fiction

The Storm Master

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This is a short story I started last night.  The main characters are Leo Tolstoy and his wife, Sophia. 

The wind, mighty as a Viking king’s war boat, hammered the birches and spare pines of the estate.  Darkness thickened as the sun bowed low, Russia’s clouds seemingly coalescing directly about the Count’s house. 

Sophia stood on the porch, clinging to a wooden pillar.  Above the howl of the evil wind, she heard a tree moan, its cries undulating.  It seemed the  gusts delighted in the torture of wood.  The sky exploded and lit the forest beyond.  Sabres of lightening slashed once, twice. Thunder shook the boards on which Sophia stood, but nature was not satisfied with the terror that Sophia held within her heart.  Finally, the wind sought to end the pain of the groaning, unseen pine. The blusters redoubled their efforts and finally shattered the spine of the mighty tree.  The sound of the bursting pine drove Sophia to her knees.  Finally, a tear mixed with the rain on Sophia’s cheek.  Where was he?  Where was Leo? 

As if in mocking answer, a shadow, tiny as an ant, appeared at the edge of the cruel forest.  Even from this distance an observer could see the nobility in the form.  The long, gray beard, the energy in the gait.  As the figure drew nearer, the frequency and intensity of the lighting flashes seemed, to Sophia,  to quicken. 

Every time she saw Leo, it was as if it were a day in the first week that he’d courted her.  Oddly, she now felt more fear at her husband’s appearance.  Instead of worrying for his safety, she now worried that he would find displeasure in her.  That she had done something unknowingly in which Leo would find a measure of improperness. 

His food.  It may be cold.  Sophia spun on her heels and ran into the kitchen.  Leo ate only vegetables.  This required Sophia to prepare two separate meals; one for the seven children in the house and herself, and another for Leo.   The vegetable stew simmered and she felt relief at this.   She pulled a bowl from a cabinet and set it at the table, then added a spoon beside it.  She turned to run to the porch, but turned again back tot he table, straitened the spoon so that it was perpendicular to the edge of the table, then resumed her trip to the front door. 

By the time she was outside again, Leo’s face was clearly visible.  He stalked determinedly toward the house, a rifle slung on his shoulder, his breath visible in the chill, damp air.  There seemed to be no fear in him, no concern for the future or the past, only a stern concentration on what was immediately in front of him.  His sole reason for existing at this moment was in walking to the house.  It was so simple, and life was so clear to him.  Leo looked up at Sophia, but didn’t say anything.  He only walked.  The wind ripped at his beard.  But like a god, like Zeus, the wind’s master, he ignored it. 

“Leo Nikolayvich Tolstoy, where have you been?’, Sophia cried. 

Leo only kept walking and did not respond. 

“You didn’t tell me you’d left.  This storm is terrible and I worried almost to death about you.  The children worried, too.”

Still, Leo said nothing.  Finally his foot reached the steps of the porch and he climbed up with a dull grunt.  He stood still beside Sophia.  She looked at his lips and hoped they’d reach for hers; all of this would be solved with a kiss that would prove her adequacy, that would cement her place in his heart.  Leo’s steel eyes looked down at Sophia.  His eyes were so much younger than the rest of his face, and yet they were filled with the wisdom of a man who could be one thousand years old.  Only an immortal could know as much truth as Leo. 

There was a pause as Leo stood and stared at his wife.  “I’m a grown man.  I don’t have to tell anyone when I come and go from my own house.  I was hunting, as men like to do.  It’s not a woman’s business.” 

“I’m only worried about my husband, Niko!” Sophia voice trembled as she fought back a wave of grief.

Reprint: A Musing

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A story I wrote a few years back. I’ll print some more from my old blog before I head off for foreign lands….

“Get up, it’s time to do your thing.”

     “No. Where were you yesterday? or for the last month for that matter?”

     “I had things to do, people to see.”

     “Put the cigarette out; you know I hate smoke.” I can feel a sneeze working its way out. Got that annoying vice closing on my nose and sinuses. Just keep your face in this pillow, don’t make eye contact.

     “Get up.”

     “You can’t just leave whenever you please, then barge in unannounced. Start flinging orders. I’ve got needs. And if you’re not around I just might move on, find someone nicer.”

