20170701

snow

When Alana left town, she made sure they remembered her. "Now there," they'd say, "was a woman who liked the best of it." She left behind friends and lovers, people who would remember her smile and her laugh and her kindness, but also who would remember the lines of her chin, the shape of her cheekbones, the way she stood, the sound of her voice. A healer in Kerguelen memorized her collarbones and the ridges in her spine, tracing her fingers along them over and over again, whispering her name like an incantation.
In return, Alana remembered their names. The healer was called Yvona--serious Yvona, who carried the weight of a village on her shoulders. Her heart broke when Alana left but she knew where she'd gone. There would always be a trail--Alana made sure of that. She didn't know how else to find her sister.
They'd been identical once, Alana and the apparition that shuffled into Kerguelen that night, but years and distance had changed them. The apparition, whose name was Elara and who'd called herself Eira after the snow, was gaunt and weather-worn and hard, her greatcoat tattered, her eyes the eyes of a woman who would not rest easy wherever she hung her hat.
It was Yvona--gentle Yvona, who carried the weight of a broken heart on her back--who saw her, who called her by her sister's name, who wrapped her in an embrace before the stranger knew what was happening. "Alana, what's happened?"
Elara stared. "She's my sister," she said, in a voice that cracked from disuse, eyes thick with suspicion. "Do you know where she is?"
She ate well that night, as her host told her in loving detail of Alana's deeds, and how she'd made sure everyone knew where she was going. "I thought she just wanted me to follow, but she didn't," Yvona said, her heart breaking again as she made the realization. "She wanted you to follow."
And Elara nodded, and shrugged, and turned her shrug into a stretch to get the knot from her back. "Sorry, kid." Then, because she felt like that was inadequate, she added, "Alana's broken a lot of hearts."
And she slept well that night, and left in the early morning and hoped no one followed her. But Yvona--stubborn Yvona, who always had to fight to get anything done--knew the roads better than this stranger, and she followed, quietly, leaving the town to its fate.
Not every town was filled with broken hearts. Some had only fond memories, some had always known that Alana's smile would be temporary, but they remembered all the same. Sometimes Elara would pretend that she was Alana, other times she'd tell the truth. Always, someone would point her in the right direction and make sure she slept in a warm bed with a full belly and left with food enough for the road. So she followed, and so Yvona followed. Neither of them yet noticed that Elara grew less gaunt and weather-worn as she traveled, that the hitch in her shoulder bothered her less and less.
Not every town was filled with friends, either. A few remembered Alana badly, felt she'd cheated them, betrayed them, wronged them, and sometimes Elara would leave behind bodies where her sister had left behind enemies. But still she would find the right direction, and the people would be glad to be rid of her. And still Yvona followed along--Yvona the healer, stopped to help the wounded before she followed, despite the fear she'd finally lose the trail after so long.
Autumn came, and winter, and finally the trail was fresh. Elara trudged through the snow whose name she'd taken, undaunted by the elements that had been her only companion for years, while Yvona hurried after, feeling herself grow gaunt and weather-worn as Elara herself once was. At each town the time since they'd last seen Alan grew shorter. Three weeks. Two. Until, finally, "Your sister left not two days hence."
Without waiting to sleep that night, Elara bought a horse, so Yvona stole one, and they rode hard for the next town.
A man met them at the gates--"You escaped? How?"--and Elara's sword was at his throat. "Escaped where? Speak quickly." And he pointed to the biggest building in town--of course. Alana would settle for no less.
They'd caught Alana unawares. Now her sister caught them unawares, and showed them that a sword is no mere butcher's tool but an instrument of artistry and finesse. She cut them down one by one, and for all their numbers she seemed to exert no effort in doing so.
When they were no more she found her sister, badly bloodied but alive, and knelt at her side. She was uncertain whether to be overwhelmed with joy or grief, so she made no expression, said nothing, only touched her sister's cheek and said, "I'm here, Alana, I'm here."
And Yvona--road-weary Yvona, brought low by the weight of a thousand miles--ran to her lover's side and tended to her wounds and fed her potent healing tinctures, made with the rarest and most powerful herbs.
And all Alana said to either of them was, "I'm sorry."
She might have died, left untended. Or perhaps she would have lived--scarred, chastened, perhaps, but still alive, and perhaps even her enemies would have become friends after a time. It hardly mattered now. Yvona--pure-hearted Yvona, whose heart was light with relief--tended her old lover's wounds, no matter that Alana had never intended them to stay together forever.
The town made them heroes--Alana and her twin, and Yvona the healer--and they stayed until the spring. By then Alana could walk again, though now she had grown gaunt and pale, while Elara had plumped and softened and walked with a spring in her step rather than a hitch in her shoulders.
They treated Yvona--pragmatic Yvona, who knew better than to let her heart lead her on a wild chase across the land--only with kindness, and she realized, as young lovers sometimes do, that she had loved a feeling, not a person, and that the feeling belonged to the past. She packed up and walked home--a different road, a less urgent road, but she had apologies to make and a village to tend.
And when the twins left town, they made sure they were remembered: Alana, who made friends wherever she went, and Elara, who had walked too many roads without hope of seeing a friendly face. Perhaps their road would be no easier together than apart--perhaps they would both grow gaunt and hard, and would spend many nights hungry. Perhaps Elara's shoulders would develop a hitch once again and Alana would walk with a twinge in her back.
Or perhaps, like the spring, their roads would be a little brighter, a little easier, a little softer. Perhaps they could leave the snow behind.

