the Unending Journey of the Wandering Author

A chronicle of the unending journey of the Wandering Author through life, with notes and observations made along the way. My readers should be aware I will not censor comments that disagree with me, but I do refuse to display comment spam or pointless, obscene rants. Humans may contact me at thewanderingauthor at yahoo dot com - I'll reply as I am able.

Location: New England, United States

I have always known I was meant to write, even when I was too young to know the word 'author'. When I learned that books were printed, I developed an interest in that as well. And I have always been a wanderer, at least in my mind. It's not the worst trait in an author. For more, read my writing; every author illuminates their heart and soul on the pages they write upon.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Meet His Majesty, Arthur Winston

I am proud to introduce my readers to His Majesty, Arthur Winston, the lion I have adopted as a member of the Shameless Lions Writing Circle. For those who doubt his title, the lion is the King of Beasts; it is entirely proper for him to be styled His Majesty.

His name stands for two men who fought in doomed (or so it seemed) causes. Arthur, High King of Britain, fell, but his efforts undoubtedly softened and civilised the Saxon influence on Celtic Britain. Winston Churchill, who stood against the darkest evil the world has yet known, miraculously, won. Such a name seems entirely appropriate for the Last Lion...

The last lion,
Survivor of hunters
Lacking manhood,
Poachers, tourists, progress,
Stands proudly,

In his mind,
His coat glows
Smooth and tawny.
King of Beasts,
No matter
How many patches.
He fights on,
Magnificent, wondrous, doomed.

What have we done?
Woe, when such creatures
Live no more...


Friday, May 25, 2007

Seeing Things (part 1)

Jake trudged out of the forest, his helmet in one hand, and wiping soot from his forehead with the back of the other. He had his coat open, but he was still sweating pretty badly. Whatever had come down in there, there was plenty of fuel for the fire. With all the twisted metal lying around, they'd been sure it must be a big jet. They'd called the FAA, like they were supposed to do, but they'd been told no aircraft were missing.

It had fallen to Jake to hike out and meet the guy they were sending out, just in case, and lead him back to the wreckage. That must be him, leaning on the open door of a drab government sedan, wearing a suit to go hiking through the woods to a fire scene. Well, that was his lookout. Jake approached and stuck out a filthy palm.

"You from the FAA?"

The other man stared in horror at his hand, then belatedly took it. "Ah, yes, I'm Sidney Holcomb. Your Department has reported finding wreckage in the area?"

"That's right, Mister Holcomb. Wreckage all over the place, and a real big fire."

He sighed. "I guess I'd better have a look. Where is it?"

"Follow me." Jake turned back towards the wall of trees and brush beside the trail where the vehicles were parked.

"Ah, isn't there a path, or something?"

"That's the thing about fires, Mister Holcomb. Wherever they are, you got to go there, whether or not there's a path that goes there."

"I do hope this isn't just a case of making things difficult for the guy from Washington."

Jake stopped in his tracks, turned around, and glared at him. "Look me over, real good, Mister Holcomb. Do I look like a guy has energy to spare, just to get a rise out of some paper pusher?"

The other man sighed again. "I suppose not."

They walked in silence for a while, until they were close enough the smoke made even Jake cough. They could hear the roar and crackle of the fire ahead, and the FAA investigator tugged at Jake's arm from behind.

"Is this safe? Don't we need to stop here?"

"Mister Holcomb, you're supposed to investigate airplane crashes, aren't you? I'd imagine you'd have needed to get closer to a fire before this."

"Well, yes, but... those were all on runways, or out in fields. I wasn't risking being trapped in a wilderness if the fire got out of hand!"

"Think of it like this, Mister Holcomb. I've been in a lot of fires in the woods. As long as I'm walking forward, things are probably not too bad. Now, if I turn around and start to run, you want to be sure you keep up."

"You can be sure, if I knew the way, I'd be ahead of you!"

"Don't count on it, Mister Holcomb. I'm used to this kind of terrain, so I'm not so likely to trip or make some other mistake that would slow me down."

"Now I feel so much better. Why don't you stop trying to reassure me and just get this over with?"

"You're the one stopped me. I was getting it over with just fine until then."

"Just show me the wreckage. I'm as eager to get out of here as you are to be rid of me."

"Now, did I say that, Mister Holcomb?"

"I'm not a complete idiot, whatever you may think of me."

Jake chose to hold his tongue, and kept on a straight line to one of the bigger tangles of wreckage. They ahd to push through a thicket of brambles on the way, and even Jake found the going tough. His companion looked as if he'd lost a battle with a mountain lion. The suit would clearly never be the same again. He bit back a chuckle, as they rounded a clump of trees hiding a heap of smoldering metal.

"There, Mister Holcomb, see?"

The other man knelt down, not worrying now about getting soot on his already ruined clothes, and inspected the pile of debris carefully. Then he straightened and began to laugh.

"What's the joke, Mister Holcomb?"

"Just that I'd have thought a hick like you might recognise what this is."

"Well, since I don't, you get the chance to show off all that education."

"This isn't from an aircraft. If you look closely, you can see the original pieces were probably dome shaped, or something similar. And see, here, all these bits of tubing?"

"I guess so."

"Copper tubing. This was part of a still. A pretty big one, in fact. If it blew up, you'd get a nasty fire, just like the one you have here."

Jake took a step back. "A still? I never heard of one this big. And the air didn't smell like alcohol when we got here."

"Well, I'm not an expert at these things, of course, but perhaps it was built to, ah, process something else. Something more profitable today."

"Drugs? Jeez, you think so?"

"It makes a lot more sense than a downed aircraft when nothing is missing."

"How'd they get something this big all the way out here? And where was it? I don't see any clearings big enough."

"Those aren't my worries, fortunately. If you would be good enough to show me the way to my car..."

Neither man spoke on the return trip. The FAA man sprayed the area with gravel as he spun around and headed back down the trail. Jake cursed him, wearily, and started the long trek back to the scene once more. He was nearly there when he glimpsed something orange in the lower branches of a tree.Suspecting it was a stray flame ignited by flying sparks, he ran over to it.

There, at about the level of his own face, stood a tiny orange skinned creature who looked a bit like something they forgot to include in the Lord of the Rings movie. Jake blinked and rubbed his eyes.

"Why so surprised are you, friend? You say crash came from air, why shocked to see me?"

"Whoah! An airplane isn't the same thing as a... as a spaceship!"

"Aircraft is more primitive, yes, but to know of aircraft is to dream of spacecraft. Is that not so among your people?"

"Well, yeah, now that you mention it."

"So, you see, that you should run across it is not so odd."

"Yeah, but, anybody comes by and catches me talking to you, they'll do a lot more than think I'm odd!"

[To be continued...]


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Test Flight

"Ground Control, this is Tango-Fox-five-seven-eight, approaching outer radius of target area, over."

"Roger, Tango-Fox, you are approaching outer radius of target area, cleared to cross into the restricted zone while remaining in constant radio contact, over."

"Control, you betcha, I'll be in contact every second, I want this thing settled as much as you guys do. I'm three miles beyond the perimeter, and - what the hell!? Oh God, the sky's tearing open God help me Control I see flames I see stars I see angels..."

"Come in Tango-Fox, come in please, I've lost your signal, damnit, we've lost another one!"

Another try at a six sentence story. I hope I've left you wondering just what is in this restricted area.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Quantum Dilemma

Jenny opened the door briskly, hand out for the slate and pen to sign for the package.

"Mrs. Savanger?"

She squinted into the bright sun flooding her eyes. "Yes?" Then she saw the uniform, and swayed, clutching the door. "Oh, my God! It's Eric, isn't it?"

"May we come in?"

Jenny stepped back, almost tripping as she did so. "Of course. Just tell me! Is Eric alive?"

"Ma'am, we're very sorry..."

Jenny's face crumpled, and they took her elbows and guided her into the kitchen, letting her collapse in the nearest chair. The woman who had spoken sat across from her, while her partner methodically searched the kitchen and began making coffee. The woman took Jenny's hand.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't mean that the way it's usually used. We're very sorry to have to tell you this, but we don't know if Captain Savanger is alive or not."

"Don't know? What do you mean, you don't know? How can you not know?"

"Please, ma'am, let me explain what we do know."

Jenny kept her eyes fixed on the other woman's face, as intent as any predator about to pounce on it's first meal in thirty hours. The woman fidgeted with her fingers.

"Ma'am, how much do you know of the project Captain Savanger is working with?"

"We... we've discussed it, as much as Eric was allowed to. He... he wanted me to have some say before he made up his mind..."

"How much of what he explained to you were you able to understand?"

"I don't know. It was dangerous, I understood that, but important and exciting. I told him... God help me, I told him he should go ahead, since he obviously wanted to so badly."

"Mrs. Savanger, were you aware the New Frontier Project involved a new, untested type of drive based upon the principles of quantum physics?"

"Yes, I... I guess so."

"Did you understand what that meant?"

"That no one really knew what was going to happen."

The uniformed woman coughed. "Well, yes, that's true, of course. Are you familiar with the idea of Schrodinger's Cat?"

"Eric said something... I'm not sure."

The woman sighed. "I'm not a quantum physicist, Mrs. Savanger, so I don't understand it very well myself, but they assure me this is how it works. If you put a cat in a sealed box, with two valves, one that will admit oxygen and one that will admit cyanide gas, and control those valves with a switch based upon the behaviour of a single quantum particle..." She broke off.

"Please, tell me what's happening!"

"I'm sorry. I'm very sure any of the physicists would say my explanation is all wrong. But the important part is this. If you were to perform such an experiment with a cat, there are several possible outcomes. If you look inside the box, there is a fifty percent chance you will find the cat alive, and a fifty percent chance you'll find her dead. No one knows which until you look." She looked firmly at Jenny. "But, there is a third possibility. If you didn't look inside, you would actually have two boxes co-existing simultaneously. Inside one would be a living cat, and inside the other would be exactly the same cat, but dead instead of alive."

