Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Artistic House Cleaning

It was her artistic statement. She was young enough to be able to work all day, and young enough to still want to, which was rare in the house cleaning industry. But she came from a long line of people who did damned fine work or they didn’t eat, and the better half of that lineage stuck with her. She vacuumed every crack in the floor, eradicated every spot on every wall, plucked every stray fiber from every overpriced carpet, and left thirty-year-old windows looking freshly installed. In the clergy they sanctified people who did her level of work. Every time, she thought, she’d leave just one scrap of paper behind by the door: a beauty mark on the house she’d face-lifted. It was always in the same place, always easy to dispose of, typically put somewhere near the worst stain had been. It depressed her, then, to find no one saw this as artistic cleaning. They trampled right over her errant trash and complained the drapes looked dusty, or the sink had a grime ring, or that the bathroom smelled funny. They were all false charges, low thoughts from people who didn’t know what lilies smelled like. It just about ruined cleaning other people’s houses for her. Some day, she might not have the strength of will to leave behind a beauty mark of trash. All the other cleaners said so.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Peggy

In the rear of the taxi, his fingers kept breaking and cleaning an imaginary M4. At the hospital, as his half-senile mother explained how it had happened, all he could think of were all the unsecured rooms. Even walking to hers, he imagined Bull Ridge. Its stink, and its birds that sounded like rocket screeches, and its casualty rate. Bull Fucking Ridge, which he’d been praying to leave for three months.

He stood at first. It felt right, to remain standing if Peggy couldn’t sit up. His sister looked so thin in that big bed. They didn’t have mattresses like that in Afghanistan. Nor did his unit have anyone who’d know how to stick tubes up your nose like that, or any of all the blinking, beeping and line-charting machines that kept her bed company. On Bull Ridge, all they really had was glorified tourniquet training.

Suddenly he had to sit. He only knew it when the chair creaked under him. They had chairs that bowed and creaked like this in Afghanistan. That felt too much like home. He leaned over her, as though to prostrate in apology. Her sheets were thin enough that he could feel her warmth through them.

They didn’t have kitty pajamas in Afghanistan. He was a little surprised they’d changed her into them, surprised enough that he reached out and pinched the terrycloth to convince himself it was there. Either Mom had put them on her, or the aneurism had hit while she was in bed. He guessed they could hit you while you were asleep. A lot of things could, which was why he slept with his back to walls now.

As he pinched the pajamas, her wrist rolled and bumped into his knuckles. It sent sparks through him; they didn’t have women in Afghanistan, or family. Well, a lot of people had family there. Afghanis, certainly. Just not him.

He ran his fingertips over her hand in the misplaced hope that she’d react. She didn’t. He wrapped his right hand around hers, then brought up his other hand and added it for good measure. It was a sort of wishful thinking he hadn’t felt in months.

Peggy’s face had never looked so narrow. She was a moon-faced woman, thanks to Dad’s genes. Here and now, something about the aneurism had robbed her of that shape. Her face’s curvature was stolen by sallow flatness. The closed eyes, the smoothness where there should have been feature: these they had in Afghanistan. In O’Hara, and Menendez, and Jesus Christ, the raw pink and the little blood around her nostrils could have been Windham’s as he’d slipped away. But Peggy here had not taken three to the chest at the wheel of a Humvee that should have been armor-plated.

They had armor-plated Humvees in the United States.

He couldn’t stop his eyes from following her tubes, climbing up to the sighing apparatus that helped her breathe. His breathing hitched. Still folding her one miniscule hand in both of his, he apologized. He apologized for thinking about what the Bull Ridge guys didn’t have, and for not being a neurosurgeon right now, and not knowing what aneurisms were, and for still envying everything she had, and for these tears, and for a moment, he apologized for fearing that his unit would materialize and kick his ass for showing those tears. He leaned so far forward that his forehead pressed into her sheets, and he couldn’t help but loathe himself for thinking those sheets felt nicer than anything they got on Bull Ridge. He mouthed this all to the woman who had once been a girl who had laced him wreathes of flowers.

He was so occupied mouthing apologies that he couldn’t see her lips moving, too.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

National Novel Reading Month is January

January will be National Novel Reading Month. We’ve all got at least one classic book we think we ought to read and have put off too long. I have more than a dozen of them, and the literary guilt may actually be killing me. Check your shelf. Check your conscience. Isn’t there something long removed from the Bestseller’s List you think you ought to read? Be it for craft, for history, or some gap in your personal English canon. #NaNoReMo is about catching up with the classics.

One thing that bothers me about National Novel Writing Month is it isn’t located in a country. “National” is a poor word choice for a program that’s clearly international. Yet it’s popular, so #NaNoReMo will double the dubiousness. Not only can you read it in any nation of your choice, but your classic doesn’t have to be a novel. Want to brush up on Virgil or Ovid? Go for it. The rule is to read a classic.

We’re using a personal sliding scale for "classics." Some people don’t think Jules Verne is a classic author. I don’t like to talk to those people, but they exist, and so they can read someone else. But if you do think he’s a classic writer who deserves your time, then it’s your choice.

Hop on Twitter in the next couple of days to chat about your potential choices using the hashtag #NaNoReMo. Then join us throughout the month of January as we discuss our progress through our chosen classics. If it works the cross-pollination of encouragement will increase our reading lists as well as encourage us to finish reading great works.

Right now mine is a toss-up between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (a heavyweight contender with five failed starts in my lifetime) and Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita (a rookie challenger to my shelf with a siren song of a premise: Satan in Soviet Russia). Which do you think I should open in 2012?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#bestreads2011 Blog Hop

Welcome to #bestreads2011! This blog hop invites anyone to play along by making their own lists of the books they've enjoyed most this year. Not what was written, not what was published, but what you specifically read that struck you the hardest. You can write them up however you like, and list as many as you like. Just post about them on your blog, and then share the URL of your post in the Linky below.

My reading schedule was terrible in 2011. I spent nine months writing my own novel almost every day, often for between 6-10 hours, and so my literary desires were meek. It's something I've got to work on. Yet as soon as I finished up the rough draft, I began pounding books, and by December I'd read some amazing works of fiction. It took some effort to trim it down to just four books, though these have stuck with me the most this year. I'm giving each book a paragraph, but you can click below them for my full reviews over at Goodreads.

Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49
My first exposure to Pynchon, and before finishing I was already looking up prices and library availability on Gravity’s Rainbow. This reads like the work of a cosmopolitan Garrison Keillor, able to tug on any loose string of culture rather than those that dangle into Wisconsin. Presenting anarchism and Freudianism as failed religions, treating the Postal Service as a sinister agency, or simply the idea of Strip Botticelli were all hilarious and fascinating. Pynchon seemed able to write unique sentences, paragraphs, chapters, characters and ideas without ever requiring pause. I’m eager to see what else Pynchon came up with given he remarks this book was the one “in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I'd learned up until” he wrote it.
Full Review of The Crying of Lot 49.

