Never Name The Thing You Fear

Kage Baker was superstitious, in a personal, individual way. That is, she was superstitious about only a few things, and in only a few ways, that were important to her. Common superstitions didn’t quite cut it for her.

She believed that if she told her dreams before breakfast, they would never come true, Since she also believed that dreams could come true, if properly curated; and so Kage always ate something before she would tell her dreams. Sometimes she ate things she didn’t even like, just because she was eager to tell her dreams to me or the computer.

She believed that evil was drawn by speaking its name. She tried not to actually use the name of any bad thing, therefore, and resorted to a lot of You-Know-Who or You-Know-What. In particular, she believed that it was bad luck to name whatever you most feared. It could be done – in good company, in a strong light, with plenty of rum on hand to cushion your system – but she really preferred not to do do. It called the feared evil to you, she always said.

So. Yestreday, I went on at some point about mania versus depression. I talked about how much fun mania was, how much I dreaded the numbing black cold of depression. And sure enough, today I woke up in a profound depression, and the mere sight of my keyboard was enough to turn my stomach.

This was not acceptable. I drank a lot of coffee, took an extra Prozac, ate half a box of Norfolk Manor Wine Gummies, and sat down resolutely to write. Along the way, I watched Captain Marvel. And behold! My tricks worked, my system rebounded, my neurons re-booted, and I wrote.

It was glorious, Dear Readers. Don’t know if it’s any good, but producing it was wonderful. Here are next 1200 words or so of Misses Take and Treat. Recall, our heroine  had just been welcomed by the gate keeper at the ghoul convent.

I walked deeper into a vast lovely garden; even with the errand I was on, I couldn’t help feeling my spirits rise as we passed the deep beds and increasingly heavy-fruited trees. Bits of cottage walls showed through the trees now, casements open to the misty air, eaves decorated with morning glory, honeysuckle and roses. Bee hives were set up beside most of the cottages; good old-fashioned woven straw bee skeps, that were illegal for commercial use in California now.

But if these ghouls were selling honey, they would be doing so through a whole labyrinth of go-betweens. They probably even had a model apiary set up somewhere, where they could be checked by the Agricultural Board. And of course, a lot of it would just be for their own use. Ghouls loved honey, and had a long tradition of friendly bee-keeping …

I put up my hand as we passed by one of the skeps, and a little mote of fuzzy gold landed on me. I stood stock still while the worker determined I was neither an enemy nor a flower, then flew off straight into a huge tangle of roses.

“You’re used to the little sisters,” said Petek approvingly.

“I’ve always liked helping with the hives,” I said – again, quite truthfully. I’d been unafraid of bees since I could toddle,when one tickly bee could fill my whole baby palm. Petek, I remembered now, meant honeycomb. No wonder she approved. “Do you sell honey here? Hives are so regulated now.”

“No, but we sell honey cakes. A lot goes into those, they’re very popular,” said Petek readily. “The rest we keep for ourselves, and no one ever worries about our production methods. Does your house sell honey?”

“Not any more. But they did.”

I think Petek would have probed further as to my antecedents, but we reached a tiny porch just then, which was obviously our destination. The house beyond was larger than the others I had glimpsed through the trees, and the bright blue front door was flanked by lead-glass casement windows. Petek gestured to a bench beside the porch, inviting me to sit, and went into the house with a desultory knock.

If I had been anyone – anything – else, I knew I would never have gotten this far. I’d have been stopped at the gate, or fobbed off with a meeting with some lower-echalon female in whatever they used as a guest-house here. Outsiders never got to see the deep interior of the convent grounds. They also didn’t get to see the hanim, the convent leader at all, usually; let alone be taken straight to her house. I knew it was only my eyes and my name that had gotten me this far. I had to sell my story, if I wanted to stay awhile.

I had only a few minutes to rehearse it, though, before I heard Petek’s footsteps coming back. The brevity of her report could mean I was a shoo-in. On the other hand, it could mean I was destined for a very brief tour of the compost heap.

Petek opened the house door again, and beckoned me in.

“Hanim Mugae will be pleased to meet you now,” she said, smiling. “Please come in.”

So I walked into a short hallway, floored with flagstones. Petek waved me at once to the left, into a lovely, dim parlour. A large wing back chair stood by the open windows, facing a comfortably lumpy old sofa. The Hanim Mugae – the Lady Lily of the Valley, her name was – stood tall against the silver morning light, waiting for me.

The other reason I wouldn’t have met Hanim Mugae had there been any doubt about my species, was that the head of a ghoul convent was always an elder. And old lady ghouls no longer look as much like human women.

I advanced across the parlour rug – a nice Persian style one in greys and pinks – and bowed deeply to the Hanim. When I straightened and looked up (and up, Hanim Mugae was tall) I stared into a pair of transparent honey eyes, in a long pale face framed with silver braids. Her cheekbones were as broad and sloping as a Neanderthal’s, with hollowed cheeks below; her nose was arched, with wide winged nostrils. There were only a few wrinkles around her eyes and mouth to indicate her age.

But most telling of all, her lower canines projected from the corners of that mouth in two distinct tusks. They sported elegant silver bands.

There were silver bands around her wrists, as well, when she extended her hands to me in welcome. Her hands were like jointed ivory, from those knobby wrists to the pale, carefully manicured talons that tipped her long, bony fingers.

I stepped forward and put both my hands between hers. Her hands were cool and smooth as wood when they closed around mine. Mine were much smaller.

“Welcome, Neith, called Treat,” said Hanim Mugae. Her voice was husky, deep and sweet. “We welcome you to this House. And from which House do you come to us?”

“Hanim, I come from no house any more,” I said, looking up into her eyes. “I have been on the road for many months. My House, which was the House of the Sea Poppy, is closed and lost. I seek shelter where I may.”

There really was a House of the Sea Poppy, which is what the ghouls called the huge white matilija bush poppies of California. It was down south, in the hills to the east of Orange County, in the Cleveland National Forest. I knew it well, and I cried when it was burned out in a wildfire several years ago; it took most of the females who lived there with it. It was no effort to let tears well up in my eyes now, thinking of it.

The various convents know of one another, but they don’t communicate much. Letters, sometimes, carried by the peripatetic males; but nothing more intimate. Ghouls don’t use phones, except to place or get commercial orders with humans. But the grapevine is pretty good, and everyone on it knew that the House of the Sea Poppy had suffered an especially traumatic demise.

“Do you seek formal shelter here, Neith?” asked Hanim Mugae. Her eyes shimmered, silver over cold honey, and tears spilled down her cheeks as well.

“I have little to offer, Hanim, as dowry for a place in your House,” I said. I looked down at the floor.

Hanim Mugae put on long hand under my chin,and lifted my head up to look into my eyes again.

“Have you, Neith, called Treat,” she asked in her sweet husky voice, “known a man or had a child?”

