Cocktail Hour – “Prairiewood Autumn & Maple Glazed Pecans” – by Prairiewood Farms

cocktail hour halloween

Enjoy reading Executive Editor Patrick Marsh’s exciting, horrifying, and newly published novel from Calamities Press called, “The Greenland Diaries,” while trying a “Prairiewood Autumn” cocktail and Maple Glazed Pecans.

Prairiewood Autumn
1.5 shots Gin
Generous splash Cherry liqueur (Prairiewood makes their own)
4 shots of Orange juice

Top off with an inch of ginger ale.

Maple Glazed Pecans
2 cups of pecans
1 T maple syrup
2 t oil
2 t finely minced fresh sage, rosemary and thyme
Dash of cayenne

Combine all ingredients and spread in a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and brown. Immediately salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy from Prairiewood Farms

“Moving in Place” – Poetry – by Brian Baumgart

-after Pablo Neruda

It comes to me that I’m tired of this town.
And so it comes that I drive past fast food chains and super markets
sterile, pulsating in painful whiteness, like sun through fog,
swimming in rivers of bleach and abortions.

The jittering flitter of neon coffee shops ties knots in the nerves behind my eyes.
And I only want to sleep like corpses or winter wheat.
And I only want to forget processed cheese in plastic, forget soy burgers,
forget Super-Size, forget pop girls and boy bands, forget escalators to the third floor bedroom sets.

It comes to me that I’m tired of stop lights and exit signs
and my breath on the windshield.
It comes to me that I’m tired of this town.

And I imagine the beauty
of destroying mall security with sunlight,
or handing the landlords a cat or dog.
It would be wonderful
to drive with my windows rolled down
bellowing jazz until I can only croak.

I can’t keep being quartz in a wheat field,
pointless, hard and small, only a minor inconvenience,
a nuisance to be tossed in a pile near the empty county road,
waiting for nothing, but still waiting.

I can’t take this synthetic life.
I can’t carry on as polished stone and sanitary white,
built into a wall, a prison for observers,
silent, watching in misery.

So when morning comes, and sees me at the door
with my brittle eyes, it rises like a serpent,
and it strikes out, rattling its tail like a rent engine,
and it slithers in rivers of shred flesh marking the stale air.

And it leads me into hair salons, into spritzed swiveling chairs,
into shoe stores where women bleed puddles in soles,
into book depots where words are forbidden and ink goes white,
and glaring hallways gruesome as smoldering coal.

There is rancid breath, and stomach acids
eating through Styrofoam coffee cups,
and curled black hairs quiver on the edge of a toilet seat,
there are clocks
that should have paused in their uselessness,
there are maggots and larva swimming in today’s special, rot everywhere.

I keep going, cool, with my fingers and my boredom in check,
walking by the indoor lawn and garden and sports memorabilia,
and the food court strewn with children’s jackets, mothers’ hair and makeup from which drip years of stock purity.


Brian Baumgart teaches in and directs the AFA in Creative Writing program at North Hennepin Community College, just outside of Minneapolis. His poetry and fiction have been published in various online and print journals, but he’s discovered that to be a true artist one must be able to craft a healthy meal that is attractive to small children. In the latter, he is less successful, but his children can do some mean zombie impressions. Recent online publications can be found at Stone Highway Review, Cleaver Magazine, and Sweet: A Literary Confection.

Television Review – “Round 22: The Lost Room vs The Phantom” – by Nick Housewright

Round 22 cover

Writing to Expectations

The Fight: In my on-going jaunt through the SyFy Channel’s programming history I keep circling around Battlestar Galactica –which I’ll get to eventually; however it’s important to note that Battlestar did not start life as an actual series, but as a mini-series event aired in December 2003. Fortunately for SyFy, the four hour mini-series was popular enough that production commenced on a full television show that started nearly a year later in October of 2004. Such a strategy is similar to the “back-door” pilots that networks often employ, where an existing show gives over one episode as a pitch of sorts to gauge audience reaction for a possible full series –without wasting a whole season’s worth of money if audiences hate it.  This week I want to look at two other attempts by SyFy to start a series in the same way as Battlestar Galactica. The first is the six hour 2006 mini-series, The Lost Room. The second is the four hour 2009 mini-series, The Phantom. Both aired in December, and both failed to start a full television show. So this week the question is not only which is better, but why the channel didn’t consider them successful enough for ongoing television.

What are the shows about? The Lost Room is an original story written by Christopher Leone and Laura Harkom. It follows a detective named Joe Miller (Peter Krause) who becomes embroiled in a decade’s long conflict over a collection of hundreds of mundane looking items blessed with extraordinary abilities when his daughter (Elle Fanning) is accidentally lost in the titular room. Though the room appears to be a regular cheap motel, his daughter is apparently lost in another “dimension” of the room, so that Miller must work with various people obsessed with collecting the items in order to find something that can bring her back to our reality.

