Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/30/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... high-booted and bearing a lantern..."
Source: 5 x 2 x 2 + 6 x 3 + 3 = A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I told Ewan to dress appropriately -- that it would be raining and that his usual canvas sneakers and cotton socks might get uncomfortable after a few hours. So he showed up in hip-waders. Friggin' hip-waders! To spend a day scavenging all over Seattle. I wondered where he'd gotten them, but not enough to ask. He surely hadn't needed them when he lived in Arizona, and I hadn't heard word of him taking up fly-fishing since moving back home.

He was also wearing an external-fram backpack -- a big one -- and he carried an electric lantern. It had three rubber-footed fold-out legs so it could be set up on any sort of hard surface and stand a foot off the ground. Not tall enough to be safe if Ewan found waters to justify his boots.

"You understand what 'urban' means, don't you?" I said. "As in, 'urban scavenger hunt'? As in we're not going wading through any rivers?"

He just grinned and slapped his rubber-clad thighs. "Great, aren't they," he said. "Guess how much I paid for them. Go on -- guess."

"Too much, I'm sure."

"Shit, Karly. These things are awesome. Look, they've got fully integrated Vibram hiking soles." He turned around and lifted a foot for my inspection. "They're used, so last night I tested them out in the bathtub. No leaks."

"Your bathtub is three feet deep?" I said. "Wasn't that kind of a big waste of water? Or did you bathe in it afterward?"

"You're jealous. You in your pretty, pink Tevas."

"They're Chacos," I said.

"Whatever. Just wait till we're down in some sewer somewhere. Then what? I'm not gonna carry you. You'll be in -- wait for it -- deep shit. Ha!"

"Funny, Ewan. Hilarious. If sludge is on the list, I'll just have to let you take all the glory for collecting it." He kept grinning and shifted the pack on his shoulders. "What's in the two-month survival kit?" I said.

"All the stuff that you haven't thought to pack," he said. "I'd make you guess what's in here, but you'd never get it, so I'll just tell you."

"No, wait," I said. "You got the scavenger list early and we're done, right?"

"Second thought," he said, "I'm not gonna tell you till you're stuck in some jam wishing you'd planned ahead. And then, poof, there I'll be, holding just the thing you want. Then you'll be grateful -- when I rescue you."

"It's a scavenger hunt, Ewan, not an African safari." A disturbing thought occurred to me. "If you've got illegal -- or even marginally legal -- weapons in there, I don't want to know about them."

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/29/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... dispersed in the mile deep sea..."
Source: 4 x 3 x 5 + 6 x 3 + 5 = 83 = The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Once Lenninger released them from their tank, the probes dispersed in the mile deep sea. Their buoyancies were varied such that some floated on the surface, some sank to the floor, and the majority migrated to one of a thousand intermediate strata. They were small, but not quite microscopic. Caught just so, in a ray of the sun, a probe lingering just below the surface sparkled, drawing Lenninger's eye. Then its orientation shifted and it was lost -- though not forgotten.

Each of the hundred-thousand probes reported its positional data, at regular intervals, to Lenninger's network of partial-depth and surface buoys, which, in turn, relayed the information to his central receiver by way of one or more geosynchronous satellites. The swarms were tracked and plotted, and over a period of hours, he knew, this release would expand to a diffuse cloud of points, its edges blurring and overlapping with those of his previous deposits. Then, if he was lucky, many of the points would assume new trajectories, as they hitched rides on various unknowing marine fauna.

The probes were synthetic animals, of a sort -- parasites. They could derive power from solar radiation, when it was available, or by heat, if they happened to drift near a geothermal vent. Such probes provided little useful information though. The successful probes were those ingested by any of a variety of meso- and macroplankton species.

Each probe was coated with a chemoattractant substance that disguised it as food, and once consumed, it would burrow into the wall of the host's alimentary canal. Axial channels through the probes allowed controlled shunting of the hypertonic gastric contents into intersticial spaces, and the probe's nanomachinery was powered by movement of molecules and ions through this concentration gradient.

This process was inevitably detrimental to the host, and smaller organisms often succumbed to electrolyte imbalances or viral infections. Often enough though, the host plankton was consumed by a larger animal, and as it was digested, the probe would be released to implant itself, into the gut of the new host. All a probe needed was a membrane with a concentration gradient, and it could power its transmitters indefinitely.

