Taking a Constitutional

The new Current Story is called A Stroll in Breda, and I have a lot of trouble deciding what genre it lies in.  It is a very gentle excursion into weird fiction, lacking the brutality of finish that marks horror, and without the overt unreality of fantasy.  As you’ll see in the tags, this had led me to stuff its octagonal peg in both a square and a round hole at the same time.

There is an something of authorial personal experience to this piece, but only trace elements.  My father does indeed come from Breda (or an immediately adjacent village which has since been absorbed), and I have stood in several of the places mentioned.  The Mastbos, for all its trim plantation nature, has the power to be a very eerie place in the right light.  The beer is unreasonably good, and not just in the little bar across the street from the old tank.

Edging Out Onto Thin Ice

The new Current Story, The Golden Oracle, is the sort of thing that a writing chap could get in a variety of troubles over.  At the back of it are a couple of authors whose works I quite enjoy.

The first burden I’m giving myself, and the one I’m content to shoulder, is one of vocabulary.  When I decided to pursue this story in the general way I did, I seemed to me that the style should match the setting, as far as I was able to make it.  Since I don’t have a publisher to please, I didn’t need to suppress that urge.  I don’t think “blatant attempt to pretend to 19th century writing style” is a trigger warning yet, but I suppose there are some who will appreciate a warning all the same.

There is another burden I look with distaste at and will attempt to leave where it lies.  I am known by some to be a fan of the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, and if that’s news to you, I don’t deny it.  The problem with this admission is that it brings with it a question of whether I also admire some of his less amiable qualities.  The way I phrase that should give a clue, but let me be clear; Lovecraft’s racism saddens me deeply, and I do not share it.  I bring this up because I’m setting a story in early 19th century England, and trying to write in the style of that time, and I’m presenting the reactions of people of that time and place to foreigners.  I try to go no farther than I absolutely have to, but people do like to impute a writer’s attitudes by holding up characters as an example.

On a final note, I’ll admit to there being an element of hubris at work here as well.  The initial inspiration for this story was a bit in the middle of Sheridan le Fanu’s The Room at the Dragon Volant which is marvelously weird on its face… but for one who spent a childhood in the 1970s getting very angry with Scooby Doo’s approach to the supernatural, it felt like a big fat cheat when the truth of it was unveiled.  I wrote this story in part to get the taste of that out of my mouth.

I will still bow to le Fanu, generally.  I know my place.

It Lacks, Alas, 76 Trombones

The new Current Story, which like the one it replaces is a flash, is offset in season.  I had expected, when getting my batting order sorted out, that the December/January transition would find much of North America wriggling in the grip of tyrant Winter and we’d all like a vicarious excursion into summer.

Mild temperatures, however, seem to be the norm this year, although there have been some odd extremities of wind and snow in some locations.  The Mermaid Parade remains the new story, though, because however wanting in chill it is, there’s still a bleakness to winter that I don’t mind being distracted from for a moment.

I’ll also mention that the genesis of the story was from merely reading the phrase “Mermaid Parade” in a state of profound ignorance as to how the actual item (which there is one of; if this is news to you as it was to me, here’s the straight goods on it) was conducted.  After some giggling at the more whimsical mental images, this story is what fell out of my head.  As with most stuff that drops from that chamber, it has little to do with the real world, and I hope anyone who has a deep and abiding fondness for the actual parade will forgive the excursion I took.

BASED ON A TRUE STORY!

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.

Christmas Vacation

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.

A Tiny Present

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.

Sing Out

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!

Mr. Chekhov, Report to the Bridge

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.

Living in the Past

This is the sort of thing I more usually do in my other, non-fiction, existence, and indeed did do not too long ago when I commented about how much we can infer about the inward state of people from their outward appearance… if they’re dressed like freaks who can’t get hep to the times.

If I were a very superstitious person, I’m make a connection between that post and a recent terrifying manifestation in my driveway.  It is “terrifying manifestation” which makes this post grist for the mill of this particular blog, of course, since that’s what I’m all about over here.  Anyway, imagine my alarm at suddenly discovering this:

Uh-oh.
Uh-oh.

