For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

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Do it your way

Every once in a while, someone will look at some of my photos, or read something I’ve written and suggest that I should teach photography and/or writing. That presents a problem for me.

I’m sure that each of you is very good at some pastime that gives you a sense of accomplishment. But, how would you go about explaining to somebody else just how you do it? That’s the problem with my photography and writing. Oh, I could probably teach each, but the course would be twenty minutes tops. I’ll try here to explain how I do what I do.

Photography: My philosophy is simple – if something catches your attention, snap it. You may look at the image on the camera screen and not see what you expected, but wait until you get it up on the computer screen when you process it. (I do digital photography, so my comments are restricted to computer processing.) The larger image may show you something surprising that you can turn into a beautiful photo. The photo at the top of this is an example of a photo I thought was “okay” until I saw it on the monitor, then it went up in my estimation.

Take advice if offered. I’ve had some free-lance photographers give me some advice that I think is worth passing on. First, remember that a digital camera darkens an image about 30 – 40% from what you see with your eye. You’ll want to restore that brightness before anything else. This of course wouldn’t apply if you feel the darker image is more effective.

Next, a free-lancer told me to avoid weddings if at all possible because you’ll never please everyone.

Finally, if you want to be a free-lance news photographer, the best advice I was given for this was “f8 and be there”. You can’t take the shot if you aren’t at the scene and an aperture of f8 will give you a decent depth of field.

As I said, I do digital photography and process my own work. There are many photo processing programmes available. My personal preference is a Corel programme called “Paintshop”. Some people prefer Adobe’s Photoshop. I’ve used both and prefer Paintshop. If you can, try as many as you can – some places offer free trial copies – before spending your money on one.

The choice of camera is up to the user. Many of my best work was done with a Canon point and shoot, including the header photo. I currently use a Canon DSLR, but depending upon my plans for the day, I have often used the camera in my phone. The quality of phone cameras has improved greatly.

I’m torn about suggesting photography courses. Yes, I can see the benefits for some people, but when I told an artist friend it had been suggested I take one, her comment was “Why? That would only ruin you. The course would only teach you to take photos the way the instructor does.” If you feel you’d benefit from one, go for it. As my friend said, if you feel competent, save your money.

In photography the most important advice I was given was that you have to have imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Photography is as much about feeling as technique.

Writing: I’ve always written, at least back as far as Grade 5. I was fortunate in having teachers who encouraged my writing and have since received advice from others. There are many courses in creative writing available through community colleges that you can take. My ex-partner was part of a group of writers who would meet once a week and present short stories for criticism. Some members were published authors; some were taking courses and others just sat down to write. Through the members of this group (I was a casual member since they often met at our house) I learned the proper format for submitting stories, but that’s about all.

Most often, aspiring writers are told “write what you know”. That is fine if you’re writing factual articles and stories. I have a blog and frequently write opinion pieces that I laughingly refer to as “rants, raves and reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.” The main exception to that is a series of blogs under the general title “Bring him to justice”. This series concerns the attempts by the Toronto Police Service to arrest a man charged with several counts of aggravated sexual assault. This series is factual and, full disclosure here, I’m doing it because I know several people he dated.

For my fiction, it’s rather difficult to write fiction strictly sticking to “what you know”. If I’m writing fiction, the process usually starts with me asking myself “what if…?” then writing a piece to answer the question.

Perhaps the best advice the writer me was given was “write the way you speak.” If you don’t use multi-syllable words as part of your usual vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing. I sometimes paraphrase this as “if you don’t use ten dollar words all the time, don’t use them in your writing, even if you get them half-off. You’ll probably mis-use them.” Something else – spelling counts. Spell-check is great in most cases, but if you use a homophones – and yes, I had to check the definition of this – such as “hear” or “here”, spell-check won’t catch it. Proofread, then proofread again.

There. My courses on photography and writing are finished. As the title suggests “do it your way.” Class dismissed.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Kellyanne Conway explained

INTENDED AS HUMOUR OR SARCASM AND NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY

As a Canadian and not directly involved in the recent American election, I’ve refrained from commenting on the fallout from the results of that election except for the occasional snarky comment of other people’s Facebook posts. To be honest, Donald Trump scares the living hell out of me.  But Kellyanne Conway and some of her bizarre comments are just too tempting to resist.

