The Tourist Imprisoned

Recently, The Lovely One and I returned from vacationing overseas. The transatlantic experience spawned the latest installment of The Tourist’s mayhem…

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Lies, ladies and gentlemen, all lies

Every time I have to do it, I hate flying more than I had before. The airlines seem locked in a death struggle to determine which brand can devise the final sadistic imposition on passengers that will at last prevent anyone from ever flying steerage again. Or simply never flying.

That imminent day resounds with sadness, but corporate profiteering edges the dire knell of the skyfaring businesses nearer with each deliberately overcrowded, crammed and undernourished flight.

Recently, domestically, I furtively smuggled a seamstress’s cloth measuring tape in my pocket — dutifully removed to pass microwave fullbody scansion, along with keys, change, watch, personal detritus and pocket lint — and used a minute portion of its length to measure my allotted confinement space: 21 inches from backseat ahead to head rest (less by nearly six when the careless cad ahead dismally and pointlessly reclined his so-called “backrest” eight minutes into our heavenly ascent), almost 9 inches from seatback ahead to front edge of my euphemistic seat “cushion” (less with egophilic jerk’s reclination, but only by an inch — sufficient to make the safety drill’s assurance of a flotation device beneath my economy seat merely a taunt, at best a contortionist’s impossible dream; from armrest to armrest a minuscule 16 and 3/4, possibly of suitable proportions when I was in my (early) roaring twenties but no longer (and my own somewhat bulging belly added its own girth to that measurement), and my corpulent seatmate oozed her bulk intrusively well into my euphemistic “space” and sweating flesh throughout, the decisively lowered armrest proving no barrier to unwanted intimacy whatsoever. Although officially in sitting position, my space, especially once the overhead lighting quenched to keep us docile, put me in mind of tyrants’ notorious “standing cells,” my movements restricted nearly to nil.

Therefore, I devised the demise of the purser who refused my request for any available liberation, who even declined to disturb the selfimportant fore-ass’s pseudoreclining position as it was after all, “resting period.” Well, I put a period to that. And while we were straightjacketed in the air as well.

That’s the start of that. More on the trip (the actual vacation) ahead, friends and family…

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Failed Again

Even the title for this piece failed again (the effing computer having tke over from th keyboard nput — as you can see here — so I had to go back and add the “in” at the end of “Again;” and Iʼll just leave the stinking errors in this parenthetical addendum as evidence of what Appleʼs miserable excuse for technological advancement forces me to endure daily/hourly/every minute and second that the effing computer is on — not that anything Windows-based would do any better, I perceive*).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

I began this rant on the tenth, intending to mention I had failed (one piece of the total set of failures to which the title refers) to fix our kitchen sink (replacing the faucet) because the original supply lines were too short for the new faucet. I needed 21 and 23 inches of line respectively (cold and hot water), and places in town only sold 20-inch lines. However, real life and time in general have intervened, and thanks to a trip out of town (intentionally for brunch with My Belovedʼs sister and her husband and his sister and her significant other) I got what I needed, which I could have acquired in town it turned out — extension lines. I installed them successfully (so far) with only one hiccup when the cold water leaked the first time around. Wow.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My first plumbing job! (Although willing to do just about anything with electricity, thanks to my long noncareer with theatrical lighting and special effects, I have avoided accidentally flooding either our house or any theatrical venue by my plumbing incompetence.) My aged retirement continues to provide new adventures and experiences.

See the moisture (and the meter)?

See the moisture (and the meter)?

Now the only failure involved with that endeavor is that our main valve on the water entering our blessed abode has developed a bit of a leak. Just a little constant moisture down the copper line and wetness all the way to the drain in the basement floor.** But thatʼs before our water meter so… well, allʼs well that costs us nothing, for the time being.

The real failure, to which my nearly week-old title referred, is that my most recent attempt toward publication had just received rejection. Again. (And again and again and again, even though I donʼt keep resubmitting and searching out new market possibilities as I should. Nor even writing all that much either.) I had churned out and polished a brief 5000 words extending my Sepharad story (stories/series) with an adventure for Søren in Córdoba, encountering Lovecraftian horror (and his own weaknesses) as he attempted to earn some cash abetting two quarrelsome students of nigromancy. “Scholarsʼ Folly” (which may give away or, preferably, retrospectively suggest the nature of Sørenʼs climactic slip-up) being crafted for a Mythos market, hasn’t many innate qualities to make it attractive outside the specific anthology for which I wrote it. Sadly.

My own little cover for a short story (that didn't sell)

My own little cover for a short story (that didn’t sell)

Failure again.

Too bad they couldntʼ have rejected me more delicately (or even personally):

Hi,

Thanks for taking the time to sub to OUR LOVECRAFTIAN ANTHOLOGY and for your patience. We are going to pass on this.

Cheers,

THE EDITORS***

At least — good news — I do get to work again trapping bugs for USDA APHIS PPQ this summer. Take that, Sequestration!

And now, maybe to work on some fiction writing…

or else dinner.

* This (forthcoming) thought is not original with me (I believe I read something like this somewhere a long time ago, probably on the internet somewhere/when), however, it remains so utterly valid, I must type it out: Would we tolerate automobiles (or even cell phones, and I don’t mean “smart” ones) that operate as poorly as personal computers do? Admittedly mine (2009 iMac, bought as my last educational purchase at retirement) is now four years old, come June, but my truck is thirteen this year (a decade in my possession).

