Once upon a time within the last couple of years, the extended family was sitting by a poolside and chatting. Somehow the topic came up that any word beginning with the letter “B” and ending with “itch” could never be good. Our older son asked, point-blank, “What about belonavitch?”
I know, it’s one of those things you had to be there and hear his tone of voice, but the word cracked up our group.
Don’t belittle the euphemism. It can soften a blow, such as saying “The dog went to that squirrel-filled park in the sky” instead of blurting “Puddles died.” It can also be slyly humorous if instead of stating “These leftovers went bad” you announce “I found another science experiment.”
There are, of course, different levels of evil that euphemisms can take (does the Orwellian term doublespeak ring a bell?), coming into play when they say resettlement instead of death camps, or speak of unity when they really mean submission.
While writing as a whole should be direct and concise, it’s subtleties like this which give it a different level of flavor, like adding a teaspoon of curry to potato soup. And because I always try to be “family-friendly,” euphemisms work well when bluntness wants to be an instrument of mass destruction. Words like heck, shoot, and darn get lots of mileage.
Speaking of mileage….
Shortly after we discovered a new word at the poolside, Hubby got a new smartphone. He decided to try out the GPS function on it (I’ll admit there have been many times I looked up from the map just in time to say “We need to turn – on that road we just passed.”), and quickly confirmed what we already knew: Don’t trust those things.
Oh sure, they can be helpful with finding locations in cities, but in the country they often turn out to be garbage (I’m being euphemistic). They do things like take you on dusty gravel roads when there’s a more direct route on blacktop, or send you to a golf course instead of the home you’re trying to locate.
It didn’t take me long to assign a name (you know, like Siri or Alexa) to the GPS program on Hubby’s phone. You guessed it: He knows what I mean when I speak of Belonavitch.
Yes, you heard me, Belonavitch. The paper map in our car won’t become a science experiment anytime soon….
The other day I glanced out the window overlooking the shed where we store the animal feed. Our younger cat was crouched at the bottom of the steps, and a bulbous form with a long tail was protruding from the end of his muzzle.
Good, the next-to-last thing I want is mice eating up food meant for livestock and pets (the last thing I want is them moving into the house with us).
As the cat proceeded to play with his fresh snack for the day, he repeatedly looked away as though he heard something or wondered if anybody was watching (which I was, but not where he could see me). Although he appeared easily distracted, his tasty tidbit never succeeded at escaping. The activity reminded me of my own predicament with writing.
Coming up with ideas for the next book has never been a problem. What is a problem, however, is the next book has a tendency to intrude while I’m writing the current one.
While working on the four-part End of an Age series, this was actually a bit useful. Knowing what was coming next helped with setting up scenes in the current book. But now that I’m drafting part four, the next novel (totally unrelated) keeps creeping into my thoughts when I’d rather stay focused on the present tale.
And the fact I’m serializing a “prologue” to the next book doesn’t help. I’m feeling easily distracted….
This is also the month of NaNoWriMo, when many writers are trying to meet the challenge of spitting out 50,000 words in a readable context. And plenty of them are also trying to cope with distractions.
We could take a lesson from the cat: No matter how many times we look away from our work, it’s never out of mind. No matter how many times it may appear our projects will escape, we always jump back on them. Persistence, persistence….
Okay, it’s time to stop distracting you and get back to that writing project. I’ll bribe myself with enjoying a savory treat when it’s finished … although I prefer mine well-done….
“So why didn’t you call it Noah’s Ark?” The awe and marvel over all the structural and technical engineering surrounding them subsided enough for Deuce to ask a long-standing question.
He watched Ita’s frown from the corner of his eye since he knew better than to make any direct contact with her. She had finally brought him on board one of the spaceships scattered, hidden, around the globe, a spectacular behemoth that offered hope for everyone … but very few knew about their existence.
“For one thing, Noah had it easy.” She never looked toward him. “All he had to worry about was his own family and two of each animal and one boat. Our mess is more like what Moses had to contend with. We’ve got multiple nations and all their livestock and rootstock, and have to keep them alive on several ships in the desert of space for multiple generations.”
He nodded. “Recreating a miniature facsimile of the world and condensing it to a dozen interstellar ships still sounds like an enormous risk. Space is a vacuum that’s otherwise sprinkled with colliding asteroids and lethal radiation.”