You will have to continue imagining my alarm, though, as I’m the one who put it there.  Another stage of the downsizing of my parents is the banishing of this beauty from the garage in which it has been avoiding the notice of the Norns since about 1994.  It was bought about seven years before that, from the original owner, who did very little driving with it herself.  Actually… I should have said “the original owner’s widow”.  It’s one of those deals.

I didn't put the hub caps and wheel trim on for the photos, as they were under the mysterious large packages in the trunk. You'll have to imagine them as well.
I didn’t put the hub caps and wheel trim on for the photos, as they were under the mysterious large packages in the trunk. You’ll have to imagine them as well.

It is, undeniably, an elegant object from what some would call a more civilized age.  I got to drive it from the shop where it was rendered capable of locomotion after its decades on blocks (the original (!) tires were replaced last spring) to my house, where it was slightly better off on my driveway than parked on a curb while my brother made room in his garage.  I had driven it a few times before its long dormancy, so this was a return to my salad days.

As the plate indicates, it’s a 1961 model, making it a half-decade older than me, and almost a half-century older than the vehicle I currently get about in.  This little plate inside the engine compartment gives an excellent feeling for the state of the world at the time of its creation:

Not "Federal Republic of...", but just, "that bit, nearer France."
Not “Federal Republic of…”, but just, “that bit, nearer France.”

The interior is as plush as you could like too. It still smells of leather conditioners that haven’t been used on the upholstery since it came into the family. It is comfy, and the ride is smooth.

There's a lot of wood in there. Actual, tree-made wood.
There’s a lot of wood in there. Actual, tree-made wood.

It scares the living crap out of me.  It disillusions me, in fact, on the subject of vintage cars and their purported charms.  It’s not just the entire lack of seatbelts, although the sensation of drifting along the seat when passing through a mild curve is disconcerting enough.  I am, after my years of writing with vintage pens and cooking in vintage pots and wearing clothes that are at least reminiscent of vintage fashions, used to the idea of stewardship.  The stuff I have is mine for but the current moment, to be handed on to future generations in as functional a state as I can manage (socks excluded– there’s some ephemera in every life).

Driving this car, with its manual choke and its stupid/clever transmission, with a cutting-edge-in-1961 vacuum-operated clutch that engages when you take hold of the gear selector, requires all four limbs and both tails.  The steering is not powered, of course, and neither are the brakes.  The former is only an issue at low speeds, but the latter is a big one.  We are used to linear rewards for braking effort in our modern cars, with the amount of deceleration linked to the amount of pressure on the pedal.  In this car, most of the brake’s travel is merely to get the tail-lights to warn people that you’re about to do something.  Actual braking only begins as your foot nearly gets to the floor, and then there’s about five millimeters of travel between sort of slowing and just about locked.  While working the transmission and keeping the choke happy so you don’t stall.

Stewardship.  I don’t want to get into an accident in a new car.  In one this old, with 18,850 miles on the odometer, it would feel like a war crime.  Every moment of driving is like carrying a baby while walking on stilts through the wreckage of a roller-skate factory.  I can’t imagine having it as a constant companion.  I’m very glad that it’s in its new enclosure, and I’m sort of delighted that my father is entertaining a couple of offers he’s had on it.  We’re not the right care-takers for it.  That return to the salad days I mentioned came with a realization; I wasn’t scared driving this thing in the late 1980s because I was a kid out in daddy’s car, or at least not entirely.  I was appropriately terrified by a terrifying activity.

I’m frankly amazed at how many people encumber themselves with old cars like this.  I’m even more amazed that humanity as a whole got through to the point where cars were so accommodating that people could entertain the notion of texting behind the wheel– deeply stupid, selfish people, of course, but there’s no way you could do anything but drive a car like this and there’s still a huge window of disastrous possibility available.  An end to civilization through pile-up seems as narrowly avoided as the nuclear exchange that didn’t quite top off the Cuban Missile Crisis when this car was only a year old.  I may choose to adopt some aspects of the past into my life, but in automotives I’ll stick to the now.

I love you, old car, but I can’t stand to be with you.

"I love you, too. Now drive through a school zone, I'm hungry."
“I love you, too. Now drive through a school zone, I’m hungry.”