Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/29/2012


Time: 15 minutes
Source Photo: Dog Walk, by Maggie's Camera


Sometimes I let other people create my worlds,  or, more often, I accept invitations to visit the worlds that they've created for themselves. Worlds created by others are never as perfectly suited to my preferences as the ones that I create, but they are worth visiting for the sake of novelty and surprise. Sometimes I will visit a world and find myself saying, can we really do that? is it allowed? But of course, if it can be imagined it can be done, and there's nothing that isn't allowed. There are just a lot of things I never would have imagined on my own.

A few days ago -- or a few years or centuries; time means so little here -- I received an invitation from Habakuk Jones, an old friend who had chosen to spend much of his physical life as a dog. His message suggested that I visit his latest creation. A meditative world, he called it -- a place to quiet the mind and commune with the soul. I sent him a time-delimited access key with the start point scheduled for my next waking.

I don't have to sleep, but for me the transition to a new world comes most naturally with a waking from sleep, so I maintain a simple, non-dreaming sleep function in my repertoire. I engaged it for the minimal period and then I awoke.

As soon as I awoke my feet started moving. I was trotting down a long wooden causeway on all fours. I had paws rather than hands, and judging by their shape and by the fur and claws, I was a dog. This was hardly surprising, given Habakuk's canine affinities. The causeway was narrow -- only twenty inches or so wide, and was bounded on either side by still, dark water reflecting a gray sky. Chains stretched between stanchion posts provided a semblance of safety, but the boards below were smooth and wet and might have provided very little traction in case of unbalance. The water on the left stretched for several miles, to a distant land, whose mountains were partly obscured by hazy clouds. On the right, there was nothing but the water between me and the horizon. Before and behind, the wooden path stretched for as far as the eye could see, narrowing to a point and vanishing.


(about my timed writing exercises)

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/28/2012


Time: 15 minutes
Source Photo: Cracked


Dark. Completely black. Smells of mildew and mouse droppings. Eyes are closed. I open them. Vertical lines. A vent. I'm on the ground or a floor. Vent on wall before me. Laying belly down. Chin extended forward on cool surface. Not cold. Not hot. No sounds. Scratch that. Faint sounds coming through grate. Voices. Metallic, ringing quality -- echoing through sheet metal ducts. Not far off.

"We have to find his ship before anybody sees it." It's a male voice, speaking English. Human, I think.

Then a different voice: "It won't matter how well we hide the ship if he's still alive and operational." This voice is not human.

They're talking about me, but I don't know why I know this. There's something missing. More than that. A lot is missing. I was on my ship -- going somewhere. I was looking for someone. Then what?

I move my head. I try, anyway. A degree or two at the most -- hardly a twitch -- and the pain stops me. Oh, yeah. I've been hurting for a long time now. Head, neck, shoulders, chest... arms. Where are my arms? Horrible pain in my arms but no sense of them. No floor pressed against them. Are they asleep? Nerve pinched? I clench my teeth and tense my neck to turn, to look at myself. The agony replaces consciousness and the metal grade goes black.

Dark. Completely black. Smells of mold and rat shit. Eyes are closed. Open them. Vertical lines. Oh, yeah. I've seen this before. Must have blacked out. Why am I here? Voices again. Three now. New voice, human female: "...here, on this building, crashed into the roof."
The human male: "But we'd have heard it -- felt it crash."
The non-human: "Maybe not. The crash could have occurred before we arrived -- while we were in transit."
The human female: "...which means that he knew where we were heading -- where to find us."
The human male: "Find him. Now."

Bingo.

Targets acquired. Green text scrolls across my vision.

Then red text: Target acquisition acknowledged. Proceed immediately.


What? Proceed with what? Who are they? Why was I seeking them? Targets?

Green text: Weapon dispersion device armed. Vocal signatures locked. Adequate delivery route identified.


Red text: Deploy weapons.


My mouth opens despite the protesting pain that tears through my head. My abdomen and chest expand with a deep inhalation. All of my pain receptors are saturated, so I hear, rather than feel the broken ends of ribs grinding against one another. I cough, expelling all of my breath, and with it, a cloud. A black swarm of speck. It looks like course sand, but it doesn't fall. It flies straight, directly through the grate. Where have I seen it before? It looks so familiar.

Green text: Weapons deployed.

There's a fainted brushing, ringing sound. My visions blurs, darkens. I try to inhale. Cannot. Suffocating. Urge to thrash around, to scream. Cannot do either. Completely paralyzed.

The brushing sound of the flying sand stops. The screaming begins. Three voices. Two human, one non-human. Then the screaming stops.

Red text: Mission accomplished. Well done. Proceed with elimination of delivery device.


Green text: Acknowledged.


The brushing sound in the grate returns and it grows louder, closer. The black swarm rushes toward me and again, I want to scream, but the desire doesn't last for long.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/27/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: No smoking in this entrance


I find Carver sucking on a B&H in a side door of Debenhams. He's wearing that cheap gray suit he bought when he started the job there, complete with shiny plastic name badge on the left lapel.

"You find it very amusing, I imagine. Ironic, I dare say." I leave out humor and grunt the words in the way that makes him wobble. He startles like a dog that's pissing on a thorn bush when you kick its other leg out from under it. He gathers his wit -- I don't think the plural form applies to Carver -- and makes as if to smile. Then he takes another look at the shape of my countenance and settles on a perplexed idiot look instead. Fitting.

"Uh, what's that, Birr?" says he. "I don't follow."

"You don't follow, eh, Carvy? Why am I not surprised. You don't exactly follow a great deal of things, do you? Take, for example, them words posted on the placard above your head. Did it cross your mind to follow them?" He turns about and acts all surprised to see the No smoking in this entrance sign. As though he hadn't seen and ignored it five times a day for the past two weeks.