“No, Hanim,” I whispered.

“Then you have all the dowry we would ever ask,” said Hanim Mugae. She bent low over me, and kissed me on the brow.

I was in.

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Hyper- vs. Hypo – vs. It’s All Good!

Kage Baker, like all writers, resented her occasional fits of writer’s block. Never mind that hers were inhumanly brief, especially compared with many other, famous, unfortunate writers.

There are some who spent more time blocked than they did writing, and still could not kick the irresistible urge to keep on trying to write anyway. Samuel Taylor Coleridge bemoaned spending an entire year without writing; Truman Capote spent the last several years of his life, according to one biographer, pretending to write a novel that wasn’t there. Even Stephen King complains of it from time to time. Every writer has their tried and true method of getting past it – and, just like all the cures for hiccoughs and insomnia, none of these methods ever works for anybody else.

You just have to plough through it, somehow. Or not. For every writer, there are dreadful times when every word must be dragged out of some interior morass of bad black mud – and yet, those times are preferable to times when nothing comes at all. At least you’re writing.

I have recently escaped a long horrible stretch of writer’s block. Now I am in the sunny tropical waters of “Oh my God, I must write!” and find myself unable to do much of anything else. I am endangering my computer by keeping a cup of coffee beside it all the time – but I’ve got to have my coffee! It actually seems to slow my racing mind down long enough to get a few thousand words on paper coherently.

Frankly, Dear Readers, I am placing my money on mania as the cause of my current happy state. I have depression; Bipolar Depression II, to be exact, which is normally kept in control by that wonder condiment, Prozac. The problem with the Type II of this disease is that you are far more likely to suffer from depression than from mania. When mania does raise its lovely tousled head from beside yours on the pillow, it is generally less intense than in Type I. It’s called “hypomania” instead of “hypermania”, though it must be watched to make sure it doesn’t slip over the boundary into faerieland and send you racing off with the Wild Hunt …

Which is an inordinate drag, Dear Readers, because you know what? Mania is fun. You get such a lot done! And you enjoy doing it, too. It sounds the way some chemically-incautious friends have described cocaine use to me, except that it’s not as dangerous and no one usually arrests you for doing it.

My mania is, inevitably, slowing down a little now – but definitely not going away completely. I am hoping that it only recedes to a state of calm water, where I can continue the good habits that have been so ridiculously easy to follow this last week or so. If I am lucky, it will not go back down all the way to the Maelstrom and the whirling black depths of despair: which are not fun, and also not productive.

Your kind attention, Dear Readers, is assisting me in keeping to the sweet, heady edge of whatever kind of mania I am presently enjoying. Also, one of the things that notoriously brings on mania is sleep deprivation: which is a fact of life in my household at the moment, so I have great expectations. Seems only just that I should get some good out if it all, you know?

Tonight, Dear Readers, I offer a small bit of the Zombie Story. It was a peculiarly quiet and sleepy day, and I was actually asleep for most of it. I am enjoying the results of sleep deprivation no end right now, but the sleep debt knocks on the door with a warrant when one least expects it, and it’s off to the sleep debtor’s prison one must go …

Anyway, here’s our heroine and the charming Murphy getting and giving some clues. Or are they?

***

Despite all the perfectly justified fears of global warming and water shortages, Middle and East Coast America had been suffering from two completely other weather curses for several years. Winters were ghastly, filled to overflowing with extreme winds, snow storms, and polar vortexes. And then Spring followed with excessive rain, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding absolutely everywhere anywhere near a river. Whole states became lakes with tree tops and roofs sticking out. River boundaries became lines on maps, with no connection to geographic reality.

The CDC had been worried about all that rain: about malaria, Zika, West Nile and nasty things like typhoid fever and cholera. They had been worried for years about emerging diseases from jungles and wilderness, but it never occurred to them that some diseases do not flourish in places without people. Some diseases like cites; some even prefer developed countries to undeveloped ones …

I remember watching the first report speculating on that particular problem. (There were reports speculating on everything in the first few days, up to and including alien invasions of both terrestrial and bug-eyed monsters.) It was the morning of Stephanie Ruhle and the lady with the cat and one red shoe. Not that Stephanie had any theory about the cause of this – bad drugs, especially bath salts and meth, were still high on the list of causes.

But her team had gotten hold of the interesting factoid that Toxoplasma gondii is more prevalent in rich, developed areas than in poor, rural ones, and she was making a big joke about it.

It’s a vaguely funny name. And it can only breed inside a living cat’s gastrointestinal tract, which is also kind of funny. It causes behaviour changes in rodents when it infects them – makes them crave felines instead of fear them; so the rodents go out actually looking for cats, and get eaten, and that’s how T. gondii perpetuates itself. It doesn’t do anything to humans, though. It infects them, all right, with brief flu-like symptoms, but it doesn’t make them love cats. Nonetheless, it’s an amusing idea, and the stuff is sometimes called “Crazy Cat Lady Virus”.

It’s not a virus, though – it’s a protozoan. It lives in cats and dirt and water; and it has been found in clouds and storms. Probably half the people in developed countries like the US carry a form of T. gondii. And which form you carry turned out to effect whether or not you ate the neighbors.

It took a while to figure that out, though. I’m not sure we have it right, even now. We sure don’t have any vaccines or cures – just ways we’ve adapted to the fact that zombies are, yes, real; and that they are an urban problem like flash mobs and traffic jams.

The woman who left Murphy – thankfully alive and apparently uninfected – on my doorstep was not a Crazy Cat Lady. She meant to offer me the cat, I was sure. I was equally sure that – whatever a zombie turned out to be – she was a zombie. But that wasn’t something that Toxoplasma gondii did to people! It had never done anyone but a dazed rat any harm.

Guess what? Turns out I was only partially right about that. All of that.

 

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More Fruit

Kage Baker liked fruit, but not just any fruit. No one likes just any fruit, I suspect – does anyone really like Red or Yellow Delicious Apples? – but Kage really liked exotic stuff. At least, she liked the idea of exotic fruit, and we had some wild searches for things that caught her fancy.

She liked cherimoyas, for instance: a South American fruit that looks like a pangolin curled up in a ball, and tastes like a mixed fruit custard. They grow all over LA and can be found in most stores. She liked coconuts, green and ripe, and devised many interesting ways to get into them, depending on which tools we could find at the time. She liked heirloom apples tremendously; and successfully grew Cox’s Orange Pippins in our Pismo Beach garden. Other exotics she got from the apple stand in Gopher Gulch, up See Canyon Road in Pismo … man, those were great.

