Jul. 14th, 2009 06:01 pm
rowyn: (studious)
Crow-Woman stands at the side of highway 50, a rural road only two lanes wide that cuts through a swath of dense forest. She has stood here for so long that brambles have grown up to cover her legs, some old enough to have died still tangled around her human-like thighs. Her wings are atrophied from disuse, and her black feathers mottled with grey from past moltings never preened away. She is rooted by remorse, they say. She has been here for forty-two years.

Now she is thinking.

The sun sets on her, as it has more than fifteen thousand times before. The moon rises.

In the dense woods behind her, a child sobs.

Crow-Woman turns her head and cocks it like the bird she is not. Leaves rustle and branches creak and crack in the thick vegetation of the preserve. A young voice whimpers and coughs in accompaniment.

Crow-Woman raises her wings. Grey down cascades from them like falling snow. Like snow, still more yet clings to the black wings. She beats them, a feeble stroke that barely stirs the air around her. She lifts one leg instead. Senescent vines stretch and brambles tear at scaly skin. Dead wood creaks and cracks as she pulls one taloned foot free, and then the other. Trailing vines, she strides into the dense forest. She is twelve feet tall and the undergrowth is thick, but Crow Woman is patient. She pushes aside branches with weathered hands and pecks at them with her long sharp beak. Slowly she moves forward, finding a track and widening it. By the time she finds the child, he has stopped crying.

He is crouched against the side of an ash, outside a faerie ring of mushrooms, pale grey in the moonlight. No, not moonlight, for the moon is but a sliver; it's the reflected glow of the light-polluted night sky. The child stares at her, the tracks of tears streaked through the dirt on his blotchy face. Crow-Woman stares back.

In the distance, crickets serenade one another.

Crow-Woman speaks: "Hello."

The boy does not answer.

Crow-Woman asks: "Are you lost?"

The boy watches her in wide-eyed silence.

She considers him in return, her mind sifting through long-disused memories. "Did your parents tell you never to talk to strangers?" When he does not reply, she adds, "I am strange, but you do not need to talk to me. You can nod for yes and shake your head for no, and that is not speaking, is it?"

Slowly, the boy shakes his head a little.

"Well then. Are you lost?"

Another shake.

"You are next to a faerie ring. Are you waiting for the Little People?"

He nods.

"The Little People are not kind to unfamiliar mortals. They will not bring you toys or candy, or take you to a paradise where you will be happy forever. It is not safe for you to be here. Do you know that?"

The boy bites his lower lip, and nods. He wipes a dirty hand across his dirty face, smearing the tear streaks.

"Do your parents know you are here?"

A headshake.

Crow-Woman considers the child for another long moment. "Are you punishing them?"

The boy gives her a confused look, and forgets that he isn't supposed to talk to strangers. "Me? Punishing them? You mean my parents?"

"Yes. Do you plan to let the Little People take you to make your parents regret how they treated you, and that they did not stop you from running away?"

The child shakes his head, vehement. "No! It's not like that at all!"

"Then what is it like?"

The boy falls silent. Crow-Woman waits, patient. Overhead, the sickle moon rises a little higher in the sky. "Are you one of them?" the boy asks at last. "The Little People?"

Crow-Woman lifts her wings and starts to spread them. The trees are too close together; at ten feet they are not even halfway outstretched, and bumping into branches. "Do I look little?"

He shakes his head.

"What is it like?" she asks again.

Crow-Woman waits.

The boy stares at the faerie ring. "He'll never forgive me."

"For what?"

"I broke Dad's camera. I wasn't even supposed to touch it. And now it's broken."

"And he said he would not forgive you?"

The boy shakes his head. "He doesn't know yet. I ... I couldn't. I thought it'd be easier to let the Little People take me."

"To punish you?"

He lifts his head to look at her, his face screwed up. "Are you gonna punish me?"

Crow-Woman kneels. She holds out her hand to the boy. Hesitant, he takes it. "I am done with punishment now. Let us see if your father's camera can be mended."

senescent: ancient; of advanced years.

I started writing this months ago. It didn't want to be finished but I decided to finish it anyway. I don't remember where I got the word from any more


May. 7th, 2009 11:56 pm
rowyn: (studious)
A creature ten feet tall at the shoulder, with four limber legs set close together on a short torso and a nose as long and prehensile as a tentacle, strode through the forest with a young woman cradled securely in the curve of its proboscis. She sat as if in a swing, one hand resting high on the nose and close to where it joined the beast's head, the other low and near the far end. The woman's gaze swept across the forest canopy above, searching for something. "There, Freyr." She pointed up and to the left, where colorful fabric draped and splayed over numerous branches and multiple trees, like an enormous handkerchief dropped by God. The woman patted the animal's left cheek. "That way. Up, pumpkin."

The beast emitted a muted honk from the end of its nose, eyes focusing on the colorful spray of cloth. Its paws gripped one of the thicker tree trunks with sharp-clawed toes, and it climbed with its long nose dangling to one side and the woman still seated in its crook. She leaned forward to peer between the branches and leaves, looking up at the enormous expanse of tangled cloth.

Then her eyes dropped down, and she gasped. "Freyr! There!"

