Coming soon to Barnes & Noble and Kobo.
Haven’t read the previous installments? Click here to go to Part 1!
And now… Part 3, the bizarre conclusion:
But in the cold, glassy sunlight filtering through wispy gray drizzle clouds on Inauguration Day, he knew. Moments before stepping out on the stage, standing head bowed behind heavy navy curtains blazoned with the eagle of the Seal, he knew. A moment later, his cue, and he stepped out into sudden applause. The applause died quickly, leaving behind a confused coda of isolated claps, then a hush.
He shuffled. His back was bent. He looked old. Intricate combover abandoned limp on one shoulder like a dying cotton candy stole, shiny pink skullcap skin stretched tight to the chilly gusty wind, he shuffled. Old.
Election night, he’d been twenty years younger. And he’d been old and dark-baggy-eyed then.
“Is the President going to die?” a little girl in the front row asked her mommy, loud, into the silence. Mommy shushed her. The news cameras zeroed in, producers hissed did we get it? Did we get it? Into earbuds. But it didn’t make the news. Trump took the podium and the crowd tensed so viewers at home could feel it in their bones. Waiting for him to stumble on the step behind the high podium, fall, break a hip, end the term before it was begun. But he stepped up. Bent the mike. Leaned his head in. Pursed lips. Brushed rotten cotton candy hair off his shoulder into the wind’s cold. Spoke.
“THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?” he thundered, back straightening, shoulders broadening, wrinkles filling in, years falling off, eyes raking the crowd. The crowd recoiled, a step back, stomping toes and bumping shoulders, catching balance, milling in shock like ducks frozen in the bellow of a hunting dog.
Blazing copper hair like Trump had never had spilled out of his scalp like Play-doh out of a Fun Factory, defying the wind to lay itself in a defiant sweep. His wrinkles filled in flat and vanished. The bags under his eyes sucked up and smoothed over. Muscle swelled the arms and shoulders of his jacket. His gut sucked in and stayed sucked.
Like plucking a daisy, Trump plucked the microphone from its stand and ripped it from its wood mount, the cable tearing the wood open in an abrupt line down the front of the podium like a root ripped out of clay soil by the lever of a falling tree. His other hand, of its own accord, popped a tiny rhizome of raw tumeric into his mouth and he chewed it in jagged crimson teeth. His eyes lit baleful blue, the color of the hidden sky.
“Go, they said,” Trump said to the crowd as it surged and stamped like a half-panicked beast, its million heads locked to the stage unwilling, captured on the tether of his amplified voice. “Go and see what they are. And I went. I went. I went among the rubes forty years, stepped into the shoes of this gilded Narcissus and played carnival barker to you until—I thought it could never happen and you proved me wrong—you made me your leader. You cheered as I spit on your institutions. Ruled by fiat, ignored your rules, declared wars, bombed the brothers you called others, played your prejudices and emotions, watched you tear down opposition by force and declaration, watched those who knew better fall quiet and cringe back and the few who dared stand torn down by your hands without a word of encouragement from my lips.”
“Mommy? What’s the President?” the little girl asked mommy, but nobody heard. Nobody but Trump, growing taller, ears unfurling and spreading wide, sliding higher on his head. Sudden claws bit bright lines into the microphone in his hand.
“They’ve learned, I said. They’ve passed through their crisis in the last century. But over the last four years, even on the lands most ravaged by that crisis, the other-hate has risen yet higher, emboldened. By me. By you. Still ready to hate your other-brothers, back and forth, both sides of your politics, all the multitudinous sides, fighting, slouching into violence.”
He stepped to the edge of the stage. The microphone finally gave up with a low wail of feedback; crumpled in his inky claws it fell to the stage decapitated. The little girl, mommy now fled, stood in a half-circle of trampled sod. The crowd behind her compressed backward, wide eyes flashing white fear, gazes still held. Broad silky wings, gold and copper, unfolded and shredded Trump’s jacket. The slabs of his chest and abdomen, covered in copper velvet with the nap of the short dense fur of a cat’s nose, heaved in deep breaths. Trump knelt at the edge of the timbers, down, down, chest laid almost on his knees, wings thrust upward like blooming flowers.