"Eric talked about this. He said it was a 'thought experiment', I think."

"No, Mrs. Savanger, this isn't a hypothetical situation at all. Until someone looked, you would actually have two separate boxes, co-existing, each with the same cat inside. It doesn't make sense, I know."

"But that's crazy!"

"It does sound like it, doesn't it, ma'am?"

Jenny looked at her flatly. "You're serious! All right, what does this cat have to do with Eric?" She picked up the coffee that had been sitting, ignored, in front of her the past few minutes, and sipped from it.

"You see, ma'am, the, ah, craft he was testing uses quantum principles in it's operation. While he was on a voyage, there was a malfunction. We know that much, we even know roughly what went wrong."

Jenny gripped the cup so hard between her fingers that it cracked. "Damn it!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't mean to keep you in suspense. I'm trying to explain."

Jenny just sat and waited, until she shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

"Sorry, ma'am. The problem is that we can't determine the exact effects the malfunction would have had. At the moment, there are two ships, each with Captain Savanger in the cockpit."

Jenny put her hand to her mouth and nibbled her knuckles. "Why didn't... Oh!" Her mouth opened wide in horror, and she raised her palm and made pushing motions, as if physically shoving something away, out of her sight.

"Exactly, ma'am. Once we look, there is just as much chance of finding Captain Savanger dead as of finding him alive. We're afraid to look. I was sent, ma'am, to inquire what your wishes were in the matter."

Jenny stared at her in horror. "Don't ask me that! I can't bear not knowing, but if finding out could kill him, I can't bear that either..." She rose and began pacing. "No, I don't want you to look. Not at all, not ever. As long as he's alive somewhere, I can bear that..."

"Are you sure, ma'am?"

"Of course I'm not sure! If I tell you to go ahead and look, he might come back to me. But you might find his body, too."

Three weeks later, when they finally settled Jenny in a nice place with plenty of nurses to care for her, she was still hovering between one possibility and another.

The Commander of the New Frontier Project stood at the window of his office that afternoon, while an envoy from the capitol watched him. "Now listen here, Commander, you've got to come to some decision on this Savanger business."

"Not me! Tell them they'll have to decide. Oh, but first, be sure they understand the principle of Schrodinger's Cat, so they'll know what we're dealing with."

The special legislative assistant shrank back in his seat. "What do we do then, sir?"

"That's the question, isn't it? If only we knew the answer!"


Tuesday, May 22, 2007


"Oooh, Mum, look, look at this wicked paperweight! There's a whole little world inside, like you could just...."

"Don't be silly, Andrew, you're old enough to know better. Where are you - Andrew!?"

"Ahh, Madam, such a lovely paperweight, exquisite craftsmanship, isn't it? The woman I bought that from swore Faberge himself could never make anything so intricate, she tried to tell me some nonsense about elves, or something like that."

I wrote this as a six sentence story. I hope you enjoy it.


Monday, May 21, 2007

A Sailor's Tale

I haven't thought of that operation in many years, but the tragedy this morning reminded me. It was all secret then, of course. We were never allowed to talk about it. Probably that's one reason I hadn't thought of it for so long. But the world has changed in so many ways since then, I don't suppose it would do any harm to tell the tale now.

This was near the beginning of the war, just after Dunkirk, when things looked bleak indeed. The remnant of our army, forced to retreat, abandoning all their equipment, supplies, and even forced to rely on fat little weekend yachtsmen to ferry them home. One of our finest battleships sent to the bottom. Hitler doing whatever he pleased across most of Europe.

I wasn't really old enough to be a cadet, but like most boys, I was eager to get into the fight, and if a lad looked sturdy, they weren't too particular just then. So I got in, and got myself assigned to a training crew. Of course, we were all keen to sail off and sink the Bismarck or something equally stupid and hopeless, but even we could see we had to be shown how first.

So we got right down to it, learning new skills and duties as grimly as if each improvement was another round through the Bismarck's hull, which in a sense I suppose it was. We won, anyway. But we didn't know how it would all turn out then. We didn't know a lot of things we've found out since. For instance, I've heard the Irish Government, officially neutral, actually did what they could for us, quietly.

At the time, though, keeping in mind how the Irish hated the British, everyone suspected if Hitler sent men into Ireland to trap us in a pincer of sorts, he wouldn't meet much opposition. And there were Irishmen who took guns and explosives from the Nazis whenever their cursed U-Boats would deliver them. Their real hope, of course, was to drive us out of Northern Ireland while we were busy elsewhere.

With so many countries giving Hitler whatever he asked for, rather than quarrel with him, the idea Ireland would let him have his way wasn't such a far-fetched one. In fact, of course, they were never invaded, so no one knows for sure what they might have done. I didn't give all this much thought then, of course. I was too eager to finish up my training and put to sea.

Well, just when we were about done, a big car was dispatched to whisk the senior officers of our crew off somewhere very hush hush. When they came back, they didn't say a word to us, but they did hint we should be prepared if we'd like to volunteer. Then, our instructors lined us up on deck, and a little, dark man came and talked to us. He didn't say who he was with, but he told us they had need of our talents.

That was enough for me, of course, and I stepped forward. Most of us did, and the little dark man took our names and our ranks, then gave us a little lecture about the Official Secrets Act. It was a rather dull lecture, and I don't recall much of it now, but what can they do to a man my age? We were given a few days' leave, while everything was made ready.

I must have spent some of that leave above ground, I suppose, but I spent much of it sitting huddled in a shelter trying to act calm, or ducking into the nearest Underground station until the All Clear sounded. I can't recall what excuse they used to explain her absence, but I suppose they just said they'd moved her somewhere else for some reason or other. Who was going to pay much attention to a seventy year old sailing ship with a war on?

That was the point, of course. Even then, we understood that. She'd been fitted with frames and painted canvas so, from the air or the lens of a periscope, she'd appear to be just one more outdated tramp. Although she was wonderfully fast, we were given strict orders not to use all her sails, except in emergency. Even under half sail, she was a wonderful ship.

She was the first ship I ever put to sea in, and I quickly came to love her. We glided along the coast, staying just far enough offshore to avoid minefields, and crossed the Irish Sea. We ran up an Irish flag, and dawdled along the coast, ending up off Cork well after midnight. We anchored in shallow water, and I was one of those chosen to row the ship's boat through the surf.

We landed with no trouble at all, and shifted the few boxes wrapped in oilcloths we carried onto the beach. Three shadows stepped out of the blackness, gave a hushed reply to our subdued challenge, then two of them bent over the crates, while the third walked towards the boat. I happened to be closest, and when I saw it was a woman, I rushed to help her aboard.

She sat close to me as we launched into the surf to return to the boat. "I'm afraid I'm not the person they're expecting." Her voice was very soft, and I think it shook a little.

I kept my voice low, as well. "As long as you can convince them you aren't spying for Hitler, you ought to be all right."

Her laugh sounded bitter, but I didn't question her.

We tied up to the ship, and she let me assist her in climbing to the deck. As we scrambled over the railing, the quiet man who had accompanied us was waiting. As soon as he glimpsed my companion, he started forward.

"What the...?"

She spoke carefully, as if repeating something memorised. "It is too cold in the glen for hunting this time of year." Her voice became more natural. "He sent me in his place. He gave me something for you."

Before the quiet man could speak, she dug into the pocket of her skirt, fumbled a minute, and handed him a battered, dingy tube of lipstick. He frowned, but took it from her, then went below decks as quickly as I'd ever seen him move.

On the strenght of our brief acquaintance, I was assigned to show her to a cabin, and see that she was settled. Before she went inside, she asked me to wait, so I stood outside her cabin door, wondering what on earth could be so important to the outcome of the war, yet be hidden in a tube of lipstick. I hadn't heard of microfilm yet, of course.

I turned when the door opened, and started. I had had a good look at her once we were below decks, and she was a plump, hard faced woman with brassy curls and far too much makeup to appear respectable. The girl standing in front of me now couldn't have been much older than I was. Her long, straight black hair was thick and glossy, her face was much softer, and while she had a very full figure, she wasn't plump at all.

She giggled, nervously. "Isn't it wonderful, what can be done with disguises?"

I looked her over again, carefully. The full lips were the same, the large shining dark eyes no longer narrowed in a squint, but otherwise looked the same, and now that I looked carefully, I could see my attention had been cleverly diverted from her somewhat generous nose by the bold makeup on her lips and around her eyes.

"Yes, miss, indeed it is wonderful!" I didn't say how wonderful I found her, or how beautiful, but my face must have revealed my thoughts, since she blushed.

"I'm sorry, I don't even know your name."

"Thomas, miss. Midshipman."

"Thomas, I know we haven't been properly introduced, but as you are the only person I know here, please call me Rose. Miss sounds so formal."

"Very well, uh, Rose."

"I wanted you to stay so you could vouch for me. You're the only person on board who has had a good look at me."

Before she could say more, the Captain himself approached, accompanied by the quiet man. Both men were frowning. The Captain didn't even try keeping his voice down. "I don't care what she knew, you can't assure me we haven't taken a Nazi spy aboard!"

I stood my ground, beside her, and she took my arm. They halted, and the quiet man looked her over sharply. "So that's why he wanted to get you out." His voice was soft and sad.

"What the devil are you talking about? I don't like this woman aboard my ship!"

"Captain, Look at her! She was disguised before, of course, but you can see it now. She's Jewish. You must have heard at least some of the rumours..."

"Faugh!" He stared at her face for a moment. "I suppose she is. Well, we shall just have to put up with her, for now." He stalked off without another word.

