Weekend fiction from Cat

I wrote this in 2009 and may have posted it before, but can’t find it in my records.  Enjoy and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat

WHEN SPACE CAME TO THE RIVER
© 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.”

Writing 101 by Cat, or “What would I say?”

This is a repost from catsworld1

On my recent posting “Blogs: opinion pieces or news reports?” one person left a comment and made reference to teaching them how to write in the style I use.  I thought about that for about thirty seconds.  I didn’t want to spend more time analyzing it lest I become the centipede.  You know the story of the centipede, don’t you?  You don’t?  Well, I’ll tell you then.

One day a tiny ant was watching a centipede pass by, legs all moving with military precision, not tripping over its feet or kicking the leg in front of it.  The ant stopped the centipede and asked how he managed to keep everything so well organized.  Having never thought about it, the centipede had to admit he didn’t know.  After the ant went his way, the centipede sat and thought about the question and tried to analyze his actions.  Not finding an answer he liked, he gave up and decided to carry on to wherever he had been going.  That was when he discovered that in his attempts to figure out just how he did it, he’d managed to lose the ability to co-ordinate his legs and he kept tripping.   I didn’t want to spend time analyzing how and why I write as I do for fear I’d end up like that centipede and forget how to write.

But, a few things from that thirty seconds may be worth repeating.  First, write the way you speak.  That’s the best advice I was ever given.  If you don’t use “ten dollar words” in your  everyday speech, don’t get all fancy when you’re writing, even if you can get those words in a “two for one” sale”. If you try to use words you’re unfamiliar with, you will probably use them in the wrong context, so my advice on that matter is simple: Don’t do it. The way I write is the way I speak.  I know that people are told “write what you know”.  Well yes, it is always good to have some knowledge of your topic before you put a single word on paper (or screen – I still prefer to write in longhand) especially if you’re writing an instructional piece.

In addition to “write what you know” I would add “write what you feel strongly about”, be that the antics of your local politicians or something else.  If you want to write an opinion piece, write it with passion.  If you feel strongly enough about something that you want to voice your opinion, let that fire show through in your writing.  My personal view where it relates to opinion pieces is that if I’ve upset someone, then I’ve done my job properly.  Of course that attitude is probably helped by being 68 and not really caring what others think of my opinions.

There you have it – Writing 101 by Cat.  I hope I’ve offered some suggestions you may not have considered.

To my followers and readers, enjoy the rest of your week and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

“Old Air” New Year’s fiction from Cat

OLD AIR
copyright 2007 gch
    inspired by actual events

You mean you’ve never heard the story of old air?  Hell man, I’ve seen a guy so taken in by that story, I could hardly keep a straight face when he told me and neither could the cop who was there.  Let me tell you about it.

I was working the night shift at the gas station – you know the one, just off the highway when you’re comin’ from the east – on New Year’s Eve it was.  A car pulled  in with a couple of kids in it and went to the air hose to refill a tire.  While they were there, this guy comes just a-flyin’ in, slams on the brakes and slides halfway across the tarmac to the air pump.  I seen this guy get out of his car and talk to the first guy.  I guess he was asking how long he’d be, since he seemed to be in such a hurry.  I don’t know, maybe he was trying to get home before midnight.

Anyway, the couple finish and I see them drive off, then pull off the road about a hundred yards off, where they could still see the air pump, you know?  Meanwhile, I see this other guy, the speed demon, pull his car up to the air hose.  It’s about ten to midnight by now and quiet, being New Year’s Eve and all, so I’m watching this guy because I’m bored and I’m also worried that in his rush, he might take the stand out when he leaves and I want to get his licence number.  From the office, I’ve got a clear view of that part of the lot and the lights cover that area pretty good , so I can see everything he’s doin’.

Well, this guy is actin’ like he’s crazy.  He starts with the left front and seems to be taking a long time checking that tire.  I guessed the valve cap was stuck and didn’t think anything of it.  Same with the left rear.  Then, because he’s got the hose stretched as far as it’ll go, he goes back around the front to the right side, where I can see what he’s doing.  What I can see makes no sense whatsoever.  I’m watching this guy, who seems in a real panic by now.  Since it’s almost twelve, I start putting my coat and stuff on and figure I’ll go out and wish him a Happy New Year.  I’m still watching him, and I see him take a look at his watch, then let all the air out of his tire.

Now, you know and I know that isn’t usually recommended, ‘cause if it goes down the wrong way, the rim’ll cut the sidewall.  But, as soon as it’s flat, he refills it, all the while sneaking peeks at his watch.  Meanwhile, I take a look at the couple in the car, figurin’ maybe they’re gonna wait until he leaves then try to rob me.  They’re sitting there, just killin’ themselves laughin’.