Thus, the probes gained passage on all manner of marine animals -- though arguably, their distribution was skewed towards the carnivorous branch of the food chain -- and provided Lenninger with real-time information on the paths taken through the deep by its most accustomed inhabitants.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Timed Writing: 5/28/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "...the feet sank pleasantly into it..."
Source: 6 x 2 x 3 + 1 x 2 + 4 = 42 = The Complete Sherlock Holms: The Sign of Four by A. Conan Doyle

When Elanora stepped on the cake, her foot sank pleasantly into it. The white frosting filled the spaces between her toes and the spongy substance of the enormous dessert exuded an intense chocolate fragrance, laced with raspberries and something else. The bottom layer of the cake did not feel at all as Elanora had expected. It was cold and squishy and a little bit slippery. And there were hard bits and, ouch, sharp parts too. And what was that other smell? Elanora suddenly felt vaguely ill -- like when a piece of onion or garlic got into the jam and made the whole jar taste wrong. Meat! It smelled like raw meet. But also like something worse -- the garbage can by the garage after the uncooked trimmings of a steak had been left to rot.

Elanora's mission of destruction, fueled by envy, pure and simple, had just become more complicated. She was confused. Ruining her sister's birthday party wasn't something she'd planned out in advance -- more of an act of passion -- but once conceived she'd put the plan into action immediately. She'd stomp on the cake, eat a bit from the edges, and then flee to the backyard, where she could wash in the sprinkler. But now the thought of putting any part of this horrible cake into her mouth made her want to throw up, and her heel hurt from where she'd struck it on the pointy thing.  She was just lifting her foot back out, with the intention of abandoning the scene, when Amelia, the recipient of the cake, entered the kitchen. Amelia's scream of anger hurt Elanora's ears. It also brought their mother.

Later, after the screaming and the accusations and the tears and the scolding and the swatting and the exclamations of surprise and more screams and whispered conversations and the hurried bath with a lot of soap and the time alone in her room and a lot of whispered conversations between her parents and a careful examination of the cake by her father and of her foot by her mother, a policewoman arrived.

Elanora was to have been in her room, contemplating her misdeeds while Amelia was sent to play at the neighbors' house. Nobody had come to check on her for quite some time though, so Elanora had crept out to watch the activity from the top of the stairs.

"I'll need to take the whole thing with me," the policewoman said, "and the receipt from the bakery too -- if you've got it. There have been three other reports today -- all from the same bakery. We're trying to assemble enough of the... the parts to make a positive identification."

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/27/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "He noted a peculiarity to the skull..."
Source: 6 x 4 x 5 + 4 x 6 + 5 = 149 = Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Cyrus conducted the morning's autopsy with an efficiency proportionate to his experience. If he'd had as many years of experience as several of those near him, he might have finished the work in half the time. As it was, he'd been at it for almost an hour. This was the one-hundred-thirty-second case of his forensic pathology fellowship, and thus far, it had been boring.

The decedent was a young hispanic woman, as yet unidentified, found alone, in a car reported stolen several weeks before. The car was two hundred feet north of the highway, on the West Mesa, six miles west of Albuquerque. Highway patrol noticed her just after sunrise. No signs of trauma and no obvious cause of death. No drug paraphernalia at the scene. The windows of the vehicle were open though and temperatures had been well below freezing during the night. The scene investigator had said that there were ice crystals in the hairs of her nose when he found her.

Cyrus disliked the winter exposure cases. His fingers got cold handling the chilled organs. At least this one hadn't required the use of a hair dryer to thaw it before the morph techs could start cutting. Still, if given a choice -- which no one ever was -- Cyrus would have taken a winter exposure case over a summer one, no questions. Sun and dehydration played unholy havoc with dead bodies. Heat promoted autolysis such that by the time the pathologist took his sections for microscopic analysis he might as well have smeared dog shit on the slides.

"Hey Cy," said Jordan, one of the morph techs, "we're ready with the head. You wanna take a look or shall we just go for it?" Jordan held an oscillating saw in hand, poised to cut the top off the decedent's cranium. The scalp had already been neatly incised and peeled back to reveal slick bone, smooth and clean except for a few clinging threads of connective tissue and temporalis muscle.

