Friday, October 26, 2012

Flash Friday # 14: Aga's Choice

Aga's Choice
Lazette Gifford
Copyright 2012, Lazette Gifford


Aga had wanted that pigwart, scrawny thing though it had been.  It annoyed her that Cat had charged in and made the kill while she still held her spear in hand.

Cat had looked at her, the pigwart dangling dead in her mouth, her huge teeth dripping with blood.  Her eyes had shown, luminous and green in the late moon light.

Aga had lifted her arm for the kill, but Cat turned and darted back into the brush and away, pale fur lost in the shadows.   Aga wouldn't waste her throw and risk damaging the fine sharp edge of her carefully chiseled stone.  She wanted the kill.

She followed, even into the night.  Even away from the camp and up the valley so newly green with spring, and by dawn she came to the land of always winter, where the river of ice ran down to the stream.

Clack, click, clack click -- the sound of Cat moving relentlessly above her.  Aga dropped down on her knees, listening.  Sit still, very still in the shadows before the sun comes fully over the mountains of snow.  Silent, barely breathing.  Mark the path Cat took.

Up, up. And then not up.  A soft rustle of sound, pads on snow.

Aga marked the spot in her mind; Up the ice stream, across the snowfield for a heartbeat, another.  Down into some hidey-hole where Cat carried her long dead prey. 

Only Ipip had ever killed Cat.  They made him leader of the tribe, and he wrapped himself Cat's skin every day, dragging the tail behind him and growling at anyone who argued with his decisions.

If she killed Cat this time, she could rule the tribe.  They would bring her food from the hunt, and she would give her blessing to those who went out.  The men would come to her at her will, and the women would give her the choice berries.  And as long as she wore Cat's skin and brought the spirit of the creature to them, then the tribe would be safe.  So it had been with Ipip until he drowned in the big rain, and Cat's skin slipped away.

But Cat was back now, grown again and hunting food in their territory, where the tribe found little enough to eat.  Cat would drag them off when winter came down from the mountains again.

Aga knew where Cat hid now. Aga would kill Cat and rule her people. And she would not be stupid enough to drown.

The sun glistened, on the edge of the ice river.  She glanced up, and saw nothing moving.  Crawling up, hands and knees -- low profile, don't let cat know a human came her way.  Cat knew humans would kill her.

The ice made Aga's hands ache. She stopped and blew on them, wishing she had winter furs to protect her fingers.

Not much farther.  Up, and up, swish of her long spear sliding against the ice, a whisper she hoped Cat didn't hear, or ignored not thinking it human.

Up, staring to the right . . . and there, finally, the mark of Cat's long-clawed feet in the gray, dust-covered snow.  Aga lifted her head and marked the path.  It didn't go far, disappearing into a low walled depression and into the black heart of the world.

She would not go in there.  Mother World swallowed the unwary, and even sometimes the holy ones, blessed by Sun, did not come back from the dark where they made magic to protect the tribe.

No, Aga would not follow Cat into the world of the Dark Ones.  But she would go close enough to look in, and if she had the chance -- oh yes, she would lure Cat out.

Her arms grew numb, elbow deep in the snow.  She feared that the spear would catch on something and she'd have to retie the stone tip, or else fight only with her duller knife while Cat tore at her with claws.  Her heart pounded as she neared the opening. Cat could be watching her.  Cat could be waiting to drag her down to the Dark Ones and she would never stand in the sun again.

Being ruler of the tribe didn't seem so important now.

She stopped.  Then slid forward an arm's length and another so she could see down into the forbidden darkness.

Cat stared back at her, ears drawn back, her teeth bright in the glint of snow-cast light.  Cat, not alone.  Two small things tore at the pigwart she had dragged in for them!  Children of Cat!

She lifted her spear.

Cat moved, oh so quickly -- her head lowered and growling -- but not to the attack.  She put herself between Aga and her children.

Aga raised her spear. . . .

And then she remembered Ipip, standing knee deep in the big water as it rushed down from Always Winter.  She remembered how he had grabbed the two children from the collapsing tent and threw them to safety just before the water rushed up over him and dragged him away, and how Cat's skin had stayed a moment, eyeless head looking back from Big Water, watching her.

Watching her still.

Aga lowered the spear and backed away.  She had long walk back to the camp, and she made three kills on the way.  Gifts of Cat, she knew.  And maybe of Ipip as well, who lived on in the spirit he had taken, and protected the tribe still. 

Even the Holy Ones agreed, and after that they did not take Cat's skin again, except when she left it for them, bereft of spirit.  The hunters took gifts to her cave where Cat lived on in her children.

And in those years, when Aga ruled with Cat's wisdom and bravery, the tribe grew strong.
The End
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Flash # 13: Reflections on the Path Home


Reflections on the Path Home
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright 2012, Lazette Gifford


The narrow path of carved stone wound upward, slick with morning fog.  Far below, the rowboat reached the Advance as the ship prepared to sail.  They would return in a month.  I did not watch it go.

As a child, I'd often stood here to watch the village's fishing fleet pass by, the long canoes manned by a men counting out the beat as they dipped oars.  I'd worn beads, feathers and loincloth, not the heavy clothing of another place. I loosened the shirt collar and undid the buttons of my jacket.  No city rules and averted faces here.  I'd long ago stopped cutting my hair short and pretending that would make a difference.

The white-sails had come for years, trading at the shore.  I had learned their language from a missionary who died when raiders destroyed our fields.  When the white-sails next came, I went away with them to explain our plight to their leader.

Oh yes, that naive. But then, so were they who knew nothing of the different tribes and our long wars.  Captain Norris taught me all he could as we sailed so far I feared never finding my way home.

I appreciated the lost paths, pretty birds and smiling faces of familiar people after I had thrown them all away. I longed to hear the grandfathers chant the morning rites and hear the mothers singing to babes as they worked.  Long before I reached the north, I knew too well what I had lost.

And so I had arrived at the northern city; a cold, dark place.  I lived in the castle, a curiosity others watched.  I told them about the cannibals and their tortures, but none believed me until survivors of a shipwreck returned with their own tales.  By then I had learned the world was wide and we were of such little consequence on our tiny islands, that I wondered why they cared at all.

The years passed until, with the Queen's leave, I again sailed across the waters, forsaking the cold north for the sunnier climes.  I wanted to be home for the summer solstice.  I wanted something my people might not be willing to give me, a stranger among them.

Bright-feathered birds swept across the archway of trees as I headed inland past the waterfall and across the bamboo bridge.  A curious monkey watched my progress.  I smiled at the jester of the jungle and hurried with a steadier step. 

Home, my heart whispered.  Home at last.

I heard the sacred drums and reached the clearing where the stage sat before the headman's hut, sacred runes carved into the edging.  Five young men stood there while the grandfathers sat on the ground, chanting.  Others beat the drums, waiting as the sun rose to touch the sacred stone above the headman's hut.

I crossed to the platform and took my place in the line.

No one took notice.  One by one, my companions spoke the ancient rites and their reasons for becoming a man.  The first won a nod from the eldest grandfather; he entered the headman's hut, passing from boyhood to adult.  The next won the same.  The third gained a wave of the arm, and the boy went to live as a child in the village for another year.

Another into the headman's hut.  The last besides me didn't win the nod.  He muttered a curse, stomping away.

And they came at last to me.

"I am Shenchi of the Fisher Clan," I said, my voice steady, but the accent -- oh, the accent wasn't right.  "I have kept the laws to the best of my ability and brought no shame to our people.  I have heard the rites, remembered the laws and lived in honor."  The rite done, I began the harder, personal part.  "For many years I lived among people who knew neither the names of the islands nor the fish of the sea.  I slept in the palace of a great Queen, and spoken with her ministers, giving fair account of the isles.  I counted myself a child and learning, even of their foreign ways. I have come home to ask to become a man before my own people, if not before them."

I looked into the faces of the Grandfathers and saw peace and the continuation of ways linking us to the Mother Goddess and the first breath of the world.  I'd thought myself wise until then. I also knew someday the other, darker world would crush this tiny tribe, and wash away all the ages they kept in sacred memory.

But not yet.  Not today.

The grandfathers, one and all, nodded.

I passed from childhood to adult; a step from the stage to the darkness within the headman's hut.  I took my place on the bench gave council to the others.  They listened to me.


A month later I sat on the beach with friends, trade goods prepared as the rowboat came ashore. Captain Norris came with them, which surprised me.  The others took on the work of the trade; quick decisions, and well done on both sides.

"I come for Shenchi," Norris said softly.  "He come here?"

I laughed and stood.  "Captain," I said with a bow of my head. Feathers and beads caught in the breeze.

"I see you're not coming back with us."

"Not this year.  Give my regards to the others.  Thank you for your kindness.  I will remember you in my dreams."

