Month: September 2011 Page 1 of 3

Fiction: Basement Noir

On sale at Barnes & NobleAmazon.com, and Smashwords.

Basement Noir

by DeAnna Knippling

If you didn’t want me to find out, you shouldn’t have made me a detective.

Private Investigator Spade comes up from the basement to investigate the death of Gramps in an old hotel run by a monkey and populated by lunatics. But sometimes the person who hires you insn’t the one in charge. And sometimes the crime you’re investigating isn’t the one that needs to be solved.

I was born in an instant. It didn’t feel like being born. It didn’t feel like jumping, fully formed, out of a god’s head like Athena did, either. But that’s what it was.

As far as I can tell, I was reading a newspaper when the phone rang. It was more like a dream of reading a newspaper than actually reading the newspaper, if you know what that’s like. At the time you’re doing it, you know you’re “reading” it, but if you try to think about what the words are on the page, you’re screwed; you can’t make out a bit of it. Anyway, I picked up the phone, which was black and had a long ridge all down the back where the sides of the plastic had been stuck together. The ridge was filled with grime, and the plastic was tacky from being touched and never cleaned. The mouthpiece was full of brown grime, too. I put the phone to my ear, where it bent the small hairs, and saw that the headline of the newspaper now readMURDER in 144-point font. My five o’clock shadow scratched across the mouthpiece.

Before the phone rang, I hadn’t noticed anything. So that was what it was like being born.

“Hello?” I said. My voice was unfamiliar to me. A man’s voice when I’d been expecting a woman’s.

“We need you.” It was a woman’s voice, husky, like she couldn’t help being a sexpot over the phone. I wondered if she’d sound the same in person. As it were.

I tried to remember who I was, but it was just beyond me. “Yeah? Who is ‘we’? For that matter, who am I?”

“Nevermind. Just come to the main entrance, stat.” She hung up.

Stat…stat…a doctor word.

I stood up and looked myself over as best I could. The dame might say “stat,” but the hell if I wasn’t going to get my bearings first. I was dressed in pants and a jacket. The pants were dark brown and had a small split in the seam near the crotch and were frayed at the hem, but they were clean and pressed. I made a mental note to fix them seam later. I knew I had a sewing kit around somewhere. Jacket, same, getting worn around the elbows and across the forearms. I was a leaner. I probably ate with my arms on the table, too. The tie was scarlet with tan stripes. Polyester. I smelled like I hadn’t bathed in the last few hours, but I wasn’t too bad. A light cologne. The white cotton shirt underneath the jacket was rumpled from wear but not wrinkled. Brown belt, brown shoes, brown socks.

I felt my face. I needed a shave and my hairline was receding. I looked around the room: black file cabinet, desk with peeling veneer on top and a heavy black manual typewriter shoved to one corner, worn phone book sitting under the phone. An open tin can with pens and pencils stuffed in it. A stack of legal pads in a top drawer.

The front door was marked with my name, but I couldn’t read it.

I grabbed a tan trench coat and a fedora off a cheap wooden coat rack near the door. The coat rack threatened to fall on me, and I set it right and turned it so if it fell, it’d fall on the plaster of the wall, which was pale green with dingy white trim near the floor and ceiling.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and came up with unreadable driver’s and private investigator’s licenses in a brown wallet, some keys, some change, and a small hole in my right pants pocket. I moved everything into my left. I had a revolver, but it seemed unresolved as to whether it actually existed or not; I could see through it. I put it back in my shoulder holster under my left. I don’t think I was sure about using it.

I opened the door with my right, turned out the lights with my left, closed the door, and locked it. I used the right key on the first try.

Fiction: Basement Noir

On sale at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and Smashwords.

Basement Noir

by DeAnna Knippling

If you didn’t want me to find out, you shouldn’t have made me a detective.

Private Investigator Spade comes up from the basement to investigate the death of Gramps in an old hotel run by a monkey and populated by lunatics. But sometimes the person who hires you insn’t the one in charge. And sometimes the crime you’re investigating isn’t the one that needs to be solved.

I was born in an instant. It didn’t feel like being born. It didn’t feel like jumping, fully formed, out of a god’s head like Athena did, either. But that’s what it was.

As far as I can tell, I was reading a newspaper when the phone rang. It was more like a dream of reading a newspaper than actually reading the newspaper, if you know what that’s like. At the time you’re doing it, you know you’re “reading” it, but if you try to think about what the words are on the page, you’re screwed; you can’t make out a bit of it. Anyway, I picked up the phone, which was black and had a long ridge all down the back where the sides of the plastic had been stuck together. The ridge was filled with grime, and the plastic was tacky from being touched and never cleaned. The mouthpiece was full of brown grime, too. I put the phone to my ear, where it bent the small hairs, and saw that the headline of the newspaper now read MURDER in 144-point font. My five o’clock shadow scratched across the mouthpiece.

