Friday, August 12, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Trials

I might have taken this challenge too literally. The story is based on Grace Sherwood's, in Virginia in 1702.

You stood and looked from woman’s face to woman’s face. Though I was beside you, I could track your gaze by watching their flinching and downcast eyes.

“Sarah,” you said at last to a comely woman who stood at the back with two small children. “You know the trial will not harm the accused. If she be innocent, she will bear no grudge against you, because you let her go. If she is guilty, she will be hanged, and no harm will come to you.”

Reluctantly, your wife left your children in the care of a neighbour and stepped between the rows of spectators in the courtroom to stand below you, looking out as if she was accused herself.

Next you implored your sister, who instead took your children from your neighbour.

So you looked to that neighbor. Perhaps because she was your wife’s friend, she came to the front of the court to glance back at me as if I was bestowing the evil eye right now. As if that’s the way it works.

But willing were your brother’s wife (not the one in charge of the colony, but another, to whom I’m told you owe money), a seamstress who wanted to advertise her wares, and the wife of a local publican. My trial would give her a lively tale to tell.

The jury of my peers finally filled, you said, “Let’s get this trial underway so we can get home to our dinners.”

Your bailiff led me and my jury to a room, then left and locked the door. A small yellow bird perched at the top of one of the trees outside.

“Her familiar?” the publican’s wife asked.

“Or someone else’s,” your neighbour said.

“There’s little we can do about it now,” said your wife. “Let’s just get this over with. Strip down, Claire.”

She sounded like she was coming down with something.

I removed my shoes and stockings, feeling I was being judged for my housekeeping and laundry skills. I folded my bonnet before setting it on the chair. The other women watched as I removed my apron and overdress, skirts, blouses and petticoats. I stood naked, perhaps engaging in the sin of pride.

“Perhaps if you stood with your feet just so, and your arms up, we can get this over quickly,” said Sarah.

I did. They moved in closer for the inspection. None of them touched me.

“This could be a teat, I suppose,” said the seamstress, pointing to a blemish on my lower back.

“It’s just a mole,” I said. “I was born with it.”

“Witches are born, not made,” said your sister-in-law.

“Odd place for a teat,” said your wife.

“Witches are odd people,” said the seamstress.

“And this on her arm,” said the publican’s wife.

“A wasp sting,” I said. “I suppose it got some sun, and never faded.”

“It’s an odd shape,” said your neighbour.

My arms felt like lead.

“I see nothing else,” said your wife after a while.

“Me either,” said the dressmaker.

“You might as well get dressed,” your sister-in-law said.

“What do we say?” your neighbour asked.

“Perhaps if we had her familiar and we could see how she suckled it?” said the publican's wife.

They glanced at the window. The yellow bird still sat there, eyeing us through the glass.

After I dressed, your wife knocked on the door. The bailiff led me out first so he could keep an eye on me. I got back in my box and the jury of my peers turned to address the court.

“How do you find?” you asked your wife.

“Inconclusive,” she said.

You looked at her as one might look across the supper table.

“There was a raised mole that might have been a teat, but it was in an awkward place, so we could not guess the use of it. Also, if it was a teat, it was dried up.”

“Like my cow!” my accuser chimed in.

“There was an odd patch of skin that could have been the devil’s hoofprint, or a wasp sting.” Your wife finished.

“Right then.” You sounded like you had lost your stomach for the whole affair, but it was begun and could not be just abandoned. “After dinner, we will continue with the trial by water, down by the docks.”

I had a pleasant lunch in my cell, and then was walked to the harbour. My hands were loosely tied. Easily half the town was there.

The water here at the end of the dock was deep enough for the deep-hulled ocean-crossing vessels at low tide. At high tide, I could not have stood and touched the bottom.

“How does this work?” I asked.

“You get in the water, prove you’re not a witch, and we fish you out,” you said.

“How will you know?” I asked.

“Witches float,” you said.

“Perhaps a demonstration,” I said.

Your wife glared at you and dropped into the water.

Her clothes pulled her down, and her shoes. Men on the dock with long, hooked sticks poked at her while you yelled, "Hurry up, it's not her on trial here."

Ultimately two men in a rowboat fished her out. She lay in the boat, coughing weakly. I said a spell to work my hands free and walked to the end of the dock.

I gave myself a little jump. My skirts held air like a bladder, and I used my arms to propel myself to shore.

“She’s a witch!” the townsfolk yelled, and I picked up my pace. “Don’t let her get away!”

There was nowhere for me to escape to. Eventually my layers of clothing would fill with water and drag me down.

When I reached the shore, I let them take me back to my cell.

Sorry about your wife, though. I hear she never recovered from the water in her lungs. Your god took her a few days later.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Flea Market Finds

For this challenge, once again I tapped into my twin personal themes of squirrels and taxidermy. Also, I'd had a dream with a girl named Ginevra in it, then I'd read this story, so the name was popping in and out of my consciousness.