"Sorry, Birr. Didn't think you'd be the sort to mind a little... infraction like that." He drops the stub and does a little toe twist on it -- dance-like, almost. Beside it are another dozen or so fag-ends and an array of chewing gum spots.

"I mind, Carvy, my dense little friend, because you're not to be doing anything to draw attention to yourself, and if the Old Bill comes along here and sees you holed up comfortable, below that particular notice, with your mouth full of smoking gun, he may not appreciate the irony in quite the same way as you or me."

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Timed Writing: 2/26/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: Embryo


I warned her. I told her, over and over again, not to follow me into the woods. I explained how I would not be able to protect her there -- how my indulgence would not be extended to her and how she would be treated should she pass the barrier of stones. She did not listen. Now she does not hear. Or speak. Or breathe. She may yet feel a little -- I don't know. Even that cannot last for long, if it lasts at all.

If there had been anyone watching, they would have seen a tree fall in the forest. They would have heard a cracking and a rush of wind and a scream, cut instantly short and muffled by the crashing of branches, twigs, roots, gravel, rocks. They would have lost sight of the golden curls and the pale blue dress in the storm of yellow leaves and the cloud of brown dust.

There was nobody watching though, so perhaps it didn't happen like that at all. Perhaps it was silent. Perhaps there was no transitional series of states during which the tree and the root clump assumed attitudes intermediate between those of its past and those of its present. Perhaps it was instantaneous -- a synchronized positional change of all of the particles composing the tree and the the woman, such that she didn't die in pain and terror. Like an electron jumping to the next quantal energy level, with no in-between  state, she was alive and then she was dead. No tree falling, no shattering of the skull, no crushing of the rib cage -- just horizontal tree, head in pieces, thorax flat.


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/25/2012

Once again, I have something different today. I took an online flash fiction workshop with Cat Rambo today, during which I completed several timed writing exercises. They are presented below, along with descriptions of their prompts and (where applicable) constraints. Enjoy.



Timed Writing #1
Time: 5 minutes
Prompt:  The saddest superhero...

The saddest superhero is the one who sees the future. His prescience cuts through the issues of the moment, the hurdles facing him and the targets of his beneficence. He follows the lives of those he rescues to their inevitable ends, understanding, even as he pulls them from the crumpled steel of their clutching conveyances or delivers them from the blast radius of the next great bomb, that one day soon, probably the next time that they are in need, he will not be there. He sees that the salvation meted out on his fellow humans is but a tiny reprieve, that in a matter of decades or years or seconds, they will all die. Some will have expected it, most will not. Many will die miserably, more miserably than if the superhero had not saved them. Very few will die content.


Timed Writing #2
Time: 5 minutes
Prompt: If we all said what we thought, then ceiling would have to have been raised

"If we all said what we thought, then the ceiling would have to be raised." 

It took me a moment to figure out what Ellie meant by this, then I replied, "I disagree. It's only if you say what  you think that the ceilings would have to be raised." She looked puzzled, so I continued. "You're operating under the mistaken belief that all of us share your abilities." 

Ellie sat up from the day bed and turned to face me across my dark lacquered desk.

"Doctor Mills, I have been coming here for six weeks now and that is the first time that you have disagreed with anything I've said -- despite the fact that I've been babbling sheer lunacy fifty-minutes per session three times per week. Does your response suggest that I'm approaching sanity."


Timed Writing #3
Time: 6 minutes

People had been living in the now abandoned farm house when the space craft landed.  A family. Hired hands had been staying in the bunk house. Dogs and chickens had roamed around the barn yard and there had been cows in the field and vegetables in the kitchen garden. Then all of that went away.

When I first saw the space ship, I thought, as had many before me, that it was an abandoned vehicle. What… a packard or a kaiser? One of those old luxury coupes of the late '30s… something nobody out in this little farming village could have afforded back when it landed. Something that might have given the invaders an extra advantage. The edge of respect. Farmhands would have run out to investigate the noise of the landing and would have seen that enviable road machine, might not have noticed at first that there were no tracks through the tall grass to where it sat, idling, might have only wondered what some rich city slicker was doing out way out here, might have thought a nickel could be had in return for assistance.


Timed Writing #4
Time: 6 minutes
Prompt: [this image]
Restriction: Engage in as much alliteration as possible

"'Floating, flying, philandering Philippa,' more like," said Eloise Stena when her father presented the preposterous new poster. "Where did you find the fellow to commit this final folly?"

"Eloise, my angel," said her father, "You should show some civility to your sensible sister. Marianne makes money from those men with whom she mingles. Greater gains are garnered there than in her death-defying dalliances with dare-devils in the circus dome."

"So profit prevails over purity?" Eloise chided.


Timed Writing #5
Time: 8 minutes
Prompt: Think of a fairy tale that you don't really like very much and tell the story from the point of view of a character in the story from whose point of view we don't usually see the story -- someone who isn't so happy about how the story turned out. 

Damn, damn, damn. That bitch! There's no way she's making me dance with cousin Dalia at the ball tonight. I think I might just run away.

Sometimes I wish she'd just given up and let the crazy dwarf have me. Would've been amazing -- growing up in the woods, learning magic, talking to birds and ferrets and salamanders. I might have become a great wizard. At least I wouldn't be sitting around with a bunch of stodgy old councilors and tutors and priests and royal cousins and uncles and shit. 