If you read or watch science fiction, you are no doubt aware of the concept of alternate universes.  This concept goes a long way to explaining her comments, specifically the “Bowling Green Massacre.”    It should be obvious to even the most casual follower of news and/or politics that she is not from this planet.

An alternate universe would easily explain her comments.  In our universe (the “real” universe) Bowling Green is known as the location of GM’s Corvette assembly line.  But, in the universe usually inhabited by Ms Conway, it was the scene of a terrible massacre by terrorists.

The problem isn’t that she’s using alternative facts, it’s that with her ability to engage in interdimensional travel, she sometimes forgets which universe she’s occupying.  There, problem solved and her weird statements explained.  Think about it – what else makes sense.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too, no matter what universe we inhabit.

Cat.

Permanently blocked

As I type this, I have three unfinished stories dating back several years in my projects folder and I don’t think they will ever get finished.  Not because I’ve had a major case of writer’s block, but for another reason.

When I began working on these pieces, I was in a much darker place and the tenor of these work reflects that – very dark and brooding.  Times have changed and I am no longer in that place and despite reading over what I do have down, I still can’t get back to that darkness and in all honesty, I don’t want to.  Still, there are some wonderful descriptive passages among those words, but I can’t figure out how to incorporate them into new pieces. Here’s an example:

“Rattle, clatter, clunk.”  The lid of the letter box announcing it had been fed intruded into his consciousness. Hoping there might be more than rejections, bills and flyers, Colin hurried to check.  Three pieces of paper awaited his grasping hand.

“Looks like the usual stuff: ‘occupant’ and ‘householder’.  Oh well, I suppose it’s better than no mail at all” he muttered to himself.  Ever since Colin had decided to become a full time writer he had developed the habit of talking to himself,  but with so many story lines chasing each other around in his mind, he hadn’t noticed that he did so.  “Well, let’s see.  We have something from a local business, addressed to ‘occupant’.  Sorry folks, ‘occupant’ doesn’t live here anymore.”  He folded up the flyer and threw it into the recycling bucket.  (With the amount of paper he went through, mostly from having to re-write frequently,  Colin was very conscientious about recycling.)

“An envelope from a publisher.  Let’s see what they say.  Hmm, they think the  novel has possibilities, but the genre doesn’t fit in with their catalogue.   Oh.  Well, that’s an excuse I haven’t heard in a while.  I’ll just add this to the collection.  Maybe one of these days I’ll just put out a book of rejections I’ve received and call it something like ‘A Thousand Times “No” ’. ”

But despite some of these descriptions I find myself stuck.  I can’t get back to the dark side on these and can’t find a way to recycle the good bits into something else.  So I suppose I’ll have to do what I do with photos I screw up and hit delete.  This is what an artist friend of mine suggested, reasoning that because they were started during a black period, there is lot of negativity attached to them, so I’d be better off getting rid of them.  And I have to agree with her.

Oh well, there will be brighter stories ahead, I know it, so I’ll just carry on and keep blogging until those stories appear.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and ideas) too.

Cat.

Midweek fiction – It’s only a game

I wrote this is 2007 following a disastrous night playing solitaire

It’s Only A Game
copyright 2007 gch
“What to do you mean you haven’t received my remittance yet? Who is this? Why are you bothering me? If you think I owe you money, send me an invoice.” Clyde slammed the handset onto the cradle before the caller could respond and returned to the Solitaire game on his computer screen.

He’d only had Solitaire on his computer for about ten days and found it a good way to relax. His favourite was the Vegas version, where he could see whether he was ahead of the computer or not. When playing, he preferred a two-handed method – left hand tapping the enter key to turn cards and right hand working the mouse to move the cards. It may not have been more efficient, but he felt it required a bit more concentration. “Let’s see … Red six on black seven, yes, now turn over the top card, good, the black five can go on that red six.”

Two days later, the mail brought an expensive looking envelope bearing the name of a well-known casino. Never having been to a casino, Clyde was curious about why they would be contacting him. His fingers told him the envelope was stuffed with paper. Returning to his study, he reached for the letter opener as he sat down.

Carefully slitting the flap, he slid several sheets of paper from the interior of the envelope. Several appeared to be computer printouts and one, on vellum paper, looked like an invoice. Scanning this, he gasped as he saw the bottom line, which read “Balance outstanding as of May 31, $51,118.00.”