** I at first wrote “cellar floor,” an inaccurate description of our finished basement.But that slip reminded me that when I was small I read that supposedly (I think according to Robert Frost) the loveliest phrase in English was “cellar door.” Thoughts? Results of your research? Both welcome.

Deliberately so — one side is completely finished, while the other has no ceiling (for property-taxation reduction reasons).

But according to my New York Times link, the loveliness of “cellar door” was evidently H.L. Menckenʼs notion (no bet that we would not have heard about him in elementary school in the Sixties).

*** Detailed information (such as the editorsʼ names and the anthology title) have been altered/omitted to protect the unenthusiastic (and foolish?).

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Trying to Dictate (a little bit of a finished story)

This is not much of a post, but I was actually almost hard at work earlier, attempting to defy the continual and continuing issues created by Mountain Lion and the app that forced me last October to “upgrade” my system, Dragon Dictate (version 3). After I experienced one crash/forced hard restart mid-morning, I tried some dictation about 11:00 AM…

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Test. I started to dictate “Taking the Plunge” about a half an hour ago. I got the first two or three sentences done, but when I proceeded to orate into the Dictate window the remainder of the first paragraph, suddenly we were in spinning beach ball territory! Endlessly. I finally forced the computer to shut down and restarted.

Naturally, this time Spotlight began to run even before everything in the Menubar had loaded. (I just checked, and it is still grinding away. As always. Endlessly.) QuicKeys at first would not finish not loading so I force-quit it, and on the second try the (essential, for me) program did eventually load. So I moved on to try Dictate.

At first, as it did before the computer restart, Nuanceʼs program jumped straight to the Dictate text window (I am not sure if I feel altogether happy that it did retain the sentences I had uttered before the beach ball and forced quit), but this time it also tried to open the Load Profile window (which is supposed to be the first step when the program launches), and when I clicked on the JRB profile, we just got beach ball. Again? However, this time around, I was able to get Force Quit to force quit Dictate (the previous problem had been that intervention did not work, and so I had to physically forcibly shutdown the computer). I tried again. And after some stalling and closing the still-remembered Dictate window from before the crash, here we are with me successfully dictating (directly into MacJournal). Hurrah!

“Taking the Plunge” is a Tourist story, the second one completed. The first (and a segment from that story is one of the oldest posts on the blog) was set in London. “Plunge” takes place in San Francisco, written in the fall of 2009 in the first flush of freedom and getting “Underground” completed and typed (and unsuccessfully off for publication). Hereʼs how it starts:

Taking the Plunge

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

San Francisco sunlight, a surreal gift of certain bliss after days of fog and rain. The sun came out my fourth day in the city, my vacation having reinvigorated the old Mark Twain observation, “The coldest winter I ever endured was one summer in San Francisco.” My early experience this trip had been wet, cold and dismal.

The worst day had been Sunday, my second, when I had determined to take a ferry across to Sausalito, an excursion Marsha Kay and I had only contemplated when we were on the bay many years ago. Weʼd gone on a local tour (Dolphin Tours) to the wine country and Muir Woods, and the van in which we and five other couples were loaded had dumped us all on the highway through Sausalito to fend for ourselves for lunch. That had been one sunsparkled, bay-brilliant day — so thoroughly unlike my chillingly dismal return — and we both had discussed the pure California loveliness over lunch in a fish house on the water whose name fled from me in the hectic years since.

But I treasured the sensual bliss of my memories — yellowbright, windscoured and catarchingly warm — through the too-many midwestern winters we shared and then I suffered in weary lonesomeness since. Shoveling through eight inches of heartbreaking snow for myself alone in bitter predawn dark just to be able to get a car to struggle, swerve and skate over icy, scarcely cleared roads to work — among others only those fragments of solarkissed bliss on a July afternoon in Sausalito.

But the bleak reality of this return chilled me more thoroughly than any black midwestern morning, that well layered for the subzero darkness, I had endured in patient expectation of renewing the California sun. So I had suffered disillusionment those first days — dark, cold, drizzling — unimaginably worse weather than back at home, until that fourth morning frothed with solar effervescence in my uncurtained hotel windows, alluring me before 7:00 to awakened alertness, anticipating at last the day to come.

Showering I relived the bay crossing less than forty-eight hours previous. Icy drizzle from the moment I awoke — not quite so early on Sunday, not as early as I had intended, either — about 9:30. The boats I had explored started running at 8:45, and I had intended to cross the bay as early as possible and really explore Sausalito for most of the day. But the grey rain had soothed my mind, evidently, and the touch of frost in the air made me unconsciously snuggle deeper into bed as this most unsummerly summer day had dawned.

Noises in the hall, a family departing for the day, whining brats complaining loudly about the dank weather, stirred my consciousness again well after 9:00. I felt groggy — aware I was late to my schedule, but too dull to care much. And what did it matter? I only had myself to amuse.

So I lazily showered, shaving, dressed and prepared to leave the room for the maidʼs casual attentions in my absence, closing the door about 10:20 and heading off uphill to cross down to the ferry building, at least a twenty-minute hike. I figured Iʼd be in Sausalito for lunch by 12:30.