Before the phone rang, I hadn’t noticed anything. So that was what it was like being born.

“Hello?” I said. My voice was unfamiliar to me. A man’s voice when I’d been expecting a woman’s.

“We need you.” It was a woman’s voice, husky, like she couldn’t help being a sexpot over the phone. I wondered if she’d sound the same in person. As it were.

I tried to remember who I was, but it was just beyond me. “Yeah? Who is ‘we’? For that matter, who am I?”

“Nevermind. Just come to the main entrance, stat.” She hung up.

Stat…stat…a doctor word.

I stood up and looked myself over as best I could. The dame might say “stat,” but the hell if I wasn’t going to get my bearings first. I was dressed in pants and a jacket. The pants were dark brown and had a small split in the seam near the crotch and were frayed at the hem, but they were clean and pressed. I made a mental note to fix them seam later. I knew I had a sewing kit around somewhere. Jacket, same, getting worn around the elbows and across the forearms. I was a leaner. I probably ate with my arms on the table, too. The tie was scarlet with tan stripes. Polyester. I smelled like I hadn’t bathed in the last few hours, but I wasn’t too bad. A light cologne. The white cotton shirt underneath the jacket was rumpled from wear but not wrinkled. Brown belt, brown shoes, brown socks.

I felt my face. I needed a shave and my hairline was receding. I looked around the room: black file cabinet, desk with peeling veneer on top and a heavy black manual typewriter shoved to one corner, worn phone book sitting under the phone. An open tin can with pens and pencils stuffed in it. A stack of legal pads in a top drawer.

The front door was marked with my name, but I couldn’t read it.

I grabbed a tan trench coat and a fedora off a cheap wooden coat rack near the door. The coat rack threatened to fall on me, and I set it right and turned it so if it fell, it’d fall on the plaster of the wall, which was pale green with dingy white trim near the floor and ceiling.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and came up with unreadable driver’s and private investigator’s licenses in a brown wallet, some keys, some change, and a small hole in my right pants pocket. I moved everything into my left. I had a revolver, but it seemed unresolved as to whether it actually existed or not; I could see through it. I put it back in my shoulder holster under my left. I don’t think I was sure about using it.

I opened the door with my right, turned out the lights with my left, closed the door, and locked it. I used the right key on the first try.

 

Indypub: Stopping Weekly Free Stories

I’ve decided to stop posting weekly free stories.

I’m still going to post a story every week; I’m just not going to put them up for free for all, every week.  I’ll have exceptions.

The reason is this:  very few people are taking me up on them.  For example, last week, I hadone person do it.  For free.

I’m still sending personal friends and family stories, if they’ve asked me to be on the list.  Nevertheless, I’m telling about 3000 people every week.  I’m pretty sure I’m not that bad at covers or descriptions, and I keep getting published, so I’m not that bad at writing, either.  I’m just puzzled.  I’m going to call it, after almost six months, a failed experiment (even though I don’t know why it’s failed) and let it go.

On the other hand, while it look a long time to get “Miracle, Texas” to go free on Amazon, now that it has, I’ve given away the better part of 2000 copies.  It’s been up for a week now.

C’est la vie.

 

Indypub: Stopping Weekly Free Stories

I’ve decided to stop posting weekly free stories.

I’m still going to post a story every week; I’m just not going to put them up for free for all, every week.  I’ll have exceptions.

The reason is this:  very few people are taking me up on them.  For example, last week, I had one person do it.  For free.

I’m still sending personal friends and family stories, if they’ve asked me to be on the list.  Nevertheless, I’m telling about 3000 people every week.  I’m pretty sure I’m not that bad at covers or descriptions, and I keep getting published, so I’m not that bad at writing, either.  I’m just puzzled.  I’m going to call it, after almost six months, a failed experiment (even though I don’t know why it’s failed) and let it go.

On the other hand, while it look a long time to get “Miracle, Texas” to go free on Amazon, now that it has, I’ve given away the better part of 2000 copies.  It’s been up for a week now.

C’est la vie.

I Dream of Guinea Pig

Last night I dreamed of Guinea pigs.

Lee, Ray, and I were on our way back from a store in another dream, just walking along a road, when I saw a flowerpot on the side of the road with Cheese Nibs crushed in it.  And the back end of some critter, its little feet kicking away.

I gently pulled the critter out of the packed crackers.  It was a Guinea pig!  I love Guinea pigs.  If cats represent a kind of reasonable cuteness and affection (they may not always like you, but your cats always love you), Guinea pigs are unconditional love to me.  Not dogs, which have weird ideas about territory, but Guinea pigs.  They don’t care who you are.  They love you.  They don’t care what you give them to eat.  They eat it.  They poop and pee on things unconditionally, too, because that’s how they roll (they’re very round, you know).