Turning to the other sheets, all the while muttering to himself “There must be some mistake. I’ve never been to any casino, let alone that one. Somebody must have stolen my identity and run up this huge debt” he examined them. They were daily tallies of amounts, usually losses, and each bore his name and an account number at the top.

Returning to the letter, he carefully read it.

Dear Mr. Partridge:

As stated in our telephone conversation of June 4, we have not yet received your payment to cover your losses at our games for the month of May. In response to your request, attached please find copies of our records. Kindly remit by return mail no later than June 15.
It was signed by someone in accounts receivable.

In a panic, Clyde again scanned the letterhead, searching desperately for a telephone number. Finding one, he telephoned the casino and angrily demanded to speak with the Accounts Receivable manager. A few bars of soft music later, he was connected.

“Clyde Partridge here. I just received an invoice from you for some $51,000 dollars. I wish to tell you sir that I have never been in your casino before, so I don’t see how I could have incurred this great debt. You must have me confused with another Clyde Partridge.”

“Are you Mr. Clyde V. Partridge of Flaherty? You are? Well then Mr. Partridge, these amounts are indeed your responsibility.”

“But, I’ve never been in any sort of gambling establishment. I don’t know how to play poker. I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket before.”

“Oh no, Mr. Partridge, there’s no mistake. And by the way sir, these are not poker debts, these are Solitaire losses.”

“Solitaire? The only Solitaire I play is at home on my computer. I certainly wouldn’t go to a crowded room to play a game of Solitaire.”

“I understand that sir, but that Solitaire game on your computer is linked to our computers which keep track of your winnings and losses. If you had won, we’d have sent you a letter telling you that you had a large credit balance.”

“But, how is that possible? I have a computer, but I don’t have any form of internet access. And I’ve only had the Solitaire game about a week.”

“Yes sir. Isn’t wireless technology is marvellous.”

I was playing Vegas Solitaire one night (yes, and losing) when a fiction writer’s favourite words – “what if …” popped into my head. This is the result of that question.

Cat
Enjoy the rest of your week and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat

Word pictures

A friend told me she thought I could create equally vivid images with both my pen and my camera.  The header photo is an example of my photographic efforts.  Below is an example of my writing abilities – how a town was founded.  This has been extracted from a piece I’m working on. I’d appreciate feedback and comments on this.  Thanks.

After taking a sip of my drink, I said to him  “Yesterday you said you’ve been coming into the pharmacy for fifty years.  Could you give me a bit of the history of Fletcher’s Corners?   Looking around I get the impression that Fletcher’s Corners wasn’t always just a small town and I wouldn’t mind knowing more.”

He stared at me across the table and threw back his beer.  I signalled Bert to bring him another and after thanking me, he began.  “Well young lady, first off, how long have you been in town?”  I told him and he nodded.  “You friendly with many of the townsfolk?  I  allowed that Owen Fletcher and I occasionally went sailing together, admitting that was more because while I enjoyed sailing I didn’t own a boat, but “I wouldn’t call us buddy-buddy.”

Again he nodded.  “Good.”  He paused and finished off his beer.  Once more I signalled Bert.  “First off, what’s your name young lady?  I like to know the name of the person I’m talking with.”

I told him and he stuck his hand across the table and said “Pleased to meet you Patricia Keys.  I’m Walter Talbot, but folks just call me ‘Old Wally’.  You planning on changing the name of the store?”

That had originally been one of my first priorities, but other things had rearranged my list so that item was now well down and falling fast.  “No, I think I’ll leave it as ‘Robert’s Drugs’.  Everybody in town knows it as that and I’m not vain enough that I have to have my name on the store.”

Wally grunted.  “Good.  Bobby changed it when he took over and it took most of twenty years before folks here started calling it ‘Bobby’s’ instead of ‘Jackson’s’.  Don’t worry Pat, people here will know your name whether you advertise it or not.

“Now, Fletcher’s Corners.  The town was started a couple of hundred years ago by Owen Fletcher.  The present Owen Fletcher is his great-grandson.  Owen was a doctor of some sort – nobody ever saw a diploma, but back then this was mostly wilderness and if somebody said they were a doc, and their treatment didn’t kill you, their claim was accepted.  Anyway, Owen Fletcher married into money.  He bought a couple of sections of land here, then built a big house on the best land. That house is now the office building at the hospital.