The ferries didn’t keep to my schedule, however. And the sea-spray, rainy crossing — me on deck, almost alone, drenched and shivering (at least, after the icy hike to the waterfront, Iʼd decided to purchase a fleece at one of the businesses in the ferry building — overpriced but warm enough, though by the time we docked it was much more than damp), brought us across the bay about 1:30. In my misery, I had even missed Alcatraz in the dreary damp. Late for the lunch I had come for, I elected with rare wisdom to forgo the nostalgic waterside deck and eat indoors, too utterly iced through already for more freezing drizzle so soon.

I got busy with other stuff after that. But apparently dictating works again (although with at least a dozen quite strange errors I had to catch while posting), and I have plenty of digitzing talking ahead of me when I donʼt choose to really write (fresh material).

Come on, computer, keep with it: do your job, finally.

What do you know? No footnotes. Almost a first in the past year or more.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cromwellʼs Descent

Sitting at my chiclet keyboard on a gloriously sunny, clear-blue-skies afternoon,* with Eric Claptonʼs exhilarating Derek & The Dominos-era guitar ringing from the iTunes-inspired Bose computer speakers, I realize that my previous perfervid post wasnʼt much of a literary review. I really just raved about how excellent was Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall (and I really did like the book, a lot). Letʼs rectify that slackness just a little.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel. Mantel successfully brings this hardfisted, aggressive fellow to sympathetic life (and her character even sees himself reflected somehow truly in Holbeinʼs image).

Wolf Hall is the story of as-yet-to-become English Lord Chamberlain Thomas Cromwell, whose reality had until this novel been thoroughly colored, for me, by Leo McKernʼs indelible and ruthless characterization in the film version of Robert Boltʼs A Man for All Seasons.** The (21st century) book covers most of Cromwellʼs life, from childhood (it begins with a shatteringly evocative, harrowing sequence of young Cromwell being beaten by his father — the provocation for the youth to leave England and commence his wayward career toward politics, via trade, mercenary soldiering and finance) through the execution of Sir Thomas More. Some of the bookʼs pleasure, for me, arose from clever (and appropriate) resituating and revisioning of Moreʼs memorable bon mots as recorded in Boltʼs play and film. The published (and also Man Booker prizewinning) Bring Up the Bodies covers the years through the execution of Anne Boleyn, and the third volume will take us through Cromwellʼs own extralegal but state-sponsored demise.

Mantel turns Boltʼs seriously cold, cruelly calculating villain into her protagonist (perhaps tragic hero) by placing the novel firmly within his point of view (that vivid opening set piece establishes the perspective while promptly and efficiently promoting our sympathetic identification). Seeing the world from his mindframe keeps him very human (uxorious, family-loving, generous in spirit, cultured) even as his actions gradually turn vengeful and (not noted to himself in Mantelʼs prose) scheming. Cromwell reappears, grown to middle age, as Cardinal Wolseyʼs utterly competent jack-of-all-trades*** just as the crimson-robed butcherʼs son is about to fall (failing to acquire Henry VIIIʼs desperately sought divorce from first wife Catherine of Aragon). Wolsey, perceived through Cromwell, of course is also a mostly positive figure, whose humiliation, defeat and death earn our sympathy (and Cromwellʼs, naturally — very importantly stimulating motivation for the blacksmithʼs sonʼs subsequent political career in this novel: those behind and present for Wolseyʼs destruction almost all “get theirs” by the end of Wolf Hall****).

Once Wolseyʼs died, Cromwell moves into the orbit of Anne Boleyn, unwillingly (she caused the cardinalʼs fall, after all) and over the years (and the pages) while suffering his own losses and successes arranges the necessary divorce, then the royal (not legally a “re-“) marriage and crowning for Queen Anne, meanwhile putting various enemies (unstated, until toward the final pages) and friends in their places (negative and positive places) as he rises and grows close to the king. What Cromwell and Anne share is then-modern religious feeling and theology, both being firm to-be Protestants supporting vernacular translation of the Bible and corresponding faith and doctrines.

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Stubborn, fanatical zealot Thomas Moreʼs descent from power and doomed course toward execution — all capably managed by our sympathetic Cromwell (he really does sympathize with the thoughtful Catholic philosopher but not with his heretic-burning, self-flagellating, regressive and reactionary creed). As More participated in Wolseyʼs ruination (not to mention multiple burnings at the stake for personal friends and religious compatriots of Cromwellʼs), his destruction brings our protagonistʼs rise from the ashes of his becrimsoned mentorʼs defeat to a vengefully victorious climax. Also, tellingly (although the book ends with Cromwellʼs scrupulous care for Moreʼs bereft, scholarly daughter being able to acquire her traitor fatherʼs head for burial) we witness in the final stretch Cromwellʼs satisfactions here and there as various enemies are managed (capably, competently, effectively) and revenge (for Wolsey and others) accomplished. Clearly, the abused boy (grown to calm, proficient maturity) has coarsened his character, steeled his soul, descended morally — he is quietly but definitely headed toward his own fall, barely six years in his future.

It is a lovely book, engrossing, colorful, detailed, marvelously told and brilliantly written. It brings both the people and the era to vibrant and fascinating imaginative life.***** Mantel richly deserves her many accolades and awards for this wonderful book.