She says the dwarf died -- went straight to hell when he stamped his feet so hard in frustration that the earth opened up, but I don't buy it. I think he's still out there, and I think he'd be thrilled to take me -- especially when I tell him how my mom cheated -- how she didn't come by his name honestly. What was it… Rumble something? Rumpole Skulkings? He sounds like just the guy I need right now. If he can spin straw into gold like Mom's always saying, he sure as hell can get me out of being a stupid, superfluous child king. 

Maybe if dad had lived longer -- if I'd actually gotten to know him and learn this ruling crap from a real ruler rather than some wily peasant girl turned queen -- then maybe I'd be more into it, but she's trying to turn me into a male version of her -- all into the frills and tassels and jewels. That's crap. I'll show her though. I'll go find… Rumpelstiltskin! That was it!



Timed Writing #6
Time: 9 minutes
Prompt: Guidebook entry to a particular emotion

Apathy, correct usage of [note: for correct usage of the word, "apathy," see standard dictionary definition above]:

When engaging in apathy, one should first determine whether the apathy is to be applied generally, to all aspects of one's situation, or more discretely to a specific issue or subset of issues. Once the target of the apathy (here we will employ the term "apathon") has been adequately defined, one must identify all possible barriers to full immersion in the apathetic state. These may take a variety of forms and may not be immediately obvious. 

As an initial step, it is recommended that the novice practitioner of apathy first imagine a world in which the apathon is entirely absent (whether it is an object, a person, a place, or a situation). If contemplation of such annihilation of the apathon results in any emotional response, then apathy has not been achieved. If, however, no response is elicited, it does not necessarily follow that the practitioner is, in fact, apathetic; it may merely mean that he or she has so successfully imagined the lack of the apathon that he or she has temporarily forgotten its existence. Therefore, once this first test has been passed, it is recommended that the practitioner check for an emotional response upon reintroducing the apathon to his or her imagination.



Timed Writing #7
Time: 10
Prompt: It was an unexpected letter...

It was an unexpected letter in the middle of the fourth word that threw Kaziore's off his reading of the incantation, caused him to falter, caused the spell to crumble, impotently against its prey. If it hadn't been for that single letter -- a letter that he had not seen since the day his infant was torn from his arms and he was cast out of the city -- his revenge would have been complete. The villain responsible for all of Kaziore's miseries would be destroyed. Instead, because of a single letter, Kaziore lay shackled to the grating stones of a dank cell, alone. His isolation gave him time to contemplate the letter, however. How had it gotten there? Who had inserted it in the middle of the deadly sentence that he, himself had scrawled on the tanned human scalp just days before. Had he, Kaziore, written it, in some forgotten fit of madness, and then immersed the scroll in the lizard blood and rolled it up without first inspecting is work? Impossible. He would never, could never have drawn that character.

Timed Writing 2/24/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: [untitled]


"Shall I help you find your mother?"

"I haven't got a one," the little girl replied.

I had been watching her, intermittently, from my seat at the periphery of the spring-leafed circle of trees surrounding the duck pond. She was throwing pebbles into the water, along with ten or twelve other children when I arrived for my daily sit down with book. The afternoon wore on and I ate several slices of sharp cheddar and drank water from a glass bottle. As the sun fell among the boughs and branches of the far bank, one mother or nanny after another gathered up her charge or brood and departed.

Finally, in that barely full-light before sunset, only the little girl and I, a man fifteen or twenty times her age, remained. The last mother to leave the pond had strapped her infant into a wheeled agglomeration of plastic and metal and nylon fabric and walked away, seemingly unaware of the child left standing by the edge of the shallow water, scooping up pebbles by the handful and strafing the clear surface.

When I could no longer make myself believe that someone might return for her, I packed up my things into the pockets of my coat and went to speak with her. That was the beginning of how, at the age of seventy-five, I came to be the companion of a child of four -- a child from nowhere.


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/23/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: FIGHT! 50/366


What your eyes have seen, I don't want to see.

That shadow of eyelash across bloodshot sclera chills my imagination. How many times have you dabbed earth-tones on the ears and cheeks, blackened the chin, olive-drabbed the lips? If charcoal rouge could be brushed on the surface of your eyeballs, would you wear it? You're enveloped in darkness, in leaves, in mud, in blood.

Two bright lanterns shine through -- panes emitting light of mind, admitting meaning of world. What have you seen? Your own hands, covered with gore, cupped to cradle your forehead? The far end of a barrel, aligned with the near, target eclipsed? A sliver of blasted road viewed below the arch of a wheel as you slouch low, hands at four and eight?

Seering white? You are blind. For too many moments. Some of the blood is yours. Mixed with dust and smoke, an erythroid sludge adds another color to your palette. Its ruddy hue a camouflage against the iron rich soil, the autumn leaves, the crimson sunset.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/22/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: Discarded, by Kevin Corrado

Fortunately, Albert was sitting down when the ground beneath him collapsed with a thunderous crack. If he had been standing up at the time, he would almost certainly have fallen through the four-foot diameter cavity in the asphalt.

He had just sat down to remove a pebble from his shoe when the trans-world portal opened under his butt and he managed to throw his hands and feet out in time to arrest himself on the edges of the hole. An awkward struggle and a role left laying on the pavement beside the gaping void with his ears ringing and his nostrils full of bitumen dust. Peering over the edge, he could see nothing, but there a grinding, scraping noise retreated into the black nothing, just like what had been described by others who had witnessed the opening of portals.

Albert had heard all about these holes. Whenever a new one was discovered, it was on the news, but this was the first one he'd actually seen, and based on what he'd heard, this might be the biggest one yet. His friend Daren had seen the Vancouver hole on a trip up to BC with his parents. It had been a disappointment. It was only six inches in diameter and when Daren had looked through, all he had been able to see were stars in a dark sky. According to astronomers, however, the patch of sky visible through the Vancouver hole could not be found in any region of Earth's sky.

