Cold War

My first draft of Cold War is dated 22 Jul 1987 and is based on my experiences in the arctic and working for USAACRREL: United States Army Arctic and Cold Regions Research and Environmental Labs. I wrote the story for a workshop. Self-reflection and -inspection wasn’t in vogue at that time and wouldn’t be for another five or so years. Most stories presented were tech driven and bored me. The one or two character driven stories were weak because the character aspect had to break through the tech aspect.

Anyway, since then it’s been published in Midnight Zoo ’92, Horizons Science Fiction ’99, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires 2016, and Daikaijuzine Sept 2020.

Enjoy.

Cold War

Home is…south? Gotta be. Everything’s south.

Which way is south? Can’t smell it anymore. Damn compass froze, it’s so cold.

Cold didn’t bother me the first 250 miles. Neither did the glare of the sun. Or the endless white. Or the total lack of smells. Someone told me there’d be weird smells up here. There aren’t any. Not this far north. There’s the smell of the ocean, humming beneath this glacier. I could smell the snow at first. That stopped after a few hours, after my mind got so use to the smell of white that it got blocked out. The winds don’t howl like I thought they would. They wouldn’t this time of year, anyway. But they whisper. The glacier surface is so flat I can hear conversations back in Mantinac Bay. They come to me when I let my mind rest, when I lay down to sleep. That’s not like in-country. You lay down in-country, any thing’s got legs uses you for an LZ, a runway. The ice surface is uneven, though. Up close it’s uneven. That’s like in-country. But nothing crawls over you. Nothing living, nothing but the wind.

I don’t sleep that much anymore. The monitor’s attached to my chest. Physically attached. They sowed it into me where the skin is thickest. So I can’t sleep on my stomach and when I sleep on my back I can see this damn little red light blink blink blink. Blink blink blink. Keeps you up all night, you know? Blink blink blink.

How much farther? I use to be able to do this in my head when I started. Mantinac to the Pole is nine-hundred sixty klicks. I’ve gone four-hundred. What does that leave?

It’s a long trip. Some nut told me the ice would smooth out. This from a guy with a Ph.D. in cold weather research. Guy learned from a book. That was back at USAACRREL: United States Army Arctic and Cold Regions Research and Environmental Labs in Hanover, New Hampshire. New Hampshire can get cold, when the Montreal Express comes in the from the north and we get a Nor’Easter heading in from the Maritimes. One year we had a snow squall New England style. That’s a hurricane in winter. It got cold. Not like this. This is a dry cold. They didn’t modify me right. I can feel it. Right up my legs to where my willy used to be. I can feel it.

I started with just over nine-hundred kilos of supplies. Stupid bastards. Over nine-hundred kilos in the sled, my body weight just under a metric ton. Oh yeah. They figured this one right. Each time my feet splayed, the fishtails on my soles picked up little slivers of ice that worked their way in. Deep. Kind of like shin splints that itch. I’ve only used a third of the supplies. That part of the design went right, anyway. Big as I am, I don’t need much food anymore. How ’bout that, mom? Mother never raised no tiny children, she used to say. What you think of your poor boy now, momma? They took what you and papa made one night and made me something no woman will look at again.

Everybody thinks they find test subjects in jails. He’s a lifer, he’ll do this to get out. Maybe a college student who needs extra beer money. Oh, and there’s this one, where they volunteer some private to go hazard. You know how Garrett got to be The Flash? Fricken’ lightening hits his lab bench and douses him with chemicals. Fricken’ Bruce Banner would have a tumor the size of a football if he ever sat in a gamma ray like they said. Remember ‘When Captain America throws his mighty shield’? The next line should have been ‘That ninety pound wimp gets a dick as hard as steel.’

Used to read comics all the time. Can’t remember too many of them now.

How much further do I have to go?

Got this thing in the side of my head. They said it was like what they did to help me walk after Charlie sent me a baseball as I jumped off the Rome. I never walked right. They said they would fix all that, too. Make me a fricken’ Steve Austin. Fuck. This thing in my head, under this plate, it listens to me and signals some satellite where I am and how I’m doing okay.


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The Boy Who Loved Horses

Years ago I studied in Appalachia and met some amazing people. The Boy Who Loved Horses came from my time spent with them.

It’s had a long publishing history: Pulphouse May ’94, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires 2016, and Allegory May 2020.

Enjoy.

The Boy Who Loved Horses

I was born in a town like this. Mine’s on the eastern ridge and closer to Raleigh. My town had the same dirt roads, the same one-room wooden church, the same old store where you asked for things instead of getting them yourself, the same people but with different faces, the same old men carrying coon rifles, girls getting married when they’re thirteen and younger, having kids before they’re through being kids themselves, the same sense of what’s ours and what’s not. I left my town and got educated. Made it into the extension service. Decided to come back and help others in towns like mine. My education didn’t take all the hill out of me, though. Knew enough to carry a gun in case I got too close to a still. But it did take some of the hill away. I forgot about towns like this.

I came here about a year ago; my big, state-issue Buick all shiny as it passed suspicious eyes. The state needed a count of school age children to qualify for funding and I came to count the children in this town.

Hill’re wary of anything new. They saw my car and suit and whispered “city” as I passed. It was true. When I come to this town, I acted like I was an educated man and everybody was suspicious of me. I went into the general store and bought a pop, sat down and tried to talk with some of the folk. Took me a while, but I got a nod, then a wink, then a smile. Turns out some of us had kin.

