Here’s a little story I enjoyed writing, a fable by the name of “Semuul and Clycestra”. The idea came to me as I was falling asleep, when I had the image of a giant bird snatching a person who was plummeting in the sky. I crawled out of bed to write a paraphrased version of it, and here is the final cut: Semuul and Clycestra
Very pleased to announce that my short story, “Planet H-13” is published in this October’s issue of Five on the Fifth and is available at the following link: “Planet H-13”.
This story is a piece of a larger idea I’ve been working on, which I hope to get other parts/pieces published to let the short stories and flash fictions interweave to set the stage for the big picture. We’ll see. Please take the time to read and enjoy.
Not a whole lot to say with regards to this story. I had an image in my head, probably very much inspired by the cover art to Muse’s Absolution album. I thought of spirits flying away. At the same time, I was listening to an audiobook, which one exactly I don’t remember right now. It could have been Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality or the Great Courses lecture Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time by Sean Carroll. Side note, I find it much easier to pay attention to what I’m reading if I narrate it in my head using Sean Carroll’s tenor and articulation. Very handy. Also, he’s written some very extremely interesting things, but I’m getting off track. The point is, I was considering how the Earth is in a constant orbit around the sun, which is constantly orbiting the Milky Way, which is in its own motion. Now, if something, anything, leaving Earth were to have nothing attaching it to the planet and no means to self-propel, it would be left behind. What if we were continuously leaving something behind? What if the reason no scientist, no energy detector of any sort can find the spirits of the departed that people are wont to believe? What if the reason is simply that gravity has no effect on the deceased?
The thought came with its own peculiar terror, but that’s not what I dwelled on. I tried to exorcise it through type, and thus we have “That the Stars Do Shine“.
Long distance night driving on an empty road can cause the mind to wander. Sometimes when the only company you have are the lane dividers passing under the reflection of headlights, the best you got for entertainment is music and imagination. Listening to Sponge’s “Giants” (Rotting Pinata album), a cinematic montage would come to mind during the chorus. Scenes of giants falling, killed by one means or another, and in my mind, I saw it playing out in backgrounds of different colors, places, tones. And I would think, imagine if it wasn’t all just killing “monsters” per se. It’s been in my head a while, and I decided to exorcise it by print. “How Dangerous We May Be”, a short story of giants falling down. Down, down, yeah yeah yeah. And not all of them happen to be monsters, per se.
Hope you enjoy, and if you do, spread the word, leave a like. A little encouragement goes a long way. Link is below and in the short list to the right.
So I haven’t really found a good market for short/flash historical fiction, and the publishers that I do know weren’t particularly interested in my story, “The Grand Experiment”. It’s a speculative piece set in the Revolutionary period wherein a subset of the forefathers decide that rudimentary computational science would be best for a fledgling democracy to best compromise free will and freedom with the needs for all to find common grounds for a functioning government. So here it is, “The Grand Experiment”:
Hamilton frothed as the temperamental man-kettle boiled over again. “No, sir! It is inconceivable that you offer such a theory for this purpose! It is moreover incredible that your credibility ever allowed you so deep into the American affair that you should be here speaking this nonsense!”
Madison puffed lightly from the pipe tip and eyed his contemporary. “I think the good sir has let his passions again best him. It is lucky his passions refused to fight for the Red Ensign.”
Hamilton’s eyes flickered hotly in the hearth fire’s light as he stepped toward the relaxed gentleman. “Sir! If you would have nothing but contempt and outrageous theories to offer this council, then do us the courtesy of letting that door bid you good day!”
John Jay slapped his palms against the circular table separating them and launched to his feet. “Gentlemen! Be it as it may that we do not always agree, we are nonetheless the ones best positioned to influence the future! Our good friend Mr. Franklin provided us this theory, and he has always been quite selective in choosing which European ideas and developments to share with us for our own purposes. I do mean with no feigned acquiescence or uncertain spirit that we should take his words earnestly and incorporate them into our designs. No nation or government before our time has attempted such a new beginning as ours.” He paused for a warm sip of rum. “Blood was shed, gentlemen. Our neighbors, our brothers, our sons and fathers lost their lives to ensure this land could birth a new form of government. Men did not die for tepid survivors to foolishly raise an infant nation on the same withered principles that failed their forebears.”