Now to relax a bit. Claptonʼs still playing (the computer has offered almost no blockages to my work, even with iTunes in action), and the day is yet lovely. Later, gentil readers.

* (it snowed, heavily — huge flakes obliterating any view whatsoever for hours midday — yesterday, piling up at least two and a half inches of snow here in Our Town, more to the north)

** Andrew students had to suffer (or possibly enjoy) that movie to introduce Renaissance England (and ultimately Shakespeare and Hamlet) in Advanced English for, I believe, decades. (I at least enjoyed the ritualistic annual indulgence in great storytelling… ) Just as McKern made Cromwell in my perception (from my mid-teens onward), so did Orson Welles embody Wolsey and of course Paul Scofield for Thomas More.

wolf-hall*** His capable and smooth omnicompetence (at just about everything, so literally so) is the manʼs major characteristic in the book. We witness the multitudes that he knows and understands within himself and how others (at least say they) perceive him; the king in particular comes to value Cromwellʼs ability to get done whatever needs to be accomplished.

**** And much as we may come to identify with and care for Thomas Cromwell (invariably in the book just “he,” often confusingly — but deliberately so), his hardening heart and vindictive progress are revealed… quietly.

***** Thus we come to the big topic — historical fiction. But I have said so much on just this book that I had better reserve my thoughts on books about (and from) the past for some other post.

Images from Wikipedia

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Really Good Book

So. I missed “yesterday,” as stated in my previous post. And I missed yesterday, as in relation to this post (I hope) as well — meaning that I also missed posting on Pi Day (preferably known as Einsteinʼs Birthday), as well. In both cases we must blame the computer (and somewhat my own sloth — but mostly the computer: bless you Apple with all sanctimonious and cynical sarcasm). Even today, with a new update for Mountain Lion, I have spent most of the day with the iMac frozen and (seemingly) forever restarting (fortunately, The Lovely One asked me to clean the house in preparation for some guests, who called last night to indicate illness all week was undoubtedly going to prevent their visit; so I could at least go away from the detestable device and do something worthwhile today — as yesterday I determined to not just sit and fume at spinning gear images and what not but read instead).*

Clearly I should keep this brief before the computer interferes with working successfully yet again.

KindlleHere it is: I love my Kindle (not so fond of the Kindle app for Mac, however, as it now takes a full five minutes to start and run, when not in “safe” mode when it loads perfectly fine and fast, and also apparently caused the most recent system freeze and forced hard restarts). It is really cool to be able to carry a full library around with me in one little, thin device. And I do mean a full library. Although the Kindle Reader only counts 437 books downloaded and included, a huge number of those are the cheap and usable “complete” collection available from various packagers of royalty-free material, meaning that about 50 of the “books” include from twenty to fifty books each!

However, the best thing about the amazon.com device is that I really get into reading things on it — new, old, reread for the umpteenth time and utterly fresh. I have always been a lover of the actual, old-fashioned book — the scent, the feel, the comfort of real pages in a real binding (paper or otherwise). But on the Kindle, reading works just as well, and I get perhaps even more lost in the stories. In my contemporary state of increasing joint pains (sometimes desperately excruciating), holding the Kindle beats trying to keep a hardbacked book open in my lap (not to mention the utter delight for My Beloved to be able to make the font just as large as necessary for her post-surgical eyeballs to perceive readily).

wolf-hallAnd one of the best things that I actually read (new and complete) thanks to the electronic reading machine has been Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall, a brilliant book that thoroughly captured me and kept me up late, late (intolerably so when it came to arising sometimes less than four hours later to get out and work out), unwilling to pause at any story break and go to sleep.

I had first encountered her text in portions published in various literary magazines before the book was actually published (at least here in the U.S.) — in the TLS for certain and I also think in the New York Review of Books and possibly The London Review of Books** as well. Although I read the material each time (and also the subsequent glowing reviews), I wasnʼt entirely whelmed at the third-person present-tense imprisonment in the protagonistʼs perspective.

I did eventually buy the hardback at a Borders going-out-of-business 80%-off price a couple of years ago, but I never got further than the first fifty pages. Maybe, for an old man weened on the hagiography of A Man for All Seasons, it was too hard to imagine a Thomas Cromwell not utterly wicked and venal (although one can clearly perceive his hardening character in Mantelʼs telling, once I did read the book).

In October or November (I donʼt now remember just when I bought the e-book version), with the next volume in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, well reviewed and winning Mantel her second-in-a-row Man Booker Prize, I sprang the nine bucks for a Kindle version. And have been devouring it since (spaced judiciously for other reads, particularly various research items for Sepharad and other books I whimsically have afforded to create the massive library that fits into my pocket).

Wolf Hall. Wonderful stuff. Incredibly well written and easy to read voraciously.

Now I am postponing the start of Bring Up the Bodies (also on the Kindle for some time now) in order to enjoy other things — The Moonstone for the fifth time and for  second time Anthony Burgessʼs Earthly Powers, which became available in January. And triter trifles, too (like Jack Vanceʼs Demon Princes series again and a pleasant discovery from a dead favorite — a mystery by Roger Zelazny, The Dead Manʼs Brother, already completed and archived). And more to come.