When they were out of earshot, I found the courage to speak. "I'm sorry, Rose. The Captain isn't usually so harsh. He must be worried, trying to bring us home safely."

"It's all right. I'm used to far worse."

"Then you are Jewish?"

"Yes." She paused, and I could barely hear her next words. "Does that matter to you?"

"No! Of course not! I just never met anyone before..."

She was silent and I felt very nervous, all of a sudden. "Look, I'm sorry. I meant no offence. I just wouldn't have any idea how to tell if you were or not, and I wondered if they were right, that's all..." I trailed off.

Rose gave me an odd smile. "You can't tell, or not really, but everyone thinks you can."

"Oh. I am sorry."

She smiled at me again, but just then there was a commotion. It seemed the man who gave the Captain his instructions had informed him it was necessary for us to put in at another point along the coast. It wasn't much before dawn, and we were all nervous, but we did what we had to, and the ship's boat went ashore again. In all, it made three hurried trips, and we took on perhaps thirty huddled, miserable people.

The quiet man made sure they all went below as soon as they were aboard, and he told Rose she had to leave my side and go below as well. I didn't see much of her until we'd crossed the Irish Sea, but once we were off the coast of England again, the quiet man let everyone up on deck. I came across Rose leaning on the railing near the bow, her face sadder than I'd ever seen anyone before.

I don't know why, but the misery in her face reminded me of the remark I'd overheard last night, and I went up to her. "Rose?"

"Yes? Oh, hello, Thomas!"

Her face brightened a little, but I still asked her what I'd meant to. "What did that man mean, when he talked about hearing rumours?"

She looked very sad again. "You truly don't know, do you?"

I shook my head. "I'm sorry if I made you sad."

"It's not you. The truth is, they aren't just rumours. Out here, away from all Hitler's craziness, no one wants to believe it possible, but it is the truth. They are killing people, thousands of them, perhaps more."

"Well, it is sad, but of course people do die in war, don't they?"

Her eyes flashed contempt for a moment, and I took a step back. "I'm sorry. Whatever I said..."

"No, you truly don't understand, do you?"

"I suppose I don't."

"Hitler hates Jews. Not just some of them, but all of them. Men, women, children, even babies."

"That's... that's mad!"

She smiled at me. "Yes, it is mad. But Hitler is mad. And the men who follow him are as mad as he is. They are arresting Jews, every one they can find. They send them off, to work they say, but no one ever comes back. No one."

I shivered, then I said what came into my mind. "Well,that's one more reason to get this war over with. I'm bloody glad... ah, sorry, I'm glad I signed up."

She stared at me a moment, then threw her arms around me and kissed me. It was the first time I was ever kissed by a girl, and it was better than I'd imagined it would be. I wasn't able to see much of her, of course, but we arranged to stay in touch. We were nearly home when we were spotted by a Messerschmitt. He was diving on us when a pair of Spitfires came out of the sun and drove him off.

I did mange to speak to Rose for a few minutes before she had to go ashore. She sent a note with the address where she'd be staying, and I got a bit of leave to go and see her. I got my orders, and learned just how deadly the North Atlantic can be. Whenever I got leave, we'd get together, and we'd write when we couldn't see each other. Both our hearts broke when I was sent off to the Mediterranean.

I didn't get to come home until the war was nearly over, but we'd been writing back and forth, and she met me on the docks. Before I returned to my ship we were married. It wasn't long after that we broke into Germany, and the whole world learned the truth. I was able to guess that the few refugees we'd brought to England, however they'd been smuggled out of Germany, were witnesses to what had been going on.

I understand why Churchill didn't say much about it. Everyone knew he hated Hitler, and anything he said would just seem like another way of getting at him. But Roosevelt, Stalin, they must have known, too, and they never said a word, never tried to shame Hitler. Afterwards, people were shocked, and said it would never happen again, but even then I wondered.

Rose never really felt safe, even though we were happy together. She always said it could happen all over again, if people let it. So I let her talk me into moving to Israel. It took a lot of getting used to, but she was worth it. But after she took the wrong bus, the same one one a suicide bomber was riding, I couldn't stay there. So I came back to England.

Here, at least, if I couldn't be close to Rose, I could be close to the ship that brought us together. I toured her, many times, and never told anyone I was once a part of her crew. This morning, for some reason, I couldn't sleep. I went for a walk, and I saw the flames across the water. I knew where they'd taken her for refitting, of course, and I knew at once it was the Cutty Sark. If I'd been on that side of the water, I think my tears would have been enough to quench the flames. She was a good ship, the best I've ever been on.

The mission never happened, of course. As soon as I heard of the fire that devastated the Cutty Sark this morning, I knew today's story had to honour her in some way. I could think of no better way than to give her one secret, important wartime mission against the Nazis, and to have the story narrated by a man with good reason to love her. Tonight, the world, without a single surviving clipper ship, is poorer. I hope they rebuild her, of course, but it won't be quite the same.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Three Horses In the Mist

My grandfather was a soldier of Rome at the time the Legions were recalled from Britain. He said, even though they promised to return soon, he knew they wouldn't be coming back. He couldn't bear to leave his wife and children behind, and there was no room for them in the big transports that were to bear the Legions to Gaul. So he slipped away during the confusion and lay low until the last of the Legions had gone.

Those must have been terrible times. No one knew if the Legions would ever be back, or when. In the meantime, Britain was unprotected. The raiders didn't need long to learn how used we had become to relying on others to defend us. Since my grandfather was one of the few men who remained who had practical experience of fighting, and was not too ancient to make use of it, he was put in charge of the local defenses.

It soon became obvious towns and large villas drew raiders the way honey draws flies. When they abandoned the town to rebuild one of the hill forts that had protected the local tribes before the Legions came, my grandfather found himself the leader of a local kinglet's war band. In due course, my father wed one of the kinglet's daughters. When my grandfather became too grizzled and slow to lead a charge, my father assumed his duties.

I was my mother's youngest child; she died giving birth to me. As soon as I was old enough to do without a wet nurse, I grew up among the warriors. Even when he could no longer keep up in the heat of battle, my grandfather still made an impressive figure. I saw him once, in the burnished armor he wore while he still served Rome, and the scarlet tunic he insisted was the only proper clothing to wear beneath it.

He looked much more deadly than many of the careless fellows my father led, with their boiled leather and bits and pieces of metal. His sword might have been shorter then most of theirs, but he held it ready to use. He died soon after that; the effort to aid my father during a perilous winter, proved too much for him and wore him out. Several of my brothers died fighting off raiders before I was even old enough to know them.

More of my brothers died in the awful fighting that followed the disaster at the end of Uther's reign. My father had taught me to fight, but he decided I should learn more than swordplay, so once Arthur was confirmed as our new Rigotamos, our High King (he would not use the old, hateful phrase!), he sent me off for a few years to the Abbey at Yns Witrin, to learn to read and write and whatever else they might be able to teach me.

Those Britons who survived Uther's dreadful blunder were just beginning to feel hope again. Arthur seemed able to defeat our foes, perhaps not every time, but often enough to hold them at bay. When he approached the Abbey one day, I found some excuse to linger in the courtyard so I might glimpse him. He came riding in with a few of his men, and spoke quietly to the monk on duty. I couldn't hear what he said, but whatever it was sent that plump little man scurrying off to fetch the Abbott in a hurry.

The Abbott came at once, and raised his voice as he hurried across the muddy ground. "Bless you, my son! Surely there has been some misunderstanding. All we have here is dedicated to the Christ. Yet the good brother here said you spoke of levying a fee against our holdings?"

Arthur dismounted, and stood before the Abbott. Both men eyed each other cautiously. "That is so, Father Abbott. My men and I must tax the lands we protect, that we might have the means to continue fighting to keep them safe."

"But, my son, if you consider yourself a follower of the Christ, how can you then tax what is His?"

"Don't you recall, Father Abbott, that once the Lord Jesus ordered his followers to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's?"

The Abbott spoke patiently. "Those things that are Caesar's, yes, of course. But you see, my son, our lands belong to the Christ, not to Caesar."

"So the Lord Jesus protects you Himself, then?"

"I don't understand, my son."

"He keeps you safe by His own hand, then?"

"Of course, my son. How could it be otherwise?"

Arthur actually smiled. "Thank you, Father Abbott. It is a great relief to me to know that. In that case, I may hoard my strength if the raiders approach you. Once they have been dealt with, no doubt those that remain will turn tail and run at first sight of my men."

The Abbott looked as if he'd bitten into something sour. "Do not be so hasty, my son! The Christ often relies upon the services of those who are His followers."

"Father Abbott, I would hardly presume to interfere in lands you have assured me the Lord Jesus Himself watches over. He might think I mistrusted His own strength."

"But, my son, if you did not come to our aid we should be overrun!"

Arthur spoke very firmly. "Well, then, Father Abbott, if you must seek my protection, you must also contribute your share to make such protection possible. God Himself ordered the oxen that tread the grain should not be muzzled."

The Abbott opened his mouth, then shut it again. I have never been sure if so many churchmen disliked Arthur because he granted them so few privileges, or because he could outargue them at need. I watched, my heart filling with hope, as sack after sack, barrel after barrel, and even a few precious amphorae, were loaded into a cart which departed with Arthur's men as escort. If he could win such a battle, so easily, perhaps he did have the wit to save Britain from the pit his sire had dug.

As Arthur's victories and his fame grew, I was eager to serve him, but my father needed me by his side. The old king had died, all his sons long fallen in battle, and by ancient British custom, the principal men met to select a new king. My father was chosen, as a son by marriage, and by that time I was his only surviving child. Those were good years, with peace gradually becoming the rule and not the exception, a little prosperity, such as the ancients said had existed when Rome ruled, and men so full of hope they began to make plans for the future.

