Friday, August 31, 2012


A few months ago, I wrote of lasts and firsts. I'm back there again, this time entering a school rather than leaving one. Here is how it felt to me:

You are shown a large canyon, which you are meant to cross by jumping. This is possible, though difficult. You are shown this canyon often in pictures and other media, though you don't really understand the process of jumping yet. So you go off, and you learn jumping--not just because you will need to jump that canyon, but because canyon-jumping is a good skill. Along the way, you pick up a variety of other skills, some of which will help and some of which won't.

Then, you get a bit closer to when you're meant to jump. You start learning more about the canyon, though not a lot. You may visit it, and some of your friends are on the other side. They come back and visit every now and again--you can jump back, though most people don't do it a lot, because it's a bit of a pain. Some of the ones who jumped over smaller canyons do it--they get graded on things other than jump length, usually--but you saw the other sides of those canyons and decided you didn't particularly like any of them.

All that was school up until sophomore year of high school. During junior year, you're still training, but by the end your stretching, then walking toward the canyon. You start jogging, and feel like you're going faster than you've ever gone. There's a break where you walk in the middle, because you realize that the canyon is a ways off yet.

Then, you're running. Your life has come down to this one thing: just running. Whatever happened in the past doesn't matter, unless you think to be happy that you took some course in running, or berate yourself for being so slothful, before or now. Some people help--this is a marathon, and you need water, sometimes food, nearly always support, though sometimes the best support is simply being left alone to run, because this is life. This complete and utter focus, and this speed, these compose all your life. You finally reach the canyon, and you, along with many friends, jump.

The world goes black.

You think you're going to make it. Are you going to make it? You can hear a few classmates asking similar things, and others speaking from the other side. A few fall before the other side, and, to your surprise, they live. The surprise is odd, as you knew the canyon was not that deep. Still, it feels odd to know that one can miss this and be...fine.

In freefall, the world is different. A little disappointing. No total and complete focus, like the running. It feels a little empty for the first bit, though your feelings improve as time goes on.

You get your vision back, and can see, before most of the others, that you are right on track. The rest of this is freefall, and all will be well for you. Others stress for what seems like the longest time, the same stress you felt in the darkness, though the fear feels foreign to you now.

The ground. You see it coming, and make the most of this last bit of freefall. The running meant you could do little else, and you've been doing what you could to enjoy the in-between space after the stress before the canyon, before the stress after it. You'll be running again.

You hit the ground running, and take off at the same solid sprint you did right up to the other edge of the canyon. You get a few odd looks, and finally someone takes your arm, slowing then stopping you.

"You know," they say, "You have time. No rush."

You blink and step back, staring at the person, as it occurs to you that running isn't the only thing in your life anymore. Jumping the canyon isn't a major goal--it isn't even a particularly difficult one, anymore. You pause, trying to remember the last time you weren't running.

Then you thank the person, shrug at yourself, and go off to find what this side of the canyon has to offer.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fox and Rabbit

Once there was a trickster named Rabbit, who often fell into misfortune and always dug her way out of it. Fox, who lived close by, was in the habit of finding her way into trouble and falling out of it.

A few miles from the pair of them, there lived a farmer who raised chicken and planted lettuce and corn. Now, Rabbit could live fine off what she could find in her neck of the woods, but lettuce was her favorite treat, so sometimes she'd sneak into the farmer's garden and run off with a few leaves of lettuce. She would always wait until the farmer was asleep, and she'd always only barely get out before the farmer shot her.

Fox could also live fine off what was around where she lived, but she happened to have a weakness for chicken. She wasn't much for planning, so she just copied whatever Rabbit did. Fox'd check every night to see if Rabbit was setting off to make the journey, and then Fox would follow. While Rabbit was sneaking silently into the garden, Fox would trot into the chicken coop. But, as Fox didn't choose for herself when she ate the chickens, she always took as many as she could, and so raised a great ruckus among the chickens and the metal in their coop.

As the farmer's sleeping quarters were nearer the garden than the chicken coop, she would awake to see Rabbit snatching a few leaves from her lettuce garden, and run off to shoot her before checking on the chickens--by which time Fox would have run off, scared from the shots and with a fat dead chicken in her mouth.