Ropes hung from the canopy of cloth like the threads of a spiderweb. But no spider spun at the end of the ropes, only a man dangling limply.

"We'd better get him down."


He woke to the face of an angel.

She was a brown-skinned wingless angel with a crooked nose, a wide face, short tangled hair, and strange beasts for servants, but she was no less an angel for all that. She'd saved his life; as far as he was concerned that made her more than qualified. "I've asked your name before, haven't I?" His tongue felt thick and his words slurred.

She nodded. "Twice." She had a tray with a couple of capped bottles and a big mug of warm soup in her hands.

"Sorry. Never was good with names."

"Also, you keep fainting." She set the tray down next to his bed.

"Terrible manners. Must apologize." He tried to sit up, and to his surprise succeeded. The room around him was strange: walls, ceiling and floors all of smooth polished wood, with a few pieces of sturdy wooden furniture and wood carvings for decorations. Someone really liked wood. And brown. All different shades of brown, from pale beige to deep mahogany, created by stains and inlaid in various intricate patterns in the furniture. It was pretty in its way. He glimpsed himself in a big mirror opposite the bed. He was not pretty in any way. The skin of his face, upper chest, hands and wrists, was red and puffy from burst blood vessels.

She sat beside him and smiled. Her smile was as crooked as her nose. "You already did."

"So I did. Sorry about that. Oh wait, apologizing again."

"I forgive you. Do you want to try drinking some soup?"

"Sure. Will you tell me your name again?"

"I am Illyana." She tipped the cup to his lips. He drank; it was warm and bland and he was grateful for it, too.

"Mmm. I'm Richard Paulson. No surname?"

She shook her head. "Don't need one."


Richard spent many days convalescing in Illyana's bedroom. Despite the presence of his angel, he was not in Heaven. He was still in Western Altheia, which Illyana called home. It turned out this wasn't the trackless wilderness he'd been led to believe.

Well, it was sort of a trackless wilderness. Illyana's people had seceded from the galactic community. He and Illyana spoke often as he recovered. She had fascinating stories to tell, about the local wildlife and her life there. She lived alone, with her nearest neighbor almost a kilometer away. He couldn't imagine a lifestyle so isolated, so empty of people and the entertainments he was used to. It sounded like it should be boring, but Illyana never sounded bored. She had a way of talking that could make even ordinary things seem interesting, and nothing she talked about was ordinary.

"So what do you people do, really? This is some sort of high-tech agrarian community?"

"Not agrarian," Illyana explained patiently. "Agrarian people farm. We don't farm. We like the forest here and do not want to cultivate it or transform it. Our goal is to live without a disproportionate impact on our environment." Her own home was artfully designed to resemble a thick-trunked tree from without.

"... right. So you're, what, hunter-gatherers?"

"We don't hunt, either. We do gather, but we're not primitives. We have computers, robots, microfusion power plants, medicines and so forth."

"How can you maintain all that without an industrial base?"

"The robots do a lot of the maintenance and we do the rest."

"But you've got no economies of scale! And your communications ... you've got no ansibles?"

"We've got short-wave radios."

"What's that?"

Illyana explained.

"And no vehicles?"

"No roads. We don't want to have a disproportionate impact on our environment. We use the goriphants for transportation."

"What about graviders? They don't need roads."

"What's a gravider?"

Richard explained.

"Those do sound nice," Illyana admitted. "Except for the part where it throws you out when you're several kilometers above the ground."

"It does have certain drawbacks." He leaned back against the pillows and shook his head. "Still. You've no idea how to get to Inverse Spaceport?"

"There's a spaceport? Where's Inverse?"

"It's on Quarter Continent. Northeast of here, across the Midnight ocean. About sixty-five hundred kilometers from here. I think."

She shook her head. "My people left the galactic mainstream sixty years ago. We haven't had word of what's going on outside this forest since then."

"You're kidding. No one ever tries to leave?"

"We like it here. It's comfortable and beautiful and we have everything we need."

"But ... no one?"

Illyana gave a little shrug. "Not so far."

"So I'm stuck here."

She reached out with one brown hand and smiled her crooked smile. "It's a good life we have here, Richard. Would it be so bad to try it?"

He looked at the hand of his angel as it covered his, and thought about the strange beasts she rode, the vast expanse of wilderness surrounding them, the stories she told. He thought about his family, and his friends, and his work, and the life he'd had. He'd lost that, maybe. But he hadn't lost everything. Richard smiled back at her, feeling suddenly giddy. "No. I suppose it wouldn't be."

proboscis: a nose, especially a prominent one like the trunk of an elephant. Also, the long tubular feeding organ on some invertebrates, such as butterflies and mosquitos.


Apr. 27th, 2009 12:10 pm
rowyn: (studious)
"It's $29.95 a night," the man at the registration desk told her. She fished around in her pockets for her wallet. It wasn't in her jeans. She couldn't remember where she normally kept it; every place felt a little wrong. Maybe she used to carry a purse? A pocket on the inside of her jacket held a bumpy disk on a velvet ribbon. She pulled it out to look at it in bemusement: it was a cameo, white on a black background, set on a worn red choker. The clerk gave a low whistle. "Is that real?"