She wanted to try jackfruit – which is hilariously huge, looks like a pod from The Body Snatchers and supposedly taste like pulled pork when cooked; but we could never find any in her lifetime. Breadfruit, a jackfruit relative that tastes like – surprise – bread, also intrigued her. But we could never lay hands on that either, alas. She also wanted to try durian – a fruit that looks like a giant sycamore burr, and supposedly smells like rotting flesh. It’s supposed to taste better than that, which I’d think wouldn’t be difficult, but that was one thing I refused to try. I wouldn’t even try to find any so Kage, alone, could try it. She had to be satisfied with written descriptions, and with feeding it to the evil Enforcers at their ultimate, deadly banquet.

Lichees, loquats, kumquats – all available in most markets now, but exotic and rare in our youth. Except that, like the cherimoyas, they are grown all over Los Angeles, for unknown reasons. We were garden robbers in our adolescence, I am afraid; though only so far as we could reach over fences and so much as we could fit in our pockets. Lichees and loquats are sort of bland and boring, but Kage liked them. Me, I adore kumquats: which really do taste even better when clandestinely harvested from a neighbor’s tree …

Which brings us back to grapes! Dear Readers, I have identified Kage’s mystery grape -or rather, Kimberly identified it about an hour after I posted that blog. It’s a Skuppernong! Which is even sillier than the names I made up … Carolyn Gibson identified it as one of the muscats, which Skuppernongs definitely are; she also suggested that the usually round Skuppernongs can be induced to elongate into the lozenge shape Kage remembered, by the application of gibberellic acid, a topical hormone used to accelerate grape growth.

And so the usefulness of research is used once again. Ta da!  Thank you, Kimberly and Carolyn.

And now, a brief excerpt from the Zombie Story. It’s only 2 or 3 pages; it was a rough day. More of something or other tomorrow, Dear Readers. I am on a roll! Thanks to you all for encouraging and indulging me so much.

***

I stayed indoors for days. I told myself I would look for other survivors if the water or power failed, but the utilities continued to come through. I figured there must be crews holed up in every pumping station and power house: those buildings were famous for being ugly little windowless boxes, which are really great places in a zombie apocalypse. We had enough supplies for days, Murphy and me. I pulled the blankets and pillows off my bed into our nest in the living room, and we sat and watched television while I surfed the Web.

The reports online were dreadful, and not only in content. Most were either salvaged footage from remains of zombie feasts – zombies don’t eat phones, obviously – or they were shot by the sort of giggling morons who stage deadly stunts for YouTube. A lot started out as stupid stunts and ended up as leftovers, which Murphy and I agreed was not too surprising.

Reports online were getting most of their new contents from the man-in-the-street-running-for-his-life film. Sometimes that man was their own reporter. More often, it was someone’s surviving family turning over their footage for a price. What they thought they were going to spend it on was beyond me. One thing that the footage made clear was that most of the United States was in a state of terrified siege; and if you lived in a city, it was much worse. You were a lot likelier to be a brief obituary in found film.

The Federal government was mostly silent for the early bits. The official story, put out by whatever was left of the military (and that was mostly the Coast Guard, God help us) was that the President was safe under Cheyenne Mountain, but rendered incommunicado by the destruction of the phone lines. Maybe zombies chewed on them, the way squirrels do … but all the footage out of D.C. showed smoking ruins all around the National Mall, and a slow, seething, crowd wandering aimlessly between what was left of the White House and the Capitol Building.

The Lincoln Memorial, oddly, was unscathed. Full of zombies, but they were slow and quiet. The memory of Lincoln was apparently undead-proof.

Cities were in the worst shape – well, that’s where most of the humans are, right? But all the amateur film made it clear that smaller towns, villages, hamlets and highway rest stops were also eating themselves out of house, home and neighbors. They just weren’t making as much of a fuss about it. Fewer of them actually burned, for instance.

Miami was apparently over-run in about a week. That was the only complete city-wide infestation, though; in retrospect, it was clear that the zombie infection must have been burning slowly in Florida for years. Everywhere else, the apocalypse tended to be siege situations in specific neighborhoods. Gated communities were safer, unless zombies surfaced inside the walls – then, they became abattoirs. But since the zombies couldn’t get out easily, either, the neighborhoods next door stayed safe. It was a weird, patchwork effect.

FEMA was useless from the beginning. It didn’t help that their upper echelon was almost immediately eaten. It probably didn’t hurt, either, but they still had no recourse against zombies. They couldn’t come up with a way to shelter people; and unless the storms had already washed away your house, zombies certainly didn’t, and FEMA didn’t seem to know what to do except with the aftermath of a flood … A lot of zombies kept living in their own houses, in fact. Others ate the FEMA teams delivering useless trailers, and then lived in the trailers.

This wasn’t a city-leveling disaster, and you never knew when a quiet street or office building might be harboring zombies. Hell, you couldn’t tell sometimes until the UPS man took a bite out of you – they all looked pretty normal at first. After a while, they began to look sort of … withered is the best word, as well as ragged and dirty; but they didn’t shamble or moan. Your neighbor might look like he’d just had a hard weekend at first, and be talking about the weather right before he bit your nose off …

This created problems for the police, the National Guard, and the Army, too. Which disheveled citizens do you shoot? It gradually turned out that the quieter ones were probably the zombies, but it wasn’t always a truism – a lot of people got shot because they obediently held their hands up and tried to obey orders, and then were shot for being too calm. And what happened then … well, gamers have an old joke about “Eat the dead!” It didn’t stay a joke for long.

They say – the ubiquitous they – that no major city is more than a week away from starving to death. Turns out they aren’t more than a 3-day weekend from collapsing into chaos when there is too much to eat. If it’s the wrong thing to eat, anyway.

Skuppernongs!

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Stained Glass

Kage Baker loved coloured glass.

I think she saw it as a combination of fire and candy – safe to pick up and handle, inedible so you never used it up, beautiful and rare. She was especially fond of marbles in what she called sea-colours: blue, green, lavender, silver. She kept jars of them where the sun could shine through them, and I think the sensory effect was a tactile one; the light through the coloured glass was a clear touch on her skin.

Kage always appreciated an apt use of synesthesia.

In her mother’s house, Kage and Anne both lobbied for (and installed) stained glass here and there, to wonderful effect. There was a weird little dove grey and mauve window set in the wall above where Kage’s bed had been before she moved up into the Tower. Kage designed it, though she said the glassmaker got the design wrong; she loved it, though. The door at the end of the upstairs hall was made of Mondrian-style panels of red, blue and amber glass, and the afternoon light through it painted the floor with lozenges of colour.

I don’t know what happened to either of those pieces. They were wonderful, and I have no idea what was done with them. The house has been torn down for years now, and fancy townhouses stand on the site. I don’t think they have any stained glass, except the sunlight shining red through the remaining eucalyptus trees.