Albert got up and dusted himself off, only to realize that he'd lost his shoe -- the one with the pebble -- the one he'd taken off. It had been in his hand when the hole opened, so he must have dropped it in his effort to keep from falling. It certainly wasn't anywhere in the abandoned parking lot, so it must have fallen into the portal.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/21/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: Superintendants House by pixielulu

I lost a boot to the voracious muck of the back garden and had to stop to retrieve it before I could continue  toward the house. The size and configuration of the building were much as I had been led to expect. The condition was far worse. Creeping vines and shrubs adhered to every surface, obscuring all but the most random patches of masonry. Even the black tile roofs were partially covered with the skeletons of weeds and brambles. I divined the locations of windows on the house's posterior aspect only by occasional gleams of sunlight reflected back at me from between windblown leaves.

I was happy to not be encountering this place at night. Although I harbored no respect for superstitions, there was a part of my mind that suffered from the influences thrust upon me during my youth. A man may know that the blade thrust at him is a trick knife and still he will flinch. I believed not in tales of hauntings or in ghosts, ghouls or other such nonsense, but having for so long been under the care of those that did, that house, if beheld by moonlight, would, no doubt, have bipassed my rational mind and awoken monstrous apprehension and dread.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/20/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: 13 February, 12.24 by Timo Arnall

The wall of the snow and ice behind the town dwarf Sulmona's ancient stone architecture -- buildings themselves capped with white. I enter through an arch -- Gothic? Byzantine? -- cross a square, and dive into a maze of alleys, quickly losing sight of the mountains. Their presence haunts me though. Arrested by my reflection in the window of a cafe, I see a man made small by his environment. I will stay here for as short a period as can be arranged, lest, as I feel sure might happen, I shrink to utter insignificance in the presence of that geological grandeur, and disappear altogether from this earth.

After some wandering about and some receipt of information from helpful inhabitants of Sulmona, I arrive at my destination. The house is tall and narrow -- a brick and stucco building with most of the coating long since flaked away. It is squeezed uncomfortably between two larger buildings: a stone church turned museum and a newer apartment building, dating, perhaps, from the late nineteenth century. Although the house that I approach appears unremarkable, I know that this is by design -- that much effort has gone into reducing the building's impact on the mind.


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/19/2012


Time: 5 minutes
Source Photo: Window Seat by Lou Peeples

When I was last in this room, the ceiling was not a pile of rubble on the floor. The grids through which light entered held panes of glass then. There were more than two desks set up on the hardwood floor, and I would have had no idea of the shapes or girths of the beams that supported the floor of the room above. I was a human child then, and so were those who occupied the other desks. That was before anyone knew of the non-humans, and when post-humans were nothing but a fantasy of the would-be visionaries.


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/18/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: Walking in Marrakech by Marco Garrincha

Watching it from a hundred feet away, I had to remind myself that the walker was a full-sized human and not a Jawa. The peaked hood and shapeless black cloak, set against the ruddy sandstone backdrop, woke the Star Wars meme that had been rattling around in my head since I was a small child.

A rumbling of machinery clatter filled my ears and I half expected a sandcrawler to roll, lumbering slow, over the sandy dune crest behind me. It was, of course, the armored cavalry division that was supporting my efforts and that was supposed to have remained well back while I established contact.

The metallic cacophony elicited no reaction from the figure -- my could-be Jawa. He -- or she, for all I knew -- maintained the meditative posture and the shambling, almost gliding gate, unmolested by either the noise or the rubble underfoot. The latter was of particular note, given that the rough terrain would have efficiently impeded myself or any other similarly unpracticed traveler. R2D2 would not have been able to roll so smoothly here as he had across the iconic movie set.


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Friday, February 17, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/17/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: Barcelona by Alexandr Kulikov

The dock stretched long and straight before me. At the far end was a bicycle -- and a man.

The stacked leather heels of my boots beat a low marcato rhythm from the tympanic boards of the walk as I approached him. A hot wind sang through the taut cables of a minimalist barricades on either side. The bicycle leaned against a railing, facing the man. The man faced the ocean. He sat on the edge of the dock, silhouetted against the horizon, where the almost white of the blue sky met the almost black of the blue water. He made no movement nor gave any indication that he perceived my approach. He was expecting me though. He'd been expecting me for a very long time -- he and his bicycle.

I first met Guy at a party in Lausanne -- a party in my honor. I had been working all summer in an immunology laboratory at the Institut de Biochimie, and before I departed, Hans, the PI, hosted a farewell party for me. Most of the people in attendance were postdocs and techs in Hans's, but there were people I'd met from other labs as well. Guy was a new graduate student, who would start his rotation with Hans the following week, and since he'd just arrived in town, Hans invited him to join the party. His name was Guillermo and he was from Barcelona, but he preferred to be called Guy. Like Guy Ritchie, he'd say, standing up tall and trying to look tough, not like Guy de Maupassant.

Guy arrived at Hans's home, a few kilometers southwest of the city, by bicycle. It was an off-road bike -- the kind with a straight handlebar and rough, knobbly tires. It was appropriate only for the final hundred meters of the trip -- Hans's steep, gravel drive -- but he didn't ride it up the driveway. I know because I was on the veranda when Guy arrived, and I watched him stop at the open gate, dismount, and walk the bicycle all the way to the house.


(about my timed writing exercises)



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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Regarding the Timed Writing Exercises

Tomorrow, I will have been posting my daily free-writing exercises for two months, and to mark the occasion, I will try using a different type of prompt. So come see how that works out.