My father was much older, of course, and in due time he died, and I was chosen to succeed him without much fuss. Arthur was my guest more than once, I sent men to fight beside him, and I never complained at his levies. Still, I never managed to find the opportunity to fight beside him. When he at last decided he must do something about the situation in Gaul, I thought at first I might join the host he was assembling.

In the end, though, I fell ill and was unable to go when everyone else was ready. It was a bitter blow, but I comforted myself with the thought that when he returned, I would surely have my chance. We all waited for word, and for a time all the news was good. Then, no word for weeks, and when word came, it was in hushed whispers. There had been a defeat. No, Arthur had been betrayed. No man could agree on what had happened.

Some accounts said he fell in Gaul, others that he hastened back with an army weakened by battling across Gaul, desperate to put down a rebellion by his son Mordred. When reminded Mordred had accompanied his father to Gaul, they claimed he had slipped away to foment trouble in his father's absence. Many refused to believe Arthur himself was dead. His army was defeated, yes, and he was wounded, but he was being well tended and would return as soon as he healed.

Well, of course none of us could bear to admit he was gone. He was our last hope. When we finally understood Arthur was dead, or if he was only wounded, so badly hurt we were once again leaderless, all our hope collapsed in an instant. Those were terrible times, much like I imagine the days just after the Legions sailed away must have been. No man sure what was true, or what he could expect, and no man felt safe.

I determined that, in case Arthur did manage to return, I would do all I could to keep my little portion of the Island of the Mighty ready to come to his aid. I laid in stores, I trained my men until they cursed me, and I led patrols to put down trouble before it grew too large to handle. I was so busy I hardly had time to think, but perhaps that was a good thing. As I said, that was a dreadful time. Keeping busy gave me something to take my mind off the gradual withering of any hope I still had.

The various tales first reached our ears in the late autumn. It was late the following winter when I felt safe enough to leave the mountains and show the more settled parts of Britain some of us still fought on. We were welcome nearly everywhere we went, except for those places already black and cold from the raider's torch. One day, we drew near to the lands the cursed Saxons had kept for themselves, even under Arthur.

We were all very much on our guard. When one of my men rode up to tell me he thought perhaps we were being followed, I quietly passed the order for every man to stop and take what cover he could. Soon enough, three horses began to take shape out of the mist that cloaked the downs. We sprang out and halted them.

Their leader called out a challenge of his own. "Who are you, then? Who dares to interfere with the son of Arthur?"

The voice was not Mordred's, but I strode forward anyway, to inspect the man who made such a bold claim. When I got a good look at him, I knew who he was. "Cerdic!"

"Yes, Cerdic. Arthur's other son, the one who has never caused any trouble. By what right do you lay hold of me and my companions in such fashion?"

"Ah, my lord, I had not expected to see you. I have been hunting any who might seek to take advantage of our present troubles. When we noticed we were followed..." I trailed off.

Cerdic had Arthur's presence and intelligence. Indeed, it seemed to me if so many Britons had not found him unacceptable because of his Saxon taint, he might have made a far better staff for his father to lean upon than Mordred had proved to be.

He looked at me sharply, then relaxed. "You thought us nothing but scouts for a raiding party, then? It is a good jest, I suppose." If he did not sound entirely amused, he no longer seemed affronted, either.

"Would you care to ride with us a while, my lord?"

"Thank you, but my business is urgent. You may hear from me in the future, but I must see to this matter at once."

"I understand, my lord." God help me, I even felt some stirring of hope, that one of Arthur's sons was alive and taking action.

With a few more courteous words, I let him ride away. And, in so doing, I sealed the ruin of Britain. I could not have known, of course. No one knew, until the word spread, that Arthur's son, the one he got upon a noble Saxon woman, had become King of the West Saxons. Many Britons would not accept him, so we never thought the Saxons might feel differently. No one had ever considered this.

But how could we fight him? For some of us, the very thought of opposing the man who was all that remained of the greatest hero ever to spring from the Island of the Mighty was more than we could bear. For the rest, who hated him for his Saxon blood, knowing he was nearly the man his father had been made them too fearful to oppose him. Men stopped speaking of him as Arthur's son, of course. But they couldn't forget who he was, not that quickly.

For my own part, I believe Cerdic understood from our meeting that I bore him no ill will. Not long after our encounter, he sent me a letter. He assured me he loved his father, and would not willingly destroy what he had built. But he explained he saw no other way, that only by gaining the support of the Saxons could he bring any peace or order to Britain. He has never sought to raid my lands, and he has even sent messengers to me with gifts. I could not hold out against him if he came, so I felt no shame in sending gifts of my own.

I wonder, sometimes, if Cerdic was right. Perhaps his was the only way to salvage anything from the ruin that Britain had already become. But mine was the hand that dealt the final, fatal blow, and I wonder sometimes, what would Arthur think? Would he hate me for bringing to ruin all that he accomplished, or would he understand, and be secretly pleased that a son of his still ruled over much of Britain?

Author's Afterword: I am sure some of my readers still believe Arthur was no more than a legendary figure. Yet, to my mind, the arguments Geoffrey Ashe puts forth in The Discovery of Arthur are extremely convincing. I am satisfied he has finally succeeded in identifying the historical Arthur. This story is my own interpretation of that period in Britain's history, based upon the points that Geoffrey Ashe has uncovered, and my own efforts to reconcile those with the legends. To me, this is perhaps the most fascinating period in history.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Little Excitement

Theresa stared at Harold with loathing. He was so dull, so predictable. Every night, the same routine. All right, Sylvia's husband hit her sometimes, but at least he was exciting. He went sailing and skiing and running off to exotic places. Even if he sometimes dragged one of his bimbos along, Sylvia got to see all those places, do all those things.

The only exciting thing about Harold was his money. He only ever traveled on business, and accounting wasn't exactly the sort of work that took you anywhere interesting. And he was so careful, so precise, it infuriated her. All she wanted, all she asked, was a little excitement!

True, she'd married him because she was looking for safety and security, but she was tired of all that. She'd been through a lot, and she'd been foolish. It was his fault, for taking advantage of her. All her disgust for the man she'd married welled up in her, and she said the words she'd been thinking for a very long time.

"Harold, I want a divorce!"

He turned around, blinked at her, and started to open his mouth.

"It's no use, Harold! Don't even try to change my mind. I've made my decision, and that's it."

He looked at her for a moment, as if studying one of his balance sheets. Her lip curled.

"Very well, Theresa, if that's what you want. I'll draw up a list of our assets and give it to you in the morning. You can look it over with your lawyer, and I'm sure we can come to an agreement."

He was being so reasonable she wanted to snatch up one of the lamps and smash it into his face. "You'll hear from my lawyer, all right, Harold," she muttered as she stomped off, heels clattering on the polished floor.

The next day, sitting in the office of a lawyer one of her friends had recommended, Theresa was in an even worse mood.

"Just tell me how I can get the house, and still keep enough money to have fun!"

"As I've already explained, it isn't quite that simple. Even if we assume you are able to gain some advantage, the court will expect at least some semblance of a fair settlement. The home you presently occupy with your husband is, ah, rather lavish for your income, and consequently its value..."

"That's just what Harold said!" She bared her teeth. "I'm not giving up the house. It isn't as if he's going to want it in any case. He'd just sell it!"

"But, you see, if you retain the home, the court will consider its value in evaluating any settlement. That will mean you are unlikely to be awarded a significant amount, and since keeping up the house will itself require substantial funds, you would have very little left over for other expenses."

"Do you know, you sound just like Harold when you talk like that?! Don't argue with me, just tell me how I can get what I want!"

The lawyer sighed. "I'm afraid its completely impossible..."

"If you can't get me what I want, then I'll find someone who will!" Theresa stormed out of the office, slamming the door so hard heads turned down the length of the corridor.

She smiled sweetly at them and pulled out her cell phone. Before she had a chance to call any of her friends, a new thought struck her. Why should she lose the house? She'd loved it ever since she first set eyes on it. Henry hadn't wanted to buy it; she'd needed to fight him with everything she had. If there weren't enough money to divide between them, then she'd just have to see she got it all.

Of course, she couldn't just come out and ask anyone, in case they talked. It would look odd, especially after something happened to Harold. So she hinted to a few friends she trusted, read old newspapers, and put on dark glasses, went into a very unpleasant bar, and asked a some direct questions there. In the meantime, she told Harold she was looking over the list with her lawyer, and maintained an icy silence between them.

It didn't take her long to hear of someone named Tony DiRico. Just his name excited her. It sounded so dangerous. He was probably tall, and strong, with dark hair and eyes, and she hoped he'd be open to letting her pay some of his fee, well, a little unconventionally. She wrote down a number for him and kept it in her purse, but couldn't quite get up the nerve to call.

She tried to learn more about Tony, and was glad she'd hesitated. His picture in the paper wasn't nearly as interesting as she'd imagined, and it seemed he'd been caught a few times. If anyone suspected anything when Harold died, it might make things difficult. So she disguised herself even more carefully this time, went to another bar, and asked a few more questions.

The answers led her to a dingy little club, where she met with a man who was willing to give her answers. He looked her all over, counted the money she'd brought, then leaned back.

"The fellow you want is called the Shadow. Nobody knows his real name, keeps changing his number. Real careful guy. Right now, you want to get ahold of him, you call this number to set up a meeting. I can't tell you more than that, cause I don't know more than that."

He slid a grimy slip of paper with a number scrawled on it across the table to her. She took it and stuffed it into her purse beside Tony's number.

Theresa began to get really excited. The Shadow had real reasons for being careful, not like Harold. He sounded very effective. She bet he was going to look a lot like she'd thought Tony DiRico would. She called the number, left a message, and waited nervously until a guy with a very husky voice called her back. She arranged a meeting, at a very seedy little hotel where nobody would ask too many questions.

