Archive for April, 2013

riotApologies again for the sparseness of the blog lately. If you can bear with me, April’s a rough month when you’re starting a massive garden from scratch. Come May, it will hopefully be less crazy here. In the meantime, I’m still making sure the Wednesday’s Words get posted! Here they are now!

“What’s happened?” the mustachioed Norman was at his side, still in his day clothes. Louis assumed he’d meant to sleep in them.

“Boy’s dead,” Louis answered.

“Oh dear, that’s horrible,” the man said. “How?”

But Louis’s mind was elsewhere. He turned to ask Clarisse what the cloaked man’s name was, but she was gone. He craned his neck around, trying to see behind him, and then in front of him, amongst the assembly of gawkers. There were a number of lanterns carried, and even a few torches, but the light they threw only carried a few feet from the source and Clarisse didn’t seem to be near any of them.

The people mumbled to each other in hushed tones, the mother still wept, and a few women pulled close to her, wrapping their arms around her in the solidarity of grief.

“This boy is dead!” a cry went up.

The crowd’s murmurs fell silent and everyone looked around to see where the voice had come from, to see to whom they were supposed to be listening to.

“Nothing can bring him back!” the call went again.

On the other side of the throng—which was at least thirty-to-forty head by now—someone had jumped upon the edge of the community well. Louis stood again on his toes, but so did everyone else, so it helped little.

“And I know who perpetrated this terrible crime!” the voice rang again. The entire crowd had turned toward the man clinging to the well. Louis tried to position himself better to see, first left, then right, and finally, his eyes locked on the cloaked man. Many of the peasants had now pushed back their hoods to better see within such close quarters, but this man—who perched with one foot along the edge of the well and clutched the beam that held aloft the roped bucket with one hand, while the other waved in the air above him—this man wore his hood and wore it low, and still Louis could not see his face. His cloak was bloody, for it was he who had brought the boy in from the field.

“And I believe that you all also know who perpetrated this unthinkable crime!” he yelled.

Louis attempted to push his way through the crowd to the front, but it was locked tight, and his shame would not allow him to too roughly jostle the women therein. There was no going around, as the mass filled the narrow street.

La Famille de Loups!

And with that, fists flew into the air and yells erupted all around Louis. Lanterns waved and torches were swung about above the heads of the people as the cloaked man continued to stir the frenzy.

Then, to their left, the stable door flung open and the chestnut mare came bolting out, Clarisse astride and whipping the horse into a firm gallop past the mob and out of the village. All heads turned and watched while the cloaked man’s waving hand pointed to her and he yelled.

“And she is one of them! This must be stopped, tonight!”

As he signaled after the escaping Clarisse, his cloak opened at the breast, and though his face was still hidden in his cavernous hood, Louis glimpsed—for but a brief moment—a wooden handle protruding from his peasant’s belt. From this handle sprung four steel claws. And just like that, the cloak closed and it was gone.

Louis had been right; it had been a pair.

Suddenly, the crowd lurched forward and Louis could hear the yells of the people, crying out for blood and for vengeance. The cloaked man had come down from his position on the well and Louis could see the stricken mother close to him, cradling her small boy, whose limbs sagged like wilted flowers. She had stopped crying, stopped wailing, and now her face set grimly, her eyes filled with crimson murder.

The mustachioed Norman beside him moved ahead to join the rabble, and Louis grabbed at his sleeve.

“What on earth are you doing, man?”

“They say they know who the murderer is,” the man said. “There is justice to be had tonight.” And he shook free of Louis’s grasp and disappeared into the mass of fury.

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Cows-at-NIght-1024x714For some time, he’d been hearing the clank of cows’ bells that seemed to bounce from tree to tree within the wood he traveled, and now that he was clear of the wood, he was presented with about a dozen head of cattle. Beyond them, hard to distinguish in the gloaming, danced small, shadowy figures. Louis squinted, trying to force his vision to accomplish more than it ever could under such conditions; the limbs of the figures distorted in the murky evening, giving the impression of devils and imps. As he and Modestine passed, he could now see that these strange, unearthly beings were, in fact, children. Young herders like the girl in Bochet.