Cyrus set down the knife and pick-ups with which he'd been dissecting the neck block and left his grossing station to examine the head. He ran fingertips over the exposed surface. He noted a peculiarity in the skull. It wasn't something that he saw, so much as something that he felt. An asymmetry or an unusual texture or contour? What was it? He couldn't quite identify the source of his impression, but skull seemed... wrong.  It was probably nothing. Surely he was imagining it. Still, he wanted more time to think and examine. He sent Jordan for the camera, then stepped back and folded his arms.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/26/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... walked those snow-covered hills under the stars... with a murder..."
Source: 1 x 4 x 2 + 2 x 5 + 4 = 22 = The Complete Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

Glacier-covered peaks tower before me, while behind flows the river -- a winter-swollen monster fighting with the crusts of ice that invade from its edges and threaten to cover and entomb. Between mountains and water are planes and hills. I stand at the foot of a rise, beyond which are a hundred more -- some higher than this and others obscured. All are blanketed in white, unmolested by foot or tire or hoof since last night's fall.

I've never looked on these hills before, but I have seen others like them, in could-be other world. I walked those snow-covered hills under the stars, under the moon, and under the sun and clouds. I was not alone then. I traveled with a friend -- a brother, perhaps. A murderer.

Today I come for recreation and recuperation and reconciliation. I revel in loneliness. Solitude in the beauty of frozen nature, its cold air tearing at my throat and its silence scratching in my ears, is supposed to cure the feelings of impotence and dread inspired by countless weeks of monotonous and meaningless tasks performed in the sun-deprived core of an unremarked urban edifice. My home: a cubicle in the heart (or the left kidney or the epididymis) of the commercial center of a might-as-well-be nameless metropolis. Today I am not at home.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/25/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... do you suppose that's my hand?"
Source: 5 x 3 x 4 + 6 x 6 + 6 = 102 = The Water Method Man by John Irving

"Do you suppose that's my hand?" I asked the docent who was leading the tour.

Many tours of the recycling plant were given every week, but from the looks exchanged by the receptionists when I had requested one the day before, I understood that recently re-bodied persons did not visit the facility often.

There were fifteen in the group -- several children and teens, and a few adults, all of whom, I guessed, were still in their original bodies. We stood facing a wall of glass, looking down into a concrete-floored workspace dominated by a several-hundred-gallon open-topped vat. Brown liquid swirled in the vat, pushed round and round by unseen blades rotating deep in the corrosive brine. Occasionally a solid object would rise to the top. Mostly they were not recognizable, but sometimes there would be a foot, largely intact, or a lightly eroded liver or some tangles of small intestine. The heads were processed elsewhere, so as to protect the privacy of the re-bodied -- some people were frightfully sensitive about such things.

"I really do believe that it is mine," I said after the docent had pointedly failed to acknowledge my query. "Look there!" I prodded the elbow of the pimpled teen beside me. "The tan-line from my wedding ring still shows -- this ring, here, that I'm wearing now! And those scars running across all four fingers -- I got those working in the assembly plant!"

The dear old appendage sank into the brown, sucked down by a fluke of the currents. The youth to whom I'd spoken moved away from me and struck up a conversation with his peers. They were all careful not to look my way -- not to encourage the old man in the new body. I didn't mind though. I walked right over to them. Put my shiny, new face square into their precious personal spaces. I cornered them.

"Hey kids! Did you all see that? It was my hand!" I shouted with glee. "You all think it'll never happen to you, I know. You think that by the time you're thirty, something better will have come along -- that you won't have to jump bodies. I thought the same thing, when I was your age. But really, it's not so bad." A couple of them smiled -- sort of. And then they edged away, keeping an eye on me all the while.

"Hmmm... yes," the docent said. He refused to meet my eye. I was pretty sure that he'd been re-bodied at least once, but he struck me as the uptight sort who wouldn't want to talk about it. "I think we've seen all that might be of interest here," he said. Nobody spoke, but they all seemed eager to follow him through the open door, leaving me to take up the rear.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/24/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... I am weary of this blood-letting..."
Source: 3 x 6 x 5 + 4 x 1 = 94 = The Chronicles of Count Antonio by Anthony Hope

"I must declare," Doctor Antharp said to me, as he approached my bed, "I am weary of this blood-letting. But I am wearier still of your failure to respond. It seems to have done nothing for either your physical or mental health. Your heart beats more rapidly each time I bleed you, and your color wanes as it should, but then, almost immediately, you seem to weaken. Most perplexing. Perhaps I have not been taking enough blood. You are a very tall man and large of frame."

