Archive for February, 2015

Storytime: Neurozoic.

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Consider dinosaurs.
Lord knows I can’t stop.

Morning. Noon. Night. Breakfast lunch dinner/supper (snack?). Dusk to dawn and back again through the darkness and daylight. And every hour of every minute of every day, there they are again, larger than life and sitting inside my skull.


It’s no joke I’m telling you, living life with five-ton lizards (not lizards, they’re very different) bouncing around your head. You can’t get a break, you can’t sleep, you can’t focus. A man asked for change and I gave him Deinonychus. Now there’s an energetic surprise! Have you ever tried to write a paper with an Acrocanthrosaurus breathing in your ear from the wrong side out, with a Dromaeosaurus winking at you from your monitor whenever you stop to click click click your way to wordcount? It’s not funny.

You can spew out those syllables and watch the names flow like ripples in puddles of Greek. Throw some Latin in there too and watch the splash of clotted-up dead language – oh, and Chinese too, musn’t forget the Chinese nowadays, and the Mongolian, and oh, and oh, and oh, so many more! Careful… mixing languages is like mixing chemicals: you should leave it to experts. Wear glasses on your brain and don’t step in a nomen dubium; they’re everywhere most days.

Terrible lizards but I’m telling you they really aren’t. Lizards, I mean. They were terrible surely and I mean that in the older sense of the word which is ‘awful’ which is ‘awe-ful.’ Producing awe.
Awesome. Woah.
Still everybody liked to make them lizards for a while. Big lizards stomping in jungles and wallowing in marshes and roaring across that one Arizonan wasteland that was the evil twin of the place Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner always hung out.
I’ve got those up there and let me tell you they make an awful fuss. And they slouch something fierce. Look at those bloated pot bellies and saggy hips, marvel at those poor limp lifeless tails. No wonder they went extinct without cardigans to hide all those varicose veins. What dinosaurs. Can’t hardly pull them out of their bogs to save a scale.
Nowadays we all know better thanks to Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs are found in forests, not swamps, and they run around really fast and hunt you through redwoods and ginkgoes.
Man it’s going to take a lot of hard work to put feathers on all those leathery hides a few generations down the line. I hope Stephen Spielberg’s willing to put up the bill. Lots of imaginations out there need new wallpaper. I wonder where they’ll be this time?

Talking of where…
Everywhere’s got a dinosaur. Everyone’s got a dinosaur. Leaellynasaura – now THERE’S a lucky paleontologists’ daughter! And Drinker. And Othnielia.
(What a peaceable pair those two, what a shock to find two mild-as-milk herbivores gifted with the names of those bunch)
Find a bone or know someone who finds a bone and all of a sudden a (once)living, (formerly)breathing, (no-longer)walking animal is suddenly named! A consolation prize for going extinct!
It’s no consolation to know that you can’t ever see them again, of course. You can’t meet a
in the woods and you’re out of luck for
and as for
we’re fresh out and we’ll never be in stock again.
It’s a tough time to like dinosaurs. All we’ve got are pictures in our heads and oh Christ did I mention that mine is full? Full to heaving, full to bursting. Ferns and fronds and feathers and scales all squirming out through my earlobes wanting to run riot and show the furry little gerbils they were never gone just hiding.
They’re all fakes, of course. Nothing but phony fantasies and cheesy action scenes from bad sequels here. Not proper fake dinosaurs like we have in museums or in journals, made of skeletons or skeletons covered with skin. Those are REAL fakes, and that’s even better than real. All I have are my fake fakes. There’s Camptosaurus stacking rocks and rocks to make cities; there’s lush woodlands filled with hidden teeth and eyes; there’s a thunder lizard that spits thunder and I think I can see a silent forest where the trees are shattered and the small things are dead and there’s always a tyrant watching you.

Tyrannosaurus rex.
Tyrant (libellous?).
Lizard (no she isn’t).
King (sovereign).
No wonder she’s still popular even now that her weight class is getting crowded: Giganatosaurus is never going to be as easy to say, and Spinosaurus doesn’t have the panache. How can you beat a tyrant king, even if she isn’t a lizard?
Carcharodontosaurus nearly pulls it off, but she’s too big a mouthful conceptually and physically. Great-white-shark-toothed-lizard. No. That’s too much.

Brachiosaurus and a tree.
(It’s Giraffatitan now, and Brachiosaurus no longer exists as you thought you knew you thought you knew it.)
Diplodocus and a watering hole.
Camarasaurus and a cliff-side migration.
They’re all so picturesque, aren’t they? They come prepackaged with scenery and actually they really ARE scenery. Landscapes. Walking landscapes. Not at all terrible. Quite awesome though.
But they don’t stick inside like the predators do. God what a bunch of narcissists. Show us some fangs and we’re ready to hop onto them and scream bloody murder. Pull out the knives and the guns and the heavy rocks with pointy edges! We will phony-triumph over this thing we have created in our heads, no matter how many fake dead men the road to bogus-glory takes!

Then again, how do you not do that?
It’s easy to put people on paper. Harder for animals. Harderer for animals that are too dead to protest. There’s nowhere you can check this sort of thing, you can only get informed uninformed guesstimates. And that’s a painful thing to hear when you’re trying to imagine what sort of temple a Dilophosaurus would build, or what kind of gods would haunt it. You’ve got to think of a thing that you can’t think of. There’s hospitals for that sort of thing. That’s not a good track record and that’s not a good sign of a good future, trying to imagine the past before pasts happened.
Just let it go. Admit what’s gone is gone. Face the skeletons and tell them they’re missing the good stuff.
Better a headful of terrible lizards than a head without any awe at all.

Storytime: Find Yourself.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

It’s up there. I can hear it breathing, see the gust of the air.
Damn, it’s cold here. A marsh should be humid. I know that much. Fetid, that’s the word. Not chilled like a grave’s leftovers.
It’s up there, and it’s not coming down.
My hands are working while my brain is stalling. They’re sliding the long bronze-tipped spear into its sheath over my back, they’re pulling out my tent-stakes and tying loops and swoops of rope around them and they’re clenching and unclenching for warmth to drive muscles to grab grips.
Looks like I’m going up.

When he woke up he woke up in a warm soft room made from hard stone walls and he stared at the ceiling with tired eyes because he’d forgotten how to be frightened.
The medic walked by and asked how Tarbon was feeling.
He stared long and hard, eyes wide and unblinking, until they felt pity and he was enlightened.
Tarbon. Voyageur Tarbon. That was his name.
That was who he was.
Tarbon had been the last one, the lucky one. He’d gotten the noose around its neck, he’d been tossed into the brush, and he’d been out cold for about twenty seconds by his count when he arose and saw it tearing open Marson. Saw it, didn’t hear it. Marson’s mouth was moving and his arms were flailing and no sounds were coming out, no sounds were coming from anywhere.
That was what made him do it, he thought. Not the rage, not the fear, but the need to make the world full again. To die with all of him there.
So he took his copper knife to its side. And as it bent over screaming at him he looked up into those eyes and he spat and cursed as it took him in its crippled, half-there grip and then
And then
Rough rock here. Rough and slimy; hard to grip and hell on your palms. Even through the gloves I can feel it trying to bite me. I wonder if I ever climbed worse than this? I wonder how it climbed up here. It doesn’t even have hands. What did it do, eel its way up? Maybe this slime belongs to it. Just like the fog does.
Wonder what it’d do to my skin?
No space for that. Keep on going. It’s waiting for you. You’re not getting any stronger, hanging off this height.

Wyrm. Wurm. Like the little soft thing in the dirt that pops up when the rain falls down.
They showed him sketches. The pencilmarks were muted by their fierce speed. The artist hadn’t wanted to look at whatever he’d-
She’d. He was informed that Jessle was a woman’s name. He did not know that. He was informed that he knew Courier Jessle. He did not know her.
-been drawing. Something that soured on your eyes.
He stared at the long, sinuous body and the suggestion of a beak and he tried hard to place it somewhere in his head. Some hint.

And then
And then
Tarbon was the last one, crippled and alone with corpses and the emptied. A wound in his side and a hole in his heart and a desperate, all-filling terror in his soul.

I’m halfway over the edge of the ledge and the spear’s sliding into my hand, smooth as honey, when down comes a godawful racket and a clamour of stone on stone that nearly buries me as surely as the boulders coming downslope do.
Twist and turn and spin and swear a meaningless word as a big one bounces off my shoulder, setting in a bruise down to bone. I’ll regret that later if I’m still here.
As the world turns itself around I see a flicker of grey sliding farther up the hill, pliable and scaled.
There we go.

The basic skills were all still there, they reassured him. Talking. Walking. Thinking. Pissing.
They showed him a round target and handed him a knife and he threw it eight-five times.
Aiming. Counting.
They showed him books of pressed ferns and he looked at them and he shrugged. Then they told him they were his. He shrugged again.
Not naming, no.
They showed him a drawing of five men. Were they anyone he knew?
“My brothers,” he guessed.
It was him and four of his friends. Other voyageurs. He asked them what a voyageur was.
No. Not naming. Not at all.
They told him he was a strange case. That everyone else they’d ever recovered from Wyrmgrip was more or less normal after a few days, all-there. The things handled you, but they didn’t take you.
(Except for him).
They showed him the man who’d lain alongside his bed in infirmary, green around the face but still more or less there. Maybe they wanted to see if it’d jog his memory.
“Holy shit,” said the man. “And you a voyageur, too.” Unsaid: you poor bastard.
Regretting. Dwelling.
That evening, he asked for a book on Wyrms. No one had written any. He asked for stories on Wyrms. There were many.

Running down the shore but Tarbon can’t think or move straight got to hide hide hide

There are plants up here. How I don’t know, there’s barely cracks wide enough for a root, but they make do. Some of them are growing on each other, a crazy-daisy-chain. They’re not good for handholds and they drip slime into your face but at least I can see which way the thing went by the bending of their stems.
I used to know the names of all these stems and leaves and roots. Someone said that and I believed them. Fool.
Someone said it took me. I believed them too. But a fool’s got to do something.

Planning. Acquiring. Departing.
One two three and by dawn he was down the coast and following the map in his head that he’d carefully placed there after finding it buried at the bottom of the medic’s file of unsorted reports.
The clearing was small. The marks his face had left in the soil were still there.
The shore. It had made a break for the shore.
(He’d liked the shore, they’d told him. Tarbon had liked the shore).

Tarbon tried to treat the wound but none of these damned plants are right none of the plants here are right
He knows their names he knows their petals he knows he knows this but the facts are a jumble is he poisoned? Why won’t the words make words

Rain rain rain RAIN. Streaming into my eyes and my ears and my insides. A soft land can’t take rain like this; it’d wash into the ocean in two days. Is this that thing’s doing? Is it trying to wash me out?
No. No, but it’d be ready to get me. It’d be ready to take me while I was busy being damp and distracted and-
-WOOSH there it goes just past me, I can hear the clack of the beak as I swing out with the spear –
-There! I’m safe. Lost a piton, but I’m safe.
I’ve got you, beast. You’ve got me, but I’ve got you.

More than the shore. Easy meals.
Little fisher-towns. Illegal, of course, but Her Worshipped said that Afar was to be explored and that meant support and supplies and hangers-on and shantytowns and now this stretch of the coast that (five? Ten? No-one had told him…) years ago had been dead mist and ghosts was pocked with rods and nets and sleepless nights spent listening to the squelches of the mire and hoping you hadn’t heard something move.
A catch torn out from its cache. A dog vanished in the night. A pen with one less pig come morning.
No-one missing, though. And a man said he’d followed the marks as long as he’d dared-
(Not long, not with a Wyrm about)
-and found a cold thickness smeared against a tree that seemed to suck sound into itself.
He looked at the little jar, and he felt the soft hum against his fingertips.

Someone’s after Tarbon trying to fool him going to give him a surpri

The blood is worse when it’s fresh.
It was an ooze, by its marks. A broken scab that wouldn’t scar and wouldn’t mend. And now I’ve driven a fresh cut into it and oh how it loves its chance to bleed anew. If it had lips it would kiss me.
It won’t leave my ears alone. I’m scrambling through it, feeling it slick its way into my clothing, and I can hear the world turning into murmurs from roars as it does it. Muting.
I wonder if it’ll stop when I split the heart?

On the first two nights on the trail he found nothing but broken twigs and stray bones. Some were buried, but not buried carefully. Hurried.
On the third night he found a droplet in a mud puddle that wasn’t water. That evening he put up his tent and slept in a tree.
The fourth dawn confronted him with an untouched tent. He clambered down cursing, swiping at the sap that stuck to his hands.
Then he felt a telltale hum and looked at his fingers more closely.

Oh god. Tarbon knew who it was. He knew what it was. He knew what was coming and he knew he couldn’t stop it too slow too slow

This ledge and no further. All else is below now. Roll into the plateau and leap over the sweeping tail that tries to flick you into the air and down below, legs cramped and powerful.
Now up and forwards. Thrust with the spear and aim where, where, where it’s all scales and screams, aim for the eye – aim for that great black-centred eye and STRIKE.

A chase. A chase after that.
Chasing. That much he still knew.
Through bogs and stones and hideous scrub-trees that tried to rip flesh off his ankles and then at last there, to the base of that hillock. It looked like a glacier’s leftovers, lonely and angry all at once.
It was up there. He could hear it breathing, see the gust of air.
It wasn’t coming down.

Tarbon had to climb. He had to get away.

It’s so much smaller than I expected. Bigger than a horse, smaller than a building.
The beak is wrong. Twisted on one side. The tail forks. One eye is too little, and the pupil is tiny. Malformed; how did such a bent little thing take me from me?
It won’t stop looking at me, breathing through that fresh hole in its throat, my hand still finishing the cut. Draining away with seconds left and it won’t stop looking at me.
I can’t stop looking.

As the blood pours out the mind pours in.
On top of the hill Tarbon waited. Bleeding, exhausted, and alone. He could feel the stone scrabble underneath his belly, and he knew the hands that moved over it.
No time. Swing out that big slow tail and over he goes, lean back and away and watch as the bronze comes in towards your face, slow and sure.
And then it’s all over, waiting for the cut.
Look at that face.
Well. That’s who he was.

It’s so very cold up here, above the marsh.
No place at all for anyone. I’d better get done with this before it’s too late or I’ll chill.
Damn that’s a lot of work. But I’m not a small man even if I’m a small monster and this grave’s got to hold me both or it’ll be all manner of nuisance.
Hard work, with no shovel. But my beak makes a fine tool. Beak and a spear for a shaft a shovel will work.
I can do that. I remember how to do that.
Not fair for me to die so young but I made the rules I’ve got to die by them. My hands do the work while my brain does what it’s doing.
Tarbon. Voyageur Tarbon.
That was my name, before I killed me.

Storytime: Writing on the Wall.

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Everything has a book in it.
That is what youngest Tim-Creek was told by its mother, when it was old enough to understand words and syntax and books and the world (in order of hardest to easiest).
Everything has a book in it, she told it, as she carried the brood upon her back down the battered household path, the older Tim-Creeks already asleep from a long day testing growing muscles. Just she and it, ear to ear, murmuring in the long cool dusk.
Your task is to learn to read that book, she said.
That sounded strange to it. Where were the words?
Finding them, she said, is part of that task. You must find them in your own head.
It felt its skull most thoroughly at this for the next three days.

Four days after that, Broodmater Tim-Creek was selfecuted for Medium-High Grammarfailure in the service of the Grand. A shocking crime for any creature, let alone the High Wordmater, the Broodmater entrusted with the words of the Grand. There was no appeal and no trial – how could there be, with so august a target, and such damning evidence? Her assistant bore with trembling hands the very proof to the Grand’s doorstep herself, willingly suffering the toll paid by the lowly who petitioned the Grand unannounced: the roots of both her whiskers. Left a half-sensed shuffler for life, still that noble creature did not falter, and so the proof of the misdeeds of Broodmater Tim-Creek were brought to the ears and horror of all.
After the shock of the revelation and the strike of justice, cool and calm hands took hold and pulled hard, steered the world towards the normal again, towards routine again. As per protocol, her body was denied to her clutch and her name was deemed contaminated, with only the comparative youthful innocence of the offspring staying the court’s hand from nomcapitation. Instead, nomectomy was performed. Following public proclamation the brood were taken one by one, in private and in kindness, and excised of their mother’s taint. Tim-Creek was gone, the sullied name hacked at the hyphen and left with a stub: Tim.
This, all agreed, was wise and just and merciful and also – most important and most rarely – sensible in the extreme.
They were children, after all. What harm should be dealt by or to them?

Eldest Tim was a good brood, a strong brood. It renounced its Broodmater with due protocol, speaking the words the rest of its clutch could not yet mouth correctly. It studied hard, labored with a will, and at the eve of its class’s inaugural appendixing it placed its claws in its mouth and pulled until its head was an undifferentiated mass and all movement ceased. It was disposed of in the nameless place without ceremony or speech.

Seconder Tim was a wiry, weedy thing with a fierce attention that pounced on whatever moved near it. It questioned ceaselessly and spoke eagerly, and it drove its educators to near-fury more times a week than many did in a year. It was marked poorly as a result, and jeered by its peers, and it had become so small and slight from neglect that when it perished in the Halfmark Chorus, crushed between the singing crowds, even its neighbors did not notice. It was disposed of in the nameless place without remark or memory.

Nextleast Tim was frail and would not stop weeping. It spoke of its Broodmater to any who would hear, and would break into shakes and shrieks at being addressed at its proper, cut-safe name. This was improper and it was disciplined and chastised until it used the proper words. Shortly thereafter, it expired where it was left.

Youngest Tim was not worthy of notice and soon vanished. To what end it came, who could care to say?