Also, I've turned a couple of these exercises into longer pieces, which has been great fun. If there is one of them, in particular, that you'd like to see expanded, let me know. If it's one that I've already used, I'll send you a link to the longer work -- if it's not, I'll prioritize it for expansion.

Thanks for reading!

Timed Writing: 2/16/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: The exotics have already been placed in the green-house
Source: Jules Michelet, Autumnal Aspirations


The exotics have already been placed in the green-house, as have the last of the provisions and the heating fuel. Icy claws of wind rake my nose and lips. The earth is free of frost, but come morning, it will crunch and sparkle. Scrubby tufts of grass sprouting from the exhausted beige soil tremble in the breeze. Tomorrow they will stand rigid and crack at a touch. All that remains now is for me to check the levels in the fire-point magazines at the perimeter, and then join the exotics and the other children for count-off and seal-out.

At the first fire-point I find the magazine full, the warming coils clean, and the seals intact. The second has one of the old butyl rubber seals and it has cracked. Most of the liq in the magazine has evaporated away. I pull off a glove and fumble in my belt pouch for a new seal. I scrape away the crumbly black rubber with a stubby screwdriver and fit a bright silicon replacement into the flange of the magazine. I refill the chamber from one of the bladders on my back. The hose is narrow, so it takes nearly two minutes. In the cold it seems much longer.

The veiled glow of the sun retreats behind a wall of red stone topped with pine skeletons. I relive last night's dream -- the one that caused me to move seal-out up a week and to carry extra seals and liq on my rounds this evening.

In the dream I was locked out of the green-house and I was naked. It was night and the only light came from the flood above the gate. I pounded on the steel panel, but there was no response. I would either freeze to death or become food for the scavs -- or both. I walked toward a fire-point, considering whether I might warm my hands over the heating element or maybe even splash some liq to the ground start a fire for warmth and protection. I had no flint, nor matches though. Then I saw the eyes of a scav out in the darkness. It was a large one, judging by the height at which the glowing points floated above the ground, and it was well within the range of the fire-point's trigger eye. Why wasn't the fire-point spewing? And then I heard the hum of its pump, spinning dry. The magazine was empty. The eyes drew closer and I saw the grass and rubble behind the scav distorted by its transparent body. Then I woke.

I replace seals on two more fire-points and I top off the magazines of all of fifteen. Then I return to the gate.

(about my timed writing exercises)



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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/15/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: In the beginning, the skulls were treasures
Source Tom Brown Jr. and William Watkins, The Tracker


In the beginning, the skulls were treasures. Lust for them fueled crimes -- burglaries, street robberies, a few murders. Later, once we had discovered what else the skulls did, all that changed. Rather than being coveted, they were shunned and a person who carried one was no longer celebrity, but pariah. Doors were shut to him and he was treated like the lepers of old -- an outcast, forced to live beyond the confines of the city, scavenging what he could glean from the fields and gardens of the unwary, while seeking someone to accept his skull.

I possessed a skull for a short time. My girl, Annie, had been talking of them and I wanted to impress her, so I snuck into the diggers' camp and stole one. I was no great thief. I just got lucky when a careless foreman left a haul unguarded. I did not keep my skull for even a full day.

I woke the following morning in a bed not my own. My head was dull and groggy and the ceiling that stared down at me gave no clue of my whereabouts. There was a hollow beside me, where someone had lain, but it was cold. I lay atop the covers, fully clothed, with even my hat and boots in place.

The skull! I jumped up and looked around. It was nowhere to be seen. My satchel lay in a corner, with the purse of coppers untouched inside, but the skull was gone. I looked out the window and the farmers' stalls looked back at me from across the market square. I must be at the inn.

Vague memories of drinking by the fireplace returned to me. Annie had brought me a tankard. Was that before or after the stranger came in and I got angry at him for talking with Annie? Everything was tangled and my head rang anvil-like with every pulse of my blood. I stumbled out of the room and down the stairs to the public room. The host met me.

"I was coming to roust you, Johnnie," he said. Can't have you two fouling my flop all day 'less you're payin' for it."

"What happened?" I said. "Where's my skull? Where's Annie?"

Before he could answer, the door behind him opened and the constable entered.

"John Harris," he said, looking past the host, to me. "John Harris, I'm arresting you for the murder of Anne Carson."

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/14/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: I am almost afraid to stand alone, here in the churchyard
Source: William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


I am almost afraid to stand alone, here in the churchyard, while all my friends and acquaintances stroll about in pairs and trios, under the canopy of sycamores. I cannot find it in me to celebrate. I fear that if I am absent, however, the truth of the matter -- of my role in the failed plot -- might be suspected. I move toward a buffet table. If my mouth is full, I cannot be expected to smile.

"Martin! Come join us!" It is Jill, the girl with purple braids who lives two doors down. She is sitting with young women that I've seen around town but have never met. There is a large plate of sandwiches and fruit on their table, and they are sharing a jug of beer. I wave to Jill and abandon my previous course, ambling instead to their table.

"Fran," Jill says to the heavily tattooed young woman on her right, "grab a chair for Martin, won't you?"


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/13/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: Tell him I'm going to punch his head
Source: Robert Louis Stevenson, The Wrecker


"Tell him I'm going to punch his head." Charlie was drunk. So was Riccardo, the possessor of said head.

Expression and comprehension of a foreign language tend to improve -- to a certain point -- with intoxication. Fortunately, Riccardo seemed to have moved beyond that linguistically optimal state and sat on his stool, one elbow on the bar, with a sleepy grin across his pock-scarred face. When I told him that Charlie wished him good health and a good night, he burst into laughter and waved and nodded and scrawled something illegible on his slate.