” Anyway,  it seems that some of Owen’s in-laws were ‘tetched’ and Owen offered to put them up.  After all, his big house was almost empty, what with just him, Lavinia, his wife and their infant son and the company would be welcome.  The families offered to subsidize their relatives’ keep, so Owen wasn’t doing it just out of the goodness of his heart.  One thing led to another and before he knew it, friends of the family were asking for the same thing.  Of course since they had offered to pay him for the upkeep, he couldn’t say ‘no’.  Well, eventually his house began to get awful crowded.  Something happened one day, he never said what for sure and my granddaddy didn’t ask, and the next thing the town knew, Owen’s got contractors out there on the point putting up this huge dormitory.”

He paused for breath and another sip of beer and I glanced at my watch.  “Wally, I’ve got to get back to the shop.  After you’re finished here, could you come by and tell me more.”

Glancing around the room, which was now filling up with the lunch crowd, he said “Sure.  It’ll be a lot more private than this anyhow.”

Half an hour later Wally entered the store and looked furtively around.  “You alone?” he asked.

“Yes.  There’s no-one here except you and me and all these pills.”

“Good.  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah.

“As I said, Owen had this huge dormitory built to house all these relatives and friends of relatives.”  Nodding at the street through the window, he continued.  “That was the Post Road back when this place was founded.  First Avenue used to be the side road leading from the Post Road down to the landing.  The people Owen hired to work in the hospital built homes around the junction for the social aspects.  Life was a little easier if there were always people around other than the people you worked with.  Same thing’s still true.  As the hospital grew, more and more people moved in and soon we had people opening shops of all kinds.  At its peak, Fletcher’s Corners probably had close to twelve hundred people living here.  We had the usual greengrocers, milliners, a draper, a livery stable, two banks and a post office not to mention about ten or twelve taverns.

“The town pretty well kept its size until the railways and trucks started taking all the freight from the boats, then it shrunk.   The bypass pretty well spelled the end for a lot of the businesses, since they had relied a lot on the through traffic. Over the last ten or fifteen years though, its started growing again as people move out of the cities in search of a bit of peace and quiet.”

Just then the door opened and a couple entered and greeted me.  As I filled their prescription, they chatted pleasantly with me, totally ignoring Wally, sitting right beside them.  After they left, still not having acknowledged Wally’s existence, I asked him about it.

“Well, now’s about a good a time as any to get into the pecking order of Fletcher’s Corners.  Back then there were three main families:  The Fletchers naturally, since it was Owen’s business that was the main reason for the town; the Harrises – old man Harris owned the biggest tavern in town as well as running the post office; and the Talbots.”  I looked up in surprise.  Wally grinned and said  “Yup.  My grandfather ran the bank – the one that went out of business.   As I said, we had two banks here in town, the Talbot Bank, and one other one that became the current branch.  Fletcher kept the hospital accounts with the Talbot Bank until the major bank took over the other one, then changed.  The loss of those lucrative accounts resulted in grandpappy closing down.  Until then the Fletchers and the Talbots had been pretty close and just about ran Fletcher’s Corners as their private kingdom.   So, after the bank shut down, the Talbot’s opened an apothecary shop – this one.   I said that my grandfather ran one of the banks here and had a fair bit of power in the area.  As a matter of fact, before this place was called Fletcher’s Corners, people used to call it Talbot’s Corners.  But as more and more of the residents began to be Fletcher employees, it started being called Fletcher’s instead of Talbot’s.  I don’t mind really; having your family name on a village isn’t all that great.  People think that just because your name is the same as the village, you can fix up any little problem they may have.  But, I’m wandering here.  At one point, from what I’ve been told, both Owen Fletcher and my grandpappy decided that Malcolm Harris shouldn’t have the post office franchise as well as the tavern, so between them they convinced the government to give it to someone else.  As it turned out, Mal was making more from the post office than his tavern, so by taking it away, grandpappy and Fletcher had severely reduced his income.  Things got worse for the Harrises since Malcolm was a gambler who had more money than card sense and eventually he lost the tavern too.  Malcolm claimed that Owen Fletcher and Alexander Talbot had plotted against him just to gain control of the tavern.  It wasn’t true, or so my grandmother always told me, but the Harris family has had no time since for either the Talbots or the Fletchers.  Jack Richards there is a descendant of Malcolm Harris.  That’s why neither of them would even admit you had someone here with you.”  Wally glanced at the clock on the wall.  “I’ve been boring you long enough young lady.  If you’ve a mind, stop by Bert’s once you close this place and I’ll let you buy me another beer while I tell you more about this hellish place.”  And with that, he left.