No, it's an illusion, she didn't say, pulling her billfold from an outer pocket of her jacket. "Real what?"

"Victorian cameo. That looks like an antique."

"I don't know." At the clerk's look, she added, "I got this jacket from a thrift store. I just found this in the pocket," because that was easier than telling the truth.

"Oh. Probably not, then. But you might get it checked out sometime anyway, those're valuable." The clerk frowned as she pulled bills from the wallet. "You're paying with cash?"

"Is that a problem?"

"Well ... there's a $250 room deposit, too. You'll get that back when you check out, if there's nothing wrong with the room."

She shrugged and gave him $280. "Good night."

As she walked away with the key card in one hand, she held up the choker, studying the carved profile with its high-piled curls and soft chin line. It didn't go with the black leather motorcycle jacket at all.


A bell tinkled as she stepped inside an antique shop in Columbus. The shop smelled faintly of lemon-scented cleaner. It was cluttered, but every surface was dust free, even the rows of tchochkes and the old books on shelves against one wall. A fortyish man with long hair brushed behind his ears and a trim beard stepped out from a door behind the counter, moving carefully to avoid disturbing any of the crowded oddments. "May I help you?"

"Maybe. Can you tell me if this is valuable or not?" The short woman walked to the counter, holding out the choker. "I don't think I want to sell it. I'm just curious."

"Let's see ... mm." He took a jeweler's loupe from a drawer and sat down beside the counter to look at it. She didn't realize he wasn't fully human until a tentacle snuck out from beneath his hair to adjust the loupe. She must have made a noise, because he looked up. "Sorry. I'm not a monster, honest. It's just ... you ever win something and then realize you didn't actually want it?"

She shook her head. "No. I once lost something I didn't actually want, though. I think I understand."

He smiled, and peered at the cameo again. "Ribbon's too worn to be worth anything. Cameo's pretty. It's not gemstone ... sardonyx conch, I think. Nice carving, hand-done. You don't have documentation on it, I suppose?"


"A certificate of authenticity, or a history of it, or even a letter or diary that might mention where it came from."

"Why would that matter?"

The proprietor gave her another smile, his brown eyes kind. "It's the provenance of an antique that makes it valuable, ma'am. How old it is, who owned it, who made it -- all the parts of its history. I can tell by looking that this was hand-carved, and hand-carved shell is very rare now, so it's probably over seventy-eighty years old. It's worth something for that, maybe a hundred. But it might be a lot more if I knew where it came from. If you like, I can take it off the ribbon, see if there's a maker's mark on the back. That'd tell me more, might be able to Google up something on it."

She looked at him for a moment, then held out her hand. "No, that's okay. I don't want to sell it, and I don't need to know where it came from. Thank you."

"As you like." He handed it back to her. As she left the shop, she fastened the choker around her neck.

Provenance: Place of origin; derivation. the history of the ownership of an object, especially when documented or authenticated.

Bard gave me this word, too. For some reason I seem to have an easier time coming up with stories on words he gives me than if I go looking for a word on my own.


Apr. 16th, 2009 04:29 pm
rowyn: (Default)
The cockroach general paced across a spotless kitchen floor. Even in the dim green glow of the nightlight, it gleamed. His nervous troops shuffled on the uncomfortably clean floor. Supplies were low, and the terrain barren and hostile. Troop morale was worse. This army was his vision, his dream. It was up to him to hold it together.

He stopped at front and center of the rows of twitching insects and barked out, "ATTEN-SHUN! ANTENNAE-FRONT!"

The ranks straightened out and pointed their antennae forwards.

"Roaches! We have come upon hard times. These are our brightest hours, when we are faced with a foe so terrible, so tidy, it makes a roach's haemolymph flow cold.

"But we shall not give in to despair! Even though large parts of the House, including many ancient and famous heaps of Refuse have fallen before the broom and mop of the Bride, even though mounds of Dirty Laundry are now menaced by the tide of Tide and the fragrant apparatus of the laundry machine, we shall not falter. We shall infest the kitchen, we shall infest behind the stove and the countertop. We shall infest with growing numbers and growing stench in the air, we shall contaminate this house, whatever the cost may be. We shall infest the cupboards and the pantry, we shall infest the carpet, we shall infest under the lineoleum, we shall infest the basement and the attic, we shall infest the bathroom -- " his chittering rose to a fevered squeak as he reached the anaphoric crescendo of his speech, " -- we shall never surrender!"

A switch flicked on, and brilliant light flooded the kitchen. A woman shrieked. Roaches scattered to the safety of darkness underneath the refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove.

"I don't care how you feel about pesticides, Jim! We are hiring an exterminator!" the woman screeched.

Beneath the refrigerator, the general huddled with his troops. "... we might, however, make the occasional strategic withdrawal."

anaphora (noun): The deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs. Source: The Free Dictionary.

Bard menaced me with this word on Tuesday. Ironically, Tuesday’s story employed the concept of anaphora but didn’t contain the actual word. "Anaphoric" is the adjective form – "pertaining to anaphora".


Apr. 15th, 2009 09:53 pm
rowyn: (studious)
He was flying eight thousand meters above the wilderness of Western Altheia when his gravider showed the first sign of trouble. The warning came when he stopped riding in the cockpit at a lazy 0.25 Gs and his head slammed against the neckrest at 3.8 Gs. Oh, this can't be good. He took in the readings from the head's up display his goggles provided, and spun the internal grav dial.