There were other Guinea pigs around, too, and together we ended up saving four Guinea pigs.  I had two on each arm.  The top two snuggled up to my neck, trying to get under my hair, the peegs do.  We went from door to door, asking people if these were their peegs.  I was really hoping I could keep those peegs, but I knew that if someone had thrown out their peegs with the cheese nibs by mistake, they would be really grieving.

“No, no, not our peegs.”

“No, those aren’t my pets.”

But the third door.  A man who was very short and fat and had legs that were (now that I think about it) proportionately the same size as those of a Guinea pig’s to its body answered the door.  “Yes!  Yes!  Those are my peegs.”  He had tears in his eyes, so I had to give his peegs back.  Whatever mistakes he had made, he didn’t deserve to have his peegs taken from him.

I woke up.

Yesterday was our anniversary, our thirteenth.

We had completely forgotten about it until my sister-in-law Connie emailed me about it.  I had to laugh and send an email to Lee.  He promised me chocolate; I promised him other things but, proverbially, had a headache.   (Don’t worry.  I always keep my promises.)  I really hope it wasn’t all that chocolate that gave me a headache.  We played WOW last night with a friend of Lee’s and ate decked-out hot dogs for supper.  It wasn’t a terribly romantic night, but it was very sweet.

The last few years have been like Guinea pigs.  “Oh, well,” you say sometimes, and that’s about as bad as it gets.

For example, on Friday, Lee took his ring off while working out (he’s always taking it off) and left it on top of one of the machines.  “Oh, well,” I said.  He’d busted up the ring he’d had when we got married years ago, and I’d bought him another one with Celtic knots on it–but hadn’t spent too much on it, figuring it would be shredded in a year or two.  He’s had it for about a decade now, if I remember right, but it’s all misshapen and lumpy, if he rolls it on a flat surface.  “Oh, well.”  He found it that morning and sent me an email about it:  I’d forgotten that he’d lost it.

Every day is better or worse, but they are all filled with sweetness.  I get spoiled every day, so getting extra-spoiled is kind of embarrassing.

This morning was another Guinea pig moment.

Ray and I were walking to school, and a tiny, tiny dog escaped from her owner and went fearlessly yapping toward us.  I mean, this dog makes Chihuahuas look massive:  she was the size of a 6-week Guinea pig, but with longer legs and pointier ears.

Ray had been grumpy all morning and got even grumpier when I made her clean up her mess before she could get on the computer.  It wasn’t much, but there was all kinds of sighing and dragging of feet, so it took a while.  By the time she got done, it was time for school.  I told her she had to eat breakfast there rather than here.

Then I looked out the door:  the bug across the street was in the driveway.  It belongs to the daughter of the people who live there (or an adult but generationally younger woman, anyway), and only shows up occasionally.  We had to declare my bug off-limits because it was getting too hard to get out of the house in the morning, but this one’s fair game.  I slugged Rachael.  Very gently.

“I don’t care, mom.  I’m just grumpy this morning.”

I pretended I wasn’t disappointed, but I was.

We walked to school, and she just took off ahead of me and wouldn’t slow down.  I teased her about it, so she slowed down and waited for me, then rolled her eyes at me.  I gave her a hug.

“Good job on your first transformations into becoming a teenager,” I said.

She laughed.  Then the dog escaped, her mom caught her, and we got to pet the world’s teeniest dog.  I let Ray take most of the petting time, then hustled her off to school.  On the way she slugged me one.  When we got there, a girl who is the president of the local manga club was waiting to walk with her the last bit into school.  Ray had been supposed to bring in the first One Piece, but she’d forgotten.  How you can be president of the local manga club without knowing One Piece, I don’t know, but there you go.  I hugged Ray and let her go, because that’s my job right now.

If you love Guinea pigs, you have to let them be Guinea pigs.  Or something like that.

Ten Best Banned Books for BB Week!

This week is banned books week. While I do not (yet) have a book that has had the privilege of being banned, I have read many, many banned books and have enjoyed most of them.

Here is a list of the most commonly banned/challenged books in the U.S.  How many have you read?

Italics = I’ve read it.
Bold = My personal top 10!