They followed each other in a circular pattern, round and round, joining hands and letting go, calling out some rhyme that Louis could not make out. In any other setting, in a better light, at a more clear time of day, the dancing and playing of children would have warmed the heart and eased the adult mind. But here, on the yawning French moors, surrounded by a creeping, malevolent fog that swirled about the trees like a serpent, the vision was unsettling.

Louis felt superstition crawl slowly up his back and over his shoulder, whispering some pestilence in his ear. He shook it off and recalled that he was a reader of Herbert Spencer, refusing to fall victim to such folly. He tried to steer Modestine on, and so long as she was on a path she moved fairly forward, but once off and amid the heather, she became disoriented. Her step took on the circular course of lost travelers and if left on her own, she’d wander in circles until daybreak.

For Louis, the effect was dizzying, between the dancing of the children and the circles Modestine seemed intent on tracing. He hauled her by the bridle to right her way as much as he could see to. The children and cattle were now disbanding, save for two girls who followed him as he made his way to a collection of houses.

The first man he asked direction simply went into his abode and shut the door. The second man pointed in some vague direction that lead Louis nowhere and plainly watched him with amusement as he turned Modestine back to the houses in frustration. Finally, Louis turned to the two girls, who’d been standing by observing with pleasure.

“The way to Cheylard, s’il vous plait,” he said. There was a brief break in the rain and the wind lowed to a strong breeze that whistled around the dwellings.

One girl stuck her tongue out at him, and then both girls performed childish gestures that Louis could not interpret but knew could not be flattering. He sighed. Both girls were blond, and yet one cultivated the thickest eyebrows Louis had ever seen on any young face, and dark as his own mustache.

“Why don’t you follow the cows?” one girl said, and she elbowed her companion who giggled uncontrollably.

Surely, Louis thought, La Bête du Gévaudan must have had good reason to eat so many children of this region. He turned from them as true night hung by a slender fiber over their heads.

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April 10-15 201354It’s been pretty hectic here at Chez Everitt. April’s a busy month, preparing the garden, trying to get a jump on the lawn mowing, etc. Hence, fewer posts here. To get an idea of things, feel free to check out my other blog (that I can only manage to post to three times a week!), Heavy Metal Homesteader.

April 10-15 201355In terms of writing, though, I did happen to receive my contributor copies of Postscripts to Darkness Vol. 3, in which my story, The Obstruction, is published. (You can order a copy here.) This story was inspired by my friend and former MFA thesis adviser, Peter Oresick. Last year, we were all horrified (him most of all) to learn that he had a tumor in his brain. Luckily, it was successfully removed and he has been recovering ever since. He had mentioned that perhaps the episode could be fodder for one of my stories, and so, it was. And that is the story in PStD Vol. 3.

I’d like to take a moment, also, to plug Peter’s project, The Pittsburgh Novel: Western Pennsylvania in Fiction: 1792-2012. He’s just begun posting each entry and there are about 1,000 of them, so check back frequently to see the blog (and title list) grow. I’ve known he’d been working on this for sometime and had been really looking forward to it—now that it’s getting out there, I’m kind of ecstatic. My reading list is about to get ridiculous.

(Coincidentally, The Obstruction happens to be set in Pittsburgh.)

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DonkeyPostcard1Note for this week’s words: “proot” is what RLS had been instructed to yell at his donkey in order to get her moving. It is, apparently, French slang for “fart.”

As they moved up the opposite hill, before they were even out of sight of the town, Modestine slowed her measure as to have effectively stopped, and the switch barely stirred her an inch. Louis prooted. He prooted loudly, softly, far, and wide. He prooted closely, tightly, high and low. He prooted until his lips ached and his beatings almost brought him to tears of disgrace. Although, it could have been tears of frustration, as he would certainly not reach the lake by dusk, perhaps not even all night. Once he ceased the lashings altogether and once he prooted his final proot, Modestine began to move, though at her own pace, which was hardly at all and with frequent stops to chew at anything green that garnished the wayside.