The Phantom is an update of the old comic created by Lee Falk in 1936, which follows a line of crime fighters that pass the mantel from father to son, so that criminals believe The Phantom to be an immortal ghost. This version of the story follows Kit Walker (Ryan Carnes), who learns he is really the son of the Phantom after his adopted parents are murdered. The Phantom has somehow morphed into an international intelligence agency, and recruits Walker to be the new Phantom.

So, what are the shows really about? In a sense, The Lost Room is a science fiction in the vein of Lost, in that the central mystery of how the room and the objects were imbued with power is never explained. Instead the story goes for emotion in the form of Joe’s struggle to rescue his daughter. That being said, what the show is really about is obsession. A running theme is that everyone who gets involved with the room is slowly destroyed by their pursuit of the items. This flips backwards on the seemingly obvious theme of family, since where Joe is obsessed with rescuing his daughter, the (eventual) primary antagonist, millionaire Karl Kreutzfeld (Kevin Pollack), is similarly obsessed with bringing his son back to life –but his obsession for family is shown to be a catastrophic mistake. The show seems to imply that Joe’s obsession with his daughter is similarly risky -even if in the end, the show isn’t quite canny enough to bring this comparison to a particularly good conclusion.

The Phantom meanwhile, is ostensibly trying to be an archetypal “hero’s journey” type story, which is fair enough. Kit Walker starts as a naïve college student, and must evolve into a hero in order to save the world form evil. Much simpler than The Lost Room, this kind of show entirely rests on what kind of interesting spin the writers and production team put on the material, and unfortunately in this case it’s not particularly memorable –or in reality, the things that are notable stand out for the wrong reasons.

Acting in The Lost Room: The cast of the Lost Room is actually quite good, and I can’t help but wonder if this is part of what made SyFy pass on paying out for long term contracts. Peter Krause is good playing both the emotional angle in terms of his desperation to rescue his daughter, and the wry disbelief at the increasingly absurd escalation of events (a shift in tone which admittedly doesn’t always work). Julianna Margulies is good as usual as Jennifer Bloom, an object hunter that attempts to help Joe, Dennis Christopher is pretty fun playing one of Joe’s colleagues who goes steadily more insane as he pursues the objects. Elle Fanning is fine in her brief part, but it is Kevin Pollack who steals the show –particularly near the end as he shows how grief has led him to do terrible things in the name of his family.

Acting in The Phantom: This is one of those cases where no one is really doing a bad or good job (with one exception which I’ll get to in a second). Unfortunately in this case that means everything is really dull. Ryan Carnes hero is about as generic as can be, and Cameron Goodman as his girlfriend Renny is… his girlfriend Renny, and that’s about it. The only notable cast member is Isabella Rossellini, who, judging by her recent work (including last weeks’ Earthsea), is attempting an experiment to see how far over the top her performances can go before the director attempts to rein her in. Fortunately for us, director Paolo Barzman didn’t even try, giving us at least one memorable character: an evil scientist in a platinum blonde wig.

Writing in Lost Room: The story is twisty, but always engaging. Christopher and Laura’s story is smart enough to ground everything around Krause’s search for his daughter, acting as both the viewer-surrogate into the multiple secret organizations searching for the items and the show’s emotional center. The show is also confident enough to keep introducing new objects and settings without really ever stopping to explain pretty much anything; a fast pace which helps disguise some storytelling issues. Particularly, while the writers resolve the main storylines and antagonists, the sub-plot for Dennis Christopher’s Dr. in particular seems to only exist to set up a show which will never be.

Writing in The Phantom: So the hero’s journey. Used so often –especially in adventure storytelling- and inevitably it always ends up being about how good the writers are at putting their own spin on things. Here the answer would be… not very well, sadly both in terms of the hero’s journey and the Phantom source material itself. I wouldn’t exactly call The Phantom source material well known or memorable, but like Earthsea, this is another case where the writers have just gone ahead and made their own story –here a generic espionage thriller- in place of the original anti-piracy stories (the pirates are now basically a crappier version of Hydra from the marvel movies). Admittedly there’s one somewhat satisfying twist at the end, but nothing else about the story is even remotely memorable.

Production in The Lost Room: The production is glossy and competently shot, but I wouldn’t call it much better than a typical television production. What is good, is that the abilities the objects have is never pitched above the mini-series budget. A comb that can stop time for 10 seconds, or a key that can make doors open to any location provides for dynamic and interesting action beats without breaking the bounds of the show’s special effects budget. Still, the show is able to pull off mysterious vaults and desolate desert landscapes with the best of them.

Production in The Phantom: This show is also shot with no more ambition than a typical television show, but the endless scenes of night-time combat (here pitched at either dark blue or orange) are particularly drab and unmemorable. More problematic is the Phantom suit itself. The original super-hero comic-book tights, the show reimagines it as a sort of poor man’s iron man suit granting greater strength and agility –a very devastatingly destitute iron man’s suit, which ends up looking more like a hoody with plastic taped to it. The show’s action scenes are also generic punch-fests, with nothing like The Lost Room’s imaginative gimmicks to elevate anything above dull. Do you get that I think everything about this show is dull yet?

Overall: Still, it bears out my original question: why did neither show become a series? Admittedly, both shows had only so-so ratings, but The Lost Room at least had decent reviews, and a ready to go episodic plot structure (the object of the week). I think that in The Lost Room’s case, the network was trying to move into more light-hearted shows (Eureka had premiered earlier that year), and the cast could not have been super cheap for an episodic production. The Phantom meanwhile, was just bad. Also, the channel had a clear view of exactly what kind of show it would have been – not just from the mini-series, but from their mind-bogglingly bad Flash Gordon show, from 2007. Also an adaptation of a comic from the 30s, Flash Gordon had a similarly cheap looking production, and similarly vitriolic reviews. Coupled with tepid ratings, it’s no wonder they passed on this derivative production.

Winner: Is pretty obviously The Lost Room, though I’ll admit that The Phantom wasn’t as bad as I remember it being –it’s just utterly boring on every level. This is really another study in expectations. The Phantom was originally billed by the network itself as a back-door pilot, and was produced and written as a generic story-of-the-week style origin offering no excitement or wonder. The Lost Room wasn’t as explicitly a pilot, and like Battlestar was more of a public pitch to the network for a new show. As such, The Lost Room built out a whole world and told a (relatively) complete and interesting story. Like always, it is flawed ambition that trumps complacency.

Next Week: I suppose I could narrow down to look at even more of SyFy’s miniseries, but what shows are actually working on the network – or did work? Next week I’ll look at two shows that are among the channel’s better attempts at on-going television: the short-lived Alphas, and the still-airing Defiance.

“Fact Control” – Elitism for All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

I said a few weeks ago that the opposite of Love is Control.  When you love someone, you encourage them and support them in their efforts to be themselves.  When you want to control them, you encourage them and support them in their efforts to be what you want.  In a way, this means that love supports the truth and control supports a lie.  In this week leading up to midterm elections, we are all being exposed to hundreds of campaign ads, both self-positive and other-negative.  But what we all basically know on some level is that these ads are doing what ads in general do: presenting you with facts (and opinions that sound like facts) that give an incomplete picture to encourage you to vote a particular way—if not for a particular person or party, then against a particular person or party.  Basically these ads, these parties and these people are trying to manipulate the opinions of others through selective presentation and emphasis of facts.  They are not supporting your informed truthful decisions; they are encouraging you to be what they want.

Of course this is what salespeople and advertising often do.  But really, if you got to vote on who led the teams in your workplace, would you vote for the person who does the best work and leads people in the best direction, or would you vote for the person who is most successful at either taking the credit or shifting the blame?  Are you electing a salesman or a leader?  They are not always the same though capitalism often makes that line hazy.  The world of politics is basically like endless online dating, where you get to know only what people say about themselves and how they behave at a distance when they are under scrutiny, and where they know you will never be in their space long enough to find out what they are really doing.

But fact control is not a phenomenon that politics has some sinister monopoly of.  Every day I log into Facebook, and (especially near election times) I see the same thing.  One post after another is for this or against that, black or white, right or wrong, all or nothing.  It can range from highly politicized topics like climate change and the economy to personal stuff like which side did the wrong thing in a breakup or family dispute.  Practically everyone manipulates facts to some degree just to get some kind of agreement or consensus.  I even see people do it to generate disagreement, so they can set their opinions apart from everyone else’s.  People have tried hard to convince me that what they are selling is the truth, and even asking for my opinion is a transparent ploy to try to peddle that at me if I say anything that varies from it.  What’s worse is that people either justify this kind of manipulation by claiming a “greater good” objective, or they simply do it so much and so unconsciously that they aren’t even aware that they are doing it.  I’ll get back to that last part.

But even when people do this “for the greater good” (of which they are obviously the sole caretakers), they hurt their own cause.  You see, this sort of manipulation or obscuration of the facts is considered one of the deepest forms of psychological abuse.  In its extreme form, it is termed “gaslighting.”  That term originated from a 1938 stage play titled Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton, in which a man tries to drive his wife crazy by—among other things—gradually dimming the gas lights in the house and claiming that she is only imagining that the light is getting dimmer.  It is a lie with an agenda behind it, and no matter how noble the agenda sounds, it is still placed before any other agendas without consent or consultation.  Since no one can personally verify that all of the “facts” they are presented with in life are indeed facts, or verify that those facts are the only (or even most) relevant ones, everyone relies on a network of people and institutions to tell the truth.  Everyone decides which of these to trust, and when that trust is shattered by one important lie, it is often shattered for an entire network of assumed facts.

Anyone who has kept up with the TV show Doctor Who in recent years will remember an episode in which there are deadly monsters that appear to be shadows.  Someone asks if this is the case with every shadow, and the reply is, “Not every shadow, but any shadow.”  When monsters look like shadows, you have to question them all.  And when lies look like facts, you have to question all the facts.  In either case, you will tend to default to distrust if this dynamic becomes any kind of fixture in your situation.

Lies are all about controlling other people and their perceptions.  They are a way to purchase something for nothing, and as you tender your counterfeit truth at the register and walk away with your merchandise, you hope to make it out of the store so you can feel like you won.  As soon as a lie is told, there is a strong possibility it will be discovered.  The more public the lie, the more likely the discovery and that the discovery will happen sooner.  Once the lie is discovered, it will cause a number of other assertions to be questioned and rendered valueless.  As with a bad bulb in a string of holiday lights, when one assertion fails, many others may fail, sometimes resulting in the entire string going dark.  The collapse of that intricate and delicate network of trustworthy assumptions is what causes people so much anguish, even to the point of madness sometimes.  Ken Wilber once said:

 “A good rule of thumb is that people are not going to expand their present views or outlooks by much more than 5% at any given time.  So if you’re going to push a very big picture at them, they are probably going to shut down, and maybe get angry…”

When you lie to someone in such a way that the discovery of the lie causes entire networks of “facts” to come tumbling down around them, and more than 5% of their outlook is forcibly changed or challenged all in one fell swoop, you’ve only got yourself to blame—”greater good” be damned.  Currently in politics, the climate is such that any major party can point to repeated attempts by every other major party to manipulate facts, statistics, reports, and votes for their own ends, and the same can be said for many of their followers.  I personally know plenty of people who I can’t trust to present data in an unbiased way, and they are some of the biggest proponents of fact-checking as well.  After all, if you want to put your own personal spin and controls on facts, you have to dig them up somewhere (even if that source is also biased and regulated).  This is why things are so polarized—everyone is tired of being called liars by other people who do the same thing, and everyone still feels entitled to have their facts be believed, no matter how many times they’ve been caught out.  In effect, everyone is tired of others trying to control them, yet many of those people feel entitled to do exactly that to everyone else.  And as I said, that phenomenon is not monopolized by politics.  For those who don’t recognize it, that struggle for universal control is one of the main characteristics of narcissism.

I think that the first party to systemize the approach of honesty and discard manipulative salesman tactics will be the first to revolutionize politics.  Unfortunately the current big players don’t want to revolutionize anything.  They just want to win.

To get back to my earlier point that many people practice fact control unconsciously (and therefore unintentionally), the cutting edge of developmental psychology is showing again and again that whatever stage of awareness you are at in terms of needs and cognitive tools and value structures—and yes, there are stages, and yes, the belief that this is a marginalizing, socially constructed, bogus “truth” is a worldview that can easily be traced to a particular one of those stages, sorry—will determine what a fact means to you.  Your own cognitive altitude will determine what facts seem most relevant, defining, and will naturally incline you to emphasize those.  Worldviews tend to come from different stages of development (and sometimes the external skins of them are co-opted by lower stages of development in a kind of pre/trans fallacy version of hijacked cognitive technology), so often times when people argue back and forth, whether they cite facts or lies, they are having very different conversations about what those facts or lies even mean.

“So if our own minds are basically skewing data, isn’t that a totally valid factor in discussion?  Isn’t it inevitable that we will misrepresent reality?  Isn’t it better than flat out lying?  After all, we aren’t trying to lie.”

No.

As I said last week about “not trying to,” inattention is not an excuse for inconsideration.  “Not trying to” is not equivalent to “trying not to.”  Indifference is not prevention and avoidance is not maintenance of anything more than the status quo.  The desire to emphasize different facts, truths, agendas, perceptions and realities is natural and evolves with the person (or the society as a whole).  Following that desire through to actions like actual lies, deceptive strategies, manipulation, obfuscation, and denial is a mark of narcissism—a trait that also evolves (decreases) with the person.  I’ll say again: following your desires and perceptions through to actions that fail to consider the realities of others is a mark of narcissism.  You get to follow whatever assertions you wish, believe what you want, but as soon as you non-consensually usurp that decision in others through fact control and gaslighting, you are stepping across the barrier between belief and inflated self-importance and violating them.  Whatever your agenda, that is not love.  It is control.  The notion that you aren’t “trying to” control people is just more disturbing because it indicates you don’t know how to stop.

“But surely we all do that to some extent, like you said.”

Yes, we do.  Accept where you’re at, and strive to become better.  Either endeavor without the other is doomed.  Do it 5% at a time, sure, but you won’t get there by only seeking out those who fail to challenge you—or by seeking them out only so you can challenge them.  Remember that during this (and every) election season, but above all, when you are with those close to you.

Music Review – “Devin Townsend: Z2 (Sky Blue & Dark Matters)” – In Prog We Trust – by Nick Vukelich

Devin_Townsend_Z2_cover

The time has finally arrived, the return of the mighty Ziltoid the Omniscient! This is technically two albums, however, I will be reviewing it as one piece of work since you can’t get the albums separately. The scope of this project is enormous, the story of Ziltoid began years ago with the original album, and the sequel has been feverishly demanded for years. Now it’s finally here, does it meet the lofty expectations people will have? That will depend on the person. I, however, find it wildly satisfying. The first disk, Sky Blue, is a musical combination of his previous albums Addicted! and Epicloud, while disk 2, Dark Matters, is a full on musical. Narration, choirs, guest actors, make it an experience that can only be described as over the top, in the best way possible, and if you don’t find yourself smiling while listening to Dark Matters then you may very well be dead.

Production on Devin Townsend albums is always huge. Walls of guitars, vocals, and ambience combined with a bigger than life rhythm section make every little aspect of his records stand out. A trend on the more recent albums is the addition of choirs in various sizes. In the case of Dark Matters this includes a choir of thousands, anyone with the ability to send in recordings of them performing various parts were mixed into the record, and also a giant orchestral sections. I don’t envy anyone involved with the mixing of these albums. The mix came out spectacularly but the road to get to that point must have been unbearably long and winding. The mix for Sky Blue also sounds great, I would think the lack of all the extra bells and whistles would make that easier to mix down, so on the end both albums sound great and they each have their own individual voice. If you purchase the 3 disk version you get a version of Dark Matters that has the narration removed. I have this version but I haven’t given the third album a spin yet. I love the narration, it’s one of my favorite parts, so I’m hesitant to listen to the album without such a key component.

Z2 is billed as the DTP vs. Ziltoid. Where Sky Blue is the human response to the Dark Matters story of Ziltoid. The lack of narration on the first album puts the story squarely in the lyrics. It’s not as apparent as the second disk though. That being said each album plays like a full piece of music, with each songs flowing directly into the next. Each song has its own identity though, so it doesn’t feel contrived. Like I said before Dark Matters is a musical in every sense of the word, the narration and musical bed between songs tie the whole thing together with a neat little bow. There is so much solid music to be found on Z2 and it forms such a cohesive whole that I can understand why this project would be so stressful. The scope alone would be enough to give a regular person an anxiety attack.

Devin has always filled his bands with some of the best talent available, the Devin Townsend Project has consistently been comprised of Dave Young, Ryan Van Poederooyen, and Brian Waddell, the chemistry they all share really shows in the performances on the record. If you are lucky enough to go see them live the chemistry is even more apparent. This is definitely my favorite line up of musicians he has used for his solo material. Every performance is as tight as possible, even during the crazier passages of Dark Matters, and if the studio videos are accurate they didn’t have a great deal of time to lay down the instrumentation so it’s even more impressive. These records are filled with some of the greatest Townsend material to date and I can’t wait to see what gets added to the live set for the upcoming North American tour.

Much the same as the musicians, the vocalists Devin has teamed up with lately have been equally amazing. Anneke van Giersbergen continues to add another dimension to the songs, the collaboration between her and Devin has been something really special, and the combination of the two of them is truly a musical force to be reckoned with. Joining the cast for Dark Matters are Chris Jericho, professional wrestler and front man for metal band Fozzy, and Dominique Lenore Persi, front woman for the band Stolen Babies, in the roles of Captain Spectacular and the War Princess. Captain Spectacular is mostly just speaking parts, so Chris Jericho’s role is more guest star, while the War Princess has a more expanded role. With the way the album ends there could be room for them to return to these roles in the future. Much like every other Devin Townsend album the vocals are amazing, memorable vocals just begging to the sung along to fill each album. No disappointments here at all.

This was a huge project that could have been tanked in multiple ways that ended up being stellar. There is so much to consume here and this is definitely in contention for album of the year. My end of the year list is going to be a bloody battle to see who comes out on top. If you are new to Devin Townsend’s material then Sky Blue will be a great entry point, Dark Matters could be challenging to newcomers but it is such a fantastic album that anyone should be won over immediately. It takes a few listens to truly let the whole experience sink in and it is worth every minute. Brew up a fresh pot of coffee and settle in for a whirlwind ride.

Production: 5/5

Flow:  5/5

Musicianship: 5/5

Vocals: 5/5

Label: Hevy Devy Records

Nonfiction/Memoir – Faceplant 34 – “All the Signs: Part One” – by Jacob Steinbauer

As we get prepped for the ghouls and goblins of Halloween, I would like to share my first Halloween costume. I dressed up as the scariest thing I knew of in existence: a witch. I was crossdressing at three or four.