“No more risky than having the Elite attack us relentlessly, where they either annihilate us or we have to annihilate them.”
“You’ll remember Pharaoh’s army got drowned in the Red Sea.”
She almost cast a sidelong glance toward him. “Pharaoh’s army, not the whole of Egypt. And drowning the army is your job.”
Yes, figuratively speaking, that had been the focus of his assistance over the last few months. Once the exodus began, the Elite would do anything to stop them, even shooting the ships out of the sky as they launched. He had been coordinating defensive measures around the Earth, and each location had different parameters around which to devise strategy.
But less than two days ago he learned of a detail which dictated there was another part of his plan he would have to implement if they were to succeed.
“I apologize to prevail upon you with a request.” Deuce knew to get to the point, but this entreaty needed some prefacing. “But there’s a matter, concerning that job, I need your help with.”
The furrow in her brow deepened. “This had better be good.”
“I need to have a bomb implanted, preferably in my chest.”
Ita stared at a display panel on the wall behind him, and didn’t respond for a few seconds. “Why?”
“Standing orders have always been to kill on sight any IMP like me that defected. Instead, they tried to capture me at the last raid. It’s a miracle the Red Sea stayed secret all these years, but that action can only mean the Elite have begun to suspect you have a project like this.” He drew a deep breath before continuing. “If they capture me, they will find out about it. I can’t defend my knowledge from the central data core. So … I must ensure they never make that capture.”
Her frown remained, but there was something pensive in how her lips pressed together. “You would really blow yourself up?”
Odd, he’d expected a more positive reaction from her, like a quip “Consider it done.” Ever since the first day they met, Ita made it clear she despised him for killing her father.
Deuce wasn’t sure whether to bless or curse the fact he couldn’t remember the man. On the one hand it was nice not to look at her and recall the final few seconds in the life of a defender performing above the call of duty. On the other, he would have liked to acknowledge the eminence of such a person, perhaps even confirming her father’s bravery.
“The blast must be sufficient to shatter my remains beyond reparation. I’ll need it set up where only I can detonate it, and I must have several options to do so should any avenue become inaccessible to me. And since this procedure must remain as secret as the Red Sea is, we need as few people as possible involved to insert the implant.”
Ita continued gazing at the wall as though she spied an instrument that didn’t belong. “You need me to contact the right people?”
“We’ll also need to override the security protocols that would detect the implant.”
She studied the panel for several more seconds before responding, her words proceeding slowly. “An ion bomb is small enough to do the trick, but as far as the programming … I know a woman who could probably help.”
Her statement didn’t surprise him. With every able-bodied man needed for combat, the supportive fields of medicine, technology, and engineering were heavily populated by women. Ita’s role in the Red Sea kept her in touch with the most pioneering individuals.
“We need the procedure to be completed promptly.” A surreal sensation pulsed through him as the reality of what they were discussing began to solidify. His entire life he’d been conditioned to accept the possibility of death on the battlefield, but to personally sacrifice himself carried weightier implications.
“I’ll stress its urgency.” For a couple of seconds her gaze darted to his face, and then she turned aside and muttered, “You always have to keep us on our toes with surprises.”
“What do you mean?”
Ita hesitated and glanced back at him. Her eyes met his for another couple of seconds, and her impassive expression continued to puzzle him. She turned aside again and began walking away.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
Too bad, Deuce thought. That would have qualified as the nicest thing she ever said to him.
So here’s the next installment of my serialization for #BlogBattle this month. The word this time is Miniature, which kind of like abbreviation seems like a pretty big word for a small thing…. Be sure to check out their website for other stories submitted this month.
If you’re new to this novella in progress and want to catch up, you can find the previous stories on my Blog Battle Short Stories page. Have a prosperous November!
Ah, heck, Halloween’s coming. I think I’ll toss out a ghost story and call it good….
In the neck of the woods where I grew up is a hill known as Breakneck. In the horse-and-wagon days it earned that name because the road carved into its steep slope could be treacherous. A tomato-canning factory operated at the bottom, and it was said the horses sometimes fell and broke their necks when laden wagons pushed too hard on them.
Places where trouble (and maybe tomatoes) tends to brew will inspire a few stories … none of them particularly pleasant. Even after the factory shut down and automobiles began replacing equestrian roving, Breakneck’s reputation didn’t fade.
One night a fellow drove his Model T Ford (or its equivalent) down Breakneck hill. Well, almost….
His horseless carriage got a flat tire. Now this was on a dirt road in the early 1900s, but dirt is an imprecise description. The Ozark hills are eroded mountains, so we’ve got plenty of rocks, one of which might have been the culprit that caused the flat.
And in those days you didn’t just swap the flat tire out with a spare. You removed the inner tube from the outer tread of the damaged tire, aired up a new tube with a manual pump, and put the whole caboodle back together again.
Our hapless motorist was in the middle of pumping air into the tube when another gentleman walked past him. This in itself was a bit startling, since he thought he was all alone. As he looked up, the gentleman calmly told him, “Good evening.”
But there was something very wrong with this gentleman.
He was holding his head in his hands. No, his hands weren’t raised to cradle his cranium. Instead, he was toting his noggin at waist level, much like carrying the biggest tomato you ever saw.
The gentleman continued trudging past and disappeared into the night….
I was never told the details about what speed our traveler employed, but he proceeded to pack the tube, the pump, the tire and the jack back into his car. He then drove home on the rim. Not the scariest ghost story you’ve ever read, but odds are the next time you get a flat tire during the night on some quiet back road, this gentleman, or a tomato, just might come rolling out from the back of your memory … so Happy Halloween!
No, this isn’t an autobiography, although it would be a good title for one. And many would say that’s sort of the state we’re in right now….
’Tis nut-gathering season in my little corner of the world. Some of the native species that contribute to the harvest include pecans, certain hickories, and hazelnuts. But the moneymaker is the black walnut.
In my unemployed youth, black walnuts literally provided the money I needed to buy Christmas presents. Every fall there would be at least one day that I’d rise before dawn, dress in layers, and pack myself, a jug of water, and a sandwich into the old pickup truck.
I’d then drive out to our stands of walnut trees to begin picking up nuts from the ground just as it began getting light enough to see (it’s nice to be able to tell the difference between a nut and a rock before you pick it up). I would do this all day long, shedding layers as the temperatures grew warmer, and not quit until I ran out of either nuts or daylight.
The activities of the day included climbing trees that some nuts were still attached to in order to shake them off (I include this in my long list of Things I Survived from My Childhood). Five-gallon bucketful by five-gallon bucketful, I’d dump walnuts into the bed of that pickup truck until it was (hopefully) heaping full.
Within a day or two afterwards, I’d enlist the aid of a licensed driver to take that pickup to the feed mill where the huller was set up every year. I’d shovel nuts into the trays of a conveyer belt that dumped them into a masher to remove the green(ish) hulls and deposit those to one side. The nuts, their shells blackened from the squishy hulls (thus the name) dribbled into mesh bags that got weighed.
And then I was paid my hard-earned money.
These days my nut gathering is confined to home use, but a trip down memory lane prompts one to contemplate the present. In a nutshell it would appear that 2020 is the year of going nuts. Travail hit us early, we’ve been shaken from our complacency, and it looks like there’s still a long haul ahead.
Good news, folks, we’ve weathered storms like this before.
Our youth may add the year 2020 to the long list of Things I Survived from My Childhood, but this blotch within history-in-the making should eventually pass like all the others. We just have to keep hauling those nuts by the bucketful until the day comes we get “paid our hard-earned money.”
After all, every mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground….
As explosions and crackling erupted in every direction of the underground habitation, the com patch near Deuce’s left ear rarely fell silent. Reports from all fronts kept streaming in, and if he wasn’t so busy evading IMP2 while trying to help with the evacuation, he could have appreciated pride in his troops.
The men he’d trained were already battle-hardened veterans; Deuce only polished some skills and introduced others, and the new weapons also proved effective. The original ranks he’d led from the city had managed to regroup, keeping the invading cyborg armies from swarming the area and hold them to a manageable standoff.
But his success at keeping ahead of IMP2 caused concern.
Standing orders had always been to kill a deserter like him on sight. And it wasn’t luck that allowed him to consistently escape or terminate troops that tried to close in on him. The enemy was trying to capture him, which made their job harder….