     There’s the gentle crackle of her cigarette, followed by the release of blue dream-stuff through her lips. That’s all the concern she can show. “I know. You prefer mornings. Every morning if you can get it. I’m here now, so do your worst, or best.”

     My left eye escapes the pillow’s hide. Man, those legs are great. I hate that. Really. A man should have a choice in the matter. I tell you it’s highway-rapery if you ask me. Just stretch that long, slim appendage out in front of me and I’m a groveling idiot. Just make me feel like a man. Give me something to say. Give me a reason for waking up.

     Not this time. I ain’t falling for it. “Go away. Who knows who you’ve been with in the last month. What? Things didn’t work out with Mr. High Society. You should have known, Honey. He may have money, a nice car, nice clothes, but the problem is, he had a nice childhood too. And that took his sorrow away. And Sweetie, you’re nothin’ without a man who’s sad.”

     She moves in for the kill now. Starts rubbing my back. Moves to my shoulders. Kisses the back of my neck. Her perfume is a dark intoxicant concocted by the alchemists of a dark god. I turn over on my back.

     “That’s a good boy. I can see you’re ready.”

     Why’d she have to wear her red sundress? The one that I bought her. The one that shows what a great ass she has? And her hair, of course it’s up in the back so I can see her neck, a neck like a porcelain lightning bolt striking into that crimson neckline.

     “Go away. Now,” I say.

     Shadows seem to gather from the corners of the room, converging on her face.

     “Damn you! You have to do what I say. I’m your muse! And you’re a—a wounded soul…a tragic poet.” She twirls into the center of the room, spinning and dipping. Her head and hips move in slow ellipses. I expect to hear an Arabian number begin to play. The prance ends with a sudden jutting of her leg and toe, lean thigh exposed and her hand mysteriously lifting her dress against her leg, just enough so that I wonder if she’s wearing underwear. “And besides, Darling,” she bites her lower lip and walks heal to toe toward my bed. “You know I can make you do it whenever I want. It’s just better for me when you want it too.” Thin fingers, bristling with purple nails, trace my jaw line. “You wouldn’t want me to play some nasty little joke on you, would you? Like, oh maybe, making you think you can pull off a piece as good as Hemingway. So simple. So terse and lean. Anyone can do it, right?”

     I sit up and lean back against two arms. “You wouldn’t dare.”

     “Hmm. No. Even better. Let’s make a post-modern nitwit out of you. Joyce maybe. Or Pynchon. You’ll be all smarmy while everyone laughs. Because you’re not Joyce or Pynchon—you’re you!”

     Her lashing fingers describe her serious intent.

     “Okay, alright. You win. Again.” I throw my covers back. “Be right back.”

     Parting an ocean of three-month-old condiments, I reach into the back of my refrigerator and gather up a can of cheap beer. I walk back into the bedroom, where she’s now sitting on the edge of my bed, legs folded. Her eyebrow arches and a corner of her mouth curves up. It’s time to do my thing, I guess. I crack the can, throw it down my neck, and find my comfortable chair beside my desk. An austere, almost-bare desk with a laptop, a thesaurus and a stack of sci-fi novels: Zelazny, Dick, Bester, Heinlein.

     “What do you think, Hon?” I pat my lap. “Come on and have a seat. You know these guys, right? Just a little help’s all I need.”

     She glides to me, and sits, one arm around my neck. She begins to nibble on my ear. “Sure, Handsome, I’ve done ‘em all.”

honorbound part III

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The smell of burning diesel filled Taylor’s nostrils. He should have been worrying about the Taliban fighters, but he wasn’t. He was only concerned with what his fellow soldiers thought of him. A coward is more hated than a murderer.

“Sergeant Taylor!”

Taylor spun, his carbine hunting instinctively for a target.

“Sergeant Taylor, drop your weapon!”  

It was that voice. The voice of The Perfect Soldier. Sergeant First Class Beaumont. Taylor couldn’t see Beaumont. Maybe Beaumont was the coward.

Just to test: “Show yourself!”, shouted Taylor. It was a chance to defy authority, if only for a moment. It was a reasonable request afterall.

Beaumont emerged from behind the first smouldering HMMMWV, his uniform still perfect, his weapon surely immaculately maintained, his skill at killing another man with the rifle assuredly honed to inhuman perfection. The Golden Boy walked toward Taylor. The Army loved the Golden Boy, with his insanely fast promotions, his perfect haircut, his digital-camo picket fence.