Nineteen Eighty-four (1984) – George Orwell
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby – Dav Pilkey A
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
Alice series – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
Always Running – Luis J. Rodriguez
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser
The Anarchist Cookbook – William Powell
Anastasia Again! – Lois Lowry
And Tango Makes Three – Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging – Louise Rennison
Annie on My Mind – Nancy Garden
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – Judy Blume
Arming America – Michael Bellasiles
Arizona Kid – Ron Koertge
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
Asking About Sex and Growing Up – Joanna Cole
Athletic Shorts – Chris Crutcher
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Black Boy – Richard Wright
Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo A. Anaya
Blood and Chocolate – Annette Curtis Klause
Blubber – Judy Blume
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
The Boy Who Lost His Face – Louis Sachar
Boys and Sex – Wardell Pomeroy
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson
Bumps in the Night – Harry Allard
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
Captain Underpants – Dav Pilkey
Carrie – Stephen King
The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
Christine – Stephen King
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Crazy Lady! – Jane Conly
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat – Alvin Schwartz
Cujo – Stephen King
Curses, Hexes and Spells – Daniel Cohen
Cut – Patricia McCormick
Daddy’s Roommate – Michael Willhoite
A Day No Pigs Would Die – Robert Newton Peck
The Dead Zone – Stephen King
Deenie – Judy Blume
Detour for Emmy – Marilyn Reynolds
The Drowning of Stephan Jones – Bette Greene
Earth’s Children (series) – Jean M. Auel
The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
The Face on the Milk Carton – Caroline B. Cooney
Fade – Robert Cormier
Fallen Angels – Walter Dean Myers
Family Secrets – Norma Klein
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
Final Exit – Derek Humphry
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
Forever – Judy Blume
Girls and Sex – Wardell Pomeroy
The Giver – Lois Lowry
Go Ask Alice – Anonymous
Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin
The Goats – Brock Cole
Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Goosebumps (series) – R. L. Stine
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gilly Hopkins – Katherine Paterson
Guess What? – Mem Fox
Halloween ABC – Eve Merriam
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Harry Potter (series) – J. K. Rowling
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Heather Has Two Mommies – Lesléa Newman
The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
How to Eat Fried Worms – Thomas Rockwell
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
In the Night Kitchen – Maurice Sendak
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
It’s Perfectly Normal – Robie Harris
It’s So Amazing – Robie Harris
Jack – A. M. Homes
James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
Jay’s Journal – Anonymous
Julie of the Wolves – Jean Craighead George
Jump Ship to Freedom – James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Jumper – Steven Gould
The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
Kaffir Boy – Mark Mathabane
Killing Mr. Griffin – Lois Duncan
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence
A Light in the Attic – Shel Silverstein
Little Black Sambo – Helen Bannerman
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Mommy Laid An Egg – Babette Cole
My Brother Sam Is Dead – James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Naked and the Dead – Norman Mailer
Naked Lunch – William S. Burroughs
Native Son – Richard Wright
The New Joy of Gay Sex – Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
On My Honor – Marion Dane Bauer
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Ordinary People – Judith Guest
The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
The Pigman – Paul Zindel
Private Parts – Howard Stern
Rabbit, Run – John Updike
The Rabbit’s Wedding – Garth Williams
Rainbow Boys – Alex Sanchez
Running Loose – Chris Crutcher
The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
Scary Stories (series) – Alvin Schwartz
A Separate Peace – John Knowles
Sex – Madonna
Sex Education – Jenny Davis
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
The Sledding Hill – Chris Crutcher
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy – A. N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Song of Solomon (novel) – Toni Morrison
Sons and Lovers – D. H. Lawrence
The Stupids (series) – Harry Allard
Summer of My German Soldier – Bette Greene
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
That Was Then, This Is Now – S. E. Hinton A
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Tiger Eyes – Judy Blume
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller
Ulysses – James Joyce
View from the Cherry Tree – Willo Davis Roberts
We All Fall Down – Robert Cormier
Whale Talk – Chris Crutcher
What My Mother Doesn’t Know – Sonya Sones
What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons – Lynda Madaras
What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents &Daughters – Lynda Madaras
Where Did I Come From? – Peter Mayle
The Wish Giver – Bill Brittain
The Witches – Roald Dahl
Women in Love – D. H. Lawrence
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasies – Nancy Friday
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

And, even though it’s not on this list, I recommend The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, which was challenged in 2007.

The Last Voyage of the Mermaid

Now at SmashwordsAmazon.comBarnes & Noble, and OmniLit.

Sail away with a free copy of this story, this weekend only, at Smashwords.  Use coupon code NF29C.

The Last Voyage of the Mermaid

by De Kenyon

Steal pirate ship.  Hire crew.  Decide:  wooden leg, hook, or eye patch?

Obtain parrot.

Arnold had always imagined himself as Captain Hook–only he would never have chased around that little dolt Peter.  He wanted better treasures, ones that Peter had taken for granted until it was too late.

