Tuesday, January 21, 2020

SNEAK PREVIEW--Chapter One of Aztra's Mirror

                                   Twins
   “My strength and my weakness are twins in the same womb.”                                                                                              Marge Piercy

The blade slid across Zakan’s throat. “Brother,” his mind called out, before consciousness slipped from his grasp as he tumbled dizzily out of this world into the next.
     "Brother mine," Javek groaned, startled awake, trembling. “Do not leave me.”
     Zakan hit the floor. His forepaw clutched at his throat. It was dry, hot. His eyes popped open. He stared at his fingers, looking for the blood that should have been there.
     Javek was shaking him awake. From somewhere above, he saw himself on the zorka skin rug next to his bed.
     “You be here Zakan, in the Labyrinth. You be alive.”
     “Tej,” Javek called out. “Bring your poultice bag.”
     Tej dashed into Zakan’s room, leather pouch in his forepaw. “It be the dream again, be it not?”
     Zakan stared into nothingness. The words, ‘consummatum est,’ rang again in his ears, and he pitched forward, half in this world, half in the next, one part of him lingering above himself, watching his twin catch him. Watching Tej crush five baneberries in his fingers and spread them in a a five-pointed star of black paste across his raging hot forehead.
     Hearing Tej as if he were under water saying, “Air, fire, water, earth, aether, bring health, power, knowledge, wisdom and happiness through the everlasting grace of Amara.”
     Feeling the soothing, cooling, cream and Tej’s healing fingers kneading his spirit back into his body. Like a cold stream pouring itself back into the river, whirling, unable to control the spinning until it stopped by itself.
     He drew a long breath. He was once more back to being Zakan, acolyte of the Grand Vizier, in his room inside the sacred mountain, in the arms of his twin and his brother’s lover.
     “It be the dream,” he and his brother Javek said at the same time. The dream that would not pass. The dream, again.
     “Goddess Amara help us.” They made the sign of the star.
      “Aye,” Zakan muttered, struggling to catch his breath. “One more time, the sacrificial blade across the throat. One more time, white hot heat, across my whole body, but not a drop of blood.” He gasped. “And this time I felt the spirit leave my body.” His whole body shook. “For the fifth time, those strange alien words assailed me from the netherworld.”
     They all made the sign of the star again.
     Zakan broke the pregnant silence. “It was the fifth time it came this moon-cycle,” he said. “Five days to—"
     “the new moon-cycle,” Javek finished the sentence with him. “Aye. Five. And today we will cast the fifth intruder this moon-cycle through the Sacred Gate.”
     “That be not all,” Zakan added. “This time, I knew for certain I was on Saetana in the dream.”
     “That hell-world?” Javek said with a shudder.
     “And a voice, half feminine, saying “You know me.”
     “Aye, I heard that as well,” Javek said, hugging Zakan to his chest.
     “Did you see her?” Zakan asked his twin brother.
     “Nay. But this time I felt the hot blade as if it were across my own throat and heard those words you say came for the fifth time. In what alien tongue I canst not imagine.”
     “It be a sign, sure. A vision. But of what?” Tej asked.
     “Aye. We have asked Bodan,” both twins said simultaneously.
     Zakan slowly shook his head. “Bodan knows more than he be willing to tell us. He said the words were of an ancient tongue from another world, agreed it be a sign of sacrifice, and cautioned us to take such forebodings from the spirit world as symbolic rather than specific. But he will say no more.”
     “One thing be specific enow for me, brother, I do not want to go to Saetana,” Javek said. “It be accursed. Nothing could be more different from our heaven-world on Saecula. Even though it be our twin planet, Saetana be naught but the evil twin. But this dream suggests that, and the foulest of outcomes.”
     “It be my dream, brother, not yours.”
     “And you think I could let you go alone? We be twins, and so we love each other more than any other beings.”
     Zakan laid his fingers along his brother’s cheek. “Aye. How could we stand to be separated?   Whatever comes, we will go together. But how could we go to Saetana, save in a dream state? The Sacred Gate be closed, and only Bodan be able to open it long enow to cast an intruder from the hell-world through it.”
     “Aye. But I like not the fact this be the fifth time the dream has come, the fifth intruder we shall cast out, on the fifth day before new moon. Five be a magic number, be it not, Tej?”
     Tej did not answer.
     Javek frowned. “It be the five points of the sign of the star. The five great elements of existence,” Javek insisted in a sharp tone. “And did I not see you crush five, not more nor less, baneberries?”
     “Calm yourself, Javek,” Tej demurred. “No number be magic in and of itself.”
     “You think I canst not count? That I only imagine danger looming large before us?”
     “I think because you always be the cooler-headed of the two, the less inclined to jump at conclusions, that you would be calmer,” Tej replied.   
     Javek bared his teeth. “Calm myself? As you have pointed out, I tend to take a more considered approach to life than my twin. And as I share his thoughts, more sometimes than I like, I can see what he imagines this recurring dream and coincidence of numbers means.”
     “I think we should go back to bed,” Tej suggested, placing a forepaw on Javek’s shoulder.
     Javek shook his forepaw off. “Don’t patronize me. I know Zakan better than anyone else. Maybe better than he does, since I do not live inside his skin, as he does, and can observe him from a point of vantage. I know when he feels called to do something, even though he wants not to do it, naught will keep him from it.”
     “When all the signs point in one direction, brother,” Zakan said, “one must see the hand of Amara moving vapor and matter.”
     “And what?” Javek asked. “Step off the precipice as if you be dreaming? In the hope that angels will come to keep you from the rocks below? Let me tell you something, brother mine. Today, Bodan will cast another intruder from Saetana through the Sacred Arch. Another grasping fool from a race of beings who covet the jewels that lie underground and be more than willing to lie and cheat to get them. What have the intruders shown us? Let me tell you. The Goddess Amara’s hand be visible here on Saecula, where life be simple and direct. But Saetana be the accursed home of the fiend-God, Kharv. A fouled world ruined by greed and deception. Your dream should tell you only death awaits you there.”