"Fox," Rabbit grumbled one day, when she'd nearly got her tail shot off the night before, "Why do you always make such a noise when you take the chickens?"

"Why not? It's never hurt me." Fox gave a smile and eyed Rabbit in a way that mad Rabbit a bit more careful.

"But what of the dead chickens you leave in the chicken coop?" Rabbit asked earnestly. "Wouldn't you rather have them, too?"

"I suppose..." said Fox.

"If you kept quiet, then you could take more than one back," Rabbit said. "And if you learned to pick your nights, then you wouldn't have to wait on me to want some lettuce--you could just go and eat a few chickens whenever you wanted."

"Very well. What can you teach me?"

"Well, you surely know that chickens are harder to catch than a few pieces of lettuce." Fox preened a bit as she nodded in agreement. "So you'll need to follow three rules if you want to catch them quietly. First, you'll have to go on a full moon." Going on a full moon wouldn't make any difference, but Rabbit didn't much like the idea of Fox eating up all the chickens--after all, rabbit meat was mighty tasty to a fox. "Second, you've got to go in quickly and quietly. And, third, when you leave the coop with your chickens, you've got to wash up in the water basin--as long as you've got water on your snout, the farmer can't follow you home even if she finds some chickens missing the next day." These rules struck Fox as reasonable, and so she agreed to them.

The next full moon, Rabbit snuck into the lettuce patch, and Fox snuck into the chicken coop, each as quiet as could be. Rabbit listened for Fox's footsteps into the chicken coop, then settled into some bushes a ways off to munch her lettuce and wait.

Fox splashed in the water barrel, being as thorough as she could, and naturally being quite loud in her splashing. A lamp lit in the house, and the farmer came out with her gun. As soon as she saw Fox, she shot after her, and Fox took off running, two chickens in her mouth.

When Rabbit came back to her home--after the fuss had died down--she found Fox waiting for her. "I nearly got my tail shot off!"

Rabbit hid a smirking twitch of her whiskers. "Didn't you wash up?"

"Of course! That's what got the farmer after me in the first place. I don't think your rules did me a lick of good."

"Well, did you get to eat more chickens than usual?"

"Yes...but that was just because I was quiet and quick, not because of anything you told me!"

"Then you've learned a good lesson, Fox." Fox started, realizing she'd been tricked, and Rabbit hopped into her home. By the time Fox recovered enough to chase Rabbit, she'd had already hidden herself neatly away.

Fox did learn, and she's come up with many tricks since then, but she learned her first from Rabbit, and has run three steps behind her ever since.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cassidy May

Cassidy May knew her priorities.

Many people did, she found. They might pretend they didn't, or try not to think of it, but they knew, and she'd been taught to be honest with herself.

They were nearly always the same, too. The shared ones, anyway. Where you valued yourself varied with your self-worth, and there weren't any words for different kinds of friends, so those could go anywhere, but family was easy.

First, the children. Many people genuinely had trouble here, but Cassidy May didn't, because she had but one child. A beautiful child with hair as dark as night, whom she'd die or kill for.

Next, one's mate. This was an important term, and one Cassidy May couldn't find a perfect word for. One's spouse almost always counted, and one's boyfriend or girlfriend rarely did unless you were married in every way but the ceremonial one. The salt and pepper shakers were mates, because they weren't a whole thing without the other. That's what a mate was. And, though a mate would nearly always occupy this space, you would do more for a mate you had a child by.

Then came siblings. This was where people would start to balk at her. Those who weren't siblings would say siblings should come after parents, and those who had siblings but not mates would insist that siblings would always be more important. But those who had both tended to go quiet in the way that meant agreement.

Some cousins and some friends were siblings, in truth, and were sorted that way. It would be hard to choose between them, but the issue generally didn't come up--if only one sibling was in danger, you all fought for them. If more than one was, you fought for everyone. Siblings fought for each other.

Next came parents. It was easier than one might think to put parents after one's children, mate, and siblings, because your parents saw it as their grandchildren, their child's happiness, and their children. Cassidy May never asked, and they never said, but this is the highest place on the list that the parents would accept.

