Behind the Moon Door: Snippet Twelve

So I went to see Trajan. No I don’t know how I got there, Fliggett took me. And we just walked into a ball of magic, and suddenly we were there. I demanded to see the creature that they captured. whom I found out was a dark elf. That’s right, I went to an interview a dark elf assassin, the one who tried to kill me. So that’s what a drow is! Don’t judge me, I don’t read fantasy. At all.

What I saw needed to be explained. Really wish Phil had that Russian chess playing bear. Then I’d have practice for this sort of thing.+

I hadn’t expected for them to grant my request. But they did and I don’t know how I feel about that.

Wouldn’t you know, they kept her in a shed. Really nice accommodation compared to that burned out basement, but still not overly heavy on amenities. IT was more like a dungeon than made me comfortable, but isn’t that what all prisons ultimately are?

Fliggett came in with me, and stood guard as I sat across the wooden plank from her. She was chained to the chair, and some kind of force field wavered around her like air bound glitter. She growled at me, but subsided when I showed her the clay ornament.

“What did you do to the queen?” I asked.

“That’s no queen. That was a spoiled child,” she spat.

“She had royal blood. What did you do to her?” I asked.

“You won’t believe me.” She hissed back.

“I don’t know what to believe.” I said angrily.

“Fine. I tried to save her,” she…snarled.

“What?” I asked, baffled.

“See, you don’t believe me. Drack is after her for some reason. Possibly for no good. The Arcadians do not know what we know. They want to expand, to make this theirs. That would be… disastrous. I tried to get her out of there, but they found me. They took her blood to some purpose. I did my best to get her out of the way. If she isn’t found that’s because she knows what’s good for her,” she breathed. Her voice cracked.

“Where is she now?”

“I don’t know. She got away from me, as well as them. Wish her luck,” she said, her voice small.

“Who is Drack?” I asked.

“He’s the Winter King of Arcadia. I serve the Night Court of Cerese, which is technically in his command. I am an oath breaker. Which is why I am safer here.” she whispered.

“Then why are you trying to kill me?” I asked.

“I am not, nor ever was.” the creature said.

“Then, what?”

“To warn you. To prepare you. Your father is back. You must be ready for him,” she muttered.

I lurched back, as if slapped. I rubbed my face, trying to hold back tears. The words she spoke scalded me. I turned back to her.

“Do you work for him? Does he work for you?” I asked savagely.

“Your father is a cancer. He works for no one. Perhaps he works for himself. He has carved out his own place, his own people. And they are hollow and broken shells of what was once good.” Her voice was pure and prophetic.

“How can you know what is good?” I asked.

“Summer and winter are opponents, not opposites. Each has their dominion and place.” She paused. “Evil… is a different thing. A real thing, none the less. They are as different as sleep is from death, as dreaming is from waking. There are angels of both night and day, just as there is the noon day devil and the midnight devil.”

“Where does he stand?” I asked.

“Your father’s alliances lie outside of the natural order.” She whispered.

“Supernatural? What? Ghosts? Djins? Demons? Does he walk between worlds like Dante?”

“Not to confuse you still further, but I am a part of the natural order. The old magics are as well.”

“Wouldn’t angels and demons be, as well?”

“No. They stand outside, looking in. They are among us, but not like us. Hence why they are called ‘supernatural’. She rolled her eyes.”

“So, what about wizards?” I asked, just to get her point of view.

“They can choose,” she said, voice cold.

“Now I’m really confused,” I admitted.

The creature rolled her eyes. “This is not Autumn vs Winter, or Winter vs Summer. This is nature vs the unnatural. This is an invasion from without. This is the elders in revolt, claiming to be gods. This is a rebellion against the First Rule. The old treaties and hatreds are null in the face of this threat. I do what I must, because this is what winter is FOR. To cut off what grows past it’s season. Summer is to tend the good. Fall is harvest, feeding and death. Spring is growth. But each of these things grows monstrous if allowed to move past it’s place.”

“You use the term monstrous.” I said, incredulous.

“Yes. In a sense, you are more of a monster than I. Being outside of what you once were.”

Her voice was almost apologetic.

“So, what am I? What did you turn me into?” I asked.

She eyed me, lips pursed. “You.. Are finally asking the right questions.”

I tapped my foot.

“You know the knights of old? The important thing to understand about a knight is that he was once an ordinary man. They did not start out as nobility. But through the ancient rights, they are imbued with the power of royalty to execute noble decree. Generally to a purpose. The fools ruined the system by making it hereditary, when knighthood should be enforced by virtue of meritocracy. That was how it was intended.”

“But my Aunt…”

She laughed.

“That is magic of blood and soil. It gave her responsibility and privilege, but not abilities beyond the borders of the place she calls home. Her power came to be because her land gave her that power, once her place was recognized in the natural order. So she is a duchess in her dutchy, acknowledged elsewhere, but not empowered outside of it. I have imbued you with the power of a knight, which may act anywhere. Here— or in the breach of Arcadia itself.” She said.

“Then, why did you attack me?” I asked warily. “A single conversation would have simplified this greatly.”