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Northern Spy

Sometimes when I tell people about the rural community of Western New York where I live, they get this strange look in their eyes that says “Really? How could anyone willingly live there?” Yes, 150 inches of snow every winter—and that’s on the lake plain, a stretch along the southern shore of Lake Erie that runs from one to three miles deep. The folks who live just up the escarpment from us, get about 220 to 240 inches. Today, I dug my car out, and cleared the snow and ice off the back porch and back stairs so my three Maltese dogs could get out into the big back yard again. They ran and ran and ran, leaving little pawprints in the snow and were very happy to come back into the house and settle down in front of a radiator.

Even if you don’t like frolicking in the snow, there are advantages to this rural lifestyle. People along the lake plain grow grapes, berries, apples, even a few hardy souls manage peaches. And today, in my little village in the middle of nowhere, I stopped at the local pie shop one of two local bakeries--(the local cake shop, is also well worth a stop)-- and brought home a fresh-baked apple crumb pie, made from Northern Spy apples grown along the lake plain about ten miles west of here. Northern Spies are a very late season, large and stout apple with carmine red skin married with streaks of yellow and pale green. Their creamy yellow flesh has just the right bite of tartness to offset the sweet, juicy, cidery taste. They make a fantastic pie. Just the right firmness, and a knock-your-socks-off flavor that lets you know this is a real apple in a real pie.

I’m on the tail end of a ten-day-long cough/chest cold that everyone seems to be getting this year. It laid me low. I couldn’t write, could barely think, blew my nose until it bled, coughed until my ribs hurt. Started to feel like a human being again yesterday.

The Northern Spy pie was dinner. Half of it anyway. My three Maltese dogs got their fair share of the apple crumb crust.

I’ll get back to writing tomorrow.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Muse Has Returned

My third eye injection has come and gone. This one was easiest of all: took only two days to feel normal again. My vision is still blurry in one eye, but the Retinal Specialist says there is "slight improvement," in the condition, --it's early to predict, but signs indicate I am in the 25 percent of patients who actually might get better--and definitely in the 50 percent who don't get worse. 
So the muse has returned. I have cut back on social media and I am back to writing my Work In Progress. So this will be a short note. I have my band of intrepid souls safely on their twin planet, which has nearly devastated its environment by unfettered greed. They've had one run in with the gestapo-like police force, and are hiding out in a rebel encampment, trying to figure out who their friends and enemies are, and how they are going to accomplish their seemingly impossible mission. They don't know it yet, but things are about to get worse. The tyrant Rhondal is aware of their presence and has stepped up his own actions to invade and conquer the other twin planet. And the Galactic police--the warrior race Krieg--who have sworn to annihilate everyone on Rhondal's planet if he tries this, have an itchy finger on the trigger.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Poke In the Eye

When I lived in Montreal, I learned the French Canadian expression, "it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." Well, I just found out exactly what that means.
Sometime in April, while working on a scale model diorama for an upcoming exhibition, I noticed that the vision in my right eye had gotten blurry. When it did not go away, I called an eye specialist and got an appointment. After a series of tests, he diagnosed wet AMD, macular degeneration. I had a number of questions, and not all the answers were happy-making. The Opthamologist  said I needed to get an injection in the eye, which he proceeded to do. It was not fun. Even less fun was the research I did online later. I spent a few weeks wondering whether my diorama-building and possibly writing days were coming to a faster close than I would like. 
Fast forward six weeks. My exhibit is up and running. Took four days to set it up. Exhausting, but it's a real treat, seeing my work in a really fine gallery. 
I have just had my second Lucentis injection --yes, in the eye, oy!-- but this one went better than the last, less residual pain, and I have already shown some "slight" improvement according to the Doctor, so I am feeling pretty up. Now that the eye is returning to "normal" --vision blurrier than the left eye, but workable--I'm looking forward to reading and anxious to catch up on my current Work In Progress, and yes, build a few more dioramas and models. 
Untreated, wet AMD would lead to blindness, and not everyone treated with this injection improves, but I have had a positive reaction to the treatment and tremendous support from my friends, so getting poked the eye every 6 to 8 weeks with a sharp stick is not as bad as it could be. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Frankensquirrel Revisited