In our many little houses, Kage hung stained glass panels in the plain clear windows: a road winding dark through sea hills, flowering branches, prisms and globes and medallions. Rainbows bloomed all over the house, at all hours, as the sun found the various ornaments. When she didn’t hang special panels, Kage lined up coloured vases and glasses, and marmalade jars filled with bits of sea-glass harvested off the beach. She segregated them by hue – blues and greens were pretty common, red and purple much rarer. But there was a lot of all of it, because Kage never stopped hunting for the glass.

That’s been on my mind all day – the play of light through the coloured glass, the swathes of ruby and amethyst and emerald, the rainbows that filled our rooms. Kage sat there, all the colours of heaven playing over her, and wrote all of them into whatever story was also pouring through her. If she could have written in colours, she would have – and then no one would have understood her stories except for chromatophore-using cephalopods from Space …

Luckily, she wrote in words. We can all be grateful for that, Dear Readers.

And in the merry meantime, for your amusement, here is what I have been writing.

When last seen, our heroine was discovering that Fox 11 in Los Angeles is playing a marathon of zombie movies: topical, if in bad taste. So here’s the next 1900 words/3 pages or so of the Zombie Story:

 

Reports of lights in the sky and weird rains were still being pulled out of the archives on CNN, apparently to give the live anchors time to wash, eat, shave and hit the bathroom. No one seemed inspired to run for home. There were no live reports from the Man In The Street, not from Atlanta or New York.

Strangely, coloured rain really was falling all over the place, around then. It had been all Spring. Red, green, blue; featuring snakes, frogs, starlings, giant hailstones and mysterious bits of plastic confetti. It eventually turned out that the rains of ‘blood’ in India (as well as Los Angeles and Miami and St Louis, to mention a few) were not responsible for the zombies rising; despite what Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe kept speculating.

But they were a subtle clue. Our problems were in the clouds, and blowing in the wind.

***

I hadn’t been awfully worried about all that freaky rain; not when it originally happened. It was all East of the Rockies. I live in Los Angeles – what worried me were brush fires, gas prices and decreasing tourism. I was amazed, though, that were so many reports over the last few months – CNN just kept finding them. I mean, I was aghast and amazed at the videos, but it had just not registered that it was so widespread.

But going through their archives – probably a make-work assignment to keep someone from hysteria – yielded some strange correlations. CNN began building a sort of time line of weirdness as that second morning wore on. Murphy and I watched it all.

The first reports of whole neighborhoods going nuts and eating people had been pretty much lost in the shuffle. After all, this was America! Reports of door-to-door salesmen and pollsters getting attacked and gnawed on by housewives were initially treated as jokes – they sort of expected African insurgents to go old-school and use cannibalism as a form of terrorism, but not in the US suburbs.

The first really seriously reported incident, in the CNN retrospective, was about a month old; from a nice neighborhood near Eden Isle in St. Tammany Parish, in Louisiana. Some poor guy went to his Home Owners Association meeting to complain about a notice criticizing his shrub selections, and they attacked and ate him. It was discovered when the dazed, blood-stained HOA members started wandering around the neighborhood, knocking on doors to admonish residents for unmowed lawns, and then devouring them. The residents, not the lawns.

It was blamed, just like the Florida incidents, on drugs. But with the entire HOA board in jail and under observation, there were other changes noticeable. These people seemed actually sick. They had low fevers; and the ones who still talked said their joints hurt. They were dazed and generally unresponsive. They were seldom wildly violent, and even sometimes lucid: they just had an uncontrollable appetite for living flesh. It didn’t have to be human – a few dogs and cats were consumed in the HOA’s ramble – but humans mostly meet other humans during the course of their day, so it was mostly humans who got eaten.

It took barely half that second day before anyone left broadcasting was calling them the “HOA zombies”.

The late night hosts were mostly still around the first night – I think the Apocalypse may have begun on the East Coast in the wee hours, and none of them had left their studios. I don’t know how Stephen Colbert managed, in the Ed Sullivan Theater; or what any of them did about audiences. But nobody got eaten live on television.

I do remember Jimmy Fallon that first evening – when it was still kind of horribly funny if you hadn’t been out on the streets – saying he was surprised they’d turned out to be zombies, as he would have expected HOA people to be vampires. But he got jumped and eaten outside the NBC studios the second week, so … anyway, within a week of the HOA attack, there were reports coming in from all the Gulf states, most of the East Coast cities, and they were beginning to surface in every big river or lakeside city in the Midwest.

Nobody connected them all until that morning when LA went critical. So what I – and whoever else was hiding at home with their telly saw – was a hastily assembled montage of recent reports, and the real violence that had commenced that morning in August.

***

Noon of the second day, and the streets up above Highland Avenue were quiet and empty. I hadn’t noticed anyone on the street since the anonymous walker had fallen down last night. As far as I could tell, all of the cars that had parked last night, when their owners had scurried indoors, were still there. None of my neighbors had evidently left for work – I didn’t blame them; I’d be unwilling to chance being jumped, or not being able to make it home again if I left. I guess people just called in undead …

Armed with coffee and Fig Newtons, with mackerel for Murphy, I sat by the front window and watched the street for a couple of hours. The sun came out and the day got warm. I kept the drapes drawn, just watching through the slit where they met and gave me an archer’s view of the intersection below my house. Now and again I’d sneak a wider peek up the street or down: nothing moved but the wind in the branches of the trees.

The television continued to mutter alarmingly beside me. I kept the sound down to prevent – well, zombies, I guess – from hearing sounds of life in my house, Which was a good thing, when the civil defense alarm began a subdued shrieking from the telly. If I’d had the sound up, I would have died of fright, whether or not a passing zombie heard it. As it was, Murphy yowled, leaped straight up into the air, and then ran back under his chair.

On the screen, the CNN newsroom gave way to a black screen with a continuous crawl. It was obviously being broadcast from somewhere in Los Angeles – the old missile site up on Mount Hollywood? The Army Base in Burbank? Universal Studios? I couldn’t tell and there was no live announcer. Instead, the crawl just advised that there was a dusk to dawn curfew throughout the L.A. Basin, and martial law had been declared. All law enforcement personnel should report to their places of employment. All civilians were advised to stay indoors and do what the authorities told them to do. Stay safe, and please do not loot.

“I assume this is if we can even find any authorities,” I said to Murphy. He meowed faintly and came crawling out from under the chair again. I think he was considering giving up life as a quadruped as a bad deal.

I sympathized, but … I really wanted to know a little of what was happening in my own neighborhood. I didn’t want to go knocking on doors – it felt like a great way to get shot by a terrified homeowner – but I was sure some of the houses around me were empty. And I wanted to assess what was in them, and see if it would be happier in my house instead. The Civil Defense had reminded me that this was probably the best possible time for a little discreet looting.