“To see what you could do. You were frightfully unprepared, and I wanted you to be on your guard. We and the Summer court handle things…rather differently. Also, if I had come in peace… things would have been more complicated for me. It turns out… that the troubles I’d hoped to avoid… came to pass regardless.” She seemed to be having trouble speaking. I glanced at my gnomish companion, who only shrugged at me and flipped on his magic helmet. A certain animated opera started running through my head… Great. All I need is a magic spear and a singing bunny rabbit.

“So why did this thing try to kill me?” I asked.

I thumped my chest. A throbbing pain caused me to wince.

She squinted at me. “Did you allow it to complete it’s work?” she asked.

“They said I’d become than eternal living ice sculpture. That didn’t appeal to me. I like warm rooms and hot cocoa too much let that happen.”

She sighed.

“You need to get the wand back. Once it’s done it’s work you will understand,” she said.

“The wizard didn’t think it was a good idea,” I replied

“He wouldn’t. Wizards don’t like competition,” she growled.

I sensed there was something she wasn’t telling me. Yeah, I’m such a genius.

“So what else?” I asked.

“The labrynth. Even as you are, you can walk the Ice and Bone labyrinth. With the wand in hand. Then you will understand.”

I looked over and the gnome had actually lost his hat in incredulity. His eyes were wide and his face was flushed. “That’s madness! No breathing mortal can…”

“But she already has. It was a short trod betwixt the two lands of her blood, but that is more than even her sibs can do.”

“That is not the same thing!” he shouted.

“But they are woven from a similar weave, you must admit. Flesh tends to wither at the touch of a trod, unless it is bound in glamor first.”

“Well, there was that ornament. That might have had some sort of glamour.” I said weakly. I was starting to feel dizzy again.

The creature rolled her eyes. “Only a guardian spirit or a body of light could have protected you. You had neither. You had not just traversed the present, but I saw you in the past. But not when I was there, I remembered it a few minutes ago. That is a sign of the touch of a twist of the true labrynth. Which has four sections. The ice and bone labyrinth only covers half the year. You need to balance it with the wand of summer and fall.”

“They said that mixing winter and spring was…dangerous. The wizard accused you of supporting what you decry.” I said.

“IF it had been fall and winter, you would have simply aged and died. Spring was necessary to give you the life and youth to survive an infusion of winter. Did the wizard tell you that?” she asked hotly.

I blinked, and looked at the gnome again. He shrugged. “I was only an apprentice, and a young one at that.” He said, retrieving his hat. I noted with relief that there were others in the wings guarding us. The dark elf looked annoyed.

“You haven’t yet learned what you are up against. I will not willingly escape— or harm any of you. I cannot trust my own allies. But I must find those of my traditional opponents that I can trust,” she said softly. I had the impression that the others present did not hear her last sentence. Something about the words was…different. Like I heard them in my head, not with my ears. I looked at her. She smiled back.

“Why? Why did you do this? Why me?” I asked.

“That is a serious question. Because— your only loyalty is to your Aunt and her land. Should the crowned heads of Arcadia demand obedience, you can laugh at them and defend your lands— regardless of politics, regardless of blood. You are allied with the summer courts, but you are not vassals or slaves. I cannot do that. Neither can your gnomes. A wizard might, but they are seduced by great power— whatever the source.” She turned to the gnome, who was about to say something.

“ It is true humans are often seduced by power,” she turned back to me. “I judged you to be more likely to laugh at it, and see it for what it is.”

“The wizard actually said he thought your intentions were different than the results. He thought your partner in doing this betrayed you, and intended that both of us should die in the culmination of what that wand turned out to be,” I blurted, feeling like a moron. Hopefully, I didn’t give the whole game away to people who weren’t exactly our friends.

The dark elf looked disturbed. It was the first time I saw her look vulnerable. She pondered that for a moment, face hardening.

“If it were tampered with, it was not the original artist who crafted my wand. I know him better than I know myself— and he would not do this. But I do not know who could have done this. My wonder-worker has an idiosyncratic style that would be hard to…hack.” The last she spat like an alien word.

The gnome looked shrewd. “Does he have any half-baked relatives?” he asked.

Her eyes flew open. “I did not think…” she paused. Her face drained of it’s blue tinge and became even paler.

“But… she’s dead…” she gasped.

The gnome copped a pose and channeled me. “Well, if warping nature out of it’s natural shape is fair game, what’s wrong with a little cheating death among friends?” he said, a bit heavy on the sarcasm.

labrys-chip

“If so, that means they are further along than I thought. You must get to the Labyrinth. Not the little trod you found, but Labyrinth of Years. You must walk it. You are the only one who can, without interference. It is the only way you will find the new Queen.”

I sighed. “NOW you tell me.”

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http://chesterton.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/three-ways-to-argue/

“There are three ways in which a statement, especially a disputable statement, can be placed before mankind.  The first is to assert it by avowed authority; this is done by deities, the priests of deities, oracles, minor poets, parents and guardians, and men who have “a message to their age”.  The second way is to prove it by reason; this was done by the mediaeval schoolmen, and by some of the early and comparatively forgotten men of science.  It is now quite abandoned.”