Well, we moved the squirrel feeder from the tree near the porch one hundred and some feet away---hung it on the wooden fence around the flower garden.
The squirrels all took to it immediately. They soon figured out they are safe from the three Maltese dogs confined behind the small wire fence some 50 or so feet away.
But, as will occur, battles for "ownership" of the feeder commenced, and the larger squirrels succeeded in chasing Frankensquirrel off pretty much every time any of them were there.
So now, with most of the thieving of the bird feeders having been reduced by giving the squirrels an alternative to having to run for their lives when the hounds are loosed, and Frankensquirrel clearly back at the bottom of the squirrel pecking order, there's a large pet bowl on the back porch, filled with a mix of raisins, nuts and seeds. We can't help it. Franky comes to the back porch, sits on the railings, watches us, and otherwise makes it clear he thinks he is one of the "pack," and has adopted us.
The dogs, of course, disagree.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

FRANKENSQUIRREL

He struck again today, launching himself from the porch railing to the top of the bird feeder pole and chasing the tweety birds away. He plopped himself down into the shelled peanut tray that the blue jays and woodpeckers are so enamored of, and proceeded to stuff himself.
We loosed the hounds—three Maltese dogs, only one of which is bigger than Frankensquirrel. And of course, he ran, And they chased him. Off the porch, down the steps, across the yard, up the wire fence, off the wire fence, back through the yard,---with Tooki, the fiercest of the three Maltese, snapping at his tail--to the tree, where he made his escape..
It’s our own fault. We first saw Frankensquirrel in the winter. He was thin, small, probably the runt of the litter, and he looked miserable. We decided to fill the squirrel feeder on the tree for him. It worked. He became a daily visitor, in a time when there were only one or two birds coming to the bird feeders.
And he fattened up. Now, he seems convinced that we put food out only for him. The birds have come back, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Nuthatches, three different Woodpeckers, and of course, Sparrows and Juncoes..  He chases everyone away. We have created a monster. We’ve tried reasoning with him. Tried confining him to the squirrel feeder. Nothing seems to work.
So we loose the hounds on him. Of course, he’s faster than they are, but Tooki gets pretty close. After a really close call, Frankensquirrel seems to go somewhere else for a few hours. Most of the time, he’s back in less than fifteen minutes.
We’re now concerned that he may not be able to forage for food on his own.
We’ll find out this winter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Who Am I?

Writers are artists. Our medium is words. And as artists, we have to ask ourselves, “Who am I?” What defines me? What role do I choose to play in my art? Am I a Maurice Chevalier or an Edith Piaf? Am I a Glen Campbell or a Tommy Smothers?
During World War II, Maurice Chevalier decided he was an entertainer and it was not his role to do other than entertain, even if it was for those who had overrun his country. After the war, some Frenchmen accused Chevalier of collaboration, which he denied. Edit Piaf was an active member of the Resistance. Obviously, she was not found out, for she would have paid a far more serious price than Tommy Smothers.
During the Vietnam conflict, Glen Campbell decided he was an entertainer and it was not his role to take part in the politics of pro or anti-war factions. Tommy Smothers decided otherwise. Tommy paid for that decision. His TV show was cancelled. For his activism, he gained some fans and he lost others. And for his decision, Campbell gained some fans and lost others.
In these days when the trumpery seems to get worse by the minute, artists must also ask themselves “Who am I?” And in asking that question, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it.”
I believe in the power of words to place people in positions where they can change their own minds about something. I believe, as the psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl--who survived the Nazi death camps to write some of the most positive psychology the world has ever seen-- pointed out, you cannot make anyone do anything they truly do not want to do. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Choice always intervenes. So I choose.
I'm done with trying to not alienate Trump supporters. Time is up. I'm done with that. The man is deeply disturbed and objectively reprehensible. His condition is worsening, and as long as he remains in power, our nation is in jeopardy.
If you choose not to see that, it's time to think long and hard about what that says about you, who you choose to be. To my mind, anything that can be destroyed by truth, should be destroyed. In my writing I will continue to speak the truth. Silence in the face of evil is collaboration.