Writer’s Log: 2727

There’s been some reconciliation regarding my time spent writing. My wife, jealous of my relationship with my writer’s mind, has relinquished total control and now admits that if given a few hours on the weekends to write, I’m happier. That is, less of a bitter, curmudgeonly, Nihilistic downer.

It’s a sliding scale. Like grading on a curve. A rounded top where a “B” is what ChatGPT can produce. “If you can’t beat a machine, kids, then you most definitely will fail in school, if not life.” Harsh, but true, no?

Mm, no. Failure, the Stoics would tell us, can only be admitted, never assigned. Screw the way the world sees you. How do YOU think you did? Did you achieve any, some, much of what you attempted? Even 0% is progress. To fail is to learn. And if in learning you determine a better path forward, is that not progress?

The tricky bit is the learning part. Fail that and… Here’s a razor, I’ll wait. (Or join you — if we kill each other in a pact, is that reflective suicide or tandem murder?)

But back to writing. I’ve been scratching out this and that here and elsewhere, slowly racking up the hours. If I didn’t have this ugly habit of working ten hours a day at a job I lament for an industry I loathe I could really get some (writing) work done. Sheesh. All this effort wasted on making money. If I were single and childless, I’d move to Belize, rent a shack, write the sun to bed and then drink myself there. As it is, I only dream–of the apocalypse. Ahem, time’s-a-ticking Four Horsemen.

If you’re following along, 2727 represents the number of tallied hours I’ve spent learning to write well. I started the summer of 2016, during the 90 days I spent writing my first novel, pathetic and noobescent as it turned out. From then on, my prison cell wall-marks have accumulated to represent about a year and a quarter’s worth of day-job worthy writing. (50 weeks x 40 hours = 2000 hours)

I figure by the time I hit 10,000 Gladwell hours, AI will have beaten me to it. Ah well. The Stoic in me says it is the journey, not the destination that should be my focus. Yeah? Well, all the stoics are dead. In the end, does it matter which I choose: the trip or the target? No, not really. Carry on.

What else but a Renegade?

My birthday’s tomorrow. I think. Hell, it could be today. Yeonish, he’s suppose to remember that kind of shit. I don’t. He’s got the only working d-pad and we all depend on him for that kind of stuff. Yeonish has a grandfather who still has some job at the Department of Information. Some repair job none of the robos can do. Yet.

I’m going to be eighteen, I remember that much. Eighteen and ready to join the workforce. (snort) What a fuckin’ load that is. “Hey Yeonny, what year were you born?” Yeonish is two years older than me. He keeps his d-pad in a inside zippered pocket. His chem-dyed rust-colored hair is bunned back but he’s got this mesmerizing habit of tugging out strands and poking them back in. His skin is flawless. Well, not that skin—the scarred stuff on his back—but his face is smooth as shade-car leather.

“What the hell, Lorna. Don’t you know?”

Yeonish and me, we got this fake fight we do. This charade. It don’t fool no one.

“Yeonny, please.” I know the answer, but I like to play dumb, for him.

“Thirty.” He doesn’t even look up. He remembers everyone’s years. He could’a been one of those who kept at the heads-up lessons, learning until they could pass the robos’ tests. I guess he could always plead crazy. Smart bios can do that until they get too old.

“Right. Making it twenty thirty-two for me.” I watch Yeonish stretch the tightness across his shoulders. He looks at me sideways and I see the twitch of a smile. My eyes smile back.

I sigh, eighteen. I should be happy, right? Finally an adult. Thing is, eighteen is old. I joined this clan at thirteen. Cut my hair, got the tats, did the shade-car dodge, earned my place. But at eighteen, what do I have to look forward to? No work to be had. School’s only for those who test top five percent. Rest of us just, shit, we just exist.

Riss sits next to me. She’s scraping the crud from some metal circle with a star inside it. “We gonna steal the flour and shit to make a cake?” She holds up the emblem, said it came from an old car, one that still had a steering wheel. “This’ll make a gnarly tat. I could put one here and one right here.” She holds up the circle to the round of both shoulders.

I snatch it from her fingers, stand and hold it above my ass. “Or here. Star marks the spot.” Riss tries to grab it and I dance out of the way, holding it high. “The treasure on the map of Rissa.” I toss it back to her, my teasing having earned me a scowl from Yeonish.

“What goes into a cake, anyway?” Ty asks. He’s rummaging through his bulging pack, tools, wires, and wax-paper wrapped oddities spill onto the stack of pallets we use as furniture. There’s a couple of jars of spices he’s carried since he joined us last spring. Ty says he’s keeping them for later. “To make a special dish for all of us,” he threatens.