Some long times later, the years spun and the seasons turned and at last the High Chorale came, the culmination of some three centuries of laborious and carefully-chosen Choruses, Psalms, and Hymnals. The Grand was most pleased with this, and the rate of construction of the great stage from which she would name the affair.
“From here,” she was told by her High Wordmater, “you can but whisper, and they will hear it across the river and beyond the walls and unto the end of the meaningful places themselves. That is what you will do.”
And the Grand nodded in approval that this was so, and was thankful that her High Wordmater had shown her such loyalty all those years, and helped her so greatly.
Help so fine deserved a gift. A small one, but tasteful.
That evening she permitted the High Wordmater to dine under her feet. And as they broke bread together, a thing approached the front gates of the palace of the Grand, shabby and grey and gnarled, and it stood before the guardian Broodmaters in a most insolent fashion altogether.
It was a neuter-sage, such as was seen every now and again. Neither brood nor Broodmater, strange things, and made over all turned and shrunken from their insides outward, as if their bodies did not know what to do with themselves. This one’s spine held it low, but its frame stood tall – held high on the length of a long, long cane, taller than it was. Its fingers stroked the wood just beneath the sharp, shear head – oh, it was so careful not to cut its fingers on that terrible point! – and it set it firmly as it stood there before the guards, bolder than brass and bronze.
“I wish to petition the Grand,” it said.
The guards drew to the side as their captain stepped forward, wordlessly wielding her ceremonial pliers. But what! What! Her metal priers found no whiskers to pinch!
“You cannot pay the toll,” she told it. “You cannot enter.”
“I paid it long ago,” the neuter-sage chastened her. “Witness the pits upon my face? My whiskers are gone, my feet stumble – see this staff and know that now. I am here not to petition unannounced, captain, but to redeem an old, old debt and an old, old favour. I bring words and I bring wisdom. Allow me passage and I promise that the Grand will be grateful.”
The captain considered this. It was true that the word of a neuter-sage would be well-received this close to the Chorale, and it was true that the Grand herself did look with approval upon those who brought her clever words. She could scarcely misstep with this one.
And besides, it was not as if it were any common creature off the streets. This one stood sure, without as much as a cringe. It must be important.
So she stood aside, and let the neuter-sage pass into the palatial hall of the Grand, through the nineteen noticeable gates and the third rope and under the net of the stars, and all the way up to the seat, which was plain wood to bespoke the humbleness of the figure atop it, whose mass was most unhumble.
The neuter-sage bowed itself most low as was appropriate and then some. “The Grand,” it said. “I come and bring words.”
The Grand bestirred herself, all seventeen tons, and with the smallest finger of her smallest hand she waved the great sceptre of her office – gold enough to bend a Broodmater double with the weight, and studied with leaden gems and uranium filigree.
She breathed deep of the figure before her, and approved. “Speak,” she told it. “Give me your words. The High Chorale is upon us, and the time for new things is here and dwindling. Give me your words and they will be used as fuel for the verses.”
“As I might, if I would, if I could,” said the neuter-sage. “But these words are too fresh and sharp and new to bring out in strange places – they will shatter in the air when spoken. They will be effective but once, and that once must be perfect. When the time is right these words will be spoken, and not a moment sooner. I promise you this, they will be worthy; more than worthy, they must be spoken if the Chorale is to be a thing done as it should.”
And the Grand smiled deeply at this, for she did indeed approve of the spells and sentences of neuter-sages, having often witnessed such holy things in her youth. The broodpolicies of her and her Grandmater had put a dent in the numbers of the wanderers, but she was a sentimentalist enough to not feel disappointed when they arrived at her door, warning and weedling and begging. “You are Presumptuous before us in the thirty-sixth degree,” she said happily. “This would be punishable by selfsanguination were you a Broodmater, and that you are not amuses and pleases me.” A bestirring at the Grand’s feet drew her attention upon those words, and she thumped down with one heel. “Go on then.”
The Grand’s legs parted, and from underneath them staggered a strange thing: a Broodmater that lurched like a neuter-sage though still smooth of self and soul, leaned upon a gilded cane. She had finished her meal and listened sharp and oh her eyes said that she had words for those words.
“It speaks almost more than Presumption,” she said, acid-sharp. “It speaks nearly close cousinship to Lowest Grammarfailure. It claims the Chorale requires its words – what worth they? What proof? It is a beggar at your door that demands you grant it your seat! Selfsanguination may be too light for such a thing – why, if it had a name, it ought be cut clean down to the first initial!”
The neuter-sage was nodding as it listened, head bobbing like an old piece of fishbait. “Yes, yes, yes,” it murmured in time, “of course as it is so. But really, High Wordmater, you verge Presumption yourself. Ought you to speak so stridently afore the Grand? She who is my fate and your fate and the fate of all the meaningful places? Your tongue stretches long indeed!”
This did not improve the High Wordmater’s disposition, and by the clutch of her fingers on her cane she was maybe about to say something harsher when the world was overwritten by the great booming laughter of the Grand.
“Words from such a gullet are words worth considering!” she chuckled. “Maybe. Words with such boldness are words worth wondering over. Possibly! I hold you this: there are three days to come before the High Chorale. On each day I wish you to stand before each other and I wish you to speak a word for me. And on the end of it, we will know whose words will stand and whose words must be still. Let it be done!”
And what could the High Wordmater do but bow? Especially when the wicked, wicked neuter-sage had already begun to bow itself, and she had to scramble to catch up, cane clinking with unpleasant tininess on the smooth clean floor.
“Tomorrow morning,” said the Grand, amusement still rounding through her voice. “Think as you will.”
So they went their separate ways, High Wordmater and neuter-sage, to their separate beds. And yet though one slept out of doors on the cold stone of the palace’s timeworn household path, and the other in a bedchamber that a house could’ve been lost in, each rested as poorly as the other.

That morn, each moved from their resting place.
The neuter-smith broke a crumbled crust. The High Wordmater dined upon the shaved wattles of that year’s appendixed classes.
Then they stifled their belches and snarls and took themselves to stroll upon the long slow loop of the household path, one crookwise, the other countered, listening to the two sets of footsteps grow closer and closer until for a single two-piece moment they set foot to ground as one.
“Nonsenser,” said the High Wordmater, clear as a bell.
“Assistant,” said the neuter-sage.
And as the two sets of footsteps spiralled away again the captain of the Grand observed that one was much shakier than the other, and she went to bow low before her mistress and report that the neuter-sage’s words had struck true.
That evening, the neuter-sage dined under the Grand’s feet, on the crumbs and crusts there, and she spoke loud approval of its prowess.
“But still again,” she went on, shrugging her shoulders as if brushing off fleas, “you are indeed a wily old thing, to live as you do. And I have faith in my High Wordmater, who has spent her life in my service and given up her own whiskers in the pursuit of my wellbeing and that of my peoples. She may yet surprise you.”
“I promise you, the Grand,” said the neuter-sage through a mouthful of skins and scraps, “that this has already happened.”
The Grand waved a hand, already moving on to new words, new things. “Tomorrow at noon,” she said. “Do as I bid.”