When Arnold was a boy, he wondered about two things: what would it be like to be dead, and what would it be like to be a pirate. Being the kind of boy who first asked his mother about things, he received a lecture saying that a) being dead was something that would happen in its own time, and he was forbidden to try to find out early and b) being a pirate was not at all as nice as it seemed in Peter Pan, there being no such things as mermaids, pixies, or alligators with clocks in their stomachs. Whether he should have listened to his mother or not remains to be seen.

And so Arnold grew up, got a job, got married, and had kids. For the longest time, as a boy, he wondered whether he would do these ordinary things, as he was convinced that girls would always have a terrible antipathy (which is the opposite of understanding) of him, and that he would have to adopt children if he wanted to have them. As it turned out, a number of girls fell in love with him, although there was only one he truly loved back. And although her name was something else entirely, he always thought of her as his Wendy.

He did not think of himself as Peter Pan.

Instead, he secretly thought of himself as Captain Hook.

In Arnold’s version of the story, he had given up trying to cut down that annoying little boy, courted the beautiful girl, and won her away from Peter, who had no idea what kind of treasure he’d given up until it was too late. And for as long as his wife lived, he imagined that the alligator who contained both a clock (symbolizing time) and his hand (symbolizing ouch!) swam in other waters, looking for easier prey.

But then they both got old, and his wife died of a number of very serious thing going wrong all at the same time. She was a whole year younger than he, so this was entirely unfair. He’d been counting on having her protect him from the alligator while he slipped away with death, to find out what it was like to be dead. For the alligator did not symbolize death, only violence and fear and being attacked and eaten and pulled down into the dark.

At any rate, there he was, an old man, and he had never found out what it was like being a pirate.

His wife, who had encouraged him to follow his other, more ordinary dreams, would have encouraged him to find out what it was like to be a pirate, if only she had known of his secret wish.  However, he had never told her:  being a pirate would have meant that he had to leave her, for pirates did not have wives, or if they did, they certainly did not take them to sea. He wasn’t entirely sure why. But he had waited. And now she was gone, and their children were grown and had children of their own, so clearly they could take care of themselves and didn’t need him around anymore.

And so he put his affairs in order and went to Florida to become a pirate.

He made a list:

– Get a pirate ship, preferably by theft.

– Learn how to sail it, OR hire a crew.

– Parrot.

– Wooden leg, hook, and/or eye patch?!?

– Fountain of youth.

In Florida, the sand was white and the sea was a color of green that his children had always called mermaid tail green but was now called Caribbean Green. The palm trees had astonishingly patterned trunks, and the sky was so wide he often fell asleep on his beach chair trying to look from one side to the other, it took so long.

After a time, he realized that if he was going to get any pirating done, he was going to have to prioritize his list so the Fountain of Youth was on top. He was so old. It was like being sick all the time, forced to stay inside and take it easy, lest he make things worse.  And he had long since tired of skipping school (having graduated decades ago) and daytime TV.

And so one day he got out of his beach chair and stretched, determined not to fall asleep again. He set out at a slow pace, because the sun was very hot and made the top of his head sweat through his thin, white hair.

He walked and he walked until he found a thin stream that fed into the ocean from the beach. The stream had worn away at the sand dunes on the shore, making a deep ditch. He couldn’t climb down on his own, so he followed along the thick grass at the top, getting all kinds of burrs stuck in his leg hair (for he was wearing shorts; he didn’t feel that he could dress in his pirate outfit until after he’d found his ship) and sand in his sandals.

He followed the stream for miles and miles and miles, through thick woods and swamps that started out as thin puddles and turned into kiddie pools, then regular swimming pools. The insects became so thick they were like a fog, and birds screamed under the thick trees. From time to time he would hear the sucking roar of an alligator or the chitter of monkeys who had escaped from their long-ago pirate owners to populate the high canopy of trees. Once, he heard drums.

He walked on, following what seemed to him to be the true trail of the stream, hoping that it would lead him to the Fountain of Youth, or at least to one of the other items on his list. As he walked, he noticed that he had something in his hand that he had not had before: a machete, a thick blade of metal that didn’t so much cut through the thick branches as chop them like an axe. With one strong hand, he pulled back branches, and with the other, he whacked them off in a steady rhythm, until he had made quite some progress into the swamp, standing on a small islet of floating logs and grass.

As he stepped up onto the islet or hummock, he noticed that he was wearing black leather boots, from which the water beaded up and ran as though they were made out of rubber. The leather had been oiled, he realized, unlike the boots of his pirate costume, hidden in his suitcase at the hotel room.

He patted all around himself and found that he was wearing long boots whose tops could fold over at the top or rise up to help protect his legs from water, as they did now; thick cotton pants with no zipper; a leather belt that kept his pants from falling off as well as holding a leather sheath for his machete; leather straps across his chest that held leather purses, a handgun, powder and shot (rather than regular bullets), and a number of other useful-looking things. He held his hands in front of him and was relieved to see that he still had both of them (he thought for a moment that he saw a hook out of the corner of his eye), and, further, that they were the hands of a young man.