Ethan Coen's The Gates of Eden
This wound up as a Christmas present for the two Coen fans in my life. It’s an obscene and obscenely funny collection of short stories, evidencing that the Coens’ talent for voice doesn’t only come from great actors. Ethan Coen delivered story after story that thrived on earthy narration, be it a twice-baked parody of Mafiosos, or a racist detective, or a Jewish boy utterly uncomprehending of the cultures he’s being raised into. Coen seemed to get off by embarrassing his characters, particularly the proud, in ways you wouldn’t imagine fitting into their respective worlds. But for those already under the heel, the humor turns against those who are empowered, or evaporates into worries about how we humans function at all. The collection is in search of equilibrium, humiliation hammering down and humility elevating us a little. The circumstances are raw for everyone, but the way the players emerge, with quirks and concerns and shortcomings, validates the entire exercise.
Jeff Smith's Bone
It’s not that I don’t like any YA works – it’s that what is marketed as YA is clearly not for me. And despite being called “a grump,” “an old man” and “a YA Nazi,” this MG comic book was as involving a read as I had all year. It takes a special book to keep you up to midnight when you have no electricity, it’s ten degrees and you’re going on candlelight. Part was Smith’s masterful art style, blending Charles Schultz, Walt Disney, classic illustrations and more esoteric art styles into the same panels without making a single character appear out of place. But part of it was the irreverent humor, always willing to snap at the heels of the drama, and characters that mingled cuteness and motivation in infinitely consumable concoctions. Smith knew how to make things goofy, but also dire (one character loses an arm and is left to die in the wilderness), and surreal (the Moby Dick allusions go mental by the end). Unlike all the MG or YA prose I’ve consumed, I continuously wanted more of everything Smith was selling, be it cow races or the hierarchies of shadow assassins. Certainly that he created a world where those sorts of things coexist helped, and I wondered if I wasn’t getting into the spirits of this the way others got into Harry Potter. The Complete Bone is a doorstop, but upon completion I would have happily forked over cash for another bludgeon-sized volume.
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Of everything, this is the item I’m most ashamed of having put off for thirty years. What a play. It’s quotable and tragic, but so is most of theatre. It’s the way Miller damningly captured certain human behaviors, including a few of my own less desirable traits. Consider how Willie will be working out a divisive issue, and then his wife or another character will pipe up with a separate topic, and he’ll explode out of proportion, because the conflict of both topics suddenly swallows him with the interruption. I’ve done this far too many times in the last year, and to read exactly how it functions stings. The meta-theatrical elements are inspiring even without seeing them acted, though since reading I’ve begun seeking out productions to watch.
Full Review of Death of a Salesman.

Bathroom Monologue: The New Anti-Science

It was the new anti-science, worse than the old anti-science because it knew a little and used the perch of knowledge to condescend. It was meaner than the jokes about teaching apes Math instead of building flying cars. Now they ragged on the role science played in so many old wars, and in every new one.

These folks got into every community, and so both legitimate and conspiracy theories abounded on where HIV and the mammal-ready super-flus came from. If someone designed meth and cocaine, where did he learn it?  Suddenly everyone who defended Global Warming’s existence was met on the other side of the argument with a hipster blaming chemists and engineers for the problem occurring in the first place.

An index of such things showed jokes about Marie Curie’s demise quadrupled in one year. At some point a generation grew up swearing, “We’re empirical, not scientific.” There was a righteous demand for the separation of Lab and State, on both funding and less comprehensible levels.

“GO TO THE MOON,” protest signs instructed, “NOBODY WANTS YOU HERE.”

It was not a good time for science, but then the contrarian mind never thinks it’s a good day until everyone else thinks it isn’t.

Monday, December 26, 2011

John Interviewed at Webfiction World

I was a guest on Anna Harte's Webfiction World podcast this past week. We discussed the origins of The Bathroom Monologues, the strengths and weaknesses of flash fiction, and I interviewed Angie Capozello on one minute's notice for both of us. It was very fun; I somehow managed to ramble about both Eudora Welty and F. Scott Fitzgerald in a conversation about flash fiction. Please drop by and give it a listen and a comment.

You can listen to John on Webfiction World by clicking here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Answers to the Christmas Book Contest

 Yesterday I posted the clues to deciphering my brother's annual book gift. Today I'm going to give the answer away. If you want to puzzle it out yourself, skip to yesterday's post and try your hand.

For the first year nobody guessed the entire thing, leaving me a little proud and a little sad. Our game was to extract ten letters from the clues to spell the author's name, and figure out which letter was a ruse.

1. According to Groucho Marx, this kind of person is a critic. The letter that occurs three times in this kind of person might be the first letter in his name.Attributed to Marx and many others, the famous line goes, "Everyone's a critic." Marx even showed up on magazine covers with the quote as a tag line. 'E' shows up three times in "Everyone."

2. Three Stooges. Marx Brothers. Beatles. Such different acts, yet when we talk about them, their names all begin with the same letter. If Clue #1 is a fake, then this letter is the first in his name. If not, it’s the second.Rarely do you call them "Beatles," right? It's "The Beatles." "The Three Stooges." "The Marx Brothers." That leaves this number a 'T.'
3. According to Norm MacDonald, this organ only understands violence. One day, he says, it will attack and kill you. Today, its first letter is probably the third letter in our mystery.Cassie Nichols correctly pegged this as "heart." That'd mean our letter is "H.'

4. What’s the difference between “then” and “than”? One of them has a letter to share with us.Naturally, it's either an 'E' or an 'A.' On Twitter @ got the vowel correctly as 'A.'
5. This famous comedian refused to receive the Mark Twain Prize for several years because of the kind of language that was used at the event. He eventually accepted. The third letter in his last name might go here.Bill Cosby is the comedian who spent an infuriatingly long time not taking the honors. That'd leave us with 'S,' except this one was the bogus unclue. In fact, @ figured that out in piecing together the next letter to form the author's first name.
6. The seventh element on the Periodic Table, and something you’re inhaling right now, might be helpful here.Nitrogen is the seventh element, with the symbol 'N.' Excluding Mr. Cosby, our author is "Ethan."
7. If we’re not talking about Bob Dylan’s Modern Times, then we must be talking about this man’s movie. His first and last names match, making this clue so obvious it seems like it must be the unclue.How do they match? The same first letter: Charlie Chaplin. So it's a C-man.

8. Your mouth can speak any letter, but this is the only one your lips can spell. Enjoy not snickering over this joke in front of Grandpa.By the way, both my brother and sister failed to not snicker over #8 in front of Grandpa. The letter any pair of lips can form is 'O.' As my brother struggled over this clue I actually managed to say "Oh" and make the shape right in front of him three times. It felt a little too good.
9. This letter is redundant. It’s occurred somewhere in the name already, and occurs for the second time here. Is it the last letter?This could have been any letter that already showed up. It's actually an 'E.' That might seem obtuse, but not if you know who directed #10.

10. If this is the last letter in his name, then it’s the first in the title of the movie that beat your beloved There Will Be Blood for Best Picture at the Oscars in February, 2008.No Country For Old Men was the winner that year, directed by the Coen Brothers. The first letter 'N,' which coincidentally spells out "Ethan Coen." He wrote the excellent short story collection, The Gates of Eden, which I gave to two people this holiday season, including my brother.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and thanks to everyone who played!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Can You Guess The Author Before David?

