Lucas Weismann

Six Words

Ernest Hemmingway was apocryphally said to have written the following as a response to a challenge from an acquaintance.  “For Sale.  Baby Shoes.  Never Worn.”  Whether it’s true or not, we’ve had the six-word story as a style and plaything of the english language ever since. Today’s post is the result of playing with this idea.

Wanted: Man who leaves seat down.
Snow.  Shit.  Better grab the shovel.
Flowers blossom, trees bloom.  Allergy season.
Key turns.  Engine revs. Vegas baby!
He should have looked both ways.
The Queen, my Lord, is dead.  <— (not actually mine…)
Against reason, I’ve become my mother.
Murdered darlings. Good writing. Bad parenting.

Not technically a story, but a fun picture:
Hyperflorid loquacious verbosity is for chumps.

Kiev Part 1 – Arrival

Traveling from Den Bosch to Riga was more of an ordeal than I expected.  Because the plan left at 10:20AM, this necessitated arriving by 8am in Amsterdam, which in turn meant that it was imperative that the 6:20am bus not be missed.  As a result, I ended up with a 5am wakeup call in order to properly be ready, with sandwiches provided in part by Katja- due to her incredible skill with the bread machine.

Some day I really need to get the recipe for Katjabroodje (Katja Bread).

I was thinking slowly, being cold and having been on the road for about 16 hours at that point, my thinking was hazy like the fog our twin-prop plane landed in.

Customs was easy as our US passports got us barely an blink before we were stamped and on our way. Not so for the college-age couple who were evening denied entry even as we spoke.

The little red haired girl kept complaining that “we have no monies” as her boyfriend talked via a helpful local, trying to explain heir situation to the unsympathetic guard.

Flew into Kiev from Riga in pea-soup thick fog and was greeted by the driver like you always see in movies. The only other time I remember experiencing something like this was when I first arrived to teach in the Netherlands at the first Crash: The Delft Blues Festival.

At that time, Daire Mac An Bhaird was waiting with a 5 foot-long banner printed on the airport’s banner machine (yes, apparently Schiphol Airport has a banner printing machine.  I was surprised to learn this too).  Of course, part of the wonderful weirdness that made the situation complete was not only the fact that at practically 6’7” tall Daire would tower over any crowd in a manner that is immediately recognizable.  No, the best part was that he was standing proudly displaying his sign holding it over a crowd that did not exist.  Really, there might have been another few people waiting, but in my mind, it was a desolate nobody-but-daire-and-me situation as if there was some other 7-foot blond, bearded giant he might be mistaken for.

I felt like a celebrity.

This was a bit different.  Not only in the quality of the sign- sharpie on notebook, but in the demeanor of the driver as well.  He was short man in his 60s who spoke a little english and was helpful and seemed like might be about to curse in impatience at any moment. This, I would later notice, seemed to be an almost congenital feature of Kievian people I would do business with, from the people at the market, to the entire hotel staff at the Yaroslav hostel, to the street merchant selling berries outside the markets.

My attempts to ask his name were rebuffed and he laughed as I gave him mine, saying “yes, I know… internet'” as he waved away my attempt at a question like some bothersome fly.

Not sure what I expected on the way into the City from the airport, but the stretch of car dealerships like those on 494 in Minneapolis certainly wouldn’t be in the top 100 sights I’d envisioned.

Birches lined the highway on either side and served to accent the fog with their gray bark and autumn yellows. Once more, I’m reminded of home. I guess something in me was hoping the vegetation would be somehow alien as we arrived. As if somehow it’s disappointing that the spectating isn’t so obviously different than where I grew up.

It’s not really of course, and if anything, it makes me feel more at home.

Every time we pass a sign in the Ukraine, this feeling is shattered. The Cyrillic alphabet is the preferred one for official things, though the Roman alphabet seems to be in use for advertisements and logos and well… there are enough of those to make any red-blooded american feel at home.

I’m not sure if it’s the fewer billboards on This stretch of highway than in used to, or possibly the fact that they aren’t lit at this time of night seems to make the road a bit more desolate. Or maybe… private is a better word.

After checking in to the Hostel and being given broken instructions on how to do things it seemed the instructions for any given thing were:

  1. (Old man) Do this thing.
  2. (Me) Pause to understand
  3. (Old man) never mind. Do it tomorrow.

This was applied to

1: filling out our passports info per legal requirements.

2: dropping off keys upon leaving (a common custom at most hostels I’ve been to)

3: paying for the hotel

Basically everything was:

Here’s the rule. Never don’t do it. Screw it, do it tomorrow.

I think I like this place.

After settling into our double room (two twins, not a double room…. common in former soviet bloc hostels) we headed down to ask his wife- whose english, he assured us, was far better than his own- for directions to food.

After taking 3 attempts to mime food, which apparently is not as universal as I thought to sign, she gave us a rapid-fire explanation of how to get to either a place with a lot of food options, or an impressive fireworks display. I’m not entirely sure which based on her gestures.

Oh and as we left to find food, I tried to give the keys to the woman at reception, per the instructions painstakingly given to us multiple times by her husband who seemed to alternate between hoarding his words and making it rain… she mimed that we should just keep them until tomorrow.

Fair enough.  IMG 9135

Hell: A primer pt. 3 – The Devil’s Troubles

I closed the door behind me, as the Devil took his seat.

“Okay Nick, what’s going on?” As I took in my surroundings, I was surprised.  The room was tastefully appointed, oak paneling, overstuffed leather couches and a surprising collection of books, DVDs and game consoles that hadn’t been released yet.

“Cheese?” he offered.  I declined.  I remembered too many stories about food in the underworld to take my chances.  He shrugged and popped a mouthwatering bit of prosciutto ham into his mouth, chewed it and swallowed before continuing.  “The problem is overpopulation,” he said.

“Is this one of those ‘As above, so below’ problems?” I asked, not quite sure what he was getting at.

“I suppose, you could look at it that way.” he shrugged, “but mostly, because those above… overwhelmingly end up below.”

“Ahh.” I didn’t quite get it, but didn’t want to appear too ignorant in front of my host.

“So what, this overpopulation is causing stress on your system?” I asked, as he withdrew a pink bottle from his upper right desk drawer and chugged the contents.  Wow.  Shotgunning Pepto-Bismol.  Gross.

“Poor guy must be under a lot of stress,” I thought, sympathetically before realizing it could be an act.

“you have no idea how it used to be,” he complained and I realized his widow’s peak was just a *bit* more pronounced than it had been when we met on the road.  I even fancied I could see some gray in his roots.  “we used to provide a service, Customized Eternal Punishment for the Damned Soul.  We prided ourselves on the creativity and uniqueness of our work.  ‘Our punishments fit your crimes!’ wasn’t just a motto, it was our passion.  But now…” he trailed off and slumped back into his chair.

“You sound like someone who wanted to be a chef, but ended up running a McDonald’s.” I said.

“It’s worse than that.  I use to arrange the music of the spheres, remember?  Back in the old days, it was Lucifer this, Lucifer that.  I mean, angels don’t have groupies… but if they did?  I’d have been up to my tits in pussy.”

“Jesus,” I said with disgust.  Then softened as I saw him wince and look up as if he was a dog about to be hit.  “Sorry, I said.  But come on Nick, that was pretty crass.”

“I know.” he said, “It’s just that I was THE man when it came to music.  I was literally the first rockstar.  Jagger, Tyler, Elvis?  They’re all pretenders to a throne I had, before the firmament was separated into the sea and sky.”

“So you’re a washed up rockstar who found a new career as a chef and ended up running McDonald’s instead of a high-end restaurant?  That’s rough,” I agreed.

“I don’t know.  I just feel like… ….I feel like I’m just out of ideas.  Nothing new under the sun, you know?”

I did know.  I’d felt similar things myself and it was usually no good people trying to cheer you up.  if anything, their cheer makes you feel more alone and like more of a loser.

“Okay,” I said, “I get why you need someone.  I really do, you get a bad rap, you work hard and no on appreciates what you do.  Now, you’re burnt out and you feel trapped in a dead-end job.  Is that right?”

“Yeah,” he said, “That’s pretty close.”

“so, why me?” I asked, “Like, why me specifically?”

“Because in the last thousand years, since my brother locked me in that God’s Damned bottomless pit after my brother beat me up and stole my key to hell.”

“Brother?  You mean Michael?”

“No.  Half-brother.  Joshua. Of course, dad loves him best, so he doesn’t acknowledge me.  Anyway,” he said straightening up a bit and shaking off the bad memory, “I’m back and I find that humans have started procreating like rabbits and there’s a backlog centuries long.”

“I suppose that was inevitable.” I said.

“Yeah, immortal souls, in reproducing mortal bodies was a problem from the get-go.” he said.  “Dad was usually better at math than this, well at least the concrete stuff.  For the really weird ideas, like imaginary numbers, you need humans.  After all, anything he imagines… is.  We had to get a petition together to prevent him watching the Star Wars prequels.  Can you imagine if he’d bought into that stupid midichlorians idea?  It’d be like magic all over again.  Stupid space wizards.  At least with Star Trek, there’s a chance he’d get the idea that having a chosen “special” people wasn’t so sensible and maybe letting women do something other than incubate babies and mine sandwiches or whatever might be useful.”

“Are you telling me that you, the devil, are a feminist?” I asked.

“whose idea do you think it was?” he asked.  “Do you have any idea how depressing it is, the number of women who come here and find out that their own personal hell is the life they’ve been living… the only difference being that they *could* have done something else if they’d spoken up?”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s cruel.”

