What Happened to Beauty?


Last week I discovered the grocery store had switched from red, plastic carts to black and gray, plastic carts.  The new carts are bulkier and uglier and don’t perform any better than the old carts.

“Performance in a grocery cart?” you might ask.  “What planet are you from?”

Okay, I get it that the store probably needed to replace their old carts because they all had two or more wonky wheels.  But we all know it’s inherent to the shopping cart species to rapidly develop one wonky wheel.  So pretty soon the new carts will be like any other cart, only uglier.

The ugliest carts were probably the cheapest replacements the store could get.  I do appreciate their attempt to keep my grocery prices down, but why should beauty suffer in the name of economy?

Look around town:  The most attractive buildings are the older ones constructed from brick or other masonry and designed with style.  The new buildings are metal stamps.  If a classic car drives by, it turns heads.  The new cars today all look alike.

It often seems like craftsmanship is becoming an endangered species.  My attraction to writing could probably be explained by my appreciation for the older arts.  And yet writing, as ancient as it is, adapts well to modern technology.

It’s no secret I have a love-hate affair with digital technology.  I love it when it serves me.  I hate it when it wants me to serve it (those people with nomophobia know what I’m talking about).  I also hate it when it doesn’t work, but that’s another story….

As is the case with true craftsmanship, the changes in writing reflect changes in the culture.  That’s why the stories we read today are not written the same way they were for Beowulf, or the Canterbury Tales, or The Scarlet Letter.  And yet folks can still enjoy works like those because good storytelling is timeless.

But when somebody like Mark Twain breaks new ground in fiction because he chose to write in the vernacular, writing can take on a modern tone and still be beautiful.  Yeah, people can write some pretty ugly things, too, but that’s their choice.  Those interested in developing the craft will keep to the higher standards.

It’s time for me to pack up my cart and move on out … darn this wonky wheel….

Straight from the Car’s Window


Do you know what straight from the horse’s mouth really means?  Oh yeah, I’m sure you understand it implies information has come from a reliable source.  But have you ever wondered why anything a horse said was considered trustworthy?

Well as you know, before there were cars, people used horses.  And before there were used-car dealers, there were used-horse dealers.  And just like you want to be sure you don’t buy a car that’s just going to break down, folks wanted to be sure they didn’t buy a horse that would just go lame or belly-up (and that’s not to the bar).

And just like unscrupulous people in modern times have tried turning back car odometers to make them appear newer, unscrupulous people have tried to lie about a horse’s age to make it appear younger.  In case you didn’t know, you can determine how old a horse is by looking at its teeth (and check out a few other gross health issues I won’t go into here).

Our language has many metaphors that harken back to the realities that spawned them, but the real meaning might be lost on the current generation.  Every year we hear the rundown on things we older folks took for granted growing up, that college graduates never experienced.

Remember the clatter of typewriter keys, the manual exercise of using a rotary dial on a phone, or waiting on your computer to make the call to your internet service provider?

There’s something we still do in my family that I’ve wondered if it will fall into the horse’s mouth category or go the way of the dodo.  If somebody’s driving off in a car and we realize we need to tell them something before they go, we crank one hand in a circular motion.

Since the age of power windows has fully descended, how long will people understand what that hand signal means?  It’s certainly more obvious than just punching your finger down, so it might become one of those things we understand, even though we don’t know why.

Or it could be that someday my grandkids will ask their parents, “I know that Granny’s off her rocker, but why does she shake her fist at us sometimes as we’re driving off?”

Just remember, you got that straight from the horse’s mouth.  Did I just call myself a nag…?

Achilles’ Heel


Through dust and ash and metal and blood, IMP17 surged forward on the battlefield.  Men who were not genetically improved as he was lay scattered with the cyborgs.  Cracks and booms and high-pitched whines reverberated from every direction.

The four cyborgs that attempted to outflank him uttered nothing.  They didn’t need to, for the cyber-neural link that interconnected their battery allowed orders to be directed with a thought.  The shouts on the killing ground were launched from the unimproved people, but shrieks erupted from both opposing troops.

IMP17 sprang to the side to prevent their surrounding him.  The same instant he fired off well-placed rounds from the blaster he gripped.  The cyborgs were slightly more machine than flesh, requiring precision in his targeting.