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Sunday Shrine 8/10

Shrine of the transfiguration.  Sorry, this trumps anything I could have prepared.  Personally, I wish this feast merited a Sunday.  So, here it is.

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Because, Butterflies.

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Sunday Shrine 8/3

© 2009, Jeremy Atherton, Creative Commons License

Sanctuary shot of St. Mary of the Angels, in Chicago, IL.  The gentleman who is being beatified in Spain in a few weeks, fellow member of Opus Dei and friend of St Jose Maria prayed in front of this church back when, when the sanctuary you see above was closed and slated to be demolished. Then, Opus Dei took possession of the building, remodeled it on it’s original design (see above, this photograph doesn’t begin to do it justice) and now it is considered one of the Top Ten most beautiful buildings in the world.

For very good reason.  It is breathtaking.  I’ve been going to mass here for several years, and I still can’t help staring around at the paintings, sculpture and architectural details. I’m still seeing things I have never noticed before.

Spongie555  Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License.

This is both a relic and a portrait.

 

Okay, you may have seen St. Mary of the Angels before, if you have been here a  LONG time.  This is the parish I’m most likely to be at…. you’ll see me at the sinner’s mass. Or the “we work a lot” mass. Or the “last resort” mass.

I’m posting this today because today is the feast of St Mary of the Angels!

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Coming Soon… Book Review! “The Watson Chronicles”

 

I have just finished The Watson Chronicles… brought to you by the incredible Ann-Margaret Lewis. … As seen through the somewhat less incredible me.  There will be a review. But I generally need to read it more than once to do it justice, with several days to digest.

The book leaves you energized rather than drained. Excuse me while I go write bits of the review.  This book is… amazing. The most satisfying and skillful pastiche that I have ever seen.  But it is a book that deserves to be savored, read over again.

I suspect that I will find more riches if re-read. I’m currently having trouble deciding if I want to I dust off my old Conan Doyle, reread the book, or reread the first one.  After all, my husband has to read it, and also I have to send it back to the kind gent who lent it to me. Post haste. (And buy a new copy for myself!)

                        ↑  Ed Bierman from Redwood City, USA;  ⊕ Creative Commons License. ↑

Fortunately, we are relatively quick readers. Unlike the blue snails.  :-)

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Behind the Moon Door #11

This snippet is probably not in order. Sorry about that. It’s the cost of having snippets straight from the forge, if you will.

That evening I spent digging through old newspaper clippings in Frank’s office. Yes, both Phil and Frank had separate offices– Phil’s inevitably looked like a tornado hit it, save the fact that the floors still passable. But her rolltop desk was an impenetrable mountain peak of paper, binders, receipts, tchotchkes and old books. Frank had acres of open space by comparison– he had a big flat top executive table and a narrower side table making an all embracing corner of workable area.

There was an old leather blotter, a nice library light with a tubular green shade, a hutch framed the second desk and had neat cubbies with well organized slots, a dish for paperclips, a mug full of pens, a taller beer stein had scissors, rulers and even a set of slide rules and an engineer’s ruler and a couple of compasses. A large naval compass in a chunk of weathered glass stood in for a paperweight nearly as big as the paper itself, though all it weighed down was the latest balance sheet booklet for Sweeney financial empire. The farm balance sheet, the taxes, his business, her business, the alfalfa and clover tally, the eggs purchased by the restaurant down the street, the few dollars given over to the neighbor kids who harvested them every Monday evening.

It was time to collect the money from the box, I realized. I had entries to make, such as my last purchase of fish food, and the new delivery of frozen mice that was no doubt collecting frost in the vet’s freezer. The single vet appointment for Zanzibar, and Fuseli’s checkup after dental surgery. The goat chow was getting low, and I needed to record my next withdrawal from the feed bank for the cows. I noted that some of it was already recorded in a thin spidery hand that looked almost too small to be of human origins.

I really needed to get my act together, if they were even doing the paperwork for me. I felt better because I had done the cows this morning, including the milking, and the ritual passing out of dishes and fresh milk. The rest I put into the chiller, and from there, I’d dose out some for myself and some for the pasteurizer. I wonder which of the barns housed the summer feed for the cows. Sure they had grass and clover in pasture, but apparently they liked to feed them, too. Maybe it was a milking thing.

That was when I found the files on the history of the Irish Hills– and the sad record of the various amusement parks and shutting down of the attractions. “The Blarney Isle” the property that Phil managed though not generally open to the public, wasn’t the only casualty. She had articles about every major attraction– even the twin towers and saga of the Spite Tower, and the popularity of the Wagon Train, run by a War hero and movie star, the tenacity of the Mystery Spot, who was Sherrill’s most famous client. Sarah had deals with a couple of the owners for horse trails through some of them… odd that some of Sarah’s paperwork was in there, too. I blinked.