The internal grav dial was not supposed to spin.

Definitely not good. Internal gravity did not change for a couple of seconds, than halved. Altitude was dropping at over 200 m/s. Internal grav must be working to some degree, or I'd be plastered to the ceiling already. He pulled the straps of the seat harness into place and buckled them across his chest, which took a second he didn't really have. Altitude was now dropping at 400 m/s. The klaxons clamored and shrieked at him from all directions. He spun the external grav dial, which also was not supposed to spin. The velocity of the fall stabilized for a half second, then slowed to 300 m/s, then increased to 500 m/s. This is not freefall. Freefall would be slower. He tried the steering handles. Left-right worked fine. Forward-backwards was not affecting speed. Up-down had no obvious correlation between what he was doing and the orientation of the craft. Which was now at an altitude of 5000 meters and falling. Great. Would I like to crash in the forest to my left, or the forest to my right? Or maybe ... the forest ahead of me? There was a lake he could aim for, in fact, and he did, but he didn't expect it to make a difference at his present speed.

The gravider's built-in ansible communicator was useless on this part of the world, with no relay station within five thousand kilometers of him. He slapped the mayday broadcast beacon, but there was no way anyone was going to respond to it before he hit.

All his gear was in the gravider. Camping equipment, signal flares, food, solar cells, rifle, clothes, GPS, everything. The beacon was in the gravider's black box and would probably survive the impact. If the internal grav compensators didn't fail completely, he would survive the impact.

Internal gravity suddenly spun to -3 Gs, and his chest slammed against the restraining harness.

If internal grav failed, he would be a messy red smear on the inside of the cockpit.

The beacon would summon help to the gravider. If he ejected now, he'd be kilometers from it and lost in the wilderness with no equipment.

Internal grav hit -6. He tried not to pass out. Well, do you want to die now, or wait until later for starvation and exposure to get you?

Oh ... let's go with later.
He punched the eject button.

The seat burst out of the cockpit. The wind hammered against his face as the gravider plummeted forward and down, while he started to slow to terminal velocity. A computerize voice from the earpiece of his goggles spoke: "Calculating time to safe deployment of parachute .... calculating .... warning: safe deployment not possible. Calculating optimal deployment time. Deploying in five point three seconds. Five ... four ... "

The gravider was moving much too fast. So was he, though friction was slowing him down. Not slowing him down fast enough. The ground looked far away, but that wasn't going to last.

"Three ... two ... one."

The harness jerked taut across his chest and around his limbs, striking him like the attack of an angry kraken. Something, probably the laws of physics, slammed his head forward while all the blood drained to the front of his body. A thick red haze filled his vision and blocked out the HUD. On the other hand, maybe today's a good day to die, he thought, and then darkness overwhelmed him.

klaxon: a loud horn or alarm.

I never knew before that "klaxon" was the standard spelling and "claxon" the variant.


Apr. 14th, 2009 08:00 pm
rowyn: (studious)
It was a dreary gray building full of dreary gray people. They stood in various lines, their expressions revealing how long they'd been waiting: the longest had lost all will to live, while newcomers held out hope.

Ken still held out hope. He looked over the eight forms on the black table and the six forms on the brown one, and picked forms 603a.1 and 402b.89 from the black table. He went to the line with a sign reading "Driver's Licenses" next to it, and waited.

Time passed.

The women at the front of one line burst into tears while the man wearing wire-rimmed glasses behind the counter looked on without pity. Her plea for mercy went unanswered; at length, she left.

Time passed.

Ken reached the head of the line. "I'd like to renew my license, please."

The man behind the counter didn't look up from his computer. "You're in the wrong line."

"But the sign said -- "

"This line is for new driver's licenses. You need to wait in the line marked 'Registration'."

"But I don't want to register -- "

"To renew your license, you need to go to registration."

Ken opened his mouth to voice another protest. The man in the wire-rimmed glasses turned his head and gave Ken a look. Ken realized then the futility of it: this was the petty tyrant's bailwick, and no outside power could appeal to it. He bowed his head meekly and moved to the line for registration.

Time passed.

A man screamed and beat his head against one of the countertops. "I just want the tags for my car! That's all I want! I'll pay you anything! Is this too much to ask?"

At the head of the registration desk, a woman with a pageboy haircut told Ken, "You'll need form 603a.1 and 402b.88."

Ken produced his forms. She barely glanced at them. "That's form 402b.89."

"But I -- "

"Form 402b.88 is on the end of the brown table. Next!"

Ken shuffled back to the brown table and filled out 402b.88. He looked thoughtfully at the other forms, then picked up one of each and got back in line.

Time passed.

When he reached the front of Registration again, the man in wire-rimmed glasses was staffing it. Ken gave him forms 603a.1 and 402b.88. The man scrutinized them with eyes full of suscipion. "You live in the Belmont school district. You'll need to complete form 602b.2."

"You mean this one?" Ken whipped it out and lay it on the countertop.

The man recoiled, his lips peeling back from his gums. "... and form 93b."