He offered his hand.  We shook hands as gentlemen would.  "It's good you found your place, Shenchi.  I'll envy you when I am in winter dock."

"And if the seas are kind, I'll see you next year."

When they rowed away, I felt an odd tug at my heart.  So much I'd never learned, there in the north, but much to learn here, as well.  As we walked back to the village, I told my companions about far places and they told me about home.

The End
999 Words
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Monday, October 15, 2012

What "professional writer" means to me: Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour #16

Some people are going to say professional writer is all about acceptance -- either by an agent or a big name publisher. Others will say it's about getting your work out and accepted by the readers.
I disagree. I believe those are the things that can happen if you are professional.

This is, like many things in writing, all about attitude. A professional attitude in writing means doing more than toying with a story, writing something and saying 'good enough' or pretending you are going to write something and never getting around to it. Anyone who spends time with groups of writers comes across a few of those individuals. Or the pretentious fools who tell people they won't edit anything until it's bought because that's the editor's job, not theirs. (Yes, those people do exist.)

Professionals take pride in their work, published or not. Professional writers not only write, but they research, edit, rewrite and do whatever else it takes to make the best story they can. They also have to be willing to learn more. Nothing can be 'good enough' in this business. It has to be the best it can be. And if the writer is willing to learn from what he or she is doing, then the next thing will be even better.

And now for a bit of real life stuff. . . .

Yes, things have been busy. Crazy. Totally insane, and it doesn't even really have to do with Russ being home. He's been the bright spot so far.

I was ready for the Octobers newsletters, which are more work this month. As ready as I could be, anyway. But new templates and stuff made them a bit more work than I expected.

Then we learned we had to rebuild the Forward Motion site because it couldn't be upgraded to the latest version of the php standards. Well. That was a lot more work than I needed -- or Mar and Jean, both of whom have been doing a ton of work and who are as busy as I am in real life. (Real life? I have no real life. Who am I joking?).

I also have a new computer. Getting it set up has been . . . Fun. Yeah. Fun is the word I want to use (even if it isn't always true).

I got Vision up at least, but we'll be updating it soon, too. Ack.

I am trying very hard to get some outlines done for NaNo, but it's like everything in the world is conspiring against me getting more than five or six notecards done at a time. I have one outline done and just started the next one -- and yes, I do need at least two because these are going to be short. I probably need three outlines at least, but I don't see how I can even consider another the way things are going. That and the fact that my brain is not into outline mode.

And that's it. Middle of the month and I'm way too far behind.


If you want to get to read about nearly twenty other writers, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Be sure to read tomorrow's post by Sharon Kemmerer

Friday, October 12, 2012

Flash Friday # 12: Aftermath

(An earlier version of this story was originally published in Ideomancer)

By Lazette Gifford
Copyright 2012, Lazette Gifford

A bird flew out of the brown, leafless bush. Tom hadn't seen an animal in years, not a wild one. The small, brownish bird wouldn't have been counted as much more than a nuisance before the flares. Now he watched with his heart beating hard as the bird swept into the air and fluttered away again.

A single bird wasn't a sign of the end, but he wanted to believe they had finally pulled through the worst of the disaster. The scanners, the ones that still worked on the high ground, had shown no new flares erupting in the last month. Now, if the rain would just come again. . . .

The scientists, hiding in their own holes, said the water vapor was mostly still in the atmosphere. The oceans were lower, the polar caps diminished -- but not much of the water had actually escaped into space, lost forever from their protective envelope. Tom wanted to believe the news, but until the rains came, he was going to be a doubter.

Most people doubted these days, which was the real reason the scientists didn't come out of hiding. There were so many who said the scientists were somehow to blame, that it wasn't even safe to say you thought this a natural disaster. People wanted to find blame and for many it meant either the fate of God for their sinful ways or the stupidity of scientists who should have done something different. There was no joy in blaming blind nature.

Too many people had lost loved ones in the flares. In another generation, they might accept more easily. Faces forgotten; the easy life lost forever. As Tom stood by the opening to the old mine, he tried to banish his own ghosts again.

Instead he shivered, still unconvinced this was the world he wanted to live in. He missed stupid things: Television, DVDs, and the ability to run down to the store and pick up some potato chips. His mouth watered at the thought of old, lost foods. He shoved the thoughts away, thinking he should run tests on soil and atmosphere. Unfortunately, even that much science was suspect these days.