I don’t remember anything else about that Halloween. Probably got a sack full of candy. Ate it. Got sick. Ate Josh’s candy, too, because I found where he hid it (office room closet, in the back). Retrospectively, I have come to see this—only recently—as the first of many signs that must have convinced my parents that I would one day be their homosexual son.

I don’t want to stereotype, but stereotyping is largely what people did in the 80s and 90s while I was growing up, and I suppose, while I’m generalizing, they—and by that I mean we—still do. Hopefully to a lesser degree now that individuality is such a hot cultural influence and so much effort has tunneled into illuminating the ignorant. The following list of indicators as I refer to them are actions I took that were not gender normative at the time or had connotations with gay culture. Please don’t mistake these examples from my life as commentary on how I view or otherwise assume gay males or youth to behave or act generally.

Okay, with the disclaimer addressed, on to childhood Jacob’s preference for the feminine:

Ever since anyone can remember, I have been putting on women’s nighties. My mother’s, of course. So silky smooth, I would rub them on my face and towel-off my neck with them. Sometimes wearing half a dozen—every single one in my mother’s closet—I would traipse around the neighborhood enjoying the double stimulation of both warm sunlight and silken fabric covering me. Both of our immediate neighbors were elderly women who judged. It wasn’t long before my mother sent my brothers out to recover me rather than face the awkwardness of conversation with them. Fact: I would still wear women’s nighties if Kristina would upgrade her cotton and flannel pajamas, though probably not outside.

I shaved my legs. I didn’t have hairy legs. I was four or five. I watched my mum shaving her legs and wanted to be grown up. I was emulating. She gave me a metal leg shaver without the razor blade. I lathered shaving cream with my leg in the bathtub and cleaned it off strip by strip. What good times we had!

I had a purse. Early during my mathematical development, I formed an intense pleasure in counting money. Counting change always brought a much larger smile than spending it. The candy I had was never as good as the candy I would have. My father cleaned out old peanut jars and deposited the days change into them at the end of every day; the era of cash money had its twinkling, metallic side effects. I would count entire jars, sometimes over $40 in only pennies. When I had my own change, I, again, wanted to emulate my mother. So I inherited an old snap clip change bag from her. It was fabric with fruit stitched onto it, I think. During a car ride from the gas station, both brothers tried making fun of me:

—How girly it is, you have a purse!

—No it’s not, it’s a change bag, my mother said in my defense.

—No, it’s a purse, I said, dashing her attempt to save me into bits.

How could I emulate my mother if it wasn’t the thing she had? A purse. I was proud in the face of their insults to have a purse. This had my mother vigorously trying to change the subject.

I had a lisp. I had no idea I had a lisp. I thought I sounded just like everyone else. The problem was that my front teeth grew in with a gap between them. I used this gap and my tongue to form lazy ’s’ sounds. In the fourth grade, I got pulled from class. I thought I had won an award. Instead a speech therapist dragged me into a tiny room and convinced me, using a tape recorder, that my ’s’ sounds were not as sharp as everyone else’s. Keep your tongue behind your teeth, she told me.

I had a doll. I didn’t buy it myself. I am wondering now if my grandma bought it for me simply to see if I would prefer to play with it over G.I. Joe. Perhaps a gayness test? Adults do such strange things. I did not prefer it, however, but played reluctantly with it until Grandma made other toys available to me.

Those are all the childhood signs I can think of. I wanted to get the entire list all within one entry, but there are too many. Tune in next week for the rest of the list as it expands into high school.

Fiction/Fantasy – “Dragon Earth: Mythology” – Part 32 – by Ken Olson

Logo

“How did they know?  Why did our illusion fail?”

Zuusthal sat once again at the head of the Wizard’s Council, looking much older than he had the last time he’d been here. The magick he’d used to blind the beasts had taken much out of him and, although it had only been a day ago, he looked older and thinner. His eyes seemed to peer out from a place farther back in his skull and his cheeks created sharp ridges on his face.

“That was not a rhetorical question.”

“I believe they smelled us,” Yawoddin said.

Heads turned and eyes widened at his words. He felt he were in the center of some interrogation and had cried his innocence when the proof of his crime was highly visible.

“Not us, precisely,” Yawoddin explained. “Our feast. The food we cooked to strengthen our people before the battle. As we watched the Outland Dragons pass over us in the Seeing Glass, I saw the Blue-Green one hesitate and sniff. Xochi’s magicks were strong, but I am positive we were nearly undone by our own stomachs.”

Yawoddin’s stomach rumbled as if unhappy to be painted with blame. He had not eaten since well before the battle yesterday but he had had no thought of food until this moment. At least not since the abandoned drumstick just before the Outland Dragons attacked. He would have to see to that once the meeting was over. The smell of freshly cooked meat and bread wafted into the council chambers from below, aided no doubt by the wind streaming in through the broken window just outside the council door.