* And even now Spotlightʼs incessant cataloguing keeps taken over from my typing and leaving me with not a cursor but an Apple-effing spinning beachball.

** That periodical did publish the text of the speech the author gave recently about the royals which got her into trouble for (not really) disrespecting the expectant mother of the heir-to-become.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Iced Songbirds to Go

Hereʼs the start of a story that has percolated in my head since the night in Seattle, several years ago, that Janet and I had the pleasure (unanticipated, at least on my part) of hearing Eartha Kitt perform, sadly just months before she died. I kicked my idea around in my hinder thoughts until two weeks ago, when Janet had completed her work (well, most of her work) for, during and after her bossʼs Big Birthday Party (a story I still need to tell in this forum). I donʼt mean to reflect at all on the Celebrity Performer brought in for That Event, but somehow, as She enjoyed a celebratory martini after her show and the end of the party, and as The Lovely One chatted up Important Folks at the party, the story resurfaced insistently. I sat in a quiet corner of the bar, sipping a Johnnie Walker Black (which I had been too simple and foolish to specify earlier in the evening) and composed the following five hundred words…

The working title for the short story (series?) is the title of todayʼs post.

The time had come to haul the old broad out of cold storage. DeMint trundled his way down the lowest corridors of Le Grande Canal seeking the berth of tonight’s grande dame. As usual, he silently thanked his lucky stars for the elementary and ancient concept of alphabetical order, and as he so often did, cursed under his breath aloud that so many of his most popular corpses had surnames from the final third of the letter sequence…

Manischewitz, Markowsky, Mingo…

Neruda, Oppenheimer, Ott…

Pascal, Pomme, Shelley…

Sterne.

He sighed, a sign of his disloyal respect (loyal disrespect?) and pressed the blue icon on the touchpad outside her coffin to begin the reanim process. Once again. In one hundred and thirty-seven minutes Sharynn Sterne would sing again, her seven thousand eight hundred and fifty-seventh immortal performance. (Assuming he hadnʼt at some point forgotten to record a couple.) For the assembled miners of Sigma Calyx IV, which couldnʼt be buried much further, more remotely or less significantly in the back of beyond.

With an almost inaudible hiss, her resurrection began.

Having done his part for the next two hours, DeMint shuffled off to the cold level lounge to access the records net and pour himself more than a few cold ones. Down in the depths among his cold ones.

He loved them both. The beers and the broads, best on ice, less nice at room temps. But both the broads and the beers needed rewarming now and again. If only to keep other broads, his immortal songbirds, and better beers cold and refreshing and ready to serve.

He had negotiated eleven days with the mine unionʼs entertainment czar to reach an agreement of appropriate financial reward for an acceptable star revived out of yesteryear. As usual, as he had come so very long ago to expect, they had demanded performers of several magnitudes greater significance than his humble star freighter maintained. As though the handlers of such stellar celebrities would deign to cruise the nether depths of nowhere near such an insignificance as Sigma Calyx IV. When was the last time any starship had dropped orbit about their frozen mineral hell and offered to put on a show? That telling point had at last, long last, diminished the czarʼs expectations to a reasonable realm where an agreeable accommodation could finally be accomplished.

Not much reward financially for one of his most remembered Chillahs. Chilled Thrillers. But with unrefined fuelstuff thrown in, sufficient to get him and his cold coloraturas effectively out of this hell. Finally. So the deal had been struck and the time had come for Sharynn Sterne to sing again.

Now all DeMint had to do was convince her to cooperate.

By the time I had penned the last paragraph (yep, sitting at my little table with pen in hand and small yellow pad of mini-legal paper before me) it was nearly 1:00 AM. So there it rests (but at least I have gotten the written word digitized now).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

More of the Tourist

I started a story about the Tourist last Sunday. Here is some more for a quiet Sunday after Christmas…

Eventually we began our descent. I began to feel as if I almost couldn’t breathe.

The landing felt rough. But I was ready for that. I used the opportunity to shake his seat as violently as I could.

Typically for O’Hare, we taxied around forever before reaching our arrival gate. And then we sat in the plane interminably, waiting for all those ahead of us in the cabin to get to their feet, get their stuff and get out of there. Finally I could see people in front of the bulkhead beginning to move.

But my tormentor didn’t wait for anything. Contrary to instructions, he was on his feet and pulling his massive carry-on from the overhead bin while we were still rolling. He continued to stand in the aisle while the plane eased lengthily to its final position, while everyone waited for the exit-tube to get attached at the door, and while all those in front took their turns deplaning.

Of course, the thorn in my side didn’t wait for most of that. Once he, from his privileged position, could see motion further front in the tourist section, he began trying to shove his way out, and I lost track of him as I began to worry about making my own exit.

Actually, I didn’t need to worry about my own exit. O’Hare was not my final destination, and I was taking this plane on west. On the other hand, security regulations required that I checked through customs here in Chicago, so I was going to have to get off; I would just be getting right back on.

After my endless, awful ordeal, I wanted some room for myself. I wanted to stretch my legs. However, unlike the jerk ahead of me, I sat patiently and waited for the plane to pretty well clear before heading off myself.

When I reached the big echoing, overcrowded baggage claim area, there he was standing tall and slim, leaning against a pillar, waiting for whatever bag he had checked. I humped my way into the crowd around the conveyor belt carousel. He was already yapping on a cell phone. They weren’t supposed to come out until after customs.