“We could jack onto one of the DoD vans headed up the valley.” Riss says.

“You mean head to one of the craft-towns?” Ty opens one of the spice jars, sniffs it hard. “They got real meat and green food, even rice, I heard. I could make a curry.”

I shake my head. “Don’t even dream, Ty. I swore I’d never return.”

My parents joined a craft-commune when I was ten. There are millions of them all across the planet now. If the Department of Equality gives you a stipend, you get to live in a city. But that’s only for folks smart enough or skilled enough. Us? We have to scrounge as we can. Or live off-network in a commune like it was the nineteenth century or something.

“I got an idea,” Yeonish says, pointing a thumb toward the coast. “There a robo-farm grows food-stuffs for the Cabal. They say nobody’s ever tried to sneak in, too many force-bots ‘n spy-bots. You get caught you disappear.”

“Nice, Yeonish. That’s some idea,” Ty says, his pack reassembled. “I say we find a distro and hope we get lucky. Maybe they got synth-cheese or choco-soy.”

At the thought of drinking another bottle of choco-soy I gag. “Damn Riss, why’d you have to mention a cake.” I’m antsy now. I rub the scab on my latest tat, the image of a hummingbird I saw once in a steep canyon. It was sucking on the flowers of a cactus. Living like nobody cared what it did, where it went. “When you ever even seen a real birthday cake?”

“Screw the cake, let’s hoof it down to the coast.” Yeonish doesn’t even wait for us. He just leaves.

I look up. It’s late afternoon, hot and dry in what is left of Santa Barbara. “We better tap Pulgas Clan for water before we go.”

Yeonish waits at the corner where the remnants of a bank once stood. The bricks are still there. But all the windows are just holes, hollow eyes staring at a world where money has no meaning. “And trade what?”

“Who said anything about trading?”

“Ah,” Yeonish replies. “Then we’ll need to fetch weapons.”

Ty looks nervous at this suggestion. “I could spare some coriander, I suppose.”

Riss pockets her circle-star. “Unless that’s something that goes in a birthday cake.”

“Yuck.” Ty sticks out his tongue.

“Come on, you guys.” I wrap my arm around Riss’ shoulder and explain what I believe goes in a cake.

We make our way down the grade toward the setting sun. Out over the horizon we watch a parade of Department of Delivery drones ferry goods up and down the coast. Our so-called world of plenty doesn’t have enough of anything these days. Not for the likes of us, anyway.

DALL-E is starting to suck at generating faces. I don’t recall them being so gawd-awfully mutated.

The King’s Fececian

“But it stinks, father.”

“What’d you expect it to smell like?” Father slings the strap of the box containing the flags over his son’s shoulder. “It’s the King’s shite. Even his royal ass squeezes ripe drops, don’cha know.”

“And it’s only his feces I’m to watch for?” Gaylon strains his neck muscles, the box pulls heavy, tilting his slight body to the left.

Father raps him about the head. “Stand straight son. Being the fececian is an honor. I’ll not have you taint our name with shoddy, ungainly shuffling to the royal tumbler.” The man steps back and takes in his son. The boy has his mother’s pale hair but his father’s block chin, a strong chin, the likes to get him into fights when he comes into his own. “The Queen may use the high-port at times. Best you turn your head you see white buttocks grace the hole there. The low-port be used by royal staff. Pay no mind to the shite that flows from that one.”

Gaylon adjusts the strap and ducks his head to bring the wide dark leather across his chest. “Aye, Father. I’ll to my best.”

“Do the job, son. Not your best.” Father pulls the slatted door wide. “Your best won’t be good enough for years.”

Gaylon angles sideways through the door, down the path, out the gate and along the muddy road, caution-walking toward the castle. He passes few at this hour of the morning.

Wrenk, the swineherd, stops with his fists to hips to regard him. “Off to sniff the royal ass today? I dare say it ain’t sweeter than the shite my piggies squirt for me.”

“It’s a noble occupation. Not for the likes of you.” Gaylon strolls by quickly, leaving Wrenk gaping air behind him. With a second glance, Gaylon says, “I raise a black-tan flag, the cook will beg off cooking pork for a week.” The boy knows he’s pushed the man’s limits. This is the power his father spoke of as they sat around their hearth fire discussing the use of the colored flags. He watches Wrenk squint in thought. Now he’s done it, he thinks.