When Louis thought it could not get worse, they came upon another ass, of seemingly worse behavior than Modestine, as he roamed the hillside at will and without his master. The reciprocated attraction between the two lovers was immediate and horrifying. As the swine masquerading as a pack animal attempted to mount poor, guiltless Modestine, Louis renewed his thrashing to the both of them, anything to quash the budding romance. As he whipped wildly, he grew more disgusted with Modestine’s suitor, for any man worth his pride should have, at the very least, defended his lady.

When Louis finally got themselves rid of the amorous beast, new troubles arose. Perhaps the many thousands of knots strapping his pack to Modestine had loosened since the morning, but the sack was now sliding one way and then the other, until finally, as they arrived to the village of Ussel, the entire blasted contraption had spun around completely and hung from Modestine’s belly.

As Louis considered Modestine and wondered if, indeed, donkeys could smile, a man, woman, and two children had gathered around him in a semi-circle and joined the beast. It was then that Louis fully realized how hot it was. The high southern French sun beat down upon his shoulders like he’d beaten Modestine, and if he wasn’t already in such a state of castigation, he’d have welcomed it as punishment for so mistreating the donkey.

Louis worked to right his pack, sweat burning his eyes and the laughs of this family from Ussel needling his ears, and once he finally arranged it in a position so as to tighten the straps, it fell over the other side and resumed its place under Modestine.

No one offered to assist.

“Perhaps,” suggested the man from Ussel, “your pack should be of a different contour.”

Tais-toi!” Louis snapped. The man smiled and shut up, per instructions.

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*cramp, cramp*

Funny, for whatever reason, I was contemplating RLS’s handwriting the other day. I don’t recall the context—I must have been reading something. Perhaps it was some consideration on how, since the age of the typewriter, we’ve increasingly become isolated from having to hand write anything. Seriously, as an adult, how often have you had to write anything out by hand?

*scribble, scribble*

*scribble, scribble*

Something must have reminded me of some of Stevenson’s correspondence, in which he’d sometimes complain (understandably so) that he’d been writing and writing and writing, but one can only write so much without cramping up. When I read that, it occurred to me that I hadn’t truly been processing his…er…process (well, his and everyone else of his era). Obviously, I knew he was writing out his manuscripts by hand, but the consequence of that hadn’t really sunk in. Later, at Vailima, of course he enlisted the help of Fanny’s daughter, Belle, to write while he dictated.

Anyway, here’s a nifty treatise on the handwriting of Robert Louis Stevenson. Enjoy, and ta-ta ’til Wednesday, when I will have new words for you.

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RLSMOD1Today’s words are brought to you by Page 57:

Louis inhaled hard from his cigarette. As if she heard his thought, he saw Modestine peek a nose and eye from behind the nearby stable wall, munching a golden breakfast of hay, then withdrew, chewing.

He supposed that wolf, man, or both, it didn’t matter. His journey was unfurling before him and it was not the flag he’d expected to follow. These were not the reflections he’d anticipated. And, in fact, at the realization that his plans had, in a way, been hijacked, Louis fumed. He was supposed to be figuring out and re-aligning his mess of a life! He was supposed to be experiencing and recording, making plans for a book that would further his literary career—and about what? “Superstitions with a Donkey in the French Highlands?”

He was supposed to be meditating on the perplexing nature of one Fanny Osbourne, stealing himself for the terrible news that would come to him via Alès, or fortifying his heart for the great joy he’d shamelessly indulge at the perfumed letter he’d receive rejoining him, come to America and I will be your wife! On his life, he was supposed to be sorting out if he was even fit to serve as husband, or if the institution of marriage was still too ferocious and fearsome an adventure for even Robert Louis Stevenson, experienced canoesman and driver of donkeys.

