I was gearing up to release a new story for tomorrow, when a voice came into my ear. I’m not sure if it was Sloth or Wisdom, but what it said was reasonable.
“You damned fool– everyone will be having a party or plotting, Grendel-like, the destruction of everyone who is having a party. No one will have a moment to look in at a new story, however short.”
I thus abandon the time-table only I know about, and prepare for the next release to appear not tomorrow, but in the new year itself, shortly after the hang-overs fade (all but mine, which shall never be born– woe, woe, the lot of the driver).
A quick little Christmas story for those who aren’t completely distracted by wrapping gifts and watching Alastair Sim go bonkers, and it is indeed based on a true story (exclamation point).
If you’re at all sensible, you’re on your guard now. If one is willing to carefully file facts to fit, every item of fiction can be found to have a real-world foundation… or rather, some real-world event can be pressed into service.
But, yes, this is based on a real-world event. I was recently in a room with a TV showing a broadcast image of a fireplace. That actually happened.
Merry Christmas to everyone to whom it is appropriate. I’ll also wish an appropriate mix of jollity and reflection for any who observe a different solstice-proximate holiday, of which there are many. Now, I’m off to wrap presents and get goofy on egg nog.
With the exception of one anomalous year, I have never travelled at Christmas; I have enjoyed the luxury of living in the same city as my immediate family nearly my whole life. This is not to say that I don’t want to travel, and indeed would travel a lot if means were at hand. Since they’re not, I have to do my travelling in my imagination most of the time.
For example, there’s a bit of a framing device in the new Current Story, The Healing Power of Crystals, which suggests a trip to England undertaken by me and my wife. Flummery, alas– she’s never been to Blighty, apart from a brief layover in Heathrow nearly twenty years ago (a frustration which still occasionally sets her quivering). When we do go, I say with unfounded optimism, I hope any of our stops offer anything near this sort of entertainment.
To those who find themselves wondering why this story isn’t particularly Christmas-flavoured, I offer this defence: M.R. James’s stuff wasn’t often seasonally thematic either.
This weekend, my generally quite North American family will be observing Sinterklaasje (fellow long-time fans of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast will understand what it means to say that some of the background noise of my childhood was in the Dutch language). Our idiosyncratic approach to the day sees a handing of a single small present to each of the kids in the room after a small clue-driven scavenger hunt, while the adults try not to look meaningfully in the direction of the next clue lest Zwaart Piet appear to steal our rum.
Since I’ve already got a bit of a scavenger hunt going, I’m marking the day here by simply posting a very silly little bit of fiction, the short title of which is Two Natural Oddities. A bit of fun and self-flagellation, in keeping with the season.
The new Current Story has given me a lot of trouble. Reticence is the third title I’ve hung on it, and while it’s the best so far I’m still not quite settled on it. It also is so quiet in its approach that I feel a qualm hanging the label Horror on it, but it really doesn’t agree with anything else. It’s more or less a ghost story, and definitely a story about haunting.
There is also a fairly open-ended game attached to this story. To do homage to one of my psychopathies, I’m going to give away a fountain pen to the first person to comment on this post who can identify the four literary references I’m making in the story. It’s not a very grand pen, but I like it enough myself to want to see it used more (I’ve got rather a lot of pens, and this one gets neglected in the crowd), and it comes in its original packaging so you can believe it’s brand new. It’s also probably less reward than the work attached to it justifies, as a couple of the references involved are pretty obscure.
So, those inclined to a free pen, get your thinking caps on. Name the authors and works I’m referencing, and remember that as on Jeopardy, a nearly correct answer may help another contestant. Unlike Jeopardy, the answer can be in the form of a statement, although question form will be admitted.
To comment, you have to tell the comment mechanism your email address. That’s how I’ll contact you. Please don’t put your address, email or otherwise in the comment; strange people may pester you. Date stamps on comments will be considered authoritative; first correct answer is the only winner.
