Friday, December 7, 2018

A rambling update of sorts, as I stumble through the end of my day.

Writing, yes, that came first. I've fumbled a bit ramping up after a busy fall. I got less writing than I'd hoped, more than I'd feared, I'll call it a win. My schedule scrambled and now I'm free, I've been ambivalent. When I sit down, the words are there, the characters and the story, stories await.

What gets in the way is the hesitation. What if I do this, that, the other thing? Always other things, most days not an issue, it's all just part of ramping back up again. The mind has its ways.

I had a wind-up this evening. Started thinking about marching ants, army ants, swarming insects of all sorts and the differences between them, some get riled up, some just are. Wasps, bees, even their far distant cousins jelly fish.

And then, the mind clicked, and a story frame came into being. I'll have to note it away for later, tuck it into the memory banks. There are moments in the future where I'll meet the characters, he and she and oh there are definite connotations here, I wonder who they are? Will they know when it's time? When it's their time? Or will they find themselves on the stage counting the marks and looking for the joker in the cheap seats, the one with a notebook and a smile on his face?

O storm of waters,
placid today, but only for a few minutes, I think. What have you in store for us,
this early morning pass is gearing up I see. Will the dogs be asleep?
One can only hope.

I see many other things out there, as I listen to singin' Simon, an old concert PBS has thrown up of an evening. When Carrie Fisher was doing her show, one of her great lines was something like "If you can get Paul Simon to write a song about you, I highly recommend it." The other thing I smile at, from Carrie, a story I heard several variations of, she loved so much the fans who thought of her, and told her they had her in mind as, a writer first and foremost.

The day gig versus the work of the heart; a reminder too of the power of That Story. The one that kicks out, finds its way to the hearts of the readers who've been waiting for it, That Story, maybe they've never known it and there it is, old friend just met.

Art slips away, grows beyond any fields, boundaries, we set. Becomes other. Fan-fic in all its glories. Does the Bard look on and giggle; revel in the forever high school productions, the re-skinnings, the re-tellings? Sure.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was my favorite. Then again, that might just have been Oldman and Roth hamming it up. So what, it's a wonderful thing. But then, I didn't write Hamlet. What would it have been to see instead Hamlet 2: Revenge of the Zombie Prince?

How many incomplete starts, do you think? Lost plays? Bits of poems, notes for a play from Chaucer's Tales? Would he have cared if someone came along and turned those into a new play, "Based on the works of William Shakespeare"? Sure, of course, the check cleared right? What some people will do for the money, and honey we've all been there. Bills to pay and the kids will go to college (please God let the kids go to college...)

Witness all the rock gods, and the commercials. When the adulation is done, and you've still gotta make the nut, pride ain't in it. And it's a lot easier on the hips and back and knees than getting up on stage and spending a few hours a night pretending to be eighteen again.

Old friends passing email between them
"You haven't..." "But I did, you never..."
like that.

Facebook and Instagram, who follows whom and the kids and their days.

Old friends have broken up and gone their separate ways, others, the ones
who settled in, keep pushing the oars. Pulling the chain. Digging in the mines
and trudging up the hill to tote the bale and haul the water.

Days wind down, winter in the wind, a bit brisk and aren't we supposed to
hibernate? Yet?

Airplanes warming up in the distance, a trip on the calendar, holidays coming
yesterday and tomorrow and gifts and food and and and...

silence. It wasn't it was. It ain't now. Pass it on pass it through the pass
of the yester-year was a moment that never existed not even a little bit itwasamirageidiot.Hatelovefear

deep breath. The work is here, where it's always been. The work and the love and the new and the old. The tangled tanked up
the here
the now the
yesterday. none of them more than figments, either. Yet all together? All together now all together now.Hmm.

Sometone someone that one. She will be fine, write.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Gather close, oh ye hesitant souls; I have a story to tell.

Once upon a time, long long ago, a dignitary came to visit.

In the place that dignitary came from, he was reckoned by some to have small power, by others a placeholder. There were even those who whispered behind their hands of old treacheries.

These were ignored, those few poor souls seen as chasing vapor trails. Whatever kernel of truth formed their conspiracy theories, however, to this story they are of no moment.

So the dignitary came to visit, there at a university in the middle of a city.

The university itself held small fame in certain scholarly corners. Mostly, it was a place where people who had to work for a living could manage to scrap together a degree, in between shifts.

It was the way of things at the university, at that time, that the centerpiece, in artistic terms, of the university campus was a fountain. A magnificent edifice, with one unfortunate flaw.