"Right here." Ken beamed and lay it on the counter.

"Form 305c."

"Got it."

The man in wire-rimmed glasses snatched the papers from the counter and flicked through them. All around them, the room full of gray-faced people watched, holding their collective breath.

The man in wire-rimmed glasses dropped the forms to the counter with a heavy sigh. "Very well." He punched a few buttons on his computer, and passed the renewed driver's license to Ken.

"Thank you." Ken took up the laminated card and held it high above his head. The crowd burst into wild applause, and the sound of cheering followed him as he exited the building with his prize.

bailiwick n. 1. A person's specific area of interest, skill, or authority. 2. The office or district of a bailiff. Source: The Free Dictionary.


Apr. 13th, 2009 12:08 pm
rowyn: (studious)
Mistletoe was expecting the sumptuous mansion with its twenty foot tall perimeter walls. She was expecting the tower outposts, the uniformed guards armed with automatic rifles. She was prepared for the Rottweilers, the security patrols, the cameras, the alarm system.

But she wasn't ready for the toddler.

How can you have a family? She watched through the scope of her sniper rifle as the target picked up his young son and whirled him around.

She should have been prepared for him. It was all in the dossier: "devoted father", "loving husband". She'd studied it all in detail. She'd paid enough for it; she couldn't afford to miss anything. But reading it wasn't the same as seeing it.

The target set the boy on his shoulder. The tow-headed child laughed and hugged his father's head as his sister ran up and tackled her father's legs.

How can you have a family when you took mine away from me?

It had been twenty years since she had seen him in person. She had not forgotten his face: the crooked nose, the dimpled cheeks, the warm, incongruous smile as he put a bullet through her mother's head. He had looked so happy as her father charged him wielding a kitchen chair as a weapon. He shot him six times before he fell. Her adolescent brother tried to run and he shot him in the back. Her older sister whimpered while she was hidden in a cabinet; he heard her and shot her through the door. All the while smiling and smiling, as he sprayed bullets into the bodies of her family, as blood splattered across the white lace curtains bordering the windows, as he turned their clean bright kitchen into an abattoir.

Now he put his son down on the patio of his own clean bright home. His children tugged at his hands, pulling him towards the swimming pool. A few feet away, his wife smiled at him, calling out something Mistletoe was too far away to hear.

How can you smile at him? Don't you know what he's done?

She had been hiding behind the water heater in the pantry, peering out between boxes and the crack of the door. She heard one of his men yell, "Anyone seen the last girl?" They searched for her for several minutes, while her father's last breaths bubbled out of him and his fingers twitched just a few yards away.

Then he said, "Screw it. She's, what, four? She's harmless. Torch the place and let's get out of here."

Now he put inflatable armbands around his little boy's arms and pumped up a plastic seahorse for his daughter.

Mistletoe didn't have time for this. The cameras for this spot were playing spliced loops of routine footage, but the next patrol would be by in minutes when the guards whose bodies were cooling beside her didn't check in. She double-checked the gauges for wind and distance, braced the sniper rifle, and aimed a little up and to the right of her enemy's head.

Beside him, his daughter danced with anticipation as his arms worked the pump. Mistletoe had a sudden vision of the girl, twenty years later, holding her own sniper rifle to slake a thirst for vengeance. His family will always remember this day, too.

Her resolve wavered.

Her aim didn't. Screw it. They're better off without you, you bastard. Mistletoe pulled the trigger.

As she fled the scene, the deaths of her family no longer haunted her. Nor did the image of her enemy, the back of his head shattered and fallen face-first into the pool, a red stain diffusing through the water.

But she could still hear the young girl screaming, long after she'd driven away.

abattoir: slaughterhouse

This word probably gets a fair amount of use in horror stories, but even though I'm familiar with it I've never used it much myself. It's such a gruesomely evocative word.


Apr. 10th, 2009 03:52 pm
rowyn: (studious)
A small blue motorcycle pulled into the gas station just after dawn.  The rider, a short plump woman neither young nor old, dismounted and took off her helmet.  She hung it off the handlebar by the chin guard and reached for the pump. The scrolling LCD display beside it read, Please swipe credit or debit card.  To pay with cash, see attendant inside.  The woman stopped and went into the little convenience store attached. 

The little brass bell tied to the door tinkled as she entered, and a bleary-eyed attendant looked up from his coffee.  “Out for an early morning ride, huh?”

The woman smiled at him.  “I’d like a gallon of gas, please.  And a newspaper.”  She pointed to the stack still tied with string next to him.  He cut the string off and handed one to her. 

“Where’re you headed?” he asked as he rang up the purchases.

“Mmm.”  She pulled out a wallet, fat with bills but with card slots curiously empty: no credit cards, no pictures, not even a driver’s license.  Not the attendant’s problem: she wasn’t buying beer.  She handed over a five and leafed through the paper, looking at the help-wanted ads.  “What’s the next town east on Highway 50?  Winston?”

“No, Winston’s north of here.  East is Renwood. Well, Kersville is east, technically. If you count a bunch of farms and a wilderness preserve as a town, which I don’t.  Renwood’s twenty miles off but they’ve got, y’know.  Shops and stuff.