“How can you say you don’t like Billy Joel?” Carl said, for about the thirtieth time. Really, he’d said it about that many times. This morning, at the Fryeburg Flea market, he had found a Billy Joel retrospective four-CD set in mint condition. They were on the third disk now, and he’d said it after every song.

“I just don’t,” Ginevra shouted. She was driving, and she’d always heard the rule was, the driver chose the tunes. Except maybe not so much in this case, since she had to drive the whole way from Maine back to Montreal, because Carl had no driver’s license.

“But he’s so talented,” Carl said.

“Not my thing, I guess,” Ginevra said. Carl had already accused her of having no taste, of being jealous of Billy Joel’s success, and of lying and actually liking Billy Joel now that she had been exposed to his complete oeuvre. Or three-quarters of it, anyway. "And what's that smell?" She rolled down her window.

"It's probably that thing you bought," Carl said.

Over the tediously dulcet opening bars of “Piano Man” there was a scrabbling sound in the trunk.

“Did you hear that, Buddy?” Ginevra said to the seven-year-old in the back seat. But he was asleep.

“What?” said Carl.

“Turn down the music a second,” Ginevra said. “I heard something in the trunk. The cooler could be leaking?”

“Not likely,” said Carl.

“Maybe it tipped,” Ginevra said.

“That would be bad,” Carl said, and without turning down the music he jostled his son’s knee. “Hey.”

The last time the trunk had been opened had been at the border.

“Be nice to the guard,” Carl had said, the whole wait in line until they had to talk to the customs official. “We have nothing to declare.”

That was untrue. She didn’t know what Carl had hidden in the cooler, but she hoped it wasn’t drugs. Personal electronics were more his style.

So when the border guard asked, third question, out of spite, Ginevra said “Just the dead animal.” She’d meant it as a joke. The whole thing was a joke, actually, a little bit of revenge for the Billy Joel box set. The taxidermy squirrel wore in a suit and breeches and held a driver mid-swing. “It will be a perfect gift for my dad,” she’d said. Carl had never met her (non-golfing) father, and wasn’t likely to after this trip.

“That is the most disgusting thing ever,” Carl had said. “It should be properly buried.”

“It’s a rat with a fluffy tail, I didn’t kill it so it’s not my fault, and it doesn’t have a soul,” Ginevra had answered, paying two dollars and sticking the squirrel in a bag with some Ken Follett paperbacks and a nerf-gun for Buddy that she’d already confiscated.

“It’s going to smell in the heat,” Carl had said.

“It’s a good thing it’s a cool day, then,” Ginevra had answered. But maybe that's why he'd gotten the cheap aftershave, which must have been expired.

So at the border, the guard naturally wanted to see the dead animal. “It’s taxidermy,” she’d said. He was a native French speaker; that didn’t seem like a common ESL word.

“Let’s have a look,” he’d said.

"What's that smell?" the border guard had asked as Ginevra got out of the car. She gestured at Carl. The guard smirked.

The air was blessedly clean out here.

She’d taken the bag from the trunk, grabbed the squirrel by the clothes and drew it out.
That had gotten a smile from the security guard. “Do you have any other interesting purchases you wish to declare?” he’d said.

“Just the gun,” she'd said.

He didn’t seem worried.

She drew out the plastic orange, yellow, and blue weapon, careful not to point it at him. You should never point a gun, even a toy gun, at a border guard, or anyone else, unless you mean to shoot them.

“A dead animal and a gun to declare, miss. You have a nice day,” the border guard had said, and gone back to his hut.

“Can I have my gun?” Buddy had aske. She'd handed it through his window but confiscated the bullets, got back into her car, and drove away.

“That was totally unnecessary,” Carl had said.

Now he was shaking his son awake. There was the scrabbling sound again. “Buddy, can you pull down the seat back beside you and see if everything’s okay in the trunk?”

Buddy did wake up. When he finally managed to flip the other back seat down, the squirrel hurtled inside.

“What the fuck?” Carl said.

“Must be the magic of Billy Joel,” Ginevra said. “He’s awesome enough to raise the dead, but I still don't like him.”

The squirrel was alive, like a zombie is alive, moving under its own steam and going for Carl’s head. Maybe it liked the smell of his aftershave.

“Ginevra, bullets!” Buddy strained against his seatbelt.

The squirrel in Carl’s hair chewed madly, and Carl screamed and flailed his arms.

“Right,” Ginevra said, and fished around in the map pocket, retrieving four of them and handing them back. She’d have slowed down the car they hadn't been in a construction zone with concrete barriers and single lane traffic that still moved at 100 KPH.

The first nerf bullet hit Carl in the eye, which is why you’re not supposed to shoot at close range.

