I confess I have been avoiding work on the unfinished first draft of my science fiction novel, Jupiter’s Embrace. In an attempt to get the creative process going again, I’m using characters from Jupiter’s Embrace to respond to some flash fiction writing prompts.
Swallowing a sleeping pill, Johnny set no alarm, hoping for dreamless oblivion. His first time at the helm was disastrous. The smuggled goods were delivered, but there had been an unexpected complication. Embarrassingly, inexperience and indecisiveness nearly led to failure.
The comm call triggered the dreaded dream.
Eight-years-old, bewildered, awaken by yelling, he climbed from bed. Edging toward sounds of struggle, suddenly, a hand covered his mouth, stifling a yelp. His older brother carried him away from the commotion.
Johnny focused on his older brother’s face, trying to understand. Hiding, they waited. Demands and protests grew louder. Threats were made.
“Shh! Bad guys broke in wanting money. Mom and Dad are taking care of it.”
Trembling, Johnny held onto his brother and prayed. The struggle grew desperate. Blasters fired. Riker pushed him threw the bedroom window.
“Run! I’m right behind.”
Drenched in sweat, heart-racing, Johnny awoke with a start. He swore. Standing up, he instinctually gazed out the porthole into the blackness of space. Swiping the comm open, he was surprised to see his brother-in-law. His face was serious; worried.
“Amelia? Jack? They ok?”
“Yes. But, Riker. He’s in Sol Corp custody. There’s been a military tribunal. Riker’s been convicted of being an alien, Rangari spy! Sentence is life on Jupiter!”
Johnny broke into a cold sweat and tried to swallow the taste of bile from his mouth. He realized for the first time in twenty years, he was praying.
If intrigued and seeking more, click the link below to the first two chapters of the story.
The Saga of Jockular, the Swamp Barbarian and George the Dishwasher Continues!
George sat at his kitchen table, head resting on his hands, staring at the butterfly he had just drawn. He waited impatiently, feet bouncing. It had been a week since his sketch of Jockular, his LARPing character, had come to life.
My life was boring! Can’t say that anymore. What the fuck is happening? This shit is crazy! Amazing! But, insanely crazy!
The shock had worn off. But, his body refused to relax. Instead, it continually idled, awaiting the next adrenaline rush. He knew he wasn’t hallucinating. Yet, he still had no explanations.
Wonder why the timing is so inconsistent.
George had brought other things into existence; nothing monstrous as Jockular requested. He had been exceedingly judicious with his choice of subjects. First an apple, then a rose, followed by a ham and cheese sandwich and a housefly, all eventually became reality. He had googled butterflies, searching for a picture of a type common to this area. George selected the spring azure. Its periwinkle, blue wings with traces of purple had enchanted him. Peering closer, he sensed all the waiting was about to pay off. The monochrome sketch, still only shades of grey, appeared to shimmer. The perspective seemed deeper, stretched.
Review of AppleTV+’s Television Series Based on Isaac Asimov’s FoundationTrilogy.
Some prefer to read the book first; others are drawn to the sounds and visuals of a television or movie adaptation. There will be discrepancies in the telling of the story with the transition from one medium to another and fans will champion their favorite version. But, avid disciples will take pleasure in any opportunity to immerse themselves in their favorite fictional world. If rooted in exploring the human condition, built around archetypal motifs, a tale’s emotional appeal will be timeless.
If a story is a bit older, less well-known to the current generation, reintroducing it visually can be more successful. I’ve heard of the science fiction trilogy, Foundation, but never known enough to entice me to read it. Big mistake on my part, I suspect! At least that’s how I’m feeling now having seen the first part of a brand-new television adaption of the story. Just as the trailer for Star Wars captured my attention back in 1977, it was the trailer that lured me in.
Eagerly anticipating last Friday’s premier, I allocated a portion of my Saturday toward sitting too close to the screen, volume high to watch the first episode. AppleTV+’s Foundation trailer had haunted my imagination for weeks with glimpses of beautiful imagery of otherworldly skies, dominated by multiple moons, differently colored suns or planetary rings. I was not disappointed. The style of the costuming and set design felt authentic; organic. The intro sequence conveyed a sense of grandeur and modernity reflective of the art from the early twentieth century art deco movement.
Isaac Asimov, along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, is consider a member of sci-fi’s “Big Three”. These authors popularized science fiction, while setting the standards for the genre. This was my first exposure to Isaac Asimov’s, Foundation Trilogy. I instantly fell in love. Despite reading one of his first novels and enjoying it, I never read any of his other writing. I was simply overwhelmed by his prodigious collection of work. I wondered to myself, should I read his books as they were published or according to the fictional chronology of the galactic empire he invented. The former path felt choppy; the latter was honestly difficult to map out. Just browsing through Asimov’s bibliography can be daunting.
As a budding author myself, I am beginning to understand a writer’s ideas, plots and characters often take control, dictating what is to be written next. Asimov appears to have explored his universe from a myriad of angles, using various unconnected plots and a multitude of characters. I propose fictional writers act as pseudo-archeologists sifting the sands of the mind, hoping to uncover clues revealing unknown worlds. This first ever adaptation of Foundation for television helped me discover how desperately I want to read more of Asimov’s novels.
The first episode commenced with introducing Gaal Dornick, a young mathematician, living on a planet governed by a theocratic society outlawing the pursuit of science. Gaal is punished, excommunicated and sentenced to death for solving an enigmatic mathematical problem. Offer of aid comes from a famous, off-world scientist on Trantor, the imperial capital planet. The Galactic Empire has reigned for 12,000 years, developing an advanced futuristic society. The immensity of the empire is possible due to its ability to warp space and time, allowing people to jump the vast distances between star systems. Gaal travels to meet her scientific idol, psychohistorian, Hari Seldon. Believing she has found a safe environment to further her mathematical studies, she quickly learns she has come too late. Imperial authorities may support, fund and celebrate scientific discovery, but not when the facts predict a future unpalatable to those in power. Seldon’s recent work warns of a looming, catastrophic collapse of civilization across the entire galaxy. Empire, the supreme ruler, who in reality is a trio of clones, refuses to accept the science behind Hari Seldon and Gaal Dornick’s work. Arrests are made, court and legal proceedings are held and both are charged with treason.