“We’ve got one group left!” A distraught voice rang from the com patch. “But a hatch near the western exit is inoperative and they’re caught behind it!”
Deuce was close enough to that location – and just finished mowing down a platoon of cyborgs with his improved breaker-blaster – to limp that direction to provide assistance. The charred wound on his right calf afflicted gait but not speed, and within a minute he reached the dozen soldiers leaning against a round, studded metal door that rotated from below.
With a bark of orders to allow him access, Deuce positioned himself at the crux point on the opposite end of the barrier. Bracing his good leg against the terminal wall, he pushed downward with the other men to force the door open enough so the remaining evacuees could escape.
Strength was one of his genetic enhancements, but the door was designed to resist such effort. When it budged, he heard cheers from behind it, and realized the evacuees were also pushing from their side, and the door hadn’t been designed against that.
Surely he didn’t recognize one of those voices…?
He pushed even harder, and as the barrier slowly rotated into the floor, the top of the portal cleared first. From the corner of his eye he noticed upswept auburn hair on the other side.
It never occurred to him Ita would stay behind to help evacuate, and she was pushing on the door, opposite from him.
The impulse to chastise her for taking this risk was easy to suppress – Deuce needed to focus his energy on pushing the door, and he knew better than to challenge her on anything. But the project he had been assisting her with was the last chance of survival for her people, and her role was too important to gamble her life like this.
She also realized who was opposite of her. As the gaze of the woman who knew he’d killed her father locked on his face, her eyes flickered like emeralds reflecting firelight.
Her attention shifted to the top of his head as she reached down. When Deuce realized she snatched the blaster that became a permanent fixture on her hip when he began working with her, he had to suppress the impulse to duck.
He knew she despised him for what he’d done, but he’d also been impressed by how much restraint she always showed. Surely Ita wouldn’t choose now as an opportunity to claim revenge–
The zap from the blaster rang in the same ear that felt the heat of the charge hurtle past.
Immediate commotion thirty meters to the other side of him provoked Deuce to glance that direction. In the midst of a cyborg platoon that had been advancing toward them, IMP2 tumbled backward as sparks flew from his head.
Ita’s shot had struck the technological augmentation that covered half his face. But she had only a standard blaster, not an exotic model like Deuce’s, so he knew the commander was only wounded.
Soldiers not as crucial for door-duty fired a volley into the cyborg troops that swept around IMP2 to cover him. Some of the charges fired back struck the door and a couple of men, but purposefully missed Deuce. He leaned against the barrier even harder, and it spiraled down enough for people of all ages to scramble over and gallop to the pod that would jettison them to safety.
Ita was the last one out, and Deuce suppressed yet another impulse. Instead of remaining to fight with his men, he decided it would be wiser to join the evacuees. What was left of the cyborg ranks might withdraw if he vacated the premises, especially with IMP2 temporarily out of commission. And he would also be on hand to defend the last pod should it come under attack.
He stayed near Ita – while keeping respectful distance – and guarded the rear of their group, getting off a few more shots of his own to thin the diminishing cyborg ranks. The group bustled into the escape pod, which then bolted into the network of tunnels.
He sat across from Ita, who kept her focus on the rest of the evacuees. Admiration intertwined with trepidation as he contemplated how great her shooting had been.
“Thank you.” He knew it was best to keep his interaction with her brief.
“You be quiet!” she snapped, and then grumbled, “I’m still not convinced I shot the right IMP.”
He gazed out the back of the pod, but could only discern ripples on black as it plunged away from their enemy. Why had they tried to capture him? Had they gotten wind of the project? Did they suspect he was involved?
And if they did capture him, he wouldn’t be able to hide what he knew from their central data core. They would learn about the project. They would then destroy it, and ultimately, destroy all these people.
Deuce stared into the darkness behind them and also began to question if Ita shot the right IMP….
So here is my contribution this month for #BlogBattle and the prompt word this time was Exotic. Although I consider the whole location and premise of this story arc to be exotic, I decided the new weapons best fit the definition: “strikingly or excitingly different or unusual.” Be sure to check out the other stories because they’re bound to be exotic, too!
If you’re new to this little novella in progress and want to catch up, go to my Blog Battle Short Stories page. Stay happy and healthy!