He nodded, “sometimes poetic justice is neither poetic, nor just.  I had to do something, if only so that their punishments would vary from their lives… So, will you do it?  Can you fix hell for me?” he asked.

I thought for a minute.  “I suppose so, what’s the pay?” I asked.

“The knowledge of a job well done?” he said.  I thought about it, that was pretty interesting.  And really, I mean… it’s probably safer than accepting anything material from satan himself.

“What assets do I have at my disposal?” I asked.

“whatever you need,” he said, “just let me know what it is and I’ll have it sent.  Anything else?” he asked.

“What is the cost to me?” I asked.  I’m not interested in selling my soul or anything.

Nick looked at me and his voice flattened as he said, “The knowledge of a job well done.”

Test text for dictation software

This post is my first attempt at dictation. So far, I’m using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software on my 15 inch PowerBook Pro. I really enjoy the process so far, but I’m finding that it feels a little bit odd to have a microphone staring me in the face.

For some reason, I’m so used to writing with typing, or handwriting, that just being able to speak what I want to as if I was talking to another person feels kind of unnatural. I should get used to this ally gone, but this really does feel like talking mice I love the fact that in about two minutes, I have about 175 words. I find myself in a strange situation of having the ability to say whatever I want, and feeling completely blank.

This is the same as writers block, it’s more like writers blank. I feel like writers block is often caused by the feeling that nothing you write will ever be good enough. Writers blank on the other hand, is when you go all deer-in-the-headlights when you have the chance to write something down. It’s not that what I write will necessarily be bad,  it’s more like everything just vanishes into the ether.

One of things is amazing, is how little you actually say in 364 words when you’re speaking. That might be wrong, it might be more accurate to say that it’s impressive how quickly you can go through 300 words. Writing in my taking a five 10-15 minutes, with dictations usually going much much faster. That means that the barrier to entry has been lowered from a technological standpoint and now more than ever whatever ideas I decided to share with people are at the forefront. There is no struggle to get the words on the page, at least no external struggle.

I certainly think that perhaps for me to actually get serious about writing, and do some work that could sell, might be a good idea for me to find the right partner. Perhaps not somebody who wants to write a book with me, but a person off of bounce ideas. A teammate. The partner. An amigo.

 I guess that means that right now might be a good time for me to start doing some of those exercises that I have brought with me to Europe.

Block Party – 1

I poured a drink at the small folding table with the pink tablecloth. The rest of the people at the party were engaged in conversation and occasionally someone passed by to tell me that it was a big success, or thank me for hosting.  I smiled and nodded, as if listening, but really my mind was on emily.  After all, she was the reason I’d thrown together this whole affair.

Emily Crabtree was the new girl down the street. Well, girl isn’t really right. She’s only 3 years my junior and I’m 38 for god’s sake. But Emily, well… Emily is Emily.  

The first time we met, she was putting her dog into the basket of her bicycle, which was padded with that fake grass used at easter.  The dog was wearing a tiny helmet she’d painted to look like an easter egg and was wearing a sort of charlie brown sweater that made it look like a wispy-haired-yippy-dog-hatchling.

Normally, being a sane person… I’d have found the whole thing to be a bit disgustingly sweet for my taste.  But then, something about the way she clipped her helmet replete with two-and-a-half foot long fabric bunny ears and how she delicately moved her cotton tail aside to sit astride her bike caught the light in just the right way. As she was about to pedal away, I noticed something and called out.

“What?” she said, pulling the earbuds out of her non-lapinate ears.

“I said, ‘I got your nose’” I called.

She looked at me for a second, until I produced a small piece of rubber with a broken string.

“Oh! My nose!” she said, taking it. “thank you!”

“Don’t mention it!” I said, a little too hastily.

“Okay.” she said and pedaled off.

I never did find out why she was dressed like the easter bunny in July, pedaling her schwinn pell mell down the street.  Really, it didn’t matter either.  I was hooked.  Smitten.  If my parent’s had been around, they’d have smiled knowingly and used that playground as they said, “looks like somebody’s got a crush on somebody…”

I smiled, sighed and went home.

That was how we met.

Bob came over two beers in hand and passed one to me.  “Don’t be a water-drinker Bill.  Have a brewsky” I took the beer and thanked him, hating him all the while.  This wasn’t so bad in and of itself, but it was what would follow.  One would turn into 2, 2 to three and so on in a short example of the fibonacci sequence.

Sometime in the next four hours, he’d drunkenly try to relive glory days of the double backflip he used to do when he was a cliff diver at Casa Bonita’s.  About 3/8 of a revolution later, *splash* and sputtering and more posturing to make up for losing face.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  This is just beer one.  Besides, there’s always a chance he won’t be a giant tool this time. 

I don’t know why this is so stressful, usually I have a lot of fun at these things, but today all I feel is apprehension at the likelihood of oncoming embarrassment.  I take another pull on the beer and look at the storm clouds on the horizon. 

