Of Saints and Haints


A traveler hailed a taxi cab, and after he hopped inside he started to wonder where there was a good restaurant for him to eat at.

“Pardon me.”  He reached up and tapped the driver’s shoulder.

The driver screamed, and the cab jumped the curb and hit a light post.  They staggered out of the taxi and brushed themselves off.

“I’m so sorry,” the driver said.  “But it’s my first day on this job.  Up until last week I drove a hearse.”

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.  As a kid I liked dressing up and getting candy (yeah, the obvious stuff).  As an adult it’s partly because it falls in the Fall, my favorite season of the year.  It’s also always been haunted by some controversy, and as a writer controversy is food for my muse.


So on the one hand you have church tradition:  All Saints Day is November 1, so the day before is know as All Hallows Eve.  Because there are more saints than there are days in a year, All Saints is a convenient way to honor the ones who didn’t get a day dedicated to them (we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings).

Oh, and let’s not forget All Souls Day on November 2, which honors everybody else who died but didn’t become a saint (like I said, we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings).

Then you have the Pagan side:  Samhain was the Celtic new year, so New Year’s Eve was October 31.  It was believed the veil between this world and the next was thinnest on that night, and we mortals wanted to keep the visiting spirits happy (in other words, we didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings).

Lanterns, presumably some carved from turnips, were set up to light the way.  Food was set out.  This was also a good time to try to rescue anybody who’d been kidnapped to the Otherworld by the sidhe (aka fairies, but you don’t want to call them that to their face), so you dressed up to try to blend in with the spirits.

Mesh the two together, and you have a night of honoring the dead and offering hospitality.  In fact, hospitality is even extended to those that represent visitors (trick-or-treaters) you might not be inclined to want to invite in (especially the teenagers who barely dress up and hold pillow cases).


Oh, and if you’re still wondering what the heck a haint is, my hillbilly is showing again.  Also rendered as ha’nt, it’s from haunt, but is synonymous to ghost, phantom, shade, spook, or wraith.  Did I get all the specters by name?  After all, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings….


Turkeys of a Lesser God



There is proof that God has a sense of humor:  He created turkeys.

When chicks that I’ve raised see a lawnmower in action for the first time, they run for cover.  When poults (that’s baby turkeys, folks) have their first mower experience, they run up to the closest fence and try to get a better look (They must be thinking Is that a turkey-mincing machine and how does it work?).

I try to keep the chickens and turkeys separate, even when I need to brood them at the same time.  One balmy day I set two wire enclosures beside each other, put food and water in each, then deposited the chicks in one pen and the poults in the other.  The turkeys ignored their own meal and kept trying to figure out how to get to the chicks’ grain (yeah, I know, there’s a saying that the only thing dumber than turkeys is the person who raises them).

Bringing up turkeys is a lot like writing.


Story characters can be turkeys in their own right.  In the midst of their written adventures, they can take on lives of their own and start doing things the author didn’t anticipate.  And in a way, writers are the gods of the worlds they created.  But when characters behave unexpectedly, we realize we’re not as in control as we thought we were.

And that’s a good thing.

turkeyIf your characters are so well developed their psychology shines through despite your other plans, you have characters that will live and breathe for the readers.  And a brilliant plot will fall flat if the readers don’t care what happens to the people (or animals or aliens, depending on the genre) impacted by its implications.

So the next time a character gets out of line, just pat yourself on the back and say, “I’m glad I have a sense of humor!”



A Lifeline to Your Deadline


Aunt Prissy asked her niece about an uncle on the other side of the girl’s family, and the child said “He’s very sick.”  Aunt Prissy replied “Pshaw!  He only thinks he’s sick!”  The next week she inquired again about the uncle, and the girl responded “He thinks he’s dead.”

This was one of those weeks I was tempted to skip the blog.  I’ve got a writing deadline to meet, and it would be so much easier to make my goal if I don’t use any of that time to throw something into the web that’s big enough to stick.

The problem is I also have a blog deadline.  So now I’m faced with a rob Peter to pay Paul dilemma.  Is one deadline really more important than the other?  Will the universe collapse into chaos if I miss one or the other?

Well, you have the evidence before you: I posted the blog.  Deadline is such an ominous sounding word.  Yeah, in the medical field I understand not doing something on time might make you dead (otherwise known as flat line).  But how many other goals are a matter of life and death?

Paying the bills on time does affect keeping a roof over your head and a meal in your belly, so that’s pretty important.

Getting a project done in the workplace on time can affect paying those bills, so that’s pretty important.

Putting food in front of hungry people who stare at you while brandishing sharpened knives and pointy forks sounds like a deadline to me….

The truth be told, if we didn’t have deadlines, we wouldn’t accomplish nearly so much as we do.  When it’s a balmy day I know I’d have more fun running outside and playing with the grasshoppers.  But I know if I do, the ants will bite me in the end (or would that be the toe if I don’t toe the line?).


Deadlines really are a sort of lifeline, but they’re stuck with a negative nomenclature because we don’t like them.  Well, life is full of things we don’t like even though we benefit from them, like dirt, injections, and Klingons (wait, no, scratch that last one).

This looks big enough to stick.  I’ll throw it now and get back to meeting that other deadline!


Future Flops


In the course of writing stories that take place in the future, I pay attention to the trends and predictions of what life could be like years or decades from now.  I also compare the present to my childhood to estimate how quickly changes really did take place.

For instance, I’m still waiting for flying cars….

It’s also fun to peek into the past and see what their predictions were for today.  Some of them had a good handle on what they were talking about, and some of them, well….

During my stint as a school secretary years ago, the computer teacher passed around a photo that had been taken, oh geez, in like the 1920s.  It represented how people would have home computers one day.  I was impressed they believed folks would own those.  And like the old business computers back in the 1960s, the home version took up a whole room.

Instead of walls filled with reel-to-reel installations, however, there were various other accoutrements in the room, like cabinets with levers and gears.  The gentleman modeling the computer stood in front of a steering wheel.

I guess that was for operating the hard drive….

Lots of predictions have been made that haven’t happened yet.  We aren’t picnicking in domed enclosures on the moon; our appliances aren’t running on self-contained nuclear power; Y2K didn’t send us back into the Stone Age; and (well, it is closer than it was yesterday) the end of the world is still only near.

On a side note, I did a quick surf on the web to help jar my memory about future predictions that went wrong.  The search engine threw up some ads in conjunction with my inquiry.  Guess what?  The ads were touting horoscopes and tarot cards.

You mean there really can be truth in advertising?

So when I’m flying around in my car someday, with a steering wheel used only to operate the hard drive, I’ll think about the future and smile … until I nearly hit some jerk in a jet pack!

By Design


“What you’re proposing is unnatural.”

That might have qualified as one of the funniest claims IMP17 ever heard if he wasn’t negotiating for his life.  He turned to fully face the panel of six persons, such as they were.  True representatives of the Elite, they were a mixture of men and women carved and grafted and interfaced, and sat in an elevated row behind a wall that separated them from the meeting-room pit he stood in.

IMP17 made himself smile.  What he was about to say flirted with blasphemy in their opinion, but even the Elite couldn’t totally deny reality.  They admitted not yet attaining complete control of this world and its inhabitants.

“Biological components are all that’s left when digital technology fails.”  Their expressions betrayed how aghast they were, urging him to continue.  “Any strategy that doesn’t account for such a possibility is no strategy at all.”

“You say that because you still haven’t accepted enhancement.”  The second person in the row, someone whose face, and possibly body, shone like the gold it was supposed to mimic, frowned at him.

It was a good thing IMP17 had been created to utilize strategy, because that was the only thing that could keep him preserved from their improvements.  “I haven’t accepted yet because as an integrated individual my role as investigator and instructor would be compromised.  Maintaining my organic faculties is paramount to drilling warriors how to use theirs.”

“One, your neurobiology is modified beyond theirs.  Two, you are a failure.”

He couldn’t deny either charge.  Decades ago, before the Elite rose to power, their progenitors expressed a more laissez-faire attitude toward reticent groups that refused to embrace progress.  After all, through applications of science and technology, humanity was going to expand their mental capabilities and extend life spans.  So let the troglodytes die out naturally.

But then the progenitors discovered that death still waited at the end of a long life, and they’d lost the ability to replenish their ranks without laboratory intervention.  To make it worse, the rabble were rude enough to keep reproducing.  As the number of traditionalists began to overtake the progressives, the magistrates decided encouraging parents to improve their offspring was no longer good enough.  Biotechnological modification became mandatory.

An uprising resulted.  Believers of an antiquated ideology broke away from the prevalent society.  Unwilling to integrate with technology, they had no problem using it otherwise, and demolished the android armies sent to subdue them.

So the Elite tried using fully organic but physically improved clones.  Engineered to have only enough intelligence to follow orders, they were supposed to infiltrate the rabble and bring them down.  Unable to improvise when that darned reality struck again, they also failed.

Despite reservations, the Elite were desperate enough to design an Intellectual Militant Prototype, known as IMPs, who could blend in with the rabble and make their own decisions under duress.  The administration was cautious enough to order only twenty-four products.

IMP17 was not just a clone of some long-dead soldier.  Although his biology matched, his neurology was configured to match that of their opponents.  The Elite wanted intelligence, but not enough for any IMPs to successfully stage their own revolution.

When some IMPs turned out to be independent thinkers, they were swiftly executed.  Others died on the field of battle, sometimes while fighting alongside the rabble.  IMP17 was one of a mere handful left, and he knew that was only because the Elite hadn’t discovered his true thoughts.

The IMP program was declared a failure like its predecessors, and the survivors were invited to accept modifications that included integration with the core data system.

The other four were fully indoctrinated to their purpose, but IMP17 had reserved doubts that grew in strength over the years.  Supplementation with a neural implant connected to the system created a sort of virtual telepathy.  His private thoughts could be uncovered.  And he had too many unsanctioned ideas to risk that.

The Elite would take no chances.  They would order his prompt execution, and another pitfall of being linked to the core meant there was no chance of escape.

That left him only one option.

“The mark of a true soldier is to wrest success from failure.”  His gaze slid across each face on the row.  “The cyborg troops you’re going to try next will be partially organic.  Mechanical limbs can still splinter.  Mechanized weapons can still malfunction.  Allow me to work with them, teach them how to use their organic components to your favor.  Otherwise you might as well just send in androids all over again.”

He could tell the panel was discussing the matter because individuals would occasionally blurt out words or phrases to accentuate the thoughts they were sharing.  He wondered how much of their humanity was left, and how much had been shanghaied by the artificial intelligence they embraced.

He also wondered how much humanity he could legitimately claim.  If his plan succeeded, he would need every shred of it when he faced the rabble again.

“It has been decided.”  Number two regarded him with cold eyes and pinched mouth.  “We will give you a trial run with a team of cyborgs.  If you please us with your training, we will retain your services.  If they prove to be obsolete, then you will report for modification posthaste.”

IMP17 bowed low before them, extending his arms to the front.  “Thank you, my Lords.  I will endeavor to serve you with all that I have, for you have given me all that there is.”

As he stepped through the exit of the pit, the relief that flooded through him ebbed with consideration of how many steps were left before his plan would be complete.  After what he’d done to the rabble over the past few years, he knew they wouldn’t welcome him.  But his chances with rustics were still better than they would ever be with the Elite.


Well, it finally happened.  This month the prompt word for #BlogBattle was clone, and that put me in mind of a certain backstory.  Because the series of events would be ancient history to the characters in an upcoming novel, I decided to go ahead and do a serialization of that timeframe.  It will be interesting to arrange a bunch of stories into an arc … does that make me a glutton for punishment?  And check in on what the other stories are this month.  It’s a blast!