Sound reasonable?  Let me know.  Thanks,

Cat.

Sunday fiction from Cat

WHEN SPACE CAME TO THE RIVER
new fiction from Cat Howard
© 2009 gch

It was the murder of the young hag that started it all. I still don’t know where Aubrey got that pair of scissors. I’d have sworn he didn’t have them with him that morning.

We’d left home about three hours beforehand to travel downstream. I had business to attend to in the county seat and Aubrey, well, Aubrey was bored, so he volunteered to come with me as lookout. Normally a lookout wouldn’t be needed, but what with the drought and all, the river was running awfully shallow in places, so I said okay, you can come, but behave yourself. I’m kinda glad he did come along or I’d have probably torn the bottom out of the boat within the first mile. I knew where the hazards usually were and steered around those areas. But, even though the boat only drew two inches with both of us on board, it still got a little noisy as we scraped over some spots that usually had deep water.

Round about ten, we decided to take a break. Navigating with the river this shallow and still with its normal amount of traffic was very hard on the nerves and I for one could use a short break. Everyone seemed to be short tempered that day. Maybe it was the heat; maybe it was that everyone was a little more tense because of the low water. The reason didn’t really matter. All that was necessary was to know that people were touchy. We passed a hydra, busy arguing with itself over the best route, each head threatening the others with physical violence if such-and-such a course wasn’t followed. That wasn’t a problem for us. With our shallow draft, we could go just about anywhere for one thing, and Aubrey was his usual carefree self, which helped relieve the tension.

It was just before the bend where the inn stood that we came upon the two hags. The younger one was playing a musical instrument – playing it well, actually – but Aubrey, being Aubrey, had to make a disparaging comment about her ability. He made the comment to me, but the hags have hearing that puts a dog’s to shame and she heard what he said.

Well, it took a few minutes to thread a way through the other boats tied or anchored off the inn, so by the time I’d made the boat fast, the hags also arrived. Spotting Aubrey, the young hag made straight for him, screaming imprecations at him and threatening to rip his ears off and his tongue out. He just stood there, motionless, until she made the mistake of reaching for his ear. I mean, I’ve known Aubrey all his life and I’ve never seen him move so fast. One second he was standing there, the next he had one arm around that hag’s neck and the other holding a very long and viscous-looking pair of scissors. I don’t know what he said to her, because he was speaking very quietly into her ear, and the older hag, standing beside me, just gasped, but whatever it was, it only served to rile her even more. The young one reached up with her hands in what looked like an attempt to claw his eyes out and the scissors flashed.

He didn’t stab her in the neck. Not Aubrey. He opened the scissors and almost gently inserted one half of the now open blades into her neck, then, “snip, snip!” he cut her throat open that way, much like cutting a piece of cloth. Then he just let the body fall, calmly bent down and wiped the scissors on her clothes and then they vanished back into wherever he’d had them hidden. I didn’t know that boy had such a sadistic streak in him.

With the excitement over, the crowd dispersed, many of them returning to the inn and their refreshments.

We entered the inn and Aubrey excused himself to wash the blood from his hands. I sat down and ordered something light. Since we still had a couple of hours on the river ahead of us, I didn’t want anything too heavy for it might make me sleepy and I couldn’t afford that to happen as we were starting to get a lot of cross-river traffic as well. I knew when Aubrey entered the room, for all conversation stopped for a few seconds.

The old crone who ran the inn walked behind the counter to relieve her daughter for a while. Seeing her, a voice called out “Avenus, when did it start? When did all this violence and indifference to life begin?” A few other voices called out “Tell us, Avenus, you know.”

When I call Avenus “old” I’m not talking seventy or eighty. I’m talking six or seven hundred.

Pouring herself a drink of some sort, she stood quietly for a few minutes. Then, “you want to know when it started? All right, I’ll tell you what I remember.”

There was a sudden spurt of movement as people signalled for refills. She waited until everyone was satisfied and silent again. “I’ll tell you, but I guarantee you won’t believe me.”