“We’re gonna go looting, Murphy. Well – I am. I somehow don’t think you’d be a lot of help in hauling things home, little guy like you … “ I chattered to him as I got dressed in something suitable for looting; he followed me anxiously into my bedroom, stropping my ankles and looking up at me. “You’re good company, Murph, but why aren’t you a nice ferocious Rottweiler? That could pull a cart? If I had a cart …”

Long sleeved t-shirt, and a photographer’s vest with a million handy pockets, yeah. Jeans I could run in; hiking boots ditto. I remembered the cat lady jumping the mailman and shuddered – I wound a muffler around my throat and tied in it place. A watch cap and a kerchief over my lower face and fingerless driving gloves, so as little bare skin was exposed as possible to zombie bites.

I went out through my kitchen into my garage, collecting my garage door opener and half a dozen cloth shopping bags along the way. When I began to open the door, Murphy promptly vanished back into the living room. I guess he was going to hole up until and if I returned. I’m not sure that cat ever intended to go outside again.

I dithered about locking the door behind me. What if I came back at a run, pursued by zombies? Well, this door did go right into the garage: I could lock it behind me, then close the garage door when I ran in and have enough time to get the door open and locked again behind me. Or so I figured.

I took my machete from my gardening bench. It was the closest thing I had to a weapon. With the bags over my shoulder and the machete in one hand, I carefully hit the garage door button until the door slid up a bare yard or so. Thank God it didn’t squeal! The creak it did make sounded like the Trump of Doom to me.

So I lay on the garage floor for awhile, just staring out at the hot white street. Bougainvillea petals were drifted up against the line where the door had met the ground, paper thin and bleached hot pink, smelling of dust and incense. It was so quiet out there that I could hear a mockingbird and jay screaming at one another up the hill.

The guys next door were my chosen victims – I was pretty sure they had not come home last night, and I made it out of my garage, around the corner of my back wall and into their tiny back yard in maybe 15 seconds. I shut my garage door from behind their wall, and crept up on the French doors into their dining room.

There was no security keypad by the door, or stickers in the windows, which was good – there was still power, after all, though I was willing to bet that no no one going to answer a silent alarm even if I tripped it. Anyway, I was prepared to break the glass if I had to, or to lift the latch with the edge of my machete: but to my appalled amazement, the door handle turned and the doors opened at once.

Oh, jeeze, the doors were open! This did not thrill me. Who knew what was in there? On the other hand, I had not heard anything from over here in more than 24 hours, and the house stretched dark and silent in front of me now. So I tiptoed in. I was so frightened, my ears were ringing and there was a good chance that if a zombie had jumped out at me, I would have just puked on it and fainted.

But no one was home, nothing at all lived in the dark rooms except me. Not that I explored – I made sure the blinds were down in the living room, and made for the kitchen. In the hallway leading to it, I found their answering machine – blinking red in the gloom, with the message number reading 8. Obviously, no one had been home for some time.

I searched their fridge and shelves as quickly as I could. It took very little time to fill my bags with can and boxes of easy-to-store goods; I reserved one bag for things from their freezer, and what produce they had. There was more than I could get in one trip, even filling my bags full. But I had a good idea I could come back and find it just the same as now – empty, silent, the phone blinking scarlet.

When I had as much as I figured I could carry next door (Some practical looter I was. Not.), I went to check out the front window. They had fancy blinds, so I peeked round the edges rather than raise them and signal the houses across the street.

Their steps up from the street were open and exposed, but there was a little enclosed patio below their porch as well. The gate was open to the street. I could see down into it. It was painted thickly with drying blood. And there was – an arm. And a leg. Most of a leg.

My head was spinning, with a loud high hum which was all I could hear. I was frozen, which was very lucky indeed: if I’d fallen down right then, I would have pulled the blinds down with me and made it obvious to anyone with half a brain that someone was in here.

Do zombies still half a brain? Of their own, I mean? I was never sure how intelligent the infected were, but it never seemed as though they had many smarts once they turned. And they certainly only got worse as time went on. But if I’d fallen down instead of going tharn like a rabbit from Watership Down, I’d have been sighted for sure. Because, brains or not, there were two zombies in a yard across the street, and they sure as hell had eyes.

Also hands, and teeth. They were eating what was probably the rest of whomever’s limbs were on the patio below me. The pretty little Spanish style house they were crouched in front of had its door standing open, and a dark stain that was probably not mud puddled over the low steps.

I really have no idea how long they enjoyed their lunch down there in the shade of a loquat tree. The shadows had time to change, as the sun began to pour down the street from the west. Their shadows stretched out black behind them as they finally left the garden and walked unsteadily – and thank you, all you gods and goddesses of the silver screen! – west, up the rising street and out of sight.

As soon as I could no longer see them, I fled. I was hung all about with tote bags, but I think I was counting on the purloined rice, coffee and frozen peas to act as armour if I was attacked. Machete in hand, I scurried back out and around the corner of my wall, and under my rising garage door: I had it creaking down again as soon as I was under it, nearly braining myself in the process.

I slammed through the door into the kitchen, dropping all my bags and myself in a heap on the floor. I scrabbled up far enough to lock the door, and then sat on the floor sobbing – as silently as I could – until Murphy soft-footed in to climb on me, purring in relief at my return.

“Beginner’s luck, Murphy,” I whispered, crying into his soft little head. “Beginner’s luck is all that saved me. I suck at looting. Good thing you stayed home.”

***

We stayed in the house for 5 days after that. Things got weirder, and wilder, and noisier. We watched it all, Murphy and me, through the darkened front windows and the magic screen of the television. I finally recovered enough of my wits to try my laptop, and lo! The power stayed on and whatever had knocked out the cell phones didn’t effect my modem or the servers. I got an even better, closer view of what I didn’t want to see but did not dare not watch,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fruit Season

Kage Baker loved summer fruit. Plums were her favourite, Santa Rosa plums, but she also loved the huge big golden peaches that come into season in June. She claimed to be indifferent to grapes, but she would sit beside a bowl of Red Flame or Concord and eat them with the reflexive enjoyment of a cinephile with a box of popcorn.

Various East Coast friends have informed me that Concord grapes are junk, fit only for Welch’s juice boxes. But they were the grapes that grew in Kage’s mother’s enormous garden, and she loved them. She would go into an absolute frenzy over some grape she could never find or identify, that she had eaten once in childhood. A bunch had been sent from her mother’s family in North Carolina, I think – the Jeffreys still run a seed company out of Goldsboro there.

Kage described the grapes as translucent amber, long, somewhat rectangular, tasting strongly of honey: with her eyes unfocused in ecstasy, usually, as she recalled the wonder of them. She thought at one point they might be Catawba, but looking up pictures on the Internet makes it obvious they weren’t. Catawbas are conspicuously spherical, a lovely bright burgundy in colour, with an opaque bloom on them. Kage sought those damned grapes from childhood on, and never found out what they were; I searched frantically in her last year, but could never locate them for her either. They had some typically peculiar Eastern Seaboard name – Nangpoolie? Finsprocket? Cawlahippick? If anyone can figure it out, do let me know – I still grieve over not finding them for Kage.

