Reading The Egg: A new era begins

Inspired by Wil Wheaton I have decided that my “keep Sam creative” project during the COVID-19 stay at home era and beyond is going to be posting audio versions of my stories from this blog to Soundcloud.  Please to give a listen and see what you think.  The first one, just posted, is the newly renamed For Want of a Pig.  Please to enjoy!

Chuck Wendig: Consecrated

The Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge for this week is called To Write About Food.  After the death of Anthony Bourdain, Chuck asked us to take 2,000 words and see what deeper meaning we could find in food.  I am looking at food as ritual, as community, and the way that all of those things can change over time.  I don’t know if it’s all that great or not, but I had a good time writing it.  Please to enjoy and let me know what you think.   Continue reading

Chuck Wendig: Sadie

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is to give up to 2,000 words on finding Hope in the Face of Hopelessness.  This one gave me a lot of trouble.  All the ideas I came up with were all “Once more into the breach” or “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be” or something like that.  It’s hard to write this one without sounding like a cliché.  I’m not sure I did a very good job at avoiding that.  I thought about just writing a non-fiction essay on hope, but in the end I decided that was even more of a cop-out than writing a cliché so I started writing a story and came up with a story about a dog named Sadie.

It’s 1,504 words long.  Please to enjoy and feel free to comment and let me know what you think.  Thanks for stopping by.


SADIE

I couldn’t find my dog.

The storm had barreled through the night before, wind howling like a freight train, trees falling, glass breaking, the neighborhood being ripped to shreds.  I had taken shelter in my pantry.  They always said to find an interior room with no windows.  The pantry was the best I could do.  I had considered going into the bathroom, but there is a big mirror in there that scared me to death.  I could just see that thing shattering and sending shrapnel everywhere.  The worst that could happen in the pantry was a few cans of soup falling on me from the top shelf.  It might hurt, but at least I wouldn’t be bleeding.

I had brought my dog into the pantry with me, for companionship but also to keep her safe.  She hated it.  She’s never liked storms, anyway.  Even the pitter-patter of a gentle rain has her cowering under my sheets as I try to sleep.  This storm had her completely freaked, and being in the dark, confined space of the pantry didn’t help.  She was wrestling and howling from the moment I shut the door.

I didn’t want to use my phone for light.  I figured the power was going to go off eventually so I was trying to conserve the charge.  I had found an old flashlight, but of course the batteries were half-dead and it didn’t last long.  Sadie and I were eventually left in the dark.

She hated it.  She wouldn’t stay still, thrashing about in my arms, scratching at the door, trying to get out.  The rain pounding on the roof and the sound of constant thunder and the roar of the wind was making her crazy.  Strangely, her own discomfort was helping me stay focused and sane.  I couldn’t be afraid for myself because I was having to take care of her.  I wonder if that’s how it feels to be a parent?  I never had a kid but it must be something like that.

I used my phone to keep up with the time and occasionally checked the radar to see how much longer this was going last.  Because of that I know exactly what time it was when the tree came through the roof of my house and tore the kitchen apart.  The crash was audible over the din of the storm.  Shock and awe.  I didn’t know anything could be louder than that.

The whole house shook and the door of the pantry fell off.  There must have been a bang when it hit the kitchen floor but I didn’t hear it.  Rain was quickly soaking my kitchen, and it was louder than ever.  Sadie completely lost it, scrabbling to get loose, digging her claws into my thighs as I sat in what had been a dark, cozy pantry.  My hands involuntarily released her to rub at the sudden pain in my legs, and she was gone, shooting off into the darkness, up and over the fallen tree outside into the storm.

I started to jump up and run after her, but crashed into the shelf above me.  Several of those cans of soup I mentioned earlier did exactly what I was afraid they might do.  My world turned black as they all landed on my head at the same time.

When I woke up the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.  Looking at my phone I could see that several hours had passed.  I got to my feet and staggered toward the front of the house.  At some point during the night another tree had come down into my living room, and looking down the hall I could see a third in my bedroom.  Every tree in my yard must have fallen on the house.  It’s a wonder I wasn’t crushed.

Most of my furniture was destroyed, and rain had soaked everything.  I looked around and sighed.  I had insurance, but this was going to be a total loss.  I wondered where my dog was.  I called her name a few times and listened.  There was nothing.  I was pretty sure she had gone outside when she ran off but I made a careful round of inside of the house first, calling her, looking amongst the ruin of my home.  She wasn’t in the house as far as I could tell.