Every Christmas I get my brother a book and give him clues to guess what it is.
And for the past few Christmas Eves I've invited my readers to decipher the clues along with him.
Know the answer to #3? Then post it in the Comments!
Together perhaps you'll figure out what's in his present before David does.
The rules are no Googling, rather only offering the answers you know and pooling mental resources with other readers.
Below is the text of his card:

There is no way you can guess this year’s book title. However, you definitely know its author. The following are nine clues as to the letters in his name, and one unclue which will only throw you off. You’ll have to figure out which isn’t actually a clue.

1. According to Groucho Marx, this kind of person is a critic. The letter that occurs three times in this kind of person might be the first letter in his name.

2. Three Stooges. Marx Brothers. Beatles. Such different acts, yet when we talk about them, their names all begin with the same letter. If Clue #1 is a fake, then this letter is the first in his name. If not, it’s the second.

3. According to Norm MacDonald, this organ only understands violence. One day, he says, it will attack and kill you. Today, its first letter is probably the third letter in our mystery.

4. What’s the difference between “then” and “than”? One of them has a letter to share with us.

5. This famous comedian refused to receive the Mark Twain Prize for several years because of the kind of language that was used at the event. He eventually accepted. The third letter in his last name might go here.

6. The seventh element on the Periodic Table, and something you’re inhaling right now, might be helpful here.

7. If we’re not talking about Bob Dylan’s Modern Times, then we must be talking about this man’s movie. His first and last names match, making this clue so obvious it seems like it must be the unclue.

8. Your mouth can speak any letter, but this is the only one your lips can spell. Enjoy not snickering over this joke in front of Grandpa.

9. This letter is redundant. It’s occurred somewhere in the name already, and occurs for the second time here. Is it the last letter?

10. If this is the last letter in his name, then it’s the first in the title of the movie that beat your beloved There Will Be Blood for Best Picture at the Oscars in February, 2008.

Figure any of them out? Or the author's name? Feel free to guess below!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Santa Drops the Truth Bomb

Timmy balled his hands into fists, then bawled his face into them. When the jolly fat man tried to console him, the boy wriggled from his lap and fell to the candy-cane-colored floor.

“Why?” Timmy hollered so loud all the department store elves scuttled away. They formed a wall of placation around the other kids standing in line, waiting to tell Santa their wishes.

Santa leaned from his red felt throne, extending a white glove in peace. “Here, here, Timothy. It’s not that bad.”

“You lied to me! You hate liars!”

“Well, I never give myself presents this time of year,” Santa said with a laugh, though mid-ho-ho the boy punched him in the crotch. He reeled his body, eyes pleading with his parents to tell him this wasn’t the real Santa. Yet both Mom and Dad stood stock still, eyes glazed over, expressions of adoration rigid.

“They’re robots,” said Santa, remaining on the elevated throne for now, safely out of further yam-punching range. “Your bed time is seven o’clock every night because their battery life is low.”

“They love me!”

“They look like they do. My elves are industry leaders. Whenever Mrs. Claus goes out of town, I have as robot of her to keep me from getting lonely.”

When his parents didn’t hitch to life at this absurdity, Timmy turned to face the rosy-cheeked monster.

“And Nana?”

Santa clasped his hands together. “She didn’t really die, Timothy. Your robot grandma is actually in a box in your attic. You can take her out and play with her whenever you want.”

“What about King Snuffles?”

Santa hissed and drew back as though burning his fingers on the truth. “Unfortunately, the dog was real…”

Timmy burst into a new bout of hysterics. He thrashed, the flashing lights in his sneakers kicking at Santa’s shins. The irony that Santa had brought him those sneakers last year was entirely lost on him.

“I don’t believe you!”

Santa took him by the collar, tugging him away from the more impressionable crowd. The kids beyond the helper-elves were all much younger than him.

“You’re getting older,” said Santa. “It’s time you knew that pretty much everyone you’ll ever meet is fake in one way or another. If you’re good, next year I’m giving you the complete works of Carl Jung.”

“But evolution!”

“Timothy, don’t be naughty. Which makes more sense: a bacteria becomes a fish becomes a monkey, or I built your parents? Think about it.”

“I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about anything.”

“You don’t even want to think about a Playstation 3?”

Timmy’s fists parted as gradually as the Red Sea, revealing the dawn of his puffy face. He hiccuped out a question.

“The slim?”

Santa’s jowls jiggled in his nod. “The three-hundred-and-twenty gigabyte model, bundled with Uncharted 3.”

“But Mom and Dad couldn’t afford that.”

“But they aren’t real, Timothy.”

Timmy’s fists fell away from his face entirely. His tears detoured around his gaping mouth. The anxiety wasn’t over, but it was the first step towards realizing that, all things considered, this was the grown-up he wanted - just like every other child.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Notice: #bestreads2011 Next Week

Next week we'll be doing a little community chat between The Bathroom Monologues and Twitter. #bestreads2011 will be all about your favorite books from the last year.

The blog hop will start here on Wednesday, December 28th. The same day at a time we'll arrange by community, anyone on Twitter is invited to an open chat about their favorite books of the year using the hashtag #bestreads2011. For those without blogs or Twitter, you're still welcome to mention your favorites in the Comments section. Everyone is invited, readers and authors alike.

So think on it. What are your favorite books that you read this year? Not what was written or published in 2011, but that you personally read and loved. Fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry and sequential art is all welcome. I guarantee you a comic book will show up on my list. It's a middlegrade comic, too. My list will be about 4-5 books long, with a paragraph a-piece on what I got out of them. You can handle the number and format as you like.

Feel free to launch questions below. We'll field them together.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Vampires are Addicts

“I can’t help thinking of him as an addict. There are, what? A hundred people in Snowberg? And he’s eaten fifteen in a week. If a human’s a blood pack to him, then that’s a two-pack-a-day habit. That can’t be normal, even for the really old vampires. Definitely not normal for a guy that haunts this valley, who’d run out of snacks entirely soon enough. Either he’s betting he’ll eat CIA and X-Files detectives for the rest of his life, or he’s got an irrational craving. My dad was an alcoholic. Some nights, when he couldn’t find the remote and was heavy on the belt, I guess it would have felt nice to pound a stake through his heart and leave him to dawn. But the more you know addicts, the harder it is to hate them. I pity this guy. Get him into a twelve step program. One not held in church basements, I guess.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Fate Worse Than Death

“This one I call the 'Afterlife Spell.' A lot of people can threaten you with death. A knife, a gun, slathering you in gravy and tossing you to wolves. But death doesn’t last long enough.

“What the Afterlife Spell does is sustains your consciousness after your body quits. After your neurons cease firing, you’ll keep feeling everything. The maggots pushing into you. The skin drying and tearing. The ligaments rotting. You’ll feel the aching decay of your entire body over the course of months. The truly special part is that your selfishness remains; you’ll want to not end, and so desperately hold onto your consciousness as that physical real estate dries up. Eventually you’ll be one flickering microbe, begging to hurt a little longer.