Dialogue excerpt

The neon sign of the by-the-hour and always discreet hotel across the street made shadowed bars on her face.  We’d been there for hours, going over the police reports, looking for anything we hadn’t already learned about the case before something inside her broke and the cracks in her facade were starting to show.

“How do you do it?” she asked me, “how do you deal with your feelings when they start to get in the way.  Lately, they’ve been so intrusive… and extrusive.”

I thought about what she was saying.  We’ve all been there.  Hung up on some no-good dame or some boozed-up lout and everyone in our life knows we’re no good for each other.  Knowing that we’re stuck and we can’t get out of it no matter how hard we try; because the heart wants what the heart wants, and like overindulgent parents, we give in to its demands all too often.

I stalled for time by lighting a cigarette, then I spoke.

“I guess, mostly I have years of not trusting initial impulses and remembering that emotions are just that.  They are clues to a situation, but not the situation themselves.  Sometimes they’re red herrings. Sometimes they’re important clues to a case you’re not working on at the moment. Clues are the stool pigeons of the subconscious.  Occasionally useful, always suspect.”

“huh, you really fit the type.  the guy who open this agency order you from a catalog or something?”

I smiled wearily at her.  “you asked.  I never said I wasn’t some two-bit stock character.  You’re the one projecting all this depth on me.”

“Thanks,” she said, “I’ll remember what you said.”  Then she walked out the door into the night.


Original context:

friend asks:

how do you handle your emotions? because right now mine are kinda intrusive and extrusive
I respond:
I guess, part of it is that I have years of not trusting initial emotional impulses and remembering that emotions are just that.  They are clues to a situation, but not the situation themselves. Sometimes they’re red herrings. Sometimes they’re important clues to a case you’re not working on at the moment. 
Emotions are the stool pigeons of the subconscious.  Occasionally useful, never to be trusted.

Hell a primer: pt 2 – The Gates

…continued from part 1

As we walked past the gates, I noted they were simple and unordained.  Not at all what I’d been given to expect from Rodin’s famous sculpture.  I looked at my host inquisitively and he shrugged.

“We didn’t get Rodin,” he said as a chill breeze whipped past.

“oh that is mean,” I said, as I shivered off the cold.

Old Nick smiled his toothy, charismatic grin, “Right? I spend a lot of time trying not to give people the ‘devil they know’.”  We bypassed the line of people stuck shivering outside the velvet ropes next to a red carpet and I noticed some D-list celebrities waiting miserably as a fat man with headphones and a neckbeard seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.”

“What’s his deal?” I asked, pointing to the bouncer.

“He’s on loan from above.  We’ve managed to pervert the whole ‘last shall be first’ thing by playing the ‘as above, so below’ card.  My favorite part is that when their managers try to get them special treatment, they get pushed farther back in line.”

“So, part of his heaven is making people stand in line waiting to get into hell?”

Satan shook his head at the foolishness of mankind, “yeah, but he’s not totally immune from the knowledge that even with power the ‘cool kids’ can’t stand him.”

“But wait, do they know they’re still outside hell?”

“yeah.  We’ve combined the whole ‘anticipation heightens the experience’, with letting their imaginations run wild so we can figure out the most appropriate punishment thing, plus everyone born outside the UK hates waiting in line.”

“So what do you do to British celebrities?” I asked.

“We make them cut line without allowing their apologies to come out.  A lifetime of conditioning makes them fight it.  Oh and we make them think they’re being disapproved of by other people they’ve never met.”

“You know, last time we spoke you seemed to be frustrated at your reputation, but here you seem to enjoy it.”

“Well, I am the just reward of the sinner, am I not?  So how could I also be the great tempter?  That would be like a District Attorney working entrapment to get more cases.”

“Oh yeah, and they’ve got a special punishment” he said, but refused to say any more on the subject when I pressed him further.

We walked right past them behind a group of nobodies and made a left to a counter where a small bespectacled demon with reading glasses on a pearl strand.  She looked up and her look of utter non-reaction at her boss showing up unexpectedly indicated that if she hadn’t had a hand in designing the concept of the DMV, she had been a dedicated student of their dark art.

“Hello Agnes,” said Old Nick.

She grunted and handed him a clipboard, “Fill out the forms completely, and when you’re issued your don’t let it out of your control for any reason.  You will not be issued another.” she said, in the tones of a flight attendant giving a safety demonstration.

“You guys get a lot of visitors here?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said.  “Just another way to add red tape and misery to anyone trying to game the system.”

“I have to hand it to you,” I said, as we walked in “You really know your business.  Why was I invited here? Surely you don’t need me to spread word of how things work here, that would only complicate things further.”

“Follow me into my office,” he said, “I’ll explain when we’re away from prying eyes.”