"Doctor," I replied, attempting to suppress the disgust that I felt for this barbarous practitioner of only the most primitive medical techniques, "you say that you are wary of letting my blood. I assure you though, that it is I who is the wearier of it... and wearier because of it. I recognize that you are doing your utmost to treat your patient according to the highest standards of care, but I beg you to listen when I tell you that for my kind, bleeding does nothing but harm. Please at least postpone the next treatment for some days while I recover my strength."

Even this much speech tired me and I let my head sink back into the deep plush cushions. For a prisoner I was being treated far too well -- a well-appointed chamber with fresh breezes blowing in the windows, and all the food and wine that I could keep down. The polished steel manicles that bound my hands to the wrought-iron bedframe, however, suggested that I was something other than an honored guest. The doctor was the only person I'd seen since regaining consciousness and he refused to speak of ought but my health and his treatments.

"I had hoped to present to the inquisitors a sane and rational man," he said, "if not an entirely whole one. They grow impatient however, and I feel sure that they will give me but a few more days in which to treat your ailments."

Inquisitors. Finally he had referred to someone besides himself or me, but the the word summoned images of robed churchmen and monstrous tortures. I hoped that these were not the sort of inquisitors that he meant.

Doctor Antharp leaned over me and placed a hand to my carotid pulse. His brows were drawn tightly together in an expression of the greatest concern, and he made a wet clicking sound with tongue against roof of mouth. He laid his other hand on my forehead for a moment, then brought his palms together, as though praying, and let out a deep sigh. His breath stank of raw garlic and sour milk.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/23/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... sending forth growths and tendrils of some strange new life..."
Source: 1 x 4 x 2 + 3 x 4 = 20 = The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

Several days ago, Charlie'ther said that if I really wanted a challenge, I should try catching a mooboo. Ignorance of the term must have shown on my face.

"Mubu," he said, as he used his finger to scrawl the four-letter word in gravy on the cafeteria table. "You know -- a music buff." I shuddered. I had listened to music a few times -- before. Not that I'd had much opportunity.

"I'm doing fine," I said. "I'm challenged enough bringing in my quota every month." That wasn't true. It had been quite some time since I'd found the work difficult. With so many desperate s'ners pouring into town every week, all I had to do was stand by the dock with smile and a tray of doughnuts and they practically leaped into my proverbial net. Still, not all of the 'thers and 'sters were quite so adept. Charlie'ther, for example, didn't have the face for the job. His teeth were twisted and one of his eyes always looked off in a different direction. Sure, all were created equal, but unfortunately for Charlie'ther, not all were created symmetrical.

"Aw, go on, Drew'ther," he said. "I know how blessed you are with your charisma and your pearly gate teeth, but even I do alright when I'm trolling the easy waters. Empty-headed, hungry s'ners -- especially the lonely ones -- they're longing for help. But you find a full-blown mubu, head mucked up with melodies and lyrics... well, that's a whole 'nother story. They can be all manner of sad and suffering and still don't want what we've got to offer."

"What's got you talking about mubus all of a sudden?" I asked. Charlie'ther used his fork to push the last of his beans into his spoon. He looked up at me with his good eye, then back down at the beans.

"I just saw someone yesterday. Someone I used to know. She was a 'ster a few years back -- before you joined us." Charlie'ther's voice was barely audible. Not a whisper, just so quiet I could barely hear. "Her name was Sarah'ster. She went and got herself seduced by a mubu." I think I gasped or something because several 'thers and 'sters looked over and Charlie'ther made a show of shoving that last bite of beans into his mouth.

"That's awful," I said. "How'd it happen?"

"She was good. Really good. She could bring in more s'ners in a week than even you ever have. I think she was starting to get proud."

"... goeth before destruction..." I murmured.

"Yeah, well she met this mubu one day. He looking through a dumpster downtown. Sarah'ster thought he was hungry and figured he'd be an easy catch, so she went up and started talking to him. Turns out, he wasn't looking for food at all -- he was a mubu looking for elpees.

