The opulence of the castle’s interior held its radiance as I trailed the wizard’s quiet steps. White walls shot into the sky of its insides, far outside the scope of my vision. I could not help but feel out of place here in these halls; my level of comfort had long been part of the body that was the forest, the trees, and the spirits within them. Although I was the guest here, my body was not right.
The echoes which drifted back to us were those of our footfalls, and they were more whispers than anything else – almost phantasms of sound playing games with my Elvin sense of reality. They existed only if I seemed to imagine them, and when they were not, I questioned whether I imagined them at all.
Upon my travels through the towns of men, I had learned of the word ‘chandelier’ – an arrangement of lights hanging from somewhere above. I did not know the reason for this ceremony, nor why the arrangement of the lights never followed any sort of specific pattern. At first sight, I remember feeling almost afraid. The only reason for such a gathering of luminescence in the High Forest was generally a fire, and one that bright was cause for alarm. Yet those in the world below were mere flickers of a candle compared to those hanging above us as we walked the halls in this place of sorcery. I looked upon them at first with awe in their arrangement. Stagnant glimmering things, they reminded me of the fireflies of my home – giddy spirits of flight and whimsy, which hummed through environments of positivity and celebration. But these were all clustered together, and they changed color, dimming from hue to hue in a progress I could not follow.
But they were floating. The lights were not made in the cities of man, but from some other ethereal material. They were simply hovering fountains of flowing light – and I was there as audience, captivated by their glimmer, their changing color, and their glittered mystical showers.
“My friend.” Heinekin was smiling in the glow of his long untarnished robe. I noticed I had stopped following him and had been led astray by the show of lights off to one of the two sides. Heiniken stood at the other side of a small stone bridge, under which flowed a calming white stream, the extremities I did not attempt to discover. I shook myself away and made my way across the bridge, rejoining my guide.
Several turns and archways later, we entered a room occupied by four others. “Here we are,” Heiniken said, stopping and turning to welcome me to pass him on the way inside. He gestured to an open seat at a short table made of red oak. The light caught the surface and it glimmered as I approached. I noticed the others standing in my periphery. They had risen as we came in. I made cursory eye contact, and brought my eyes back to the glitter-clad stone floor. I took my seat before I allowed my head to swivel in surveying of those seated around me.
“You sure that’s your seat?”
I looked up to the gentle growl of a voice. A swirl of fright rolled through me. Sitting across from me was a ~
“Dragon!” I yelled and the lightening of my reactions thrust me backwards. My seat dropped and my body slammed upon the unforgiving stone. I rose in a flash to my feet, the string of my bow pulled, but my hands shaking with the unsure arrow. Three trials later, just as I had the bow and arrow placed at the ready, they flung from my hands. They moved through the air, separated and lay lightly upon the oaken surface of the communal table.
“It’s not often that guests break my furniture during their first day here,” Heiniken said.
I looked up at him. His demeanor was wizardly – calm, implacable, and I was unsure as to how to read it. Some chuckles came from the table, then I looked down to find the wooden chair now in small jagged wooden pieces across the stone.
“Oh great Mielikki, dear, I’m so very ~”
He chuckled and I watched then each piece, great and small, reform and connect, and the chair in seconds was again standing just as I had found it when I walked in. “Now, shall we try again?” he asked. “Kira, since you’ve already initiated contact, perhaps you should begin.”
The dragon thing cleared its throat and stood. Its frame actually lowered as it stood erect. It’s scaly skin was a beautiful reddish orange, and its eyes were of the same color, but richer and clear.
“I’m Kira, and you needn’t fear me devouring you whole. I am a dragon, yes, but not a full dragon. Not exactly,” she said. “I’m Dragonborn. It should be enough for now that I tell you this much – that I won’t kill you. I’m new here as well.” She gestured to everyone around the table with a nod. “Everyone is.” There was a pause then and I wasn’t sure if she sighed then or was unsure as to what to say to me next. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said. She grunted and sat back down in her seat. It seemed that it was more the case that she sat ‘up’ in her seat, but perhaps it was a strange ritual of her culture to which I was simply unfamiliar. I was weary of such things; I have never seen those of this creature’s features. The others were human-looking and I felt more accommodated to their ways, but I took my time looking at the draonborn, not knowing what at all to expect from her.
