Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Galen Tries To Use Gugnir As His Shibboleth Through The Storm

16 Jan 2018
Galen rested one hand on the wall, idly noting the worn smoothness of the surface. Between the carving itself and the erosive work from the constantly shifting wind, the rocky cavern wall (granite, but with tempting flecks of feldspar and other rare minerals blended in) felt almost as flat as a brick.
That he now stood under a wonderful approximation of open sky for the first time in what seemed like months claimed the largest portion of his awareness, and his wings fluttered behind his back. Just a reflexive adjustment in response to the shifting breeze, he wanted to tell himself. And the winds were picking up.
But no, the truth was that Sky, the environment that called his hearts, no longer welcomed him. This space... a 'room' crafted by magic to feel so vast that he had to strain to find clues that he was still inside... formed what he hoped was the last of four gates. The previous ones drew on classical elements: a room of fire, another of water, and what he hoped was a 'gate' of earth. That one amounted to an agonizing, clawing excavation of a small tunnel into one large enough to admit his claustrophobic self.
This 'gate of air' presented an alluring trap after the previous ones... and the jaws of the trap appeared to be slamming shut on Galen. Were it simply an extension of the Elemental Plane of Air, Galen might well have struggled to stay on the trail he followed. Instead, the vast 'gate' contained a large enough volume to maintain it's own weather systems. Systems that seemed to oscillate between 'idyllic breezes' and 'raging thunderstorms'. The clear blue skies teasing Galen's desperate eyes as the aftermath of the previous gate flung him into the 'space' now turned from curdling milky white to angry grey iron. The undersides and interiors of the gathering storm clouds illuminated by ever more spectacular... and frequent... lightning bolts.
Galen had been struck by lightning before, on occasion. He had heard a strange Mystic who cloaked his understanding of magic in technological terms describe electricity as 'that child of capriciousness'. And the lightning bolts striking the side of the mountain seemed more like the act of an enraged, somewhat petulant deity than a 'mere' force of nature.
Which, of course, made a certain amount of sense. The carvings on the side of the mountain now providing ever less certain shelter amounted to crypts for some lost tribe of Norsemen, as evidenced by symbols honoring the Aesir, such as All Father Odin and All Mother Freyja. More to the point, the wooden spear shaft in Galen's left hand bore intricate carvings identifying it as none other than Gugnir, Odin's own weapon.
Somehow, the shaft had fallen... or been thrown... from its place of honor at the highest carving Galen had yet examined. Down the side of the cliff for what seemed like almost a full mile... to rest within what Galen could only describe as a 'forest' of metal.
The Bane of Gargolyes. One touch of the blood-tinged copper-gold metal would evaporate Galen's flesh like a white hot knife through ice. And yet... He could not risk taking to the air, striving for the highest part of the cliff and what he hoped was the way out of this place. Not empty handed, at any rate. He set his very life on the only gamble available: retrieve Gugnir from it's resting place, in the hopes that a token marked by Odin would somehow grant him safe passage through the onrushing storm.
Galen let a thin grin cross his lips. He held no illusions that Odin would allow 'easy' access, even if Gugnir served as Galen's passkey; Odin tested all who came to his attention, and this situation seemed to present no evidence that it would be an exception. Still, his choices seemed to amount to 'stay and die for certain, or try and risk dying in the process of escape'.
So. Galen somehow managed to worm his way through the forest of death metal, finding an approximation of a clear path to Gugnir's resting place carved by previous lightning storms. And then managed to retrace his steps back to the dubious safety of the mountain.
Which brought him to this place, to this moment.
He gripped Gugnir in his hand and studied the oncoming storm. The air positively sang with ozone and rising elemental fury. Above him, a tiny black speck in the upper reach of the rock face marked the highest cave.
He pinned his hopes on the All Father's dubious mercy, and cynical expectation that Odin would provide some means of escape from this trap... provided that the victim could properly puzzle his way through it all.
The spear in his hand seemed to shift, somehow; now a hardened piece of of wood, now a patterned length of crafted iron, now a buzzing solid mass of lightning. But all the aspects seemed to pull at Galen, communicating the thing's desire to rejoin its children in the storm and direct them at the object of its wrath.
Galen muttered to it, as many words as he could fit in a single, deep breath. He swore to return it to where it belonged, in exchange for guiding him to the goal of his desire with all due haste and with respect for the challenges he, himself, had undergone to return the shaft to its home.
The oath whipped away on the wind; Galen hoped that it somehow reached receptive ears.
He took another breath and launched himself into the air.
The wind wrapped him in flows and twists and turns as he clawed at the air. His joints and muscles strained to ride the forces trying to shake him like a dog with a toy in its jaws. For the second time that 'day', he murmured gratitude to the brutal training methods of the tengu, the Japanese bird-men. Human legend held them as nearly unbeatable with swords. But as humans lacked any natural means of flight, they had no way of knowing how well the tengu fought in the air.
But the Gargoyles knew.
As a reward for a service, Galen accepted an offer of training at the tengus' clawed fingers. For an entire year, they had subjected Galen to merciless attention: correcting miniscule errors in his stances while also stretching his muscles to their limits on a dual quest for strength and flexibility.
Once again, the tengus' training saved Galen's life.
The wind tossed and spun him. He absorbed the wind's force and rode it toward his goal from whatever direction presented itself.
And then the lightning began to streak and flare around him.
The tengu may have held vastly different opinions about flight than the Gargoyles, but one thing both groups agreed on in reference to flying in a lightning storm amounted to a very simple rule: Do not fly in a lightning storm.
While a large mass of reasonably low electrical conductivity... such as, for example, the stony flesh of a Gargoyle... would seem to offer little enticement for drawing lightning, the truth presented a far more treacherous challenge. Lightning followed trails of ionized air, from sky to ground or vice versa. A Gargoyle's nose and skin could only trace such a trail in the space between two layers of air; if an ionized channel happened to follow one layer moving faster than the Gargoyle could detect, a lightning strike could still conceivably detour through said Gargoyle on its way to its destination.
All of this flashed through Galen's thoughts as he gripped Gugnir, brandishing it before the storm in hopes of parting it like a curtain.
Instead, the lightning seemed to gather itself, to rush at Gugnir like a school of pirahna surging toward a bleeding and helpless animal in the water.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Terribleminds Writing Prompt: significant song lyrics