I went back up front to go outside, starting to worry a little.  The front door wasn’t there.  It had been crushed by the first tree that fell.  I clambered up and over that tree and went outside.  I stopped, staring.  It was as if a bomb—several bombs, really—had gone off on my street.  There wasn’t a house standing intact anywhere in sight.  Some of them had trees through them, like mine did, others had been knocked to flinders.

Tornado, I thought.  I had thought my problems were bad.  I watched the Jacksons sifting through what had once been their garage, the flattened edge of their car sticking out from under the corner of some fallen beams.  At least I still have a car.  Or did I?  I walked over and saw that, thankfully, my garage was intact, and the car inside.  That was something at least.

I called for Sadie, walking around the house, checking the yard.  She didn’t come.  I was starting to worry more now.  I could feel panic beginning to flutter its wings.  There were trees and branches down all over the place.  She wasn’t a large dog, and the woods behind the house were thick enough that if she had gotten hurt back in there I would likely never find her.

I started down the street, watching neighbors digging out, conducting a triage of sorts to figure out what had survived, what could be salvaged.  I saw other pets, dogs and cats that I knew, but no sign of Sadie.  I kept calling.  Seeing the devastation all along the street and not being able to find my dog, I soon began to plow straight into a full-blown panic attack.

Soon I was running down the street, calling her name to both sides as I ran.  I knew people were stopping what they were doing to watch me, but I was unable to stop myself.  I needed my dog.  Mr. Wesley Parsons stepped out of his driveway and caught my arm.  Frantic, I tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let me.  I kept calling.  “Sadie!  Sadie!”

He pulled me around until I was looking at him.  I kept trying to pull away, he kept redirecting me so that my eyes finally locked on his.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “We’ll find her.”

I over the edge now, crying, sobbing, snot mixing with my tears as they rolled unchecked.  I’m a classic ugly crier.  “I’ve lost my dog,” I said, barely comprehensible.  “I’ve lost everything else.  I can’t lose her too.  I need my dog!”

“I know,” Mr. Parsons said.  “She’s your normal, isn’t she?  She’s your link to the way things were yesterday.  We all need something to place our hope in.”  He looked at his wife and smiled a bit.  “I’ve got her.  I’m all right.  You need your Sadie.”

He started walking with me, still holding my arm, and the two of us called.  I had calmed some, but I was edging beyond panic into despair.  Where was my Sadie?  As we made our way further down the street others joined us.  Before long there were six or eight of us spread all over the neighborhood, calling her name.

The houses at the far end of the street had escaped Nature’s fury with just a few downed branches.  One of those houses belonged to the Barnes family, and I found Sadie there.  Mike Barnes was one of the kids who liked to play catch with her in the street when I took her for her walk.

Mike had found her when he was walking through the neighborhood that morning, huddled behind some bushes, scared and shivering in the rain.  He saw that my house was in bad shape so he took Sadie home and fed her and kept her warm and safe until I could get to her.  She heard her name and came running out to me now, barking joyfully and frolicking.  I feel to my knees in the wet grass and hugged her tight and rolled around with her in the grass.  I wasn’t the only one crying.

There were a lot of people who lost things possessions that day.  Cars, homes, pictures, books, furniture, things.  But as the rebuilding went on over the next few months, one by one they came up to me and they rubbed Sadie’s head, and they thanked us.  They all told me that seeing our joy at being reunited that day had helped them keep the most precious thing that any of us possessed.  More precious than any home or car or television set.

We helped them keep their hope.

Chuck Wendig: Social Anxiety

So.

Here we are, halfway through January, and so far #NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening) has been a total failure.  But all is not lost!  This is the second week in a row I have written a story for the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge.

This week, the name of the game is Something That Scares You.  The assignment is to take a fear and turn it into a story of 1,000 words or less.  So of course, I chose to take my social anxiety and turn it into a quasi-autobiographical character sketch.  Of course I did.  What is a blog for, especially mine, if not to place my fears and emotions on the altar of my creativity and display them for the world to gawk at?

I couldn’t come up with a clever title, so I just called it “Social Anxiety” and ran with it.  I hope you like it.  Hopefully I’ll get on with the book soon.  That’s a whole different set of anxieties I’m trying to get past, though.  Wish me luck.


SOCIAL ANXIETY

The telephone sat on my desk, still, plastic, inanimate.  Just looking at it I could feel my stress level going up.  My breathing quickened.  My heartbeat accelerated.  My face was flushed.