Hamilton locked his hands together as a measure of control, responding with increasing crescendo, “I respect your opinion, as I always have, but this is not a simple academic matter that may be or even should be swayed by the mathematical inklings of English scholars in Cambridge!”
“This is no simple academic matter!” Madison declared, emptying the pipe of ash. “If we truly mean to create a beacon of freedom that draws the spite of monarchists and tyrants and the praise of the thinking free man, then we must pursue a course that engenders self-reflection and growth! And, dear sir, no matter how the Furies coax our spirits, none of the gentlemen in the upcoming conferences have the infinite foresight to ensure the beacon remains lit in perpetuity.”
John nodded toward Madison. “Indeed, and we three are even less prophetic. We should not discount these mathematical theories. Instead, we should embrace them as Heaven-sent pronouncements of Western philosophy. If we insist with all our energies on the sustained empowerment of two political parties, the computational requirements to resolve any issue shall be present and uninterrupted.”
Hamilton buried his chin into his linen kerchief. “I do not wish to use a theory to abuse the people of a representative democracy that cannot think beyond a simple dichotomy of opinion. As the nation grows so shall its people, and while we pretend to know our limitations, we seek to impose restrictions on all future generations based on a Parisian mathematical trinket and the whimsies of English intellectuals! Binary computation! It is an absurdity! I will not be less than blunt about this. You gentlemen fail to see the philosophically treasonous Trojan that the naïve Mr. Franklin imports! You would strangle our future with the philosophies of men of comfort who owe allegiance to the Crown we just shed!”
John looked toward Madison, who was shaking his head while reaching for his pouched tobacco. “James? How will you answer this charge?”
Madison licked his teeth while tapping the tobacco gently into his pipe. “First, I will ask the honorable Mr. Hamilton to recall where most of our philosophies were birthed. Second, I agree that we do not understand the nation’s potential growth, either in land, its philosophies, scientific achievements, or in its peoples. I offer this idea not as a means of restriction but of liberation, freeing future governance from today’s assumptions that Mr. Hamilton correctly implied are likely incomplete and in error. I reviewed Mr. Franklin’s notes. The theories appear sound. A two-party system allows for each educated man to input their answer, or computation if you will, of any given issue into the mass. Then the mass, our body politic, may, per the theory, receive those inputs and output a solution born of thousands to hundreds of thousands of intelligences. Such a solution must necessarily be correct.”
John nodded approvingly, sipping again at his half-glass of rum while Madison paced the room.
“Additionally, so long as a method remains to return such issues for population computation, then we ensure such solutions are continuously revised over the generations. Thus, we will allow for only the most preferred and most correct forms of society to exist, and we prolong the longevity of our nation. This, my good sir, is the grand experiment. We shall allow for this nation not simply to have a system of self-government but also a system of self-computation. No nation or government before us has ever implemented such mathematical theory to create a perfect system. I do agree with your concern of restrictive dichotomous governance. Your concern is sound and valid.” Hamilton snorted, but Madison failed to pause. “This system, however, is not restrictive as it continuously harnesses the energies and education of the many over time. If you can think of an issue that cannot be ultimately resolved by the cumulatively calculated yay or nay of the minds of a whole nation, you are a far more formidable strategist than I have previously given credit.”
John stole their attention by sharply setting his empty glass down. “Alexander. Do you agree to move forward with the intentions for this two-party computational system? As a matter of decency, we will not prohibit creating other parties, but we will ensure their marginalization to prevent calculational interference, as Mr. Franklin refers to it.”
Hamilton fell back into his chair and eyed Madison. “Gentlemen, I hope for the sake of all that you are correct. Mr. Jay, you have my grudging agreement.”
But my story “Nimrod” was published in E is for Exorcism, one of the books in the ambitious and spectacular horror anthology that is the creation of Red Cape Publishing. “Nimrod” is fiction, yes, but it’s based on a collection of dreams I had several years ago. Further, it touches on images of real art, real frustrations with the Church, and real fears that still simmer in the fears of humanity. So please, check out Red Cape Publishing, check out E is for Exorcism, available both at Red Cape Publishing and on Amazon!