Last Voyage of the Mermaid

Now at Smashwords, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and OmniLit. Sail away with a free copy of this story, this weekend only, at Smashwords.  Use coupon code NF29C.

The Last Voyage of the Mermaid

by De Kenyon

Steal pirate ship.  Hire crew.  Decide:  wooden leg, hook, or eye patch?

Obtain parrot.

Arnold had always imagined himself as Captain Hook–only he would never have chased around that little dolt Peter.  He wanted better treasures, ones that Peter had taken for granted until it was too late.

When Arnold was a boy, he wondered about two things: what would it be like to be dead, and what would it be like to be a pirate. Being the kind of boy who first asked his mother about things, he received a lecture saying that a) being dead was something that would happen in its own time, and he was forbidden to try to find out early and b) being a pirate was not at all as nice as it seemed in Peter Pan, there being no such things as mermaids, pixies, or alligators with clocks in their stomachs. Whether he should have listened to his mother or not remains to be seen. And so Arnold grew up, got a job, got married, and had kids. For the longest time, as a boy, he wondered whether he would do these ordinary things, as he was convinced that girls would always have a terrible antipathy (which is the opposite of understanding) of him, and that he would have to adopt children if he wanted to have them. As it turned out, a number of girls fell in love with him, although there was only one he truly loved back. And although her name was something else entirely, he always thought of her as his Wendy. He did not think of himself as Peter Pan. Instead, he secretly thought of himself as Captain Hook. In Arnold’s version of the story, he had given up trying to cut down that annoying little boy, courted the beautiful girl, and won her away from Peter, who had no idea what kind of treasure he’d given up until it was too late. And for as long as his wife lived, he imagined that the alligator who contained both a clock (symbolizing time) and his hand (symbolizing ouch!) swam in other waters, looking for easier prey. But then they both got old, and his wife died of a number of very serious thing going wrong all at the same time. She was a whole year younger than he, so this was entirely unfair. He’d been counting on having her protect him from the alligator while he slipped away with death, to find out what it was like to be dead. For the alligator did not symbolize death, only violence and fear and being attacked and eaten and pulled down into the dark. At any rate, there he was, an old man, and he had never found out what it was like being a pirate. His wife, who had encouraged him to follow his other, more ordinary dreams, would have encouraged him to find out what it was like to be a pirate, if only she had known of his secret wish.  However, he had never told her:  being a pirate would have meant that he had to leave her, for pirates did not have wives, or if they did, they certainly did not take them to sea. He wasn’t entirely sure why. But he had waited. And now she was gone, and their children were grown and had children of their own, so clearly they could take care of themselves and didn’t need him around anymore. And so he put his affairs in order and went to Florida to become a pirate. He made a list: – Get a pirate ship, preferably by theft. – Learn how to sail it, OR hire a crew. – Parrot. – Wooden leg, hook, and/or eye patch?!? – Fountain of youth. In Florida, the sand was white and the sea was a color of green that his children had always called mermaid tail green but was now called Caribbean Green. The palm trees had astonishingly patterned trunks, and the sky was so wide he often fell asleep on his beach chair trying to look from one side to the other, it took so long. After a time, he realized that if he was going to get any pirating done, he was going to have to prioritize his list so the Fountain of Youth was on top. He was so old. It was like being sick all the time, forced to stay inside and take it easy, lest he make things worse.  And he had long since tired of skipping school (having graduated decades ago) and daytime TV. And so one day he got out of his beach chair and stretched, determined not to fall asleep again. He set out at a slow pace, because the sun was very hot and made the top of his head sweat through his thin, white hair. He walked and he walked until he found a thin stream that fed into the ocean from the beach. The stream had worn away at the sand dunes on the shore, making a deep ditch. He couldn’t climb down on his own, so he followed along the thick grass at the top, getting all kinds of burrs stuck in his leg hair (for he was wearing shorts; he didn’t feel that he could dress in his pirate outfit until after he’d found his ship) and sand in his sandals. He followed the stream for miles and miles and miles, through thick woods and swamps that started out as thin puddles and turned into kiddie pools, then regular swimming pools. The insects became so thick they were like a fog, and birds screamed under the thick trees. From time to time he would hear the sucking roar of an alligator or the chitter of monkeys who had escaped from their long-ago pirate owners to populate the high canopy of trees. Once, he heard drums. He walked on, following what seemed to him to be the true trail of the stream, hoping that it would lead him to the Fountain of Youth, or at least to one of the other items on his list. As he walked, he noticed that he had something in his hand that he had not had before: a machete, a thick blade of metal that didn’t so much cut through the thick branches as chop them like an axe. With one strong hand, he pulled back branches, and with the other, he whacked them off in a steady rhythm, until he had made quite some progress into the swamp, standing on a small islet of floating logs and grass. As he stepped up onto the islet or hummock, he noticed that he was wearing black leather boots, from which the water beaded up and ran as though they were made out of rubber. The leather had been oiled, he realized, unlike the boots of his pirate costume, hidden in his suitcase at the hotel room. He patted all around himself and found that he was wearing long boots whose tops could fold over at the top or rise up to help protect his legs from water, as they did now; thick cotton pants with no zipper; a leather belt that kept his pants from falling off as well as holding a leather sheath for his machete; leather straps across his chest that held leather purses, a handgun, powder and shot (rather than regular bullets), and a number of other useful-looking things. He held his hands in front of him and was relieved to see that he still had both of them (he thought for a moment that he saw a hook out of the corner of his eye), and, further, that they were the hands of a young man.