The second hit the squirrel in its hind-quarters.

The boy had his range now. The third bullet hit the squirrel in its pouchy face, and it lost its grip entirely and blew out the back window.

"Why did it come to life?" Buddy asked.

"What was in the cooler?" Ginevra said.

"My aftershave," said Carl.

"Shit," said Ginevra. "It was strong enough to raise the dead."

They pulled over at the side of the road. Ginevra opened the trunk. The cooler was tipped over, the aftershave open, poured out, gone. The air was clear and quiet.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Out there -- July 2011

Just one thing, "Bezoar", at its second market.

In Process -- July 2011

First Draft
“Fairfax”. Started month with about 5000 words I think (12 pages plus the two flash fics). Each of those flashes is probably a chapter needing to be fleshed out (maybe 50% more? There’s no description of anyone, really). Now I have around 14,000, and I'm almost at the end of Chapter 7.

I want to shout out a little where the ideas are coming from, because by the time I have a draft, I will have forgotten.

  • My sister asked what was going to happen next after Dollheads.

  • ChiaLynn I think first used the term (in my hearing) on twitter.

  • I read , where Sarah Monette reads a lot of histories, and commented once on the presentism (I think it would have been an example of that) in a book about the Salem Witch Trials, and how to the people living back then, maybe witchcraft was real and a real threat, so we shouldn’t assume they were all faking it or making it up. I’m paraphrasing here, and doing a poor job.

  • Back in the late 80’s I shared a kitchen with a guy who was doing a Master’s in US History at UofT. He had to teach an undergrad class, and every year he asked them not to do their major paper on the Salem Witch Trials, but of course some did. His problem was a lot the same as Sarah’s, above – that he wasn’t so sure there wasn’t witchcraft going on.
Research: how towns were governed in late 17th century Mass., Puritan architecture, Puritans in general, Virginia Colony, Colonial leaders, witch trials in Salem and Virginia, waterwheels, generators

"The Rabbits". Completely changed the hidden character because the way I was trying to write it wasn’t working. This was really part of the fourth draft that I started in May. Did the fifth draft to get it ready for the Crit Marathon on OWW. Might as well take advantage?

The challenges
“Overlord/Friend”. Wrote 1200 words on Saturday, typed on Sunday. Edited on Wednesday, edited again on Thursday, posted just before midnight.
“Naiad/Slayer”. Wrote 1600 words on Monday. This may be the first story I ever wrote based on a sock. Typed Tuesday, edited Wednesday. Research: names of lost creeks in Toronto. This story wants to be longer. If I had the inclination and word-count, the naiad wouldn’t be there when the MC got there. She might have friends. She wouldn’t be so easy to run through.
“The Art of Swimming in Armour”. Wrote 1500 – 3 pages before Acro, then three pages after, for about 1700 words.
“Stupid Beast”. This was not the story I expected to write. I thought I was writing about an eating disorder.

“Succubus”. Short story; working on 2nd draft
I was out for my weekly run in Brookbanks park, and there were three red birds. I thought to myself, how odd to see three cardinals all together, and all male. Then I looked a little closer, and realized they were not cardinals (I’m not ruling out the possibility that they were juveniles or something, I know nothing about birds really – but they didn’t have what I think of as Cardinal color or beak). Some kind of parakeet maybe? They must have escaped or been liberated. Pampelmouse is coming true, which I guess is a sign that I should work on it.
“Imp Face”. Needs to be typed.

Being reviewed
“Karate Zombies”. My friend who read it last month asked for it back so he could comment on it directly.
“Ian’s Dad’s Ashes”. (Three crits in July, seemed to like it)
“The Rabbits”. I wanted to have some things up for the Crit Marathon, so I pulled this one together.

Morrigan. Finished first sleeve; started second.
Naiad/Slayer. Socks. Fin. A fun knit. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I'm good at kitchener stitch!
Commuter gloves. Fin.
Sideways socks. Started.
Also, I set up the knitting machine.

What I read -- July 2011

OWW: 5

“Feed” by Mira Grant. Library book about zombies. I’m not sure what I was expecting; maybe less explain-y-ness. Quick read. The zombie science was great. Less developed, in my opinion, was the conspiracy. I guess that’s why there’s going to be a sequel. When I finished it, the boy wandered off with it. Mira Grant sure isn’t afraid to kill off characters!

“Puritans at Play”. Bought this as research for Fairfax. It had one of the most awesome one-star reviews ever on Amazon, that ran something like this: “My teacher wrote this book. He made us read it for his class.” The horror! It was a pretty entertaining read, actually. There was a lot I didn’t know, and lots of names that I will probably remember when I read further. I found myself referring to it, for example, when we bought Sam Adams beer yesterday.

Hmmm, not a very reading-ful month.