"What are..." I said, but Charlie'ther interrupted before I could finish.

"An elpee is a black disk -- about the size of your plate. It's thin and it's got tiny writing on it. Too small to see, but if you put it on the right kind of machine, the machine will read what's written. But mostly what they wrote on elpees was music!"

"So this Sarah'ster met a mubu looking for elpees," I prompted.

"The mubu convinced her to listen to what was written on some of his elpees. She came back and told me that it was amazing -- different from the flockhymns and better. I told her to be careful and that she better stay away from the mubu. The next week though, she didn't show up for flockmeet and I heard she'd gone back to the mubu's house. And then I didn't see her anymore and someone said she was living with the mubu." Charlie'ther paused and looked around the room before continuing. "Living together and not married." I felt something like nausea roiling in my stomach, and then shivers ran over my neck and up my scalp.


Later on I ran into Mary'ster, one of the oldest and wisest 'sters in the flock. I asked her about mubus and music.

"There's nothing evil about music, in and of itself," she said, "-- at least not all of it. Some of it does use lyrics that are blatantly dishonest or seductive, but for the most part, it is more subtle. And just because something's not overtly evil, that doesn't mean it's good or worthy. Are you considering reaching out to a mubu, Drew'ther?" I hummed and hawed and didn't come up with an intelligible answer, so she continued. "I think that's a wonderful idea. They need the light as much as anyone else, and you've proven yourself to be an effective fisherman. It's only appropriate that you ply the mirkier waters now."

I was shocked. After the way Charlie'ther had talked about mubus, I thought nobody would suggest that a 'ther of my short years attempt anything so perilous.

"If you do go after a mubu though," Mary'ster said, "be careful. Keep some other lines in the water so you don't get discouraged. Mubus are difficult to reel in, and the fight can be taxing. Oh... and whatever you do, no matter what a mubu says, don't ever put on a pair of headphones."


Three days later, I stood across the street from a dilapidated brick apartment building, up on the hill, twenty-five blocks east of my usual fishing grounds -- past the hospitals, even. There were plenty of desperate s'ners wandering the streets -- some in nice suits with handbags or typewriter cases and some in patched rags, pushing rusty market carts. I was only interested in the building though. Laundry, garbage, and loyalty banners flapped from some of the windows. On the second floor, one of the larger windows was dark -- boarded up from the inside. Below it hung a sign, hand-painted on the back of a metal garbage can lid: Mus'c Stor & List'n Room.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/22/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... smiling at him through the shutters as he passed..."
Source: 2 x 3 x 4 + 1 x 2 = 26 = The Awakening by Kate Chopin

For many months, when striding past the dark window in the hallway, Margarette had felt that she was being observed. Her first instinct, on such occasions, was to look over her shoulder, back to the far end of the empty hallway. Invariably it would be empty, as would the way before her. There were no alcoves, nor statuaries or furniture, that might afford shelter to a secretive watcher. Only the bare walls, floor, and ceiling... and the sea window that was always kept closed and shuttered.

This time though, as Margarette strode by the window, her arms full of fuel rods and abrasive belts for her aunt's workshop, it was more than just a feeling. She saw something -- or at least she thought she did. When she turned to look, it was gone. For an instant though, she had glimpsed the fragments of a face, smiling at her through the shutters as she passed. It had been interrupted by the horizontal slats of the shutter, as though belonging to someone standing outside. She knew that to be impossible though. The window stood thirty meters above the water and the wall in which it was set was smooth concrete, leaving no purchase for the fingers and toes of a climber, nor a surface smooth enough for suction devices.

Margarette unlatched and raised the heavy glass pane, then pushed out on the louvered stainless steel panels. The hinges creaked, but the shutters yielded with little effort onto an expanse of black. Margarette searched the darkness but saw nothing. All was still. Cold blackness filled the invisible miles between the window frame and the horizon that she believed must exist out there where the obsidian sea met the starless sky.

Margarette told no one of the face and she did not see it again for a very long time. When she did finally encounter it a second time, along with the person to whom it belonged, she was in a very different place -- both physically and mentally -- and she did not associate the new acquaintance with what she had glimpsed through the shutters in the hallway so many years before.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/20/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... the poet, desperate, tried to gain time..."
Source: 4 x 3 x 4 + 2 x 5 = 58 = Baudolino by Umberto Eco

They guided him to a rough table, pressed a chair into the backs of his legs until he was compelled to sit down, and provided him paper and a felt-tipped pen -- nothing that might readily be employed as a weapon.