I feel the effects of 11 November fairly deeply, although I live in a peaceful country. The giant wars of the last century involved Canada, but not as a theatre of operations, and apart from a brief and hopefully never-repeated recent bellicosity we incline more towards peace-keeping than peace-making (one of those euphemisms one can spend a long time unpacking), and yet the nature and value of military service frequently occupies my imagination and at certain times reduces me to prostrated grief. I don’t claim any virtue for this attitude; it may be a side-effect of having imagination or empathy to a certain degree, or it may just be a selfish echo of “thank goodness it wasn’t me”. There is certainly an element of selfish consideration in it, given that my father spent his childhood under Nazi occupation and I appreciate at second-hand those who levered him out from under the jackboot.
The point of what I mean to be a short entry is simply this. Think about the fallen, and those maimed in their body and mind by passing through the experience of war. If you don’t think about them at other times, then at least spare a minute for them tomorrow. I won’t presume to know the motivations of each soldier, but what they were about was at least presented to them as defending their fellows from death and oppression, and in pursuit of that defense they paid with curtailment or deformation of their entire future. Doesn’t that deserve at least a minute’s reflection, if not a regular offering of tears? Doesn’t it call for some consideration on how, as those for whom such price was paid, we might conduct ourselves in making the world the better place, in which such extravagant expenditure would never be called for again?
Utopian. Certainly. Still, even if you’re less flamboyant in your outlook, give them a thought.
This new Current Story is called Join the Chorus. I was somewhat startled, when I had it out for comment, to hear that it was full of Christian imagery– this is probably a result of having grown up in a country which has a majority of its population derived from European immigrants (or at least had– I think they’re still the biggest group, even if they no longer outnumber all others put together), and certainly wasn’t the intention. Possibly, since this wasn’t a universal response from the readers, those who made the comment were acting upon their own programming.
While I’m professing my secular inclinations, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Fountain Pen Day. May the first Friday in November find you with ink in your pen and a song in your heart!
Tomorrow being what it is, I have a small bit of more or less seasonal whimsy to offer for the new Current Story. We hear a lot of fatigue with one sub-genre of Horror or another; The Inconvenient Weekend of the Dead is my response to my own manifestation along those lines.
It is something of a cliche in modern drama to show a father who slowly discovers that his son is not quite what he’d expected. Denial crumbles before mounting evidence, until a dinnertime explosion of pointless injunctions shatters the family forever. Or until someone is about to perish of a fatal but photogenic disorder.
I’ll bet everyone reading this with any exposure to North American television has the scene clearly in mind already.
“But, Dad… I hate driving stock cars! I want to be a tree surgeon!”
“You’re no son of mine! Get out of my house!”
“Arthur, Daniel isn’t going to the prom… with a girl.”
Dinner flies into the air as Arthur flings the table aside to grab Daniel by the front of his shirt, the coveted Thanksgiving drumstick raised like a cudgel.
Yes? We’ve seen plenty of examples, haven’t we?
I’ve recently had to wrestle with such a disappointment inflicted by my own dear son. Because I am not a fictional character, not contrived and only slightly two-dimensional, I have almost come to terms with the problem through introspection and through gentle discussion behind closed doors with my wife, who is equally concerned.
I imagine that there has been an intake of breath by some readers, shocked at the characterization of the situation as “the problem”. If I’m not a two-dimensional caricature of paleolithic fatherhood, how can I think in such terms? Bear with me. This is very like finding myself in a place where gravity and down don’t both point in the same direction, and I am trying to come to terms with it in the best way I can.
I can at least defend my reaction as not springing from on the usual sources. If I’m right about those sudden shocked gasps I imagined, it’s probably because those who did so thought I had suddenly realized that my son was something other than cis-gendered. Put your minds at rest. That’s a possibility which my wife and I discussed back when the pregnancy first manifested, and that discussion was primarily one of hoping that the way for our child would be less rocky when the time of discovery came, if his or her inclinations ran that way, than it had been for those of our generation who were “different”. Because Fate apparently doesn’t want to present a non-issue to the well-prepared, our son appears to be as cisgendered as one might tell from a kid in grade two. He may not be neuro-typical (and we’ve got a diagnosis to lean on there), but in the gender department all appears to be exactly as the most bigoted parent could hope.