The neuter-sage spent the midnight hours perched upon a single discarded pillow, a gift of the Grand. The High Wordmater spent them sleepless, bent over her tomes and books and records and combing them for facts and things.
Their breakfasts were simple. A lunk for the neuter-sage. A cut of the lakemaker’s flank for the High Wordmater.
Their lunches were hurried. Food was eaten and turned into nerves. And then before the mind knew what had happened it was already seized and taken by the body’s will, dragged behind it, shackled and screaming, all the way all the way all the way to the base of the wall of the wonderful stage from which the Grand would conduct the High Chorale.
Side by side they stood, neither budging.
“Grammarfailure,” hissed the High Wordmater.
They stood. Side to side.
When one turned away first, the captain of the Grand was there to see it, and she went to bow low before her mistress and report that the neuter-sage’s words had proved sharper.
That evening the neuter-sage slept under a little canopy in a musty room in an old hall that had once belonged to a disgraced former member of the palace, whose name was now unspeakable for crimes. And the neuter-sage slept well.
That evening the High Wordmater paced the household path of the palace until her feet bled. And farther.

A note affixed to each door, when their hands came to find it.

The day took forever. The day was over in a blink. And there they came, drawn by time, to the seat of the Grand, smiling and sceptred, guarded by the captain and the rules of the world and its words.
“Begin,” she said. And she smiled as they turned and filled their lungs, held the air, waited and waited and strained to see what as there.
And as they stood there, face to face, snout to snout, the High Wordmater suddenly knew what was happening, and she opened her mouth to explain –
-but the neuter-sage’s mouth was pressed close to her ear now, and into her words it injected a single whisper that drained the blood from every inch of the High Wordmater’s body before the eyes of the palace. Her face was a drained sheet, her mouth was a half-scream, and the word that came out of her was not an explanation but a name, a whole-name “TIM-CREE-”
The captain of the Grand was swift and ungentle, and that turned what might have been a properly-charged-and-cited selfsecution into a rather brutal affair. But still the damage was prevented: the toxic name of the Grammarfailure had not left the Broodmater’s lips.
Moreover, there was rejoicing to be had: the Grand had a new set of words for the Chorale at midnight. Guaranteed.
“You must at least exchange that awful stick,” said the Grand, pouting. “It is ungentle! Oh, and you may change your robes, if you wish.”
“I thank your concern, the Grand,” said the neuter-sage, “but this is not the first or last stain to touch these hems. And worry not: I will not stand before the High Chorale with my staff in hand.”
Which was good to hear, as they were borne up in the great palanquin of the Grand, the moving fortress of soft surfaces and cold glory, because there was not more than an hour to the coming of the High Chorale’s opening.

The stage was dizzying. The day before, it had stretched almost as high as the neuter-sage could imagine. Now it was twice as tall. The stair to bring the palanquin of the Grand had claimed more than half the bearers’ lives, the timber to build it had consumed three forests, but it was done, and it was right, and it was proper, and it stood over the city and as the Grand seated herself in the centre of its peak she gripped her sceptre tightly and imagined the moment in just minutes that would begin everything that mattered.
“When the Chorale begins,” she told the neuter-sage, “all that matters will come with it. That is when you must speak. Watch for the swing of my sceptre, and it will be then. Be ready for that.”
“But before the Chorale,” said the neuter-sage, “there is something that must happen. There are words that must be spoken.”
The Grand’s brow furrowed, near-deep enough to swallow the neuter-sage whole. “The Chorale is all the words that will ever matter,” she said. “The Chorale is the culmination of all that has been said. The Chorale comes, and before and after will be immaterial. What words could possibly make a difference to this?”
“Ones from a book,” said the neuter-sage. “A book I have studied for a very long time.”
And the neuter-sage took up its long, long cane with the sharp, shear head – oh, so careful not to cut itself! – and it set it firmly.
Down below, across the city, was the crowd. And though only moments ago it had been a-roar with excitement, as the curtain that masked its peak slid away, all was awed silence.
Then puzzled silence.
There was the stage, yes, there was the place of the High Chorale – but where was the gesture from the Grand? See how she slouches in her seat, her head lolling and ears limp. Where is her sceptre?
And then a little thing happened to a little person, all so small that it would never have been heard were it not for where and when it stood. The light and small figure of the neuter-sage stepped from beside the seat of the Grand, leaning upon its walking cane, stooped so low that it seemed ancient before its time. And as it stepped, it called high over the murmur of the astonished, in a voice that carried out over the river and the walls and to the edges of the meaningful places themselves, and it called out this:
“Peoples present! I bring words to you! I bring tidings to you! I bring them accurately and completely and I promise that you have never heard these words before!”
New words? There were no new words. There was no such – but wait, it speaks on!
“My first words were for the High Wordmater of the Grand; she who limped on a gilded cane; she who spoke in True Grammarfailure. I reworded this new crime for her, now here I do this for you: lies. Her lies benefited herself and harmed those who merited none. She has been punished for them.”
Lies. Such a strange-tasting word – it rolled against the tongue in the most unseemly manner! The crowd jostled and bustled as each murmured it while trying to hush their neighbor – quiet, quiet, it speaks again, it speaks again!
“My next words were for the Grand; she who spited good service and vented her spleen upon poor servants; she whose kindness was nothing and whose wrath was everything. I reword this new crime for you: tyranny. Her tyranny caused only benefit by proxy, the benefit of those who relished seeing others brought low. She has been punished for this.”
Punished? Punished. Did it say punished? Impossible, nonsense, meaningfullessness! Punish the Grand? As like to say ‘dice the colours.’ Quiet, quiet, the madthing speaks more words! Listen! Listen!
“My final words are here, in these speakings to you, the peoples present; you who nodded and bowed and scraped and did not blink at what you did to those around you; you who took names so readily and gave them so reluctantly; you who did harm without ever stopping to think that it could be harm at all, so preoccupied were you with the proper and so little with the righteous. For this great and awful crime that you have perpetuated for ages, I gift you a name: blind. And I say you now, peoples present: you will never leave this name behind.”
And as the whole city stood there, rustling and shouting and demanding answers, the neuter-sage stood up to its full height and they saw that it was not a walking-cane at all in its hands, but the sceptre of the Grand herself, and it smashed that lordly length against the stage with such force that it burst not into flinders, but into dust that filled the wind and streamed into the eyes of the peoples present and brought howls to their lungs and heads. Where is it? they roared, tearing it free from their faces. Where is it? Where has it gone? They shook each other, demanding answers. Where is it? Who was it? Who are you? Where is it? What happened? What has happened?
Where am I?