The following Monday was the day I had to break it to my manager. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d explain it, and I certainly had a certain amount of fear that she’d leave me with the options of “don’t do this” or “get fired”.
I waited outside like normal, coffee and plastic bag of lunch in hand. I remember it being refreshingly cool, and I do mean refreshing. The breeze was crisp, happy, blowing by in short drafts that were strong enough to catch your hair but lacking the maliciousness to pierce your clothes. It really was a beautiful day, a pure spring day, where after months and months of Indiana winter, just the sight of the nascent green leaves and multitudes of flowers recoloring the streets and neighborhoods renews your purpose and desire to see the day through. Where the winter provided a soul-depleting tapestry of white and greys and the familiar stink from trampled slush at any building’s entrance, spring, here spring meant something. Which is why I didn’t mind waiting outside like this for my ride.
Several minutes went by before he finally showed up. Michael, Mike, usually referred to by his last name at work, Roberts, showed up at 7:36 that morning in his Honda CRV.
Mike was a good guy. He was the average sort of nice, always had a ready smile to greet you with, brown eyes, hooked nose, and a vague look in his eyes that was reassuringly pacifistic; the kind of person you knew meant no wrong. He was also always ready to help you, so long as it didn’t cost more than two hours time, ten dollars, or cause him to be parted from something that was ultimately an inconvenience. Like I said, an average sort of nice.
As soon as he came to a stop, I got into the passenger seat. My apartment complex was on his way to work, and I subsidized the convenience of him saving me gas and the higher likelihood of a stroke.
“Hey buddy, good morning.” There’s that affable smile, bless him.
“Morning Mike.” The Honda starts moving. “How you doing?”
“I’m ok, ok, uh, had a pretty nice weekend. Me and Alicia had a nice evening downtown, dinner and drinks. Have you been down South Main lately? There’s a lot of new places. In fact, we just stayed around Colfax.”
“Yeah, I haven’t lately, it’s been a while. I’ll check it out though, maybe this weekend. You, uh, read the paper?” Ever ask questions you know the answer to just for the sake of conversation?
“Newspaper?” A chuckle to break his dialogue. “I mean, I read the news.”
“Yeah, I read something about a guy at the hospital who.. um..,” I stopped. At that moment, the words dissolved in my mouth, I couldn’t explain it, couldn’t explain who this person was or why I should even bring it up. This was dumb. “Er, well, I read about a guy,” if I had any commitment to this idea, I had to just get it out, “who sounds like he may be special, someone to really talk to, to meet, um, you know for people who have a sort of sadness in their hearts they want something done about.”
Mike, thankfully much more engaged in a left-hand turn through traffic, nodded thoughtfully. We were almost to the bank. Being a loan officer wasn’t glorious, exciting, or really what I ever imagined I’d be doing in all the childhood years of parents, relatives, school teachers, and kindly pediatricians asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. However, as I said before, I’m comfortable, and I stay fed.
It wouldn’t be until several hours later that I’d have the opportunity to talk to Karen. Karen Whitmore, a Protestant woman of her late-forties, four children, drove a Ford Expedition. Some people would follow up with their emotional description of their boss, great person or tyrant, but to be honest, our interactions were so brief and sterile, I had nothing. In fact, I had no idea how the conversation was to go.
“Excuse me, you want to do what?”
“Karen, I want to take an extended leave from the bank. You know I rarely take vacation, and I want to roll up this and next year’s vacation periods into one.”
A porcelain angel next to a coffee cup full of pens stared at me. Its cherubic face smiled. I pursed my lips.
“Josh, I’m a little upset that you’ve put me in this position of having to tell you that I can’t authorize that. You’ve been with this bank long enough to know our policies. I can’t let Terri be the only loan processor in this branch for that long.”
“Karen, I know, but please remember that I didn’t take any time off last year.” I started to slump in the chair, a little exasperated at the resistance, but I didn’t know how to explain this. This wasn’t me just taking time off for the sake of recouping lost days, this was something that “I need. Karen, I-I need this. Listen, I just need to get out of here for a while, and you know that I’ve been here every day, I don’t linger or take my time with accounts, and I do a good job. I am very detailed and careful with what I do. And, and I don’t ask for anything from you or anyone else around here, but God as my witness, I need this, I’ve just got to try.”