Oh, yeah. Uncle Frank, was an accountant. Sure, he did the blog thing, but he also did taxes and wrote up contracts– so he’d wanted to be a financial lawyer at one time? Funny how I thought of him as a writer and not a sharky bean counter. I saw that Sarah and a few others got a discount for yard maintenance. So many absentee landlords. I suppose we were lucky enough that the old sites weren’t just plowed under and turned into subdivisions.

And there was the trouble with the Old Mill Bar and their sign being too near the road, blocking other signs of a couple attractions down the road. Seemed like such a big deal back then, I saw from the clippings. If only they knew. But perhaps it’s best they did not.

I spent the rest of the night perusing them, and stumbled to bed– which was fortunately not far down that narrow hall. I collapsed and shortly found a cadre of furry sentries making sure I was safe in my sleep. They couldn’t protect me from disturbing dreams.

The next day, I got up early (again) and did all my feedings and various chores, then chilled over second breakfast, which must have been invented by farmers. Wasn’t quite 10 o’clock yet, but I’d earned it. Strong coffee and a little hot cereal and fresh milk, still sweet from the cow. Oh, and a doughnut from yesterday, only slightly stale, but still tasty. it was even better soaked in milk.

I grabbed the old walking stick and headed out– straight to the cat this time. Then I was going to check that property thoroughly. Just to make matters more disturbing, a scraggly weed was growing out of the eye socket of the cast concrete cat, washed old bone grey by weather and time. Paint hadn’t adhered well, and Phil was ever debating on whether she should repaint this one, or remove it.

The creepiness factor was inconsistent with the other statuary, and was clearly some kind of last ditch effort to add some literary panache. It was the Cheshire cat, grinning wide, yet oddly looking up. Along gangly weed danled from one soil filled eye socket. The dirt made the already skeletal head look down right creepy. The land around it was blasted and barren, with a few tall trees that played streaky shadows all over it. Wind whispered unpleasant things through those branches. Today the wind was still brisk but the sky was clearer but still trespassed by high, fast moving clouds. A watery sunlight bleached everything with a too strong light. Eh, maybe I was due for a migraine in a few hours. At least the opressive humidity had broken, though the air was still a bit thick. Puddles of water stood here and there, though the land around the ghost of Cheshire cat was dry, a pale crust over a darker substrate of mud.

The few weedy plants that grew around this statue were thin unhappy looking lambs quarters and slender grassy things, and all were stained fuchsia, as if a paint fairy had splattered them. I shivered and turned away.

The whole thing felt wrong. I wanted to drag the thing over to the rock pile and blast it into fragments, with Frank’s favorite 20 lb sledge hammer. Couldn’t do it without Phils permission, right? Right? I wondered at her pathological need to change nothing.

She’d always said she was going to restore the steel leprechauns brownies and sprites, but that had been, what, over 10 years ago now? Some of the metal parts had been restored and renewed, in some places the rust had been cleaned, but no painting that I saw had been done. Painting was one of the few skills I possessed that might be applied in this area. One summer I painted houses, interior and exterior. I’d planned on going back to it this year, until Phil seduced me away.

Granted that made better money, but this was easier on the old psyche. Or so I thought. It was certainly going back through memories. It was probably about time for that, anyway. I realized it was time to make a phone call. I walked in a lazy loop around the clearing and made my way back to the groomed trail, and double timed it home.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Karrie Grace.” she sounded tired.

“Um, hi.” We did some small talk, mostly about her garden, the weather, and her ongoing feud with the hysterical society. What set of improvements were they blocking this week, because the plans were insufficiently historical?

“Did you get your flower boxes approved?” I finally asked.

“Yes.”

“What you do?” I said, more joking than anything. But then, mom sounded more defensive than a joke would warrant.

“Nothing. Just submitted my paperwork the approved number of times, and waited 6 weeks. Though some people think I set fire to the old firehouse where some of the records were kept. But I didn’t. Fortunately, police don’t seem to think I’m much of a threat. Thats something, anyway. With all the accusations flying around, I thought I was going to be arrested.”

I sat there, stunned. “But… how?”

“Back window on the building was busted. Some helpful soul tossed in some glass bottles of gasoline, then tossed in a molotov cocktail. At first the beat cop took a look at my garage, but somehow didn’t see what he thought he should. His techs didn’t think so either, and they never came back. But it sure was exciting.”

“Mom, why didn’t you call? Something?” I squeaked.

“Oh, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I figured you’d call this week anyway. My heart is fine.” she said in a tone meant to be assuring.

“Well, that’s good. They didn’t take anything? do you want me to come down, and help you clean up after them?” I pleaded. It wasn’t that far, only a couple hundred miles. Mom lived in Ferndale. I could spend a few hours at her little house in the suburbs, pet her psycho dogs, and rearrange the garage. That way, the goats wouldn’t be staring at me. That black one was starting to creep me out.

“That’s not necessary. You can come have lunch on Saturday, or go to church with me on Sunday.” she said brightly.

A knot got stuck in my throat. “Saturday lunch sounds great! But I have to check on the cows on Sunday.”