The woman smiled again.  “I know. Renwood sounds nice.”  She folded the paper beneath one arm and headed for the door.

“Have a nice ride.  Oh, if you’re going up 50, there’s a monster in the preserve, so you know.  She’s harmless, though.”


“Uh huh.” He gestured with one hand high over his head. “Right by the road, rooted by remorse.  Hasn’t hurt anyone in decades.  Worst thing she’ll do is mope at you and ask you a question if you stop.  Figured I’d warn you so’s you wouldn’t freak when you saw her.”

“She asks a question?”

“Yeah.  Don’t worry, it’s not a riddle. She asks ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?’  Doesn’t matter what you answer, she always says, ‘What I’ve done is worse.’ And then she goes back to moping.”

“Oh. Thanks for the tip.”  She waved and went back to her bike.


Riding took more concentration than driving a car. The motorcycle had fat knobbly hybrid tires designed for both street and cross-country use, and they didn’t work quite perfectly for either. The bike had a tendency to drift down the slope of the road’s camber if the rider didn’t pay attention.  So the woman was staying alert anyway, and the monster was hard to miss.

She was rooted by the side of the road, a crow-headed woman twelve feet high with legs like tree trunks, bark-covered.  Molting black wings were thick with shedding grey down at her back.  One eye, grey and listless as a lump of ash, tracked the rider’s approach. 

The woman slowed as she neared the monster. When she was closer, she could see that the woman wasn’t actually growing out of the ground; rather, brambles and tendrils of wood were growing out of the earth to cover taloned feet and humanoid legs.  She rode past slowly.  She was the only one on the road, and nothing in else was sight but miles of thick vegetation on untended lands.  A hundred yards later, she turned the bike around and came back, stopping a dozen feet away.  She took off her helmet.  “Good morning.”

The monster had her profile to her, watching with one eye.  “No.”

The woman looked up at the clear sky, sunlight streaming down the highway and streaking the road with the long shadows of trees. “It’s morning, anyway.  Seems like a good one to me.”

The monster didn’t respond.  The woman put the kickstand of her bike down and swung one leg over to lean sideways against the seat. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” the monster asked.

“I don’t know.”

The grey eye blinked slowly.  “You don’t know?”

The woman shrugged.  “The first thing I remember happened last night.  I don’t remember anything from before that.  I haven’t done anything very bad since then, so I figure the worst thing I’ve ever done was probably before that.” When the monster didn’t say anything else, the woman asked, “What’s the best thing you could ever do?”

The crow-head turned away from her, one eye to the wilderness and one to the road.  The beak clacked.  “I never thought about that.  It doesn’t matter.  It wouldn’t be enough to make up for what I’ve done.”

“Is standing here enough?”


“Then maybe you should think about it.”

The monster didn’t respond.  After a few minutes, the woman put her helmet back on.  “Hope you have a good morning, ma’am.”  She snapped the visor down, turned the bike around, and rode into the rising sun.

This one has a bunch of meanings, most of which come from the same basic idea

cam·ber: noun: 1. A slightly arched surface verb: 2. To arch or cause to arch slightly. Source:

Modern roads are cambered to help with drainage.


Apr. 9th, 2009 02:27 pm
rowyn: (studious)
The rocking of the ocean's waves was barely perceptible in the forward cabin of the Good Try, where the captain and navigator studied a periplus of the Vandorian coast and compared it to the chart of their current position. "There." the captain pointed to a line two-thirds of the way down the long, painstakingly annotated scroll. "We'll make port at Jango."

"Jango?" The navigator gaped at his captain. "'ave ye gone daft, Cap'n Wymar? D'ye not remember what 'appened the last time we ported at Jango?"

Wymar tapped his fingers against his lips. "Jango ... Jango ... no, it's not ringing a bell."

"Jango! The mess what started at the pub. Wit' the general's daughter? And the two seamstresses?"

The captain cocked his head to one side. "Could you be a tad more specific?"

"Ye were all playin' that game wit' the bottles and the scissors, and then the general an' his men stopped by fer a drink? The whole army ended up chasin' after ye in the dead of the night!"

"Ohhhhhhh. Oh! oh." Wymar frowned. "That was Jango?"


Wymar clapped a hand across the navigator's back. "Buck up, Arnie. That was years ago."

"It were 16 months!"

The captain waved a hand in dismissal. "A bygone era. I'm sure they've forgotten by now."

"Ye burnt down 'alf their city in yer escape!"

"No! No. Not half. A quarter, maybe. Anyway, it was an accident. No one can prove I did it, and no doubt they've rebuilt since. Look, we need to resupply and the crew's restless because we only stayed in port two days at Innstere. It'll be fine." Wymar waggled a finger at the navigator to forestall further objections. "We'll be out of rum in three days' time if we don't port at Jango. Do you want to be here when that happens?"

Arnie ducked his head and pulled his cap down over his eyes. "No. No sir."

Four days later, the Good Try was berthed at the north end of the Jango port. Arnie was at the navigator's table again, when the door flew open. Arnie hunched forward over the table as a wild-eyed sailor looked in. "Mr. Arnold! Where's the first mate? The captain's been captured!"

"'as 'e now? Mr. Linton's at the helm, I believes. Ye go tell 'im, see what 'e wants ta do."