“I save this spell for people who hurt my daughter. I hear you’re taking her to Arby’s?”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Mother-in-Law Versus Mother of her Granddaughter, OR, Fresh out of Bed Monologue

“Oh God, can we just leave? I can’t take the stares. It's like I'm meat.”

"You look great, honey."

"You think?”

“For a human wheelbarrow? Yes! You should be proud.”

“…for a what?”

“It’s your body. You should be proud of your decisions, like the one to put on more pounds here and there.”

“I’m carrying a child!”

“Not in your thighs, deary. But don’t make excuses. Own it.”

“I haven’t even gained that much weight. My doctor says I’m at the dead-on average for seven months.”

“Dead-on average for the McDonalds generation, sure. But when I was carrying your husband? I was tight as a deer. Almost sinewy.”

“You have that look in your eyes sometimes.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Can we go?”

“We need to get dinner for Christmas, don’t we? Got to feed that fetus. And the rest of you.”

“Oh my God, you’re making more people stare.”

“If you can’t take the stares, then maybe you should take the stairs more often.”

“What the hell? That’s bad for the baby.”

“According to whom? When I was carrying Tim I lived on the seventh floor of a tenement with no elevator. The super always said I was very tight. When she stared, it was out of admiration. Those stares would have been grounds for divorce in six states.”

“This explains so much about Tim.”

“What was that? I can’t hear a thing in here. You'd think shoppers would use their in-door voices.”

“I said you’re not going to see this baby until she’s got her Masters degree.”

“Goodness, it’s noisy in here. Maybe we should leave. Want me to push the cart? We know how you feel about exercise.”

“…That’d be great. That’d be great.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eulogy for Irene Sabo Corcoran

This is how I eulogize, folks. Many people approached after the funeral, asking for a copy. I actually never wrote it down; I performed it from my head. It didn't feel proper to write it down for the first year. Since this weekend is about Rene, it's felt more natural to put it on screen and share it. She'd approve, of course, of something that glamorized her. So here's saying farewell.
I want to tell you something about my grandmother.

On August 23rd an Allstate Agency appeared in Ireland. No one thought it was odd because only one lady saw it, and she was quite used to Allstate Agencies. That woman was Irene Corcoran.

She walked inside. There was Roland Maynard, Joe Richardson, and a host of people who absolutely did not work at Allstate anymore. They buzzed about the office, trying to sell insurance.

Rene asked them, "What's going on here?"

One muffled the phone to his shoulder and said, "You put a lot of yourself into this place. Work has to be done. Money to be made."

"Yes,” she said, “but I don't want to do it now."

He said, "You don't have to. We just thought you should remember. In fact, you can’t stay here."

He directed her to her office. She walked down the hall, past all her awards and certificates, and through the familiar door frame. Except it wasn't her office.

Inside was the cramped Sabo family living room. Her father stood by the wall, admiring a framed photograph. It was her graduation picture from Sarah Lawrence, just a couple years ago, decades after he’d passed. Her mother came to his side.

"I can't believe you did that," her father said, shaking his head.

Rene came over to them. They touched hands and admired it.

She remarked, as she often did, "I look better in the other photos."

"I like this one," said her mother. "By the way, your room is taken tonight. I’m afraid you can’t stay here. "

It had been decades since she'd had to give up her bed for immigrants, but she remembered the drill. Families came across the Atlantic and needed a break. In such cases, the Sabo family’s daughter broke. She nodded.

Her mother asked, "Can you get something from the kitchen for me?"


"Just something we thought you should remember."

So Rene went into the kitchen, looking around for the parcel. Except it wasn't a kitchen. It was a ballroom, full of noisy people. Across the floor she saw a familiar man. A decorated World War II hero, captain of the football team, and a scholar. She put a hand to her cheek.

“Damn, I did well.”

When her once and future husband stepped out through the double doors, she followed. She found herself in the corridor of a hospital. She looked through each door. In the first, she saw herself delivering her first daughter, Mary. In the next she was cradling the newborn Christine. Then their son, Jodi, and then littlest Deirdre. Through further doors she saw all her grandchildren, a parade of babies. She sped up, loving them all, but not that enamored with reliving childbirth.

She left the corridor for another kitchen. Jodi's kitchen, now all grown up. Her daughter in law Bean was busy cooking, cleaning fruit and piling dishes in the sink. There were so many people: Doug, Bernie and Susan, and friends from the local church. Outside were still more familiar voices, including her husband’s laughter. Her grandchildren were everywhere. Christine’s daughter, another Deirdre, carried a cake, a stream of Rene’s friends following behind and offering to cut it. Her oldest grandson, John, was there too. He almost never visited, but there he was, talking to Jodi about stocks.

She felt tired, so she sat in a corner, listening to her husband and friends chatting outside, and stared at John. Eventually he noticed and looked back, still chatting with family. Gradually, Rene smiled. It was more sincere a smile than he'd seen in a decade of holiday visits, and it left him guilty, wishing he'd come much more often, to see that expression, if not to cause it.

Rene didn't talk to anyone. Instead she watched this loving family buzz around the house for a while. Then she stood up and walked through the glass door, outside. It was bright out there.

Anyway, that’s what I wanted to tell you about my grandmother. Thank you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

True Stories of John 17: Fairy Tales from Grandma Rene

It’s one of my earliest memories of being away from home. Rene, my maternal grandmother, was ecstatic to be in possession of a grandchild for the first time. I was the first of the grandkids, though from reports of my cousins, she was as good to each of us in our time. Some folks are simply best with babies and kids.

Her bed sat in the center of her room, which struck me as odd, coming from a home where beds sat in corners. Corners were good. Monsters could not get behind you if there was a wall in the way.

Rene knew every monster. Her mother came from Europe, which is where all the monsters came from. Well, they lived in Europe and Russia, but, “you’ll understand the difference when you’re older.”

Not only did she know about giants, but she knew how the mean ones had died. Huddled under her blankets, with an old hand stroking my shoulder, she explained how Jack had tricked one into falling off his cloud.

Mom and Dad had never told me that one. I asked if she knew any others. When she mentioned a candy house in the woods, I got a little less sleepy.

After Hansel and Gretel baked the evil witch, I said the woods were scary. She said they were fine, and told me about Little Red Riding Hood, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs. You see, the woods and wolves weren’t so scary. The bad ones had been taken care of.

She was incredible. How was she making all of these stories up so quickly? I couldn’t even manufacture an explanation for cookies missing in the kitchen. And she was good at it, both at making up neat things and in telling them in this soothing, loving voice, like she adored all the carnivores of folklore. She was surprised when the heroes were surprised, and proud when they survived or were victorious. I couldn’t figure out if these things really happened, or if she was making them up now. And in truth to the way children experience faith, I didn’t care either. I just wanted more stories from this endless mind.

I’d never manipulated an adult like this, or so I recall. Every time she finished a story, I only had to ask her to tell me another. This being her first shot with her first grandson, she never said ‘No.’ Somewhere around Cinderella meeting her Fairy Godmother, I faded out.