There was a pause. “Well it will be good to see you on Saturday.” she said. She knew I didn’t have to check on the cows specifically on Sunday, but she let it go by this once, thankfully. “So Philomena has cows again.” she said for conversation.

“Five this time.” I said softly.

“Well, at least it’s not horses. She does poorly with horses for some reason.” mom said sadly.

That was a dead end. Finally I asked her. “Do you know where dad is?” I rasped. My throat felt strangled, my face hot.

There was a pause. “Why do you want to know?” mom asked. Her voice was low and quiet.

“I think he might be up here.” I said, voice distant.

A long pause. “Do… you think he’s wants to talk to you?” she whispered loudly.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure if he’s really up here. Dorn at the gas station thought he saw his car. And, ugh, his cigarette brand butts all over the ground afterward. No lipstick.” I said.

‘Smoking at a gas station is just like him.” mom said. Her voice was still flat and hissy.”But… I thought he quit.” she finished, her voice almost normal.

I shrugged. “Maybe I have a half brother.” I quipped.

There was a long silence, like a dead thing.

“Don’t you joke about that.” Mom said. It was… like an old era breaking into this one. A time of uncertainty, flight, and hiding. Flashes of old emotions scathed my mind, and I felt cold in a hot stuffy room.
I made a strangled sound– without meaning to.

“Are you all right?” mom asked, edged with concern. She snapped out of her old self, and into the new. But I hadn’t quite caught it yet. I still thought of her like old mom.

“Yeah.” I said quickly. Too quickly. But she ignored it and moved on, leaving me startled.

“Strange things going on since you got up there. ” her voice brooded. I felt a storm coming.

“Tell me about it. I want to run, but if I do… I leave Phill in a bad place. She doesn’t deserve that.” I said irritably. “Besides, the animals will starve without me.”

Her voice came on slow but strong, like a glacier sliding across a field. “Then do it. Just get it done. Doesn’t sound like you decided that yet. Stop dithering and do what you got to. It’s the only way I got away from him. Don’t let him catch you in your own net.” Words were like a slap in the face.

“But…I should see him?” I asked.

“See him if you have to.” was the inevitable reply.

“But what if he…hurts me?” I squeaked.

“You are a grown girl. You gotta gun. If he comes at you, why you’ll just do all of us a favor. Make sure people know where you are, and know to be on the lookout for trouble. Just don’t let him– or your fear of him– control you.” Her voice was implacable.

I laughed. It was a high piched kind of hysterical laugh, because I was visualizing what would happen if I told Sarah and Patrick. Kendra would excrete a very uncomfortable shape if she was within sniffing distance of this conversation. Then I realized I had one very important question yet to ask.

“Mom. Did dad have… gifts? Was he weird? Does he have er… weird friends? I mean, supernatural friends?”

There was another silence.

“You been talking to Kendra, haven’t you?” she asked. Flat.

“Yes and no. Mom– you know what it’s like out here. It’s not just a carnival atmosphere. It’s something in the water, in the sky, in the land.”

At first I thought she’d hung up.

“Mom?”

“He used to go out at night. You know. I don’t think he was always trysting with hussies, because he was’nt always at the bar or that bowling alley place where he met his marks. He collected strange things. Natural things. Roots. He had a mandrake in a jar. He used to joke he’d feed it to the dog if I caused too much trouble with him. That’s why we had to give Sugar away. I was afraid he’d kill her for some purpose. He had books. Aleister Crowley, and worse. He had those stinking cards he’d play with, and was said to play poker with tarot cards. I thought it was some kind of game, Tarocchi or something? It had some kind of meaning though, beyond what folks speak of in daylight.”

The monotone of her voice, like reciting a tired litany, scared me. The words themselves– I could barely parse them.

“Is that true? Was it there before…?” I sputtered.

“I would not marry a man like that, Karrie. You know that. Not even back then. I wasn’t always a good girl, but even I knew you don’t take a man like that home.Your Gran would have something to say,” she urged the words forward. It cost.

Gran had died in the middle of the worst of the separation, I realized. When things where bad. That’s why Sandy took us in. Dad’s sister. Phil was beside herself. I stayed here, but it was mostly Frank who took care of me. Phil spent all her time out doors working at the farm… or just gone. Sometimes with the plane. Frank told me not to bother her, because he was just happy she got up in the morning.

They sent me to Phil’s place, because mom couldn’t stand to see me, and… to keep Phil anchored in this world, I suddenly knew. Except I tended to go out into the woods for long walks, too… but I rarely encountered her. I would tell myself she was in the barn, but I knew the barns were empty of humans for most of the day. When I found her, sometimes she was riding a horse, looking far away. Sometimes she didn’t see me, or even seem to recognize me. So I retreated into a world of ‘imaginary friends’.

Only they weren’t so imaginary. And that’s what’s hard to deal with. Those painful days at the therapist because I didn’t want to leave, and believed I had to stay with Phil forever. It was like someone stabbed my heart with a pencil, and they broke it trying to get out. Bits were still lodged inside. I’d come to believe I was so weird, I couldn’t have real relationships. So I had friends, but…. couldn’t stand to be close to a guy who might learn the truth.

