Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chapter 13 (concluded)

There was a sort of trail, and it was mostly solid, although there were patches of muckier bits along it.  The trees were closer together here, and they crowded out the constant light.  In amongst the trees, there still seemed to be watery areas, although the wading birds were nowhere to be seen.  The atmosphere was darker and more oppressive here, and they walked close together.  Even Roger was more quiet than Johnny had come to expect from her.

The hill and the dock were far behind them now, screened from sight by the swampy forest.  The leaves of the trees would rustle alarmingly from time to time, but there was still no sign of the creatures that caused it.  Roger kept a sharp eye on the upper branches.

Suddenly, there was a low burbling sound that Johnny knew by now was a hunting burrikit.  Roger stopped and flung out a hand.  She needn’t have bothered; both Johnny and Larissa had frozen immediately.  Even Bones, normally hyperkinetic no matter what the circumstances, had become a quivering feathered statue.  There was a flash of orange twenty feet over their heads, in the trees to the left of the path, and then a bundle of fur and teeth shot out of the leaves and sailed over them, landing on a low branch that stuck out over the trail.

This was Johnny’s first close-up view of a burrikit.  It had the tufted ears and bushy “sideburns” that he associated with a lynx, but its fur was a bright orange, the color of a creamsicle.  The whiter fur (really an extremely pale shade of orange) under its chin reinforced that color scheme.  The same whitish color was found in rings on its long, arched tail, which looked like it belonged on a completely different animal: a ringtail cat, or a coatimundi.  Its claws were extended: vermilion daggers digging into the branch to maintain its balance.  Sabretooth fangs with an apricot tint stuck over its lower jaw to just below its chin.  Its eyes were the only thing that weren’t some shade of orange: they were a  dangerously glowing greenish-yellow.  The low growling purr that filled the air was chilling; Johnny wondered how had it had ever reminded him of a Disney character.

Roger reacted immediately.  She raised her arms above her head and actually took a step forward.  “G’wan!  Git!” she shouted.

To Johnny’s surprise, Larissa grabbed the sides of her jacket and also threw her arms out, flapping the insides of her coat at the beast.  “Makes you seem bigger than you are,” she said softly.  Johnny shrugged and started waving his arms around as well.  The burrikit leaned back, but didn’t retreat.  Roger kept waving with one hand, but put her other on the hilt of her sword.

Just as it seemed violence was imminent, the cat’s tail flashed once and it disappeared, leaping up into the treetops and shaking the branches wildly with its passage.  Johnny let out a long breath.  “That was lucky ...” he started, but Roger was looking around with concern.

“No,” she said, “something’s not ...”

The air was split by a hideous noise.  It was somewhere between a foghorn and a moose call, with a dash of shrieking baby thrown in for good measure.  The bass vibrated in Johnny’s breastbone, but it cranked rapidly into a register that was so high it was almost painful, then dropped immediately back down.  It made Johnny shiver, and that was just the noise.  When the creature appeared, the unearthly sound paled in comparison.

It was at least seven feet tall, possibly eight.  Its skin was a shiny black, wet with swampwater and draped with bits of greenery, as if it had just sprung up out of the water where it had been lying in wait.  The hide was leathery and pebbled, and Johnny knew Roger’s thin rapier had no chance at all of peircing it.  It was generally humanoid, although it seemed to have no neck—its head was just a mound on top of its shoulders.  Its eyes were balls of green flame, with no whites or pupils, and its open mouth sported metallic fangs that were six inches long.  Its claws were the same, except much longer: probably two feet of flashing bladelike talons.

It strode through the tree trunks onto the path, still emitting that bizarre howl, and chaos erupted.  Bones gave a terrified shriek and shot into the trees.  Roger’s sword was in her hand, and she expertly parried the first swipe of a claw, but still the force of it threw her backwards into the trees on the other side.  Larissa disappeared behind him and off the path to the same side that had spawned the creature.  Suddenly Johnny was alone with it.  He noted clinically that it had no snout; no nose at all, really.  No facial features whatsoever except those eerie green balls of fire for eyes, and a great open maw full of deadly teeth.  Then he turned and ran.

The three of them had now taken off in three different directions, three of the four lines that would form a giant X, with the fourth being the path along which the creature had made its entrance.  It was theoretically random chance that would determine which of them it would chase after.  Johnny knew from the crashing and snapping of tree trunks behind him who had “won.”

He hit a small clearing and stumbled in a shallow pond.  He went down hard, although the ground he hit was soft enough that he didn’t break anything.  There was a tree root under his face and he tasted a bit of blood in his mouth, but he knew it wasn’t serious.  Not nearly as serious as it was about to be, anyway.  He rolled over frantically.  There were tree branches and vines and Spanish moss above him, and the same fading-twilight sky as always, but only for a moment, because suddenly everything turned black as the beast filled his vision.

There was a clang of steel that Johnny thought must be a rapier hitting the thing’s hide; it swatted vaguely behind it, and Johnny heard an “oof” and more crashing into bushes.  A flurry of branches and nuts came flying down at the creature’s head, and there was a parroty squawk of “leave off there!” but it paid no mind to that either.  It lifted one arm up high, and the glossy silvery-black claws flashed in the light.

And then Larissa screamed.

Thinking back on it, Johnny would decide that this was the single strangest sound he had ever heard in his life.  First there was the fact that it was Larissa.  He had never heard Larissa scream, not even that one time when he was sure they were going to get sliced up by a jittering addict too far gone to realize they couldn’t possibly have any money to give him.  Johnny himself had given a little scream when the knife had come lunging at them, before a timely police siren had sent the junkie running, but Larissa had never made a sound.  And secondly, it was a bizarre sort of scream, almost unnatural.  Generally when you heard someone scream, you knew they were scared.  But this, this was ... different.  He couldn’t tell if she was frightened, or angry, or frustrated, or if she was perhaps a superhero employing some sort of sonic power; he had a sudden vision of a young Donald Sutherland raising his arm and emitting an eerie shriek, but he couldn’t place it, because he had never known that in his late night cable surfing he had stumbled across the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The piercing screech echoed across the swamp; the fluttering of panicked birds filled the air.  The beast standing over him roared its strange roar again, as if answering a challenge, then the talons flashed toward Johnny’s face and he instinctively closed his eyes.

The howl of the monster rose in pitch, as if in frustration, and Johnny decided to open his eyes to see why he wasn’t dead yet.  The thing’s arm had become entangled in the vines above them, and Johnny instinctively rolled to his right just as they finally snapped.  The metallic-colored talons embedded themselves into the marshy ground where his head had been.

He was half covered in water and mud now, and the thing was turning towards him again, but suddenly he was very calm.  If he could walk through a solid steel grate, why should he let this beast skewer him where he lay?  He reached for the alien sense inside him and let his body go completely slack.  The claws came down again, and passed directly through his body, but it offered no resistance.  The thing’s arm was now completely through his chest, but he knew it had not pierced him.  He reached up with one arm and put his hand inside the creature’s arm; the monster shuddered and howled, and actually retreated a few steps, taking its arm with it and holding it close to its body as if Johnny had hurt it somehow.  The eyes flashed around the clearing, looking for something, and they lit on a robed figure which had stepped into the open area while Johnny had been distracted.  The monster hesitated, and the figure raised a wooden staff and began to chant.

The words were slippery in Johnny’s ears, no language that he had ever heard before, yet he knew it was ancient; older than Latin, older than Greek.  It was a language that was old when Phoenician and Sanskrit and Sumerian were being spoken.  The words were soft and lyrical, falling over themselves in a waterfall of susurration that Johnny found comforting, but the creature backed away from them, its howl subdued now, its fiery green eyes tracking back and forth in confusion.  Suddenly it turned and crashed away through the trees; Johnny could hear its progress in snapping tree trunks for a few moments, and then there was a loud splash and silence.

Roger appeared in the clearing, nursing a bruised arm and limping slightly.  Larissa was on the opposite side, also stepping forward cautiously.  Bones floated down from the branches to land lightly nearby.  The chanting faded away, and the figure in its pale blue robes strode forward and offered Johnny a hand.  “Thanks,” Johnny said, his voice shaking a bit as the man drew him to his feet.  “I think you may have saved my life there.”

The man smiled.  He was clean-shaven, with sandy brown hair and deep, blue eyes.  “My pleasure.  I could hardly allow you to be eaten by a muck monster on your way to see me, now, could I?”  He must have read confusion in Johnny’s face, for he added: “I am Aidan de Tourneville.  I’ll be your Water Guide.”


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another Mother

One of the reasons I couldn’t get a post up last week was that apparently the universe decided to punish me for not saying enough nice things about my mother in my Mother’s Day post.  My mom had to have emergency surgery a week ago for a perforated colon.  How she managed to perforate her colon, neither I, nor she, nor evidently her doctors, seem to know.  But she got it, and she had the surgery, and now she’s doing fine.  But it occurred to me that I might want to take a moment this week to talk a bit about my mother.

Now, I can’t deny that I’ve had a bit of a contentious relationship with my parents, both as a child and as an adult.  But that’s not to say that I don’t love my mother.  (And my father too, although I suppose that’s a topic for another day.)  I’m lucky enough to still have my parents around, in case I need them, but not so close that we can get on each other’s nerves.  In fact, there are a couple thousand miles between me and my parents—2,713, in fact, according to Google maps, by the most direct route.  They’re quite happy continuing to live in the town I grew up in, the same town where I was born.  The same town where they were born, for that matter.  In fact, the three of us were all born in the same hospital, and graduated from the same high school.  You’d think they’d be sick of it by now ... obviously I was, since I moved first 4 hours away, and then later 43 hours away.  But they seem to like it there, and I expect they’ll be there until they die.

Which is hopefully a goodly amount of time in the future, perforated colons notwithstanding.  My mother, for instance, has always been pretty healthy.  She’s a bit overweight, and she’s had a few worrisome skin cancers that she had to have removed, but, really, she’s probably had fewer medical issues than I have, overall.  She was a nurse for many years, so perhaps that has something to do with it, somehow.  She became a nurse because her father wanted a son who would grow up to be a doctor, and I suppose that was as close as she could come, back in those days.  Might she have become a doctor even so?  Well, according to Time Magazine, there were 7,500 female doctors in the U.S. in 1941, and that was 23 years before my mother entered nursing school (at that same hospital where we were all born, in fact).  So perhaps it might have been possible.  But bucking tradition was never my mother’s way.

Tradition, in fact, has always been very important to her.  Christmas in our house was a series of carefully choreographed events, and that’s only one simple example.  She’s got a bit of fear of change, I think, and maybe even a smattering of OCD.  I know it’s always driven her crazy to have a lightswitch in the up position when the light’s off, which can happen in my parents’ house because of multiple switches for the same light.  In fact, there’s one light—in the upstairs hall—that has three switches, and I remember her bedtime dance, up and down the stairs, to make sure all the switches were down, before she could turn in for the evening.  I would tease her about it often.

Perhaps that’s why I have to have all the money in my clip turned the same way, or why I’m constantly realphabetizing my CD’s and DVD’s.

But that’s not what I actually think about when I think what I got from my mother.  She was an intellectual, despite never having attended college.  She had a love for trivia, and for intricacies of grammar, and for literature.  She taught me lists: all the letters of the Greek alphabet, all the books of the Bible, all the bones in the human body, all the Presidents of the United States.  And how to count to ten in Spanish, French, German, and Malay.  And I still remember all of that, except I don’t think I could get the bones in the wrist and ankles right any more, and the Malay is long gone.  I would say the majority of my intellectual curiosity comes from her.

She was also a very open-minded and unprejudiced person.  I love all my family, both parents and all four grandparents, but, of the six of them, only one wasn’t a racist, or a homophobe, or convinced that a women’s place was in the kitchen, and that was my mom.  I can’t call her a liberal, because politically she votes however my father tells her to, which means she’s technically a Republican, but, if I’m a liberal, it’s certainly her fault.  She taught me that a person is a person, regardless of appearance, that all religions have some validity to them, that no sexual act between consenting adults is wrong, that other cultures, no matter how strange they might appear, are just different, not bad.  She taught me, long before I heard Quentin Tarantino say it, that the less a man makes declarative statements, the less apt he is to look foolish in retrospect.  She taught me to think before speaking, a lesson which I have not always followed as well as I should, but a lesson which has informed my actions my whole life.

She taught me how to sing along with the radio and not care who hears it.  She taught me how to smirk, and how to raise one eyebrow, and how to push your glasses up your nose with your middle finger when you’re irked at the person you’re talking to.  She taught me how to make my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce, and she taught me to appreciate bleu cheese on crackers while you’re waiting for it to cook.  She taught me to love animals, and mythology, and Stephen King books.  She taught me to enjoy wandering through cemeteries, and woods, and gardens.  She taught me how to wash my own clothes, and how to make hospital corners on my bed.  She taught me how to read.

There are perhaps some things I wish I could change about my mother.  But so much of who I am comes straight from her; perhaps changing her would’ve meant changing me.  And I’m pretty happy with me, for the most part.  I’d like to think that I’ve taken the best parts of my mother and my father, and left the worst behind.  I’m probably fooling myself a little.  But I do see quite a lot that I’ve inherited from Mom that I’m happy to have, and I hope that I’m leaving those bits to my children as well.  If there are a few warts here and there—hers or mine—well, we are none of us perfect, and that’s okay too.

So thank you, Mom, for all you gave to me and all that I am that comes from you.  I hope that you continue to be around for many years, in your same house in your same town, 2,713 miles away.  Just in case I need you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rough Day

So today has pretty well sucked, so I've had no time to try to do a post. Sorry about that. Perhaps next weekend will be a bit better.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Mother

So today is Mother’s Day.

I should probably take advantage of this opportunity to wax poetic about my own mother.  But I can’t get her to read this blog, so there’s no point in sucking up to her, now, is there?  I do love my mother, of course.  She has many excellent qualities.  But am I heartbroken that she happens to live on one coast of the United States while I live on the other?  No, I wouldn’t say “heartbroken” is the appropriate term ...