20170605

swordmaster

Maybe I looked like I needed help, or maybe someone had been talking. I suppose it doesn't matter now. She sat down opposite me, and of course I smiled--that's what you do--and introduced herself as Iona. She spoke with an accent I couldn't quite place, and so faint I wasn't sure I hadn't imagined it.


"Good to meet you," I told her. Despite the fact that this wasn't true, I tried to make it sound as sincere as possible. Not out of any real desire to deceive, but--well, a friendly smile is a better defense than a sword most of the time.

"I've been watching you," she said. "You're worried about something."

"Why do you say that?"

"At first I thought maybe it was just your face," she said. "You know, the brooding, pensive looks when you're not paying attention. But every time someone comes near you smile like you're afraid they might catch you." She took a drink from my beer. "Like right now."

I glanced around to see if anyone was watching us. They weren't--well, there were some men who'd been leering at one of us all night who were still leering, but nobody seemed to be paying attention to our conversation. "And if I told you I was, in fact, worried?"

"You want to hire me. I'm the best sword you'll find in these parts."

"Is that so? Can I have a demonstration?"

She finished my beer and slid the empty mug back at me. "In a moment."

A man in blue livery entered and, upon looking around, almost immediately recognized me. "You've got a lot of nerve showing your face in these parts again, traitor." He pushed through the crowd to approach. Iona just winked.

I thought she was going to do nothing, but just as he arrived she stood up, "accidentally" elbowing him in the gut. He doubled over, and she'd moved between him and me before he recovered. "The lady's trying to drink in peace, friend. Can it wait?"

"Last time I saw this woman I swore I would end her if I saw her again." He drew his sword--a poorly maintained cavalryman's saber--and pointed it at her. "Stand aside."

"What happens if I don't?" She had settled into a fighting stance, but her own sword remained steadfastly on her belt.

By way of response, he tried to run her through. A dagger appeared in her right hand and she deflected the blow, and drew her own sword in her left. Then she smiled. "Try again?"

He was not, it should be said, a bad swordsman. But with every attack he made, she deflected it with seemingly no effort, moving only as much as was necessary. His strikes would miss by scant inches, but miss they would. And while his form began to degrade the longer she toyed with him, hers did not.

Eventually she grew weary of the game and, with a twirl of her blade, disarmed him. She put her blade to his throat and her boot on his fallen sword. "The lady is trying to drink in peace, friend," she repeated. "Try your revenge some other time."

He scampered from the inn as fast as he could, and Iona sheathed her weapons and sat back down. "Soldiers," she said. "So, let's negotiate payment. What currency do you use in these parts?"

I gave her a smile. "I valued that beer at about ten gold marks. How much will that get me?"

She froze, and at first I worried I'd offended her. Then she laughed, long and loud. "Normally, five weeks. But I'm willing to let you talk my price down."

20170415

someone should do something

Doing some vignettes for a thing I'm working on.