Theresa was there early, dressed in a short skirt and the lowest cut blouse she'd ever worn. She sprawled back on the rickety bed in what she hoped was a provocative pose. She was watching the door eagerly when a soft hand stole around from behind her and clamped over her mouth. She watched, unable to scream, as a needle approached her arm.

"Before we finish this, Theresa, I think you should know a few things." It sounded a lot like Harold's voice, but that was impossible. He was much too drab and careful to risk anything like this. "There's nothing in the needle but air. A tiny air bubble will be enough to stop your heart. Even if the police notice a puncture, in a place like this..."

She tried to twist away, but the needle went in and she watched in horror as the plunger was driven home.

"There. It will only be a few minutes now, for the bubble to reach your heart. While we wait, you might want to know a few things. Just to satisfy your curiosity."

Theresa knew she was going to die. She just sagged limply in his arms and let him talk.

"Caution is a very useful attribute if you want to survive in this profession. It helps keep you from getting caught. It also helps if you have a cover. A dull and boring profession, say as an accountant, raises no suspicions at all. No one looks twice at us."

"Oh, and in case you're wondering, I would have let you go through with the divorce. It was only when I knew for certain that you wouldn't be satisfied with half my money and were going to try to kill me that I decided it must end this way."

She forced her head around and stared in horror into Harold's face. As a burning sensation spread through her chest, she realised her husband was an exciting man after all. If only she'd know that before it was too late!


Friday, May 18, 2007


Mike logged in, then scrolled down. He'd started a pretty good discussion in the forum, about the ways the Internet was changing things for writers. He skimmed a few of the messages he hadn't read yet. There were some good ideas here. Then he sat up straighter and read the next post over again.

"Dickens didn't need a computer, and neither should you, unless you're a bunch of wimps. Who cares what everybody else is doing?"

Mike thought for a minute, then typed out a careful message. "It is true Dickens didn't need a computer, but he also had access to many more print markets than the number that survive today. Since the world Dickens lived in no longer exists, writers who want to live today must adapt to today's world."

He hit Enter and went on to another portion of the site. He'd spent a lot of time building it up, and he was proud of it. He liked to keep it working smoothly. After a little while, he remembered there was a link to a great online magazine he'd wanted to post in the Markets section, so he went back to the thread he'd been reading before. There, staring at him, was a reply to his message.

"Dickens wouldn't waste his time on this crappy site. He'd write, not whine about writing like you losers do. Hey, I might as well read spam!"

Mike grimaced. This was more than a simple misunderstanding. This guy was trying to stir up trouble. He typed quickly. "Okay, troll! Get lost! I'm banning you right now."

He looked at the username, and almost snorted his coffee all over the screen. The guy didn't even try to hide what he was. He quickly banned henrytroll from the site, then went back to work. Except for a few snickers with friends over the username, he forgot all about it by the time the registered letter arrived. He ripped it open, scanned it, then reread it in horror.

It seemed the law firm of McCann, Hertz, and Howe was representing a Mr. Henry Troll, who was suing him on the basis of "discrimination based upon the plaintiff's race or ethnic origin". Was this some joke the troll whipped up because he got banned? Mike dialed the number on the letterhead, and a professional sounding voice said "McCann, Hertz, and Howe. How may I direct your call?"

He hung up, then dialed his own lawyer. It took a while to convince him this wasn't some strange practical joke, but then he faxed over the letter. His lawyer read it, made a few calls, then got back on the line to him.

"Mike, yeah, I know this sounds crazy, but we're going to have to be in court to answer this."

"The judge will just throw it out, right?"

"I'd assume so, but you never really know."

Mike tried to reassure himself, and put it out of his mind until the day he had to show up in court. He got there just in time, and his lawyer glared at him.

"You can't afford to be late, you know, even for something as crazy as this."

They walked into the courtroom and sat down. Next to the starched lawyer occupying the opposite table, a huge mound of a man slumped in his chair. He was rumpled and misshapen, with a ruddy complexion, and the ugliest, bumpiest face Mike had ever seen. He saw he wasn't the only one trying not to stare. The judge walked into the courtroom, and when everyone stood up, Henry noticed the guy was at least half a foot taller than anyone there.

The judge scanned the paperwork, then looked over her glasses at them. "It seems someone forgot to let me in on the joke. I do use the Internet, you know. Did you think I wouldn't notice?"

The other lawyer shot to his feet. "Your Honor, this is far from a joke! My client, an innocent man, has suffered insult and harm at the hands of that bigot over there, for no reason other than his racial or ethnic origins."

"All right, counselor. Suppose you tell me, briefly, what this is all about."

"Thank you, Your Honor. My client, Mr. Henry Troll, is a homeless man. He shelters under the I-72 bridge, and his only Internet access is through comupters at the public library. Mr. Troll knows little about his family, but there is a tradition his father's people, at least, were called trolls back in Europe. That is the origin of his, ah, unusual surname."

"And just how has Mr. Troll been persecuted by the defendant?"

"My client, Your Honour, was peacefully enjoying the benefits of the defendant's web site, and engaging in a discussion of his opinion on a certain issue, when the defendant posted a message calling him a troll, then banned him from the site. My client had not made any attempt to hide his origins, so it is clear that the defendant was singling him out on the basis of his ethnic or racial identity."

The judge frowned, and said nothing for several minutes. "All right. I guess I'm going to have to allow this to proceed."

Mike groaned, knowing the troll was going to win. He'd figured out a way to some easy cash, and he'd found a lawyer who liked the idea of a big commission for winning a case that would make headlines, and now the judge was taking the whole thing seriously. It was just like the Dark Ages; run across a troll, and pay, and pay... He didn't even dare say that aloud, of course. It would be just one more bone tossed to the troll.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007


Sam hadn't thought he would enjoy himself, but he was. It was hot, and the boat's engine was noisy, but the breeze helped cool him off, and the scenery along the banks of the river more than made up for the racket of the big twin diesel monster. Dave was just an acquaintance, but he loved to invite anyone he knew for a trip on his boat.

Some people said he was just showing off, but Sam didn't think that was it. He genuinely seemed to want to share his fun with as many people as he could. The attitude was infectious. He'd invited as many girls as guys, and one or two of them even acted like Sam was a human being. All in all, it was a pretty good day, even if he was missing a chance to set down a few more pages of his next book.

They were running up the middle of the channel right now, and the banks were at least a hundred yards away on either side of them. He shaded his eyes, studying a magnificent stone castle someone had built back when such things were still possible. He leaned further out to get a good look. Just then, he heard someone shout, and the boat jerked sharply.

As he flew over the railing and splashed into the chilly current his first thought was that the boat must have hit something. His second thought was that perhaps it would have been a good idea to tell Dave he was a terrible swimmer and ask for a life vest or something. The water closed over his head, and dimly he could hear people shouting. He thrashed around, but he kept on sinking.

The water around him was moving pretty fast, dragging him along with it as he descended. Far too late, he remembered that if you fell into the water, you were supposed to kick off your shoes and shed most of your clothes so they wouldn't weigh you down. Frantically, he flipped his feet back and forth, but he couldn't seem to dislodge his fancy new boat shoes.

He fumbled for his shirt, but the water tugged at his hands and he kept letting it slip away. He got it part way over his head, but then it stuck there and he was worse off than before. He wanted the chance to finish his book, to write the other books inside him, but it was starting to look like that wasn't going to happen. He felt an overwhelming regret that he hadn't worked harder at getting the words inside him down on paper.

They must be trying to find him. Maybe it wasn't too late. But then he remembered that the current was taking him further and further away from where he'd fallen in. And he didn't even know if anyone else had fallen overboard at the same time. His lungs burned, and the last spark of hope in his mind faded. Slowly, everything seemed to go black.

Sam coughed and opened his eyes. A man was bending over him, and he remembered falling in the river and thinking all was lost.

"Are you all right now?"

"I... I think so. Thank you."

The stranger looked at him a little oddly. "You're welcome. You can make yourself at home there." He gestured at a little cabin set well back in the woods.

Sam glanced around him, and saw he was lying on the grass in a little clearing by the riverbank. A narrow path led from that clearing to the larger one that housed the cabin, which must be all but hidden from the river. Done inspecting his surroundings, he noticed his rescuer was striding briskly away, already nearly out of sight.

Sam nearly called after him, then considered that he was probably going for help. A rustic cabin like this wouldn't have a phone, and if the man's cell phone had got wet when he jumped in to save Sam, he'd have no other choice. Sam lay back in the grass for a moment, then got to his feet. He felt good, better than he'd expected after nearly drowning.

His rescuer had told him to make himself at home, so he went into the cabin, looked around until he found towels and a pair of worn jeans and a faded shirt he thought would fit him, and shed his soaking clothes. He dried himself, then put on the clothes he'd found, which fit as well as his favourite old clothes at home.

Sam walked out to the main room and sat down, looking at all the books. Every wall was lined with shelves, and every shelf was stuffed with books. Some were titles he'd read and loved, others were by authors he'd never heard of. He was trying to make up his mind which one to start reading when a faint meow made him look down.

There, starting to rub his feet, was a black and white cat who looked just like Mousetrap, who'd died two years before. He reached down, gently, and the cat began to purr as he turned his head to one side so he could scratch its chin, just as Mousetrap used to do. Another meow, and a ginger female who looked just like his Lucy hopped into his lap and settled in the exact position Lucy always preferred.

He stroked Lucy's head and thought. All the regrets he'd felt while under water seemed so distant now. Here he was, back together with his old friends, and if he just waited a while, he was sure the cats he had now would turn up. He couldn't even remember why he'd struggled. Here was Mousetrap, and Lucy, and, yes, Snowball, who'd been a kitten when he was six, was sleeping in the corner. Once Rusty and Tiger and Callie came home, life would be perfect.