“Little girl, you know the truth. You are afraid, yes?”
“Yes, sir,” she said. Her knees quivered slightly, but she held her spine straight and her eyes full open.
“Bravery is doing right in the face of fear. It is seeing what is truly there when fear tells you to see threat. It is seeing threat only where threat is real.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
Trump spread his wings and leapt. In moments, the clouds swallowed him. The frantic milling of the crowd stilled and the people began to pull deep breaths and blink, as if waking. Only the claw-torn shreds of his shoes fell back, scattered wide by the twisting wind.
Want more to read? Click here to find one of my novellas and several short and flash stories to read for free right here on my site.
I’ve been posting a piece of microfiction each month for Patreon patrons (a whole buck a month is the minimum pledge to see them) since March. This month’s offering is a vignette about a young man fishing in a place that makes the familiar Earth seem very alien indeed. It’s about hope and death and life and duty, and maybe a few other things, too. While a vignette isn’t quite a story of its own, this one sketches the edges of at least three big stories for your — and maybe my, in future works — imagination to work on.
You should read it. I think it’s worth seeing.
This is still in rough draft, so this excerpt could change by the time I finish this story.
I also don’t know when I’m going to finish this, because of my oddball writing process. I’m not sure how odd it is, I don’t know enough other writers that well. But it seems odd to me.
I had this idea about a year and a half ago. It started as a scribbled note: ‘humans explore galaxy, and there’s grass everywhere there’s life. Why?’ I added a few exploratory notes over the next few days, brainstorming random ideas for a plotline. I started the story, wrote a thousand words, and there it sat for a few months. I came back later, discarded the last five hundred, and wrote a new thousand.
Then I ran up against a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the idea, and I put the notebook that contained it in a stack of notebooks with half-started ideas, and wrote other things. Last week, looking through notebooks, I ran across it again. Some new ideas about it had congealed by then; the concept is an interesting one and it had come to mind occasionally over the months I left it fallow.
I started writing again. I really want to know where the grass came from, and what the protagonist’s story is. I’ve added four thousand words to it over the last week, and it’s shaping up into a story. I have an idea about the people behind the spread of grass throughout the galaxy. Actually, I have several. The ideas are fighting it out as I approach the point where I’ll have to explain. I don’t know what will emerge. Will it be one idea, the other, a new idea I haven’t had yet, or a synthesis of the thoughts I’ve already had?
I’m not sure. I don’t think this one will go back into the pile of half-finished stories to marinate again, but it might. It has the feeling of a story I’m going to finish to me now, though. We’ll see.
In the meantime, here’s an excerpt of my rough work on Prairie and Stars. I hope I can finish it soon. I really love that title and I want to see it on a cover.
…the approach to the star system is a typical blur. Days of tasteless food, tasteless exercise, tasteless waiting for Ship to catalog and name the various planetary bodies. Periodically, I have taken over the naming in the past, but I have had no taste for the task in the last dozen centuries or so. I don’t even look at the names. I do look at the habitability indices. There’s a 108, minimal variability from the ancestral conditions of Earth. The range of 80-120 is considered habitable over at least 50% of land surface, 90-110 without special equipment. These things change, given enough time or human intervention. When I left Earth, it would have been considered a 105. At one point, in my second millennium, it reached as high as a 118, warming and pollution rendering the Equatorial third of the planet largely useless to humans outside of refrigerated habitats. Today, it is a scrupulously maintained 100, supporting a population of 100 million licensed ancestral aboriginals and 10 to 20 billion tourists at any given time.
This planet, this 108, is a little dry and sports a Pangaeaic continent with heavy mountain formation near the coast facing approaching prevailing winds. This creates a rain-shadow desert the size of Asia.
Aside from that, it is hospitable compared to the average planet. There are a lot of gas giants, of superheated Venuses, of high-gravity colossi and thin-atmosphered wastes. As Ship approaches orbit, I know already what I will see as telescopic sensors examine the surface closely. There is, of course, no obvious intelligent life. None has been found anywhere in seven thousand years of exploration, and I am not expecting it here. Humans being what they are, we still look for it. But one thing is everywhere humans have found, on every planet with soil and free water and a biosphere even close to what humans could possibly inhabit.