I stared at it.  It ignored me, involuntarily mocking me, unmindful of the emotional devastation it wrought.

It has been my greatest fear since I was a child.  I developed a stutter when I was in the fourth grade and it manifested itself most virulently when I answered the telephone.  The sound of the “h” at the beginning of a word—hair, hero, hello—defeated me every time.  My throat closed up, my breathing stopped, and I could do little more than gasp three of four times until the word came out in a rush, almost in a shout.

I finally stopped talking on the phone altogether when I was about 13.  The mental block was enormous.  It was years before I trusted myself enough to answer the phone without sounding like I was having a seizure.  Even now, more than thirty years later, I know how to control my disfluency and I do it without thinking 99% of the time.  But I still have to hesitate and consciously gather myself when I answer a telephone call to make sure I don’t stumble.

I built walls in adolescence that were too tall to see over because I was afraid to try to knock them down.  As I have gotten older it has become easier to do things that once seemed impossible and the walls have crumbled some.  They still stand high enough to impede my progress if I’m not cautious, though.  Most of the time I am careful enough that I can work around and over them but this…

This was too much.  In an attempt to force my way out of my fears I had taken a job that required me to be on the phone all day, helping people fix problems with their computers.  I knew on the first day that it had been a terrible miscalculation.  Every time the phone rang I broke into a sweat and my heartbeat filled my ears.

I answered the phone, but I hesitated and stumbled, and I knew that I was making the wrong kind of impression with the person on the other end of the line.

“{Pause} H- {stumble} hello {continue in a frantic rush to maintain momentum} and thank you for calling Outreach.  {Deep, calming breath}.  My name is Sam.  What can I help you with today?”

Once I got past the introduction I was fine.  I knew my stuff—I gave good answers—and I was confident and firm in my advice.  That first second, though, that moment when I had to answer the phone and greet the caller, that defeated me nearly every time and it made my life a living hell.  It made me afraid of the telephone again, for the first time since I was a teenager.

It was the same every time the phone rang.  Six calls an hour, they wanted us to take, eight hours a day.  That was 48 opportunities to stumble, to fall, to appear foolish, to be laughed at.  It’s no wonder my self-esteem was flatter than Wile E. Coyote on asphalt.

I needed to find another job, but I couldn’t.  I was paralyzed by the knowledge that looking for a job would lead me to having to speak on the phone with someone for an interview, or just to get information.  The very thought of having to do it drove my anxiety up to the point that I was afraid I was going to have a breakdown.

Of course, that made it even worse, and I could feel depression beginning to dig its claws into me as well.  I was well and truly stuck.  Anxiety on one side ready to rip my throat out, depression waiting to wrap its coils around me on the other.  I didn’t know how to get out.

This story is supposed to have an ending around here somewhere (hopefully a happy one), but it doesn’t.  It’s still in progress.  I’m in a different job now and the situation has changed since then, but my walls have been rebuilt just a little and are higher than they were, and my fears are still there, lurking behind them, waiting to pounce.

I know it’s only a matter of time before those fears reemerge.  I have to believe that I can be stronger than they are, and I have to be confident in my ability to combat them.  Once I truly believe that I can do it, the rest will fall into line.

For now, I soldier on, answering my phone when I have to, trying to make the best of it.  I’m taking a brick off the wall every time I do.  Eventually it will be low enough for me to see over again, then step over, then finally kick over.  Only then will I be free of my fears.  Only then will this story ever really end.

Chuck Wendig: World War V

This week’s Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge is to take two different pop-culture story worlds and mash them together to write a new story.  It’s not necessarily a fan-fiction challenge, but that’s sort of how mine turned out.  I got World War Z and Jurassic Park.  There’s really only one place that combo could go.  I hope you like it.


World War V

excerpts from an oral account of the ongoing Velociraptor War

 

TUSCON, AZ

[Trevor Holman grew up in the Southwest, the only child of itinerant parents who did nothing but drink and gamble.  He found stability after striking out on his own and worked for many years as a hand on a cattle ranch in Pima County, Arizona.  He thought he had seen everything that the world could dish out.  Then one day, he realized that the world could still surprise him.]

Cattle were dying, more every day.  We thought it was coyotes at first, but the more I looked at it, I realized it couldn’t be.  The killings were too…too organized.  I guess that’s the word I‘m looking for.  It was like they were planned out.  Like someone knew what they were doing.  Coyotes don’t work that way.  They hunt, but they don’t hunt, you know what I’m saying?  Humans hunt.