When writers read we tend to put on different hats while perusing the written word. Whenever we put on our Reader’s Hat, we enjoy a story just like anybody else. But in something of a balancing act we also wear our Writer’s Hat, which means we’re compelled to analyze and pick it apart along the way.
The same goes with architects when it comes to buildings. People like me look at a building and say, “Wow, that’s impressive looking with all that solid stone. Ew, what an ugly gargoyle!” An architect will look at the same building and say something like, “The symmetry of the structure is consistent with the solid foundation. Oh, what an appropriate gargoyle!”
So when writers are reading a story, we tend to appraise it with remarks like, “The plot was believable and the structure made the words flow. Oh, what an appropriate metaphor!”
The thing is, we don’t want to be blatant when we employ this or that technique to our writing. One of my beta readers is also a writer, and I kind of like it when she points out “Aha! I see you did this!” But that also means in a way I like it when the other beta readers don’t point out such details.
We want the readers to have a seamless experience, and if somebody comes up with “Aha! I see you did that” we suspect being a little heavy handed in the craft. If your character might as well be wearing a sign that reads plot device around his neck, then something needs to be done with him.
Considering I’ve just come off a reading binge (for the sake of research, mind you), this topic is still rattling around in my head. Maybe I’ll take a break and grab a bowl of cereal, and you know I’ll read the back of the box … Aha! I see they did that….”
One of the characteristics separating humanity from the animals is our ability to tell stories. Even though we have language, we could have used it simply to convey messages (“Grab it!” “Run!” “Hubba-hubba!”). But somewhere in our evolutionary framework we started getting creative.
It possibly began when the tribe would gather in the evening and update each other on the day’s activities. What began as information sharing (“Don’t put a branch from that kind of tree on the fire. And don’t ask when my eyebrows will grow back.”) probably started getting embellished (“And the one that got away was this big!”).
What began as truth being embellished became fiction imbued with truth. Stories that entertain us while making us pause to ponder are tapping into their primordial beginnings. The messages they convey might be simple, but reach deeper into our psyche and linger for a while (“Grab it – if you let the opportunity slip away, you’ll kick yourself later!”).
Lucky you, it’s a short post this round because it’s been one of those weeks … and don’t ask when my eyebrows will grow back….
We all know technology changes and that it’s been changing at a faster pace than ever before. My grandparents belonged to the generation that rode in a horse-drawn buggy as kids and then watched men walk on the moon before they passed away.
In my lifetime we’ve gone from dialing the phone to telling the phone who to call; changing channels on the television by turning a switch to using a remote to surf through all sorts of options; and banging away on a manual typewriter to tapping away on a notebook computer. Yeah, this stuff is nice, however….
The folks who program software seem to switch things up just for the sake of changing things around. I like knowing where to click on the toolbar to alter text or add an image. And then some programmer person decides to update the look and style and claim the new version will be easier to use.
Yeah, maybe … but not until after I’ve spent weeks feeling like a kindergartner learning a new application (although these days a kindergartner would probably master it in minutes). I was happy with the old version. All this new garbage just makes me click more often because the icon I’m looking for is now hidden somewhere, and somehow that makes the program work better….
Sorry, I just had to rant. Spending much of my time researching history or what might unfold in the future leaves me a bit unprepared for the present. And while I’m complaining, Technology, take this into consideration:
I remember (barely) watching men walk on the moon, but once those missions stopped, we haven’t been back. How about you leave my programs alone and get us back to the moon, or better yet, take us to Mars…?
“I perceive you responded promptly for a coward.” IMP2 sounded the same although he looked considerably different from the last time Deuce saw him.
They stood about a decameter apart, facing each other in a field of shriveled weeds and stirring dust. Deuce had a force of three hundred men concealed all around them in the barren trees and dry boulders. He could spy the ranks of cyborgs lined half a kilometer behind IMP2, but his estimate of their numbers was only a hundred, although that was more than enough….
His opponent had previously been a man like him – generated from the same DNA foundation for physical superiority, but as biologically whole as the soldiers crouched around them. Now IMP2 resembled the troops he led. Half his face was outfitted with technical components to enhance vision and hearing, and his left arm resembled a weapon more than a limb.
“I see you’ve put on some weight,” Deuce deadpanned.