Source blog post:

Let's get one thing straight: my tastes in music are not exactly in alignment with whomever is on top of the pop charts this week, and hasn't been for quite a while.
(And yes, I just turned 47 a little more than a month ago.)
A perusal of some of the songs (specifically, the ones with lyrics) that are "in rotation" on my music devices should prove that:
"Karma Slave" by Splashdown
"Up And Away" by The Poxy Boggards
"Breathless (LP Version)" by The Corrs
"Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo
"Edge of the Ocean" by Ivy
... to name but five.
So, given that the assignment specifically refers to "Now, take a slice of those words — a smidgen of the lyrics, a line, a short stanza — and use them as the theme or basis for a bit of flash fiction", what should I use for this assignment?
There has been a chorus with an image that keeps popping up in my thoughts for years now. And as tempting as it might be to pick "Blood From A Stone" by Cycle V (which has, in fact, been stuck in my head since I first heard it back in the 1990s), I have a string of words that has fascinated me for far longer.
It comes from "Tom O'Bedlam", an English traditional poem dating from the early 17th century. The word "bedlam", commonly defined to mean 'a scene of uproar or confusion', is a linguistic corruption of "Bethlehem Royal Hospital", a facility near London that became associated with the worst excesses of abusing patients suffering from mental illness. The poem has been set to music since it first hit public awareness, so it counts, nyah.
One verse of the eight "canonical" ones reads thus:
"With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a burning spear and a horse of air
Into the wilds I wander
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summon'd am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world's end
Methinks it is no journey."
I've never been able to get the image of "a knight of ghosts and shadows" out of my head for long. So, here goes, with a tip of the hat to Mercedes Lackey:
"Your crest has a place at Tourney," the guy told me.
I looked up from my phone. I had my earbuds in for a reason, dangitall. I had no time for homeless bums trying to wheedle my spare change or any leftover food I might have in my pack.
I gave him a once-over, still shuffling my feet toward the bus stop. My height, give or take. Brown hair that hadn't been washed in a while, but held away from his face; I guessed he had it tied and running down his back. Serious weathering on his face; the man clearly lived most of his life outside.
"The ghosts have called," he went on, in that same voice. Low and umbling, like he and his mouth had regular contact with high octane rotgut. He fell into step beside me, matching my pace.
His shoulders looked like he might weigh over two hundred pounds, but the stiffness in his movements made me look again. And damn me if he wasn't wearing some kind of shoulder pads under a faded sarape, the narrow horizontal stripes faded and down to shades of brown or grey. And everything else I could see under the cover looked like some kind of armor. Scavenged from castoffs behind sporting goods stores or scrounged from donation boxes, but armor nevertheless.
I wrinkled my nose, expecting an olfactory assault from the filthy clothes. Thankfully, nothing happened on that score. What fabric I could see actually looked kind of threadbare, but no black gunk around the seams or cuffs or anything. It seemed clean. So what? If the guy wasn't homeless, then he was some kind of Internet sensation within his thousands of subscribers. His face didn't register; I have my own circle of online celebrities, thank you very much, and he certainly wasn't one of them.
"The shadows have found you," he added, as if that settled everything.
I didn't have time to get caught up in some stupid viral video event, prank or otherwise. My day job shift, back office stuff at one of the international banks that hasn't been caught laundering money (yet) had wrapped up ten minutes ago. I wanted to catch the next bus at the stop four blocks away; between the two transfers, followed by a seven block walk to my apartment, I could squeeze a pair of fifteen minute naps before getting home to the side hustle.
The day job paid for rent and utilities. The side hustle, transcribing recordings of droning meetings, let me actually afford to take public transportation to my day job, as well as eat about once a day and occasionally spring for a new pair of shoes.
"Got the wrong guy, pal," I told him. Kept a side-eye on him, but only that. Armor or no armor, fresh out of the homeless shelter shower or not, you only ignore crazy people when they're out of range. And I sped up, a little, to get that space cushion between us. If I was lucky, sometime in the next couple of blocks, I could cross an intersection before he did, and that would put a nice insurmountable barrier of city traffic between him and me.
And, hey, here's the curb and the street, the crosswalk countdown gives me three seconds to cross and I want to leave this guy eating my dust. I break into a sprint, catching up with the stragglers at the end of the crowd crossing with the light...
No joy. He matched my pace, easy as anything. Wasn't even breathing hard.
"You are summoned to tourney," he said again, an insistent note starting to come through in his tone.
"Screw off," I told him. I pulled my phone back up in front of my face, trying to ignore him into going away.
I felt a hand go onto my shoulder and tried to shake it off.
My shoulder went stiff, actually started getting cold.
I stopped, anger rising. I had absolutely no time for any of this, but if this guy wasn't going to take a hint, I had about a month's worth of stress from two jobs and the rest of my waking life just waiting to get let off in a fight with some random crazy dude.
"Hands off!" I told him, pointing my free hand at his nose.
He released my shoulder and stepped back, the tension in his face fading away. "Welcome to tourney," he told me.
I looked past him, and saw that the nifty Irish bar I had always meant to stop in at some point wasn't there any more. Along with that entire side of the street, the city traffic... Hell, the rest of the city.
Instead... tents. Wooden bleacher seats, facing away from me. The sounds of metal and horses and people, but no cars. The smells of sweat and dirt and roasting meat... but not a hint of exhaust from internal combustion engines.
It looked like the Renaissance Faire I had visited once, about ten years ago, along with a lovely young woman who was really into that kind of thing.
"Your pavilion awaits this way," the guy said, waving a hand....