So you thought it was people killing the cattle?

It didn’t seem like people had done it either.  It just felt wrong.  I didn’t know what else to think, though.

You didn’t know about what had been happening in Mexico and Central America?

We were isolated, man.  This was before cell phones and the Internet got real big.  When we were out in the grass we didn’t know anything that was going on in the world.  All we had was a payphone back at the ranch.  Most of us went weeks at a time without talking to anyone or watching TV or anything.

 

ATLANTA, GA

[The Federal Bureau of Investigation began receiving requests for aid from citizens in the Southwest.  Special Agent Gwen Siebert was a member of the first team to respond.  She is now Assistant Director of the Atlanta office.]

The first call we got came from the Fort Apache reservation.  We were stationed in Phoenix, so they sent us up to investigate.  There were a couple of field agents and some forensics support.  We had forensics with us because a couple of people had been killed on the reservation.  One of the FBI’s functions is to enforce the law on federal land, so we get called in on reservations all the time.

What we found was pretty grim.  We had two bodies covered with slash marks and their throats torn out.  From the accounts of those who found the bodies, it appeared that at least one of them had been attacked from behind.  The locals thought it might have been wolves, but we weren’t so sure.  Actually, hold on a second…

[Director Siebert picked up her phone and placed a call to Dr. Marcus Davidson.  Dr. Davidson was one of the forensic specialists who accompanied her team to the reservation.  After she explained to him who I was and what I was doing, Dr. Davidson agreed to talk to me as well.  The interview continued, with Dr. Davidson on speakerphone.]

[Siebert] I was saying that the locals seemed to think it was wolves but…

[Davidson]  I wasn’t buying it.  I had seen the results of a wolf attack, and this didn’t match up.  There had to be something else at work.  I was pretty sure it wasn’t a human killer, because the markings were the wrong shape and size for a human mouth and teeth.  I examined the bodies closer and looked at the slash marks.  They were made by claws, but again, they didn’t look like marks that a wolf would have made.

[Davidson continues] It wasn’t until we were back in Phoenix that I made the connection.  There had been mysterious attacks all through Mexico and Central America, mostly cattle and other livestock.  Humans had been left alone for the most part, but had been killed on occasion.  These seemed to fit the pattern.  Whatever it was, it was moving north.

 

EAST ST. LOUIS, IL

[United States Army Lt. Colonel Stephen Bridges is a household name in the early 21st century.  His exploits on the front lines over the last few years are well known and need no repeating.  Not as much is known about the early days of the war, when Lt. Col. Bridges was a second lieutenant freshly minted from West Point and Arizona was still a peaceful place known for grasslands and the Grand Canyon.]

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a raptor.  Cattle had been dying all over Arizona, and people were starting to be attacked as well.  There was never any sign of the attackers.  It happened at night, and there was no sound, no indication of anything in the area.  The sun would rise, and another six head of cattle would be dead, throats torn out, flanks scratched all to hell.

The ranchers were going ballistic, and the local police couldn’t seem to do anything about it.  Not their fault, but we didn’t know that at the time.  We just thought they were piss-poor excuses for law enforcement, and that they had probably served in the Marine Corps before joining the force.  [chuckles]

So what finally changed your mind?

Well, they brought in the FBI.  They couldn’t figure anything out, either, so a bunch of us who were training at Fort Irwin volunteered to make patrols through the area to see if we could at least help protect the ranchers and their property.  The brass thought it would be a good training opportunity.  It was, I guess, so off we went.  We had no idea what we were in for.

We were in western Arizona when we were ambushed for the first time.  We were making our way across the desert in a pair of Humvees.  We came across a couple of freshly killed animals.  We stopped to investigate.  When we got out of our vehicles, they attacked us.

What was it like, that first time?

Just like it’s been every other time since then.  It was the most frightened I have ever been in my life.  They were so fast.  I had only stepped out of the cab when one was on me.  I didn’t even get a close look at it.  All I could do was raise my arm up to protect my face, and I barely managed that.  That’s when I got this.  [He folds up his sleeve and shows me a scar running down his forearm from elbow to wrist.]

They didn’t take the time to kill us that time, they just overran us and knocked us down, then were gone.  We got back into the Humvees and got the hell down the road before they could come back.  We had cameras running and when we looked back at the footage, we saw what they looked like.  We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

We were the first to get pictures of them.  Not that it’s done us much good.