She leaned in from her desk and propped her elbows on the polished faux-wood surface. The wall clock became very noticeable in its time-telling. She was quiet, working her lips around as she was probably deciding if I was worth taking the flak later if someone higher than her wanted to ask a couple questions about staffing allocation and “policy”.
“Ok Josh, fine.” She smiled, with a light irritation still in her eyes. “You have last year’s and this year’s vacation and not a day more. You need to take care of yourself, and if this will help you, then I hope you find that help.”
I sat up immediately, planted my heels into that office carpet, and stood to shake her hand. “Thank you Karen, really. Thank you.”
She wished me the best of luck, and with that I was off.. to finish the work day and wait for my ride.
There I was, sitting on my patio with a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito, cell phone in hand with St. George Hospital’s number queued up. My tongue was numb from that breakfast burrito. Nuke it for a minute and a half, let it sit for twenty, or wind up not using the afflicted part of your mouth for the better part of the day. I didn’t know how to start really, and I thought this was the best, most feeble way to go. I called the first number listed on their website, got a hold of “Wendy”. While the name brought up certain mental images, and hunger, the sound of her voice conjured images suiting a sixty-year old or so volunteer who probably devotes her time at the hospital to guide the grieving toward the necessary floor. Part of me felt presumptuous, the other part really hoped she was a good soul. I don’t know why it mattered.
“Hello, St. George Hospital, my name is Wendy, how may I help you or direct your call?”
“Hi Wendy, my name is Josh, and I’m calling about a Miracle Man? Do you, uh, happen to know who I’m talking about?” You know those old samurai war masks with the really exaggerated frowns? Pretty sure that was the look of utter cringe on my face.
“I’m sorry, no, I don’t know who that would be.” The disappointment wasn’t genuine, but there was conviction in that answer.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I know that’s a strange question to ask. There was an article in “The Observer” yesterday, someone writing in about a man she said she met there at St. George’s, and I was wondering if you knew had seen anyone there lately, of if there was any talk or mention of such a person..?” The more I said that out loud, the dumber I felt for the effort.
“Oh, you know? We were talking about that this morning, yes, it was a nice article. Someone brought that article in. It was very nice. You know, since you asked, hold on please.”
“Sure thing, absolutely.” I took a big honking bite of that burrito because you don’t let a beefy delicious serving of alternative egg, cheese, probably ham, and likely real sausage go cold. So delicious.
“Yes sir, so I just talked to one of my co-workers, the one who brought the article in. She was here that night in fact. Would you like to speak with her?”
I couldn’t believe it. Breakfast burrito and a break in one morning? The hell you say…
“Absolutely! If she’s able to, please.”
“Sir, I’ll put her on, one second please and have a great day.”
“Thank you Wendy, you too.” Sip of coffee.
“Hello? Hi, are you the one who saw the Miracle Man?”
“Yes sir, well sort of, you see. I heard them talking while I was updating the check-ins for the day. They were in the lobby, and the woman who wrote that article was standing just in front of him, so I couldn’t see his face. But it was thankfully slow, and I could hear their whole conversation. He seemed real sweet. They chatted a little while after that whole piece you read about in the paper, just polite talk.”
While she was talking, that cup of coffee disappeared to just a little aromatic ring at the bottom of the cup. My mind was reeling. “Sounds like a great person! Did you happen to catch a name, job, anything at all that might help me find him? I know, I mean I know it sounds weird, but I’m hoping to find this guy, talk to him, you know?”
“Oh, I don’t know if it’s much help, but he did say he was on his way for business to Jackson, Mississippi I think.”
“Jackson? Jeez, he’s not exactly taking the quick route if he’s taking a pit stop here, is he?” I laughed, sort of. The polite attempt-at-casual-conversation sort of life.
Well, so did she. “Oh I know! I don’t understand why he’d be at a hospital if he was traveling on business, well, he didn’t say he was waiting on anyone. But he said he was driving to Jackson from Chicago, trying to make a trip of it.”
“Ma’am, thank you. He didn’t happen to mention when he had to be here, did he?”