"Charlie," I said, turning back to my charge, "drink this cup of water and put on your coat. I can't have you starting a row. Not here, not now."

"He's laughing at me! Did you tell him? You didn't tell him. Tell him, Tippo. I won't strike a drunken alien without fair warning -- especially a mute."

"Have you forgotten, Charlie, my friend, that you are the drunken alien here? And pray look around the room, my boy. Do you observe all of these rough gentlemen at the tables? Do you see how their countenances bears greater resemblance to Riccardo's than to your own? Do you mark the lengths of their knives and the girths of their arms? Perhaps they would stand by, amused, while you assault their townsman, but I won't let you take that chance."


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/12/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: I put that enlightened object before him
Source: Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood


I put that enlightened object before him and he tried to act as though he'd never seen it. He tried, even to appear surprised and impressed at the way that it glowed and sparkled in the darkness. He picked it up, turning it in his hands, holding it close to his face.

"Don't act dumb." I snatched the facetted sphere from him and set it back on the table. "We both know what it is and what it can do. All I want from you is your price."

"Surely you aren't auctioning it off to the highest bidder. That doesn't strike you as... sacrilegious?" Grovener was, in truth, the only person I knew who would be interested in the piece, but if he was interested, there must be others out there. I only hoped that he thought it possible for me to have encountered them. I knew I'd never get the sphere's worth from him or from anyone -- even if its value could be quantified. I just wanted enough to buy my way off this prison and get back to my preferlife.

"Didn't mark you as a reverent man, Grov. You taken up with the 'lievers since last we talked?"

"Corey," he said, using his older, wiser, more-experienced-in-the-ways-of-this-and-any-other-world tone, "my recognition of this object for what it is, does not signify that I would be able to make any use of it. I cannot pretend to have more than a passing acquaintance with the methods of the enlights, so without some time to... test the merchandise, I would be loathe to offer you any but the most paltry of sums."

"Be loathe, then, Grov, 'cause the question you oughta be asking yourself right now, is what it's worth to you to keep it out of the hands of some other interested parties."

"Who else has seen it?" he asked.


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/11/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: I found Bruce at the bar, but there was no sign of the ape
Source: Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas




I found Bruce at the bar, but there was no sign of the ape about him. Bruce's suit was wrinkled and the collar of his shirt stained yellow.

"What are you drinking, this morning?" said Bruce.

"I'll have whatever keeps you calm," I said. Bruce did a little twirling wave at the waiter and twenty seconds later I held a glass of amber that emitted dirty sock and burnt seaweed fumes.

"You don't think it's a little early for an Islay?" I said. I tried not to inhale as I sipped.

"'Calm,' you said. Would you rather we order espressos and I rip your head off again?"

"You don't remember that, do you?" I asked. I was actually a little bit worried.

"I remember watching what I found on your video cam this morning," said Bruce.

Shit. I'd left it running and had forgotten to mention it to Helen. When she'd come by to clean up the mess and dump me in the tub, she probably hadn't even noticed it in the corner, on its tripod. But I didn't understand how Bruce had gotten a hold of it.

"You know I'm not upset, don't you?" I said "I don't blame you at all, and really, it happened so fast that I didn't even feel it." That was a lie. It had been quick, but I'd certainly felt it.

"How long have you known?" Bruce asked. "Have you been watching me all year?"

"No," I said. "Only for about three months, now. Since the... the episode with Karen -- when the primate people came through the building questioning everyone."


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/10/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: There were unicorns and forests of marijuana
Source: Luis Sepulveda, Full Circle: A South American Journey


There were unicorns and forests of marijuana in the dreamworld of Calvin Bords. There were 1968 ragtop Camaros and rib-eye steaks as well. Mostly, there were willing women -- willing and possessed of cruel wit.

Humor was important to Calvin Bords. He understood his own shortcoming -- an apt term -- better than anyone, and to have it either ignored or pitied drove him insane with rage. He would have his physical anomaly both acknowledged and ridiculed with the full force of a woman's scorn and then he would have that woman consume him in spite of it.

Calvin Bords would cruise along through verdant jungle, behind the wheel of his chromed and waxed red beast, a smoldering role between his stubbled lips and an Uzi on his lap. A unicorn would emerge from the undergrowth, white, pearlescent in the tropical sun. Calvin Bords would unload. The muzzle fire would ignite the cannabis leaves and the rounds would tear gaping bites from the unicorn's neck and flanks. Bullets would chip and fracture its horn. Bits of gristle and fur and bone and skin would land in the burning foliage and sizzle. Stench of grilled meat and burnt hair would fill his nostrils. Blood would splash around the animal as it sank into a puddle of its own gore and entrails. And then the women would arrive and Calvin Bords would strip naked and the women would point and laugh and make clever, cutting jokes at his expense and then fall upon him. And then he would wake and only his deformity would remain.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/9/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: The doctor's bottled sleep
Source: Beryl Markham, West With the Night


The doctor's bottled sleep now, as well as hunger, satiety, arousal, exhaustion, despondency, glee, and several dozen other humors. She keeps them all lined up on a shelf in her study. She uses only dark brown bottles -- the kind that are almost opaque. We were told that the spirits inside are photo-labile. Now, as I creep through the darkened study, however, I perceive a glow emanating from the forbidden shelf, and I understand that the vitrine obscurity is not -- or at least not entirely -- to exclude light from the vessels' contents, but also to confine a radiance inside.

I am not here for a tincture of colic or an extract of bloodlust though. I have come for the doctor's journal. I succeeded, last night, for the first time in the sixteen months of my employ, to be present at the moment that she locked the volume away. Finally, I know in which of the four hundred eighty drawers that line the lower halves of the study walls, the leather-bound booklet resides.