Grass. The viewscreen shows me a waving expanse of tall grass, purple tassels with curved scarlet tails depending from the top of each grain head. A little different than the last planet or the one before, but grass. It is the one constant in the known universe.
I have seen grass so fine I thought it was moss until I examined it under a microviewer. I have seen grass that covered near-boiling oceans like a yellow mosquito net. I have seen grass so enormous I mistook it for a mountain range, huge colonial slabs of fused stalks spreading roots out to absorb the streams and rivers it spawned from its own scored and gnarled slopes. If grass holds any slightest surprise for me in the future, I cannot imagine how it could.
I let Ship pick its own orbit, slowly precessing to cover the entire surface of the world as we survey it. The images flow through my mind, processed but essentially untouched, considered but only automatically in the expected patterns, filed and stored and forgotten. There is grass in a hundred variations, and something like a fern in a dozen forms, and a slow amoebic thing like a flowing moss. The oceans hold something like trilobites, jellyfish blobs and tiny translucent undulating ribbons that seem related to the blobs, and even a tiny clumsy amphibian-thing that raises a lush featherlike gill high over its stumpy sensory stalk and ventures onto the damp beach on its belly when it’s sufficiently foggy out, to nibble at the vegetation there that no other animal can reach.
Fairly advanced, as life goes. Not one Earthlike world in ten thousand has gotten as far as animals that can live entirely on land. This one is almost there. Maybe in another million years, or ten million, the feather-gill-amphibian-thing will evolve into something with a proper enclosed lung and begin to eat the ferns and grass inland.
Or maybe it will die, go extinct, vanish. As old as I am, I cannot imagine living long enough to see which happens. I cannot imagine wanting to. I… cannot imagine at all, I think.
Survey completed, I call the probes home and wait for them to arrive and complete their self-checks and decontamination routines.
“There is a contact at the edge of the system,” Ship says as I wait. “Under power. Another survey ship.”
“Tell it that I’ve already surveyed here. Squirt it a copy of our results,” I tell Ship. I have no interest in keeping the information to myself; the entire point of surveying is to spread knowledge. I think back—how long has it been since I’ve discovered anything worth keeping to myself? I can’t remember. Back in the early days, certainly; the first thousand years when First Contact was surely right around the corner and governance was uncertain, still in the hands of men first and AIs second instead of the other way around.
Instead, an image forms in front of my eyes. Politely, I keep the annoyance—a tiny whiff of genuine feeling, of real annoyance?—out of my expression.
“Survey has been completed,” I say. “My Ship has shared results with your Ship.”
“I have been surveying the Oort cloud of the neighboring system, and observed your arrival,” she says. “I have shared an interesting finding with your Ship as well. I would like to share it with you, also.”
“I’m sure my Ship will pass it along,” I say, dismissive, flat, unengaged.
“I have located an artifact. It is not of human manufacture…
With this latest, I have published 40 titles through Smashwords. Generally, one number is as exciting as another… at least in absolute terms. But this is a round number, and people love round numbers. We all freaked out for the year 2,000. When people own cars they tend to notice when they hit 10,000 or 50,000 or whatever (personally, I’ve owned exactly one car in my life that had mileage under 100,000… and I noticed when I hit 100,000. Because it was a big round number.)
I think round numbers feel like completion to us. They have a certain symmetry to them that tickles our sense of esthetics. They’re psychologically satisfying, much like a good slice of pie after a meal.
So here’s my latest slice of pie. I think you will find it both bitter and sweet, so maybe there’s a cup of espresso on the metaphorical side.
Here’s Pixel People, prequel to Adversary—you can explore that aspect of it in the post before this one.
Find it on Smashwords (and additional outlets to be updated below as distribution proceeds).
7/17/13: It’s on Kobo.
7/19/13: Barnes & Noble has it, too.
No, it’s not. My name isn’t Gerald, of course. But my newest short story, My Name Is Gerald, is now available.