He hoped the old lady would be down there. He had enjoyed her eccentricity. And he wanted to make sure Jaturna would do something for her hip.

“A necessary evil, wouldn’t you think?”

All heads turned toward the door, no longer interested in Yawoddin’s claim. Luchiphor stood there, leaning with his back on the doorframe. Nobody had heard him come in but that was not a surprise. Stealth was as natural to him as breathing.

As if to prove the point he just made, Luchiphor produced an apple from his satchel and took a bite of it, chewing contentedly.

“You are not allowed in the council,” Herclaine growled. “I suggest you remove yourself before I do it for you. Most assuredly through the window you broke.”

“It was not my head that went through that window.” Luchiphor took another bite of the apple, produced another, and tossed it to Herclaine. Herclaine batted it away with one powerful swipe, causing Thote to duck to avoid being beaned by the fruit. The apple hit a wall and fell, leaving behind a juicy stain.

“I hope you don’t expect me to clean that up.”

“No,” Herclaine said, standing. “I clean up my own messes. But it will be you that I use as the mop.”

“Your idiocy astounds me.” Luchiphor smiled. “How will you ever get into the corners?”

Herclaine growled and took a step forward.

“Enough!” Zuusthal rose, perhaps attempting the same intimidation trick he had used during the last meeting. Yawoddin felt his heart drop when it fell short of expectations and Zuusthal sat wearily down again. Still, Herclaine took his seat once again.

“What business do you have here?” Zuusthal asked.

Luchiphor gaped at the elder wizard.

“I am a member of the council now, am I not? Seven has there ever been. Seven there will ever be.”

“Admittance to the council has always been by vote. That has not changed.”

“Aye, when there have been multiple candidates from which to choose,” Yawoddin said. “There are only seven wizards left in Elysium, much less in Faeble itself.”

Luchiphor gave Yawoddin an appreciative smile.

“The rules have not changed because of the lack of wizards,” Zuusthal said. “And there is much Luchiphor must do to prove he is worthy to sit on council. It is not simply about magick itself, as we all know well.”

“This is about my character? I, who saved countless lives yesterday and swung the tide of battle?”

“We have no proof that was you,” Herclaine said. “And it still requires a vote.”

“Then vote,” Luchiphor said. He pushed himself away from the door. “Jaturna saw my actions yesterday. Let her tell the story. Yawoddin, too, knows of my contributions. Bring in the archers that I spirited to safety. Bring in the dragon I rode. Bring them all in to attest to my character. But do it quickly, because those beasts are not dead, only sleeping. And at some point they will awaken. And if I am not on the council by then, I cannot guarantee I would save you again.”

Fantasy/Horror – Chains: Link Five – “The Iron Citadel” – by Patrick W. Marsh

The blood looked shallow, like feathered rubies layered against the backdrop of the imposing steel rectangle. Both the hunters had known their share of blood. Dried, dripping, rippling, chunky, stained, and spotted were the typical ruby culprits in the many mayhem-scenarios Bow and Vrendel had been hired to plod through. Blood didn’t faze them. Blood didn’t stop their eyes or sight. The door ached a little on the winter breeze. The cold had a narrow bite blowing down from the tower of metal. Evening would be coming soon to Frigga. It’d creep in behind the overcast sky like a slow release of orange dye. There would be no torches to light in Frigga. The city would be dark, deep, and fear-thick with an unsolved nightmare.

“A lot of blood, but it stops on the outside of the door, sorta,” Vrendel said. He scraped at the stain with the head of his mace. The blood was fused to the stone in icy patterns. After a few seconds of frost-chalk marks, Vrendel shrugged his shoulders and peeked inside the Citadel.

“Blood was from a while ago, obviously. Probably safe to go in there,” he said.

“Why would that thing stop the wolves, but then make us come here first,” Bow said. She’d been watching the city lurking behind them. All intersecting streets, roads, buildings, and rooftops flowed towards the Iron Citadel, like a towered eye of the storm.

“I mean, why? He trapped us while in motion, that requires a bunch of magic. That’s stuff they don’t just hand out. I’m thinking we got screwed with our assignment,” Bow said.

“Well, if that three-eyed monster wanted us dead, we’d still be walking in circles. Night’s coming. We can’t sit out in the dark uncovered. If we light torches in the Citadel, the light won’t bleed out to our friend,” Vrendel said.

“I thought that was implied. I’m just wondering, why would this city be completely gone? The people, I mean—right on the eve of Ragnarok?” Bow said.

“I’ve never known you to be this concerned with religion and prophecy. You never have a hard time focusing those pretty eyes on anything that needs to be killed, but the moment you get metaphysical about the afterlife, you turn into one of those star-struck theologians.”