(For the story about how I first met the Devil by the roadside, read ‘Every Soul is For Sale’)

Bear’s Breakfast

I just had to wipe the dog, Bear’s mouth after he ate (He’s such a good boy).  Dad always gets frustrated with the fact that he’s drooly and because of that, we’ve had to wipe his mouth off after he eats.

Bear has taken this to mean that what he should do-if we’re not paying attention and waiting on him like a combination butler/nursemaid-is to come over to us and helpfully put his ichorous head in our laps to remind us of our “tradition”.

To avoid embarrassment, Bear has asked that I include a picture of him where's not being wiped down, so people can see he's not usually drooly.
To avoid embarrassment, Bear has asked that I include a picture of him where’s not being wiped down, so people can see he’s not usually drooly.

At that point Dad usually jumps up and curses, wondering aloud why the dog seems to insist on getting drool all over his clothes. When this happens, Bear is rewarded with attention and excitement is probably an otherwise dull day.  You can tell by the way he playfully romps about and wags his tail.

Sometimes, he’ll have so much fun that he’ll make himself thirsty and the whole process will repeat itself.  Whether he does this out of misunderstanding, or a wicked sense of humor, I’ve so far been unable to ascertain.

Hell: A Primer. pt. 1 – a road paved with something

One day, I took a walk with that most useful fellow, God’s Narc himself, The Devil.  After our meeting on the road, we chanced to meet each other at a dinner party for a fellow acquaintance and he invited me over to his place.

“Is this a trick?” I asked, “or do you mean as a guest… temporarily.”

“As a guest,” he said, smiling.  “You’re free to leave whenever you wish.”

“In that case, yes.  I’d love to come visit sometime.  How do I arrange it?”  I asked.

He gave me contact information and told me how to get there.  Some time later, I’m not sure if it was out of boredom, or out of curiosity, or both.  I decided to contact him and make my tour of hell.

Next thing I knew, I head the door bell ring and a small woven easter basket was on the door with miniature seats in it.

“Seriously?” I asked the air around me, “We’re traveling by cliché?”

Old Nick’s silken chuckle washed over me warm and gregarious.  “No of course not.  I just wanted to see how you’d respond to metaphor made literal.”

I turned around to look where there had clearly been no one a second ago to find the devil himself standing to the side of my door just out of sight as I had walked out.  I arched an eyebrow.

“We’re going to see a lot of this?” I asked.

“Loads,” he said and pinched bridge of his nose for a moment, “I blame The florentines.”

“The florentines?”

“Yes, Durante degli Alighieri, known as dante and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known as Michelangelo,” he said, in the same voice as an actor on a police procedural might brief the other officers of a precinct about a dangerous criminal.

“They made my life-”

“A living hell?” I asked, unable to help myself.

Old Nick grimaced, “I can see you’ll do just fine in hell.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized.  Do puns figure largely in hell, “They do for most people who consider themselves writers or comedians.  Why do you think puns are referred to as the ‘lowest’ form of humor?”

“Huh. So what did these guys do to you?” I asked.

“The made things… ….complicated.  At least for the first several hundred years.”

“How so?” I asked.

“You’ll see.  But for now, Let’s just say that when Christ said all the sinners would essentially burn on God’s trash heap for all of eternity, my life was a lot easier.”

Here’s where we rounded a corner and instead of finding the little bodega owned by my friend Sinan, I found us on a path sloping downward into a forest.  As we traveled, I found that the path was a winding circle.  Lined with primroses and bricks of something that looked not quite like gold and were carved with something that looked a lot like excuses, ‘I never intended…’, ‘I was only trying to help…’, ‘I just thought if I…” were common starts to a lot of these.

“The road to hell is paved with excuses?” I asked.

“Not quite,” said the Devil as he fought a slight smile.

“Why Gold?” I asked.

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "Agile Defaulters." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1892.
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Agile Defaulters.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1892.

“It’s Pyrite, actually.  We used to have to constantly repair the roads when we used actual brimstone, You know how easy that stuff is to break?  It’s awful.  We had full time crews of laborers working with the stuff.”

“Was it part of someone’s punishment?” I asked.

“Mostly fraudulent bank managers and other people who’d been so lazy they hadn’t been content with a white collar profession and cheated people.”

“Sounds like a good punishment,” I said.

“You’d think so,” he sighed a bit tired, “But have you ever done what might be an unpleasant physical chore and felt reinvigorated by it at the end of the day?”

“Sure.” I said, “I’ve always enjoyed chopping wood.”

“Perfect example.  These jerks had never done a real day’s work and never cared about the people they’d defrauded, so instead of being beaten down by it, they could look at the end of the day and see what they’d accomplished with their own two hands.  We had people begging to be a part of the crew eventually.  It was really counter-productive to the whole eternal damnation business.”

“That sounds rough,” I said, full of sympathy.