Did this moron care about anything — except himself?

I tried to focus on the carousel. Bags were appearing and tumbling down to start the long rotation — red bags, blue bags, black bags; bags of all colors and all descriptions, and none of them mine. I pushed my way, as gently as I could, into the crowd, trying to keep my back to the annoying source of torment from the flight. And then, just as I saw my bag start to teeter out and down, there he was right beside me, pushing me aside as he reached for his executive case and garment bag which had arrived so conveniently together. As he swung away in his self-obsessed oblivion, I took the case in the gut. And so, gasping for agonized breaths, I got to wait one whole turn of the conveyor to grab my own modest and small bag.

By the time it arrived, I had my wind back.

Iʼll keep it short for today, as I assume everyone is still holidaying with family and/or friends. Interestingly, I just rediscovered a book I bought as a cut-out years ago, a mystery anthology entitled Murder for Christmas. Although this Tourist tale doesnʼt have a Yuletide glitter or setting, I did, accidentally, select it for the season.

Merry Boxing Day and enjoy this week sagging between Christmas and New Yearʼs!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Return of the Tourist

I think I am annoyed that Hollywood has ripped off another idea I never got published. My character from “Underground,” as all you longtime readers of the blog should realize, is known as the Tourist. Now, so is Johnny Deppe. Or Angelina Jolie. Iʼve only seen ads, so I don’t know which actor portrays the title character. Maybe now I know why ClusterMaps indicates a pretty solid fan base in southern California for the blog…

Have I told the story about my first fantasy series character, Arkon, a direct rip-off of Conan, whose name was merely “Akron” (as in Ohio) with the letters reordered? I penned a story or two about this brawny barbarian in my adolescent years, one of which got rejected by a New York-based fantasy mag back about 1969 or 1970. Then in 1970 a comic book appeared with a mighty thewed barbarian named Arkon. Coincidence? We donʼt think so. (Actually, I do, but I suffer from vague, deluded and imaginary paranoia when coincidence plays out against me.)

However, in honor of my own invention, for your fictional enjoyment today, I have the start of the third (out of four currently) Tourist story, this one insopired by our return from Prague to Chicago just over a year ago. Itʼs also the first story Ihave tried entirely dictating (which may explain why itʼs as yet incomplete).

Incident at OʼHare

Admittedly, at O’Hare I left my bag unattended for more than five minutes. But I had just cause.

The flight home from Europe had been hell. It all started far too early, and everything went downhill from that 3:50 AM alarm. They took my carry-on away from me at check-in, I had to wait two hours in the lounge, and by the time they let me board, the plane was already chock-full with more to come.

Furthermore I was stuck in the middle section of the giant plane — buried toward the back and not even in an aisle seat. A tall, lanky guy took my attention as I made my way back. Just as I went by he leaped up from a bulkhead seat by the windows, grabbed an immense carry-on/suit bag in the aisle seat beside him and commenced his efforts to cram it into the overhead bins. Not only was it far too large (unlike my own, now so distant from me in checked baggage) but he had the gall to begin moving other people’s bags from where they had already placed them into other bins, just to make room for his own where he wanted it — a few seats back from where he had been resting.

Once I found my seat, a piece of good luck occurred. As I approached the woman in the aisle seat to to beg her to rise and step to the side so I could get in next to her, she volunteered to take that seat and let me have the aisle. How could I resist? Once I had settled in, however, I realized what she was after — more foot room. In order to equip the seatbacks with entertainment system processing units, power centers or some kind of garbage from which the wiring led had to be located on floor. The box for that unit was underneath the seat ahead of me. Looking around as we waited and waited for the flight to take off, I noticed that such boxes were under the outside seats of each middle row on each end. Without my carry-on it really wasn’t a problem for me though. There was room enough for my feet.

The other bright spot was the seat in front of me. Even after we’d all been belted in for about a half an hour and still hadn’t taken off, that seat remained empty.

The tall guy I’d noticed just wouldn’t sit still. Up by the bulkhead he was first in the window seat, then in the aisle seat, then on his feet, head bent under the overheads standing in front of the bulkhead. I had a pretty good view of him over the unoccupied seat in front.

Then the two girls, whose seats he’d been presuming, arrived. He looked annoyed. And then he came back and sat right in the seat in front of me. I knew that now he would be my annoyance. And he was.

Even moments before the seat belt light shut off, he had already reclined his seat back directly into my face, where it remained for the next nine and a half hours, leaving barely ten inches for my face.

And so started the longest nine and a half hours of my life. I couldn’t sleep; there was no way to get comfortable. I tried watching the TV on his seat back, but the way his seat went back, there was no way that I could really see the screen. Reading was thoroughly out of the question: there was no way I could get a book in anywhere I could see it except by sticking my hand out into the aisle, and there was no light there.

I felt the worst the two times food was served. I could only barely slipped the lock on my tray table and squeezed it down between my neck and chest to rest against my belly. Operating the utensils to get at the food was pretty much impossible. I spilled food and slopped drink repeatedly during both sessions. I’m afraid I may have actually spilled on the girl next to me. I wanted to slap right up over the top under the guy in front, but there was no way I could do it.