Some days Frank sent me over to Sarah. And that’s when I met Patrick for the first time. Back then, he’d been nerdy, reading a lot. Sure, country kids can be nerds, but they also go out doors and do things. Usually technical things, like fixing engines or building the perfect tent, or doing the naturalist. Camping, hiking, collecting specimens that sort of thing. He’d made a primitive, battery driven robot out of sticks, wood, scrap, washers, paracord, duct tape and rubber bands. He was forever working out how to get the clamp or fingers to work. In the end he used a hook, strap, and clip model, but he was never really happy with it. He made the block and tackle that Sarah used to haul in the feed for the horses, and then made a smaller one for Phil, too.

 

He even made his own bug spray. NO not with chemicals, but with essential oils he ordered from a catelog. No, he did use chemicals, too. He made them. He had Popular Mechanics, Ranger Rick, The Boy’s Adventure Book, and an old chemistry textbook from one of his brothers that he coveted. Sure he hid them, but I knew. He also went hunting with his brothers, father and uncles on the weekend. No one teased him about being a geek, because he’d shoot well and clean the kills without flinching– and shoveled twice his weight in horse manure in a few hours. Most folks read in the evenings in the country, and if he happened to read SF and engineering manuals– well good on him.

These days Sarah had Jeb made his spray in big vats and even sold some at the country store. But she used more than half of it on the farm– hung in little vials along the trails so our horses and riders would be more comfortable.

I remembered being sick. I fell or something. I remember needing to stay in bed, and he was asked to watch me. So he sat there, sat for hours, reading. He’d come in after his morning chores, which he always did without complaint. I marveled at him. Sure, you asked me then, I said I hated him, or at least didn’t like him. But he was a good looking boy in a scholarly way. Looked good in glasses. Since then he had been working out… or doing heavy labor and got contacts. The outdoors had been good to him. I’d seen him read in the evenings still wearing his old pair of glasses. I guess he just got new lenses when his prescription needed to change. He said he wore contacts for work, because glasses tend to get in the way or fall off.

But we talked. About things. And I had realized that something about me scared him, but I couldn’t figure out what. It wasn’t even really being a girl. OR maybe it was. But I didn’t think so. Maybe I was a cousin? No, he and Ken got along pretty well.

No, It was something I did. But I had no idea what. Thinking about it made my chest hurt– bad. So I decided to not go there. If it was important, it would come, right?

***

So there he was shooting. I came up behind him… not too close, because startling anyone firing a gun is a bad idea. But I waited until he was getting ready to reload and I cleared my throat and bit a bit closer. He turned to me and smiled. He seemed genuinely happy to see me. I wanted to say something, to ask to speak my mind. I was falling for him, and hard, and I knew I wasn’t the kind of girl he wanted. But I wanted to say something. My heart contracted and a stab of pain tore into my chest. I reached deep into my self control so he couldn’t see the pain. I smiled instead.

He took off his ear protection, set down his weapon, making sure the safety was on, even if it was empty.

‘So, what’s up?”

I opened my mouth. I felt cold, and nothing came out.

I tried again. “I.. just wanted to see you.” I said lamely.

He nodded abstractly. He came over and gave me a considering expression. And a hand on the shoulder.

“What’s going on with you ?” he asked. His lively green eyes were sympathetic.

“I.. don’t know. I… am going through a lot of old memories. Only they aren’t complete. That’s got me disturbed. I don’t know what to think. I don’t even know what you think of me. I know Kendra has always liked me but… I just remembered that you acted kind of strange around me when I was sick.”

He sighed. “Do you want to know now? Or do you want to remember?”

“I actually want to know.”

 

he was quiet for a while, as he field stripped and cleaned his pistol. I was amazed at how many tiny parts there were, and how he just knew where all of them went. His hands worked mechanically as his voice was measured and neutral, as precise as his hand movements. When I met his eyes, they were blank. He glanced quickly away.

“You attempted suicide. When they told you you’d have to leave Phils. Your mom didn’t deal well with that. They were going to institutionalize you , but somehow mom and Phil talked them out of it. Sent you over to us for a while. Mom was going to have you stay with us. But your mom decided that wasn’t going to work. So she sent you to a therapist. I had no idea how to react to that. I understood not wanting to live anywhere else, but I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to die.”

There was a long pause. He looked down at his peices set out with precision, examined each one, and rubbed it down with black cloth. he stopped, arms at rest. Then looked up. He regarded me, almost challenging.

I had nothing to say. I could barely think. He must have seen something in my eyes, because he turned away again, with a swift soft glance that was almost apologetic. He started talking  as he fitted each piece back together.

“Mom told me your dad did bad things to you. So when was sitting there reading, I was thinking –or trying not to think– about the various ways I might have to kill your father if he tried to take you back. Or what I’d say to your mom if she broke her promise and took you back before the agreed date.”

By then, the firearm was back together, and his hands were clean. He examined it critically, and dry fired it a few times into the weeds at the base of a dying old tree. He set it back down on the stump, and looked ready to listen.