“Drop the rifle, Sergeant Taylor. You’re under arrest”, said Beaumont.

“Under arrest? What d’ ya mean?”

” I saw you. You ran. You didn’t fight. Cook there fought. And died. You ran and lived. Drop the weapon, for the last time, drop it.” Beaumont seemed to focus in on the front sight of the M4.

Honorbound

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Here’s a story I’ve started. I’ll try–I promise–to add to it each week until it’s done~Magus

“No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”~ John Donne

He walked on the  road, his heals skipping off  the earth’s husk, pluming dust behind him. He felt ashamed because he did not walk as a soldier should walk. He did not take the precautions a professional should take. The open road, not far from where all his comrades died, surely held more dangers. He held his carbine carelessly in one hand, swinging it as he walked. Were it not for his American uniform, his gait, posture and professional disposition could just as easily been that of an Afghani soldier, whom he’d spent nearly a year attempting to train, against all hope.

There was a numbness in him. If was as if he’d become a zombie, trudging aimlessly until he made contact with a living being, and perhaps from the living he could again draw up some semblance of life in himself.

What was he doing? He looked down onto the rank insignia velcroed to the chest of his body armor. Staff Sergeant. Staff Sergeant in the world’s most powerful army. Steve Taylor felt shame, because he was supposed to love combat regardless of its outcome. Soldiers are born to die. But he hadn’t died. Because he’s run away. While his friends fought, he ran. While his friends died, he lived.

Taylor stopped in the middle of the road. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth but he refused to sip from his Camelback, as if he could make right his cowardice by dehydrating himself. He looked at the unit patch on his left shoulder. 7th Cav, 1st Squadron. Iron Horse.

He’d failed. All his training had meant nothing. All the Hooh-Ah bullshit. The running around and yelling and screaming at the young Privates during suppress and flank maneuvers. The leadership courses and all the reading and promotion boards. But when the tire met the road, Taylor ran.

Everything was going fine for the first thirty minutes as his convoy moved along MSG Gold toward Kabul. The route had been cleared of IEDs only 30 minutes prior to the convoy moving out. He’d made that run at least 20 times, even had a few IEDs go off and shred some HMMWVs, saw some Soldiers missing legs and part of a face.

But in those cases, the Taliban hadn’t pressed the issue. They’d melted into the surrounding villages or mountainsides. Frustratingly, the world’s mightiest army couldn’t extract a blood vengeance on a bunch back-woods haters who couldn’t read a children’s story but could make a command activated bomb using a cell phone. Men around him grumbled about how the whole convoy should “shift fire” right into the center of the village, level the whole fucking place and just keep going. Someone in one of those huts knew, and had helped in some way, the Talibs, and nothing–some said–would make them drop the dime quicker than the knowledge they’d be smashed into the bottom of a smouldering crater if any bad guys used the place as an Op Center.

But no. It was the natural surge of emotional energy every warrior feels when he’s attacked. Warriors fight. The platitudes, diplomacy and veiled cowardice was for journalists and diplomats. None of those people had to pull triggers. But his unit’s rage subsided on those occasions and discipline stood firm.

Yet discipline stood firm and now more Americans were dead. At least Taylor assumed they were dead. The HMMVW at the front of the convoy had taken  an RPG right in the front passenger’s door. Taylor saw  the spark of the rocket’s exhaust, some one hundred meters to the convoy’s right. The insurgent touched the trigger, and boom. Taylor instinctively looked toward the noise. The rocket seemed to travel so slowly that maybe–just maybe– Taylor could have opened his door, ran to the vehicle in front of him, pulled the tactical commander out of his seat and hit the deck. But before he could even yell the three letters–RPG–the shaped charge ripped through the vehicle, spraying some of its contents out the opposite side. His driver immediately hit the brakes and swerved to the left.

Top ten favorite fiction books

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1) Starship Troopers–Robert Heinlein

2) The Stand–Stephen King

3) Flow my tears, the policeman said.–PK Dick

4) Stormbringer–Michael Moorcock

5) A Scanner Darkly–PK Dick

 6) The Forever War–Joe Haldeman

7) Summer of the Monkeys–Wilson Rawls

8  Where the Red Fern Grows–Wilson Rawls

9) The Magus–John Fowles

10) Mystic River–Dennis Lehane