The rest got fuzzier. No etiquette, no demands. Friends didn't need to be family to be some of the most important things in the world to you. But, important as they were, they were still friends, and there was no familial duty to them. That was what a friend was, when they weren't family, too--you choose them, every step of the way, and they choose you. Cassidy May could imagine choosing to anger a family member for the sake of a friend, or even to cut off all contact. But when it came right down to life or death, she knew where she'd place herself.

Whatever else family might be, it wasn't a choice.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Heart's Blood

The first clue that I had it was paranoia.

Well. One could make an argument that the first clue was being fucking stabbed, but the second symptom is paranoia, and I happened to be drunk for the first symptom. And obviously, if I get drunk, then stumble back saying I got stabbed, it must just be an early manifestation of the paranoia. Which, y'know, hadn't actually manifested yet. But who's counting?

The second symptom was paranoia. Then mood swings, which were dismissed as part of the paranoia--they might well have been, though I've been told mood swings can manifest first. I'm not entirely sure why they bothered telling me this. I'm sure it could have waited.

Waited until after what, Kissinger? I'm glad you asked. And mildly surprised you know my name.

You remember the "fucking stabbed" part? Yeah. It was half-stabbing, half-injection, though it felt for all the world like a slick knife. And it's this weird chemical thing that has been explained as "magic" when I asked, which isn't actually any more of an explanation than, "science", but apparently explaining the thing I asked about was less important than talking about the theory of the manifestations of various symptoms.

I'm above a tray. They gave me some local anesthetic, which is good since they sliced straight from skin to heart, but any drug that would put me under would kill me with this "magic" in my system, so I happen to be wide awake. They gave me my computer when I made the point that a paranoid whose heart was being drained was not going to fall asleep. The doctor didn't seem entirely used to the idea of a functioning paranoid. I thought that they might kill me, not that they'd be stupid enough to do it when I'm in screaming distance of this many people. Or something. Admittedly, my justification for this is growing fuzzier as the magic wears off.

The first inch or so in the dish was this green stuff. It didn't smell like anything, but it looked deadly. Apparently that's an instinctive reaction, which is impressive if you ask me. Humans have instinctive reactions to smells and sensations--rotting human flesh, for instance, or fire--but that sort of reaction to a thing I just saw? That's rare. We have to learn that fire is hot, for heaven's sake. Sight just doesn't link up to instincts that often.

They sliced between two ribs, by the way. Apparently all the slime will drain out on its own, once we give my body a way to push it out. I'm not supposed to touch it, though they didn't need to tell me. Like I said--this green slime looks like death. I don't want to know what it feels like.

After a while, the slime started thickening up--like exposed blood, moving more sluggishly. Someone came in with a really small hose, like a dentist tool, and turned it on high power into the slit. The goop came out in chunks in the bubbly-white stream of water, then stopped coming altogether. The doctor sprayed for a bit, then, ah...

Apparently the local anesthetic doesn't effect visceral pain. Or something. I dunno. It wasn't pain, really, it was more my entire body deciding that nothing was important except using my sensory system to say STOP. Apparently that's normal.

She took out this really smooth blade. There were two sharp edges, the flat of the blade bowed outward, and the whole thing looked like a chunk of graphite. Whatever it was, it wasn't as soft as graphite, since it didn't come off on her gloves.

There were two more. One was actually grown into my heart, so she had to twist it like a loose tooth hanging on by that last thread of gum. Which, you may remember from childhood, hurts like hell. Again, no sharp pain--just the visceral THIS IS BAD from every part of my body, strong enough to unfocus my vision.

The hose again, this time in the incision, to dislodge the last bits of diamond-graphite-whatever. Visceral pain. I'm probably boring you by now. Honestly it bored me; the visceral pain was still the whole-body NO of the first two times, but when I got my wits back I thought it was sort of boring of the disease to be reduced from paranoia and other psychological difficulties to just some random spasms of pain.

The shiny grey bits landed in the tray. One hit the tray itself and went ting, a few hit the goop and didn't make a sound beyond a very quiet plop, and one hit another chunk of the stuff and made a quieter tapping noise.

The hose water cleared up, though I hadn't noticed that it'd been a little gray until that moment. Then it added another color, and I got one more boring split-second of visceral pain before she took the hose out and I recognized the shade: the peculiar orange of blood in water.