Final Words to the Blogosphere

I've dreaded this moment ever since I learned the new Bonehead-Lamebrain Anti-Terrorism Bill would shut down the entire blogosphere just in case somewhere in those billions of words there might be a scrap of information terrorists could make use of. It is just like politicians to offer a "solution" that does nothing to fix the problem. Or perhaps they're smarter than I think; they've done a very good job of making it difficult once more for any member of the public to gain wide exposure for an observation like mine.

There are a lot of people out there cheering, people who consider the blogosphere a waste of time or worse. To them I say, no one ever forced you to keep a blog, or to read anyone else's blog. Blogging is a far more pleasant way to waste time than most of the ones I know. And I don't believe it really is a waste of time at all. The founders of the United States, the men who drew up our Constitution, believed free speech was important.

Their experiment turned out so well, many other societies became convinced freedom of speech was important, too. Well, blogging is the most perfect outlet for freedom of speech man has ever imagined. Anyone, even the nutjob over there wearing his tinfoil hat to block the mind control rays his neighbour's squirrel is beaming to him, can say whatever they want on their blog. And yet, bloggers don't annoy you walking down the street, they don't litter your lawns with hate-laced filth, they don't make any real fuss or mess. You don't have to read a single blog if you don't want to.

So blogging offers perfect freedom of speech to everyone, while offering perfect freedom of attention to everyone else. No one ever has to read about that squirrel and his mind control rays. No one ever has to read flimsy excuses for hatred. Everyone can read whatever they please. If tinfoil hats amuse you, you can learn how to make one. And everyone can respond to whatever they read; if you find a nasty, hateful blog, you are able to counter it by writing sane and tolerant posts of your own.

Yes, there are a few things we should not tolerate, but for the most part, tolerance is a necessary part of society. Blogging nurtures tolerance, as bloggers link to one another and have the chance to read very different opinions from their own. It gives everyone a voice, and lets the rest of us understand how others live. It sometimes allows strangers to help each other, which is surely a good thing.

It offers the chance to understand things you've never even thought about, to learn about things you knew nothing about, and to discover writers and artists you otherwise never would have heard of. It offers obscure people the chance to share their talents with the world, and gives the best of them some opportunity to have those talents recognised. No matter how many or how few bloggers understand this, what we do is the essence of freedom, of equality, of growing understanding.

And, of course, for a writer or anyone who ever even thought about writing, blogging is paradise. It offers a free, easy way to write and to publish your words in a forum where others will read them and respond. Those are the things we will all lose when the blogosphere is shut down tomorrow. Let us remember them, let us never forget them, let us struggle day and night to bring them back.

Some of you will remind me, if you have time to leave a comment, that there are nasty bloggers, and petty bloggers, foolish ones and vain ones. All that is true; bloggers are part of the human race, and we share the bad traits as well as the good. Yet blogging has given us a tool, one that can do great things if used wisely. If you look back and wish you'd done better, learn that lesson well. If we do somehow keep our right to blog, the lesson you learned will help you make better use of the tool before you.

On a more personal level, I will hate to leave the blogosphere behind. There are so many blogs that make me think, and there are hidden jewels of fiction, or poetry, however painful. And when I ache with a suffering poet, I hope one day to read she has escaped the Monster and is free to live. I want to know how all your lives turn out!

I will miss the blogs I read, I will miss my readers, I will miss the act of blogging. If only it were not true, the idea of the blogosphere coming to an end would be an instructive one, for it has made me think of all blogging is, and all it means to me. In the time I've been blogging, I've deleted one or two really awful comments, and responded to one or two hurtful ones. But it has all be worth it to me, and I will leave with many more happy memories than sad ones.

My only real regret as the last day of blogging approaches is this: I regret the days I never posted, I regret the days I could have said something but stayed silent. I will think of all of you, and remember you fondly, and hope your lives all turn out well. And, if by some miracle the blogosphere is saved, I'll link you up once again with a light heart. And I know I have friends now in places I've never even been, and that is a wonderful thing.

So I say to everyone who has the chance to read this; look at all the things blogging has to offer you. Look at all it can offer those around you, and all it can offer the world at large. Obscure fringe groups have the chance to be heard, and perhaps make themselves understood. The sick, the shy, the ugly, the awkward, all have another chance to make friends. Bloggers can band together to do good, to spread important words, to offer comfort.

Remember those things. Remember the blogosphere is as real as any other part of human interaction, and every blogger is a real person. You say some people pretend to be what they're not on their blogs? Of course they do; some people pretend to be what they're not in other ways, too. No fair criticism of bloggers or blogging cannot be said about other aspects of human life as well. So remember what we have here, wake up and see it for what it is. Work to save it, restore it, improve it, to make it everything it can be.

In conclusion, as you must surely realise, I very much hope these will not be my final words to the blogosphere, and pray that awful Act will be overturned by the Supreme Court at the last moment. I urge you all to support a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing everyone the Freedom to Blog. And I hope to be back at my keyboard, posting again. If that is not to be, I only regret the fact it has ended. Even the pain of losing the blogosphere is not enough to make me wish I had never discovered blogging. I will miss you all, and I will think of you, as I write in my paper journal, such a very poor substitute for the real thing, blogging.

Tish, from The Kat House, tagged me for a rather interesting meme, which asks each blogger to consider "If the blogosphere were coming to an end 24 hours from now, what would your final post be?". Even though Tish dismissed the greatest Web 2.0 tool of all time, not even including it in a Web 2.0 meme she participated in, I still have no choice but to forgive her. After all, she was very complimentary in her comment when she let me know I'd been tagged.

I'm also very grateful to Tish, since writing this post has made me think. I could only think of one reason (short of the impending extinction of the entire human race) I could know the blogosphere would come to an end in 24 hours. That's right, politicians! Those people who make a mess of everything good trying to fix the bad, without ever really improving anything. And when I thought about the possibility they might take all this away, I realised just how much I would miss it. The words above are real, they are exactly what I would say in such a situation, well, except for the much more unkind comments I'd slip in about the politicians who were responsible for it all...

Yes, it is traditional in a meme to tag others. The trouble is, I'm never sure if the person I'm tagging would really like to be tagged. So I'll say this; I've found the meme to be a valuable prompt to force me to think about blogging and what it means to me. If you read this, and would like to participate, consider yourself tagged!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blank Canvas

Wanda flipped through the canvases leaning against the walls of her studio. She ignored the paintings in various stages of completion, determined to find a blank one. Surely she couldn't have run out? She didn't want to lose time stretching and preparing one right now. There! Right up against the wall, one of the biggest canvases she had.

She hauled it out and examined it. It was on a thicker, heavier frame than usual, and somehow gave the impression of being very old, even as it appeared fresh and ready for use. She vaguely remembered buying it at a garage sale or something. She carried it outside and set it up on her easel, facing the lake, then readied her palette.

She began to paint, swift sure strokes, capturing the autumn hues on the far ridge and the way they reflected in the placid blue water before her. She frowned at the house on the lower slope of the ridge. The rest of the few cabins scattered about Cedar Lake remained out of sight behind trees and brush, considerately preserving the view for everyone. That one house stood brazen, defiant.

The swath of trees cut down to give the owners unobstructed vistas from every window left a swatch of plain, uninteresting green lawn. Exposed against it, the house squatted, aggressively chrome and glass, a defiantly alien intruder on the peacful landscape. Wanda made an abrupt decision, scraped the canvas clean with her palette knife and a little turpentine, and began painting that section of the hill as it had looked only a few years before.'

She filled in the space with trees just like the ones she'd painted around it. Finished, she glanced up, then stiffened. The house, the hateful, infuriating, obnoxious house, no longer loomed over the opposite side of the lake. The forest there was unbroken, just as she'd painted it, just as it had been until workmen arrived to clear it three years ago.

Wanda could think of only one explanation, but she needed to test it to be sure. She glanced down at her canvas again, painted in more of the ridgetop and the forest along it. Then, slowly and carefully, she painted in a magnificent pine, towering above all the other trees around it. When she glanced up, the pine stood, majestic, just as she'd depicted it. The only trouble was, no such pine had stood anywhere near that spot for as long as she'd known the lake.

As carefully as she'd painted it, Wanda erased the pine from the canvas, and, with her mind on other things, filled in the rest of the landscape she'd begun. No pine now defied lightning and wind from atop the ridge. A disturbing thought crossed her mind, and Wanda set aside the palette and brush and went inside. She booted up her computer, logged onto the Internet, then frowned in concentration.

What was the name of the people who'd built that awful house? DeLark? No, but something like that. Thaddeus De'Lorco, that was it! With trembling fingers she typed his name into Google and hit Enter. She checked several entries. There could be no doubt it was the same man, although she'd been sure his wife's name was Lauren, not Samantha. Lauren De'Lorco was just too silly a name to mistake, after all.

It seemed, according to the information she found on Google, that he'd bought a slightly larger site on another lake two counties away. He'd caused the same fuss, though, insisting on building an eyesore in the middle of an unspoiled spot. If anything, the battle over his plans seemed to have been even more bitter, but he finally prevailed.

She decided she needed time to think about these things. She prepared a simple dinner for herself, just slices of tomato and mozzarella scattered with basil leaves and moistened with olive oil. Then she went to bed, sleeping soundly until dawn. When she first woke, she wondered if she'd just had a very strange dream, but she padded out to her front porch and peered through the branches to see the house was really gone. After breakfast, she went into her studio, where she'd brought her newest painting last night.

The canvas still leaned where she'd placed it, facing the door, but it was completely blank! She rushed over to study it, but she could not detect even the faintest traces of paint. She needed a few supplies anyway, so she hopped into her Volvo and drove to town, parking in front of the grocery. She picked up the things she needed, then pottered around until the few other shoppers had left. She took her things up to the counter, returned the grocer's greeting, and paid.

