEVER. He blew a smoke ring at the sky, and added, STRANGE, BUT TRUE.

THAT’S MORTALS FOR YOU, Death continued. THEY’VE ONLY GOT A FEW YEARS IN THIS WORLD AND THEY SPEND THEM ALL IN MAKING THINGS COMPLICATED FOR THEMSELVES.

Death isn’t cruel – merely terribly, terribly good at his job.

I AM DEATH, NOT TAXES. I TURN UP ONLY ONCE.

There are no delusions for the dead. Dying is like waking up after a really good party, when you have one or two seconds of innocent freedom before you recollect all the things you did last night which seemed so logical and hilarious at the time, and then you remember the really amazing thing you did with a lampshade and two balloons, which had them in stitches, and now you realize you’re going to have to look a lot of people in the eye today and you’re sober now and so are they but you can both remember.

Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?

“Pardon me for living, I’m sure.”
NO ONE GETS PARDONED FOR LIVING.

People’s whole lives do pass in front of their eyes before they die. The process is called ‘living’

Terry Pratchett regarded Death with a dark sense of humor, but he didn’t so much laugh at death as he did create a character with which to give death more humanity. He made death something not to be afraid of; not to laugh at but to try and understand. He did for death what Douglas Adams proceeded to do for aliens and space; he made us laugh at it but also realize that it is not something to be scared of. Pratchett asked the question, ‘What if Death is just as confused by humanity as humanity is confused by Death?’

Humans have always been afraid of death because it is the ultimate unknown. We have a long history of trying to appease death, to cheat it or to control it. Much the way Douglas Adams made us laugh at Aliens and Space instead of thinking of them as the great unknown or beings that come to Earth to destroy it, Pratchett gave us a view of death that made us laugh, made us think and made us sympathetic. Death has a definite growth through the Discworld books, as he grows more interested in Humanity.

The humor all lies in the way Death is constantly perplexed by humans. Terry Pratchett was the master of parallels. There was so much in the Discworld that had a counterpart in our world, and the way Pratchett played with that always made for a great deal of humor and a little bit of enlightenment. He uses Death in the same way”: just as humans always tried to control, appease, and avoid Death, so too does Death do the same with humans.

Terry Pratchett knew how final Death was, how unavoidable. But he used that as a shared experience for us all. He looked at it with a dark sense of humor but with humor nonetheless. With his character of Death he urged us not to be afraid, but to accept and to think critically about the ways in which we treat Death. He made us laugh with the ways Death treated humans but also never let us forget that death is both inevitable and final, no matter how much we think on it or laugh with it.

And of course, his final tweets, his final bit or written word to the world, was a conversation with Death. I leave you with one final quote from Death from Pratchett’s twitter account:

at last, sir terry, we must walk together.

He will be missed immensely.

Farewell, Sir Terry.

Retail gripe of the week: Let’s talk about asking for items purchased to be gift-wrapped.

Some stores, like mine, offer complimentary gift-wrapping upon purchase. This is wonderful for both customer and store, as we provide a service that makes people want to shop with us for their gift-related needs, and you, the customer, are able to take advantage of a convenience in buying gifts.

But.

Let’s discuss some things that I wish customers would think about when asking for gift-wrapping at my store.

-Asses the store you are in when it comes to your gift wrapping needs. Some stores wrap things no matter what, others are small gift-centered stores that gift-wrap after almost every purchase.

Some, like mine, are Book Stores that sometimes employ 25-Year old men. There is no gift-wrapping training we are given, there is no crash course, simply the skills said 25-Year old man comes to the store with. If you want what you buy to look super-cute and beautifully wrapped, know this: while I will always try to do the best I can, just use your critical thinking skills when it comes to where you are and who is wrapping. Maybe the 25 year old man isn’t going to give you perfection. Maybe if it doesn’t look cute enough or perfect enough, you’d be better off wrapping it yourself.

-Please don’t make faces or criticize while I’m wrapping. You know what that is? It’s just mean.

While a coworker was wrapping something for a woman once she exclaimed, ‘I didn’t think there was anyone in the world worse than I was at wrapping, but you are!’ She then proceeded to try to help, which, of course, was not helpful. Do you think that makes us want to wrap something for you more? Or try harder?

-You don’t need to ask me to take the price tag off, it’s the first thing I do. Half the time, people ask me this when I’m halfway done wrapping.

-If you want the associate to wrap something, let them wrap. Too many times, people ask me to wrap something and then halfway through, take over and just start doing it themselves. Let go of being a control freak, please, and let us do it. If you’re worried about the quality of the wrapping, refer to point #1.

-When buying an item you want to give as a gift, ask yourself: Would I wrap this in wrapping paper? If the answer is no, why ask us to do the same? As I’ve said, some stores are gift stores and are prepared for all your wrapping needs. My store has gift bags, we’ve got ribbon and tissue paper and wrapping paper. Far too often, people buy something that is shaped awkwardly or will not look good in wrapping paper, no matter who is wrapping, then ask for it to be wrapped. Coffee Mug? Gonna look weird. Stuffed Rabbit? Yup, not gonna look good. 2 foot by 1 foot Calender? I need to use eighty sheets of wrapping paper! If I suggest a gift bag with a nice tissue paper arrangement instead, please don’t look at me like I’ve suggested I want to eat your children.

-Please don’t be an ultra-perfectionist about wrapping things for a baby. I want it to look nice just as you do, but it’s a damn baby. They don’t know the difference if the corner isn’t folded in all the way or the top of the stuffed toy is poking out of the tissue paper.

-Don’t hover over the wrapper’s shoulder. That makes us worse at wrapping.

-And last, please don’t complain about the lack of selection in wrapping paper. We’re a bookstore, we’re going for plain and simple, looks nice on anything style paper.

There, now we can all exist happily in our wrapping services and needs. Thank you.

I did It! (I didn’t do it.)

Agus anois , Dubliners: When I told people I was reading Dubliners, their response usually amounted to something like this. “Oh yeah, stream of consciousness!”

Steam of what?

How did I miss this on the quiz!? Seriously! I never admitted I had no idea what it was, but I never learned this term. And if I did, I surely have forgotten.

Steam of Consciousness is a term used by William James in his text Principles of Psychology. In the literary world, it is a way of writing where characters feelings and thoughts are uninterrupted by dialogue or description. Along with Joyce, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf were early proponents of this style.

Oooooooooooh that’s how I missed it. I know nothing of psychology. And, I’ve never read anything from these authors. Unless you count reading the first page of Finnegan’s Wake. (And I don’t). So was I missing something huge? I began to worry that missing this key component of Joyce’s writing would hinder my reading.

Well, long story short, it didn’t. But the question remains: did I, a lover of modern fiction like Dubliners?

Yes.

      

It’s not my new favorite book and I didn’t absolutely love it. It’s not something I’ll reread year after year and frankly, I think having just visiting the city the book is about helped as well.

Dubliners is a collection of short stories written between 1905 and 1914 by Joyce mostly outside of Dublin. According to the book’s introduction, “Joyce lived in voluntary exile from Ireland, although Irish life continued to provide the raw material for his writing…Joyce and [his wife] Nora moved to Zurich, and at the end of World War I they settled in Paris…” It is interesting and slightly dismaying that Joyce wrote most of the story elsewhere: for something so tied to a particular place and for a man so celebrated in Ireland, it seems wrong that he wasn’t living right next to the Liffey, toiling away on his draft day by day. Dubliners feels like that favorite album from your favorite band that also happens to be the album that they fought about most, only speaking to each other through their agents and forcing the producer to work three weeks straight because no one wanted to be in the studio together to record. It somehow feels wrong to have such a strong connection to something that wasn’t created the way you would think.

But that’s okay, because Dubliners is certainly a strong portrait not only of the city but of the people and of the country, despite Joyce’s rocky relationship with the emerald Isle.

According to John Banville’s introduction of the book, Joyce initially intended Dubliners “to be his revenge upon a city and a people he considered to have betrayed him in a multiplicity of ways.” How could this be? For a text that is so tied to a city and a country’s identity, how can it be that it was intended as a slight? That deep down, Joyce was angry with his first home? It can’t, is the short answer, for Joyce really did want the book to be a portrait of his home, both good and bad. Banville catches this as well, writing “The fact is that in Dubliners he was as anxious to present as complete and accurate a portrait of his native city as he would be again… in Ulysses”. So Joyce didn’t hate Dublin and the stories here really do present the city and its people well, but why has it remained a classic for so long?