"Almost done," she murmured soothingly. It got pretty boring. A needle that I couldn't feel, a tiny thread stitching the hole together through the blood. She might as well have been sewing up a hole in my shirt.

"That will smart a bit when the anesthetic wears off," she said. "And you'll get a small bruise that should fade two weeks. The"--she used a word that had four syllables and sounded Greek--"was transferring the physical pain into psychological pain, so if you've got any scrapes, you'll start to notice them, and we'll be keeping you overnight for observation. Change the bandage according to the instructions on the packet and don't sleep on your stomach and you'll be fine. Only use the bandages we provide, because..."

I nodded, eyes dipping drowsily. It was more information than I felt like processing, but it boiled down to not disturbing the bandages and following the instructions on the paper I'd be given. That was intuitive enough.

I slept.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Gather 'round the camp fire, little ones all. I've a story to tell.

There is a place, oft described simply as gaping chaos, twixt frost and fire. It swirled, and still does, and once it brought together two important shapes. One was nearly like a man, though no more so than he was like a bear, and who was warm, though could find a home in the snow. One was a cow, who ate what was around and gave milk to the man. From these two shapes came nearly everything else, directly or indirectly.

Three came before the two. One might call them sisters, though they did not have parents any more than the cow, or the man. If you saw them for what they were, but did not ask their names, you would call them the fates. They know all that has happened, and all that is happening, and all that will happen. They keep the stability needed for life in this world, and they weave the threads that mark one forgotten, unsung, or remembered throughout the world. Fate. Duty. Future.

The three may have had power over the gaping chaos, or perhaps had as little power over it as any other being. But what came from it--they knew that, had that.

They weave threads, weave lives. And I, though I may be but one thread, weave stories. I make something of nothing, as the three's originating chaos did.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Spun Gold

Almost everything has rules. We forget our own, often, because we are so used to them. And we forget the rules of ordinary things, for they are around us so often. Even so, we know them. We can spot when a tree's growth has been disturbed, because some rules for trees are, "Grow like this in no wind. Grow like this when someone has sliced through you. Grow like this when the wind always blows in this direction." Such rules are unbreakable, for the tree does not know how to break them.

Humans have rules. These rules are breakable, so we know the penalty is death. Eat regularly, but do not eat this. Breathe. Be around others occasionally, though they need not be human.

Similarly, other folk have rules. Their rules of growth are not a tree's, nor their rules of food a human's. But the rules are still there. There is one creature, a small one, who often goes covered in the dust of the road--for dirt does not make such a being ill, but stillness does. It is gifted with many wondrous powers of metalworking, and needs little food, little rest.

The being's rules are at once selfless and selfish. The being may only work in service of a deal made with another. Working, always, for another, but without payment. This is a rule, and one of this kind could no more break this rule than you could drink poison.

One day, during his travels, such a being came by a room where a maiden lay weeping. He climbed up the wall and slipped through the window in the rock. "Why do you cry, miss?" (Lack of politeness leads to lack of deals leads to idleness and illness. His mother had made him memorize that one as a boy, in exchange for a trip to a stream he had been interested in.)

"My father has told the king that I can spin straw into gold, and if I do not spin all the straw in this room by morning, then the king shall kill my father and me both for lying to royalty."

"Why do you not spin?"

The woman turned to him, then adjusted her gaze downward to account for his height. "I can't!"

"Oh." The littler one paused. "I could. What would you give me, for doing it?"

"I--I can't thing of anything I could give of value to one who could spin straw to gold. But my father dressed me as well as he could for my visit to His Majesty, would you take this silver ring as payment?" The woman took a simple silver band off her ring finger.

"Silver is quite valuable to me," the metalworker said. It was true, if misleading--not, more valuable than gold, but still valuable, since he could not take the gold he could spin. "The ring is payment enough for spinning this room. Rest, and it shall be spun when you wake."

The woman gave him her ring, and let the wheel's spinning lull her to sleep. The next day, the little spinner slept in a nook where a stone had fallen out of the castle, for he had need of a rest after having spun all that night.

That evening, he was again woken by crying. He climbed around the king's castle until he found the new and larger room, with the same woman. "Why do you cry now, dear?" (The second time you make a deal with the same person, make sure they know you remember them. Do not be forward, but be friendlier than you were last time. The piece of advice his elder sibling had given him, when they met and exchanged wisdom.)