He spied the blue, artificial eyes of the first soldier, and shot him in the left thigh to obliterate the Central Control Module that operated his technical framework.  The second opponent had a broad nose, so his CCM was located in the right hand.  There was a dimple in the chin of the third foe, so IMP17 shot him in the right upper arm.

The appearance of the fourth cyborg presented a problem.

All the features that designated where the CCM was located were on the face, and this one no longer had a face.  The organism was already dead, but enough of his head remained that the neural link was still in communication with the module’s Artificial Intelligence.  The machine part of him remained vivacious and continued fighting.

IMP17 knew strategy involved each soldier of that team having the CCM located in a different area.  The possible locations totaled five.  With two possibilities left, he had a fifty-fifty chance of hitting the fourth cyborg’s module.  Without hesitation he shot him in the left lower arm.

His guess was incorrect.

It took less than two seconds to place those four shots, and IMP17 had to spring to the side again as all four combatants fired their blasters.  The ground where he just hesitated erupted into chunks of dirt and sprayed brittle grass.

His next shots didn’t have to be as precise, so while darting back he fired the next volley at the heads of the first three cyborgs.  They whirled as they dropped, their faces as unrecognizable as their fourth companion’s.

A searing pain flashed across his right shoulder.  Faceless Four had squeezed off a round that connected even as IMP17 shot at the cyborg’s left foot.

The thwump from his blaster revealed it was out of ammo charges.

Throughout the battle IMP17 had been snatching up derelict blasters and emptying them at his opponents.  He’d saved on some charges because organisms could also be killed by stabbing, bludgeoning, or snapping.  CCMs, however, could only be electronically disrupted or physically severed.

He surged toward the fourth cyborg, leaping to avoid the next blast and ducking so that another shot missed.  While low, he swung the blaster like a club against the cyborg’s shins.

His opponent toppled, and IMP17 pounced on the nearest blaster dropped by a felled cyborg.  He rolled as he grasped it because Number Four immediately began shooting at him.  Then he sprang up three meters to dodge the low volley.  His foe had scrambled back up, making that crucial left foot accessible.

Still airborne, he fired three rounds, hoping to at least disable this combatant in case he’d been wrong about their strategy.  The cyborg collapsed as he landed nearby it.

He spun around to assess his next movement of attack or defense.  There were roughly half a dozen cyborgs left.  Before IMP17 joined the battle, their troops were practically massacring the men.  But after he entered this arena and slaughtered most of the enemy, the remaining men outnumbered the cyborgs.

The humans were ganging up on their opponents with blasters blazing.  These soldiers had picked up on where the CCM could be located, so they made it a point to hit all those normally nonfatal areas as well.  The remaining cyborgs were already crumpling.

IMP17 took a step toward the nearest squad to assist them … but his legs buckled and he had to catch his balance.

His heart started to pound from a reason other than combat.

This was the first day he fought cyborgs instead of men.  The enhancements made to his biology couldn’t compensate for all the blaster hits, gashes, and lacerations a more formidable adversary had given him.  He knew what was happening even though he’d never been this injured before.

As soon as his brain acknowledged combat was no longer necessary to stay alive, his body began shutting down certain functions to stay alive.  The agony that now racked him almost provided distraction from the chill seeping to his core.  Despite the increasing lightheadedness that promised a respite from this torment, IMP17 struggled to remain conscious.

Today he joined these men in battle.  But before today, he had been as much of an enemy to them as the cyborgs.  Today he tried to establish trust with these men, but it was extremely fragile.  They could still decide terminating him would settle their problems for the day.

The training and discipline that kept him going earlier failed, and IMP17 toppled to his knees.  He seemed to collapse in slow motion, trying to brace himself with one arm, but sank closer to the ground stained with blood that probably included his own.

His mind roared to his body that he might need to defend himself as two men approached.  But his vision dimmed and all he could focus upon was their boots.

“Is it still alive?”  The soldier’s voice sounded distant.

The toe of the other’s boot nudged against his ribs.  “Yeah.  You know these IMPs don’t die that easy.”

Darkness descended, and nothing IMP17 tried would keep it at bay.  He had no idea what he would wake up to, assuming he woke at all.


Here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and this time the prompt word was Vivacious.  Yes, quite an interesting word for this sort of story….  Check out the other entries for February and see how other writers got lively with this prompt!

This is the fifth installment of a serialization I’m doing, so if you want to catch up you can find the previous story here, and at the bottom of it you can link to the first three stories.