Here’s the blurb:
Gerald is a lonely man, a shut-in who spends his time dreaming and watching the skies over his rural Nebraska hometown on the eve of the quincentennial. What he observes in those skies may lead him to find his own freedom… or into a new captivity.
My Name Is Gerald is a short story of about 5300 words.
If you backtrack a little, you’ll find my previous two blog entries have been about this story. One of those two contains an excerpt from the rough draft, which made it into the final version with only a little editing.
Here’s where you can find it. Updates will be added as it is distributed to the various major ebook sellers.
So, I’ve been tinkering with this Flowers of Dawn story. So far, a diplomat on leave following the death of her spouse has been befriended by an alien she’s previously only interacted with professionally. The alien accompanies her to the graveyard. She leaves a stone. The alien leaves a… well, a green bean-thing. I won’t go into what happens next, because I can’t swear it won’t change in editing.
But I’m not writing this to get into the plot. I’m writing this because, as I was writing, I found myself thinking about my protagonist. We’re so different. Man, I hope I’m writing her well. I mean, she’s human and I’m human, so we definitely have some common ground. She’s definitely a product of Western culture, and so am I. Okay, that’s good.
I’m definitely heading down diversity way in writing her, though. I’m an atheist Caucasian straight male writer and, for the second time in my life, student. I’ve never been an aspiring career guy. And I’m writing a bereaved Jewish lesbian career diplomat.
Writing someone very culturally different than myself is a bit of a challenge. Writing an alien is easy, I can just make it up as I go along. But writing a very different human… well, that’s more challenging ground. I’m not so worried about an alien showing up and saying I wrote it all wrong. In fact, that would be awesome, I’d love to meet an alien in person. At least, I would so long as it wasn’t one of the world-conquering humanity-enslaving types. But I am a little concerned that when I publish this story, a Jewish lesbian career diplomat might just stop by to tell me I’m full of shit.
Oh, well. At least with her being a diplomat, I can pretty much count on her doing it politely.
- Discovery of Alien Life… What would happen? (diaryofdennis.com)
- Where is the creativity? (meritaking.com)
- Rule W: Write what you know and write only the stories you can write (garridon.wordpress.com)
- Writing my life : Storytelling trauma (dorasnow.wordpress.com)
When I started writing again—I played with writing short stories as a teen and young adult and didn’t return to it seriously until very recently, around 40—I figured I’d write a bunch of science fiction. Real sci-fi-y sci-fi. You know, alien empires and planet-detonating death rays, that sort of stuff. I like reading space opera and hard science fiction, so I assumed I’d write it.
But when I sat down with the intent to write that sort of thing, I found it didn’t appeal to me as a writer. Judging from my output, which you can see listed here on Goodreads or Smashwords, I like writing a little closer to home. I like the near future, writing about the far-reaching effects of relatively small changes in society and technology, writing about what’s going on in the heads of people who aren’t that far removed from who we are now.
Unexpectedly, I also found that I like writing about the distant past once in a while. I’ve read my share of Harry Turtledove‘s alternate history and speculative history, and while I thought it would be interesting to write things like that, I didn’t think it was something I’d write. As i read his work, it struck me that there was a lot of knowledge, understanding, study, and research behind what he does. It was a daunting thought, and I didn’t think I could do it right.
But there’s a lot of blank space in our historical thought. There’s a ton we don’t know, and a lot of room to speculate. The farther you go back, the less we know and the more expansive the room to speculate is. I have always been interested in what might have been going on in the world before people began to record history, before writing was a thing that anybody did.
So every once in a while, my writing wanders back into that time before history, and I write about things like first contact with aliens happening during the tail end of the ice age in Out of the Cold, or giving a possible answer to the question of why human beings appear to have developed the skills that would have allowed civilization to arise somewhere around 50,000 years ago (according to one school of thought about the past) but did not begin to build cities until about 40,000 years later in The Always-House People.
I could devote more time and energy into analyzing why I choose to write the things I write. But the bottom line is that I like to dream, and I hope that people enjoy reading my dreams.