I was disappointed the next morning to find her more interested in the newspaper than telling more fairy tales. Even more disappointed with discovering what a “grape nuts” was. But those things were trivial. The old lady with an entire culture in her head and at her command has stuck with me for the archetype of the storyteller.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Wolf Slayer" at Enchanted Conversation, dedicated to Grandma Rene

I'm proud to announce that "Wolf Slayer" was bought and published by Enchanted Conversation this week. While it's sad to see the zine close, I'm happy to have contributed to a strong line-up. Their final theme is Little Red Riding Hood. My story was inspired by her woodsman, who has a crossover with another figure from folklore. I don't want to spoil it for you, but she requires his special skills. It's a bit of Noir and a bit of Comedy, and so it takes a pretty special place to publish it. You can read it here.

This story is dedicated to Irene "Rene" Corcoran, my maternal grandmother. She passed away from cancer last year. It's her that I remember introducing me to fairy tales, and she did so in a way that's stuck with me as a writer. I first composed "Wolf Slayer" to amuse her, and when she was diagnosed, set about finishing it. On Saturday I'll post about her knack for fairy tales, and on Sunday I'm going to share something that's been much requested but that I didn't feel like sharing until now. These three days are for Rene.

Click here to read "Wolf Slayer."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

People Haunt Homes

Sweeping, vacuuming and spraying. Scooping used needles and scrubbing vomit. Ripping up the red-stained carpet to lay down hardwood. Rolling paint over the graffiti and gang signs. Paying thousands for a new roof so rain won’t dribble inside anymore. Gingerly picking out splinters of glass, setting in new windows before the exterminators arrive. It’ll need to be airtight before it’s bug-free, and bug-free before it’s occupied, and occupied well if it’s ever going to be a home.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Consensual Sexual Harassment

"Flirting. How I tire of other people's flirting.

"Definition? Flirting: consensual sexual harassment.

"Ah, now you tell me that, no, harassment can’t be consensual. Flirting is more delicate than that.

"And now I tell you that no, I’ve seen flirting aplenty and there was little delicate about it. If it was delicate, it would have shattered from the sheer barometric pressure of lust.

"Yes, I’ve seen consensual sexual harassment. She teases him, so he teases her, and now they mutually harass with decreasing subtlety until I wish I could sue. It’s the softest of softcore bondage.

"No, I haven’t committed it. I’m ugly; I can’t find anyone to consent, and I tire of restraining orders. That’s just how it looks from the cubicle next to the hottest guy in Accounting."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Tim is Dead

Tim is dead. His fingers dab the cologne that gives her hives across his collar. His hands ruffle that collar in the way she always fixes when he’s in front of people. His wallet, usually home to a few token twenties, bulges with deceptive singles. Timothy observes Tim’s corpse: dressed a little too crisp, hair a little too mussed, wearing a seven-o’clock shadow that he really ought to shave off before the party. Not a thing about the dearly departed would meet his mother-in-law’s approval. If his mother-in-law would always use his full name to oppress him, then he will give it to her with a smile calculated to be just phony enough to bother her without being able to call him on. It took four of her Christmas Eve Bashes to kill Tim. This Yule, Timothy reigns supreme.

This piece popped into my head reading the first line of Michael Tate's story, "Darkness Surrounding."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: First World Problems

Our problems are different? How can they be different? Our circumstances are the same. I am broke. You are broke. I know you are because you drive the same cab as I do. I make, maybe a little more money, because you frown at everyone. And you are broke, so you have to live with your sisters and parents. And I am rich, so my sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, uncles and parents will live with me. The same.

You have an apartment with three rooms. You say it has three rooms. You say, “How can five people live in this place? It will be terrible.”

I have an apartment with two rooms, counting the bathroom. I count the bathroom. You do not. You could say, “Mommy dearest, here is a room of your own. It has a sink and a shower.” But you don’t say that.

I have an apartment with two rooms and eleven beloved roommates. I am overjoyed all eleven of my family can live here. Nobody has a room of their own. Nobody has a bowel movement of his own, and we’re grateful. Is it because we’re from elsewhere? Is it because we have crazy primitive values? Is it because we have not watched enough television, used enough Sprint minutes and eaten enough food from wrappers? They are all happy to be there and eat this fast food. Well, except my mother and one of my uncles, but they have had hard lives. They do not know happiness so well anymore.

They do not know happiness so well because they saw children come home without arms. I mean they ate mud to fill their stomachs and never met their father. You are unhappy because your mother and father might have to share the same room in your three-room apartment. Is this what legal divorce does? I don’t understand.

Where we come from, people are divorced by slave trade. Hands are divorced from you for stealing fruit. Here, in one day, I work? And everybody in my two-room apartment eats fruit. No one steals.

I don’t understand you. It must be your realism. Americans are much more realistic than we are. I make some cabby-money and I think, “Oh my nephew can come live on my floor now, and not in that country, and not get sick, or join rebels, or get killed in civil war.” My family is like that. We are unrealistic.

You and your mommy assess how things really are. She thinks, “Oh I have to go live with my son now, and I will not sleep on park benches, but I will have to wait for bathroom, and talk to them when I am tired, and smell their unwiped selves late at night.” A very realistic family you have, concerned on what will be, while we are so happy with what won’t. Funny, though. Unrealistic as we are, we live in the same reality you do. In fewer rooms, too, with fewer complaints.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


“These doors must remained closed?” Then why didn’t you build a wall? A door that can’t open is scarcely a door at all. This is unfair. Am I not allowed through, but hospital staff are? Because if so, you should have written, “Only medical professionals allowed beyond this point.” As it is, any surgeon is breaking the code every time he goes in there. What if I see a surgeon coming from the other side, and hold it shut so the sign remains honored? Will I get kicked out for enforcing your rules? Is it just a preference, or is there something sinister going on with those doors? Is there radiation and hazardous material back there, which endangers anyone who enters? Is it dangerous to open the doors, or dangerous just to be near them? I mean, if we’re dealing with radiation, that door’s not going to save anybody from cancer. You’d build a wall, with concrete and stuff. Certainly not with plexiglass windows. I can see through there! How did everybody in there get in if these doors must remain closed? Medical heathens.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Petra’s Ghost

Petra’s ghost? I hate when living people talk like that. I am not Petra’s ghost. My parents were never around for weekends. I was a virgin until twenty-seven. I went into Marine Biology because sharks are awesome, and I was on my way to the interview of a lifetime when a semi jumped the divider and plowed into my cab, killing me 'instantly.' That’s what the doctor said to my parents. “She died instantly. She never felt a thing.” He was wrong.

This is all mine. My doctors, my parents, my wrongs. I am not Petra’s ghost. I am Petra.

I’m your ghost, I’m this highway’s ghost, I’m the ghost of curiosity for the ocean. But I will never be Petra’s possession. I will possess concrete and sea breeze. I’ll be their ghosts, and that’ll be fine, because it’s what I decide to do. It’s what Petra Nebrich does. I’m all I ever was, and I am all Petra Nebrich ever will be. And if that’s a tragedy, then it’s my tragedy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 6 - The Finale

The end of our game lies in this border realm between Hyrule and Limbo. Many people have spilled out from Limbo, though there’s no sign of Link. The castle-goers are alive again, including the King and Queen. Yet everyone is weak and pale, as though Limbo is drinking life from them. Navi is too afraid to venture inside Limbo itself. Before Navi or the King can say anything, Zelda is off to finish this.