If you have followed my blog from the beginning, you know I view storytelling, as a means to exploring life, because fiction is always reflective of the real world. From the onset, this story felt incredibly relevant to our world’s current situation. Amazingly, Isaac Asimov started work on Foundation during the middle of the last century! But, it still seemingly anticipates today’s clash between governments and the scientific community. On one side, scientists are sounding the alarm, warning action needs to be taken to avert devastating, changes to our planet. An opposing group of multinational corporations and politicians, fearing loss of profits and control of society, challenge the legitimacy of scientific reports. The battle over what is fact and what is fake is relentlessly. The end result is a confused and conflicted populace longing for a clear, unbiased insight to inform their own decisions and actions. I haven’t read or seen the entire Foundation Trilogy yet, so I don’t know how it ends. Of course, none of us knows how the current conflict over global climate change will play out either.
Isaac Asimov’s work also harkens back to elements found in human history. The name of the story Foundation comes from a line spoken by the character Hari Seldon. When asked if the crisis can be averted, he explains the looming catastrophe is inevitable. But, he offers a glimmer of hope. Seldon explains steps could be taken to build a repository of all the most treasured aspects of civilization. This cache of essential information would act as a foundation on which survivors of the empire’s collapse could build on. The goal being to shorten the times of darkness. In essence this was a role played by religious monasteries throughout Europe during the Dark Ages preceding the fall of the Roman Empire. Even the famous library at Alexandria is alluded to in Foundation. Hari Seldon recognizes that when the collapse comes the Imperial Library on Trantor will burn, just as the real life Alexandrian library did.
Graham Handcock, a modern day scholar theorizes a similar, tragic erasing of a civilization happened on Earth. He argues an unknown ancient society existed far earlier than mainstream historians and archeologists allow. His books, Fingerprints of the Godsand Magicians of the Gods, lay out his proposed evidence of a forgotten, advanced, global civilization destroyed by a cataclysmic event. Scrutinizing clues found in myths, ancient texts and architecture, he believes survivors from this forgotten civilization, safeguarded their knowledge, hoping to pass it on to the less advanced remnants of humanity. He argues the theme of a helper race of gods or angels is present in all of the world’s mythology. Approaching this idea esoterically, Edgar Cacye, a clairvoyant in the early twentieth century, famously claimed to have remotely viewed a secret chamber beneath the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. The existence of a subterranean room beneath the Sphinx has been confirmed with modern, remote-sensing equipment. Interestingly, no requests to explore it have been approved by Egyptian authorities. Cacye declared the chamber held lost knowledge leading humanity to the Atlantean Hall of Records. This mystical repository of knowledge is rumored to provide access to technology more advanced than what we current possess today. Yes, strange as it may sound, there are intelligent, serious people ] searching for a real “Foundation” created by a destroyed, advanced, prehistoric human civilization.
I have no idea if there is any truth to tales of Atlantis, but the story itself is rich, full of hope and a jumping off point for the imagination. Presumably, Isaac Asimov knew of this well known myth told to us by Greek philosopher, Plato. Perhaps, he had even heard of Edgar Cayce’s clairvoyant work. However, I do know Asimov was a scientific thinker and serious scholar gifted with an imaginative mind. This scientific background coupled with a vibrant imagination makes Isaac Asimov’s work authentic, informative, and enjoyable. I suspect, he would agree that pretending, thinking outside the box and wondering about impossibilities leads to amazing real discovers. Fiction does truly empower creativity. I entreat you to read it, watch it, write it and dare you to challenge the limits of what is possible.
Being an Aquarius with a squirrel-like attention span, I find myself jumping from project to project across multiple genres. I recently finished a piece of writing which is for all intends and purposes a love story.
I didn’t feel it fit well on this site, so I created a profile on Vocal and posted it on that site.
If you enjoy eating out at fine restaurants and you’re a sucker for cheesy, light-hearted, stories then click the link below to enjoy my newest short story, “Taking Dessert to a Whole New Level”.
Espresso, tobacco, an old grudge and a chance meeting. Daydreaming About Mesoamerican Indigenous Folklore.
Everything was quickly settled into the new apartment. Qochata’s lifestyle was simple; uncluttered. He changed locations often to avoid the inevitable questions.
“How do you do it? You haven’t age a day. I must have your secret.”
Qochata would smile, demurely attributing his perpetual youth to good genes and a healthy lifestyle.
“Abuela and Abuelo, both past one hundred, still run our family farm. They work hard, rest well and eat humble home cooking.”
The lie never worked. Once someone remarked his agelessness, the wary looks and whispers began. He’d soon moved on.
His new, small studio in a historic, Mexico City building came furnished. He required only a bed, a nightstand, a comfortable chair and a lamp for late night reading. A large brass bird cage hung from the ceiling, empty with the door ajar. Each wall was entirely lined with crowded, newly installed bookshelves. The numerous books, his sole material burden, formed towering piles about the room. The kitchen table held a terrarium; home to a red coffee snake. Qochata reached in and stroked the reptile.
“Ah, Café. It’s been centuries since we’ve been to Mexico City.”
A cawing, keel-billed toucan flew in and perched upon Qochata’s shoulder.
“Yes, Pluma. I was waiting for you to return before beginning.”
With each relocation, Qochata felt at home, only after preparing his favorite dish; a sweet corn cake made with masa harina. Centuries ago, he had travelled far, working his magic to acquire the maize plant for the Mexica people. His patronage had helped humans conquer famine. Qochata taught the Mexica to live peacefully in magnificent cities filled with art, music and scholarship. It had been a happy time.