"Write," they intoned in perfect, expressionless unison.

But the poet, desperate, tried to gain time. "Please, good masters," he said, "I'm not certain that I understand the terms. Does my time start when I begin -- when pen touches paper, that is -- or has it already commenced?"

"Write," they said, and they left him.

They dissolved, it seemed to the poet, into the chilly fog, the fog that stank of decaying flesh and singed hair, the fog that obscured the walls of the chamber and that only glowed a vaguely lighter shade of gray in the direction of the doorless arch through which they had entered. The prospect of escape danced haltingly in the poet's mind. No gate or bar had he encountered during his ushered journey through the maze of brick walls and live wood hedges. Only the gloomy pillars of black robed escorts, shifting and circling round, opening paths forward and closing off his return... and never speaking more than a single word per command. Now they were vanished and he sat alone with the implements of his profession arrayed before him: ink, blank sheet, and the light of a single directed beam that cut anomalously through the vaporous gloom to illuminate his assigned station.

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Timed Writing: 5/19/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... a maze of shelves, crammed with books in their numberless thousands..."
Source: 2 x 5 x 6 + 4 x 5 = 80 = The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

Zane was only rarely invited even into the kitchen of the repurposed old castle, and never into its prodigious stock room. Having watched the cook of the month and the other culinary rotators come and go through forbidden doorway, carrying all manner of cheeses and cured meats, tin cans and jars of fruit, had rendered the pantry, in Zane's mind, the ultimate goal of illicit explorations. Having once gained access, however, his interest in the bounty of the shelves was readily eclipsed by curiosity about a tiny doorway that seemed to have been entirely forgotten.

That morning, a fire had broken out in one of the hayfields. It was happening often enough in the late weeks of that hot drought summer, and given the paltry growth in the fields, the fires rarely found fuel enough to spread. This fire was in the southwest field, however and a steady wind blew from that quarter. All able-bodied inhabitants of the commune house had therefore been called to assist -- even the administrative rotators... and the kitchen staff.

Zane had suggested that he might be of use pumping water. His arms and chest were stronger than those of any other lad of twelve. His parents had forbidden it though, explaining that there would be too many feet running about and too few eyes looking to the ground.

Nobody had actually called Zane a "trip hazard," but he knew. Many had tried coaxing him to use a wheelchair. He would ride higher, they said, seem taller. The chairs were all heavy and awkward though -- too heavy for Zane to drag up stairs without assistance. With the light bamboo roller cart strapped to his thighs stumps, however, Zane could propel himself rapidly through halls and corridors, his hands slapping and pushing the floor and walls. And when he encountered stairs, he was as fast as any, hauling, hand-over-hand, up the metal rail banisters that had been installed during the castle's tourism days.

Shelves were mounted across the rotted half-height door at the rear of the kitchen pantry, stacked high with of canned fruits and bags of grain. The lowest shelf was nearly two feet from the stone floor though, and nothing sat beneath it, allowing sufficient space for Zane to pass. The door itself, after some prodding, gave way with a jarring squeal of rusted hinges. There was a puff of wind and spiced apple and herbed meat scents of the pantry were momentarily overwhelmed by a cloud reeking of mouse dung, dead flies, and moldy paper. Zane leaned back and pulled himself, on his low, caster-mounted cart, through a curtain of spider webs. A maze of shelves, crammed with books in numberless thousands, rose before him, reaching to high ceilings, in which windows of heavy amber glass shone brightly. 

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Timed Writing: 5/18/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... nothing was to be left to chance ... "
Source: 1 x 5 x 3 + 1 x 1 = 16 = The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino

The director told us that nothing was to be left to chance. Sigurt had chuckled at this, drawing a keen glare from the director.

"But ma'am," he said, "ultimately it's all up to chance -- regardless of how scrupulously we execute your designs."