She took a sip of her drink then began in a soft voice. “Would you believe that at one time there were no crones, no hags, no hydras, none of the others as well? Would you believe that at one time, there were only humans?”

Glancing around the room, I noticed that very few in attendance looked human, although we all called ourselves by that appellation.

“It was about, oh, five hundred years ago when it happened. The superstitious called it an omen. The religious claimed it was a sign from whatever deity they worshipped that he/she was displeased with the human race. Those who claimed to be scientists stated it was just a meteor. The lunatic fringe loudly proclaimed it was the beginning of an invasion. Me, I don’t know what it was, but I suspect the loonies were a lot closer to the truth than anyone else.

“Whatever it was apparently came to ground, or rather water, in the lake that feeds the river. People looked for it, but although it had been seen to strike, then sink below, the surface of the lake, nobody could ever find a trace of it. Other than a lot of dead fish, there was no outward sign anything unusual had happened there.

“Keep in mind the river wasn’t as busy as it is now. Over the centuries, we’ve moved away from the roads and used the river more and more. And you know”, she paused and took another sip. “There was no logical reason for that. You all use the river, so you know how dangerous and uncertain even a short voyage can be. And the roads meant we could travel farther and faster carrying heavier loads and more crops. No, I’m afraid whatever fell that day turned us into water people.”

A voice interrupted. “Avenus, what do you mean ‘turned us into water people’?”

“About a year after the Fall, as it came to be known, people began to die. The medical people were puzzled by the sudden spike in the death rate and did some autopsies and other less pleasant things and found strange organisms in the bodies. The stories were always eerily similar: each person or family had been fine until about six months previous and each person got their water supply from the river. So the white coats looked at the river water and sure enough, they found those same organisms, which were unlike anything ever seen before. It took some kid, fresh from college to put two and two together and actually get four. He was a hiker and on one of his trips, he ventured beyond Fall Lake, to use its current name – and now you know why it’s called that – and took water samples from the river feeding the lake. Tests on those samples came back clean. So he deduced that rather than agricultural or industrial pollution causing these alien things in the river, the real cause was whatever had fallen into the lake.”

“Avenus, if these organisms made people die, how are we here? Why isn’t this an unpopulated woodland?” I heard myself say.

She looked straight at me and smiled, almost as if I’d been planted to ask just that question. “Why? How? Because the human body adapted. Granted a lot of people died, but eventually our bodies adapted to these strange organisms and incorporated them into our systems.

“Did you know that people who move away from the river – I mean far away inland, not just away from the riverbanks – usually die within six months? In most cases doctors can’t figure out why a seemingly healthy person just keels over and dies. But, I think I know. It’s because they now have a different water supply that doesn’t contain the organisms.

“We, all of us, have now reached a stage in our development where we need those organisms in order to survive.”

She paused and looked at me, then took another sip of her drink. Looking around the room, she continued.

“Before the Fall, there were just humans, as I said. These alien organisms are the reason we now have hydras, hags, crones and all the rest. Every one of us has some ability not normally found in people. The crones, such as myself, have extreme longevity. I’m five hundred and twenty three years old and expect to live at least that long again. I don’t know why and the doctors can’t explain it, but for some reason, rather than kill me, my body was able to absorb and assimilate the organisms when I was younger.

“The hags, for example, have hearing far beyond the range of most creatures, not just humans. I’ve had a hag tell me she could hear the supersonic sounds a bat makes.

“The hydras have their own unique abilities. One day, right here in this room, one head told me they were telepathic, which the other heads vehemently and promptly denied, of course.”

Looking at Aubrey, she continued, “Some of us have super-human speed. Young man, I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never seen anyone move as fast as you did today, and I’ve seen a lot of fights and other things in my years running this place.”

Aubrey had the good sense to look embarrassed.

“As for the indifference and violence? I’m afraid that is just an old human trait honed over the centuries, from long before I was born. If someone or something looks different from you, they are fair game and their life doesn’t matter. It’s been that way a long, long time and I doubt we’ll ever change it.

“So, was the Fall an invasion? Was the lunatic fringe right? Look around the room and decide for yourselves.”

Scanning the room again, she spoke once more, in a much softer voice than previously “You wanted to know when it all started? You wanted to know when the violence and indifference started? Now you know. It started when space came to the river.”

 

This story came to me intact one night as I slept.  Cat.