"The king--he demanded that I spin another room of straw into gold for him, and tells me that if I do not, he shall kill me at dawn for impudence, and take father's mill as a lesson to those who raise ill-mannered children."

"Ah." The little metalworker looked about. "I could spin this in a night. What would you give me, if I did?"

"I--I have a bronze charm, on my necklace," she said, tapping a circle of bronze that hung on a flimsy-looking chain. It had an image of a dove carved into it.

"That much bronze is not of much value to me"--her face fell--"but the working on it is. Hand me the necklace, and rest. The gold will be spun when you wake."
The woman gave him her necklace, and let the wheel's spinning lull her to sleep. The next day, the little spinner searched for the third and largest room filled with straw. (The advice he'd told his sibling when they met was, When you've made two deals of the same sort with the same person, there will probably be a third.) He settled in the straw, and waited to hear the king's terms this night.

"Weave this straw into gold. If you succeed, then you shall be my wife the queen." Then he left the room.

"No threats?" The metalworker commented, jumping down from the straw.

"I don't think he feels he needs them anymore," the woman said back.

"Right." He looked around the room and was glad he had come early rather than looking for her. He could spin the room into gold in a night, but only barely. "What would you give me, if I spun this to gold in a night?"

"I have nothing left to give you," she said softly. The woman might have wept, but it was the third night where she might die the next day, and there's only so much weeping a body can stand.

"Hm." He glanced about the room for any inspiration, then noticed the small indentation he had left in the straw. "Your firstborn child, when you are queen."

"He won't make me queen, not really."

The little spinner shrugged. "Then you would lose nothing. Is it a deal?"

The woman hesitated, then nodded and shook his hand.

"Rest. I shall spin."

The woman slept fitfully. The wheel lulled her to sleep, but she had troubled dreams that night. The little spinner put it down to not being worn out from crying and not knowing if he could spin as quickly as he said he could.

After that night, the small fellow wandered, as was his wont. Eventually, he judged that there had been time enough for a child to be born and weaned, he returned to the castle to finish his deal. He climbed the walls and looked for the queen, this time starting as far away from the rooms of straw as he could, since he was searching for a place where the queen felt safe enough to sleep.

"Your Majesty," he said by way of greeting. "I have come for the child."

Pain flashed onto her face, and it surprised him. His mother had sent him off on his own earlier than this, and humans left their children to churches all the time. Why...?

"Can't there be another way?" she begged. "Please, another deal?"

The begging was what made him stop. Facing death for herself and her father, losing the only valuable possessions her family had ever had, she had never begged, only bargained. "Very well," he said, trying to think of something he could do. Betting would do, he decided. Gambling the child, and leaving him in his room as neutral ground until the gamble was decided. "If you can guess my name in three days, then the child shall be yours."

The woman nodded, but clutched her child rather than shaking hands. The little spinner slipped out.

The first night, she guessed odd names, which were all the odder for being odd human names. He knew some of his kind who took common human names to blend in, but he had never seen one of his take such a rare name. He shook his head at every guess.

The next night, she guessed a few names that were somewhat common to his kind, and exceedingly rare in humans. They had more syllables, and had the right rhythm to them.

Just before sunset of her last day, the little metalworker went to the forest and found a trusted servant the queen had sent to search for names. He played the part of a bard, and asked for a few coins to perform a song. The servant, who had not been able to find any names but the ones the queen had already guessed, flipped a few coins at the little spinner, on the half-hearted hope that the song would have some name she had not yet found.

Though the queen thinks herself wise,
None she sends use ears, only eyes,
And look as they might, they'd never see,
A name only spoken--'Rumpelstiltskin', me!

The servant leapt up without another word, to tell the queen of what she had heard.

When Rumpelstiltskin entered the room for the last night of guesses, the queen could hardly contain her delight. She guessed two names, which she doubtless thought were silly guesses--names common among humans, perhaps even from friends she'd had when she was young. Then, eyes glittering with suppressed laughter, she asked, "Is your name...Rumpelstiltskin?"

"Oh! You have won the bet, Your Majesty, and I must be off." He bowed low, then bounded out the nearest window, all pent-up energy and wanderlust.

Three days was far too long to be in one place.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart