Mayor

Greenlighting the project was easy. The mayor looked over the figures, read the reports, talked to a couple experts and figured that she could approve it. She failed to anticipate the backlash. Streams of letters flowed into her office over the next few weeks. She stopped opening them. Each had enough rancor in it to last a lifetime and she didn’t need to feel like someone other than her boyfriend  was slapping her around.

The boyfriend. He was another bit of uneaten dinner languishing on her plate. She wouldn’t get any dessert until she’d licked the whole thing clean. A lesson learned in early childhood, the mayor applied it to all aspects of her life with equal fervor and taught her children to do the same. The mayor’s boyfriend was a coal-miner, and proud of it. She’s gotten together with him partly for political gain. Nothing screamed one-of-the-people more than a widow and mother of four who also dated what most would call “a common man.” But now that he was leaving bruises on her a couple times a week, she needed to figure out a way to get out.

At least the children were gone for summer camp, up near one of the state’s beautiful lakes. The mayor spent the summer trying to handle the mess she’d made by approving the plans without backing out of them. That would be no good. She couldn’t be seen as weak, caving in at each bit of opposition. No. She would tough it out.

The mayor went to bed on July 23d, her birthday, with a black eye and a squad car guarding her house. She had received several death threats serious enough to worry the police. The morning was far away, she’d kicked her boyfriend out of her house, and she missed her children. She tried to picture them going to sleep in faraway bunk beds, whispering with their new friends, but another image kept intruding: her own body lying mangled in the kitchen, greeting the children when they got back.

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The Power of Writers

When I don’t write, the world doesn’t end.

Why should it end? No reason, absolutely none. The sun, the stars, the men and women who people this planet – none of them are affected by what a twenty-one-year old does or doesn’t do with her time. It would be a terrible responsibility, a massive and frightening one, to be able to affect so much. It would be power beyond words, power so overwhelming that it would be too much for any single, sane human being to deal with.

Then again… as writers, isn’t that exactly what we do? We create worlds and people them with our characters, people who are real enough to us that we’re willing and eager to spend our days with them. When we neglect them, their world stops entirely. They cannot go anywhere, cannot find out what the next part of their story is without us. We have ultimate, godlike power over them. What an incredibly frightening notion.

I’m making all this sound much more grandiose than it is, of course. Obviously, the worlds and people we create aren’t real, not really real, not real like you or I or our next-door neighbors. Then again, when I read a book and get into it, its story becomes real to me as long as I’m engrossed. Anything less than my total involvement and belief in the characters is, in my opinion, a kind of failure of that book or story. Even fantasy or sci-fi aren’t doing their job if I don’t believe in the possibility of the people, the magic, the worlds being real.

When I look at writing this way, it terrifies and exhilarates me at the same time.

Osmond

Osmond sat in the back of the classroom and doodled on his notebook. The page was full of similar circles, spirals and crosshatching, and his eyes zoomed around, looking for a blank spot. The teacher at the front of the class was speaking, but to Osmond her voice was like white noise. He didn’t take heed of it even when it called his name sharply. He didn’t notice the ominous looks his fellow students were flashing him as they all turned in their seats. He didn’t even notice the teacher standing over him until he realized that his notebook was in a shadow that hadn’t been there before.

“Miss?” he raised his eyes, innocent as a lamb’s.

“Show me your notebook,” she demanded. Osmond turned to the page behind the doodles and handed the notebook to the teacher. She scanned it from top to bottom, and her eyes widened. Her mouth hung open a little and Osmond had to bite his lip in order to keep from smiling. Finally, after an eternity of students holding their breaths, the teacher slammed the notebook down on the desk without a word and began to talk briskly again, as if she’d never interrupted her lecture to yell at Osmond.

Making sure her back was to him, Osmond allowed himself a smile. He went back to his doodles. Every few minutes, in a flurry, he’d turn to the previous page and scribble furiously everything important that teacher had said. He’d then turn back to continue drawing. Nobody ever understood how he took in anything the teacher said when he was so clearly not listening, but somehow his notebook was one of the neater, better arranged ones in the classroom. When his friends asked him about it, he always waved it away, claiming he simply had a gift.

Little did he know that his gift, his strange concentration skills, would lead him to be recruited, at the age of thirty-five, to the most top-secret of the world’s intelligence corps.

 

Blackout

“Ouch!”

“Oh!”

“Who’s that?”

“Taylor? It’s me, it’s Petunia!”

“Pet – d’you know what’s going on?”

“No, listen, I think there’s been a power-outage.”

“…Duh.”

“I mean – I think it’s not just the building! I looked outside and everything’s black, it’s creepy.”

“Well, want to come back to my place? I can find some candles or something.”

“Taylor, come on, is now really the time to hit on me?”

“What better time? It’s dark, there’s a sense of danger in the air, you’re all helpless…”

“Shut up!”

“It’s too easy to get you mad. And that hurt, by the way. How did you even manage to find my shins?”

“I’m gifted.”