“No sir, but I hope you find him. The way he sounded so sure, I think maybe the Lord did speak through him.”
After I hung up, I chewed over the last of the breakfast tortilla with a lot on my mind. The dense flour material clung to my molars, and I felt excitedly stuck – what the hell was I going to do with this information? It was feasible, certainly feasible, that this guy, whoever he is, was truly on his way to Jackson. Being that he was in a hospital, maybe a doctor, maybe a miracle man in a figurative sense. Do I need to find someone like this? A kind stranger with nice words and a specialty in dermatology?
A quick login to my bank account helped with the decision making. When you have no one to spend money on and no reason to go out, it becomes significantly easier to save. I knew I could survive a month without pay, the trick was to get my employer to buy on a leave of absence that long without being replaced. I knew then if this was going to pan out the way I wanted it to, I’d need a full suitcase, a couple hundred dollars in cash, and no need to look behind, at least for a little while.
It took two months before I wound up here, staring in the mirror at this Budget Inn just outside the middle-of-something Mississippi. A stack of newspapers as high as my knee are laid out on top of the queen-size mattress, and according to the bathroom mirror, I look like hell. I know I’m close though, God, I’m so close to finding him.
The idea hit me on a Sunday, April 8 in fact, hovering around that period where you might want to call it the morning if you’re lazy, or strictly afternoon if you’re a purist, or someone who believes that high noon still means something. I was sitting on the couch, the Sunday newspaper in my hands, and the exorbitant innards of ads laying on the coffee table. I hit the funnies first, laid the page with the crossword puzzle next to me. Sixty percent of the newspaper to me was worthless, but damn did I like reading the letters to the editor and that self-help section.
She caught my eye. It was a letter from a woman named Abby (not TO Abby, not the famous Abby), who said she met a man in the lobby of St. George’s hospital downtown. I read the column, the tight black type on reassuringly resilient gray, and it was one particular line that really caught me. “You know what he did? He grabbed my hands, held them so gently, and he said, ‘Abby, your husband is going to be fine. The Lord is with him, and he is going to be fine.’ I thought it very sweet of him to say so, but I also thought you might expect a lot of people to say those kinds of things in a hospital. Well wouldn’t you know, when we met the doctor that afternoon, he said that the chemotherapy was showing some very positive results! He even said that my husband kept that sort of progress, we may have that awful cancer in full remission before the end of the year! Oh, I was so happy! If I can find this Miracle Man, I want him to know I said thank you!”
I was sitting on the couch at the time, feet nestled among several empty beer cans on the coffee table. I ran my thumbs along the edges of the paper and folded it on my lap, looked at the ceiling, wondering if God had any quick words of wisdom for me. No. Just the ceiling fan, dust-caked on the leading edges, still. “Miracle man, huh?” I chattered my teeth, a bad habit, some stupid habit whenever I realize I mentally come up to a crossroads that’s either going to lead me to some sort of glory or a whole hell of a lot of disappointment. I was mighty experienced in the latter.
My apartment was simple, kept it simple, but dirty. An empty pizza box from last Friday night was still out, just past the beer cans. Ash tray, but that was clean at least. Maybe I needed to meet this guy, probably could use a miracle or two. I stood up from that couch to look out the front window, a stunning view of plain bushes, parked cars and another row of brick-façade apartments with ugly brown trim and balconies. I can tell you, I lived comfortably enough, my job saw to that, and I put in just enough effort to make sure the bills got paid on time. But there wasn’t enough motivation left in my bones for anything else in life. The angel on the shoulder told me a few months back that everything was alright, that the plus side of having most of my small family dead from dementia or disease, that it just wasn’t very probable to have another loss anytime soon. Bastard angel. The devil told me to forget anything the other spirit says. The way to heaven is through donation, and you can’t donate unless you’re at Church, and only sinners go to Church, so drink up son, grab another bottle, another can, drink on up, it’s the only way.
I figured on a Sunday, it couldn’t hurt me to try to look, find this “Miracle Man”. I was bored, and my Sundays weren’t going to be occupied with approved company anymore, so what did I have to lose? A job, maybe, depending. So on that Sunday, I looked up St. George’s and called the lobby, see if I could get any sort of information. And that’s how all this started.