Where then the tragedy? Is he not assuming the mantle of my preferred sport? Spurning the great tradition of the men of his line in going out on the athletic field? Denying me the vicarious victories I was never quite a good enough player to achieve, the filthy little brute?
Well… possibly, but in a highly inverted way. Assuming I had two figs, I wouldn’t give either of them for sports. There is a slight danger, as I perceive things, that the lad is becoming interested in using the physical powers the particular blending of my and my wife’s DNA has bequeathed to him. He likes to run. He deadlifts his own weight for fun. He does handstands as a preparation for sleep. It’s unnerving. However, it’s not something I’m strongly enough against to rewrite the will over. As with the other thing, the main concern is that he’ll get hurt as a side-effect.
No, the matter which brings dismay into my heart and my wife’s heart, the baffling proclivity that I struggle to accept is… well, best to get it out and said.
My son doesn’t like Hallowe’en.
I need a moment.
To understand how this affects his parents, you have to realize how much Hallowe’en means to us. The general tone of the fiction I post here probably gives a clue, of course. My Facebook avatar for October is…
…who also provided a middle name for my son. A glance at the sort of junk I watch for entertainment would also give an insight, especially if you make allowances for things I’ve clearly watched because I have a young child under the same roof. My wife is the same way, as a recent Facebook post of hers suggests →
Hallowe’en is to us what I suspect hockey is to many other Canadians– a reason not to put out one’s own lights the moment autumn declares itself, and a source of fond memories to cling to through the cold part of the year. Before the appearance of our son, we would get the house decorated the way we had always hoped to as kids, because in our separate childhoods we appreciated people that went to a little trouble for the night that the vale thins.
Our son won’t have it, though. Even though the household decor is all low-key (some styrofoam grave markers, a relatively comical backpack-sized spider, a fog generator, some plastic skulls), he had gotten very quiet every Hallowe’en night since he was taking in information, and this year he actually came out and said it.
“I don’t like it.”
Parents all know that battles need to be chosen; losses are to be avoided, and pyrrhic victories are worse than a loss. When autism enters the scene– we are aware that we are faced with a very minor manifestation of the spectrum and daily give thanks for that– one has to emulate Sun Tzu in the battle-choosing department. There is little to be gained from fighting the Battle of Pumpkin Hollow but despair. That being the case, let all the despair fall on us, while he can have a happy night of pitching chocolate at his peers.
There is a potential of a silver lining. Casting my memory back, I find a portion of my own childhood in which the whole Horror genre was an unwelcome element of reality to me, even though dressing up for trick-or-treating was a joyful punctuation to autumn. I don’t know exactly when or how the change came over me; there was definitely a patch of fleeing the room when ads for Jaws came on TV, but it was not long thereafter I was avid to get to showings of old Universal monsters at the public library. There is hope. Hallowe’en is an acquired taste, and as it has gotten a little spicy since I was a kid– movie-grade props now available at grocery stores!– I’m not entirely mystified at my son’s current reaction.
Until hope bears fruit, I have the consolation of knowing that this sensitivity to the mock horrors of Hallowe’en also manifests as a more general sensitivity to less-fictional unpleasantness. He wept during a recent bedtime reading of The Adventures of Tintin at the prospect of a rickshaw driver being thrashed by a portly racist (even though Tintin thwarted him), and wept also at being given a vague, brief and heavily bowdlerised explanation of what the recent Orange Shirt Day at school had as a historical foundation. He embarrassed his parents slightly over the summer, explaining to the guy in the car next to us at a red light that smoking is unhealthy. He avoids stepping on bugs.
He’s becoming a decent, caring human being. That forgives a lot, and certainly outweighs foolish parental expectations.
No, I promise I’m not doing any fan fiction on this site. At least, not Star Trek fan fiction. There’s plenty of that in the world.
The new Current Story was prompted by my brother mentioning Chekhov’s old maxim at just the right moment, when some valves of my imagination were properly set. Thus, after a certain amount of effort, I arrive at The Third Act, which if we stretch a little can be wedged into the horror genre– you certainly would not want to be in the protagonist’s shoes.