The sailor blinked and nodded, heading out. Arnie sat back and poured the small heap of coins he'd been hunched over from the tabletop and into his purse. A few minutes later, barked orders from without carried through the cabin door. "Everyone back on board! Shore leave's cancelled! We're leaving 'fore they decide to hold anyone else here responsible for our former captain's actions!" The door opened. "Mr. Arnold! How soon can you have a course prepared?"

"Gots one all ready here." He gestured to the chart before him. "Figured as we might 'ave ta leave in a hurry, Mr. Linton. I means ... Cap'n Linton?"

The new captain grunted. "Good man!" He exited.

Arnie shook his head. "Told ye not ta port 'ere, Cap'n Wymar," he muttered to himself. He gave a thoughtful look to the periplus unrolled beside him, then took out his pen to jot down two new annotations beside the entry for Jango: one symbol for strong rule of law and another for pays high bounties for criminals.

Periplus: an ancient navigation term for a document listing in order the ports and coastal landmarks, with approximate distances between, and other annotations added by navigators. Source: Wikipedia.

Bard threatened me with this word this morning, so if it shows up in [ profile] sythyry at some point, that's because I took it from him, not because he got it from me.


Apr. 8th, 2009 11:38 pm
rowyn: (studious)
They sat at a round stone table incongruously planted in a green meadow, six figures illuminated by the red light of an incarnadine moon. Two of them were mortal, a stout fair-skinned woman of thirty years, and a nervous man with deep brown skin and hair just starting to grey.

The other four were monsters: a ram-headed man with furry legs and a hairy chest left bare by the cloak of feathers draping down his back; a crow with the face of a woman that perched on the table's edge with two taloned feet and used a third to lift her cards; a giant winged snake that pushed its cards to the edge of the table with its tail tip and ducked its head down when it wanted to see what they were; a sphinx with snakes instead of hair: they whispered not-quite-intelligible advice in sibilant voices.

Five of them were playing poker; the sphinx was dealing. In the middle of the table four cards were face up: the king of hearts, the five of spades, the ten of hearts, and two of clubs. The nervous man put down his cards and pushed them away. "Fold."

The crow had already folded; now the winged snake did. The ram-headed man brayed out a laugh. The stout woman spoke in a calm voice. "Call."

The sphinx dealt the river: the ace of hearts. The ram-headed man smiled and thumped his fist against the stone table in triumph. He turned his head to fix the woman with the stare of one brown eye, and stated his wager. "All my knowledge 'gainst all of yours."

The woman lifted her cards by the edge, peeked at them. She looked at the stakes already on the table, pretty glittering things that looked like coins but weren't. She set her cards flush against the table again. "Fold."

The ram-face grinned hugely as he raked in the pot. A confused look stole across the woman's face. Before the dealer could muck the cards, she glanced at her hand and the board one last time. Then she let the sphinx take them from her. "I -- I'm sorry, I forget. What had I wagered so far?"

"All your memories!" The ram laughed again, cruelly. "All of them!"

"I ... I see." She got up from the table.

"You do not have to leave," the woman with the crow body told her. "You have much left that you could wager." The sphinx's hair hissed advice at her: to go, to stay, to consider -- what? She couldn't quite tell.

"No. No, that's all right. I think I'm done. Thank you." She turned to the other mortal before she left. "I don't suppose I told you my name?"

He shook his head. "No ... sorry."

"You could win it back." The ram spun a glittering not-coin between his human-like fingers. "Or try to."

She looked at the coin, and at his face, then shook her head again. "No. I have to go now."

As she walked away across grass tinted red by the unnatural light, she looked down at her empty hands. A curious lightness spread through her. It was an unsettling thing, not to know her own name, or anything at all about the person she was. The person she had been.

But she did not want to get it back. She had seen her hole cards after she lost: the queen and the eight of hearts.

Whoever she had been, she trusted that she'd had a good reason to conduce this ending.

conduce: to lead to or contribute to a particular result.


Apr. 7th, 2009 05:22 pm
rowyn: (studious)
"Dr. Treveran!  Stop!"  The man burst into the laboratory, slamming the swinging door into a metal-sided cabinet adjacent to it with a resounding clash of metal on metal.

The middle-aged woman tapping away at a computer console in a booth overlooking the laboratory tilted her head down to peer over the frame of her glasses at him.  "Why, Dr. Vitomsky.  Whatever's the matter?"  The automated equipment and servos operating on the main floor below did not pause in their paths, or otherwise acknowledge the newcomer.

"Your plan!  It's insane!  You'll destroy us all!"  He charged up the steps to her booth.  "You can't create a miniature black hole under these conditions.  Your containment field doesn't have a tenth of the power it needs!

"I assure you, my containment field has plenty of power, Dr. Vitomsky.  The whole point of this process is to generate power, you know."

"But you can't possibly pull enough power to contain it at the start! You must abort this process!"  He banged on the door to the booth.  "Let me in!"

"Nonsense.  The models were quite pellucid on this subject."

"Models! A computer simulation can't possibly account for all the variables in reality, plus I've checked your math and it doesn't work.  Now, Let me in or I swear I'll break down this door!"  He turned his shoulder towards the door.