No closer to a conclusion regarding his situation thus far, Louis crushed the stub of his cigarette under his boot, gathered his things from the inn, and made his way to the stable.

The host of the inn was there with Modestine.

“This package should be changed,” he said. “Maybe divided. Then, you could even carry more.”

“But I do not need to carry more,” Louis answered. “And I cannot very well carve up my sleeping sack, or it ceases to be what it is and is of no use.” Louis could hardly disguise his annoyance at one more possible hitch, all of which, at this point, bordered on crisis in his mind.

“But it tires her,” the man said, and pointed to the donkey’s forelegs which were rubbed raw.

Louis set down his pack and softened to the plight of his companion. He was so distracted by everything else, this he failed to notice. He pet Modestine down her forehead and nose.

“She can be patched up?” he asked. The man nodded, and Louis nodded back.

After only ten minutes, the man had fixed up the traveler with a salve, and though the sack could not be cut in two, it was now adjusted so that it hung lengthwise over her back, like a massive green frankfurter. He purchased a new cord from the innkeeper and tied up his effects so that they would not spill onto the trail, and the weight of the thing was now equally and more easily balanced across the little donkey.

“See?” the man said. “It feels lighter to her.”

And Louis did feel better about it. As frustrating as she could be, his constant prodding with the goad, though better than the switch and more effective than the staff, still pained him somewhat, for he didn’t like to be cruel. If even against every other catastrophe, this one load was lightened a little, and if he should find himself in the position to sleep again, he might a little more soundly.

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Nice deck, can double as pirate ship. Also, sand box. I need an adult-sized sand box.

Nice deck, can double as pirate ship. Also, sand box. I need an adult-sized sand box.

I was reading this article and nodding my head, as I do. I thought, if I was going to mention this is a blog post, I would pull this quote:

Not that being orderly is wrong, but a life sentenced to “ordinary” can be mind-numbing. Mankind was created for something much greater than carving out a meager existence.

Too true. But by the time I got to the end of it (which wasn’t long; it’s very short), this was the line that struck me:

I know we can’t abandon our jobs and family responsibilities to hang out all day in a club house.

A light totally went on. No, we can’t just ignore all of our responsibilities to “hang out all day in a club house,’ but then, I realized, I don’t have a club house to hang out in even part of the day. Even a few minutes of the day. I suppose that’s what our imagination is for, but hey, even kids needed a little help with their imaginations, and they built club houses.

A club house! How fun would that be?

This article is just saying something I’ve been thinking more and more about over the last couple of years. There have been so many things I’ve identified in my personal tastes that I had previously considered just an arbitrary attraction when, in fact, these are things I can trace directly back to my childhood. Why? Because it was a time of fewer concerns and the uncanny ability to abruptly and completely block out anything that might be troublesome and become someone else, go to some place else, just do whatever I wanted (pirate ship: check). Some folks might say it’s a desire to return to a time without responsibility, and in some ways, sure, it is. But as an adult, I recognize that it’s not the responsibilities that bother me (because I know that there are perks that come with those, and I recall being a kid and lamenting that those perks were yet available to me). It’s more to do with wanting to just regain a skill that’s been lost: the ability to really block that shit out for a little while. Entirely. And just let your mind wander about totally free.

How useful would that be as a writer? Very. And so, I think perhaps I’m justified in wanting a club house. It should just be a room in the house, or somewhere nearby. One that only I have the key to, and it’s filled with all sorts of nifty things, like no-nonsense art supplies (not anything complicated; just something I can pick up and then put down just as quickly) and definitely a big trunk full of adult-sized costumes. A toy chest, certainly, filled with the kinds of toys that can re-create real life, but also supplement it with the stuff you wished existed—like, some people figures, some buildings to create a main street or something, but also…dragons. Trolls. God. Whatever.

If every writer had a room like this—a room like this, and say, an hour—we might make writer’s block a thing of the past. Can you think of one real, legitimate reason why adults shouldn’t have their own club houses, or play rooms?

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