When the world had grown older and stranger, peoples from far away came to the city, with brushes and chisels and minds like sharp knives. There were secrets to be had, in the story of how one place that had stood for so long crumbled so sharply – from titan to crushed anthill seemingly overnight.
But the stones were old and the walls were rubble and even the strange swooping paths that lined each building had begun to melt into the dirt, sinking back out of the light and into shame.
So they shrugged and left it there, those strange people. Left it alone to moulder under the sun and over the rubble.
And all the books stayed where youngest Tim-Creek had left them: closed.

Storytime: Terminal Condition.

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

There’s two ways your first words go: predictable or humorous.
You know the pair, because we all subscribe to one half of it or the other (almost all of us, but let’s not spoil my surprise). One’s ‘mamuhh,’ ‘daduuh,’ ‘bapuu.’ The other’s no, or ‘booby,’ or ‘shit.’ Good stuff. Warms the heart or tickles it.
But there’s no way to make a nice, heartwarming story out of my first word, because it was ‘terminal.’

I heard the story leading up to it many times when I was little. My father, doing dishes. My mother wrestling with a potted plant (in my head smoking a pipe for some motherly reason, not that she ever did that in living memory). The dog wurfing to itself for its own insane doggy needs.
Then from afar a whine, a cry, a shriek and a wail and all that good stuff. Nobody has smaller lungs than a baby, but nobody makes more of what they’ve got. So there’s cursing and frowning and mom’s halfway to the crib when she hears the sobs hiccough off and slow down, murmuring their way into happy coos.
Must be the mobile, she said she thought as she came to the room. Must be the mobile.
But since she was a mother and mothers are careful she opened the door a crack and checked anyways.
And look – there I was, happy as a calm, clumsy little half-thumbed hands reaching up up to the sky to snatch at the pretty thing floating near my head, ignoring all the bright yellow circling duckies and the pink hovering cow and the gently spinning kitty for a grey irregular rocky mass the size of my eyeball that was going around and around and around me, as if I were my very own sun.
It had already bored a neat, smooth-sided pair of holes through my mattress by the time the paramedics arrived.

My parents were informed people, and soon they were more informed than they’d like. They had information on average lifespan, quality of life, the fanciful unreliability of gravitopathic therapy, the scanty success rates of magnetotherapy, the social pressures, how to deal with loneliness, and so on and so forth.
So they felt just prepared enough to not cry the next time they saw me in my sickbed, smiling happy as a clam, still trying to reach for that little grey stone that was flying around my skull.
Terminal orbit.
Eight months later it was ‘pemminah obbih,’ and when my father heard me say that he just about dropped the dish he was holding. Then he did what he usually did when he wanted to cry, which was he congratulated me and gave me a hug.
Carefully. Anything in that ellipse around my skull didn’t stay there for long, unperforated.

It was my mother’s idea to have two birthdays. To make it seem more normal, something other than a sword of Damocles over my head, a noose shrinking just a little tiny bit tighter with every spin around my skull.
The cake for Sam was always exactly twice the size of the cake for Sam-2.
(The official, medical designation. Of course I know some fellow afflicted prefer to give theirs nicknames, but we made the distant home-y enough to not need to bring it closer still)
Sam-2’s cake was usually extra-frosted, mind. When I was four I didn’t finish it the day of the party, and the next day when I took it out of the fridge after dinner I found the icing had all gone hard and cold.
That made me curious, so for the first time in my life I reached out and with the extra quarter-inch of my brand new four-year-birthday arms I managed to touch Sam-2.
They’d prepared for that, of course. And they’d even warned me – though I paid no attention, and at the time I tearfully insisted oh no no nobody said anything. In the end, what made the lesson stick was a third degree friction burn and a broken finger.
After that I only ate Sam-2’s cakes hot. Cold ones got given to mom, dad, or the dog, whichever made them go away faster.