"It's not locked, Dr. Vitomsky."

"Oh."  He opened the door and stalked to her computer.

"But you mustn't interfere with my experiment.  That could have disastrous consequences; this is a very delicate stage."

"More disastrous than sucking the Earth into a black hole?  When were you going to turn your generator on?"  He squinted at the screen she was looking at, then minimized the application that was running to look at her desktop.

She checked her watch.  "It's been going for 15 mintues now."

"And it hasn't produced your black hole yet?  Thank God I'm not too late!"

"No, it made one 8 minutes ago." She maximized the application again and pointed to a graph being updated in real time.  "See, this red line shows the exponential increase of power demanded by the containment system.  And this green one shows the power output from harnessing the energy of the contained black hole."

Dr. Vitomsky stared at the graph.  "You're sure you don't have those backwards?"

"If I did, we'd all have been sucked into the growing black hole by now." She smiled. "Actually, it would have evaporated first; that's what the failsafes are for. There's still some risk it might evaporate, but it's looking stable."

"Oh."  Dr. Vitomsky straightened and cleared his throat.  "Never mind, then.  Good work, doctor."

"Thank you.  We're having a party to celebrate tonight if it doesn't evaporate.  Did you want to come?"

" ... sure.  That would be lovely."

pellucid: Clear, easily understandable.  Also: transparent or translucent.

This is a word I already knew, but it’s one I don’t use much so I figured, why not?


Apr. 6th, 2009 01:01 pm
rowyn: (Default)
I blame [ profile] bard_bloom.

Actually, several factors are at fault. Lately, I’ve been feeling like my writing is very bland and uninteresting. I don’t think that my boring and limited word choice is the main reason my writing strikes me as uninspired, and colorful metaphors would probably spice it up better than big words. Still, learning the meaning of “crepuscular” (are you sure that’s not a disfiguring disease?) did remind me that my vocabulary, especially the list of words that I use on a regular basis, has shrunk more than it’s grown in the last decade. So I was glancing over a word-of-the-day archive in an effort to redress this.

From there my chain of thought went like this:

Wow, some of these words are so obscure that they don’t even sound like real words. I couldn’t use these in narrative without sounding stilted.

Most of those samples of “using this word in a sentence” aren’t very interesting. “Use this in a story” would be more entertaining.

Remember how [ profile] haikujaguar started all the
The Aphorisims of Kherishdar stories with the definition of a word from Kherishdar? Wouldn’t it be funny to do that with English?

And then Bard encouraged me. So it’s his fault, really.

“Walter, you can’t name your new cat Acedia.” Michelle rolled her eyes as she pulled the car into the driveway.

“Why not? It’s a pretty word.” Walter got out of the passenger seat and walked around to the back to wait for Michelle to pop the trunk.

“Do you even know what that word means?” Michelle opened the trunk and fished out the new litter box and bag of litter while Walter retrieved a bag full of canned cat food, gerbil bedding, and food pellets.

“As a matter of fact, I do. But I don’t see what difference that makes. It’s not like anyone else will know. It sounds like a flower or something. Azalea, Aster, Acedia.” Walter shifted the bag to one hand to unlock the house door.

“Hah. Why don’t you just name her Azalea, then?”

“Because I like Acedia better. Besides, you haven’t met her yet.”

“Whatever. You’re the one crazy enough to get a cat when you’ve already got gerbils. I’m sure that will work out great, too.”

“Acedia doesn’t have any problem with the gerbils.” Walter held the door open for Michelle, and she stepped inside.

“It’s not Acedia I’d be worried about. Where do you want this?”

“In the bathroom. Acedia’s probably on the living room sofa. I’m gonna check on the gerbils.” Walter went upstairs to the bedroom.

Michelle put the kitty litter in the bathroom and peeked into the living room. A large, fluffy tortoiseshell cat sprawled across the center cushion of the couch. “Aww, who’s a pretty kitty?” The cat regarded Michelle with great equanimity as the woman approached. When Michelle extended a hand to her, the cat regarded her fingers with similar equanimity. “You are! Yes you are!” The pretty kitty deigned to lift her head a fraction of an inch in order to sniff Michelle’s fingertips. The animal did not object when Michelle sat down next to her and started petting her.

Walter came into the room carrying a round ball of clear plastic with airholes and a securely-fastened lid. A gerbil sniffed at Walter’s fingers from the inside. “Here, watch this.”

“Walter! You can’t mean to – that’s just cruel!” Michelle protested as Walter set the ball on the floor. The gerbil ran forwards, sending the ball rolling towards the coffee table. “The cat’ll give it a heartattack!”

Walter snickered. “Robespierre’ll be fine. Watch.”

From her perch on the sofa, the cat watched the gerbil ball bump into a table leg before rolling underneath the coffee table. It bumped into the couch, rolled along the side, then tumbled away as Robespierre gamboled inside.

Acedia yawned hugely, and laid her head down on the sofa cushion with eyes half-lidded. Gerbil and gerbil ball roamed cheerily around the living room floor.

Michelle glanced between the two animals. “Okay. Maybe Acedia’s a good name for her after all.”

acedia: apathy; boredom. Originally used to indicate the mortal sin of sloth.

April 2019



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