“Okay, I can hear you rolling your eyes. Geez. Anyway, seriously, come to my place – I won’t hit on you! – and we’ll try to figure out what’s going on.”

“Fine, fine.”

“Alrighty, here we go. Just try to sit there – yeah, that’s the couch, right there – and I’ll be back in a second.”

“Don’t you have a flashlight?”

“Huh? I can’t hear you, just a second, I’m in the closet!”

“I said, don’t you have a flashlight?”

“Yeah, but no batteries, ’cause I’m an idiot. Here we go. Good thing I smoke, right? I’ve got about a thousand lighters floating around here.”

“You should tell your doctor that next time he tries to give you another nicotine patch: ‘No, no, it’s good I smoke, really, because if I didn’t, I’d never have lighters around!'”

“Seriously, you’re the most sarcastic woman I’ve ever met.”

“Thank you – I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“So why were you in the hall without a flashlight yourself? Or a phone, for that matter. I just went out to the fusebox – I thought it was just my place that lost power.”

“Oh, um… well, to tell the truth, I kind of locked myself out of my place.”

“You what?

“Yeah, yeah, you can stop laughing now, it’s not that funny! You know how I got that new door-handle last week that makes it so you can’t open it from the outside without a key? Kind of worked against me tonight. I thought it was just my place that was out of power, too, and I went outside and I forgot to take my keys with me… Oh, shut up, will you?”

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just- that’s hilarious. Miss Excuse-Me-But-I-Think-A-Hundred-Bucks-Are-Worth-Extra-Safety uses her new safety against herself.”

“Shut up, Taylor. Geez. Seriously, can you just try to figure out what’s going on?”

“Sure, sure, I’ll see if my phone is still online…”

“Good, you do that. Okay, I’ve seen your apartment before, so I know that that’s new.”

“Um, Pet?”

“I mean, what deranged girlfriend gave you that thing? It’s hideous! I mean, come on, a fake antelope head? How tacky can you get, boy?”

“Petunia?”

“Huh? What? What’s wrong?”

“I’m not… quite sure. The network on my phone’s working, but the news is saying some really strange things…”

“Okay, now you’re freaking me out.”

“Um – there’s some sort of death-threat on Google News. It says ‘The Magliorandi are a peaceful race, but have expressed in no uncertain terms that they will destroy our planet if the human race will put up a fight.'”

What?! Let me see that!”

“…”

You idiot!!!!

“I can’t believe I had you going again! You’re just so easy, I can’t believe it! Ow! Ow, okay, no need to punch me so hard! I was just kidding!”

“You had me trying to decide between chocolate and pasta for my last meal, you jerk!”

“Pasta? I mean, seriously, pasta? That’s a lame last meal.”

“You know who’s lame? You are.”

“Nice, nice, I see you turn into a six-year old when you’re scared.”

“As opposed to you, who’s a six-year old all the time. Jerk.”

“Fine, but you’ve got to admit that aliens landing on earth is way more interesting than ‘Power should be restored in several hours, and all residents are asked to stay inside while work-crews will be on the streets, rectifying the mass power-line failure.'”

“You’re still a jerk.”

“Fine, fine, fine. But seriously, pasta? As a last meal? Pasta?!”

“Why, what would you have then? Jerk?”

“I don’t know – maybe a really expensive steak with fancy sauce stuff. Or some tiny gourmet French dish or something like that.”

“See, I would totally want to go with someone I just know I love. Like chocolate. Or pasta.”

“Yeah, but if it’s your last meal, shouldn’t you milk it for all it’s worth?”

“You’re such a- a- I don’t even know what. If it was my last meal on earth I wouldn’t care about trying to use anybody, I’d just want to eat something I like.”

“Oh, well, okay then, Miss Holier-Than-Thou.”

“Geez, Taylor, seriously, will you shut up?”

“I’m offering you hospitality and all you’re doing is abusing me! Is that any way to treat a man?”

“Yes.”

“Fair enough. Want a game of Scrabble?”

“Sure, might as well do something useful while I wait – like kicking your butt.”

“Uh-huh. We’ll see about that.”

“Fifty bucks say I beat you?”

“You’re on.”

Click

Click. Click. Click.

Thomas followed one link after the other, eyes wide, mouth hanging open. It was incredible. For the first time, he saw some meaning in the world. He clicked the next link, and it took him to yet another website, with another link. Clicked again. And again. He leaned closer and closer to the screen and his eyes started to tear up. For the first time in his life, he prayed. He prayed to the grand intelligence that was leading him, was showing him the truth. He prayed that he would never lose this connection, that he would keep feeling as inside and outside everything. He prayed that he’d get sucked in to the computer itself, wished that the molecules in his body could turn into bits of information, switching on and off, ones to zeros. Then he could follow the design of the powerful being he’d discovered.

Click. He kept going. Click. It never ended. Click. Thomas could feel the belief in him spring from a well he thought had always been dry. He felt as if light and warmth were flowing through his veins as he clicked again. But he was no closer to the truth! He knew it was there, he knew that he was seeing fleeting parts of it, and clicked onwards, trying to understand, trying to get to the root of it all. He knew that if he were a machine, if he could see things in absolute dichotomous terms of on or off, then he’d understand. He would surely understand. For now, all he could do, was keep faith. He felt as if the force that was guiding him was growing stronger by the minute. He knew, he was confident, that he’d be shown the way.

