I’m not sure where this came from, but I woke up at 3:33 on the first day of the year with these words in my head. Such things don’t happen often. I rolled over and wrote a note on my phone, a cloud with an angry mind. It was enough to help me remember the rest of the story, short as it is.
I’ve been waiting for an certain email since New Year’s Eve. It finally came tonight, a rejection notice. I submit short fiction to magazines and websites occasionally. There’s a special folder in my email account where I stick the rejection notices, and a special box on my dresser for the rare physical slips. I’m collecting them. This particular one, though, I’ve been looking forward to this one more than the others. I sent it off out of boredom after spending a week in my mother-in-law’s living room noodling around with it. As time passed and my brain wondered, I became more and more certain that I’d sent the wrong story to the wrong magazine. A lot of the places that I’ve found to submit stories to have a fairly specific genre or style that they’re looking for. The magazine that I sent this one to didn’t publish the kind of story I’d sent them. And as even more time passed, I just wanted to put it up here. So, well, here it is. Within The Circle of His Arms
Nothing in my brain has been working lately except for my imagination. I’ve been writing in the hopes that it would quiet a little of the brain noise so that I could concentrate. Not so much. I really just need to get some sleep. But at least the writing hasn’t left me empty-handed. a white card
Here’s to hoping I am a little less stupid today. If not, feel free to blame sleep deprivation.
Recent discussions, comments really, about Homer and the Iliad prompted me to dig out this story I wrote last year. If you haven’t read the old classic, (and you should), my story probably won’t make any sense. It probably won’t anyway. But there it is. After all the fruit I ate this week, I kinda felt obligated.
I’ve been up since 1:00, but I’ve made good use of my time. I read, I wrote, I ran the dishwasher, I put away some laundry, I ate two actual meals. I have every intention of taking out and sorting the trash momentarily. And I finished editing something I put together last week. I usually write with the consciousness of, “I’m going to share this, ” or, “I’d better keep this one to myself.” I was on the line with this one the whole time. But, I’ve been taking more risks with the kind of stuff I write, and with the kind of stuff I post. This was difficult and frightening on both fronts. I don’t want to explain why, you’ll see. The Heartless
Deep breath. Exhale. Walk away.
Morgan Cartwright had been a part of the up-and-coming crowd since he had been an up-and-comer himself. He liked the young, he said, because they kept him young. It’s possible that really is why he kept their company. It’s just as likely that he found them mailable. He could tell them what qualities ought to be admired, and then convince them that he exemplified those qualities. He used this technique to carve out a niche for himself that he had occupied as long as anyone could remember. He acted toward them as a benefactor, though in reality the roles were reversed. They treated him as a convenient sort of guru.
Under his tutelage, the would be leaders of the future practiced an easy activism. That kind of thing was important when a young trust fund beneficiary was trying to secure an even greater place in the world. “Yes, yes. We ought to do something to help the Russian Marmet. Here’s a check, make sure they get my name right on the plaque. This caviar is absolutely rancid, don’t you think? Here, boy, take this away!” A little philanthropy covers a multitude of sins, at least in the mind of the giver.
Morgan Cartwright, therefore, took over the ancient business of indulgences from the Catholics. He hopped from one cause to the next, discovering the need, (or the grievance as it often was), structuring the relief, and garnering the funds from the guilty rich. He never went in for commonplace activism. Let the Red Cross worry about flood relief, let Greenpeace scrub the Gulf, (or whomever it was). Morgan Cartwright cared about orphans in Uzbekistan and political prisoners in Bangladesh. A review of the history of his projects would have been like a stroll through the museum of random association. As soon as Morgan Cartwright got the ball rolling, with his cut in his pocket, he was on to the next thing. Whereas his cronies contributed as an annotation to a party of a golf game, Morgan Cartwright made it his life.
But then it happened, and all those old problems ceased to be problems. Nobody gave a thought to Bangladeshi Nelson Mandelas when they had a grip on an aluminum baseball bat and the next-door neighbor’s dead body was climbing through the window. All those up-and-comers melted into one side of the battle or the other. But not Morgan Cartwright. He managed to come through to the other side with both his brains, and his sentiments intact. Not to say that he wasn’t damaged. Nobody could live through the dead plague without losing at least something.
Allow me to let my thoughts wander a bit before I get to the story below. Additionally, let me state that the story in question is not the longish one in need of editing that I mentioned in the last post. Furthermore, let me warn you that the story isn’t even finished.