The others went around the table introducing themselves. From the dragonborn there was Tom Cullen, a younger nondescript human. He seemed to me like a farm worker, one closer to nature, from the way he dressed. But it was his behavior that was the most unnerving. I have only found humans to be those I am unable to read. I’ve gotten better with my experience, although most of it has been at a distance. My interaction with them has not always been the most intentional. But this one made my insides strange, turning, different.
He spoke quietly with his eyes down, not to any one of us directly. efusing to focus on those who would listen to his words. His hands fidgeted with something as he spoke. I spotted it instantly as currency, human coin. His hand twirled it back and forth across his knuckles. But the coin moved seemingly without his conscious effort. He looked up and met my eyes once. He made a quick assessment of my face as his fingers allowed quick tickling of the round ounce of silver. He brought his knuckles together and the coin flipped back and forth from one hand to the next.
He straightened then, and smirked. He brought his hands up to his face, begging my eyes to watch. “Did you know that the skin,” he whispered. “Makes the best of masks.” In a fluttering of his fingers, he turned his hands back to me, showing palm and his hand’s obverse. The coin was gone.
“Malcer,” said the man next to him. His voice was grumpy and sounded like the grinding roots of dying elms. A wilted denim hat sat plopped upon the silver tufts which hung upon a young man’s face. His drab traveling robe in need of a good river wash spoke of a man who had known more of the road away from the city of man than the city itself.
“Faëryn of the High Forest,” I said. My voice low with my slight bow.
He grunted. “Been around there a few times in the last hundred years or so. I remember sharing a cup of cinnamon oak wine with your kind once. I was young then, helped out an Elvin friend with some issues with the leaves of the Grandfather Tree.”
I heard my home on this man’s lips and placed my hands together in an Elvin butterfly salute. “Your travels warm the land of my home,” I nodded slightly in the respectful gesture of this man I had never met.
He grunted again, “Cute little fella’” he said. “I was sorry to hear about what happened to your home. And your father.”
Fire grew within me.
“And I don’t think you had a chance to get out of it, if that makes any sense. You or your family.”
“How do you speak of my father like you knew him?” My reaction was swift, but caused by something that still played me like an elm flute.
The man shook his head and looked around the table briefly. “Heineken, I have reason to believe that not all present are understanding of the workings of a wizard.”
The wizard of the castle addressed me then, calmly. “No need to be so hasty for answers, my dear Sylvan. All in good time.” He handed the voice over to the last member of the table other than me, a burly tree of a man who greeted me only with the smiles of the sun. A light from above shone upon him, taking my focus off Malcer, his denim hat falling into the shadows. Heineken’s house was an animal under its master’s control.
“Blessings young traveler,” he said, his arms opening as he leaned in. Without the slightest hesitation his oaken arms crunched me into him and I was clung to his body with force. I yelped a bit and the pressure vanished as he pulled back and held me by the shoulders. “Oh Sweet Lathander, are you all right?! What’s wrong?”
“Elves,” Heineken cut in, “Mr. Thresh, are not accustomed to the necessities of physical touch as you are.”
The man turned back to me and guffawed. “Ha! Well, you have my apologies, young friend. I am Dolan Thresh.” He held a hand out, realizing it would be more accommodating greeting for my kind. Abashedly, I bowed my head and offered the butterfly greeting of my people with my introduction.
“It is by the grace of Lathander the Bright that we have shared this path. You have my sword, my blood, and my heart.”
There was an exhaustive sigh across the table. “Can we sort of push things along, please.” Tom Cullen was looking at Heineken pleadingly.
“Wizards, Mr. Cullen, are often want to enjoy a bit of human spirit,” said our host, graceful. “But yes,” he addressed the party as a whole, “we may continue after we hear from you, Faëryn.”
My words were few, but I stuck to the topic that I knew, wanting only to give the basics of who I was and the story of my arrival.