 

CAMBRIDGE, MA

[Dr. Debra Tyson is one of the world’s foremost geneticists.  Over the last few years she has become an expert on velociraptor physiology and psychology.  Working with survivors of the Isla Nublar disaster, she has been able to build profile after profile of raptor behavior.  None of the profiles last for very long, however, as the raptors seem to change their pattern of behavior at regular intervals.]

We had no idea what was happening at Isla Nublar.  We knew InGen was performing experiments of some sort, but nobody knew exactly what they were up to.  The Hammond Foundation kept everything quiet.  They wanted a big surprise when the park opened.  I guess they got one.

When did you first know for sure what was happening?

After what we now call the Incident, everyone from InGen dropped off the face of the planet.  We didn’t see or hear from anyone from that group for years.  I still don’t know what happened to them.  I had a couple of old colleagues and a student who had been feeding me rumors and tantalizing me with bits and pieces of information for months who were suddenly just…gone.

There were rumors about cloning dinosaurs, but who’s going to believe that?  Even when the killings started in Central America nobody made the connection.  It wasn’t until I saw the Humvee pictures from the Bridges Expedition that I even remotely considered that dinosaurs might be involved.  And even then, really?  Dinosaurs?  In Arizona?

Once the pictures came out, the InGen people started trickling back into existence.  John Hammond had his big press conference, gave his famous “Mea culpa” speech, and everything that InGen knew and had done and had learned made its way into the scientific mainstream.  I couldn’t believe it.  The scope of their achievement was staggering.  I still wish it could have happened the way they had wanted it to.

They knew there had been raptors loose in Costa Rica?

They say they didn’t.  They had suspected, I think, but there was no proof until the Bridges pictures showed up.

And here we are, fifteen years later.

That’s right.  It took the raptors almost seven years to get from Costa Rica to Arizona.  They took their time.  They built a population.  An army.  And they planned.

You really believe that, don’t you?

Of course I do.  Anyone who doesn’t is a fool.  Velociraptor is the most intelligent animal on this planet aside from us, and I think they have us beat on some scorecards.  They stalk, they surround.  They hunt.

Someone else put it to me that way.  They hunt.

It’s the truth.  It’s not like other hunting animals—wolves, lions, cheetahs.  Raptors have the intelligence to learn from their mistakes and to change their behavior because of it.  It’s why I can’t pin down a solid profile.  Every time I do, they change it.  There’s a reason this war has lasted fifteen years.  There’s a reason we are losing.

 

EAST ST. LOUIS, IL

[After talking to Dr. Tyson, I called Lt. Col. Bridges back to ask him some follow-up questions.  I told him what Dr. Tyson said.  He agreed with her on every point.]

Do you really think we’re losing?

Ask the people of St. Louis if they think we’re winning.  Ten thousand velociraptors just crossed the Mississippi River.  Ask the people of Chicago, Louisville, or Memphis if they want to be next.

Can you stop them?

I honestly don’t know.  They don’t fight like we do.  We smash their eggs when we can find them, but they have learned to take them along as they move.  They fight at night, they fight in close quarters in the cities.  They are guerilla fighters who have learned to use our architecture and our reliance on technology against us.  We’ve forgotten how to fight their way.

It took the raptors seven years to get from Costa Rica to Arizona, but fifteen to get from Arizona to St. Louis.  They slowed down.

That doesn’t mean anything.  They overran Arizona in less than a year, then they went to ground.  Do you remember when they came out of the Grand Canyon?  I do.  I was there.  I’ll never forget it.  We had been patrolling the rims for years.  Next thing we knew there were thousands of them coming over the edge right at us, and we scattered.  We couldn’t do a thing to stop it.  Not a damn thing.

[We sit in silence for several minutes.]

What’s it going to take to beat them?

The only thing we haven’t tried yet is nukes.  We’ve tried guns, missiles, biologicals, anything else we could think of, and it just hasn’t worked.  All we have left is nukes, and I’m not convinced that’ll work, either.

You think we’d use nuclear weapons in our own territory?

If we don’t, it’s probably not long until Russia or China or someone else will.  It’s been fifteen years.  That’s too long.  The raptors got off the island by figuring out what a boat was.  God help the rest of the world if they figure out planes.  It’ll make Planet of the Apes look like My Little Pony.