"Ultimately, yes, you are correct -- at least in theory." The director's cool tone congealed further to a hard iciness as she continued: "Practically, however, you have the capacity to reduce the role of chance to such an infinitesimally minute point, that it may be safely ignored. So slight, in fact, should the influence of chance be on tonight's proceedings, that if I were to observe the occurrence of anything untoward or unexpected, I would be forced to assume that it was due to deliberate sabotage. Only after exclusion of all probable saboteurs, would I find myself compelled to redirect my attention to you, my devoted assistants, and dissect every facet of your contributions for chinks of negligence or crevices of ineptitude into which that abominable chance might have gained foothold."

Without waiting for further acknowledgement, Madame the Director exited the staging chamber through a crackling transport pane, leaving us to cough on the resulting puff of ozone and oxidized nitrogen.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Timed Writing: 5/17/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... in pumping water out of the Peruvian mines... "
Source: 1 x 3 x 2 + 1 x 4 = 10 = Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Efrain was put in charge of pumping water out of the Peruvian mines partly as a reward for the resourcefulness that he had demonstrated in his prior post as a lunar ice mining engineer and partly as a punishment for "seducing" the second son of the lieutenant governor of the seventeenth lunar colony -- a man of "traditional" values (the lieutenant governor, that is -- not his second son).

Though born in Nuuk, to second-generation Spanish heat refugees, Efrain had been on moon or asteroid since childhood, moving from site to site, wherever his mother's ice-mining expertise was required. So Efrain knew nothing about Peru and spoke only a little spanish (and none of the languages of the Peruvian mountains, whatever they might be). More importantly, he had never worked against Earth's gravity or its atmospheric pressure. Still, ice was ice and water was water. Valuable, if fresh.

There was much for Efrain to learn and the job seemed sufficiently complex to maintain his interest. Possibly even captivating enough to keep him out of trouble. That, of course might depend on other factors: the local population, their appetites, and their traditional mores and acquired moralities.

Efrain put on the appropriate public show of delight and surprise at his new appointment, as well as the even more necessary, though slightly less public appearance of righteous indignation, mixed with heartache at being exiled from the Moon and parted from his lover. No mutually agreeable activities of consenting adults were banned by systemic law, and it was only in such provincial throwback pockets of inhabited space such as Luna 17 that anyone would even have noted the dalliances of some minor dignitary's offspring. Efrain bore the father of his latest lunar lover no real grudge. The son had added some interest to an otherwise tedious appointment and neither of them had expected more of the affair than it had yielded. It was the idea of a parent even wanting to bend the will or curb the behaviors of an adult child that irked Efrain. Lunacy... on the moon.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Timed Writing: 5/16/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: "... he should die by his own hands."
Source: 1 x 2 x 2 + 1 x 1 = Astoria by Washington Irving

When my brother told me that he should die by his own hands one day, I replied that I would find a means of preventing it. He chuckled through his tears and said that there was no hurry -- that he had no intention of dying soon.

We were standing beside our mother's grave when he spoke those grim words, and so great and painful had been the final years of her life, that she had begged for assistance in ending it. I wept for her misery and cried to God to forgive her that sinful desire, and to grant her the clarity of mind to repent and embrace the cup that He had chosen for her. Beyond that, there was little to be done.

Henry, my brother, was older than I, and prided himself on his wisdom in the ways of the world, as well as on his capacity for what he regarded as free and unhindered thought. A sophisticated mind he possessed, no doubt, but one encumbered weightily with excessive confidence in Man and too little regard for the powers and laws of the Creator. He would have done any good or ill within his power to aid our mother, and it was only by my constant vigilance that they were both prevented from condemning themselves to the fires of hell -- the one by the sin of suicide and the other by that of murder. In the final months, I was forced to live day and night in our mother's chamber and to lock it when ever I left, lest Henry creep in with some deadly draught that he would name mercy.

He did try, on multiple occasions, while I was present, to offer our mother potions of his own invention. But mother, upon looking at my face, would be forced to acknowledge the righteousness of my glower and refuse the odious glass. That was earlier though -- when she still clung to glimmerings of reason amidst the encroaching shadow of her disease. Later, when she was beyond the point of rational decision, Henry would have slipped a tablet into her slack mouth or smothered her with a cushion had I not maintained my constant vigil. Indeed, I was not entirely equal to the task, being slim of build and hardly a physical match for my brother. I was thus compelled to enlist the help of certain men who, for a price, were only too happy to guard my mother's wellbeing. Their price being high, I exhausted the majority of our mother's small fortune in the final year of her life. But I am satisfied that it was money well spent; by its power in this secular world was her soul protected for passage to the spiritual realm.