“And now that you all are here, here is my task for you. Collectively, I’d like you to ensure the safe journey of a particular caravan. There is a family of royalty who needs to make their destination. They happen to be passing through some lands that are rather dangerous.” He looked around the table. “Their survival is something I am asking you to protect.”
“We were brought to you great castle in the sky so that you could tell us to protect people down below to get from one point to another?” Kira’s voice expressed another flavor of dissatisfaction. “I’m sorry,” she said, getting up from the table, the height of her form dropping a bit when she stood. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather just be on my way. Forgive me if I was expecting something a bit more of an adventure.”
“Please,” the great wizard said, raising his hand to her. Kira’s body lifted and was reset into her seat at the table. “Do sit down.”
When she was seated again, Malcer’s voice came through, his head shaking a bit. “The ways of the wizard; they never understand.”
“I beg you all to be patient,” Heineken said. “I am not finished addressing you.
“Let us begin here,” he said. He made another slight motion with both of his hands and, together, we were wrapped with beautiful green traveling capes clasped in front of us with a shiny golden broach – a serpentine beast eating its own tail. The end of its tail carried three small red stones, a deep velvet green one sparked in its eyes. It clasped in front, and each of us, I noticed, felt them, touched them, wanted to understand them.
“You are henceforth to be known as the Clan of the Mist, an explanation to which I am cannot now reveal. This broach is your symbol of unity, your safe ground, your bastion of community and trust. The caravan is your current task, not the full adventure to which I am asking you to commit. I am sending you forth, in no uncertain terms, into an unknowable future of both glory and misery. You will find yourselves risking all in search of your own personal glories, and with great reward, as natural law has it, comes the greatest of risks. From outside the circles of these trials, this very adventure own vision, both Death and Eternity will be watching. I have selected you for a grand and thematic journey, and it has taken me a good deal of strain upon my patience. But I am quite confident that I have chosen with an adequate degree of sapience.”
He looked over to Kira and gestured with an open hand. “Yes, my dear Dragonborn. Should you choose to leave now, and return the sanctity of your mundane life of prize fighting for survival, I will allow you to do so. You’ll not be asked for anything further, you will return to your life, and you will not hear from me again. This I leave as your choice.”
Heineken stopped then and waited, looking at her.
Kira said nothing.
“But should you choose to say,” he looked then at all of us. “I will accept this as your final formal declaration of acceptance, and there will no longer be an option to turn back…ever.”
None of us said anything.
“Well then!” Heineken smiled and opened his palms. There was a renewed light which shone then upon the entire table. “It pleases me to have you! Let this be your welcome from me and the entirety of my cloud home. You will stay for the evening and your entertainment and meal will be grand. You will leave at first light, and it will be as a party in whole.”
We dined, and some of us even laughed, we got to know each other a bit. There were words spoken, and in our own ways, we were still ourselves, yet we also knew that we had given ourselves to Heineken and this party. And the next day we would find out a small part of what that meant.
Chuck’s challenge this week is to run for 100 words – no more. Now, I pass it on to you, the intrepid writers out there. 100 words. No more.
“Just shut up and drink it,” Drake said, pointing at the glass filled with green liquid on the wooden table.
“No,” I said. “It looks disgusting. Besides, I’m Jewish. I don’t drink non-kosher shit like that.”
“Fine, then just picture it made with holy water and Body of Christ,” he said. “There’s something you’re not telling me, and I need to know.”
“Doesn’t work like that,” I said. I paused and rethought. “Fine. You wanna know?”
I tipped the drink back and spat it in his face.
Drake’s face smoked melted. He howled in pain.
“I’m a god,” I said.
The mists, silky and playful, gathered and passed as I made my way up the stone steps to the towering double doors of the castle in the clouds. They gave way without my beckoning, and with heavy creaks, granted my entrance and bade my welcome.
The hall before me was grand and well-lighted, the limits of its interior extending well beyond any structure of man I had ever encountered, and my Elvin ears found only the pleasant sounds of the near silence therein. I walked in a bit deeper into the hall, my head turning quickly with keen interest at the decorations upon the towering walls and the curious celestial colors which glimmered from one second to the next.