My only release came when I had to go to the bathroom. The space he left me was so narrow that I had to shove against his seat just to get out. I admit I shoved quite a bit more than was necessary each of the three times I got up and went. I shoved at it both getting up and sitting back down. He might as well been a department-store mannequin for all the reaction I got from him.

My suffering only increased the longer the flight went on. Once we are over American territory, the minutes stretched into hours. I writhed in my seat. My butt cheeks and upper thighs ached. I actually reached out and shook his seat. Twice.

Eventually we began our descent. I began to feel as if I almost couldn’t breathe.

This guy actually was on our flight back from Zurich and behaved exactly as described, worse. There is more already dictated (nearly a year ago). Maybe thatʼll be the post for Boxing Day

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

A Little More… Sepharad

Just because it was such a pain to dictate, hereʼs a little more of what went vocally into Scrivener on Wednesday, December 1. Remember… Judah and Søren are trying to break into the Green Tower, lair of the infamous (but tantalizing) Red Witch, Larissa. Judahʼs working for the minor crime lord Reynaldo, who is in turn trying to impress a patronizing lord who is himself currying favor from the (even more nefarious, and deservedly so) Necromancer!

We pick up where we left off last Sunday.

Enjoy.

Judah unbound the strange device he had tried to explain to the Northman from heavy loops of rope. It looked an awkward thing, though Søren’s experience distinguished the climber’s hook protruding on an iron bar from one end of it. Casually his partner began turning a screw on one side.

“This little machine will send the hook all that distance?”

“And more. You’ve never before seen one of these?”

“No. A Moorish invention?”

“Aye. Based, some say, on old Greek and Roman rowing machines, but I’ve seen drawings of these old catapults and read about them in Vitruvius. They worked on entirely different principles,” Judah grunted out between turns on the screw, effort which grew visibly more difficult even for his lean strength. “Get’s called a crossbow. And I think I’ve wound it tight enough.”

Judah raised the wooden device and held it shoulder high, aiming the hook end at the rooftop some twenty yards distant. Now it was evident that at least some of the rope was attached to the climber’s hook. Citing steadily, the Kabul West fingered a catch on the wooden structure. With a clear thrum the bar and hook sailed at the rooftop of the Green Tower, trailing rope behind.In an instant the hook clattered on the other roof. Judah pulled carefully on the rope tugging the hook toward one particular angle on a cornice where he hoped it securely lodged.

Several stout pulls the rope indicated his aim and effort had been true.

“So now one can swing across?”

“It should work.”

“So which of us goes?”

“The trick was designed for just one, but as I suggested, I think we’ll try it together, Søren. Aiming for that window there. See? Can you gauge the right length of rope?”

“It’s a long swing to a tiny target, Judah.”

“That window’s six feet high and three across. All we have to do is hit it and not the wall to either side. Or swing too high or too low. This was the hitch in the plan for me: I’m not sure I could get myself across accurately. But you, can you do it?”

Søren, who had met you experience with ropes and swinging on such, both in the fjords and mountains of his distant homeland, but also at sea, a-Viking, examined the tower, the hook’s evident location and the rope — certainly stout enough to hold two, considered, and finally nodded. “Aye.” They were still speaking German, partly from convenience, partly yet from a sense of secrecy.

Søren squared himself to that distant tower — tugged strongly on the rope, observing both the pivot of the hook and the window. Judah had aligned where the bolt landed and struck well, whether from luck or skill. And with a brush of luck and application of skill, Søren should be able to swing to the window — the challenge being the double load, taking the smaller man along.

Hesitating would not resolve or improve the situation. “Climb on,” he ordered, nearly kneeling on their parapet. Judah clambered piggyback onto the huge man’s shoulders, which Søren flexed in a couple of shrugs, adjusting to the burden, then grasping the rope firmly in both hands, dangling some out into space ahead, twirled the last few feet around his chest and Nathan’s rear. He stepped back a few feet and then sprinted to the parapet, saving one last long step to the top of that low wall, and leaped.

The rope snapped taught around both their bodies after a few seconds of free fall, rushing they are descending for word momentum. Nathan felt his heart thundering in his arms, wrapped around the big Northman’s shoulders. Three heartbeats, four: Søren swung his boots foremost, and they smashed into the glazing of the window, true on center, as Søren released the rope and let it snake away raspingly from his body.

As last time, if you see something that seems wrong, (thank MacSpeech Dictate and) let me know…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Søren and Judah (again)

Here is the second dose of the recent portion of “Mistakes by Moonlight” that I dictated this last week. As MacSpeech Dictate mishears meat least once every sentence, usually more often, you can help by letting me know what things you find that donʼt make sense (I already spotted and correct an “I” that should have been “A.”

Although, this, from the very original draft assumes that they are leaving from the Golden Bull, having just met. You and I know better, and this is really the second night, and I need to come up with a good reason to have them begin “well fortified with wine,” or else change the start of this chapter (which will be chapter 4; I was still writing chapter 3, all brand-new, when I scheduled this).

Enjoy.

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Thus, fortified with a powerful dosage of wine, and moderately fed, this small and the tall set out in the middle of the night to renew the interrupted escapade. As Judah had taken the route specified by Reynaldo’s plan when beset the day before, they both concluded the wisdom of trying an alternate path to their goal, the Green Tower.