The powerless Ganon accompanies her as the guide, because nobody knows this place as well as he does. The only way to sever the ties to Limbo, he claims, is to bring something as powerful as the Triforce into the heart of this place. He explains that he was infested with Limbo’s energies and it corrupted him, though when Zelda turns her back he still looks like a schemer.

With the Master Sword weakened, we’re back to sneaking and relying on the bow. Instead of real landscapes, we’re roaming in abstract monochrome mountains with bits of color denoting enemies, and even these landscapes seem to be alive. We’re attacked by Zanath, now corrupted by Limbo energy. Ganon gradually absorbs some himself to cast offensive magic in support of Zelda. The further we go, the wilder the versions of Zanath manifest. We get brief glimpses of a ghostly Link, ala the Shadow Link fight. It’s as though he’s guiding us.

We journey to the Final Temple, which lies beneath a pit where, if this were our world, Castle Hyrule would stand. Here the ghostly Link appears more frequently, showing us hints on how to progress. Here, also, an octopus-like Zanath bars every possible way, and Zelda and Ganon must find alternate paths down. This is our big dungeon-long boss battle, until driving the Master Sword into Zanath causes him to wither. Ganon winds up tackling the weakened Zanath, trying to steal all the energy he’s absorbed, to get his power back.

You remember this guy, right?

Zelda takes the opportunity to pass to the end of the dungeon where she can set all this to rest. There is an altar, not unlike the one we found the Master Sword upon, but with three triangular imprints. Link is also here, in the flesh and unconscious, hands reaching to the altar. She lays the Triforce to rest here, using its power to close the gap. The world trembles, and Zelda has to carry Link to safety before the portal to home closes. When the world trembles, she tosses Link through the narrowing portal. It’s as though she’s going to perish when Link’s arm comes through and pulls her to safety. So I guess he always saves the princess, at least a little bit.

The two watch from Castle Hyrule as the portal closes. Ganon and Zanath chase along behind them, though they don’t make it. Ganon glares at Zelda through the vanishing space, swearing he’ll be back.

If Nintendo would let me, I’d have Link get his first speaking role here since he’s not the main character, asking what the heck happened. I’d be almost as happy, though, if Zelda and Link shared a mute exchange. Regardless, Zelda helps him to his feet and we watch them exit the damaged castle. They descend the steps in the gilded light of sunset, a reminder of The Golden Realm. They’ve arrived outside just in time for nightfall. The sky’s black, but there are stars in that blackness. Roll the credits over the stars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 5 - Versus Ganon!

Jump back to Part 4.

Ganon’s armies wait in Hyrule for the princess’s return. Zelda appears, now dressed as Sheik, storming the fields before Castle Hyrule. Or, so it looks. She’s clearly overmatched. The fiends rip her to shreds – at which point fairies pop out of her clothes. There’s no flesh. Navi’s family provided a decoy. They tricked Ganon.

Surprisingly, Hyruleans would now call this "the good old days."
 Zelda’s not foolish. She knows more ways into Castle Hyrule than the front door. She sneaks in through the sewers, not having to fight through an army. The castle serves as our final dungeon once she enters it, with puzzles and victims frozen in obsidian forms, including Zelda’s mom and dad. Once she reaches the throne room we get out big showdown with the Limbo-powered Ganon. Her pieces of the Triforce prevent him from squashing her, but he scoffs that he’s invincible. Link was the Chosen One, the only one who could kill him.

But if that’s so, why was he hiding in this castle? Zelda finds the Master Sword can cut him, and his body bother shrinks and lightens when hit by her enchanted arrows, leeching some of his Limbo energies. After a few forms, he’s reduced to an elf-like creature, almost a homely version of Link. By whooping him, she actually drained all his stolen power and reduced him to a normal person. He bristles and refuses to show fear before she kills him. He won’t cry, “like Link did.”

Zelda won’t kill him, though. Not even now. That’s the way the cycle used to go. She’ll spare him, let him live out his natural life and not give him the path of vengeance he’s been pursuing for eons. Maybe in a jail cell.

Taking the Triforce, she opens the way to Limbo to free Link and the other children. Ganon freaks out and tries to stop her. We think it’s because he fears Link. Then nightmares come pouring out from that realm. Hyrule becomes a warped portal into this bleak landscape where even the Master Sword can’t glow. So much for Castle Hyrule being our “final dungeon.”

Onward to the final episode: Part 6!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 4 - The Golden Realm

Jump back to Part 3.

Yet I want my Graveyard Temple, with its spooky theme of undead warriors and supernatural vapors. Reality ripples down here. It would be great for Zelda to have a showdown with the Shadow Link inside. After dispatching the doppelganger, a ghost resembling Link appears rises from its remains. For a moment he touches hands with Zelda, before dispersing into the mist. Maybe a sign that Link’s not gone entirely?

Shadow Link is a classic Legend of Zelda enemy.
Now that Link's been supplanted as the series's hero,
how symbolic is Zelda fighting against it?

Stranger things wait deeper in the Graveyard Temple. Some tiles aren’t grey stone, but rather gold like the Triforce. Go deeper still, and she finds rifts in reality. The Master Sword allows her to wedge her way through them, and to pass into a shining alternate reality version of the Graveyard Temple. Here it’s a gilded Pyramid Temple. The basement is locked, but if Zelda ascends and exits, she’ll be in The Golden Realm, an appropriately shiny version of Hyrule.

This realm is also at war. Limbo’s familiar dark army is evenly matched with a heroic Golden Army, largely comprised of incredibly idealized versions of the knights from Zelda’s camp. They’re led by someone else, someone who looks a lot like Sheik. Sheik seems to be our guide through this, knowing way more than she should about Zelda and Link.

But in Ocarina of Time, Sheik was...

Our androgynous guide explains about the Legend-cycle. For reasons we don’t understand (but might know about if we played Skyward Sword), from age to age the Kingdom of Hyrule comes into being on the lower plane, always preceding the birth of a great evil that calls itself Ganon. As though connected, a version of Link is also always born into the realms and stops Ganon’s ambitions. Once slain, Ganon’s spirit returns to an infernal prison called “Limbo.” Apparently the wizard Zanath is from here, and helped Ganon escape from Limbo and into The Golden Realm, where he studied the cycles in order to pre-empt them and conquer the realms permanently. He’s already drawn so much power from Limbo that it’s driven him mad. It’s a wonder that realm hasn’t ruptured open. He intends to undo everything, which included getting rid of Link, gathering the Triforce and Golden Power himself, and inhabiting all the places that were traditionally safe.

The Golden Realm’s Castle Hyrule and dungeons should all have retro-feels, and tableaus with reference to the events of all the major Zelda games. Stained glass depictions, mosaics, etc. This is also where Zelda finds the Goddess Bow and silver arrows, the enchanted things that have slain Ganon before, and that feel incredibly familiar to her. We know why.