I walked upon a stone floor, unworldly in its cleanliness, my range boots, feeling quite out of place, noticing first the space around me. It was a forest of stone, extending the breadth of almost twenty oaks to my left and right. Yet, it was not completely barren. Standing sentry upon each wall were a selection of statues, grandiose in their stature, Each poised in a resonant and beautiful gold, standing atop its own solitary earthen platform. Five of them stood equidistant on each wall, frozen in different positions, which seemed to me that it suited them, somehow.
I walked over to the left side of the great room. My breath was shallow as I wanted to keep my ears open. I did not want to offend, though I realized I was there as a guest. Yet stepping through the house of a host was certainly a gift granted by Mielikki, Queet of the Forest, and my Guide Spirit, and I knew respect was to be shown here. I said silent thanks to her as I made my steps quiet as I made my way to the left side of the hall, closing the distance between me and the towering guards. I admired the craftsmanship of the metal and curious, hearing nothing around, I came to one I was drawn to, a man of the forest, it seemed.
His face was natural and strong, and reminded me of the green elves from of my home. He stood tall in the Sylvan garb that he was carved in. Only those familiar to my home could know the detail with which we wore our earth colors. Though the statue was all gold, it was clear that the artisan had experience with my kind. He held two swords, both hanging downward in the traditional stance of forgiveness and leniency. It was a hero it seemed, this person. Yet the figure did not bring to mind any character from the legends I had grown up with. I reached out to touch the boot of the figure atop the platform.
“It’s the only Sylvan in my collection.” I spun with blades aloft at the ready, finding before me a human man, senescent, dressed in a white robe and a warming white, both matching his hair and his beard. He met my reaction with a chuckle.
“There is no need for combat here, my Sylvan friend. You are in protective hands in my home.” Hands clasped, he walked closer and stood beside me looking up at the figure. “He was one of my closest comrades from below,” he said warmly. “Led me through incredibly dense war-torn jungles and more than a few uncivilized pockets of the breathing world,” he said. He paused and there was a reverence to the seconds that passed then.
“The world would do well to know more about the Sylvan,” he said turning to me. Then, back to the statues on our side and those across from us. He gestured to the large open space, the castle in its entirety. “You are welcome to my home, young traveller.”
I re-sheathed my swords swiftly and bowed. “My many thanks for your welcome, my host,” I said, losing the formalities of my Sylvan background. “I’m ~”
“Faëryn,” he said, turning back to me with a smile. “Yes, I know. There are few things left in this existence that I’m ignorant of, and should any of those show up at my castle, I’ll just keep my doors locked.” He laughed and gestured further into the castle.
“My name is Heineken, and this is my home. Come,” he said. “it’s time for you to meet the rest in your party. I have words to deliver to all of you.” He took several steps, and then stopped. He turned back to the elf upon the pedestal. I watched him regard the idol with sympathy, love, and a nod of acceptance.
Heineken closed his eyes in what must have been a silent prayer. Seconds later he turned back to the hallway and was ahead of me. I followed, fully trusting this man.
If you don’t like spoilers, don’t read below, because I’m going to spoil some stuff.
Season Three of King of the Nerds concludes with Jonathan winning.
Firstly, the show should have penalized him for getting his first guess wrong in the final game. Secondly, he back-stabbed his way to the top and finished off by saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “Being a nerd is really about helping people out.” What a complete dick.
If there’s any one person who deserved to be the King, it’s NOT that guy.
Was this the cover you wanted pulled?
“Kill the perfect. Slay the angels. Fuck the gods.”
Chuck always seems to find the words.
To the writers, may you run toward your own success.
WRITING IS A PROFANE, IRRATIONAL, IMPERFECT ACT
Writing is a profane act.
I don’t literally mean in the FUCK THIS, SHIT THAT way (though for me that tends to be true enough just the same). But I mean profane in the classic sense: it’s a heretical, disrespectful act. Crass! Irreverent! Writing and storytelling is this… nasty task of taking the perfect idea that exists in your head and shellacking it all up by dragging it through some grease-slick fontanelle in order to make it real. You’re just shitting it all to hell, this idea. You have it in your mind: golden and unbreakable. And then in reality, ugh. You’ve created a herky-jerky simulacrum, a crude facsimile of your beautiful idea run through the copy machine again and again until what you started with is an incomprehensible spread of dong-doogle hieroglyphics.