We sheltered for the winter in a town so cold the firelight froze in pillars in the sky. You could see the fear in the eyes of the villagers when they brought out the food and wood they'd carefully stockpiled for the winter--just enough to get by, and maybe a little extra, just in case. The captain burned through their supplies like it was nothing, even while we sat on supplies enough to feed the company and the village alike for three seasons. "Makes no sense to use up our supplies when this village could be contributing to the cause," he said. And at night as we huddled around a stolen fire, or patrolled the icy fields for enemies that would never come, we'd whisper to each other, "Someone should do something." And no one did.

The captain liked me. I like to think it's because I'm naturally charismatic, but my sister would tell you it's because, as she always insisted, I'm the pretty one. (She's got it all wrong: if you ever have trouble telling us apart, just remember she's the smart one.) I'm sure he didn't trust me, but when he needed something any soldier could have done, he asked for me. When he found out the innkeeper was secreting food away--food so the village might not starve before springtime--he asked for me.

So it was just me and him in a cellar full of cheese and apples and cured meats--maybe enough to feed a village for the winter, if people didn't mind going hungry. The innkeeper was not going to part with his stores, and the captain just looked at me. "Kill him, if you please, Corporal." I drew my saber. I'd expected the innkeeper to plead for his life, but he met my eyes. He was ready to die if that's what it took.

"Leave his body in front of the inn, if you please," said the captain, and turned to leave.

I thrust my saber into his back. He turned to face me, face twisted with rage, but he collapsed to the ground. I staggered upstairs, blood on my sword and uniform. "The captain is dead," I told them. The village made me a hero, for that. The soldiers made me their captain--those that didn't flee in the night. This is how rebellions start, I guess: someone sees something unacceptable and stops it.

20161231

two zero one six

I always liked writing something for the new year, but this year I'm not sure what to say. It was, by any reasonable metric, a bad year. The resurgence of fascism worldwide, the proliferation of fascist apologia and collaboration among the media, the endless cavalcade of pestilence and death. Combined with the looming threats of global war and climate change, I think all four horsemen are represented right about now. And while I'll be happy to see the back of it, the real thing that made 2016 so terrible is the fact that it wasn't just a bad year. It was a year that threatens to make all the future years bad, too.

So it's hard to talk about optimism for the future. I don't have any. Maybe it won't be as bad as it seems--I sure fucking hope so, but "hope" feels like a fool's game at this juncture. As the line goes that's been circulating: "my idols are dead and my enemies are in power." Worse, the institutions that ought to serve as a check against my enemies are falling all over themselves to collaborate with them. If I've ever started a year feeling quite so alienated and powerless, I can't remember it.

Still, to my friends, comrades, and acquaintances, happy 2017. I hope you can find something good in it. And now, more than ever, it's important to make beautiful things, tell stupid jokes, look out for each other, laugh, smile, love--don't let the bastards get you down. Live well and make them fight for every fucking thing they try to take.

That's all I got. Give 'em hell.

20161121

poison the well

They say the water went bad back home, just before the holidays, and I thought of all the times we went out on the lake together, just the two of us in that shitty paddle boat. I thought of watching the sunset, of that time the cat caught a carp in for us. Of foggy Novembers, of icy winter winds, of bright beautiful tulips in the spring and big green apples in August.

Remember that?

It's not like that anymore. All the streets are different now, all our old hangouts are gone, and when they told me the water'd been poisoned, well, hadn't it been poisoned a long time ago? Because I thought of other things too: visiting a restaurant, holding hands like it wasn't important, even though it was. I thought of all the dirty looks, the lectures about how "our kind" are ruining society--and the whispers they thought we couldn't overhear. Of staying up drinking coffee until 3 am and then, as we walked home, all the laughter dying with a single shouted comment from a passing car. Of holding you in my arms as you cried and telling you it's not all bad, it's not all bad.

I'm still not sure if I was wrong to tell you that. Sometimes, when I go back, it's so peaceful, and for a moment I wonder why I left. It never lasts, of course, because memory's a tricky thing.

I've got friends now who don't know what it was like, growing up at home. I tell them stories, of course, and maybe they get some of the picture, but I don't think I tell it right. You always had more of a gift with that sort of thing. I want to tell them: there's beauty there, there's decent folk there. It doesn't make everything okay, it doesn't make me any less of a stranger there, but it's not all bad. If they knew you they'd understand. It can't be all bad if you came out of there.