"Say, Ralph, do you remember anything about a house across from mine?"

"On the ridge?"

She nodded.

"No houses there that I know of. Used to be, way back in the eighteen hundreds, but if you didn't know where to look I doubt you'd even find the foundation by now."

"Not an old house, I was thinking of new construction. A fellow named De'Lorco."

Ralph frowned and scratched his nose. "De'Lorco? Wait, there was something... Oh, I remember. Four years ago, I think it was, fellow by that name almost bought a parcel on the ridge. Had another place he wanted to build, but they were giving him too much trouble. Then a court case went his way, or something, and he backed out. Never heard anything of it since. Why?"

"I happened to think of it, but I couldn't remember the details. You know how those things can annoy you."

"Oh, I sure do! Well, good day, Miz Milley."

"Thanks, Ralph! You've set my mind at ease." Without another word, she carried her bags out to the car and drove home.

She didn't touch the canvas again for two weeks. If it was really capable of what it seemed to be, if she could really alter reality just by depicting the result she wanted, it was a frightening power. She wanted to think it over, to be sure she didn't somehow abuse it, or fail to consider the consequences of what she might do. Every day, though, she longed to go back to it, to paint fresh scenes on its surface.

Two weeks of resisting, two weeks of building curiosity, and she set up the canvas again. Today, she was about to paint, not just making an image of what she saw, but actually creating reality. She couldn't wait to learn what she could do! At first, she experimented carefully, sticking to unimportant things. She added a fence around her garden, she got rid of a dead tree she'd been meaning to have taken down since last year.

She found that the canvas was always wiped clean as she slept. Anything she painted on it became real, and remained that way unless she altered the painting. She also found she could clean a painting from the canvas herself without disturbing the reality she'd created, as long as she cleaned away the entire painting instead of changing it.

She also learned that she was the only person who could recall things as they'd been before she altered them. She even accidentally discovered that the changes she depicted could lead to other changes as well. Making up her mind one day to paint a series of views of her little cabin outside and in, remodelling it as she'd so long wished she could, she painted the cabin as she wanted it to be.

She had made it her habit, after every painting, to do everything in her power to notice any change, even ones she hadn't planned or expected. That evening, she realised her paintings could command a higher price than had been true before. Thinking it over, she realised that, in order to allow her to have made the improvements she wanted in this new reality, she had to have more money.

Wanda began to consider that she could use an image to represent more abstract changes. This opened up new possibilities, but it also increased the risks of what she was doing. How could she be sure whatever power tied her canvas to reality would interpret such abstract ideas in the same way she intended them. She experimented, but even more slowly and carefully than she had when learning to reshape mere physical reality.

She worked her way up to a self portrait where she weighed twenty pounds less, glowed with health, and appeared fifteen years younger. Men stared at her again, and she felt much better than she had in years. Then one day the visiting nephew of a neighbout borrowed a canoe and fell into the middle of the lake. Men gathered, diving into the lake, grim faced, as Wanda watched from shore, tears soaking her cheeks, waiting for them to bring up the poor boy's body.

While she waited, she began to wonder. Could she do anything to change this reality? She rushed inside, dragged out the canvas, and began to paint a scene of the boy, who she'd seen once, alive and playing by the shore of the lake. Suddenly, the voices of the rescuers floating over the water ceased, and she looked up to find that she had, indeed, given that little boy back his life.

She began to look for ways to do good with this strange gift that she'd been given, painting intact houses where fires had struck the night before, depicting the dead alive and literally breathing life back into them with her brush. While wars raged in far-off lands, famines continued to haunt Africa, and murder remained an accepted part of life in any big city, the region where Wanda lived grew peaceful and content, a place where tragedy never struck.

Wanda spread her efforts over as wide circle as she felt she could manage, and continually sought ways to do even more. She ignored the wars, the reports of mass killings, the headlines that spoke of atrocities that might have left even Hitler with nightmares, because those were too far away, and she didn't feel she could stop those things.

Although she wondered why she had been chosen, she didn't let that stop her from doing what she could. Finally, one day when things were quiet and there was little work for her to do, she sat down and painted herself, looking up at a vague figure with its back turned. Both of them were gesturing at a canvas; Wanda wanted so badly to meet whoever was behind this wonderful gift, to thank them, and to ask why she'd been chosen to receive it.

She added the last brush stroke, and looked up to see a handsome man standing at her side, smirking down at her. Despite his good looks, there was something about him that made her uneasy.

"Who are you?"

"Don't you recognise me? I made the canvas you've painted on for so many years."

"Oh!" Wanda put her hand to her mouth, afraid she might have offended him.

"But perhaps I'm more familiar to you like this." As he spoke, his features sharpened. His skin turned the shade of a wood stove with a roaring fire inside, and sharp points appeared on his forehead. He smirked again, flipped a pitchfork from hand to hand, then caught it with the tip of a tail she hadn't noticed before.

Wanda stared, horrified. "But, but... You're... I've done good!"

His laugh held the sound of hot iron hissing in water, of rocks grinding on the shore in a storm where many men would never come home, of thousands of throats baying their hatred for men just like them. "Of course you have. It grated on me, I admit. But I had to let you do it. It was the only way."

Wanda was sure she would not like the answer, but she asked anyway. "But why?"

"If I hadn't distracted you, if I hadn't let you do good, your talent would have developed along much different lines."

Wanda waited, sure he wouldn't resist the opportunity to explain how he'd somehow tricked her. It only took ten seconds.

"I'll show you what you might have been, if I hadn't managed to give you a chance to do good!" He spat the words, then drew a circle in the air with his fingers.

Inside it, Wanda saw herself, about the age she was now, up on a stage, receiving an award of some kind from a man she didn't recognise. Then the scene changed, and she saw a newspaper with her photo on the front page, below a headline that read "Artist's Masterpiece Stirred Conscience of Al-Hijazi, Crippling Plans for Second Holocaust"

She buried her face in her hands and wept.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Gordon stood with his arms folded on the porch railing, looking out to sea. He'd made his preparations, now all he could do was wait for the hurricane to do its worst. The wind was getting frisky, and the sky was darkening, but the real storm was still offshore. He wondered if the house would be standing tomorrow. He didn't much care about himself, but he hated to think of his father's house gone.

It began to rain, and still he stood gazing out at the ocean, until the wind grew so harsh he had to retreat inside. The power went out a few minutes after he switched the lights on, and he sat in the dimness and listened to the wind scream. Rain slapped the roof overhead, and now and then a gust tossed it against the windows like flung gravel. He kept thinking of the last time he'd sat out such a bad storm, waiting for the winds to die down.

He rose and paced, trying to shake off thoughts of that night. They kept coming back, slipping up on him in the shadows. Sealed up, the house smelled faintly musty, with none of the clean, salt smell it usually had. The stairs creaked under his feet, and he hesitated at the door to his father's room. The worst of the odor came from there; he'd shut the windows and door and never gone in there again. He couldn't make himself do so now. Instead, he stepped into the bedroom he'd had since he was a boy.

A picture of Lisa still stood on his dresser by the bed, as if she might some day come back, walking out of the surf to stand at his side again. He turned away and collapsed face down on the bed, trying to sleep. Probably he dozed fitfully, but the images kept coming. Gordon supposed, after what he had done, his father must be haunting him. He could hear rocks grinding along the shore, churned by the incredible power of the waves.

Sometime around midnight, the eye passed overhead. The house was still undamaged. Gordon stepped outside. The whole world was hushed, still in shock at the recent violence. He stood there in the silence until the wind began to build again, rapidly, then ran inside and secured the door. He struck a match, touching it to the wick of the same lamp he'd used that night twenty years ago. He sat in the kitchen, everything gilded by the glow of the flame, seeing it all as it had looked then.

Finally he managed to doze in his chair for a few hours. When he woke, it was a little past dawn, and the storm had passed over. He stepped outside, intending to walk around the house to check for minor damage. Instead, he halted on the front steps with one foot in the air. He'd finally found his father and Lisa. There, driven onto a spit of rock by the pounding waves, the blackened, ruined silhouette of his father's boat perched in plain sight.

He raced to the beach, hopped from one rock to the next, and worked his way out alongside the Sea Witch. He stared in horror. He knew a fireball had been sighted offshore just before the storm hit, but seeing the soggy, charred wood and distorted fiberglass made it all too real. All of a sudden, a memory surfaced, as his dad's boat had done. He clearly recalled hauling cans of gas aboard, tipping them out into the cockpit and through the door of the cabin.

He doubled over and was sick. Jack Szymanski had been right after all! He'd wondered, now and then. A dry chuckle near his ear almost made him lose his footing and slide off into the still churning water. When he looked over and wondered if his thought had conjured the man up, he wished he had.

"Speak of the Devil. Or, in this case, think of the Devil."

"The Devil? I'm not the devil, Gordy, old boy. How you can look at your own handiwork and then say I'm the Devil..."

"Shut up, Jack! Just once, leave me alone!" He remembered avoiding looking through the cabin door. He wondered if any of their bones were still inside.

"You killed my daughter, you mangy, worthless..."

"I loved Lisa." Gordon's voice was flat with warning. Standing here, next to the wreck, all the old wounds stung as if fresh.

"Yes, you loved her, and when you found her with your father, you were so jealous you couldn't think of anything but killing them. Isn't that so, Gordy, old boy?"

"Lisa wouldn't have done anything like that. Don't lie about her!"

"Well, why did you kill her, then?"

Gordon opened his mouth, but no answer came. He'd burned the boat, he remembered that much, and it was pretty clear they were dead already. So why had he killed her?

The older man gave another dry chuckle. "Well, we won't worry about that now, will we? The police are bound to notice soon enough, and then they'll get interested in the case again. In fact, I think they'll get so interested, my fee has just gone up."