OH GOD JAMES JOYCE LOOKED AT A MEDUSA AND TURNED TO STONE oh wait. No, that’s just the dedicated statue to the author in Dublin. Sorry everyone- sorry! My mistake. No Medusas. Sorry. Sorry.

What made Dubliners stand out to me wasn’t that it was written in stream of consciousness technique, but that it seemed very ahead of its time. Most, if not all of the stories lack any resolution, often leaving the reader to complete the picture themselves. For example, the story ‘Eveline’ ends with at the very moment a young girl makes a tough choice regarding her suitor. Another story, ‘The Boarding House’, ends much the same way, ending with “Then she remembered what she had been waiting for”; a sentence that feels more like a bridge to something else than an ending. ‘Counterparts’ seems to end with rising action, as we’ve followed a man’s day at work when Joyce takes us to his home and broken relationship with his son in last few paragraphs. Even the final story, ‘The Dead’ ends in a more contemplative mood than falling action of a climax.

Leaving the reader with no resolution is hardly a new technique these days, and while I did admire the way Joyce constructed his stories, I’m sure I was nowhere near as blown away as those who first read Dubliners.

Not that my modern bias could keep this from making these stories imprint themselves on me. I studied Theatre and History in school so believe me when I say that I am fully qualified to pretend I am in a different time period, but I know shouldn’t set myself in such a differ place when reading fiction for pleasure. I’m not studying Joyce for a role or researching Dublin at the turn of the century; if anything, both disciplines taught me assessing something critically should be done with my own eye, modern bias or not.

So all in all, even though I loved this aspect of the book, I wasn’t blown away by the fact that these stories had no resolution. How could I? I can think of many television shows with a final episode that left us to paint the rest of the picture (Frasier, Futurama, Scrubs, Seinfeld to name a few) and a few movies as well (the most recent in my mind being Inception). But even though this didn’t elevate these stories to the realm of unforgettable for me, it did make them stand out. I enjoyed that they had little to no resolution, that Joyce left the fate of his characters in my hands after the final sentence. And as much as this is done in many forms of print and media, Joyce was employing this technique in a time when others weren’t.

Illustration of Joyce and Dublin by Chip Zdarsky from slate.com. Notice how Joyce’s eyes are so uninterrupted by extra descriptors that they blend in with the background.

As much as Joyce was using both this and the stream of consciousness technique, I don’t think he was doing it for the sake of doing it. Joyce paints a wonderful literary picture of Dublin in a time of much uneasiness for the Irish people. With the famine only fifty years behind, a blight so terrible it killed almost as many as it forced to leave the country in hopes of finding a better life elsewhere, and the rumblings of a revolution only a few years away, the people of Dublin had little time for interruptions of emotion nad resolutions in their lives. Joyce captures something I could see in the people of Ireland; a sense of immense pride in who they are and where they come from, but a great question mark at who they will be.

For so much of Ireland’s history, the people of the Isle held on to a strong national identity with no real knowledge of the future. The civil war that followed the Revolution of 1921 is proof of this, as the people knew what they wanted but could not agree on where the country should go after the Revolution Succeeded. Let me note, of course, that this is not a bad trait and I of course do not mean to infer that no one in the country of Ireland has any plans for their future. To be fair, often the people of Ireland had little to no options as to where they could go; they were fighting so hard to stay in the present that they never gave a thought to what the future could hold.

The characters in Joyce’s novel strongly embody this feeling. They know much about themselves, who they are and how they feel about the world around them (these thoughts and feelings being expressed without interruption from dialogue or description, remember) but lack a resolution when it comes to where they are going. Joyce, despite his time away from Ireland in the early twentieth century, had this same feeling in his blood. He carried this with him and recognized it. He recognized that it was part of not only being Irish, but being a Dubliner.  The short stories in Dubliners are so strongly tied to the city and its people because Joyce was, no matter where he was.

Maybe that’s why Dubliners had succeeded as such a classic all these years. Perhaps not as famous as Ulyssess  and not as infamous as Finnegan’s Wake (‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay’ being the first line of that text, mind you) but still a strong work on its own, Dubliners captures the true essence of Dublin and the people that call the city home. Not only that, but it captures the feeling of the whole country. It doesn’t do this with a grand, sweeping narrative or a hero’s journey through the lands; it accomplishes this with the often multi-layered and frustrating lives of the people of the city.