Sometimes I think about taking them home, but I can't do that now because the water's been poisoned. There's no home left to go back to.

20161013

call the storm, reprise

It was, oh, years ago that I wrote a story about a girl named Kelly Hayes summoning a storm, mostly by accident. She was upset, I guess. It probably wasn't a very good reason, because I didn't really understand what a good reason was back then. It was all about broken love and lost romance, people torn apart by cruelty, by indifference, by the boundless distances that yawn between us.

I didn't really know where I was going with that story. I didn't even know if she was supposed to be a villain. But you carry your characters with you forever, and right now, as the rain has just showed up for the first big storm of the season, I'm remembering her: stirring up a storm in her coffee, telling her friends that all she wanted was a storm. I thought it was about an apocalypse, then, but I know better.

I've been waiting for the rain for hours now. I walked out to the bike trail that runs along Lake Washington, settled down under a tree, and waited. Already I'm soaked to the bone and shivering, but that's not enough. I need the wind, howling around my ears. I need to watch the lights of the city blinking out as falling branches knock out the power.

There will always be things we can neither control nor understand. Some of them are as beautiful as they are terrifying.

20160619

deja

I keep having these days where everything turns out exactly like it would if it were a story I was writing, back when I was writing stories about whim and adventure, where everything was chance meetings and meaningful looks. Hell, half the time I'm pretty sure I've written the story, like I knew what the future held and I just had to write it all down.

You know?

I just keep walking around with this dumb fucking grin on my face. Sure, the world is shit and there's nothing but bad news out there, but suddenly all those times I wrote about smiling in the rain or some shit feel important, like maybe there's something to it. Even if past me was kind of an idiot. Because yeah, it keeps happening, and yeah, there is always always always something beautiful to be found in this world if you look at it right. Even when it's all shit and you're actually afraid for your actual life.

Sometimes it all works out. Sometimes it goes exactly like you hoped it would in that part of you you started ignoring because it never goes that well. And sometimes you just need to hold on to those fucking moments because life is too fucking short. It's a small miracle we exist at all. So you might as well keep smiling, fight like hell, and don't let the bastards get you down.

20160518

to thine own self

I woke up feeling like myself this morning for the first time in . . . well, who can really say? The past month or so, at least, the dreams have been more vivid than the waking world, the memories of which are dull, grey, lifeless things. Not at all like the dreams.

If they even were dreams. I dreamt of life in a tower so high it looked down on the clouds, of gazing on the world below. A life apart, a life above. Everything in the tower gleamed white, and everything we did, we did to better ourselves. We were as powerful as we were wise, and we were so very wise.

I dreamt I marched the streets in a great crowd, my voice one of thousands, demanding progress, demanding justice. Our cause was just, our ranks innumerable. Our upraised fists would shake the very foundations of society and bring the tallest towers to the ground. We were united in purpose, bound together with ties thicker than blood. We were unstoppable.

I dreamt I lived in a great desolate canyon. There the wind sang me to sleep, the owls watched over me by night, and the heat of the sun woke me in the morning. I lived on wild locusts and honey, I knew no company but the rocks and sage. I had come in seek of answers, and found only questions--questions and the perfect serenity of contemplation.

I dreamt I trudged through an unending blizzard, colder than any cold I had ever known. I had neither destination nor purpose, except this: to stop was to die. Sometimes that was motivation enough. Sometimes I kept going only out of habit. At first the memory of warmth kept me going, but soon the cold had swallowed that, too. Warmth became an abstract concept, something for the scholars in their ivory towers to discuss.

The dreams didn't flee upon my waking, as they usually do. They lingered in my mind--or, no, more than lingered. They burned away the mists, shocked me into consciousness. I was sharp, invigorated, alive. And there was a smile on my lips as I shuffled through the dim light of the day, because now, finally, I knew something the world did not.

20160506

levity

I went out for late-night coffee and burgers with some friends for the first time in ages the other night, and there's something beautiful about the perfect nothingness that comes with just killing time in a nearly abandoned 24-hour diner. It's something you forget about most of the time: the levity of simply being.


There's something comforting about that, you know?