The carpets in here are soft. Deep silk knap wrought in portrayal of a thousand biolochemoid pathways -- "the metabolome beneath our soles," as the doctor is wont to say. None of this appears in the glow of my veiled lantern and my bare feet make no sound as I traverse the labyrinthine map of processes that drive and power my physical self.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/8/2012


Time: 5 minutes
Prompt: The shapes remain the same, but the proportions are different
Source: H.G. Wells, Mind at the End of Its Tether


"The shapes remain the same, but the proportions are different," said the guide as he played a laser pointer over the plasticized examples of our soon-to-be predators.

"Here," he said, indicating the smallest in the collection. "You can see that although the trunk is hardly a tenth the length of the specimen beside it, this one has a set of jaws as large as any of its brethren. And pay careful heed to the teeth. Notice that the sizes, shapes, and configurations of the serrated incisors are virtually identical across the entire range of monsters represented. The musculature driving those teeth varies greatly, however, so it is the height of the sagittal crest that you must consider when adjusting your defensive plates -- not the teeth, nor even the overall size of the monster."

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/7/2012



Time: 5 minutes
Prompt: The roars were repeated
Source: Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera



The roars were repeated every three minutes, whether anybody was around to hear them or not. It was simpler to keep a recorded lion playing on continuous loop than to set up motion detectors or have somebody trying to remember to hit a button every time the visitors looked bored.

There hadn't been any lions at the Chibagongwa watering hole for at least four years. Even those who had known the place in its glory and had heard the barking, honking call of the real lions, still tipped more generously when the Metro-Goldwn-Mayer-esque roars poured through our hidden speakers than when empty breezes and occasional insects prevailed.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/6/2012



Time: 5 minutes
Prompt: Nobody is dead in this world
Source: H.G. Wells, The Happy Turning


Nobody is dead in this world -- not permanently, anyhow.

Occasionally someone will take some time off -- like my neighbor, Allen, who was tired of the gloom of winter and went dormant for three months till the sun was out at least three days in seven. Saved him a bundle on heating and food. Then there are the folk who do such horrible damage to their bodies that they might as well be dead for the time that it takes to rebuild them. If you look for someone who is really dead, though, you will have a hard search, and should you want to kill someone, prepare to be frustrated.

I know a man who used to work as an assassin -- a hitman. His name is Johnson and he took a good deal of pride in his work. Now that death isn't a factor, he has to pursue other work. I believe that he's an assistant grave digger. So many formerly-dead are still stuck in their graves waiting to get out, that even now, ten years into the resurrection, grave-diggers do one hell of a good business.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/5/2012


This time I have something a little different. Today, I took a writing workshop from two-time Philip K. Dick Award recipient Richard Paul Russo. He gave us several free-writing prompts throughout the day. My responses are presented here.


Exercise 1: Member of a party searching for someone dangerous who's been hiding in what had appeared to be a derelict spaceship.

Each fall of my metalled boots on the causeway echos back to me from the darkness above, below, and beside. Vela's helmet lamp reveals only the hundred meters before her and she is leading me in the pursuit. My lamp illuminates only the sagging pack tied to the back of Vela's suit. We entered this space from a series of cargo bays and the deep haze swallowed us whole. If the fugitive is as poorly equipped as us, then he should be near death by now -- or this atmosphere is breathable.

A wall, dripping with fragments of hoses and cables, looms ahead now and Vela slows. There is no encouragement for us from the dull, dead control panel beside a heavy steel portcullis. But the causeway leaves no options, so we approach. Vela's gloved fingers touch the panel. The cracked surface flickers briefly, but no meaning is displayed.

When we arrived here, at this massive, spinning cylinder, it was simple. We would narrow our search to pressurized chambers and then just home in on his heat signature. The welcome gift that he left us in the docking bay had robbed us not only of our means of departure, but also of our detection kit. The search would be old-fashioned, and the wait for rescue would be long.


Exercise 2: Group of people on a quest -- write about the things that they remove or leave behind along the way



Expensive as they had been, the SCUBA tanks were an obvious choice. Zeb had protested this decision, when the trio took to land. Zeb had purchased the dive gear in the first place and was loathe to relinquish it. Karl and Oliver lined their bottles up neatly next to Zeb's rucksack and didn't argue the point. Without the tanks, the BCs were of little use, so they were left as well. 

Zeb convinced his companions to take the masks, fins and snorkels along, in case they encountered another body of water. Two days later, after these implements had swung from straps, beating the walkers' legs and buttocks, they too were left behind, hung from the lower bows of a mango tree, to be retrieved later, should the group return. 

On the morning of the third day, six floppy tubes of twill fabric, hemmed at one end and and cut ragged at the other, were left at a campsite. The men were far more comfortable after that, under the glare of the tropical sun. Empty food containers, toothpaste tubes, deodorant sticks and sunscreen bottles marked their trail for a time, but were soon eclipsed by the return of bent shrubs and leaves to their neutral positions. 

One day, Karl, upon discovering that his few remaining items could be either worn or strung on a single loop of rope, left his rucksack behind. He regretted it later, when they found another mango tree and his companions were able to carry extra fruit along, but they shared and he took turns carrying their packs.



Exercise 3: A character has a blindfold removed in complete darkness and has suffered loss of hearing -- no visual or auditory clues at all



The gunshot, when it comes, is close. It deafens me completely. I am still alive after, and I feel no sudden addition to my pain, so it is not me that they have shot. 