The end result will never match the expectation.
You will never get it just right.
The idea is God: perfect, divine, incapable of repudiation, utterly untouchable.
The result is Man: fumbling, foolish, a jester’s mockery, a bundle of mistakes in tacky pants.
Nobody is good enough to tell the stories and ideas inside them. I mean that sincerely. The ideas in my head are shining beams of light, perfect and uninterrupted. And when they finally exist on paper, they end up fractured and imperfect — beams of light through grungy windows and shattered prisms, shot through with motes of dust, filtered up, watered down.
But sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes, a beam of light is still a beam of light no matter how diffuse it is, no matter how dirty the light, no matter how filthy the floor is that it illuminates. And when it’s not enough, you keep on trying until it is. Because eventually, it becomes that. The only reason it doesn’t become that isn’t a lack of skill or talent, but giving up before that lack of skill or talent shows up on the page. The only true failure is giving up and giving in.
I write this in response to a colleague who was talking on Facebook about the ideas in his head never matching the expression of those ideas, whether from a lack of skill or talent or intelligence. Thing is, it’s true. My colleague is right. Those things will never match. No matter how hard you try, because the only way to get our stories out of our heads and into your heads we first need to translate them into mundane language. And when you translate one language into another, you introduce imperfections, inaccuracies, misunderstandings. You move the Bible from Enochian angeltongue to Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English and you lose something vital — once, the Bible was about a guy named Dave who saved the Galaxy with his unicorn army. Now it’s blah blah blah something about “Jesus” and “loving one another.” Writing is always this: an adaptation of the sacred into smut. Dragging the divine out of his Sky Chariot and into the human dirt.
But me, I like that aspect.
I like making God into sausages.
I like dragging those angels down into the slurry, dirtying their wings, breaking their harps.
I like translating the beautiful celestial song and grunting it in our human chimp-shrieks.
Because that’s the only way it will ever exist.
Because if there’s one thing that is imperfect about perfection –
It’s that it’s too perfect to live.
It’s unreal. And I don’t truck much with unreality.
Writing unwritten is a promise unfulfilled. I’d rather make the promise and complete it badly than make the promise and never even try. A story untold is a life unlived. What’s the point? If you want to do this thing, you have to set yourself up against unrealistic expectations. You cannot combat perfection because perfection? That smiling, shiny jerk always wins. You do what you do, crass and irreverent as it may be, because committing heresy in the name of art is far better than huffing invisible God-farts and cleaving only to invisible philosophy.
We’re told to do no harm.
But sometimes, you have to trample pretty daisies to get where you’re going.
This also means setting for yourself realistic, reasonable metrics for success. A day’s worth of writing is a success. Finishing the thing is a success. Separate that out from the aspect of professional, business success. You can’t control that kind of success, though you can maximize your luck and that means first finishing what you begin. If you want to create? Create. If you want to write and tell stories, do that. Don’t give yourself over to unkind, cruel standards. Judge yourself fairly. Work despite perfect expectations. Those who try to master perfection will always fall to those who iterate, and reiterate, and create, and recreate. Art is better than philosophy. Creation, however clumsy, is always better than sitting on your hands and fearing what damage they can do.
Kill the perfect. Slay the angels. Fuck the gods.
You’re human. You’ll get it wrong. Everybody gets it wrong.
But getting it wrong is the only way you get close to getting it right.
It was the newest drink on the menu and in the city that night, and everyone was trying it because of the catch phrase that came with it – Get Jaq’ed, Get Happy – No Regrets. At first glance it was just like any other cocktail – some very potent v-poison and some OJ together getting jiggy in a giggly jigger. So it was a screwdriver? So what?
But it was what the word on the street was that was giving Nicole reason to give it a whirl.