Censorship by Any Other Name

Everybody knows about some famous book or other that was censored.  Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  Or an instance where cuss words were bleeped out on screen.  Or even the political correctness movement (which has now morphed into “thou shalt not speak poorly of all things Christian, redneck, patriotic, etc., and don’t you dare say it’s the same thing as political correctness”).

Don’t say it.

It’s illegal.  It’s unwise.  It’s socially unacceptable.

Don’t say it.

Don’t even try.

Not in front of the kids.

Not in front of me.

Why?

The urge to suppress certain topics of conversation or viewpoints is a very common, human urge.  I run into it in myself:  if you speak of it, people will look down on you as a bad _____. As a mother, there are certain things that I’m supposed to disallow my daughter from saying.  As a wife, there are things I’m not supposed to say (not as Lee’s wife, most of the time–but there are a lot of things that he’s had to learn how to hear, too).  The workplace is full of forbidden topics.  Just try to go to church and say what’s on your mind, on pretty much any point where you disagree with the received teaching.

And the Internet.

Why are trolls so nasty?  Is it because you’re saying something that they feel shouldn’t be allowed?

Yesterday I ran into it in the gaming community.  Here’s me not naming names:  not saying, because bad things may happen to me if I do.  Calling people out by name is a big no-no, where I’m from.  Gossip is okay, though.

Designer X is building a high-fantasy RPG where women are the dominant sex.  He made the argument that it would help get more women to game and would make them feel included.  Now, pfft.  What would get more women to game is more invitations to game and more support from the other players:  I understand that true troglodytes are few and far between in the gaming community, but like an egg infected with salmonella, they tend to affect far more than their fair share of cookie dough.

The interesting point, as far as I’m concerned, was that multiple, apparently-male commenters did not think such a game should exist as such; they felt the society should be redesigned so that male PCs could play any type of character (they can’t play magic-users, as it stands).  It was sexist and nobody would want to play it.

The designer made the point that multiple women had expressed interest.

The commenters restated their position.  Correction:  no men would want to play the game.

Personally, I take the position that, as in any hierarchical game, what makes it fun to play is when the downtrodden characters are just as fun, playable, and effective as the supposedly-powerful characters.  It’s all about the ads and disads, eh?  Not everybody wants to be a Jedi.  I thought the sexism inherent in the game shouldn’t be buried or hidden; it should be brought out for people to see, discuss, and consider.

Are there other RPGs where women are defined as inferior by the rules themselves?  I don’t know.  But I have seen discussions where the players argue that female PCs shouldn’t be able to do this or that, because it wasn’t realistic to the setting, and I have seen a ton of game materials where the female NPCs are relegated to one of three roles:  bimbo, barmaid, succubus.  Sometimes all three.  And they’re usually too stupid to live.  But that’s okay–that kind of sexism can be taken for granted, even justified.

But the kind where the sexism is overt, reversed, and built into the game mechanics themselves–not cool.

Now, I fear that some women will go nuts over the setting, wooo I get my own back, because women are just as stupid about sexism as men are.  Because they’re human, and not NPCs, and therefore have various reactions to a situation, many of them stupid enough to make the big GM in the sky say, “Are you suuure?” before they get to roll the dice.  So yes, there will be situations in which male players are treated the way female players can get treated:  having members of their sex laughed at, treated like dirt, and even lacking a presence in the game.  They may even get patted on the shoulder and have to hear, “But you’re not like most men.  You’re okay.”

Does that mean the designer should censor himself in order to publish the game?

Some commenters argued that yes, he should.  We shouldn’t encourage people to think like that; it’s equivalent to encouraging people to beat their spouses.