I'm shoved forward several steps. The temperature changes. It is cooler here. A different room? Now my mouth is burning. What is that in the air? I cough and the secretions fill my mouth, nearly drowning me as I gasp for breath. The taste is chemical, unknown but almost familiar. Sweet and biting but without any of the comforting foodiness of pepper spice. It's a slicing, cutting, mutilating flavor that leaves my gums raw. The hood is wrenched from my head and my eyes start burning. I don't know whether they're open or closed. Is it dark or am I blind? Tears are pouring down my face and the tears sear my skin. There's a stinging in my nose that marches past the nostrils, attacking my sinuses. Like the fire of horseradish, but I've no water for gulping, no bread to quench the heat. There's a chemical syrupy feel to it and it reminds me of something from a hair salon. But this, this is so much stronger. 

My bonds are cut and I'm shoved forward. I fall to a cold, smooth floor, catching myself with my still numb hands.



(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/4/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: They harassed me so that sometimes
Source: Henry James, The Turn of the Screw


They harassed me so that sometimes it was all I could do not to throw them in a stasis chamber and forget them for a day. Nobody had suggested that adopting a trio of velvemotes would be easy. "Active and entertaining," the little half-normal monstrosities had been called. Think tribles with tentacles and mental capacities somewhere between a goldfish and an astrophysicists. They had been all the rage with the monied elite a few years back, and then, as quarantine regulations relaxed, velvemotes had made inroads to the commoner homes as well. I hadn't even considered one for myself, but given my history of adopting abandoned xenos, I wasn't surprised when the rescue agency called with a "remarkable opportunity." I found the trio quite revolting when I met them --  I still do, as it happens. But that's most of why I agreed to take them. I had hoped that my sister would find them equally revolting, and would consequently pay me fewer visits. My plan backfired -- my sister fell in love with the creatures and came to see them almost every day. Unfortunately, she is not licensed to care for anything of greater than point-two-five intelligence, so I can't just give them to her and be done with the project.


(about my timed writing exercises)


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Timed Writing: 2/3/2012


Time: 5 minutes
Prompt: Some of the statues were alive
Source: Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz



Some of the statues were alive, but most had died centuries before, when an electromagnetic pulse had swept through in advance of a long-forgotten occupying force. The live statues were recent additions to the courtyard and were trained to imitate the immobility of their lifeless neighbors.

Piven's favorite game, when he had visitors from abroad, was to take them to the garden of statues and have them guess which were dead and which only seemed so. When nobody was around, he would meticulously transplant spots of mold and tufts of moss from the dead statues to the living and then would polish and paint the dead ones in order to throw the players off.

Piven only knew which statues were alive because he had found his father's key one afternoon and had attempted to use it. All that happened when he powered up the key was that ten of the hundred statues had come to attention and the key had requested identity verification. Piven had promptly returned the key to its cubby in his father's desk. He had been careful to note which statues had responded though.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Timed Writing: 2/2/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: Say no more, his animals replied
Source: Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra


"Say no more," his animals replied, when Friedrich had told them of his plight. "We will take care of it." Friedrich could not suppress a shudder when he tried to imagine what that might mean, but ultimately he didn't care or he would not have told his animals about it in the first place.

The problem was not a new one, either to Friedrich or to his human race. He had managed to alienate his latest love interest and she had found more attentive company elsewhere. This had put Friedrich in a jealous rage, such that so soon as he had learned the name and whereabouts of his rival, he sought the help of his animals.

Friedrich was lucky to have his animals, and as far as he knew, unique. He had never heard anyone else mention having animals -- at least not of the sort that Friedrich possessed. But then again, Friedrich had never spoken of his animals to anyone else. They were for him alone and not to be shared.

Friedrich liked to imagine that his animals resembled wild cats and hyaenas and wolves. Powerful predators they most certainly were, but Friedrich had never seen them. They came to him when he was upset, but they were not visible to human eyes. They never provided comfort, as such, but they did provide solutions -- resolutions. They accomplished things that Friedrich would never consider, but for which, in the depths of his soul, he longed.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Timed writing: 2/1/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Prompt: The star chamber had been remodelled [sic]
Source: Thomas Babington Macaulay, The History of England, Vol.I


The star chamber had been remodeled since the last time that Babington had used it. The plywood boards that had been so hastily erected to obscure its core from the curious eyes of passers by were now gone. They had been replaced by reinforced concrete walls, buttressed all about with slopes of packed soil, from which grasses and wildflowers grew. Upon passing through a modern steel gate, Babington found that the core itself had been thoroughly cleaned and repaired. Elements deemed inessential had all been catalogued, carefully packed, and stored away in a secure outbuilding. Babington had approved all of these changes as they were proposed by various members of the society, but now that he saw them in person, he found himself missing the rusticity and spontaneity of the chamber's former state.

The stone column stood in its old place, in the center of the core. Just over three feet in height and hardly a hand's breadth across opposing vertices, the hexagonal basalt pillar had at first appeared remarkable only for its solitude. It was the only column of basalt for hundreds of miles. At first they assumed it to have been transported to the site from elsewhere. Then Henderson, the geologist performed his analysis. He found that the column extended straight down through the soil and underlying limestone of the area to the granite foundation of the continental plate -- several thousand meters, at least.

Babington's gaze wandered to the parabolic focusing surfaces positioned around the periphery of the core. They had been cleaned and polished to perfect reflectivity, and their orientations had been corrected, so that they were all directed toward a point in the air just a few inches above the top of the column. An iris had been built into the new metal roof. The prisms and lenses had been carefully removed from their old leather and wood mountings and fitted into a new metal framework that could be retracted when the iris closed against foul weather.

(about my timed writing exercises)


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