I couldn’t breathe. “I can’t imagine being like that,” I said softly. “I mean… things have sucked, but… I haven’t’ wanted to die– not since I can remember. Never when I can remember.” I gasped.

I felt like a wound had been torn open. I curled up on the second table. He came over behind me and rested his hands on my shoulders. It became a hug, as I leaned into his arm. I was leaking tears, but sobs wouldn’t come. I just felt achy, sore and tight.

“To be whole, is it worth getting that back?”  Patrick asked, gently.

“What good could come of knowing something like that?” I asked back, feeling irritated I couldn’t come up with a better reply. I didn’t know. I really, really didn’t know.

No wonder mom was freaked out about dad being up here.

But there was a new feeling emerging from the depths… something I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. Sure, when you get cut off in traffic, you feel affronted. When your friend betrays you, you feel rage. But this was a whole new level of fury.  It was ALL for my father. I reached over and grabbed his hand and put it next to my cheek. He did not resist. I felt his fingers delicately touch my cheek.

“I think I need to prepare.” I said, voice soft and low.

He nodded.  “Need help?” he asked.

“Yes.”

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Death is a Place.

Looks like a nice place– for Death Lake. There has to be a story behind this name. The lake is near Pune, India.

↓ This picture taken by Sweet madhura from Wikimedia Commons.Creative Commons License. ↓
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How to Build a Thick(er) Skin, Part I

Warning: I am not a guru. I am not perfect. These are just things that I have learned, and figured out– from experience, and derived from the grace of friendship.  There are people of good will who have helped me see these things, such as my husband,  and Taylor Marshall, and countless others over time. This is just stuff I have collected that I hope will be helpful to those I’ve been listening to on the interwebs.

There are so many who suffer from the slings and arrows of our outrageous times– both in the good  and the bad. The wonders of technology– who can argue these are evil? Certainly there are downsides– there are downsides to everything. There are lots of special stresses and new avenues to hostility that are made manifest by abundance itself, as well as the technology that makes it all possible. Sadly we are more lacking in our ability to face those things than ever.

Part I: Why do we need to?

I hope that people who are not writers or Catholics could benefit from some of this rambling. But, my faith is my strength, and has played a large part in my path building my coping skill-set. I was born a sensitive person– and spent a good deal of my life in that space.  I have tried many many things to work with this, including therapy, drugs, and various self help regimens.  There was a great deal that was not helpful– and an alarming array of things that made the problem worse.

The first part is to understand the problem itself, and recognize it as yours. Remember that this tendency DOES has it’s perks. It means you notice things others don’t. It means you have a wider range of experience to work from– but most of those perks are internal, and can themselves work against you.   It has a lot of downsides.  They affect everything– from how I lived to how I voted, to how easy it was to slip into a set of habits that make depression much more problematic. Sensitivity can drive you away from people, and push things out of proportion. If you get benefit from it, you can turn it into an idol, and let it run your life.

When you become a public persona, no matter how small, these things start to crop up more and more, and there is only so much you can do to hide from it.   Before long, you are only hiding from yourself, and all the things you tell yourself. There’s a recipe for depression if I ever heard one.

Back when Andy Warhol (was credited to have) said “everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame” (or words to that effect), he probably didn’t know how right he was. Because the truth is, anyone who says anything on the internet has a drop or two of diluted celebrity. It manifests in the down-sides, first and foremost.

Whining and moaning– or just talking about it, is a temporary fix. While it feels good, relying on this has serious problems as  coping mechanism and social strategy.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t talk about it– but there is a time and a place. Here is where journaling, or rage writing are helpful. But you don’t necessarily want to make a blog post about it, or use this as your primary means of interacting with your friends and neighbors.

Granted, I’m speaking to an American culture, which has both bifurcated, and deteriorated (yes, BOTH sides) over time.  We have lost the courage of our convictions. We have lost our stamina, attention span, and most of all, our toleration for the small things that help friendships and love relationships last.  Because, let’s face it. Those friends whom you love best are the ones who were with you through the hard times, with whom you cried, struggled or suffered. That they were still with you in the end made their presence that much more sweet.

In the mainline culture, we have blurred the lines, debased true friendship, and worship both the sex bond and the associate who doesn’t know TOO much. How ironic when all they have to do is browse FlipBook or Froogle to find out yet another shallow snapshot of who you are. We have even turned the lifelong project of self improvement into a search for gurus and quick fixes– the philosophy of the hour. Understanding yourself and why you do things– and all the while, using an objective yardstick to monitor your progress, is considered not only antiquated and wrong headed, but actively harmful. I’m here to tell you that the opposite is the case.

And self improvement is a powerful aspect to getting a thicker skin. It is not how many people wind up with it– because frankly, most of them were dunked in on the deep end of the acid bath, and adopted it by necessity. The trouble with that approach is that it also comes with it’s own set of blind spots that can sprout barriers to personal, social and spiritual development. There are also those who grew up in a family who consciously worked on developing a healthy attitude in this area. Those are frightfully rare in this day and age.