We walked home through the streets, mostly just taking it all in--the cool spring air, the stillness of the city, the beauty of being silent with people you love. That silence we shared was sacred, and I think we all sensed it.

By the end of the night it was just me and a girl who's been having a rough time of it lately. And we had that shared moment, that "this is the end of the night" where our eyes met, and I almost thought of breaking the silence, of trying to find something to say that could make everything okay, but that something doesn't exist.

So we stood in silence for a moment, then I smiled, gave her a thumbs up, and headed off home. It doesn't make everything better, but it's not nothing, right?

stress fracture

It took six weeks of nonstop "go" before I finally hit a wall and the cracks started showing and people started saying "are you doing all right?" instead of "how's it going?" when they saw me. A thousand little hairline fractures in the facade, a thousand more in the person that mask was supposed to protect.

Nice.

So tonight I was reading some old journal entries about the last time I burned myself out with the manic obsession to always always always be doing something no matter what it is. Never say no, take no half measures, take no prisoners. That was years ago, and the first impulse is to say "I'm a different person than I was then," but that's not true, is it? The same destructive tendencies are there, right? The same obsession over what it even means to be a person even when I'm barely keeping my head above water.

I went out for coffee and burgers at 3 am yesterday with a good friend and somewhere around the third cup, while I was listlessly picking at my french fries and listening to one of my friends tell a story about some work bullshit I just started crying. And mostly because I didn't even know why I just said "it's allergies, it's fine" and wiped my eyes and stared at my coffee and really, really hoped they weren't just pretending to ignore me.

And look, I know all I need is a good night's sleep and that burning the midnight oil isn't going to fucking help, all right? But I can't stop. I've never been able to stop. That's the thing. I would if I could. And I'm only now realizing that's always been the case.

20151231

everything is okay, i promise

So there's a story I've been trying to tell for a while now. It happened in August, when everything was going wrong, when I was wandering home from a late-night jaunt to take care of some business. What it was is hardly important, except that I was dreading everything that was to come almost as much as I hated everything that had come before.

It doesn't matter. The point is, I took a wrong turn on the way home.

Maybe wrong isn't the word. It was a weird turn, and if I hadn't I would never have seen the woman sitting on the ground with her bike. I try to stop to help people when I think I might be able to, so I slowed down and gave her a concerned look. Before I could ask if everything was okay, though, she spoke.

"It's okay. Everything is okay. I promise."

I wished her a good night and kept going. I thought about it on the way home, but not a lot, because I had other things on my mind. Then I forgot, and was reminded again, and forgot again. And I realized that it's been a story for the New Year the whole time.

Sometimes you need someone to help you weather the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and sometimes, whether it's a warm night in a Seattle summer or a chilly New Year's Eve where the stars are burning bright, you can honestly promise the strangers passing by that everything is fine. Because she was more right about that than she probably realized: everything is okay. She was right then and she's right now. 

A toast, then, to strangers on the wayside, to old friends, and to everything finally being okay.

Happy 2016.

20151103

e and f, pt. 2

When E told me I should keep a journal of our adventures I told her it was a terrible idea, but it's actually kind of nice to get the thoughts out on paper. ("You're better at that sort of thing than me," she said. "You'll thank me for the suggestion later." How little she knows.) It was one of those "right after a storm" types of days, which gives you all the atmospheric benefits of rain without actually getting wet or impairing visibility. So after another hour or two of driving, we finally reached the trailhead. There's no one out this time of year, especially given the weather lately, so we could enjoy the moodiness uninterrupted.

We found an abandoned ranger station (or something like that) just as we were trying to find a campsite, so we decided we'd stop here. Apart from a basic "is it going to collapse while we're asleep" inspection we haven't really checked it out yet. E's getting dinner ready and I'm just relaxing. It's nice to not have to worry about anything. (Well, except for the bit where I inevitably find out I forgot to bring something important because Past Fiona is a dick, but that only happens when you're several days hike out. It's still only a few hours back to the car.)

E doesn't seem that interested in exploring, because the whole point of this was to get away from signs of humanity's continued existence, but I think after dinner I'm going to poke around. You never know what you might find.

20151102

e and f, pt. 1

At some point in September, Erin talked me into going backpacking on November 1st. "Come on, Fiona, it'll be fun!" "Sure, yeah, okay," I said, because hadn't I just been complaining about how I didn't get out of the city enough this summer? And I could always just tone it down on Halloween, right? And if I didn't, the inevitable hangover and self-loathing was Future Fiona's problem.