“ ‘No regrets,’ right? That’s what the add says.” Jenny’s sassy thick ginger hair flared when she turned her head to Nicole. “And how many times are you going to get your hands on a drink that gives that kind of promise in your life?”
She sat atop the worn leather barstool in a fashionably tawdry pair of ripped Levi’s and a cotton wife-beater undershirt. She had the body for it and she knew it. She always knew it. If the boys looked, she considered herself in the right place.
“Yeah, I know what it says,” Nicole countered in her jean skirt and matching t-shirt. “It’s alcohol; they say what you want to hear.”
“No, no,” Jenny said. “Not this stuff, Nick. This is the real deal. You know Gloria and her boyfriend, Ray from Accounting? They were with me last weekend at Drummer’s and they ordered one and split it. And, I’m telling you, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They were high, drunk, and,” she paused, shaking her head in search of the words, “I don’t even know. It was like they were fucking monastic or something. They were paying for other people’s drinks, food, and parking tickets and shit. It was weird.”
Nicole rolled her eyes knowing full well just how typical it was of Jen’s stories. They always seemed to unfold this way – something mundane just happens to turn into something fantastic.
“Nope,” said Nicole. “I’m not buying it.”
“You don’t have to buy it,” said Jenny, linking her offer with an easy reaction. “I’ve already bought one for you.”
Just as Jenny finished her words, a tall foggy cocktail flute arrived at the bar in front of Nicole. The bartender, black bow tie and all, placed it there with an almost silent ceremony.
“Aside from me not wanting to play guinea pig in this cocktail experiment, have we discussed yet how much one of these things is? The advertisements are claiming it to be upwards of $45 a serving.”
“It’s actually more here,” Jenny said, unaffected. “It’s more for status, I’m guessing. Drink up.”
Nicole gave her best friend the look – I just said I’m not going to do this. She slouched for emphasis of her unwillingness drink the libation simply because her friend got it for her.
“I just told you, I’m not doing this,” Nicole said.
Jenny’s face turned into a faux pout, emphasizing the upside-down smile. “C’mon. For me. I haven’t even tried it. Think about it this way,” she said, “you’ll be the first to share our stories for once.”
Nicole gave another sigh. “Fine. But you’ll be the one with the stories when you’re driving me home in an hour.” She lifted the short flute and raised it slightly to Jenny. Here goes, she gestured.
The sweet liquor flooded her mouth and Nicole’s eyes closed in gentle acceptance of the feeling. It was sugar, and fresh air, and calmness. It was sexy, and colors, and silk. It was water, warm and inviting, and there she floated.
The flute’s fall upon the hard wood floor was a crisp tune of a task’s completion, and now seeing the girl’s flaccid form resting now upon the bar, the bartender walked over and dried his hand on a faded white hand down before placing then flat on the bar in front of Jenny.
“Looks like your friend could use a hand. How ‘bout I help you get her a place to lie down?”
“That would be great,” Jenny said. “I kept telling her to eat something before meeting me tonight. Just a few minutes should be fine. There somewhere around here we can call her a taxi?”
“You bet. There’s a phone in the back.”
The bartender walked around the bar and helped Jenny shoulder Nicole into a room past a wooden door at the back of the bar labeled to the rest of the world as PRIVATE.
The door closed behind them and the scattered bar sounds of generally-accepted reality dimmed to a mild hum.
They eased Nicole’s limp form to rest upon a dried wooden bench, which sat up against a dull back wall.
“Here,” the bartender said, opening a long drawer at a nearby office desk and removing three roughly-wrapped wads of hundred-dollar bills. “I’ll have her waiting for you at the bar same time tomorrow night. She’ll be wearing smiles and ready to tell you all the wonders of her new drink of choice.”
“And she won’t remember,” Jenny looked around and gestured to both the bartender and the darkness of the room in general, “any of this?”
The bartender smirked above his still-shiny black bow-tie. “No regrets, right?” he said.
Jenny nodded. “She always wanted a boy,” she said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said.
Jenny stuffed the money into her Levi’s and left the gruff-sounding man and closed the PRIVATE door behind her as she left. The bar’s atmosphere was as jovial and unassuming as she left it.