The filth-splattered man, his knee-high boots drooping with age and decay from the acrid swine piss, points his short whip at a piglet. “That’s the runt from my big sow. Maybe your pa would care to find it inside your gate tonight. A gift for the King’s honored servant.”

Gaylon gasps silently. “I… I suspect he would.”

“Mind your flags, there, Master Fececian.”

“Mind your herd, kind sir.”

~~~

He can smell the stench before he sees it, a slick hill built up against the grey stones of the back side of the castle. Few wander here, not only due to the odor. It’s a treacherous trail that leads to the tumble of a hundred years of royal shite. He finds the platform easily enough. He’s been here before, his father having shown him the tricks of passage and the means to avoid splatter. He settles the box of flags, a color and pattern for the various shades and viscosity of feces that emit from the regal anus.

The legacy of the Royal Fececian is not without controversy. Inferring the temperament of the King based upon the quality of his effluent earned the first few shite-watchers a swift death. But, after King Leonard II learned that a certain villager whispered to his cook regarding the consistency of his shite, and the cook having altered his menu to suit, the position of fececian became a revered if sullied station.

Gaylon tucks his way onto the bench, his eyes glued to the dark round hole high up the granite wall. The royal toilette sits cantilevered out from the flat expanse of the castle. A similar version pokes out further down, the low-port. Gaylon rarely glances at that ocher-stained mound.

The wisp of a breeze lifts the reek of recent weeks evacuations to his nose. All around the base of the hill, lush reeds and grasses grow, a testament to the nutrient-rich waste cast from on high. The oak trees at the bottom reach a hundred feet or more, their sprawling limbs resplendent in palm-wide, dark-green leaves.

Hours tick slowly by. Gaylon sips from a cow-horn bottle. As he loops it over his shoulder, a scuffle echoes down from the private vestibule above. He narrows his vision to catch the drop. No hairy ass shows at the hollow. No white one either. Instead, a pink-colored shape appears, poised there, filling the cavity entirely and then plummets down. The foul offering splats heavy at the top of the pile spewing black and brown dollops from beneath it. Then it begins to tumble.

Gaylon covers his mouth in horror as he watches a newborn babe cartwheel down the slope, its flailing pink cord whipping like a pendant. It slaps hard onto its back and slides twenty yards disappearing into the weeds at the lower border.

He leaps to his feet and cranes his neck to spy the child. Nothing. Not even a sound from below. From above he hears the sounds of whimpering and watches as the hole is covered with a walnut-colored lid.

He rummages frantically through the set of flags. No color or pattern comes remotely close to this bizarre tragedy. He sits, he stands, he rubs his head with both hands. The forest below is silent, as if even the birds and creatures know not to breach the calm of this most heinous of incidents.

And then he hears a cough. And a second. And then the barest of cries, a kitten trapped by a fox, screaming in its tiny voice, crying to be heard.

Gaylon dashes from the wooden platform, stumbling down the hill, avoiding, as best he can, the scree of sewage. He reaches the level and wades through the high, sharp grass, gauging his steps against the layout of the castle.

“It must be here, somewhere.” He pauses, ears aching with the desire to hear the child’s breath. He swims, both hands forward, splitting the stalks until he catches a glimpse of pink. There it is, alive, squirming face up in the muck and snarled grass. Gaylon steps above it and inspects this strange bundle.

The babe, a boy, regards him with inquisitive, sapphire eyes.

“Why?” Gaylon implores the surrounding forest. “You seem so perfect. So, so innocent. Why?”

He lifts the child covered in shite, face smeared with maggot riddle ooze. He flips the stopper from his bottle and rinses the boy as clean as he can before wrapping him in the lower half of his tunic. To the cord, this purplish snake, he cuts it close to the child’s belly.

The child mews weak and exhausted, barely audible. Gaylon inspects the babe more closely.

“Ah, that’s why.” Upon close examination, each hand, each foot has one too many fingers or toes. “A devil’s child. A royal devil, at that. Won’t father be surprised.”

What did the hand say to the bloody bucket?

When you wake up sticky, dried blood glued to your pillow, remember we’re all just animals lifted from the ooze, dropped from the trees and our most primal urges are natural not malignant. Check your fingernails. If they’re clean then the other one is likely dead. Dirty? Check the trail to your bed. It’s no doubt seeded with mud, twigs and leaves from you dragging your wounded self out of the misty forest.