Believe me when I tell you, having experienced Ireland, it would be so easy to capture the country in a grand narrative. There is so much history and so many beautiful things across the country that a writer of Joyce’s skill could easily write the seminal national text of Ireland using the Isle in its entirety. But much like Ireland, there is so much more than what you see in front of you. I liked Dubliners because it felt like a piece of history as well as a work of art. It was more special for me because I started reading it in Dublin; because I finished it fresh from a trip to Dublin. I felt like I was experiencing an extreme fast-forward of Joyce’s stories and that I, too, was another piece of the story left unresolved. The stories in Dubliners don’t need a resolution because the characters, much like the real people of the city in that time, had no time to worry so far ahead or to expect a resolution. That was something I could really see and that I really loved.

I did like Dubliners much more than I thought I would. It was a bit slow for me personally, not because the book is paced badly but because I prefer a story that moves very quickly and throws many surprises my way, but Dubliners was a great change of pace. It was another piece of my trip to Ireland that I’ll always remember and I certainly am glad I read it. It is a great group of short stories that really gives the reader a clear picture of Dublin in the early 1900s. As for me, seeing Dublin in the early 2010’s, I’ll remain a small part of the unresolved story of a wonderful city in an amazing country.

I AM A NOODLE NOM NOM

Official Whale and the Petunias mascot Noodle posing with the book.

 

Unrelated book thought: March Madness is upon us! I always love the Tournament and despite my bracket getting nice and busted when Iowa State lost, there have been a good amount of great games. I am a Syracuse fan, having grown up in Central New York, and without them in the tournament things aren’t as much fun, but I do love a good College Basketball game. The end of March Madness also marks a sports void for me. I’m a big Football (both college and pro) and College Basketball fan and don’t care for Baseball or Hockey. I like NBA highlights but never really watch a game; maybe the fourth quarter of the finals now and then, but not much else.

I’m soaking up the basketball while I can because after April, it’s a sports drought until the end of August when College Football starts up. I’ll watch the first round of the NFL draft for fun, but until then I can’t wait until the football rains come.

Yup, that’s me.

The Official Whale and the Petunias Wedding Literature Game Answers!:

  1. Kurt Vonnegut
  2. Terry Pratchett
  3. Douglas Adams
  4. Christopher Moore
  5. Haruki Murakami
  6. Neil Gaiman
  7. Tom Robbins
  8. Joseph Heller

How many did you get right?  If you got all 8, you’ll receive an official “Whale and the Petunias Button! (Button not included.)©”

Next time, on The Whale and the Petunias: I take a look at B. Catling’s The Vorrh, which you might not have heard of because it hasn’t been published yet. Can I time travel? Only Sci-Fi/Fantasy Month knows!

The Whale and the Petunias presents: THE YEAR IN BOOKS

After much thought, I’ve decided to begin a new form of blogging here on The Whale and the Petunias. Instead of taking you through the books I’ve read every month, I’ve decided to offer myself a challenge and let you, the reader, reap the benefits. I present, THE YEAR IN BOOKS. Each month, I will read a different genre of book and review it here on the blog, with a few extra thoughts and bits of fun in every post. There will be more than just a monthly post, of course. Sometimes two or three books a month, depending on what I’ve been reading that I’d like to share, and even a few extras beyond that. But! As it stands, my year looks like this.

THE YEAR IN BOOKS:

March: Fiction (Pre-1950) [Dubliners]

April: Fantasy/Sci-Fi [The Vorrh]

May: History/Nonfiction

June: Young Adult

July: NYC

August: Poetry

September: Science

October: Mystery

November: Fiction (post-1950)

December: Mind & Body

January: Religion

February: Memoir

If you have any requests, ideas of books I should read in a certain genre, or even suggestions or ideas for other genres to squeeze in between months for some more content, let me know here in the comments!

My review of Dubliners is coming very soon!

Hi it's me Andy hellooooo!

I contemplate a new beginning by the coast. Disregard the ‘STOP’ portion of things, as I am doing the opposite, I am starting. Hm. Maybe this wasn’t such a good picture to use? Oh well, I’ve typed this much now. Might as well go forward with things, shall I? Alright, so, yes, here is me in Ireland by the coast, ready to bring you lots of new book related content!