The guy's armor made no kind of sense. For one thing, it was a collection of pieces from damned near every pre-firearm warrior culture on Earth. The left boot looked like the kind of

Monday, December 28, 2015

Preparation for 2016

I'm planning, as so many others before me have done, to make some major changes with the new year. I hope to bolster my chances of success by planning, inasmuch as such a thing can be done with my work schedule.

First things first: my goals.
1. To set up a regular meditation/exercise practice.
2. To set up a regular writing practice.
3. To brush up on my Japanese-language studies.
4. To learn a new skill: basic electronics.

The fun thing about these four goals is that they are actually very simple with the materials I have close to hand. Meditation, obviously, can be done anywhere that I can remain still and mostly undisturbed, but it's more effective if done after some kind of physical workout. Fine; I've got just enough unoccupied floorspace in my little room to manage.
Bonus: I can fulfill some requirements to earn my White Belt in Hoshinjutsu via their distance learning program!
Writing, likewise. All I need is a pen and paper, though a keyboard and computer of one sort or another is definitely the way to produce something legible.
Japanese: I've got at least three different audio-programs available within arm's reach of where I'm typing, with online study-aids available wherever I have Internet access.
Basic electronics comes from an educational kit, but it's got online video support and it's still something I've been meaning to study for a while.

My plan is to alternate between spending an hour a day on each of these tasks over a five-day workweek (a la high school) and then spending a full day of the week on each topic. I'll borrow a writing trick for efficiency, breaking all the study and work into 25-minutes-on, 5-minutes-off for either 60 minutes or 8 hours, and see how well it all comes together. Maybe I'll add an additional subject on the fifth hour/day. We'll see...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" video: Sorry, I missed something

Hello, Ms. Swift.
Thank you for joining me in my little corner of cyberspace. Please make yourself comfortable. I certainly won't blame you if you don't stay long.
I had to look up the lyrics to the song to make sense of the video. What I seemed to hear during the first watch-through was a repetitive complaint of betrayal, directed at either the dark-haired woman who kicked your character (may I refer to her as "Jane", for brevity's sake?) out of the window at the beginning the video, or Mr. X, the featured rap-artist (presumably portraying Jane's boyfriend). With the lyrics, I was able to understand that Jane was explaining that the betrayal had left her in profound pain, and that forgiving the betrayer was not going to be possible.