I can’t really keep myself to working on one thing at a time. And it seems that the busier I get, the more projects I take on. I really don’t have time to write, and I really can’t afford to not write. I’d go nuts. So, in order to force myself to continue, I’ve begun another progressive story. I did this with Four Stops, and it kept me writing even though I wrote and posted other stuff in between chapters. So, I will finish editing that other story, and I will work on this new one as well. Notice that I didn’t promise, I hate making promises that I’m not absolutely certain I can keep.
As long as my thoughts are wandering, I thought it might be interesting to point out that these two stories have the same person to credit as inspiration. I won’t mention his name since I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate that, but he’s like family. The premise of The Preserve is his idea, but he’s not to blame for the resulting content or ideas I built around it. The other story, which I’m thinking will be called Of All Our Parts, is based on a dream he had.
And with that, here’s The Preserve: Part 1. Leave me some feedback. Since this is still totally open-ended, your input is almost certain to change the shape of this thing.
The Preserve: Part 1
The dead plague turned out to be a good answer to a lot of difficult questions. It was the sort of street-level logic formally employed by the crazed and homeless. Whose sandwich is that? Can I sleep here? Was that a good book? Answer: Punch, kick, cut, claw, strangle. There aren’t too many of either of those people groups around anymore. Unfortunately, they were one of those difficult questions that the zombies solved through applying their own arguments with broader and more forceful strokes.
What do we do about global warming? How do we handle rogue nuclear nations? How can we make public education relevant again? What do we do about the crazed and homeless? Answer: Crack open as many skulls as possible and eat their gooey innards. There were a lot of even more difficult questions floating around before the dead plague. It’s funny how our opinion on such issues used to literally define who we were as people.
It’s also funny how we drop so many of our principles and ideals when we face an enemy that ignores all the rules that govern us. How do you stop an enemy you can’t frighten, dishearten, shame, placate, or reason with? In the old days, when an Iraqi blew up a U.S. checkpoint, what was he trying to do? Did he really think it was possible to kill off the American Armed Forces by taking out one or two soldiers at a time until there weren’t any more left? No. He was attacking American soldiers to hurt the American spirit. He wanted his enemy to feel sorrow and fear. He wanted to make them think that the situation in Iraq was hopeless, that the war was impossible to “win,” that it cost too much to continue. He wanted America to give up and go home.
And what was he relying upon to accomplish his mission? The mercy and restraint of the very people he was attacking. Forget the nuclear option. America was capable of leveling every city, town, village, hamlet, and hovel of Iraq inside a week using just conventional weapons. The Iraqi insurgent had to trust his enemy to show restraint. That restrain, and the varying degrees of it’s absence, has defined every war of human history. But a zombie knows no restraint whatsoever. He doesn’t have a limit. You can’t make his warfare too costly. No matter how many bullets you put into him, no matter how many pictures you take of his innocent victims, no matter how many of his fellows you kill, all that he ever thinks is, “I’m going to eat you. I’m going to eat you. I’m going to eat you.”
That’s why you found even the stanchest environmentalist lighting tire fires when it was the only way to keep the walking dead from eating him alive. The environment didn’t matter quite so much anymore, not to anybody that survived at least. And Pacifism? If anybody stuck to that, they’re not around to talk about how that worked out for them.
Still, there is an exception to every rule. For example, as long as we’re talking about the dead, you don’t have to look any further than Jesus Christ, right? And that’s not a zombie thing either, so don’t even get started on those tired jokes. But if you want an example that includes zombies and old-world principles, I’ll just point out Stanley Cartwright. There’s a blue-blood name for you, and Stanley made it through the plague with his bleeding heart still pumping out that old blue.
I’ve been considering changing the format of this thing. Specifically, making it more of an actual blog. In the meantime, here’s another story to tide you over. In The Tull is rather gory, and has a few of what people refer to as “gateway curse words.” So be on guard, I guess. Anyway, I’ve been writing a lot lately, not that much has made it here. Would you believe I’m 18 chapters into The Rig?
I’ve got another chapter of Four Stops up now: Machine. I have had this written for awhile, but I wanted to wait until I had the last chapter done before I posted it. Well, the last still remains to be written, but I couldn’t delay any longer. So far, every chapter has been longer than the last. I assure you, this has been unintentional. Hopefully, chapter 6 won’t be too long coming.
In other news, I’ve got a new photo project I’m working on. Say hello to my Little Friend