“that’s not the half of it. The worst part was how bad they were at the work.”

“So the worst part of this whole hell-paving bit wasn’t that it wasn’t punishing for these damned souls, or that it was costly and inefficient, the worst part is that your crews did a bad job?”

“I suspect some of them were trying to pull the wool over our eyes and shirk, but most of them seemed to get in the spirit of the thing and that really irked the overseers.”

“Who were the overseers?”

“Competent union workers who had taken bribes or been envious of management. the whole ‘If I was running this dump, things would run differently’ kind of guys.”

I couldn’t help but smile.  “So, the only union labor guys you hire are put in management?” I asked.

Nick smiled back at me, “Perverse, isn’t it?  That didn’t really work well either, because as soon as they became managers, they ’switched parties’ so to speak.  All of a sudden they were looking for ways to save costs at the expense of the workers and justified it with arguments as flimsy as any they’d rejected during contract negotiations in life.”

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been disappointed a bit by this look at human nature, but I’d couldn’t say I was surprised either.

We walked on and in the distance huge gates and walls loomed in the distance, something like a subterranean walled city as designed in an unhappy marriage of H.R. Geiger and Dr. Seuss, then executed in a style that reminded me of more than one notebook scribbling I’d made when I went through my Black Sabbath phase in 8th grade.

Continued in Part 2 – The Gates.  (To find out how I met Old Nick, read “Every Soul is For Sale

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A conflict of Geological proportions

“Boy, come here.”

It was always the same.  Whenever the boy would walk the granite of foothills of the mountains with his grandfather, at some point the old man would call for the boy and point to the peaks.

“There’s a story writ large in the stones of these here mountains.  Did I ever tell it to you?”  He had, of course, many times, but this was the start of the story and as traditional as if he’s said: “Once Upon A Time” before some story of a princess or a talking animal or some such and similar.

The boy didn’t like those other stories because he’d never met or heard of a real-life prince or princess, so he couldn’t be sure they were true- whereas the mountain was clearly there and so he had proof of the veracity of his grandfather’s story.

The boy would nod and say “Yes, but I want to hear it again.”

Then his grandfather would fill his pipe as he looked down his hooked nose at the boy with an arch expression “you do, do you?”.  A moment later the old man’s features would break into a grin under is walrusey mustache and the tale would begin in earnest.  And this is how it went:

“These here mountains weren’t always mountains boy.” Said his grandfather.  (The boy was never sure if his grandfather actually knew his name, or if that was just what he called all his grandsons when he talked to them)


“Yep.  When my grandad’s grandad was a boy, just about your age-“ (it was always just about your age, no matter how old the boy was) “they were just what you’d call Bens or big hills.”

None of the other boys at school knew what Bens were, for the boy’s family had come to the new country from a country that was sensible enough to have a word for the terrain that was not so big as a mountain, but deserving of more respect than a mere hill.  This caused fights between the boys until the teacher was called in and confirmed the what the grandfather said about Bens.

“What happened?” asked the boy, knowing full well what the story was, and trying to play his part well.

“Well, it all came down to a fight between two sets of Giants.”

The boy loved to hear about the giants.  Huge mole-like creatures made of the very stone that made up their mountain home.  A hundred feet if they were an inch, and fearsome claws, though… according to his grandfather, the giants only every used them to dig through the earth.

“Back in those days, the Giants were more active and one giant decided to move west to see why all us people were moving out west here.  Being a newcomer in those days, he should have been respectful to the Giants he met here, just as our people were often what you’d call less than polite to the people who lived here before (and vice versa).”

“What did he do?” asked the boy.

“Why, he did the one thing you must never do if you want to get along with strangers when you move into their land.”

“What’s that?”

“He fell in love and stole the heart of the prettiest Giantess in the land.  You should have seen her.  Wide as she was tall, with delicate claws that could carve a fjord if she’s lived near enough to the sea to do so.  The swish eastern giant came in and swept the poor girl off her feet.  He ran south of her family home and made the mesas and buttes that grace the badlands to the southwest.”

“Why’d he do that?” Asked the boy.

“I imagine it was like you gathering flowers for a girl at one of the nearby farms,” said the Grandfather, “Well, this went around for awhile, making the area kind of unsafe for us small folk.  It was what you’d call a geographically active area.

“I don’t know… a giant mole person with claws that can Fords-“

“Fjords.  Like fee-rod” said the grandfather.

“Claws that can cut feee-ords doesn’t sound beautiful to me.”

“Ahh, well… that’s because you’re not a giant see.  I mean, it wouldn’t help her to be a better giant if she could only breathe underwater right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“So what made her beautiful to other giants was mostly how good she was at being a giant.  They had a word for it that expressed it better. One that means, that which is what is ought to be and almost ideally so.”

“They had one word for that?”