Anyway, cogitating on summer fruit and comfortably disheveled gardens led me into working on The Misses Take and Trick. I finally figured out what the title meant.  Therefore, before any of you, Dear Readers, join my historically futile quest for the Great Unknown Amber Grape, here is another few page of the ghoul story.

It picks up just as our PI  heroine sights the walls of her goal. Oh, and I corrected the name of the convent slightly: I’m not good at plurals in Turkish …

***

The path I was following left the trees and sort of dribbled out in a fan of loose gravel on the edges of a broad, wild lawn. It was a lawn only in that it had been mowed short and was presently green. In another month it would be arid gold. Right now it was a bowl of mixed greens – wild radish, miners lettuce, mustard; fescue, rye and California bunch grass growing in rough lumpy circles like squashed cupcake wrappers.

On the other side of the meadow, walls rose at least 8 feet tall and swept across about 40 feet before curving back into the trees. They looked to be rough stone, plastered heavily and painted white. I could see red tile and grey shake roofs rising beyond the walls – no other features here where it fronted the access road, except for a small wooden door set into a recess. Bougainvillea dripped thinly over the uneven top of the wall, scarlet and orange and wine-coloured, glowing in the thin grey light.

It was typical ghoul architecture, really. It was also pretty typical California architecture, of the sort built on the edges of things by amateurs before the housing code really caught on. The gardens would be further back, further in. Tops of fruit trees were just barely visible off where the walls curved out of sight. The combination of the two styles always made me giggle a little inside, and spoke clearly to me of childhood – both before and after Mom had kidnapped us back to human society. I lived in a lot of places that looked like this.

There was another sign for the Rahibeler Organization beside the wooden door, a nice little plaque of silvered wood, carved with elegant floral motifs. verdigrised bronze bell hung beside the door, with molded oak leaves and morning glory blossoms – it was a nice one;I had one like it at my house in Hollywood. I got it from the Signals catalog. Recalling the mail box out on Highway 1, I guessed the ghouls had, too.

I grabbed the rope hanging from the bell, and rang it repeatedly. Yep, same sound.

I could hear soft footsteps approach, then the door swung inward. A female ghoul stood in the short tunnel that ran through the wall to hold the gate, looking at me in mild inquiry.

“I’m sorry, are you lost? We don’t usually have – ” she started to say. Then she stopped abruptly, and we stared at one another for a moment.

She was tall, and slender in the way that Western writers like to call “raw boned”. Her skin was pale and smooth, though; ghouls were always nearly hairless. She had a permanent flush of sunburn on her sharp cheekbones, and her long hands were big-knuckled and rough. Her hair was a pretty silver-gilt mix, though, bound back in a complicated wreath of braids that was incongruous above the jeans and plaid shirt she was wearing.

Her eyes, now, her eyes I knew. Crystal pale and warm, like stream water over golden granite. I had taken out my coloured contact lenses before I started hiking up from Highway I, and I knew she was seeing the same eyes in my round human face.

“I am named Petek,” she said. “What is your name? And what did your mother call you?”

“My name is Neith. But my mother called me Treat,” I answered her.

Call and response, as formal and as cryptic as a secret handshake. If I wasn’t a homecoming orphan, I’d just have thought it was a weird way of asking me my business. But those names are traditional among the children born of the

kidnapped human girls the ghouls steal away; the girls born of human women in the convents of ghouls.

The girls who never, ever leave; or if they do, they never, ever come back. My mother left – but I came back. That was my secret weapon.

***

Memories just about drowned me as we walked through the convent gardens, where the air filled with the perfumes of grass, flowers and fruit blossoms. I couldn’t help drawing in deep breaths of the scents in the morning mist, and I could see Petek smiling as she caught me at it. Her teeth were jagged, especially the canines.

“Sweet air, isn’t it?” she said.

“It smells like home,” I said truthfully.

She nodded, but didn’t ask me anything else about my origins. As far as she was concerned, she already knew everything about me that mattered.

***

A brief digression is needed here, about the culture and physiology of ghouls. As I said, they live in gendered isolation. The females, who are many, live in groups. The males, who are few, live alone in wilderness areas. They are usually loosely attached to certain convents, which they supply with meat – when requested. And with sperm – also when requested.

The females are mostly vegetarian, growing what they need and patronizing farmers’ markets. They earn money with a variety of hand-crafted objects: jams, yarns, herbs, jewelry. They can usually pass for human, but these days they conduct a lot of their commerce online – Amazon sells everything to anyone, and the USPS isn’t kidding when they claim they will deliver no matter what.

The males are largely carnivorous. The females supply them with preserved fruit and vegetables, and with bread: bread is worth it’s weight in the precious metal of your choice, to a ghoul. I don’t know why, although it is really good bread … The males can most definitely not pass for human – too tall, too craggy, too stooped. They have the long arms and corpse-pale skin of the stories, and their canine teeth project beyond their lips. But their eyes are the same as the females, crystalline and bright.

They only bring meat to the convents at ritual times, for mating; human meat, maybe once or twice a year. There are females who have never even tasted human flesh.

And here’s the pivotal matter of ghoul reproduction; when the males breed with their own females, the babies are overwhelmingly male. This must have been fine, once upon a time: but now, too many males can no longer hide from the humans, who are everywhere – so they have to practice birth control. This is easy for them, because female ghouls who have never copulated with a male can conceive parthenogenetically.

That’s right, virgin birth; but the result, as with most animals who can pull off this difficult trick, is always female. Babies on demand, only when wanted, who can be slotted right into the convent culture. The males born of sexual reproduction are rare, because the act is seldom practiced; they are raised and educated to about 6 years old, and then handed over to their fathers. They may never see their mothers again. But the convents go on, full of healthy, happy mothers and babies.

The big problem, of course, is biodiversity. Those little girls born to virgin females are essentially fertile clones of their mothers. Fresh blood is needed, new lines of descent, once every thirty years or so. The ghoul who figured out the answer is revered by all ghouls, male and female, as Malike Valide – the Queen Mother.

And here is the answer. If a human female breeds with a male ghoul, she too may have either a girl or a boy; but usually a girl. That girl, who is a hybrid, will be able to reproduce parthenogenetically, just like a full-bred ghoul. But she will pass on entirely new genes to her children, which will be expressed no matter how they in turn reproduce. She will found a new blood line. And the gene pool is periodically refreshed.

So ghouls steal little girls, whom they raise lovingly in their own culture. Ultimately they breed them to male ghouls, until at least one baby girl results. And everyone lives happily ever after. Unless, and sometimes it is a huge “unless”, the stolen girl remembers or discovers her human origins and doesn’t want to breed with a male ghoul.