At the heads of the dark army in the Golden Realm are three of Ganon’s former forms, all raised from the dead as his slaves. So we get a Zombie Pig-Nose Gannon, Zombie Wind Waker Wizard Ganon, and finally Zombie Agahnim. Zelda, Sheik and Navi fend them off at the Temples, and Zelda extracts their darkness into her arrows, until they are nearly powerful enough to harm the real Ganon.
Agahnim, from promotional art for Link to the Past.

Yet Zombie Agahnim reveals he’s only the second to last; Sheik is actually the last. Sheik was going to be Ganon’s next incarnation, before he broke out of Limbo and disturbed the Legend-cycle. She can feel parts of his spirit inside her, but has suppressed him while he was in Hyrule, and disguised herself to keep out of his attention. Now he knows, and tries to take her over. Rather than giving in and attacking Zelda, she sacrifices herself to yield the energy necessary to stop him.

There's nothing else for Zelda in The Golden Realm. The remaining Army of Limbo is scattering. After she mourns, Zelda has to return to Hyrule to stop this.

Jump to Part 5!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 3 - The Master Sword, Without Link?

Jump back to Part 2.

At camp, Zelda confers with Navi and the captain of her guard. They believe the Master Sword can harm even the King of Limbo. It’s the simplest reason for why he’d pursue it. Since he mentioned it’s somewhere in Link’s home woods, we’re off.

It's been so long since anyone's seen the Master Sword
that Navi can't remember what it looks like.
Now there’s only one major army on the map, which is conveniently in that same woods. Zelda is now strong enough to travel deeper in than before. But as she gets deeper, things get a little greener and brighter. The sword’s magic is repelling the darkness, and preventing Zanath from finding it. The forest becomes a nightmarish version of itself, a sort of mini-dungeon maze you have to fight your way through until you reach the classic grove. Zelda tries to take the sword from the stone but can’t lift it. Navi wonders if only the Chosen One can. God, it’d be annoying if we had to go on a quest to find that singular special person.

Of course, Zanath was following them and now he strikes. He tries to retrieve the sword, and fails. He isn’t too upset; he believes only one person can wield this thing, and his master has already killed that boy. Zelda knocks him away from the block and brushes against the handle. It glows. You guessed it: this time she’s able to release the Master Sword, based on the courage she’s displayed. Zanath serves as a mini-bossfight that shows off the power of the sword, and will hopefully make a suitably awesome debut for Zelda wielding the famous weapon.
"Zant," from Twilight Princess. Zanath's got the same fashion sense.
After falling to Zelda, Zanath begins to fade away into Limbo. He says it doesn’t matter: the Legend-cycle is already broken with the Chosen One’s death, and soon Ganon will control Hyrule, Limbo and the Golden Realm. A whole lot of names we don’t have context for yet, but recognize as bad. Zanath believes his master will simply set him free from Limbo at the end of the war.

Navi doubts Link is really dead, just trapped in Limbo. We don’t get Zelda’s side because, since she’s the protagonist, she can’t talk in this game. The burdens of a Nintendo hero.

In addition to allowing Zelda to kick ass, the Master Sword has a hefty warding range against the Limbo-darkness. If she visits the appropriate key points and uses the sword, she can permanently remove some of the blight in Hyrule, ala Okami. This becomes necessary to find the next set of temples, since the Army of Limbo’s blight has rendered them inaccessible. These armies are only able to locate the relative regions of the temples, not the entrances to their Temples. Zelda has to scour the landscape, like archaeologists messing around Egypt for buried tombs. The Master Sword “healing” specific areas permits you entry into multiple Temples. I’d let the game designers come up with these Temple themes (and/or change the earlier Temple themes) as they pleased, since they clearly know what they’re doing. Nintendo’s shop does fantastic dungeon design.

After passing through a couple of Temples, enough of the land is safe enough that you can access the special Graveyard Temple. This one’s in reference to the original game’s Graveyard that couldn’t be reached by a logical spatial approach. No map can guide you through the mire and fog. Navi is positively baffled. She knows the fairies came to Hyrule from this place, but nothing more.

Jump to Part 4!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 2 - Now With Fairies

The Fairy Eater’s demise sets free her snacks: the surviving fairies. The eldest fairy is named Navi, and she seems to recognize Zelda, even though the princess has never met fairies before. Navi expresses gratitude and promises to help rescue Link. She promptly swirls around Zelda’s wooden sword, replacing the fire with a magical light that improves its attack power and extends the warding range against the darkness. Navi explains that the darkness engulfing the land is something The King of Limbo brought with him from his home world. It’s somewhat vulnerable to fairy magic, but clearly not vulnerable enough. She thinks the only way to seal it off entirely is to assemble the Triforce, a powerful artifact from a higher plane, from which all modern fairies draw their life force. Unfortunately, the King of Limbo has already found one third of this artifact.

Zelda guides the surviving kids and fairies back to the lighted rampart. With the help of our fairies, we hope this camp will be safe from being swallowed for now. This begins the development of the camp. I figure every time you finish a significant story bit or dungeon, they’ll have built up the camp’s defenses or its living quarters a bit more. I’d like it if a couple of the changes were cute, like you’re expecting them to all have armor when you get back and instead the kids made wreathes of flowers for everybody. But the point would be that this is the safe zone where you keep returning to, though it’s clearly threatened by the encroaching tide of darkness. This is what you’re working for, beyond rescuing Link and her royal family.

The weather gets wilder as you return to the darkened Hyrule. Old mires are completely flooded and require a boat to navigate, letting us play with some Wind Waker mechanics. The northernmost part of the swamp is frozen over as though by magic, leading to the Ice Temple. The shard of Triforce it houses is acting up.

So we have a hidden Water Temple and an Ice Temple. Of course at the northernmost edge of the map is Death Mountain and our Volcano Temple. Rather than having to go to one place first, though, Zelda is forced to explore the darkened world. Wherever there is an army, that’s got to be where The King of Limbo suspects lies a shard of the Triforce. Zelda (or the player) can enter the temples at will: you can do the Water, Ice and Volcano Temples in whatever order you want, or whatever order you find them in. There’d also be a fourth temple, a series of hollow caverns carved to resemble rooms, but this place is swarming with bad guys and there are rumors that whatever is down there is too tough for them. Entry into the Cavern Temple isn’t possible just yet.

Of course, upon clearing the Water, Ice and Volcano Temples, you get to go into the fourth temple. Most of the army has been savaged by what is inside. I’d like it to be a tiered boss battle against a great dragon, and as its stages pass it seems to manifest more and more of the boiling blackness we associate with the Army of Limbo, though this thing is clearly not on their side. The fight gets increasingly unfair. You literally can’t kill this thing’s final form if you survive that far; it seems invincible to your Limbo-powered bow, fairy-powered sword and the tools you’ve found along the way.

Either as you are about to die in game, or after an internal timer elapses for skilled players who manage to stay alive long enough, The King of Limbo arrives and becomes a third party in the battle. Half-physical, half composed of Limbo energies, he resembles the classic villain Ganon. He wears his third of the Triforce, a complete and golden triangle, around his neck. He dispatches the dragon and steals its shard of the Triforce, as well as absorbing the darkness from its carcass.