To be fair, I'm turning 45 on 30 Nov 2015, so my ears are probably not longer sharp enough to pick up certain details from the audio track. I've also never had a falling-out with anyone so profound that I felt the need to go through the kind of "training montage" that Jane endured during the main "body" of the video, so I freely admit a lack of comprehension of that aspect of the story.

If you're still with me, I do have a few questions.
First, I understand that the "elite secret sisterhood" motif was meant to symbolize that the betraying woman was once Jane's most trusted friend. Given the resources that Jane clearly can draw upon (those experts training her in all manner of mayhem won't come cheap, either in money or favors), is there any particular reason why a high-level operative such as her wouldn't bother to investigate why the betrayal took place at all?
Second, who are the people smoking cigars while sitting around the table monitoring Jane? Are they her bosses or the ones who inspired the betrayal?
Third, the lucite car mock-up you shared with Mr. X was admittedly a very cool visual, but what was its purpose in the context of the video? (And does it seem like it designed with a right-hand drive?)
Fourth, I understand that the song isn't meant to be "interactive", in the sense that Jane isn't interested in hearing the betrayer's response (given that the lyrics clearly state that the betrayer doesn't care about Jane's feelings), so why is Jane even bothering trying to express her feelings at all?
Finally, the end fight scene is choreographed to set up the audience-expectations for a climactic battle, where all of Jane's new skills are put to the test. So why did the video end with what looks like the beginning of a Three Stooges slap-fest? Is it meant to imply that both Jane and the betrayer are so emotionally distraught that they regress to junior-high-level fighting instincts?

In the end, I found the video to be a visual treat, with Jane building up her rage at the betrayal and channeling it into making herself into an even more dangerous "combat machine", but I felt disappointed by the ending.

Thanks for visiting, and I wish you and yours the very best.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Depression, especially chronic depression, seems to be something that either you understand because you have experienced it, or you cannot understand because your "blue funks" have never lasted more than a day or so.
I am in the first category, and I envy those in the second.
Trying to describe it is mostly an exercise in futility, but here's my latest attempt.
Find a gym with a special kind of track. It's kind of like a fifteen-foot-wide wooden bowl, and the idea is for you to run in circles around it. It's based on the same tricks of physics that let motorcycles ride upside down on the inside of large steel cages, though I've never heard of any human with the leg-strength or stamina to let them pull that off. Anyway, the workout this track provides gets progressively worse the faster you run. As you accelerate, you can run higher up the side of the bowl, but your own inertia pushes you harder against the track. Most models have lines on the sides to tell you how much 'gravity' you're inflicting on yourself, based on how high up the side you are.
Run a few laps, see if you can get up to 2.5 gees, and pay attention to how it feels.
Now stop, stand in the middle of the track, and imagine that you're still feeling that 2.5 gees pulling you down.
Go ahead and fight it. Remember what it felt like to move from 1 gee to 1.5, then to 2, then to 2.5. Try to imagine what it would be like to go faster, to feel even more gravity pulling down on every part of you.
For you fitness buffs, who take that sort of thing as a challenge, you're missing the point. Try imagining those gee-forces pulling on you every waking moment. It's worse than "The Wall" experienced by long-distance runners; that's just your body telling you that it's run out of freely-accessible carbohydrates to burn for fuel, and now it's started to burn through your reserves of stored fat. As I understand the phenomenon, it's possible for runners to train themselves not to react emotionally to it, but there's no way to avoid the discomfort.
Depression is like gee-forces that never give up; your muscles never strengthen enough to stand up to them because they never get the rest they need to repair the damage.
Depression is like the Wall that you cannot burn through, no matter how hard you push.
Depression is a collection of different things that science is only now beginning to understand, and I pray to whatever gods there may be that I live long enough to avail myself of the new treatments just being popularized.
But depression is as patient as the oblivion whose clothing it has borrowed, and as merciless as gravity.
Those of you who have never felt it, count your blessings.
Those of you, my brothers and sisters in suffering, who understand... I pray that you continue to find the drips and crumbs of hope you need each day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Where does the Path begin?