I don’t how my mother discovered her own roots. But I know she found the process by which I was produced … unpleasant. I was her third pregnancy, and the previous two had been boys. She always said she had loved them. They were both given away when they were 6 years old. So, when I reached that magic age, she took me and ran.

So, yeah, I’m half ghoul. The convent where I was born named me “Neith”, which is the name for an Egyptian mother goddess. But my mother never called me “Treat”, though it’s the traditional baby nickname for girls like me. She called me “Trick”, for her bitterness at the circumstances of my birth.

I have my father’s eyes. I know the answers to the secret questions. I have no really bad memories of my life before I was 6, and no really happy ones afterward. But I was going to save Bree Millard from from my unhappy mother’s fate.

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Who Really Likes Mondays? I Mean, Really?

Kage Baker loathed Mondays. Of course she did.

Most people do, at least some of the time. A lot of it, once we began to expand our vices beyond the candy store and the cookie jar, is suffering the after-effects of weekends spent in careless debauchery. Monday is when all the birds come home to roost, and promptly shit down your neck.

Kage adored weekends and days off and long, summer vacations – all those sacred times when she could completely forget what day it even was, and scull her way down the sunlight stream of narrative eternally. Mondays were a definite spanner in the works, and she detested them. She had the usual run-ins with alcohol poisoning that everyone does in their 20’s and 30’s; but Kage’s determination was such that she could drive her self on even through the green heaves to write.

Kimberly and I have pretty much passed our days of whine and roses, and Michael is a teetotaler (I sometimes wonder how he is related to me, I really do.) However, we are now deep in the new routines of home hospice care, and so Mondays have developed fresh ghastly miens and habits to terrify us. The worst of these are the home hospice care visitors.

The point of hospice care is that the terminal patient can go home and be comfy in familiar surroundings. This is especially important for Ray, who has a deep and abiding hatred of hospitals. And we want some help, we really do – mostly so a real nurse or doctor can make sure we aren’t missing something vital. What we do NOT want is for each and every Monday to be a day we have to clean up the house to an absurd degree – Kimberly is the sort of person who would consider it perfectly logical to vacuum before the maid comes in – and have guests.

So far, our tally is two different nurses (one for intake, one for regular checkups), and a very annoying social worker. Why we need a social worker, we cannot tell; although the excessively religious specimen we got has informed us that HE is the most important member of the team … he is wrong, the little plague marmot, he is wrong!

The most important member of this “team” is its Captain. And that is Ray. All others’ needs must come second to his. Anyone who pushes us on this is going to find that the KB sisters are descended from the Furies.

Well. Enough of that. Despite it’s being Monday, and me being critically short on sleep, and forced to be altogether too tidy and polite today – I also managed to write. Here, Dear Readers, are the next 4 pages of the Zombie Story. As you may recall, our heroine is cowering in her kitchen while a clumsy neighbor is falling down in the street.

 

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” he yelled up at the sky, waving his arms.

I was sure that meant he wasn’t a zombie. Almost sure. But I just couldn’t bring myself to stand up, or call to him. The cat lady had talked, too. The UPS guy had been driving around and leaving packages! And what if he was just not yet – turned, or whatever it took before you starting biting people?

On the other hand, what if he was all right and I let him walk off and get eaten?

It was more than I could process, I was too terrified to make a decision. I knelt there frozen while he got up, still cursing, and loped off down the street. Then I sat and cried for a half hour, as silently as I could, while the cat stropped himself against my legs and purred. Even the purring sounded unhappy.

Finally we went back in the living room, Murphy and I, and sat down to watch more of whatever news we could find.

Thank God for cable, man. Up in the Hollywood Hills, you just hadn’t gotten television much at all before the cables went in anyway; now I could get news from the whole damn world – except from LA. There’s an irony for you – I was watching CNN and BBC in my darkened living room, there in the heart of the film industry; but nothing local was even being relayed out. It gave the East Coast a great scary topic for a while, on top of all the others: what was happening to Los Angeles?

Bad things. Bad, bad noises, worse than any real riot I had ever heard, and I’ve lived here all my life. The sounds of the city never stopped, though they were … weird. A lot more sirens, and lot more gunshots, and, in the early hours of the evening, a lot of distant screaming. At first there were a lot of helicopters, too, but those stopped pretty early on. I never found out why, if the ground crews were eaten or it was just considered pointless or what; but not hearing choppers overhead was scarier than the ruckus they usually made.

The news from anywhere but where I was continued patchy and weird. It was obvious that something was going on in several large American cities, and as the evening wore on, reports began surfacing from small towns all over the Midwest and the South. At CNN, they still clung pretty hard to the terrorism idea for some hours; but the idea of a plague of some sort was slowly growing. They were clearly bringing anyone who was expert in anything and was still hanging around the studios – and it also seem pretty clear that no one was willing to leave those sanctuaries in Atlanta and New York.

So it was one their own resident meteorologists who was shoved out in front of the green screen around 1 AM, to point out that the afflicted areas had all been victims of really wet weather that year. No one knew whether or not it meant anything, but it was a fact, you know? A more normal fact than all that footage of stock brokers eating tourists in Chattanooga. Being CNN, they spent the next few hours assembling more and more fun weather facts and interviewing one another about them. A lot of the fun facts lent weight to the disease idea.

Weird weather stories were always popular in the news; and in the 2000’s, most of the US had begun to drown in the rains. Climate change, ocean and atmospheric currents altering, government weather machines, the wrath of God – a popular theory until fundy ministers’ houses started getting blown away, too – all sorts of suggestions had been made, but “why?” was not the question. The question was “What’s going to happen next, with the Midwest and the Gulf coast under water half the year?”

Zombies hadn’t been mentioned. But there were acres-wide spiderwebs in Texas, blamed on the spiders escaping flooding. There were new and exciting molds and fungus outbreaks all over the Heartland, and the usual half-informed history students eating ergot in search of free LSD. Florida, of course, was just a mess. It was a strange, humid summer even in Los Angeles, and weird stories are the backbone of human interest segments. The stories had gotten stranger and funnier all summer – but now, tonight, suddenly, they were coming in from all over the Gulf and Midwest, and they weren’t nearly as funny. People were getting hurt. And dead.

And the Los Angeles stations were down. Even the most extremely local station, Channel 5 down on Sunset, was showing an Indian head penny test pattern they must have had to pull out of the archives.

Nobody said anything about zombie plague, at first, although there were a few thin, pallid jokes in the beginning. The terrorist idea lasted well past midnight. By the time CNN was interviewing their own weathermen, though, a few of the wilder-eyed staff were beginning to say, “Yeah, but what if?”

About the closest they got to saying anything out loud was the growing theory of a plague making people crazy. By that time, I had fetched pillows and blankets into the living room, and made a nest for Murphy and me between the shelter of the couch and the coffee table – it wasn’t as soft as the couch itself, but we felt safer down there on the floor.