“Yep.  Though, I seem to remember it was a long word.  Anyway, for the giants, beauty wasn’t strictly a visual thing.”


“Course not.  Where do the giants live?”

“Under the mountains.”

“How much light you suppose they got under a hunnert tons of rock?”

“Not a lot.”

“Hmph, not a lot indeed!  Course not a lot.  It’s partly why the giants only come out at night.”

“I’ve heard stories about them eating up travelers and stuff.”

“Stories.  A lot of stories leave a lot out boy.”

“Like what?”

“Like how being used to darkness and meeting up on a bright sunny day with a young ‘adventurer’ who tries to trick you is bound to make anyone angry.  Mostly the giants are peaceful.  Well, except when they get to fighting.  Now giants mate for life, and that means quite a bit more to someone who is going to live for a few thousand years.  So when the time came that the giantess was going to choose a mate, she got to choose the contest.”


“Why sure boy, in most species the female chooses the contest.  For peacocks it’s bright plumage, for some spiders, it’s a dance, for eagles it’s a rock-dropping contest.”

“What was it for giants?”


“Mountainsmithing like-“

“Yep.  They had to make mountains out of molehills.”

The boy thought about it for awhile.  “So, the handsomest giant would be the one who is best at being a giant right?”

“Stands to reason.”

“And the giants job is to make the mountains.”

“Always has been.”

“Okay, I get it.”

“Good,” Said the grandfather with mock sternness, though the twinkle in his eye gave him away.

“So, who competed in the contest?” asked the boys.

“Well, standard giant rules said that she would be the judge and that her father and all of the eligible giants in the area (that means old enough and not married already) would duke it out to see who was the best.”

“Why would her father compete?”

“Mostly, I think it was to prove to himself that he could still do it, but partly to make the young bucks nervous.  See, he wanted to make sure anyone that married into his mountain range would know how to properly craft a mountain that you could be proud of.  None of those old eroded things like the mountains to the east.  But something as hard and proud and craggy as himself, you see.”

“I see.”

“So, they had to beat his mountain with one of their own?”

“Nope.  They had to beat the giantess herself!” said the grandfather, with a gleam in his eyes.

“But, wait- why was her father competing, if she was too?”

“Well it’s a great deal more complicated than what I’m gonna say, I would imagine, but basically… if he made the best one, he got to veto everyone else as not being good enough, if she won can choose whoever she likes- though traditionally a giantess wouldn’t respect a giant as a mate if she could out-smith him, and if someone did beat her, she would be likely to choose him as the best.”

Well, that seems- wait!  That’s not fair!!” said the boy.

“Whoever said life is fair?” asked the grandfather, “But what do you mean?”

The boy held his grandfather’s hands to cross a stream and used the time to put his thoughts together.

“Okay, so she is judging.”


“No one else?”

“Well, everyone would debate and talk about it for years before she made up her mind, but ultimately she was the only one who could judge.”

“And there’s no criteria?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the old giant criticized the mountains to the east as being ‘the wrong kind of mountains’”

“Sure, people get set in their ways as they age and the Giant had been there since the first beginnings.”

“The whole contest is rigged!  I mean, why can’t she just choose who she likes and make up reasons why theirs is best?”

“Ahh, well that’s mighty slippery thinking.  What did you say you wanted to be when you grow up, Boy?”

“A writer.”

“Ahh well, that’s fine then.  I thought for a second, my daughter was raising a politician.”  The grandfather laughed to himself, but the boy didn’t get the joke.

“Anyway, if she can just choose who she wants to, why even say there’s a contest?”

“Giants are very traditional creatures mostly.  After all, they live so long that some of the oldest ones were around when the dang things got started.  Additionally, they’re very close to their families and generally won’t break with tradition, not to mention they’re right prideful about their aesthetic tastes.”

“Oh.” Said the boy.

“You want more background?  Or can I get on to the part of the story that’s actually the story?”  more theater.  The grandfather loved telling the history of the giants and adding as much garnish as possible to it.  Both of them knew this of course, but you had to keep up the pace, or the story would take all day.

“Story please.” Said the boy, remembering his manners.

“Well, the day came and they sent one of the younger giants out to find some moles.  Moles being just like the giants, only small and squishy and covered in fur instead of lichens and moss.”  Having found the object of their morning walk, the old man stooped and picked something orange from the soil, brushed it off and put it in the brown cloth bag he carried slung over his shoulder, “What is the name of the mountain under whose shadow we live?”

“The Old Man.” Said the boy without thinking.  It was something everyone in the area knew.  The origin of the name was scree field below a huge cavern near the peak gave the impression of a bearded old man screaming in anguish.

“Good and what are the mountains nearest to the old man.”

“Why, there’s Peregrine Peak, Lodestone, and The demon’s chair.” Said the boy again, just as quickly.

“Do you know why they are called by those names?”

The boy was puzzled.  He didn’t know.