I say that no, he shouldn’t.  He should make sure that all the character classes are fun to play, no matter their gender, and that the ads and disads are balanced.  It’s not a good thing to treat men the way women have been treated.  But it’s not a bad thing to allow both sexes to experience each others’ positions in a safe environment.

But overall?  Telling someone not to write something…that’s bullshit and brainwashing.

Don’t say it.

Because I don’t want you to even think it.

Update:

Ron points out that non-gamers might be reading this post.  The mind boggles.  How many people do I freakin’ know?!?

Gaming terms for non-gamers:

RPG – role playing game (MMORPG = Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, like World of Warcraft; here, I’m talking about tabletop gaming with dice or other chance-determiners)

High-fantasy – Fantasy set in another world, often medieval in nature, like Tolkein.

PC – player character.

NPC – non-player character (ones run by the GM)

GM – game master, the storyteller/boss.  AKA DM (Dungeon Master) in Dungeons and Dragons.

Character class – type of character, like “warrior” or “rogue.”

Ads/Disads – advantages/disadvantages.  An advantage is a trait the player can use to get an extra boost to relevant dice rolls, like “superspeed.”  A disadvantage costs the player on certain dice rolls and is often used to offset an advantage:  for example, your character is blind, which means you get a -6 on the total of all dice rolls where sight is needed (like navigating a busy street), but the disad gives you 6 points to spend on advantages like superhearing, which gives you a +6 to all rolls in which hearing might be useful (like the comic book character Daredevil).

Factory Above, Factory Below

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Factory Above, Factory Below

by De Kenyon

If Connor had been a robot, he wouldn’t have let the humans live this long.

“If you’re really bad,” the Teachers had said, “the robots will come and take you Below.”  Well, Connor had been really bad this time, and now the robots were coming.  Connor couldn’t wait.

When you were bad, the Teachers told you stories about the Below. The robots had taken over everything Below, and they would kill any living person, animal, or even germs that somehow got Below, in order to keep their environment sterile. How that could be when any fool could see that flushing the toilets into the sewers brought a lot more germs into Below than a person accidentally falling through a hole in the street or something, Connor didn’t know. But that was the Teachers for you, smacking you across the hand with fake wood rulers for asking perfectly logical questions.

“If you’re really bad,” the Teachers had said, “the robots will come for you, and take you Below.”

Well, Connor had been really bad this time.

As far as Connor was concerned what he’d done to be threatened with Below wasn’t either terribly bad or terribly important. He’d tried to burn the school down, was all, and it wasn’t like the place was made out of wood or anything. He was studying the way the extinguishers worked. Not the way they were made, which was something you could look up on a terminal. He wanted to know how they worked. If three rooms out of four in a quad were on fire, would the fourth one’s extinguishers also release their chemicals onto the plastic desks and the industrial carpet and the whiteboards (and the children)? Would the extinguishers be able to tell what type of fire it was and deploy the correct type of extinguisher? How fast would the children be evacuated? Would the Teachers protect just the children, or would they also try to protect other materials—and, if so, what?

Unfortunately, he was stopped before he had many of his questions answered, but he learned that the fire safety systems were not as advanced as they could have been. He also gained the impression that the Teachers were far more highly trained in controlling students than they were at controlling blazes.

All the children were safe—but if there had been a real fire, that is, one that Connor didn’t have under control, they would have been dead in a minute. The Teachers locked down in their classrooms before the children could leave. With the fires still burning inside. As the gas from the fire extinguishers released. In fact, the Teachers did not attempt to rescue the children at all, but quickly checked their desks (for what, he wasn’t sure) after calling, “Face the wall and cover your mouths and noses.”

He had recorded all four sets of teachers in all four rooms, and they had all reacted the same way, even the teacher in the fourth room in the quad, which hadn’t had a fire at all. After the fires were out, and they would have gone out anyway, all the other kids were sent upstairs to the dormitories and classes cancelled. Connor heard a cheer as Miss Mackenthal, his Teacher, herded him down the hall to her office.

“Connor, what are we going to do with you?” Today she was wearing a pink fuzzy sweater and a fake pearl necklace with a big scratch on it that Connor had recorded as being worn by another of the teachers, Miss Rumsey, two years, one month, and six days ago.

“Did you want a serious answer, or did you just want me to shut up?” Connor asked.

Miss Mackenthal sighed. “Both, please.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“You sound more like a robot than the robots do,” Miss Mackenthal closed and locked the door of her office and sat at her desk with her head in her hand and her elbow on her desk, which looked like used, banged-up gray tin but was really new, superhard plastic. Connor’s ears perked up. Had Miss Mackenthal been in contact with the robots? “Connor, I’m sorry. What we’re going to have to do is send you Below.”

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