Poor Henry. He was wracked with grief and misplaced guilt when finally she passed. The grief was right and natural, but the guilt was for having failed to satisfy our mother's unholy request. And when, at her grave side, he spoke so rashly of his own ultimate end, I knew that these powerful emotions were influencing his words. Still, they persisted to weigh heavily on my soul and in the years following, it became ever clearer to me what I should do if ever he became ill.

Fates would need interfere in my plans though, for I was the one to fall prey to the forces of disease. A tumor grows within me for which no physician can offer ought. I know full well that it is within the power of God on high to remove this affliction from me. But now I understand that it came to me when it did, so that I would be allowed to suffer here, on Earth, some of the penance that is my due for the sin that I have since committed, and of which I have now repented and been absolved, even though its incumbent civil penalty has yet to be paid.

The method by which my offense was committed matters little, now that it is done and soon to be redressed. Yet, lest any should, in the future, doubt my sanity and the reasons for which I acted, I will provide a brief account.

Following pronouncements on my condition by two independent doctors of the medical arts, I passed some days in prayer and meditation. I was at peace with all men and felt naught to hinder my exit except for that one statement spoken so many years before by my dear Henry. I could not bear to pass on to the next realm without first having dissuaded him from ever damning himself through the act of suicide. The doubt that assailed me, day on day and night on night, was that even should I succeed in obtaining a satisfactory promise from him prior to my own death, later, when he was suffering in mortal agonies at some distant day, he might recant and take relief through a death by his own hands. This I could not bear.

At the time of our next meeting therefore, I prepared the bread and soup of our childhood, such as I often provided when he joined me to sup. When we had finished, and he was in a second cup of his ale (a vice that I can neither absolutely condemn nor condone), I told him of my disease. He looked stricken, genuinely with grief, and he bade me accompany him on the following day to visit his physician, a man of great repute. I assured him that I was prepared to embrace the cup that God had given me and that I was eager to meet my Creator and Savior. Henry was kind. He suppressed the usual sarcasm with which he was wont to meet such expressions and instead he raised handkerchief to eyes and wiped away tears. Then he began to cough.

The venom was slow to act, and I had poured only a minimally sufficient dose into his tankard. Still, its effect was certain. For some minutes, Henry staggered about the room and made as though to clear an obstruction from his larynx. A deep ruddiness enveloped his features and he clutched at his throat. Soon he could not draw breath even to cough and he collapsed into his chair. A sustained spasm took his entire body and then his plethoric mask relaxed to complete pallor. The rigidity of his body melted, as though he slept, and only his eyes retained the least hint of life.

I knelt beside Henry's chair and took his right hand in both of mine. We prayed, he and I. He with his heart and I with my voice, as his soul ascended, free of the sin that he had openly contemplated for so many years. I prayed both for him and for myself. I acknowledged the egregiousness of my crime, called myself a murderer before my God and Maker, and gave myself to His mercy. And in those moments, while the life drained from the body of my dear brother, I received that greatest gift of all -- the forgiveness of sins and the renewed welcome to the arms of my Lord and Savior.

So here I sit, on my last morning, content with the sentence that has been passed and ready to accept, a few months earlier than nature would have ordained, the conclusion of my earthly life. I go now to join those that I have loved best throughout my life: my God, my mother, and my dear, redeemed brother.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Countdown to Clarion West

I am delighted to announce that I will be participating in the 2012 Clarion West Writers Workshop, taught this year by Mary Rosenblum, Stephen Graham Jones, George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, and Chuck Palahniuk.

It begins on June 17th. To help me contain my excitement and mark the passage of time, I have re-instituted my daily writing exercises. I started up again on May 16th, and I will continue through June 15th, posting them here as I go.

My prompts for this round are phrases found on page one-hundred of a book selected from the household collection of literary fiction. I choose each day's book by the roll of a die. I roll it three times and add the product of the first three rolls to the product of the last two rolls and then count from the upper left corner of the bookcase, through the many shelves, sometimes onto the next case, until I reach the designated number.

As always, I'd be delighted to hear your responses to these rag-tag bits of story seeds. If there are any that particularly captivate or inspire, be sure to let me know, as I'll move them up the queue for further development.