It was dark, the blankets and the cat were warm, the city was silent and the voices on the television were almost whispers. And I fell asleep.

I think I woke up because it was so silent. Los Angeles is not a quiet city; the sound of traffic penetrates everywhere, like the sound of the ocean in a more normal city. What woke me, I’m sure, was the quiet – so deep and thick I was dreaming the house had been tented, like for termites, and I was terrified the poison gas would start pumping in. All that happened was I sat up fast enough to hit my head on the table, and launch a startled Murphy into the air.

The CD player claimed it was 5:37 AM, and there was a hint of grey light down the hall from the kitchen. The television was still on. Wolf Blitzer had lost his tie and looked unshaven even through a full beard: things were not going well at CNN.

CNN was now running banners headed “Zombie Apocalypse?”. It was almost business as usual. It just showed names of cities and numbers. Estimates of people – killed? Eaten? Out of communication? I couldn’t tell. But it looked like CNN had given up on trying to identify why the attacks were happening, and was just telling people where they were. I watched it round until I saw LA; oh, goodie, someone had noticed something was wrong out here. Our listed number of whatever was 13,000 … who the hell, I wondered, had compiled the figures. And how had they gotten them to CNN? The phones still didn’t work.

Murphy glared at me and went pointedly back to sleep. When I got up and tottered off to the bathroom, though, he was right there behind me, not even pretending a normal feline indifference. That was one traumatized kitty.

I was another one. I went as silently as I could from window to window, checking all the sides of the house – no movement anywhere, no bodies in the streets, no slumped shadows in the parked cars. No helicopters, or traffic; just the muffling fog pressing down on the tops of the hills, and the reflected light going greyer as the sky lightened above it.

I collected my phone, more tuna and water and retreated to the blankets by the couch. Murphy, at least, was interested in the chow; I just sat there, pointlessly trying emergency numbers on my phone again.

“We need a routine, Murphy,” I told him. “Something so we can keep it together, make plans. We can ride this out. Whatever it is.”

Murphy looked up briefly, expressing quite clearly that continued tuna, water and blankets – and no more crazy cat ladies – were all the routine he wanted. As far as that went, I was in complete agreement. But I was the one with thumbs, so it was up to me to plan for the eventual future.

Calling 911 got me a recording now, advising me that all circuits were busy and repeated the order for civilians in certain areas to shelter in place. The areas listed were basically the entire Basin, and most of the Foothill communities; in fact, the recording specifically warned folks away from the Downtown area due to the possibility of “uncontrolled mobs”. In case of utter life-threatening emergency, I was advised to seek shelter at a police station or medical facility. And they invited me to leave my phone number; which I did, just to leave a clue that I was not a zombie.

I wondered what happened to the folks who went running up to police stations in the throes of an emergency? That sounded like a life-threatening situation in itself to me.

No answer at the nearest hospital or police station, though, not by phone. Personal calls couldn’t go through. Out of state calls got me the “All circuits are busy” recording. Rarely, a call would produce an endless ringing – but as no one ever answered, I was confident the system was down. There had always been rumours that, in the event of a city-wide disaster, City Hall could shut down all the personal phones; lock down the towers for emergency communication only. If they were doing that, they were not yet bothering to talk to the public.

Okay. Next thing to try, see if anything local was broadcasting yet.

And a couple stations were! That was heartening, even if one of them (Channel 11, the Fox affiliate. Which seemed apt, somehow.) was running a marathon of – yes, zombie movies. It was the closest the local news got to being current and topical; everything else was either still static and flags in slow motion, or feeds from the East Coast.

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Father’s Day

Kage Baker adored her father. He deserved it, too George Baker was an extraordinary man. I was privileged to know him for most of my life, even though he did tell me once that eating black licorice would surely kill me … but Dads are prone to saying things like that, about their kids’ (or foster kids’) compulsive behaviours. They think it’s funny.

My own father, whom I nonetheless loved dearly, told me much worse things. I’m still sorting out which ones were true and which ones were productions of his vast, eclectic knowledge, and his very loose connection to reality. Daddy believed everything he said, when he said it. Once he said it, he seemed to have felt that the truth of any matter was on its own and could thereafter fend for itself. Small wonder I ended up living with, and then becoming, a writer. It’s only a wonder that I ended up able to tell fact from fiction at all.

Though, actually, I can’t really be certain just how tight my own connection to reality is. I’ve been an historical re-enactor since age 20; not only spending days on end in other times and countries, but imbibing an awful lot of alcohol while I did it. And I’ve been reading science fiction since I was 6 years old.

At age 7, I  woke my Da up in the middle of the night to tell him I could see the moon rotating – which I feared must foretell the end of the world, since the Moon is in a tidal orbit, always showing the same face to the Earth. It is typical of Daddy that he did not tell me I was nuts and to go back to sleep – he entertained the idea long enough to get out the binoculars and carry me out into the yard, where he showed me that what I had taken for a changing moonscape was actually thin clouds obscuring the Moon as they passed in front of it.

As a teenager, I convinced Kage that possums were New World animals and opossums were Old World animals. When ATM cards were brand spanking new (I am old, Dear Readers) I convinced a bank clerk that an ATM card was a check cashing card: their branch had no ATMs yet, but I was 300 miles from home and needed money … and it was my money, after all. I am notorious for telling friends demented “facts” with such an honest demeanor that some habitually look up anything I tell them, just to be sure; others will no longer believe any even slightly peculiar statement … which is a shame, because usually I am telling the truth. And, in my defense, at least I know when I’m lying. I don’t think Daddy did.

This is, after all, the same man who regularly during my childhood won extensions from bill collectors by reporting that I, or Kimberly, had tragically died. You get used to it after awhile, accepting condolences while not blowing the gaff for your father … and for all I know, this contributed directly to my skill at theatrical improvisation. Does that count as epigenetics? Might, I guess.

So, I rather suspect that my father passed down to me the genes of a fabulist. Luckily, I can tell reality from dream – most of the time – and so have managed to rein in this tendency to run off at the mouth and over the borders of Elfland … except in occasional emergencies, or for grins and giggles in a friendly atmosphere (sorry, Stacey!) I do assure you, Dear Readers, that I have always told you the truth. Except for when I haven’t. But I clearly label those times and wait anxiously to see if you like them, so you’re safe.

Daddy, I love you. I miss you. I miss your free-wheeling passage through my life. Happy Father’s Day.

This is my Da at age 20 or so. He’s the slick-looking young man on the left, with a resemblance to Dean Winchester. The curly-haired one on the right is my favourite uncle, Da’s brother Bob. And the woodchuck in front is their youngest brother, my uncle Charles, who most unexpectedly grew up to be a master archer …

No, really.

 

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