The split-second pressing together of IMP2’s lips offered a gram of satisfaction. Deuce figured there were plenty of other enhancements he couldn’t see, but had a good idea what they were.
It occurred to him they were, in a sense, brothers, although the concept of family had been alien to him until a year ago, after he defected to this faction who still embraced their total humanity. Despite IMP2’s so-called improvements, they even shared familial features, with the same russet skin and brown eyes and dark hair.
He was also fully aware the playing field between them was no longer level. If he wasn’t very careful, this encounter would end in blood and screams and fire for the people behind him, who comprised a community beyond the soldiers….
“Your sojourn among the rabble has dulled your intellect.” IMP2 raised his weaponized arm slightly, but Deuce remained still so as not to give away which direction he would dodge if needed. “Instead of blathering nonsense, you should inquire why I requested this conference when I could simply assail the habitation.”
Did he really used to talk like that? “I figured you’d get around to it.”
Hopefully his incongruous responses would disconcert IMP2 enough to make him start second-guessing that Deuce was no longer the IMP17 he used to know … and therefore less predictable.
“I’ll allot you credit on the difficulty in tracking you down. In the interim since your departure, the regents have granted asylum if you return and divulge the relevant datum they require.”
The Elite weren’t practitioners of forgiveness, although they would feign it if that achieved their objective. “You do believe I’ve gone bonkers if you think I’d swallow that tripe.”
But what type of ruse was IMP2’s offer? Everybody agreed this was a trap, but Deuce consented to the meeting because of the chance he could discover what agenda hid behind it. That also gave the people in the now-threatened city an opportunity to evacuate.
So he didn’t come out here alone, and his troops had new weapons and supplementary training that the Elite and IMP2 didn’t know about….
“I anticipated your obduracy,” IMP2 replied. “But apply logic to the facts. What purpose does it serve me to approach with only adequate forces, when I possess the option to overwhelm and devastate you?”
What purpose, indeed? Facts and truth weren’t always the same thing. Deuce had accepted this invitation partly to give the citizens time to escape. IMP2 also seemed to be stalling for time … and if that was the case, Deuce should deny him that option. Besides, an engagement would still allow the inhabitants to withdraw.
He cocked his head to the left and muttered the code to attack.
Blaster fire and grenades shot from the sheltering trees and boulders. Deuce took a blaster crack at IMP2 the same instant his opponent’s weaponized arm fired at him. Both successfully evaded, but Deuce retreated behind the lines of soldiers that pressed closer to the enemy.
He didn’t like trying to command from behind his troops, but knew he was the most sought-after target on the battlefield. Even from this lesser vantage point he ascertained the ambush had been expected, so their forces hadn’t gained any surprise advantage.
Something wasn’t right….
The com patch near his left ear crackled with a voice on the edge of panic.
“Troops have breached the city! There’re still citizens on grounds!”
Deuce swore under his breath. Of course – this whole encounter had been a distraction. While he was out here with most of his forces, a skeleton-crew guard remained in the city to facilitate evacuation. And now those defenders were both outgunned and outnumbered by the cyborg ranks.
IMP2 predicted he would do this….
Not only were there vulnerable children and elderly, Ita might still be there, too. She and Deuce arrived only yesterday to negotiate about some components for a certain project. And Ita was much too important to that project to fall prey to the Elite in any manner.
“Withdraw to the city!” Deuce knew his command couldn’t be obeyed effectively. IMP2’s cyborgs would try to hold them here while the larger enemy force razed the city.
But maybe at least he could do something to atone for his blunder….
He sprinted across the cracked earth and scattered gravel, outdistancing any of his troops that tried to follow. Behind he heard the continuing cacophony of battle, and it seemed to swell toward him, as though the combatants were caught in his wake. Those who could were in pursuit, and he knew who would be in the lead.
Deuce tried to run even faster.
This month the prompt word for #BlogBattle was perfect: Conceal! You probably noticed this installment has the feel of a two-parter, so never fear, more will be divulged next month. And with another great word there’s bound to be plenty of great stories, so feel free to check out the rest!
And I suppose this is something of a one-year anniversary for the serialization I’ve been posting since this is episode number twelve. Where has the time gone? If you’ve missed the earlier installments, you can find them here. Happy Reading!