“Now let’s begin.”
Qochata gathered ingredients. He set out butter to soften and began mixing together cornmeal, masa harina, sugar, salt and baking powder. Shucking ears of corn, he carefully cut off tender kernels to add to his mixture.
“Now, for the cream.”
Qochata opened the refrigerator. Moving items about, he saw no heavy cream or milk. Frowning, Qochata rummaged about the cabinets.
“Mierda! No condensed milk either. Don’t worry my pets. There’s a corner market nearby.”
Grabbing keys and his wallet, Qochata donned a white, felt, stetson. Encircling the hat was a silver band, styled as a rattlesnake, holding a solitary eagle feather.
“Be right back.”
Qochata crossed the street to the market. Stopping in front, he regarded the placard above the entrance.
The sign depicted the caricature of a jaguar smugly sipping espresso, smoking a cigar. Hesitating, Qochata glowered at the sign. He distinctly disliked jaguars.
Sneaky, brutish cats! Lazing about or devouring the weak.
Bells jangled as he entered. The store was split in two. The right side contained shelves of groceries with a small refrigerated section along the back wall. The other half was dedicated to a large espresso bar. Lining the wall, behind the counter, was a selection of cigars, loose tobacco, cigarettes and pipes. The individuals working behind the counter greeted Qochata warmly. Noticing the comfortable, leather chairs set out for patrons to lounge in as they enjoyed a smoke or cup of coffee, he decided to sample the espresso.
“A solo espresso, por favor.”
“Coming right up, señor.”
Settling down in a chair, Qochata flipped through an abandoned newspaper. A barista approached with a demitasse and saucer.
“Your solo. Enjoy.”
Qochata cupped his hand over the tiny cup, feeling the steam tickle his hand. Lifting it to his nose, he inhaled deeply. Murmuring approval, he slurped his espresso. The rich flavor was smoothly bold with hints of caramel and brown sugar. He swallowed, savoring the rush of smokey, bitterness. The espresso was exquisite.
“Excuse me? Where do you source your beans?”
“The owner is a connoisseur of coffee. He owns a plantation in Chiapas. He cultivates new varieties and tinkers with the processing and roast.”
“Yes, I find his work with tobacco in San Andreas even more fascinating. I’ve never smoked anything close to the tobacco he imports from his own properties.”
“I would very like to meet with him. Is your boss in?”
“Yes, he’s out back. One moment.”
Qochata finished his espresso. He walked about inspecting the hanging photographs. They were all pictures of Mexican soldiers and scenes from famous battles.
He seems to be a military buff as well.
Qochata hated conflict.
Gazing out the window, waiting, he heard someone approach from behind.
“Señor, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tchondee. Welcome!”
Qochata turned around to make his introduction. Both men’s smiles melted as their eyes locked in recognition. No handshake was made. They stood still, sizing one another up. Qochata spoke first.
“Thought you were in Afghanistan or Syria nowadays.”
“I was. But, with everything winding down, it’s just a dull routine now. I had a hankering for home.”
“Yes, me as well.”
“I see. Espresso is delicious isn’t it? You enjoyed it?”
“I suppose. I really must go. I was looking for heavy cream. I came to the wrong place.”
Qochata made to pay his bill and leave.
“What name are going by now?”
“Qochata.” he grimaced embarrassingly.
“Ha. White man, huh? Fitting.”
“As is Tchondee, brother. You always enjoyed tobacco with its smoke and death.”
Tchondee simpered, holding his hands out with a shrug.
“Look, Quetzalcoatl. It needn’t be awkward. The days of importance and power are over for both of us.”
“Perhaps, but you still relish stirring up trouble. My people have suffered terribly.”
“How long are you going to hold that over me? I am what I am. However, I’ve been trying to broaden my perspective.”
“Ha! That’s rich! What? Focusing on more subtle ways to kill? Cancer, addiction?”
“You wound me, brother.”
“As I said, I was just in need of a carton of cream.”
Qochata turned away, reaching for his wallet.
“Yes, sweet corn cake. I know.”
Qochata stopping, turned to watch Tchondee retrieve a carton of heavy cream. He held it out to Qochata.
“Here. It’s free, as is the espresso.”
Qochata looked down at the offering, deliberating. A few seconds passed and he took the carton.
“It was a fair fight, until you tricked me.”
“Yes. It was.”
“Your actions have been utterly reprehensible for an age now. What’s your angle? Should I move on?”
“It’s tiring always being evil. Guess, I’m feeling more neutral these days.”
“Neutral? Interesting. What about your new fascination with agriculture? You could use your talent for something actually helpful. Humans take readily to your influence. They’re destroying themselves and this world with your beloved smoke, smog and pollution.”
“Look. I don’t want this fifth age to end. We could see what we can do to save it.”
“Our days of being heroes are over.”
“There’s a bit of juice still left.”
Qochata considered his brother’s words. He walked to the door and stopped.
“Tezcatlipoca, the sweet corn cake will be ready in about an hour. My apartment is across the street. Number 282. Bring coffee and cigars. And you can bring Colmillos, provided he doesn’t try to eat my toucan.”
Tchondee smiled, chuckling to himself, as Qochata walked out.
Here is the last of three installments of my musings about magic. In the first episode I dealt with fictional stories portraying magic as an arcane study. Following this, I reviewed the sinister side of magic with ill-made pacts and potent items luring characters to their doom. In this last part, let’s consider the act of self-sacrifice made in hopes of ridding the world of some great evil.
Below are links to the other two posts referenced above. Please check them out if you haven’t already.
In all of these different applications of magic or supernatural power, I argue there is always a price to pay. Nothing is really free.
Dying for Others
The most basic instinct of any species is survival. Humans contain the capacity to conceptualize the future and are uniquely positioned to consider their own death. This burden of awareness of one’s own mortality haunts all of us at some point in life. Yet, it presents humanity with a unique opportunity when confronting death. We, alone of the animal kingdom, are capable of influencing when, how and why our death occurs. Throughout the ages, countless people have made the ultimate sacrifice of dying in order to save others. Soldiers, public safety personnel and everyday, ordinary, good samaritans are honored and celebrated for their willingness to put their lives in danger, so that others may live.
Self-sacrifice is enshrined within the mythos of many spiritual traditions. These faiths believe eternal life, unobtainable to mortals, is secured with an incomprehensible divine gift. The narrative of a god becoming human, suffering and dying to vanquish death, is the ultimate illustration of the adage, “You can’t get something for nothing.” This prodigious concept has had a perennial effect, rippling through generation after generation of humanity’s collective consciousness. It is a notion consistently revisited and explored in the stories we create. Literature classes, worldwide, discuss and dissect pieces of writing, attempting to make sense of what has become know as a “christ-figure”. This literary term denotes a character, who willingly sets aside their own life to accomplish some greater good. Fans of The Lord of the Rings recognize Tolkien’s works are replete with examples of a willingness to die for the greater good. Gandalf’s sacrifice battling the balrogin the Mines of Moria, Boromir’s attempt to save Pippin and Merry from capture, and Sam and Frodo’s taking of the Ring to Mount Doom are merely the more recognizable instances of putting the life of others first.
In the Star Wars, we all remember watching Obi Wanallow himself to be struck down by Darth Vader. This is a rich plot element not easily pinned down. His sacrifice allows the others to escape the Death Starwith the battle station’s design plans. On the face of things, this noble act gives the rebels a chance at destroying the super weapon. The jedi’s death saves millions of lives. Yet, Obi Wan has other motives. He is playing the long game, hoping to irrevocably turn the younger, impressionable Skywalker away from his father, Darth Vader. Ensuring Luke became a jedi was central to Obi Wan’s mission of restoring balance to the Force. The original 1977 movie was incapable of conveying the vastness of Lucas’s story concept. But, years later with the making of TheClone Wars series, fans finally learned the larger, cosmic backstory. With the rise of Emperor Palpatine, the very Force itself manifests to Yoda. He is given rare training providing a new understanding of the Force. Not unlike, Isaac Asimov’s, Foundation, a story about the creation of an enduring repository of knowledge for rebuilding civilization after utter destruction, the remaining jedi, armed with new insight, lay plans to safeguard the fading embers of their order. Under Yoda’s guidance, Obi Wan learns individuality can survive physical death, transitioning to a new, powerful state of existence. While remaining true to his oath to honor and protect life, Obi Wan’s new perspective empowers him to sacrifice his life for others. There is no evidence of fear. Viewers are treated to a figure tranquilly confident. He recognizes the loss of his physical body pales in comparison to what he’ll become. We all love Obi Wan’s line before he is slain, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” An older, weaker man during the time of the creation of the Death Star, Obi Wanhad much to gain by passing into the Force. The price of his physicality seems inconsequential.
The New Jedi Order book series, set years later during the time of the New Republic, tells the story of a novel threat from beyond the confines of the galaxy. An enemy wielding sophisticated, biologically-based weaponry is bent on total domination. Artificial intelligence and technology, the norm in the galaxy, is abhorrent to the invaders. They seek to eliminate all traces of it and reorder every world to align with their organic-based civilization. Similar to the Na’vi of Pandora from the movie Avatar, their way of life is entirely constructed around merging with other lifeforms in symbiotic relationships. However, unlike the inhabitants of Pandora, the Yuuzhan Vong dominate and genetically alter life to suit their needs, rather than working in harmony with it. This extragalactic society is ruled by a theocracy of warrior priests worshipping a cruel pantheon of gods. Their culture celebrates acts of self-mutilation, pain, treachery, egomania and war. Complicating matters, the Jedi can not sense Yuuzhan Vong within the Force, negating advantages Jedi typically have when fighting other species. The original characters of Star Wars remain actively involved in the story, along side a younger generation of Jedi. In the spirit of redemption, Han and Leia have named their youngest son, Anakin. He is a powerful jedi. In a desperate mission behind enemy lines, he desperately draws ever more of the Force within himself to save his friends, siblings and the mission. Readers discover the physical body has limits though in terms of how it can interact with this mystical energy. As Anakin pulls ever more of the Forcein, beyond safe limits, performing impossible feats, he burns the very life out of himself and dies. The episode is an exemplification of the magical economy at work. Possession of great might always takes a devastating toil on the wielder. Anakin saves the day, like Tony Stark does in Marvel’s, Avengers: Endgame, but interacting with such forces kills both.
Finally, let’s consider the Thomas Covenant series. The main character, a true anti-hero, is hopelessly flawed and overtly resistant to helping anyone, but himself. We are confronted with his heinous crime, early in the series, and most readers are bewildered, as other characters resign themselves to helping Thomas Covenant. Sacrificing their own ethics and sense of morality, his victim and her family lay aside justice to save their world from its ancient enemy, Lord Foul. The Land, the name of the world in which Thomas Covenant finds himself transported, is inhabited by an archaic people, who consider white gold as an element of ultimate power. Thomas Covenant wears a white gold wedding band. To the people of the Land, he is the reborn embodiment of an ancient hero. He spends much of the series refusing to believe he is experiencing anything other than a dream. Continually playing an unsympathetic figure, he is confronted repeatedly with others sacrificing their lives in the belief he is the Land’s savior. Eventually, he comes to accepts his role, but finds himself ineffective and bereft of any sense of how to save the Land. He is in unable to reliably access the power of the white gold. This is a story full of great loss and tragic defeats. But, the ultimate battle isn’t meant to be won in the traditional sense. To defeat Lord Foul,the Despiser, brutish power will avail Thomas Covenant nothing. Salvation arrives only with the surrender of the white gold and sacrifice of himself. Through his own destruction, he enables the white gold power to use his essence to protect the Arch of Time from Lord Foul’s attempts to destroy it. Ultimately, the evil Despiser, Lord Foul is defeated not through any potent strike against him, but by his own use of the power surrendered to him.
Humanity is easily tempted. Many would be willing to pay a high price in order to achieve great wealth, power, fame or love. Even without magic, there are real world examples of men and women sacrificing morality for gain. Greed, pride, jealousy, zealotry and hunger for power are age old human conditions. These elements of humanity perpetually sow conflict throughout our world. Perhaps, storytelling is a form of catharsis for the entire species, allowing us to focus on acts of generosity, love and altruism. Historically, there is ample evidence of the ability of power to corrupt those with it. Yet, even the meekest have been know to display acts of sacrifice, tipping the scales to save many. Science fiction and fantasy offer the opportunity to explore exaggerated situations, helping even the dullest of us contemplate the struggle between good and evil. Power always comes with a price and great responsibility.
George’s life was literally an endless, boring routine of wash, rinse, and dry. He was dishwasher at a local restaurant.
“George! Running low on plates again!”
Perhaps, Mr. Witherson, if you shelled out some money to buy more plates, we wouldn’t be constantly running out on a busy Friday night.
“Right away, Sir!”
His current job at “Rodeo Ribs” was the latest in a long line of menial gigs. Never lasting, he either quit or was fired within a couple of months.
This job rots. My hands are perpetually pruned. I leave every night drenched down to my underwear and I smell like an old sponge.
Despite being intelligent, college was a disaster. Failure to focus, when disinterested, was a constant. George dropped out after a semester. Retrieving a rack of dishes, he climbed upstairs.
And who puts the dish sink in the basement of a restaurant?
George wasn’t completely devoid of ambition, however. He had two passions; his art and role-playing. Drawing was intimately connected to creating fantasy characters to play. He enjoyed putting his imagination on paper. Recently, he discovered LARPing. Now, his entire world revolved around it. When live action role-playing, he felt authentic and truly alive. His alter-ego was a bold, brawny, swamp barbarian named, “Jockilur of the Murky Fens.” His character wasn’t the brightest, but compensated for this flaw with stupendous strength. The barbarian’s legendary battle-rage filled even his most formidable opponents with dread.
“George, I said plates!”
“I’m working on it, Mr. Witherson.”
George sputtered and skidded back through the hectic kitchen to the top of the stairs. Rushing, he nearly fell on the way down.
Really need some non-slip shoes or I’m gonna kill myself.
George whistled happily, daydreaming about his upcoming weekend. His LARP group was hosting this month’s regional adventure weekend. It was called, “Taming the Titan’s Tempest!”
Two whole days of play. Can’t wait to show off the new armor I’ve constructed. Good chance of winning MVP, if I effectively deliver those new jokes and taunts I’ve been rehearsing.
His barbarian’s name was a play on the word, “jocular”. Feeling particularly clever, George enjoyed explaining the name’s pronunciation accentuated the character’s ubiquitous laughter and prodigious sense of humor. Jockilur gleefully sought any opportunity to taunt his adversaries with gruesome puns foreboding impending doom. George also never forgot to mention the spelling of his character’s name alluded to the barbarian’s athletic prowess.
Look at all these dishes! Jockilurwould never tolerate having to while away the time scrubbing at dirt and grime like some kitchen wench. Ha! No need! He eats with his fingers!
“George? Mr. Witherson is going to have a coronary. You have those plates yet?” one of the waitresses called down.
Hefting a load of fresh plates, George hurried to deliver them. Taking the stairs two at a time, he failed to make proper contact with the last stair.
He fell with a tumultuous clatter. Plates shattered everywhere as George landed with a sickening pop on the basement floor.
“George?! Are you ok?”
The waitress clamored down.
“Ow, ow, ow!”
George heard Mr. Witherson yelling upstairs.
“What was that noise? Was that plates breaking?”
George racked with pain, ignored the shouting above.
“Damn! Oh, God! Oh, God!”
“Your forehead’s bleeding!” the waitress exclaimed.
George swiped at his face. His hand came down slick with blood. Scrambling to get up, his right foot erupted with an agonizing explosion of pain. He crumbled to the floor and threw up.
“Somebody help! George is hurt bad!”
Mr. Witherson begrudgingly allowed a busboy to drive George to the emergency room. An x-ray confirmed his ankle was broken. George was sent home, sulking with a cast and a bottle of prescription painkillers.
Once home, beginning to feel the dull throb grow, George defeatedly collapsed on the couch. Reading the instructions on the prescription container, he tossed it on the cluttered coffee table in disgust.
Ugh. Next pill in about four hours.
Rummaging about George found his sketch pad. Gingerly propping his foot up, he began to draw.
Thank God, I didn’t break my hand. I’d die without being able to draw.
As the charcoal pencil danced across the paper, a figure gradually emerged. George sketched a burly man clad in furs, wearing a scaly, green, armored breastplate. Elk antlers protruded dramatically from either side of the barbarian’s helm. His face was ringed with a golden mane of unruly blonde hair. George smiled down at the image he had created of Jockilur blithely, brandishing a bloodied, double-bladed battle-axe. Gradually, he retuned to thinking about this weekend and all the fun he was going to miss. George frowned.
Damn! Whole weekend is ruined!
Disgusted, George threw the notepad and pencil across the room. The sketchbook skidded to a stop just outside the kitchen. Breathing heavily in anger, he closed his eyes, listening to the grating sound of his pencil roll across the linoleum.
Ugh! I hate my life!
Lying still, feeling sorry for himself, George heard something. It was the sound of rustling paper. Quietly listening, attempting to identify the source, he was startled by a loud crash from the kitchen. His foot adamantly protested as he sat up quickly.
“Dragon’s Piss!” someone whispered loudly.
Alarmed, George painfully hobbled toward the kitchen, arming himself with a pillow. Reluctantly, he edged closer to the muffled commotion in the next room. Pausing, just around the corner, panic took over. He froze.
Oh, God! Oh God! Come on George! You need to look!
He managed to peep, ever so slightly, into the other room. He was instantly paralyzed again by the sight. In the middle of his kitchen was an unnaturally large beast, back turned to George, doubled over, picking up the shards of glass from a broken pickle jar. The refrigerator door was glaring, wide open. Food littered the countertop. Initially, mistaking the figure for an animal, he realized it was a man dressed entirely in an assortment of furs. Regaining control of his body, George stepped backwards, placing the entirety of his weight on his bad ankle.
Eeeeeyy.” he squealed involuntarily.
The man spun around.
“What ar ya doin on yar feet? Ya’r suppose to be restin!”
Disregarding his pain, George skittered backwards, bumped against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. This hulking man standing before him was exactly how he imagined Jockilur. The fur, the long hair, the antlered helm, even the green, dragon scale breastplate; it was all there. It was as if Jockilur had climbed straight out of George’s drawing. The man sighed with exasperation.
“Now, I was fixin’ to whip ya up a thing, a healin’ thing. Does me ever so much good when I find meself feelin battered and bruised from battle. Trust me! It’ll work ya wonders. Ya’ll be on yar feet in no time.”
The stranger folded his arms and laughed loud and long. George stood stock-still, gawking. Catching George completely off guard, the huge man lunged forward, his hands outstretched.
Effortlessly, he plucked George up off of the floor and schlepped him back into the living room.
“Quit yar belly achin’ lad.”
Depositing him onto the couch with care, the giant stuffed a pillow gently underneath his injured foot. Grasping a nearby blanket, the stranger then clumsily tucked it around George.
“Thar! Snug as a bugbear.”
He chortled to himself, striding back to the kitchen. Stopping abruptly, the behemoth bent down.
“Oh. Ya dropped this.”
Holding up George’s sketch pad and pencil, he walked back over.
“Har’s yar quill n parchment. Oooh! That quill looks magical. Gives me the heebie-jeebies just touchin’ it. Mind ya, I ain’t afraid. Seem to remember haring of things such as this. Is it a quill of eternal ink?”
George lay staring up, eyes wide as saucers. He was in shock. Receiving no response, George’s new and unexpected caretaker returned to the kitchen.
“Ya’v cared for me many a times, Georgie. My turn to return the favor. I don’t spect ya’ll thank me none too soon tho. This ol’ shaman’s recipe, me Mam taught me, tastes of pig shit.”
The man snorted and guffawed as he returned to the kitchen.
Coming to his senses with the giant out of view, George dared to quietly flip his sketch pad back to the page he been working on.
The sketch was gone.
The page was completely blank.
“Balderdash! Ya seem to lack some of the necessary ingredients. Not to worry! I’ll forage about. Shouldn’t be hard findin’ some goat snot. Course, now that I think on it, Mam did say I can always use me own.”
“Jockilur?” George whispered to himself.
Jockilar leaned his head suddenly back into the room.
“Oh! Georgie! When ya’r feelin’ better, perchance ya’d draw me some trolls er goblins to practice me fightin’ moves with. Whatcha ya think?”
This is my third piece featuring Nakul, who wields the ability to take on traits from nearby animals and use them. There is a cost though.
This story is set in India. Below are definitions for the Hindi words you’ll find used in the story.
Mātā – mama.
Ajee! – Good gracious! Good Heavens!
Priya – Nakul’s deceased, older sister.
Vaah! – Wow!
Are nahin – Oh no!
Ḵẖudā – diety, god, divinity
Lēnēvālā – taker
Monsoon season dominated the countryside. A seemingly endless storm ebbed and waned, day to day, week to week and now month to month. Torrential rains submerged much of the landscape surrounding the village, its people patiently enduring this life-giving deluge.
From an outlying house, a restless boy stared out a doorway. Nakul was aching to venture outside. He was ever vigilant, scanning above for signs of any approaching respite in precipitation. The especially prolonged, heavy, soaking rain, the day began with, had miraculously ceased and a burgeoning patch of blue sky emerged high up in the sky.
“What is it Nakul?”
“The rain has stopped. I’m going out. I’ll stay close. I want to see how fat the stream is with rainwater.”
“Stay out of the stream, Nakul! It will be swift and the flooding disrupts the wildlife.”
“Nakul! Your walking stick. In case of snakes. Remember, Priya. Ajee!.”
“Yes, Mātā. I remember.”
Nakul didn’t fear snakes, even the poisonous ones. He understood his mother’s dread, but he had never known his older sister. She died before he was born.
Nakul’s favorite tree grew along the stream. He was surprised by the extent of the flooding. The familiar scene was strange and compelling. No longer along the banks, it sat within this new, swollen river.
“Vaah!” he exclaimed.
Nakul yearned to climb up and survey everything.
Reluctant to disobey his mother, the water posed a problem. He gave the situation some thought. Only a few steps would bring him to the trunk. Swishing the stick back and forth repeatedly, he probed the water. Nakul cautiously waded in. The water was just past his knees. Emboldened, he sloshed quickly to the tree and secured the stick into the submersed earth. His conscience nagged. Keen to leave the dangerous water, he blindly grabbed the lowest branch to pull himself up.
Straight away, he noted a difference. Expecting a rough, unyielding surface, his grasp instead sunk into something softer. The branch roiled. Pain lanced Nakul’s hand, jarring fingers, wrist and arm like an electrical shock. Releasing, pushing away, he stumbled backwards falling with a splash. Gaping upwards stupidly, Nakul recognized the markings of a king cobra. Dumbfounded, he peered down at two marks glistening like vibrant ruby pendants.
Finding his feet, Nakul ran. He sprinted. Adrenaline quicken his breath, his heartbeat and supercharged muscles. His frantic struggle accelerated the spread of venom throughout his body. His vision blurred and waves of dizziness disoriented him. Unbeknownst to Nakul, he was racing further away from his village.
“Are nahin! Help! Somebody!”
Nakul struggled to breath.
He collapsed to the damp ground in pain.
He tried to rise, but his limbs felt stiff and uncoordinated.
Nakul lay gasping, growing colder, knowing he was dying.
Moment bled slowing into moment.
He was lost and alone.
As he began to drift away from the pain, a voice shouted.
I’M COMING! DON’T GIVE UP!
Nakul searched feebly, seeing no one. But, an ember of hope flickered brighter.
He fought to stay awake, alive.
The voice sounded close.
Here. Next to you.
Nakul turned his head to vaguely see an old, graying mongoose. Nakul understood animals didn’t speak, but he was young enough to accept this current incongruence with reality.
“A cobra bit me.”
I smell it.
“Mongoose. I’m dying.”
No. You are different. I can help. Accept my help. I am old with little time left. I will give you what I no longer need. You could demand it; take it from me, but I see you are unaware of what you are. I gift it to you. Take it.
“i …don’t know what you’re talking about…i don’t understand”
You are out of time. Let me help you.
“how…how can you help”
An ever so sight pain pinched Nakul. The little beast had bit his wounded hand. Now, a warm itchiness oscillated up his arm.
He felt the mongoose’s nip only added insult to injury.
Nakul wondered if the mongoose was hungry.
The thought was absurd.
“why did you bite me?”
Giving you something only a mongoose possesses…so you may live.
Nakul felt a sweat break out. A buzzing in his ears intensified, drowning out all other sounds. He felt as if his very blood was boiling within. Somehow, he knew a battle was raging and his side was winning.
Time passed and finally all was still and silent.
The pain was gone.
“I feel better. I don’t understand?”
A mongoose is immune to snake venom. Now, you are too.
Most men don’t have the speech and the ability to assume power from us. To us you are Ḵẖudā. Your kind calls you Lēnēvālā.
Nakul sat up. Observing his hand, the wound appeared now only as a bite from something non-poisonous like the checkered keelback snake. Gazing up, he startled seeing the mongoose lying prone with labored breathing.
I too… change. You have given… in return… a part of yourself.
Nakul sat by the mongoose gently stroking its fur, watching in disbelief as glossy, dark brown hair replaced its grey, grizzled appearance. Suddenly, the mongoose was up. It stretched and bounced around.
This is a tremendous boon! Youth returns! You have given me some of your natural longevity.
Nakul pondered this. He knew mongoose typically lived a fraction of the time a person might.
“Am I going to die now?”
Hmm, I need a good look at you.
The mongoose jumped around Nakul sniffing. Satisfied with his inspection, he peered up at in Nakul.
You smell the same to me. Humans live forever to a creature such as me.
But, something else felt different to Nakul. Watching the mongoose catch and tear apart a large beetle with sharp canines, he realized what was different. Feeling inside his mouth, he confirmed it was full of sharp, pointy, jagged, canine teeth.
Last I checked, you still can’t get something for nothing at the “Magical, Paranormal, Special, Super Powers Store”! It’s downright outrageous… the prices they’re asking fictional characters to pay these days! Oh well…limited supply; great demand will inflate prices. Previously, I explored the tedious path of exhaustive studies to gain greatness. I also talked about sacrificing something greatly valued, as another way to secure fantastic outcomes or abilities. Now, let’s consider magic with “strings attached”! There are some delightful examples of “items of power” harboring evil intelligences within. These hidden presences patiently wait with deadly agendas and excessively, domineering wills all their own.
Something deep within the human psyche seems to enjoy a good fright, especially, if couched safely and comfortably within the bounds of a story. The sheer quantity of books, television shows, and movies narrating the exploits of supernatural evil elements attests to this fact. Many presume fantasy focuses solely on the eternal struggles between good and evil and expect to be regaled with scenes of epic battles. Yet, there are many tales about subtler forms of malevolence wrecking havoc, if not more! Within these sinister plots, woven throughout, are tantalizing snares attractive to those thirsty for power. Fair-faced villains cajole, bargain with or outright trick characters into promising payment in return for the bestowal of unnatural gifts.
An absolute favorite character of mine, Elric of Melniboné, was created by Michael Moorcock during the mid-twentieth century. Elric is a weak, albino prince, who hails from a mighty sorcerer race. He is reliant on an endless supply of potions and magic only just allowing him to live a stilted, embarrassing existence. Complicating matters, there is a cousin eager to usurp the imperial throne and have the woman Elric loves. Additionally, the people Elric presides over find him odd, even distasteful as a ruler. Needing to find a way to remedy his inborn weakness, he forges pacts with chaotic gods to rid himself of his frail constitution. This leads Elric to a demonic sword aptly named, Stormbringer. The sword grants Elric strength, vitality and great power, but only if he kills and feeds the sword souls. The blade, having an insatiable appetite, demands ever more. Its evil nature yearns to feed on everyone Elric holds dear. He is dependent upon the sword, yet abhors the evil acts it demands. Initially, the perfect solution to his problems, it ultimately brings much ill to Elric. The books are difficult to obtain now, unless you enjoy graphic novels. But, it’s worth the trip to your local library! Thankfully, later this year, the series is being reissued by Tor Publishing!
The mythos of a crossroads demon is brought to life on the television show, “Supernatural”, with enormous dramatic appeal. These diabolical fiends will grant a person whatever they wish, in return for the person’s soul at the end of a set period of time. They are attracted to intense desire for fame, fortune, power or other desperate worldly yens. “Supernatural” uses a legend surrounding the late, famous blues musician, Robert Johnson, to introduce these demonic characters to the series’ storyline. Johnson burst onto the music scene, seemingly out of nowhere, quickly garnering accolades and fame in the early twentieth century. Popular opinion at the time insisted only a pact with the Devil could account for such an overnight success. His death at a relatively early age only fueled speculation and added credence to this tale. An episode of “Supernatural” begins depicting a frightened, bedraggled Robert Johnson hiding, late at night, in a small, isolated, ramshackle shack. The agreed upon period of ten years has transpired and the time to pay for his unnatural musical talent has come. Doors locked, lights all on, salt on the floor to bar out demonic forces, he sits with a rifle. All the precautions are all to no avail though. Invisible, sulfuring-smelling, giant dogs prowl outside the house. These are the hellhounds of myth. Well…you know what happens. The demons penetrate Johnson’s defenses and his soul is devoured, right on schedule.
Even Disney writers frequently dip a hand into the murky waters surrounding bargains with evil. A recent example from the plot of the animated movie, “The Princess and the Frog” contains a refreshingly, new look at magic and the desperate promises one make to obtain it. Doctor Facilier, a practitioner of dark voodoo, is a greedy man with high aspirations. His target is a wealthy, young prince. Facilier attempts to entrap the spoiled, foolhardy royal. But, working with magic usually caused things to go awry and this time is no different. The prince escapes, but not before being turned into a frog. Facilier requests further aide from evil voodoo spirits, vowing to hand over to the otherworldly forces all the souls they desire, once he is in control of New Orleans. Flush with supernatural assistance, he banks all his hopes, putting into motion a plan guaranteeing dominance over the people of the Big Easy. Failing to outwit the protagonists, Facilier is doomed to repay his “friends on the other side” the only way he can. The villain is devoured, body and soul by the spirits. Not an easy scene for an adult to watch, let alone a youngster!
I would be remiss without mentioning the One Ring in Tolkien’s, “Lord of the Rings”. The gradual devouring of Sméagol’s “humanity” is elegantly evidenced. Despite being initially taken in by the insidious glory of the master ring, the hobbit is, temporarily at least, an effective foil to Sauron’s plan. Perhaps, it is his simplistic, pastoral mind which prevents him from seeking vast power over countless others. Yes, Sméagol does initially create trouble for his small community, but ultimately chooses to run off and hide with his Precious. How different and interesting would it be if the character, Sméagol, was more worldly and learned. What if he held a place of prestige and authority within his river dwelling hobbit society? We could assume, he would have taken control and ruthlessly used what meager resources they had to expand his rule. But, how would it have looked? Perhaps, Sméagol and his fellow stoors would have sought to create a powerful, mercantile enterprise controlling the trade along their river? Would the ring have tolerated such a diminutive exercising of power? Certainly, Sméagol’s cruel, domination of his fellow hobbits would have attracted the attention of Sauron and the Nazgul would easily have recovered the ring.
But, despite Sméagol pouring his heart, soul, love and very essence into the ring, he doesn’t seem desirous to master it or wield it. Rather, the ring becomes a bosom “friend”, ally, and confident for the river hobbit. I would suggest the ring replaces the friend Sméagol kills to obtain it. It seems our poor hobbit might have had a shred of a conscious at one point. Nevertheless, Sauron is still able to conquer Sméagol, who becomes twisted, demented and wholly enslaved to the ring. Becoming ever more jealous, delusional and distrustful, he is unwillingly to share the ring and convinced there is a constant threat to his possession of it. Sauron’s master ring utilizes these character flaws to dominate Sméagol and Gollum is born. In turn, the hobbit is able to become invisible and lives far beyond his natural lifespan. But, it is the ring itself that Sméagol desires, not power or riches. This appears to be something Sauron never anticipated…an individual uninterested in commanding the latent, immense power the ring held. Sauron’s failure to anticipate others could resist the ring’s allure, simply because they did not desire power, was the only weakness Gandalf and the WhiteCouncil are able to use against him.
The master ring is the prime example of an evil object of power hiding behind a beautiful facade. Interestingly, Sauron, himself, was at one time able to mask his treachery in fair form and with silvered-tongue speech. But, he lost this ability when destroyed with the men of Númenór, long before the events retold in the “Lord of the Rings”. I recommend reading J. R.R. Tolkien’s true masterpiece, “The Silmarillion” to learn about the origins of Sauron and the rings of power he created. The master ring, Sauron created, was truly master of all! One has to ask was it the ring that was wielded or did the ring wield the wearer? The one ring, in a sense, ensnared even its creator, who poured so much of his own essence into its making, he ultimately couldn’t properly survive without it. It boggles the mind!
In part three of Magical Economies, I’d like to consider those character willing to sacrifice everything, even themselves, to purchase magnificent gains in magic or power to defend and save others.
In honor of the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax. Most gamers try to do something special on July 27th, Gary’s birthday. How does one throw a party for the late, original, consummate dungeon master? Gather together with fellow RPG geeks and dive deep into an adventure for the entire day! Well..that’s what I did. The game has evolved over the years with several edition. I still prefer AD&D, first edition. This year my DM decided to run a later edition module. I created a green–ancestry, dragonbornpaladin to play, which was really going out of my comfort zone. Interestingly, this adventure was recently finished posthumously for Gygax by his two sons, who used notes he made, but never got around to using.
My penchant is to play wizards, magic-users, druids, illusionists or any other arcane force weilding character. Consequently, I definitely had wizards and dragons on my mind when I decided to put out a piece of flash fiction inspired by my love of Dungeons & Dragons.
The resulting 1500 word (just small enough for some to still classify as flash fiction) story has been rattling around in my head for months. The characters Garv, Bryndis and Amin feature prominently in a fantasy book I’m developing. The scene is from deep within the middle of the plot. So…treat it like a trailer for a movie.
Music also fuels my imagination. I recommend listening to “Fix You” (The cover of the Coldplay song.) by Danny Olson with Jadelyn.
I must have replayed this hundreds of times while visualizing the scene in this story when dragon fire starts flying!!!
Please follow the link below to read the story, “The Dragon Eyrie”.