“The first two are so-named because of the design each of the giants gave in order to showcase his skill.  The first formed that shape, not unlike a Peregrine falcon perched.  He wanted to impress her with majesty and he made his peak tall.  But in his hubris, he didn’t build it so stable.  In fact, to this day, the area is dangerous to any who would go there because of the frequent rock slides.

The second giant fashioned his out of Iron and gems and other metals.  He wished to show her the wealth he could bring.  The work was good, but lacked elegance.  It was large and squat and though miners still find it profitable to go there, no one has ever called it beautiful.

What was the third?  The third giant, going last thought that a combination of the two approaches would be best.  Though he lacked the material for precious stones and made up for the difference with brimstone.  It smokes and cracks to this day, but here and there are large chunks of fool’s gold for any who seeks wealth in the region.

“Well, which did she choose?”  Asked the boy.

“None of those three of course.  There were still three more mountains to judge from.  The Old Man is the most like the other mountains in this area.  After all, her father made it and he’d been at his craft for quite awhile.  But aside from being bigger and harder, being made mostly of the granite the priests favor for their temples, still, she reserved her judgment.”

“Well what did the new giant build?” he asked.

“You’re standing on it.  Or, rather what’s left of it.” Said the grandfather.


“Well, that Giant from the east did something no one had aver thought of before.  He raised the ground to a height you wouldn’t believe and then he pounded the top flat.  This mystified the giantess who seemed dejected at this strange excuse from a mountain.  She didn’t want to believe that he was so terrible.  When they talked, they had seemed to have so many things in common and they had a love that grew from those shared experiences and joys.  How could he do this to her?  Heartbroken, she turned to him and asked, ‘Why would you do this?  Why, when everything else was on the line, would you make me this large mesa?  This is not a mountain.  It has no crags, no features, you have spent your magics making something that is large and that couldn’t possibly be chosen.  Why?’”

“Why did he do it, grandpa?” The boy picked some berries and looked for sign of game so they would know where to hunt when the snows came.

“Well, I could tell you myself, or I could let you hear his reply.” Said the old man.  The boy had never heard this story before, indeed not.  Usually, they would point to the mountains and say how the Old Man was made by the giantess’s father in an attempt to see where she was going as she ran with her love.  The boy stopped picking the berries and looked at his grandfather who was examining another orange funnel-shaped mushroom apparently absorbed in his task.

“Tell me grandpa!” said the boy.

His grandfather looked up as if waking from a dream. “Huh?  Oh.  Right.  The giant looked at her and said, ‘I could have made the mountain tall, but then it might be unstable; I could have made the mountain full of wealth but then it would be squat and only useful; I could have compromised between the two and gotten nothing at all, or even built along designs well-established in your beautiful ranges.  But, if it was unstable, it would not be skillful.  If it were ugly and would not be beautiful.  If it were a compromise, it would not show the elegance in design you would appreciate.  If I copied the work of your father and your family it would be necessary to have me as a partner.  Can you not see?  All of your other suitors and your father built what they judged to be the best for them.  Instead, I have built you a platform to build upon so that we can make the best work for us.  If we build alone, why should we marry?   It would be a purposeless marriage of little worth if it were based on pride, wealth, compromise or tradition.  I want to build a future on each other.”

“So, then she chose him, right?”

“Well, no one knows what she might have done.  After all, she was the best Mountainsmith of the lands, so her choosing anyone would mean there was something subjective going on.”

“Well, what happened then?” asked the Boy.

“She chose alright, but partly because her lover’s speech so angered the other suitors and the giantess’s father that they grew fierce and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him out of their lands.  In fact, to this day, there’s a lake where he landed dazed and in the flatlands to the west.  Furious at the arrogance of the males around her, she stomped her foot and unmade the mountain right then and there, crushing the forests and mixing the soil into the rich loam each we use on our farms, and dales and hills.  Then she took out west to flatlands and ran until they found the great wide ocean on the other side of the Djinn’s desert.  There, to this day, they wander up and down the coast, making mountains and it is said that ground still shakes with their passage as they move by.”

“They make mountains?”

“A whole wall of them running from the far North to the far South of the continent.  Twisty makes of passages, impossible to pass safely in the winter if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Huh.” Said the boy.  “Then the Giants lived happily ever after?”

“Well, if you mean the two lovers, the best I could tell you is that they live happily enough for now.  Just because they escaped immediate danger doesn’t mean anything.  Remember giants are prideful and long-lived.  If you ever find yourself in the mountains, you’d best be sure not to give offense.”

The boy nodded.  Then realizing they had both gotten what they came for from their forage and it was getting toward nightfall they decided to go home.

After they recrossed the stream the boy said, “Did the Old Giant ever regret chasing his daughter’s lover away and her after him?”

The grandfather tousled the boy’s hair, “Not until after he met his grandsons,” he said.

The End

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