There is another mother in my life, of course: she is the mother of my children.  Mother’s Day has always been a bone of contention between us.  She expects me to buy her something, or do something for her.  I keep pointing out that she isn’t my mother.  Somehow she doesn’t seem to see this as a rational argument.  So I keep trying to encourage my children to do something nice for her that I can participate in.  You know, make me look good as an accomplice.  That sort of thing.

Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate her.  She and I have an odd relationship history ... I’ve been told (by more than one person) that I’m one of the few people that “it’s complicated” is actually appropriate for.  But it’s a relationship that’s lasted for nearly 15 years, so obviously something is working.

That something has everything to do with motherhood.  Obviously, I love my children.  They are the most important things in my life, and I wouldn’t have them without their mother.  Which is sort of self-evident.  If that’s all there was to it, I wouldn’t be saying much other than I value my parenting partner for her genes and her reproductive system.

But that’s just the beginning.

As children, we often resent the actions of our parents.  We say to ourselves that we would never act in such a way if we were in their place.  And then, of course, we grow up.  As Allison told us: it’s unavoidable, it just happens ... when you grow up, your heart dies.  Well, perhaps not so melodramatic as all that, but certainly we have a tendency to turn into our parents, whether we like it or not, and often without noticing.  I won’t claim to be immune to that, but I do have a tendency to refuse to believe in “accepted wisdom.” If we’re being generous, we can call me “non-conformist”; a more cynical viewpoint would be that I’m just pig-headed.  You know all those times your parents told you “when you have children of your own, you’ll understand”?  And then you did have children, and you did understand?  Well, I contend that you didn’t actually understand, you just came to accept that that’s the way it’s done.  Your parents did it that way, and it seems like everyone else’s parents did too, and if you know of any parents who didn’t do it that way, you think of them as a bit odd.  Thus, it’s very logical to come around to this way of thinking.  Unless you’re a stubborn bastard, like me.

With the end result that I am now one of those parents you think of as odd.  I’ve obstinately held on to those naive ideals I formulated as a child, when I thought of all sorts of unrealistic ways to treat children, based primarily on how I wished I were treated as a child.  It turns out that most of those ways aren’t as unrealistic as we’ve been led to believe.  These are techniques that can be very effective ... if applied consistently.  Which means that all the people involved in the parenting have to agree.

Now, imagine for a moment, if you will, me: possessed of all these bizarre ideas—ideas which are literally childish, having been developed as a child—on how to raise children.  Treating them like people, being friends with them, having a set of rules you can count on the fingers of both hands, sending them to a school where there are no classes, and more.  What are the chances that I could find a woman who would be willing to go along with even one of these insane ideas, much less all of them?  What are the chances that I could find a woman who would go even further, and bring a few insane ideas of her own to the table?

So when I think about the mother of my children, the primary thing that springs to mind is how lucky I am.  How lucky I am to have found someone who was not only biologically capable of producing the children that I always wanted, but mentally capable of understanding and agreeing with my non-traditional ideas on raising them, and emotionally capable of putting up with my eccentricities and perspectives (well, usually, anyway).  Spiritually capable of both standing up to me and standing by me.  Psychologically capable of raising well-adjusted children.  Educationally capable of teaching our children at home when we can’t find a school that suits our needs.  And geographically inclined to want to move across the country with me.  That’s a whole lot of luck right there.

No, she’s not my mother, but she’s an awesome enough mother that I’m a bit jealous of my children.  When I think of how little they have to complain about—really, the worst they could come up with is that she constantly wants to take pictures of them for her scrapbooks—I’m practically green with envy.  Think about them looking back on their lives one day, remembering that their mom was their teacher and their friend, that she took them to museums and zoos and to the beach, that she planned family vacations for them and fought to get them more Christmas presents, that she let them sleep in her bed with her at any age, that she let them stay up late and didn’t make them eat things they didn’t want to eat, that she taught them to be polite, and independent, and loving, and encouraged them to try new things, and played video games with them, and treated them with respect, and kindness, and so much love that they thought their hearts would burst with it all.

One day my children will write these things for themselves.  Today, I will celebrate her for them.  And thank her for them.  Because this mother is pretty important in my life too.  And for that, I am grateful.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

taking the day off ...

I had an awesome outing yesterday with my two boys: we spent nearly 12 hours hanging out with our local gaming group playing various games (primarily Heroscape). It was great fun, and even the 5-year-old was moderately well-behaved. But our gain is your loss, as I don't really have the time today to put together a blog post.

Of course, your loss is no great loss, as I keep telling you. But obviously you're not inclined to listen to me, so let's pretend you're all sad about there not being a blog post this week. To which I shall respond, buck up, little camper! There's always next week.

(And, bonus points to those of you who can place the obscure 80's movie quote.)