Then he moved on to the right rear.  Same thing again. Let the air out, look at the watch, refill the tire.  Well, by now I’m totally lost, so I figure I’ll go ask him what the hell he’s doin’.  Just as I step out the door, Steve, the usual constable, pulls onto the lot.  I wave at him and keep on walkin’. He sees where I’m headed and follows me over.  I get there just as the guy’s finished the right rear and is putting the valve cap back on.  I wish him Happy New Year, he does the same, then looks at his watch and he says “I didn’t think I’d finish in time.”

I guess he sees the curiosity on both my face and Steve’s for he says “You know, changing the air in my tires, like that other guy said I should.  He said that if I didn’t, I could have trouble with the handling because I had last year’s air in the tires.”

Well, Steve and I can hardly keep our faces straight when we hear this.  But Steve, who’s never slow with a line, says “Oh yeah.  That’s tonight isn’t it?  I guess that’s the reason the cruiser was in the shop when I reported in.  The mechanics were changing the air.  What about you Lloyd, got your air changed yet?”

I’m tryin’ hard not to laugh at this guy, then Steve comes out with this.  It takes me about a minute, but finally I say “Not yet, I’ll do it in a while if it stays quiet.  Don’t want to have trouble on the roads tonight.  Not many people around and those that are aren’t in any shape to drive.  But, I’ll definitely change it by shift end.”

Then Steve, who knows when he’s on to a good thing, says to the guy  “Don’t forget the spare.  I’ve seen a lot of problems with people who had flats, then discovered they still had last year’s air in the spare.”

“The spare?” says the guy.  “Oh Jeez, thanks for reminding me.  This is my wife’s car and if she has a problem with anything like that, she’ll kill me because I forgot the spare.”

Well, by now, Steve and I are ready to bust from keeping the laughs inside, so we go back to the office.  The first thing we do is just about blow the door off what with laughin’ so much.  Then I tell him what happened before he arrived.  He shakes his head and says  “Give me a couple of hot chocolates, will you Lloyd? I’m goin’ to give them to the kids in the sedan.”

“The kids in the sedan?  Why?”

Steve’s still laughin’, but he tries to tell me.  “Think about it Lloyd.  A guy’s checking the air in a slack tire and someone comes in and ask what he’s doing.  Now, it’s about half  past eleven on New Year’s Eve and the guy’s probably a bit pissed off.  Then some jerk asks him what he’s doing, so he gives him a smart-assed answer about changing the air in his tires before January first.  Now, from the guy’s reaction, this other guy knows he’s found a live one, so after he’s finished, he parks somewhere close where he can see the fun.  The way I see it, they’ve earned those hot chocolates.  They’re probably cold by now, so make them large ones.  I’m a cop, so it won’t look suspicious to our patsy out there if I stop to check their car.”

While Steve’s talkin’, I’m thinkin’ about what I saw and I had to agree with him.  I reached for the extra large cups.  I look out the window as I hand the hot chocolates to Steve and  the guy’s clearing stuff out of the trunk.  Just as Steve pulls out of the lot, the guy, still holding the air hose, is climbing into his trunk.

Thanks for this story idea to the lady who was in that sedan.

The world in 500 words

A reader made comment that most of my postings are relatively short.  I wasn’t sure I agreed with that, so took a look at some of them and yes, they were right,  most of them are less than 500 words, in fact many are 300 words or less.  “Honestly, I don’t care” of October 5 is one of my longer efforts at 906 words. Then again, that one was admittedly written with much more passion than are most.  Read it and you’ll understand. Yesterday’s “‘He’s an innocent kid’” was also written with a fair bit of passion and it is only 291 words.

The reader didn’t say I’d left anything out, or failed to explain  my assertions, just that I didn’t really get overly wordy either.  Thinking about this, I think I understand why many of my pieces are short – complete, but short.  I worked in offices for years, where I frequently had to write letters to Canada Customs (or whatever they call it now) or insurance companies, among others.  Business letters, by their very nature, are short and sweet – just “hi – here’s my comments – ‘bye”. No excess verbiage, no fancy frills, something Joe Friday would like – just the facts. Part of my job involved damage inspections and filing reports with insurers and carriers.  Again, something that places a premium on brevity and clarity.  (Just an aside here. One thing I had to do an inspection on  was a 12″ round steel bar that had been somehow bent in transit.  Twelve inches thick, ten feet long and weighed something like 20,000 pounds.  I saw the damage, but given the size of the bar, I really, really wanted to see what had bent it.)

So, I would suspect that all those years of business letters and insurance reports have forever doomed me to “just the facts ma’am.”  Which may be fine for these posts – I can still try to present a balanced picture, or as balanced as an opinion piece can be – but it really plays havoc with my fiction writing.  More description would be allowable in writing fiction, yet whenever I try, I feel guilty – as if I’m trying to pad my word count.

Oh well, I’ll do what I can and if there are any questions, the readers can always ask.

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

Cat