Except Future Fiona is me now. When I invent a time machine I'm going back to give Past Fiona a piece of my mind.

At least I remembered to pack in advance. I mean, I didn't change out of my costume or set an alarm to wake up before Erin busted into my room at 6 am and told me we were half an hour late, so I was hustled into the car without breakfast, a shower, or a chance to change into something that wasn't absurd. I was still a little drunk, and all I wanted in the world was to sleep for another hour or twenty. The worst part is I know Erin was drinking more than was wise last night, too, but she's one of those people who "doesn't get hangovers." She's worse than Past Fiona most days.

Today was just driving, and even though Past Fiona promised to drive part of the way, I spent most of the first half of the trip asleep in the backseat, and when we'd eaten and I volunteered to drive, E just told me she didn't mind. Which is fine by me. I hate driving in storms.

Did I mention the storm? It's been nothing but howling wind and driving rain since we left Seattle. We even got some snow on SR 20, which I wasn't expecting. When I mentioned that maybe driving across a winding mountain pass in a snowstorm was a bad idea, Erin just said, "You worry too much, F. It's going to be fine."

We're staying at some lodge in one of those themed towns in the mountains. E insisted on keeping the window open so we can hear the river, which is in flood, and the roar is keeping me awake. She's out like a light, of course.

I'm sure tomorrow will be better. It's like they always say: it's not an adventure if it doesn't have a terrible start. Maybe that was Past Fiona's plan all along.

20151009

blank

I wrote this one a while ago but never shared it, for some reason. It's called Blank.

20150721

it had to be swamps

Another fantasy short story. This one's been done for a few months but I was sitting on it in case the urge came upon me to submit it to magazines. It did not.

It's called "It Had to be Swamps."

20150719

editorial freedom

The Gawker scandal going around (I won't link it here; it's vile) inspired me to start a new story. It's not finished yet, but I'm really pleased with the opening paragraph, so sharing it here.

In the endless war for clicks, there are three factions. There’s the corporate-owned propaganda machines, of course, who don’t have to try to push the shit they’re selling—every device that’s ever been anywhere near a corporation has a backdoor installed. You can avoid corporate news if you don't mind being a weird recluse. Then there’s the endlessly anodyne content mills with more algorithms than real people on staff. And finally, there’s the real journalists. You know the sort: cutthroat, nothing is sacred, burn-your-life-to-the-ground types. The last true independents. If you so much as smile at a corporate employee, you’re a valid target. You don’t want to cross them, but if you need to learn someone's secrets, that’s where you turn. They stockpile secrets like weapons. 

20150713

kindness couldn't save them

Another new cyberpunk story for you. This one's called "Kindness Couldn't Save Them." (The title is from here.)

20150529

that fucking guy

So there's this kid I know whose name in my cell phone is just "that fucking guy." I've known him for years, always stop in to see him whenever I'm passing through Chicago, and I don't actually remember what his real name is. I guess "kid" isn't a very accurate word anymore, either, but since I don't know his name that's what I call him to his face. We've both put a few miles on our shoes since we first met, young, dumb, and restless.

I've started doing this thing where, every time I see him, I imagine we're living in a story I'm writing. It's different every time. Sometimes he gets to be the author insert character, and sometimes I play that role myself. I don't know if he knows--probably not. That's why I have him in my phone as "that fucking guy," really. Together, him unknowing and me unwilling, we act out my fictions. I've tried not to, really. But I just slip into some new character, and then it's not me making the decisions anymore, but whatever skin I've slipped into.

So, the last time I saw him, this winter, I realized he doesn't know my name, either. It's been years. And now I wonder if it's the same with him, if every time we meet it's not just this elaborate dance of pretending to be someone else, each of so deep in the lie we don't dare to stop and question this false reality we've created.

20150420

whiteout

Another cyberpunk story! I started this one while Boston was getting the worst winter ever, and, of course, finished it on a beautiful spring day. It's called "Whiteout."

20150410

the man with no heaven

I've written another short story. It's a completely new fantasy world that I felt compelled to create. It's called The Man with No Heaven.