“I’m not saying I’m unfocused you asshole. I’m just pointing out the circumstances.”

“I don’t believe in those circumstances.”

“Well, too fucking bad for you. I guess I won’t be seeing you in Valhalla, Vren.”

Vrendel laughed and knocked on the steel doors with his mace. He struck the sculpted vulture’s wings, which threw a brass and metallic echo into the streets and alleyways. It was a defensive gesture by Vrendel to laugh at Bow. Her temper was like another personality, a mass atop a form. She would get angry, and that’d be it, there’d be no other break to her character. There would be just rage.

“It’d be nice to take a break from killing. It shouldn’t follow me to my supposed afterlife,” he said.

“And you wanted kids in this world,” Bow said. She tilted her body through the narrow gap between the massive doors.

“I still do,” Vrendel whispered. Bow was already worming into the bowels of the Citadel. He wished she had heard him. He didn’t know why.

The entrance to the Iron Citadel was a stained glass tunnel, which curled over their heads like a captured role of luminescence. Both hunters were expecting something stone-based, dark, checkered, and layered with leathery-empty cobwebs. Instead, it felt like they were walking through a tunnel of enslaved light. They couldn’t figure out where the tunnel was getting its glow, but they were thankful it wasn’t like a typical Citadel to worship the gods. Every city, town, and village had a Citadel of sorts to pay homage to Odin and his family. None had a glowing tunnel like this one. In Frigga, it was odd to see such a large and an elaborate square of metal for just a reasonably sized city. Citadel’s usually matched the world around them in scope. Both hunters figured the city was so close to Jotunheim, a little extra godly help wasn’t a bad idea.

The tunnel of red, blue, and yellow glass stretched on further, like the hunters were trapped on the end of a light spectrum. Bow and Vren kept their weapons out, and watched the glossy platted walls for a single inch of shadow to move. The tunnel was wide enough for them to walk through shoulder to shoulder. On the ground were cracked gouges of cobblestones, like the marks from the red figure walking earlier.

“This is a weird thing, even for the Iron Citadel,” Vrendel said. He wanted to snap the tunnel open with his mace, but he didn’t want to attract too much attention. “You think this is another spell from our tour guide?”

“No, I think it was meant to stop people from going in, to make them feel clumsy and weird. I can see variations to the pieces, so I think it’s going to end at some point,” Bow said.

There was an orange and cement glow at the end of the color-ridden tube. The mouth was getting bigger and bigger, and eventually the two hunters emerged into a massive chamber. Above it was a roof so high it got lost in the ceiling like a black sky. Blazing torches, with clawed metal holding them, glowed about the brick walls. Hanging tapestries of massive lengths drooled downwards to the concrete floor. On the hanging tears of cloth, pictures were sewn with the worlds histories, both god and giant. In the center of a chamber was an enormous circle, wedged up from the ground like a fixed dinner plate.

The circle was covered in layers of dried blood, which flaked upwards in little black specks. Four massive chains were draped across it like pieces of old clay. The chains were fused into the walls at four surrounding points. The chains were huge. Each link was easily the length of Vrendel, and twice as wide. They were black as the walls, and etched with pictures and runes. They dangled empty and alone, like they missed whoever they were tying down. Outside of the chamber’s center were piles of books, rotted food, and the skeletons of miscellaneous animals.

Bow scanned the rafters of the Citadel, and the shadows frolicking in the torch light.

“There’s nothing here, and clearly something got out,” she said. The fur on her shoulders was feeling heavy. Her small legs were tired from walking. She wouldn’t do very well in a sprint. Some of the hair from her ponytail had swung loose and was making her neck tickle.

“Yeah, those chains are the ones they use at shipyards. I’d say it was a giant,” Vrendel said. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his bearded face. The air smelled salty thanks to the blood. There was no skin, bile, or bone-parts on the circle. Just blood.

A hissing sound was merging with the air. Something was feeding air into the Citadel from the rooftop, but it was muffled or blocked.

“What in Midgard was chained down here?” Vrendel said. He prodded the chains with his mace. They didn’t move, not even out of respect.

“It couldn’t have been a giant, not even am Elder, the links are too big,” Bow said. She walked to opposite side of the circle on the other side of the entrance. Something grey and tiny was pinned beneath the chains.

“Look! Over here!” she barked.

Vrendel clanged over and inspected the spot. A little girl, with long hair, a thick dress, and clunky boots was pinned beneath the chains. She was completely petrified in a fresh grey shade of stone. Her body looked like a renegade piece of art, a sculpture gone wayward from its gallery. In her hand was a purple flower free of the rock prison.

“What was she giving the flower to?” Bow said.

“Dragonfly Study: 38″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick

39

Dragonfly Study: 38. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 38th photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 38th picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study.