Eventually had to tell them why I came. They got quiet after that. I asked if there was some place I could spend the night. Nobody said. I should’ve left. I know hill. I known the signs. One of the men, Burt, left. The rest of us talked some more and, when there was no more to say, I thanked them all and left.

I saw Burt as I drove out of town. He was walking, two steps forward and one step back, and I could tell he was tasting squeeze since he left the store. Should’ve kept on driving. Should’ve known. Hill’s got mysteries they need to keep. “Hey, Burt, you need a ride?” I opened the door for him and he winked and handed me his bottle getting in.

Burt lived in a cabin up a short, rutty, old road about a mile out of town. We drove there talking hill, talking kin. By the time we got to Burt’s cabin, he was smelling like a coon’s been rolling in ‘shine. There was another jug on his table. He offered me more but drank most of it himself. “They won’t tell you about the boy,” he said.


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The Bone and the Bear

I originally wrote The Bone and The Bear in Dec 1999. I thought it a good, simple, fun children’s (YA?) story and nobody wanted it. One editor wrote that the protagonist wasn’t solving his problem on his own and I laughed; the protagonist made use of the tools at hand and solved his problem without violence.

But I never explain my stories to people. Especially editors. I may discuss issues if a rewrite is requested to make sure I understand the issues under consideration, but otherwise don’t defend, don’t argue, don’t explain. Listen. Is the reader’s mistaken impression of a story due to a story weakness? Fix it. Is the reader’s mistaken impression due to the reader’s weakness? Move on.

I sent the first version of The Bone and The Bear to an anthology listed as accepting YA. The response was they loved the story, but it didn’t fit the anthology’s SF/Fantasy/Horrorish mood.

Okay, not a problem. I edited (note: not rewrite, only edit) the story to make it SFish and sent it back (they didn’t ask for a rewrite) and explained I’d edited the story to be SFish. Hey, the loved it when it wasn’t SFish, would they still love it and accept it now that it was SFish?.

I heard back in less than a week. Yes. They’ll take it.

Below are the two versions. I’m a strong believer in stories being about people/character. Here’s an example of a core, character driven story being slightly modified to change tone and mood while the core story remains.

Enjoy!

The Bone and the Bear (original)

My heart sank when Dad called us into the kitchen. It had to be bad news. Bob knew it, too. He’s older than me, so maybe he’d been through it more than I had. But there we sat; Dad, Mom, Bob, and me. Dad smiled at us and, just like two years ago, said, “How’s the world treating my two men?”

Oh, no, I thought. What now?

“Bob, Danny, I’ve got something to tell you.”

Yep, just like before.

“You remember when the plant closed down and money got pretty tight around here?”

Bob and I nodded. That was the first “kitchen table talk”.

“Remember how Mom and I were really snappy towards each other and especially to you.” Boy, did we remember that. They were impossible. “Well, things got better, didn’t they?”

In a way, I thought. But Dad had to take a job two hundred miles away, in a place called Porterton.

“I got that job out in Porterton. And its a real good job, boys. Very secure. Lots of work. That place isn’t going to close.”

At that point I spoke up, “Does that mean we’re still only going to see you every other weekend?”


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Sunset at the Red Arrow Grille

Let me know what you think about this one. I share a first reader’s comments at the end of the piece.


Sunset at the Red Arrow Grille

Angie watched the old couple take booth 7. They sat on either side of the table, reached across and held hands.

She smiled. Limited income. Probably just got their checks. This is their big time out this month. Make ‘em smile. “Hi. I’m Angie. I’ll be helping you today. What can I start you with?”

The old couple smiled. They kept one hand out to each other.

The old man looked up, nodded. “Coffee. Extra cream, please.”

The old woman’s eyes smiled as she looked up. “Do you have ice tea?”

“Sweetened or unsweetened?”

“Unsweetened. I’ve got my own sugar right here.” The old woman patted the old man’s hand.

“Aw,” he said.

“Aw,” she said.

Angie returned with their drinks. The menus remained unopened on the table.

The old woman tipped a sugar packet into her tea and swirled it with her straw. “We know what we want.”

“Go ahead.”

“I’d like some homemade macaroni-and-cheese. Do you have that?”

Angie nodded, wrote the woman’s order, and looked at the old man.

“A meatloaf plate. Got one?”

“Sure do.”

The old man dumped two creamers in his coffee. “Met in a diner. Years ago. Saw your sign, stopped in.”

The old woman squeezed his hand. “Yes. Diners always have good, simple, stick to the ribs food. We have a long way ahead of us and don’t want to stop until we get there. That’s why we pulled in here.”

“Where you folks going?”

He sipped his coffee. “Reservoir. One town over.”

Angie drove a mental map. “That’s not far, is it?”

The old woman pointed out the window. “We want to be there at sunset, when the sun’s going over those mountains. All the colors of the mountains and setting sun reflect off the water.”


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Writing Mentoring

You are a fabulous teacher. – Parsippany, NJ

 
Let me save you some time before reading this post by starting out as I did with Critiques: Online or via Email; Do you want to improve your writing? Are you willing to pay to improve?

If the answer to either of those is No then read no further, this post isn’t for you.

Answered Yes to both? Read on.
Continue reading “Writing Mentoring”