Theory

Because it seems like cheating to give you a whole blog post (it’s getting long already) without a single facet of a solution to this sticky problem, I’ll mention that I’ve talked about a few already.  That would be faith (note: does not have to be in the form of religion, but it helps), proportionality, and friendship.

I will cover these in more detail in my second post, but I’ll give you a taste right now.  Faith– is about believing. It’s about knowing what you are doing is for something or someone greater than you. I cannot emphasise how important that is.

It is also remarkably illusive at times, which is why Catholics call it a Supernatural virtue. You can’t build it yourself, you cannot entirely hold yourself responsible for it slipping away in dark times. God’s existence isn’t self evident. The value of human life is not self evident. You have to have a set of principles through which to build, toward those ends– that is, leaving yourself open to faith, and developing a stick-to-it ness, through repeated exposure to the ideas that reinforce that faith.

At the same time, this powerful help must be tempered. Faith without humility, without knowing you can be wrong, or how you cannot perfectly match up with your principles, means that you can’t really defend– or even stand– against personal attack. At the base of it, all criticism is about how the ideal never met a reality it couldn’t best.

If you believe you are unassailable, it will leave you vulnerable. This vulnerability is not just an opening to attack, but a tendency to hurt yourself.  It opens the door to to recklessness and poor judgement.

The dangers of arrogance are manifold. Every jab in your direction, every ad hominem attack– especially those that rely on a kernel of truth– will be devastating. The flip side to this problem is the recklessness– believing you are right and can do no wrong not only makes you blind to your own defenses, but also makes it that much harder to evaluate your situation.  In case you are wondering where humility came from, that’s a part of proportionality. These things cannot and will not operate independently.

The second part of proportionality is knowing the truth. What is real. How you relate to that reality. Because yes, the truth hurts. This is why we keep trying to do away with it in modern society. The whole modus operandi of the Spirit of our Age is to provide a panacea against pain. But reality isn’t like that, and we, as humans, weren’t built for that. So much hurt is generated by ignoring these facts– and that is why generating more hurt and drama is a big part of what we do.  Humans don’t feel alive unless something is going on. We will never tolerate a numb stupor unless we are depressed or on drugs.

There are times and moods when we want rest, when we want distance, when we want comfort. That is not the same as numbness. We can get numbness by sitting in a corner and thinking about white paper– or taking  ibuprofen.  What we want is support, and that is where friendship comes into this.  Because friendship is not just about unqualified support, but also about proportionality. When we are too close, too angry, or too defensive, we cannot see clearly. Friends help us to see clearly, or at least, snap us out of our defense mechanisms, and give us the distance to go back to our reason and re evaluate our proportionality, or replenish our faith.

Keeping in mind– friendship is the hardest part of this whole thing. Finding those friends who are both willing and able to be supportive through the rough stuff– and able to make those constructive criticisms that help you with your proportionality– is important.  But, as Jesus said, you have to pull the log out of your own eyes. YOu can’t always rely on others, so prayer, and the study of reason and history help with these sorts of issues.  Nothing helps stability like having a leg to stand on.

For what it’s worth, that’s why the Twelve Step program insists on a Higher Power. You need a friend who is more than human, who can be there even when other people can’t. Because you are a 24 hour 7-day a week project, and no one out there can stand in for that. When I don’t know what to do, I pray. At least half the time it means I keep my mouth shut when I should. More often than I used to, at least.

Stay tuned for Part II!

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The death of the spirit of Art–plus Chesterton.

Here’s a fascinating post which basically says everything that I’ve wanted to say about the deadness of modern art.  Only he uses music as his core illustrator, instead of visual art.  For the visual medium, you can look at The Dada movement. That is the same story as Bebop– only with more frequent and obvious suicides of the artists themselves.

In a sense, this is two re-posts in one. I stole a nice, relevant quote from a different blog post. This Chesterton Quote comes from here.  Chesterton is talking about religion, but it also happened to art.  That is why we find endless delight in the Museum and Wikimedia, and mostly empty nothing in the gallery.

…it is doubtful, it is more than doubtful, whether one of the …[modern artists] would be soothed and flattered if I addressed him personally as an Old Fossil. Nor indeed should I dream of indulging in this playful form of social address; since there are truths, or half-truths, that cannot be coarsely stated without giving rise to misunderstanding even about their true meaning.

…But I doubt whether they have really thought profoundly and delicately about what a fossil is, or there would be no danger of their resenting so innocent and inoffensive a comparison. For a fossil is really a very curious thing. A fossil is not a dead animal, or a decayed organism, or in essence even an antiquated object. The whole point of a fossil is that it is the form of an animal or organism, from which all its own animal or organic substance has entirely disappeared; but which has kept its shape, because it has been filled up by some totally different substance by some process of distillation or secretion, so that we might almost say, as in the medieval metaphysics, that its substance has vanished and only its accidents remain.

SO Modern Art (And it’s Post Post antecedents) is essentially artistic formalism, that is, it takes the shape of what came before without truly being art at all.

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