At school I stuck out, of course. Who didn’t notice the kid with the walking fence attached to their neck, wrapped around their skull like a cone collar? Big red and black stripes all over low-weight plastic… I looked like an inverted traffic pylon, or a road construction site.
The taunts stayed at verbal, thankfully. The teachers were always very welcoming, very polite, very kind, and very thorough in their explanations of what happened to anyone who stuck their hand in the path of Sam-2’s ever-so-slightly-decaying path.
“It’s not contagious,” they’d say soothingly. “Environmental factors, genetic susceptibility, bad luck under a starfall in the first trimester etcetera etcetera etcetera.”
And everyone would scoot their desk away from me. Just a little.
I’m ashamed to admit that I almost became a bully from it. Fear’s a pretty good drug for a little kid, and if my parents had been just a little bit less diligent I might’ve taken some pride in seeing the fifth-graders flinch as I walked by them. But instead it just made me feel lousy, and they, bless their hearts, took the time to notice that and help me with it.
And it worked. It honestly did.
That’s the thing I want to emphasize here. That’s the only really important thing in this book for you, the people I’m writing it for: you can live with terminal orbits. You can live a full life – just one that’s a little bit faster than everyone else’s.
All you need are some loving, kind, patient people. And maybe a cone collar.

By university I was wearing a sort of hat instead – a kind of super-reinforced sombrero of stainless steel. Sam-2 took chunks out of it like it was made of nothing, of course, but the important thing was it kept other things from getting close enough to get in on the fun.
Could be annoying, mind you. My first date leaned in for a kiss, whacked their brow on the brim, and was so busy cursing that if I hadn’t shoved them fast Sam-2 would’ve gone in through one temporal and out the other. But they didn’t see it that way, and that taught me a lot for my second date. First off, you can’t teach someone to be patient when their impatience stems from a fundamental lack of emotional attachment to your needs.
Second, explain the medical issues up-front immediately. It’s actually less awkward than what happens if you don’t.
Third, even if you’re busy – very, very, very happily busy – don’t forget to keep count and move your head.

That’s the sort of thing that makes people get me and Sam-2 all wrong. They ask me why I’m not crying, or cutting myself, or just freaking out all the time. Not in so many words, mind, and very kindly more often than not, but the question’s there: how do you live with that?
Well, it’s the only way I know how, isn’t it? A chronic disease is a full-time job. You wake up, you change the charge on your electromagnetic neckband,
(my own model is a very comfy Cragwhirl II. The IIIs are nice, but I find that the smooth pretty swirl of the design removed a nice makeshift headrest)
and you start counting. Every time it goes past your nose you’re counting the seconds until it pops up again. Every time it goes past a little to the left of your nose you’re counting the seconds until it pops up again. Every degree has its own clock and they’re all running at once and people ask me how can you DO that, how can you LIVE with that?
And I say that I just keep walking on, one step at a time. And then I ask them how they deal with their heartbeats, or remember to inhale, or to check their schedule every six minutes and their phone every three and to keep track of the names of every business contact in the past six years, or how they remember the names of six thousand species of freshwater snail or how to write a poem.
I do it very politely, mind you. Although here I do confess: if they ask more than twice, or they don’t listen, I lean in a bit more when I talk. To let Sam-2 get in on the conversation.

Let nobody say to you that you get where you got because of pity. That happens a lot at the start, a bit in the middle, and a lot, lot, LOT more near the end. “Oh,” they’ll say, “look at that ellipse. The thing’s nearly swiping her ear, no wonder she got the day off. Who’ll ask someone a few days away from getting cratered in the forehead to stay in late? Who thinks of us?”
Well, we have to, for one. Things that let can sit on your mind if you let them.
Don’t. There’s lots of people out there, and even if none of them are all bad, there’s far too many to spend your time trying to find the nice parts of each and every one. If one of them strikes your fancy, make nice! But if they don’t, then nod and smile and don’t care about a thing they say, because they’ll be more than happy to return the favour.

A bit of advice I’ve always wanted to give: look both ways before crossing the street. It doesn’t have anything to do with the condition, but my mother never told me that with a straight face so here’s my chance to do that. There! I’ve said it.

If more can be said, it can’t be said here. We’re all experts but our expertise only runs so deep – and especially so for a late-stage terminal orbit patient. It’s all over so quickly that it almost seems unfair to call myself more than a talented amateur.
But let’s not fuss over these things when there’s so much to praise – here I am, thirty-nine years old and none the wiser, but a lot happier than I’d have ever dared presume! We’ve come such a long way together, me and Sam-2, and it almost seems a shame that it’ll all come to an end sooner than not – the far ellipse of its orbit has decayed rapidly over the past month, and it’s scraped my nose up something fierce. But then again, can it really be said, by anyone, that any life was over too soeh89D