Thomas sat and stared and clicked and clicked and clicked.

His parents stood outside the door, peering in through the small window. All they could see was Thomas leaning forward on his bed, drool dripping out of his open mouth. His eyes seemed to be trying to burst out of their sockets, he was staring so hard. His hand, which rested on his knee, was the only part of him that was moving. And it wasn’t even the hand that moved – just the index finger, moving quickly, going up and pressing hard on the knee when it came down. His parents were both weeping quietly as the doctor ushered them away soothingly, explaining about treatments and options. They couldn’t listen properly. All they could see was their son, deranged.

But Thomas was seeing the truth, for the first time in his life.

McS’s Feet

It was one of the last really warm days of autumn. You know the kind of day I’m talking about. It’s the day right after you start to notice that the leaves have really all turned into wonderful shades of red and orange. It’s the day right after you start to move all your heavier clothing to the front of your closet and the top of your drawers. It’s the day that takes you, and everyone else, by surprise and makes the atmosphere seem happier for no reason except that the wind is blowing warm and soft and the sun is shining and the birds are singing.

Only it wasn’t day anymore. It was evening, now, the wind still blowing warm across the young faces wandering around the not-very-well lit paths. The sweet notes of a guitar strumming were emerging from one window while a heavy bass note could be heard through the walls of a building across the way. The smell of marijuana was thick in the air as it almost always was, while still seeming to be entirely smokeless. The leaves rustled in the dark tops of the trees, and now and then one or two would flutter down to the ground, hitting a shoulder or arm on the way.

Through the partial darkness, McS walked in bare feet. She walked along the gravel paths serenely, back arched just a bit – maybe naturally, or maybe because of many years of dancing. Her blond hair was cut short, with just a swoop of bangs across her forehead signaling that she was style-conscious. Other than that, she defied convention. Her face was unadorned by makeup, her clothing was simple and usable, but she carried herself with such confidence that your eyes couldn’t help gazing at her with a sort of awe.

One of her toes bore a ring, but other than that, her feet were completely bare. She wasn’t afraid of glass or stones or twigs to come in her way. She didn’t even glance at the ground as she made her easy, charmingly swaggering way back home; her shorts and tank top clung to her, showing off her muscles and her curves, while never seeming tacky, flashy or exhibitionist.

Her feet were bare as she walked, and she knew – just knew – that she could walk around the entire earth if she were to put her mind, body, will and heart into it.

A Monarch’s Responsibilities

History is a vast and incomprehensible mystery to me in many ways. We have facts about things that have happened in the past – we have dates, records of events, paintings reproducing the faces involved in those events, poems and diaries devoted to giving opinions and preserving what happened in a biased manner. We have all these things. Mystery, to some people, seems like a wide-open book, its contents there for us to look through, sift for what interests us, and indulge ourselves in knowledge of old.

I don’t feel this way. In my opinion, history is full of so much that we don’t know and so much that I wish I could know. True, we know when Martin Luther began to speak and write about his emotions about being a monk and part of the Catholic Church. In his instance, we can find quite a lot of emotional and sentimental writings from his own pen, or maybe quill, and we can see into his mind, as far as he lets us.

But what about others? What about the farmers and the spinners and the dye-makers that England had in such profusion in the sixteenth century? What were the children running barefoot through the streets of London, so much smaller than it is today, thinking? What games were they playing? What was the man smuggling illegal documents from Europe into the English Empire thinking as he worked? Was he scared for his life or merely waiting to get paid so he could go home to his wife and child? What were the nuns, sequestered in their cloisters, talking about? How did they speak to their young students, and how did they infuse them with a love and a belief for the divine? Through fear? Through love? Through simply offering worship as a fact of life?

And if these so-called simple people’s lives aren’t interesting enough for historians to dwell on – well then, what about the monarchs? How could Henry VIII hold such power in his hands and play with it so lightly at times? What did Katherine of Aragon feel as she was condemned? We can guess, surely, but how can we know? What of Elizabeth? How did she feel when she was sought after for marriage through the years? Did she decide on her own to remain a single ruler in order to maintain a stable throne? Did she, perhaps, not find men pleasing in the manner she would have been expected to? Had she fallen in love with someone who never returned her love or never could?

It’s bad enough, thinking of the power that politicians and governments hold today. At least it’s distributed power, and is more or less given by the people. But monarchs… They were born. Some of them believed they were chosen by divinity to be kings or queens. They held so much power in their cupped hands, that they’d let some of it run through their fingers to those sitting at their feet, just waiting for a pearl or jewel to drop from those mighty hands. I can’t imagine how such responsibility could be held without driving the holder mad with indecision, worry, guilt. Such are the things that the annals of history can’t reveal to us. Thoughts, emotions, private sighs of elation or grief.