"You believe I killed Lisa and you're willing to settle for cash!? And you wonder why I think you're the Devil!"

"Why, Gordy, old boy, I should think you'd be grateful. After all, I could do much worse..."

"I deserve much worse!"

Jack paused to peer at him. "You remember something, don't you? How much do you remember about that day?"

Something in his tone warned Gordon. In his mind, he struggled to open the doors he'd sealed so long ago. Suddenly, a flood of memories rushed into his head.

"You foul old pervert, you're the one who killed her! You're the one who was jealous!" He lunged to shove Jack back, off the rocks, but the other man stepped back too quickly.

"So you do remember, now. That's a pity. It was so useful, having my own, ah, private banker as it were..."

"You knew all along I never did it, and you let me think I did!"

"Don't you remember that part? After I stumbled upon Lisa, with your father, I couldn't have that, you know, so I shot her and I shot him for defiling my pretty little daughter. Then you walked in."

Gordon's eyes widened. "I wasn't even there, then? I still can't remember everything."

"Perhaps, but you still remember too much. There's always a chance someone might listen to you."

"You're going to kill me, now?"

"I think it will look very natural. The remorseful son kills himself when his father's boat rises from a watery grave to confront him."

Gordon thought he heard a slight noise behind him, but didn't dare look back. He wondered if perhaps his father was planning to haunt someone else. "What happened? You owe me that much, you bastard!"

Jack sighed. "I suppose it won't do any harm. We're all alone out here, and everyone else will be too busy dealing with the aftermath of the storm to come this way for a few hours at least." He chuckled. "It was easy. You were just eighteen, and it wasn't hard to convince you I'd planned things so I could pin the whole thing on you."

Hearing the story, Gordon began to recall pleading with his father and his girlfriend's murderer not to send him to prison. He'd been naive then, and when Jack told him the only way out was to help him conceal the evidence, he could see no other answer. Being forced to take some small part in the killings, to take up his father's and Lisa's nude bodies, already growing cold and stiff, dump them into the Sea Witch, then burn it, had all been too much for him. He'd collapsed.

When he recovered, he could remember nothing about that day but what others told him. Jack had defended him publicly at the time, claiming the wait and uncertainty had overwhelmed him, and until the first demand for money came, Gordon really believed the man was his friend. He heard a slight scrape behind him, from the burned out hull. Before he could react, a voice rang out.

"Freeze, Szymanski! I've got you covered!"

"What the..."

Gordon slowly turned, gaping when he saw the current sherriff alongside the man who'd held that office twenty years before.

"You see, it's like this. I always suspected Gordon. There were rumours, you know. I'm sorry, Gordon."

Gordon shrugged. "Even I didn't know if I did it or not, so I can't really blame you for wondering."

"Yes, well, I suspect the same person planted the idea in both our minds. Anyway, I came by just a bit before dawn, and saw her up on the rocks. The breakers weren't getting any stronger, so I brought Doug out here and we both hid inside her. We were hoping you'd come out and say or do something to give yourself away. Instead, I'm happy to say, we managed to catch the real killer!"

Jack grunted. "I'm too old for prison." Before any of them could grab him, he leaped out into the water. As they watched, a wave lifted him and slammed him, head first, into the base of a jagged rock.


How Many Years, How Many Tears

The 15th of May has always been a terrible day for me, ever since I was seventeen. I gradually grew used to it, then a phrase in the news about Princess Diana's accident triggered flashbacks. The two poems below were written when I was younger, and I apologise to my readers, since they aren't very good. They both refer to the same incident, from very different perspectives, with a very small amount of poetic license thrown in.

I won't give his name here, since I have no desire to cause his family any pain if they ever find my blog. But at 12:05 am on the 15th of May in a year now long past, I was awake and reading H.M.S. Ulysses by Alistair MacLean. I had quarreled with my best friend that day (technically, the day before). He'd come late in the year into my chemistry class, and was assigned a lab station on his own in the back row.

He hated to be alone, so he asked me to move back beside him and work with him. I did that, and the arrangement worked out well, from November into mid-May. Then, that Friday, when I walked back there, Michael barely had time to tell me he really needed to talk to me, when the teacher suddenly roared in my face, looking like a madman, telling me to move back to my assigned place or go to the office.

I tried to argue, but the teacher, usually a dry but pretty good natured guy, was acting like he had rabies. I have never, before or after that one day, seen him act that way, and I have no idea why he did. I moved, we mixed orange and yellow paints, and by the time the lab was over, everyone got into a sponge fight (which the teacher didn't say a word about). I tried talking to my friend then, but he was upset and tossed a few sponges my way.

I figured he'd cool down and we could talk Monday; everybody gets upset when they really need something and it doesn't work out. So I went home and by that night I was absorbed in my book, when a dull boom made me jump. Those of you who are rational may not believe this part, but an icy cold voice inside my mind said, "This is the worst thing that has ever happened to you." I thought the sound was an explosion, and ran to look out the window. I couldn't see flames in the sky, so I decided I was wrong.

I went back to reading. A short while later, I heard sirens, then chain saws. Now, I lived just a short distance from a very bad curve where there were accidents nearly every week. The sound I'd heard didn't sound like a car accident, but I figured there must have been one later, and so I ignored the sirens. As for the 'voice' I'd 'heard' - that was so crazy I shoved it out of my head.

The next morning, we were headed out to my grandfather's, and I saw a huge oak on the curve ripped out of the ground. I remembered the sirens, and figured there had been a bad accident. I still didn't think about what I'd heard, or the voice in my mind. At my grandfather's, we went to visit a "ham" operator friend of his, and talked about this ancient radio tube I was trying to find, so I could build a Tesla Coil.

I had fun, then we came home late that afternoon. My mother had stayed home, and heard news she didn't know how to tell me, so she left me a note. It read "There was a crash. The driver died. It was Michael [best friend's last name]." I was too stunned to think of much, but I did remember the voice, since it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

The next few days included a lot of hurtful and humiliating details; I'll only recount the worst one here. I had been on the yearbook staff for three years; this was my junior year. I was slated to be an editor of the yearbook my senior year, then another teacher began a vicious campaign to snatch the job of advisor. I talked with my yearbook advisor, and we agreed, for the sake of the yearbook, I should stay on the staff, even though I wouldn't be an editor, and do what I could to make it good.

I was willing to do that, and prepared for a series of crucial meetings we had scheduled for that week, but of course I went to Michael's wake instead on Monday. I went to his funeral Tuesday, where a full third of students and teachers attended, then went to school and showed up at the yearbook meeting that afternoon. The advisor asked why I wasn't at the meeting the day before, and I told him I went to my best friend's wake. He told me I "wasn't dedicated enough" to be on the yearbook staff.

In the midst of all this, I had to listen to a guy I knew who lived on the curve tell me about the 'crazy kid' who got killed outside his house the night before (he didn't know who it was yet). And the rumours. I pieced together a few things. The sound I heard was from the fact that Michael was driving a new car, and it was moving pretty fast. When the car hit the tree, the air inside compressed and blew the doors off, and blew Michael out onto the ground.

Essentially, I'd heard the car blowing apart like a giant paper bag full of air. I finally heard about one guy who actually saw it happen, and he said it sounded like a giant bucket of nails being dropped from a huge height. Different descriptions, but the same noise. And I got very vivid pictures in my mind, of being inside the car beside Michael as it raced towards the tree. I also found out he was alive when the police got there.

They had to put a pressure suit on him to lift him, because he was like a jellyfish, but he lived long enough to make it to the hospital, where he died. He was always very alive, and looking at him in his casket, dead, he looked so very strange. For a while, I tried to believe he'd just fallen asleep; I even wrote one poem from that perspective (not one of the two below).

But there were a lot of reasons to wonder if he might have killed himself, and I started to wonder if the fact I hadn't talked to him when he'd needed it was the reason he might have driven his car into a tree. Something like that happens, you get pretty obsessed with it, and I thought about it over and over, until except for the details I've given you here, I couldn't figure out what was what.

Every year was still terrible, but I was starting to get over it, a little, six years later when one evening I was sitting in the church I went to then. This was in a town a little distance from where I lived; I knew almost no one there. In the middle of the service, I heard sirens. An icy cold voice in my mind said "You know who that is; this is just to let you know that I can still touch you."

The chances that I'd know who was in an accident in that area were very small, so I figured I was nuts, and I tried to shrug it off. Then, about half an hour later, a couple I knew and liked walked in and told everyone they'd just been in an accident down the street...

I certainly don't pretend to know what the voice I 'heard' was, and I don't "believe" in it, or "listen" to it - I hope I never hear the cursed thing again, and while I might not be able to shrug it off so easily if I ever do, I'm convinced it means me no good, so I wouldn't do what it told me to under any circumstances.

Still, probably many of you reading this now think I'm crazy. And, I will admit, if you ever have something like that happen to you, you do lose your mind a bit, or even more than a bit. I was years recovering from the wounds of all this. When Princess Diana died, the news mentioned that the car hitting the tunnel wall sounded like an explosion - that phrase was enough to trigger flashbacks.

Again, I struggled to recover, to push it all to the back of my mind - you don't exactly forget something like that. I've done pretty well, but tonight I realised what day it was, and I couldn't keep from posting two of the poems I wrote about the accident, long ago. I'm sorry they aren't very good poems, and I'm sorry this is one of the most badly written posts I've done. It was just something I needed to do.

This is not an attempt at fiction. It really happened; I don't know what the explanation for the 'voice' is, but I didn't imagine it. I've imagined a lot of things in my life; once or twice, I've let my imagination run away with me. I've learned to tell the difference.

(Note: I will try to post a story later, if I can pull together enough to manage that).