Either way, there’s work to be done. You’ll need to clean that gash, at which point you’ll instinctively reach for help. Don’t. Involving anyone but blood-kin will raise the curiosity of the village. If they find out, it’s a fifty-fifty chance you’ll end up dumped in the vagrants’ grave, a victim of mob justice. Dress your wound as you can and wear a hat. Of course, if you had any kin left alive, they’d be loyal-bound to assist. But you don’t. So get to it.

The slab-planked floor won’t clean for shit. Every stain, every fluid leaked from holes top and bottom, remain as record of the foul deeds done upon your person. Or, as was more often the case, evidence of your self professed righteousness upon those wayward lambs who have wandered into your care, guileless, needy.

Outside, Merle calls with his strangled coyote voice. “I hear you failed the test.”

At the word “test”, the prior night’s activities come pouring in from the shallow memory pit you’d dug and failed to cover. The initiation hadn’t gone as planned. The initiate balked at the ceremonial incision that they all had had to endure. What was the point of a torture club if the hazing didn’t include pain?

Yeah, the village was in on it. Spirits need to feed. What better to sate their appetites than the gore of innocents. The fact that the tiki torches that surround the glade carried as much weight when filled with kerosene was no longer lost on you. You finger the tender, tacky spot on your scalp. But the gore the plebe would have had to endure was slight. A tickle, a trickle, a tease of a scar to show drunk women in bars. Proof of an ignoble membership.

Last night they’d left the cutting up to you. Your first. And now, most likely, your last.

“Screw you, Merle.” Your voice feels like another is yelling on your behalf, from another dimension, a half-second later than your mouth reports to your brain.

“Let’s see the damage,” Merle adds, his boots stomping up the steps of the cabin. He stomps because both his Achilles tendons had been cut by his father when he was just a boy. They grew back, mostly. It did have the desired effect — stopping him from running away.

“I fixed it myself. No need to make a fuss.”

“The fuss is on you, son. I just as soon imagine a sunny day full of geese honking just out of sight, the smell of the ocean drifting in on a breath of wind no harder than the whisper of Maude tellin’ me she’d needs additional shaggin’.”

“Did they catch the boy, Brack or Brace or whatever the fuck his name is?”

“Brick, and I don’t know what the hell you remember, but he didn’t run off. After he walloped you, he dropped the torch and helped you into your cabin. Shit, you were swinging and yellin’ and he and I just left you to your flailin’ at ghosts. In fact,” Merle finally opens the door and looks inside. “he’s right here with me. I believe he’s got an apology lined up. But, you can imagine he might be a bit hesitant.”

“So, I’m the one to get tortured. How the hell does that make any sense?”

You press Merle back out of the way and hold onto the door jam. Down the steps and gripping a young sapling white pine with one hand is this boy, Brick. You look at him, a big ol “well, what the fuck do you have to say,” look upon your face.

Brick releases the tree and takes one step forward. From behind his back he pulls out a club, the end of it snarled with bent nails and barbed wire. “Mr. Tollben, I come to finish the job.”

Post Holiday Blues: Mourning what could have been

“Use it or lose it”, the company I work for said about vacation time. And they were serious. Seems I didn’t pay attention to my accrued time over the last couple of years, so, whoosh — 80 hours gone.

That was back in September and involved 2020/21’s accumulation from multiple acquisitions. “Well, shit. I’d rather be working than sitting around waiting for the cat to die, but, OK. I’ll take what time is left.”

So, I sat home all last week, yeah, waiting for the cat to die. It’s a 19 year-old PITA that screams all night for food or because it’s cold or it’s constipated or fuck, who knows? “I’m lonely, is anybody there?” I have a cache of rolled socks I throw at it. I wanted to get a high powered squirt gun but the spouse frowned mightily at that.

I wasn’t idle. I tried to piece together various ideas. But, I wasn’t productive either. It seems my inner critic has ensconced himself just over my shoulder. After a few words, his toxic breath freezes my fingers. Stutter-writing is no fun. At this rate I’ll never get anything completed.

Right this instant, I sit here, Youtube loop videos playing, reworking one paragraph over and over. Turns out, there are post-holiday music compilations that help wean us of our shroud of holiday tunes. Coffee house jazz: guitar, piano, cello, each with accompanying fake snow falling over a “Where’s Waldo” or “I Spy” scene. It helps. Even I used to enjoy the holidays: the anticipation, the potential of I-don’t-know-what building, and the memories of better times spilling over.

Then after. Decorations that mock us, the occasional exposed gift that didn’t get put away, mainly because you don’t quite know what to do with it. And the emotional hangover that lingers for weeks. It’s like mourning a dead, distant friend. Or the end of school-age summer, squandered or filled with adventure; back to school we go—whether we like it or not.


My writer’s mind in chaos mode: (Dall-E)