So Ganon's in this game?

The King of Limbo seems to recognize Zelda as more than just the runaway princess. Before she can fight him he shatters “the Chosen One’s” wooden sword, and alludes to the Master Sword, an artifact that Zanath has almost found in the forest. He might do more if not for the dragon’s death throes, which bring the cavern collapsing down. The King of Limbo bursts through the ceiling, while Zelda has to escape on foot, carrying the injured Navi.

On to Part 3!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 1

Today I'm beginning serialization of a synopsis I wrote for some Legend of Zelda fans. It's what my Zelda game would be like. It's reference-heavy and in a passive sort of writing style I enjoy more than most people do. Let me know what you think, and particularly if you're interested in continuing. The plan is to keep it running daily into next week.

I’m a literalist. Following the title of the series, my Legend of Zelda game would actually be about Princess Zelda. The game opens on a Hyrule that is largely obscured under a boiling black sky, with sunlight only shining through on the west-most portion, like a fingernail moon. Someone called The King of Limbo has conquered Castle Hyrule. It looms in the distance as knights and survivors flee to the only region that still has sunlight. The darkened world is beset by an army of classic darknuts, giant hands, and moblin-type creatures that are coated in a similar blackness to the sky. Zanath, a wizard resembling Zant from Twilight Princess, pursues the escapees into the lit region, leading part of the King of Limbo’s army.

The player will quickly realize that Link is absent. We know the woods he typically resides in is overtaken by the King of Limbo’s darkness. Hyrulean soldiers set up a rampart to defend against the pursuing monsters, and reference that the invasion seemed come from nowhere. Princess Zelda, our player-character, is forced to take up a bow and help fend them off. After some moblins are temporarily incapacitated she steals one of their quivers, affording her arrows the same powers of darkness that they wield, and so allowing her to harm and dispatch the baddies. This temporarily scares Zanath off.

After getting kidnapped for her entire series,
it's about time she kicked some ass.

 The bow is Zelda’s (and your) primary weapon for the first act. Once her bodyguards are all safe and preoccupied tending to the wounded, she sneaks into the dark region to see if she can’t save Link and his fellow elves. We know she was buddies with the elf-boy. For a bit you’ll be playing through stealth, with no way to fight monsters in melee. You’re entering the dark lands and the whole mood should be foreboding. It gets creepier as you enter the forest and have to keep aware of which trees are infested and hungry. There are equal amounts ranged combat and running for your life.

The elf village has been razed, and you find only the elders are left. They claim their kids were all abducted by the Army of Limbo. You enter Link’s house hoping he’s in his hiding spot, a cave under the floorboards that is reminiscent of the first cave in the first NES Legend of Zelda game. Instead his grandpa is hiding down there. Link fought to save him and was taken. Before you leave, he says it’s dangerous to go alone and gives you Link’s wooden sword.

Because I like nostalgia references.
But Zelda’s not foolish. She isn’t fighting shadow-beasts with a wooden sword. She gets lamp oil and sets the blade on fire. The flaming sword emits heat and light, which can harm the Army of Limbo, and wards off most of the dangerous critters. This is your melee weapon for the rest of the act. Its light-warding is especially handy since the black sky begins to rain, and blighted rat-monsters spawn from the ground as it softens. Zelda needs to get the heck out of here, but first she's going after the kids.

Our first proper Dungeon is a real dungeon, at the bottom of which the kidnapped children are held. Our boss is the Fairy Eater, a giant evil fairy that’s been good at rounding up both the kids and fairies. Defeating her frees many of the children, though it’s revealed some were sent to another world called Limbo. That’s where all this blackness came from. Link was among those sent there. 

Jump to Part 2.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maybe Santa Will Rescind

Three aunts, two uncles, two grandparents, and two parents who have been fighting all week reside over a flock of children. It’s a crepe paper massacre on Christmas Eve, starring villains Ages 3-14. The tree is ten feet tall and is guarded by a barracks of boxes. My siblings, younger and unaware how little of the haul is for them, huddle with our cousins. I retreat for the computer, letting everyone else have their night. Neither children nor Christmas are my thing, and at the height of teenaged cynicism, the family is about as unappealing.

The oldest cousin, let's call her Cedar, trots up to me. Cedar holds a green and blue box in her hands, and for a moment I think she’s going to hand it to me. It’s stirring, since she’d be the only non-grandparent who remembered me this year. It almost hurts that I’m a broke invalid teen with nothing to offer her in return. Our family stretched the bank to get as many gifts for them as we could.

Then I see CEDAR on the FOR label. She is toting one of her own trophies.

She asks, “Where’s your present?”

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “Maybe Santa will bring me something tomorrow.”

“No.” Her face contorts. “What did you get me?”

Like magic, the guilt dissipates. Her father’s loaded. I look aside the box she’s clutching, recognizing both an overflowing stocking and six packages for her by the coffee table. I point to her stack.

“Isn’t it in there?”

Cedar waddles off to investigate. I’m about to get a drink when she returns.

She reports, “It wasn’t in there.”

“Did you check under the tree?”

I’m in the kitchen when she re-returns. Now she carries fists instead of a box. Her head cranes around the entrance, as though losing sight of the Christmas tree will cause her trove to evaporate. Maybe Santa will rescind.

She asks, “It wasn’t there, either.”

“Are you sure?” I ask, hoping that a return to the tree will get her caught up in her other gifts and she’ll forget about me.

I slosh my plastic cup of tap water and lag behind her to the living room. Cedar actually elbows her sister on her way under the tree skirt. By now the skirt is lonely. Only discarded bows keep it company; the goods have been dragged to the four corners of the room for rummaging.

Near the fireplace, my little brother talks with concern to our dad. The poor little guy is close to tears with incomprehension over why the others have so many more boxes. Dad is doing his typical bad job of hiding outrage. The in-laws got him the perfect gift: another reason to be angry at someone.

Cedar purses her lips up at me. This is not at all her fault, but teenaged cynicism doesn’t care about fair.

“It’s not there,” she repeats.

“That’s funny,” I say. I wave my palm at the tree’s twinkling lights. “I put it next to the present you got for me.”

The look on her face sticks with me for years. It’s like I’ve gotten a Math problem wrong. Even the tone of her response suggests I’m the dumb kid.

She says, “I didn’t get you anything.”

And I say, “How about that?”

I remember going to check on my sister, but not much else. Christmas isn’t really my holiday.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Not Santa

Dad sees no footprints in the snow, though you know something was out there. You hear its hoofs on the roof. The chortling sounds nearly human. It waits in the chimney, or behind the tree with its eyes blinking like bulbs, carrying a sack full of children who seek out Santa. It has adapted to hunt this time of year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Lord, Hear Our Vegetarian Prayer

John: I'm going vegetarian once a week. Meatless Mondays! It's good for my heart, and my great grandma used to do that praying for my health. Maybe I can count it as a sacrifice in prayer for a friend's health.


John: But my great grandma did!


John: ...What if I promise to eat really delicious fat-heavy meat once a week? Could you cure somebody's cancer then?

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