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo: going out your front door. You don't keep your head, there's no telling where you could end up." - Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

I'm impoverished. Not merely for lack of funds, but from a lack of imagination, and of trust in myself. The Romantic ideal holds that all anyone... boy or girl, man or woman... ever need do to find adventure, fame, fortune and a Place In The World, is simple: pack a bag, walk out of one's home, and keep walking.
The riddle should be easily solved on the face of it: nothing worth having can be obtained by remaining within the familiar. Therefore, one must leave as much of it behind as possible in order to find something uniquely one's own. The warnings against the practice work on the metaphorical level, as well: if you don't know what you're doing, you could get lost or hurt or robbed or otherwise come home empty-handed, assuming that there's a home for you when you do come back.

But without risk, without testing one's skills as a way of testing one's resolve and character, what is human life but a series of cages?

Should I divest myself of every material item, save those which I can carry easily (amounting to absolutely no more than, say, forty pounds in all) and Seek My Fortune at random? Or is there some middle ground, perhaps choices unique to me, that may be more effective?

I have previously fantasized about suicide in many different ways. It could even be said that I avoided that end through the simple expedient of an inability to choose from many possible methods. Simply moving until all strength to continue is exhausted seems like an over-extended way of doing exactly that. Ironically, not moving in the sense of remaining precisely within my "rut" of sleep, work, eat, repeat until death, could result in a life very similar.

"If your life were made into a book, would anyone read it?" This sentence frequently sees use as a way to goad the listeners into taking risks or attempting something new. The technique fails to move me because I have no interest in entertaining those who follow with the story of my life; I will, after all, be dead and unable to appreciate their responses, positive or negative or even merely confused. On the other hand, asking if I am satisfied with my life as I have lived it offers very little motivation, either; while the question requires a certain degree of reflection, it does not provoke action, either to continue support for the current pattern or to set up a new one.

The modern phenomenon of a "midlife crisis" usually includes something of a set script, in which the sufferer randomly abandons certain elements or the totality of the previous external existence in hopes of achieving something more satisfying. It can be as minimal as purchasing a motorcycle (as a symbol of "individual freedom" or at least changing previous habits) or as extensive as faking one's own death and beginning an entire new life, complete with a new spouse and possibly children. The Romans believed that the entire body renewed itself every seven years; the Japanese artist commonly known as "Hokusai" held a funeral for his previous self on his birthday and chose a new name and identity for the subsequent year. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a useful answer?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What's so scary about that?

There's a wonderful webcomic based on the protagonist's extremely non-literal search for pieces of his own mind. It's called "Alpha-Flag". One of the more interesting details is that the protagonist's "missing pieces" are all given names based on the phonetic alphabet; his lost self-confidence, his only companion, is called "Charlie".

There is at least one short story that may or may not have anything to do with the main narrative, whose title inspired this post:
Frankly, I've lived so much of my life alone and forgotten, or at least ignored, so the prospect of dying under those conditions doesn't bother me all that much. Have I gotten to this place because I'm so afraid of emotionally investing in other people? Or because I don't know how to find those in whom I can emotionally invest and who will do so to the same degree to me that I do to them?
It's probably got something to do with my poor track-record of self-acceptance. One of my previous therapists gave me a handout, some photocopied pages from a book called "The Principle of Self-Acceptance". In it, the author proposes that true self-acceptance is the absolute foundation for self-esteem and, ultimately, all healthy psychological states. It is defined as "my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself".
I didn't read the handout when my therapist gave it to me, and I probably would have forgotten it if it hadn't somehow drifted to the top of the pile of clutter in my room.
"I cannot be truly for myself, cannot build self-esteem, if I cannot accept myself."
That's the last sentence in the handout. The rest of the handout talks about the need to accept all my thoughts, feelings, desires, actions and dreams as an expression of who and what I am at the time that these things took place.
Which would be fine, except that so many of all these things are simply not acceptABLE. I don't want to accept that I thought about killing myself or someone else. I don't want to accept that I feel like a waste of a life. I don't want to accept that I desire to make the pain stop by either running away from the rest of humanity and (briefly) living alone in the middle of the nearest uninhabitable wasteland. I don't want to accept that my actions form an almost schitzophrenic split between self-preservation and self-destruction. I don't want to accept that my dreams of financial security and emotional fulfillment are beyond my reach.
I judge myself unworthy of continued existence, yet I cannot match the courage of my convictions with actions OR rejection of this self-destructive pattern to make something better of myself.
I am too damaged to be anything more but I am not damaged enough that killing myself quickly is a viable option. So I kill myself slowly, through neglect; I will never make enough money to afford health care, and the mental health care system will not accept me until I am truly destitute... by which time I hope to be sufficiently ill that medical science cannot save me.