As the planned route had wound through back ways and had been assaulted so easily, Søren suggested that they try the most public way possible, and the Street of Dreams led directly across town, just a few rambling blocks from the large, empty square where stood the witch’s power. It lay a bit further from the nasty alley which the Golden Bull fronted.

Even at this hour merry crowds filled Calle de Sueños, one of the five principal avenues across the city, and the two melted into the flow of folk, although Søren’s height placed him conspicuously overlooking the streams of heads.

On the other hand, no one was looking for him. Or so the two hoped as they strode along and dodged among the mixed classes and religions thronging the Street of Dreams.

Once, in a dark place between wavering cones of light from civic torches, a man rushed from an obscure doorway directly at Judah. But when Søren stepped in his way, the fellow appeared simply overstimulated with drink. A few minutes later, in another dark stretch where the crowds had evaporated into amusements within the buildings alongside, a pair of horsemen appeared ahead and charged down at the duo, who both dodged aside, as the mounted police laughed and clattered on. More sinister, both men felt and nervous pressure at every intersection and separately kept turning ahead to check behind. Søren plowing people aside, judo weaving and docking between folks and around groups. Every time all seem secure unless that group which quickly turned aside into that tavern on the left was the same group that had slipped off briefly to cheer a Gypsy dancer in a side street earlier.

In the better part of town, public buildings, palaces and places of worship — mosques, churches, synagogues — stood stately and widespread along the margins of the street. On this side of the city, businesses of all repute’s with rooms above, taverns, in his and gambling dens massed thickly on each side. The street remained wide, providing passage to pedestrians, carriages and carts, worsening as well as burdened donkeys and stevedores balancing pallets of goods on shoulders and heads. Upper stories are on side streets might nearly or truly touch over the passageway, but here have been remain clearly visible above.

As they advanced, the number of people gradually dwindled along with the streetlights and the noise until they found themselves alone on the now black street, just a block from the turning to the narrow way debouching into the bleak and vacant square outside the Green Tower.

A cat yowled suddenly when they stepped into the square of few minutes later and fled, all white streak, across an open area and to one side.

“I hope that wasn’t some demonic guardian warning of our approach,“ Soren opined.

“If she cares, if she’s away, she probably knows all that transpires around her tower. But our boss says she’s grown comfortable and careless. Thus her supernatural slumber twixt midnight and dawn. Come, let’s hurry. Always lies where the Went, a coincidence not at all reassuring to me.“

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“Maybe he was sent by the wizard we indirectly serve, Judah.“

“A thought even less comforting. I almost think I’d rather have her attention on me than that blackhearted Necromancer’s. Here’s our alley. Follow.“

Halfway down this side passage, Judah drew a key from his purse, using the device to open very small and the road door in the building they had been passing. Quickly he rushed Søren, ducking and twisting, within, and although the plan had not called for the action, relocked the portal from inside.

“That will make it difficult to leave again, should the need arise,” objected the Northerner.

“Our plan is to exit her tower another way.” Nathan repocketed the key. “Besides, safely locked, I hope no one can follow us from here. Go. Grope ahead: a stairway should open on the left.”

It did, and the two climbed in darkness, up and up, turning on landing after landing until suddenly Søren’s head thumped against the rough unseen in the utter black. He swore under his breath.

“Perhaps I should have gone first. Sorry. Feel for the ring,” Judah urged. “It’s a trap door onto the roof.”

Søren made no sound locating the ring his head had barely missed in the collision, turned it as instructed, and heaved upwards slightly, just a few inches, peering out on the vaulted surface of the rooftop. All looked silent and deserted in the single direction he could barely see.

The thin slit of starlight illuminated the top steps to Judah’s dark-accustomed eyes, and he quickly located the gear Reynaldo had promised hanging on the wall. Gathering this stuff into his arms, he asked, “All clear?”

In reply, Søren pushed the door up right and leaped out, his left hand still on the ring as his right swept his sword up and out to challenge… nothing. All clear. He stepped aside as Judah swarmed up and out with his new burdens, and then he lowered the door again, dropping the ring and grasping the portal’s edge.

“Let it close all the way,” Judah instructed. “There’s little enough we could do were we able to retreat this way again.”

But Søren cautiously kicked a pebble to lodge in the gap as he released his grasp. Now they could return through the trap door, if necessary. An unlikely need, perhaps, but he also noticed no ring topside to lift the door again to permit ingress. The Green Tower loomed to their left across about twenty yards of open space. They crossed to the edge of their roof, standing behind a low parapet just higher than Judah’s knees. From up here they could see that the open square actually surrounded the tower on all sides, isolating it with at least the distance before them between it and any other building. Indeed, their rooftop came closer than any other structure to the Green Tower.

And it was green, even in the nocturnal darkness which made the tower black, hints of reflection winked greenly. Color by starlight was almost impossible to perceive, but Søren realized he had seen the towerʼs top as a memorable element of the cityscape when he rode down out of the mountains to the plain. And Judah naturally had several times circled and deleted the building in the square, providing a sop and a stimulant to his everthirsting curiosity. Looking upward, Søren could see the rows of periodic windows which would be their primary interest. Far higher yet that crenellated tower top — far too high for any strength to launch a climber’s hook.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A