Hell, it didn't matter. Either the rain came or not. The tests wouldn't make any difference and he didn't give a damn any more. Let the others have their rants and blame the scientists, if that made them happy and gave them purpose. And the scientists were certainly wise enough not to make a show of themselves these days.

And yet he still made this trek, up from the depths of the mine where they had stored with food and converted the dirt hole into their world. Five years now, living in the depths of the earth. He turned to go back again, slow to give up even this view of desolation for the dark dirt of the world he now called home.

As he turned, something brushed against the back of his neck, startling him. Tom slapped at it and spun, his heart beating double time. Nothing there. And then --

A breeze blew against his face. He felt a moment of numb panic knowing he couldn't get back to the shelter in time to avoid a flare.

Cool breeze.

He looked upward to see gray clouds scuttling across the evening sky, casting shadows against the ground. He stared for a long time.

And Tom sat on the ground and wept tears into the dry dust as he watched the rains come.

The End

588 Words
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Friday, October 05, 2012

FM Flash Friday #11: The Night God Came

The Night God Came
Lazette Gifford
Copyright 2012, Lazette Gifford

We knelt on the hill top in the falling snow, obediently waiting for God. Papa said God would come tonight. Papa stood before us and stared up at the sky, his dark eyes lost in the shadows, and his lips moving in an almost silent prayer. God was coming, he said. And we were ready for him.

But it was so cold that I shivered, even knowing it would make papa mad if he saw. I couldn't help it. He said I was a child, not a man. He said I was weak and wouldn't get to heaven if I wasn't strong enough. He tried to make me strong but I always failed.
The baby began to cry from the cold, and cried louder when papa slapped it twice. He slapped mama too, but she only stared back at him, holding the baby.
"Feed that damn little bastard," he finally said. "Feed it and shut it up. Doesn't matter. It's going to hell for crying on the night God is coming. God won't take no damn screaming babies to heaven. You might as well throw it away, Agnes. It ain't coming with us."
But mama pushed the baby under her thin shawl and gave her milk. She quieted then. I envied Mary that shawl and the warmth next to mama's body.
Luke moved slightly beside me. I gave him a warning look and he stilled again, his dark eyes wide with fear. Papa would come by soon. He'd know if either of us moved because the snow would be disturbed. He'd had us practice kneeling in the snow for years now. First me and Michael and now me and Luke. Michael went to God more than two years ago. Papa says it was God's Will, but it was really just the cough he got kneeling in the snow so much. Michael was never strong.
Luke is stronger, like me. I'm the oldest now Michael is gone.
Papa came stomping through the snow and stared down at us. I hoped Luke hadn't moved enough to disturb nothing. I held my breath and pressed my hands tighter together -- though they were already numb with the cold -- and truly prayed not to make papa mad tonight.
He stayed there a long time but I didn't even shiver. Neither did Luke. Papa finally walked away again, back to the pine on the knoll where he could look down at town and see the street lights and people -- doing whatever they did in town. We never associated with them much. I wondered what they were doing, waiting for God.
The snow started to fall harder, making it difficult to even see papa by the tree. More snow was good. It meant you could dare move a little and papa wouldn't know cause the snow would cover it. But it was getting real cold now, and the wind was starting to kick up as well.
Maybe that was how God would come, on the wings of wind, blinding us with snow and cold and then taking us into heaven --.
I wondered what it would be like. Nice to see Michael again. He used to smile, sometimes.
Papa was still at the tree. I could see his cloak, blown back in the hard wind. I even heard him laugh. It was never good when Papa laughed. If we'd been back at the homestead, I'd ha' run to the fields and worked, even in this weather. I'd ha' cut wood and cleared boulders till my fingers bled. That was the only hope when papa laughed.
The wind blew hard then died down, though I could hear it wailing across the valley below us, heading this way. Papa turned back to us. I felt my heart pounding in fear and expectation for the first time.
"God is coming!" Papa shouted.
And the wind hit so hard it knocked me and Luke down. I heard the tree branch crack and fall.
When I got there, papa was dead, his head caved in. Mama stood up, holding Mary close to her. She put a hand on Luke's shoulder and she smiled at me.
"Come on, boys. Let's get back home."
"But -- but God's coming," Luke said. He looked around, stunned, like he expected God or papa to step out from behind the tree.
"God's been here and gone again," mama told him. She held tight to his shoulder. "Sometimes he does answer prayers, you know."

The End
748 Words
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