It didn't work. Not in living memory, which on a university means no undergraduate or graduate student yet walking those almost-hallowed halls, had water been pumped successfully, through arcs and sprays to reverberate across the almost two acre showpiece. The students rather enjoyed this.

Apparently, the university powers-that-be didn't share this ironic joy. The thought of the dignitary visiting, walking by an empty concrete pond, was too much. This couldn't stand.

One hundred thousand dollars was requisitioned. The fountain was repaired.

Temporarily. The fix wasn't permanent.

A fact known, publicly, as soon as the money was devoted. This slightly ridiculous state of affairs wasn't hidden. It wasn't pushed into the background.

It was the headline of the university paper in the very first article written on the subject.

Now, there are students for whom such a state of affairs wouldn't have merited anything more than a raised eyebrow.

There were very few of these dedicated scholars, these higher souls, at the university. Working-class kids all, they had a certain element among them.

There was no need to vocalize the discontent.

They didn't target the dignitary's trip. Not quite. They targeted the week before, while there was still time to fix what they had done.

Rumors abound. I'd imagine that, if one were so inclined as to go to a certain wholesale warehouse just down the freeway, pull out records, then a pallet of a certain well-known brand of powdered laundry soap would be quite readily found among the sales on that time and date.

Hard to say, though, since there were only acres of suds to be seen, that Monday morning when all the self-congratulatory administrators walked into their offices, opened their blinds.

And beheld what they had, ah, wrought.

Could be worse.

There's another rumor, you see. One that your humble correspondent hesitates to report. Since this rumor was one that circulated among the members of only one very small group of chemistry students.

That rumor, you see, suggested that, if one were to go into a certain lab, at a certain time of night, one could, without too much trouble, find a minor supply, merely grams... of cesium.

One likes to think that this particular dignitary would have gotten the joke, that this august personage would have recognized the ridiculousness of spending such an outrageous sum on a temporary fix, to be run for only a few hours and then shut down promptly after the visit.

Well, the suds, anyway. Even the progenitor of the cesium possibility had to admit, given sufficient time and space for meditation, that such a step might have been going just a bit too far.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Now here's a fun way to spend a few pleasant hours: Finished Clive Barker's Everville, and now I'm in the middle of Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard.

An accident of timing in the to-be-read pile, certainly, but an interesting one, nonetheless.

Everville was very fun; it wasn't one of the new editions, I found an older paperback at Half-Price on my last trip there. I haven't read Great And Secret Show, something I didn't know was even necessary until I cracked the binding and found "Second Book of the Art" listed.

Fortunately, I dug through it anyway, and Clive hooked me as he almost always does, and gave me the groundwork I needed as I went along.

I say almost always because I bounced off Imajica. A big part was me, at the time Imajica came out, I just wasn't much in a place for it to catch me.

Damnation Game, Coldheart Canyon, those I caught but somehow I missed Great and Secret Show and Everville. The Books of Blood, I think I'm on my third or fourth copy of the first collection, I got that one the first edition, and this may be the first time I've had them stay in my house for longer than a year. All my other copies I loaned out to spread the word, and they never came back. Not that I mind. Sort of like Tad Williams and my copies of his first three novels, there are some stories I share widely.

Stress of Her Regard, well; mostly I had a hard time finding a copy, but the newest trade paper edition came out and I jumped on it as soon as I noticed. Tim, I started with The Anubis Gates, and return to the various other novels as I find them. Last one I read was Three Days to Never, which is a fun discussion all by itself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Farewell, Stan Lee. Excelsior!

X-Men, in case you were wondering. Spider-Man, early, but the ones that I bought with my own money were the X-Men. I moved on from there; my comics habit these days is fitful. When I'm in a shop I'm guaranteed to walk out with a fistful. But there are few that hold my interest so much as they did back then.

Dark Phoenix. Wolverine's history. There was a time where my afternoons, evenings, were the comic shop. A guy opened up a shop in the mall across the parking lot from the music store I worked at. The shop, and the owner, folded a group of misfits into the fold.

We went in, where we could smoke in the back room, hang out talking about comics, and these new card games coming into vogue. Play games, shoot the shit.

Read the comics. Always. Pour over the bins, hiding the good ones until the next pay check. Arguing over how much to price this and that.

Laughing at Stan. Laughing with Stan. None of us would have taken the other side of the bet that Stan did. That comics would have meaning to any besides ourselves.

Oh, sure, a good movie; Tim Burton showed it could be done.

I would never had dared hope we'd get more than a handful. Like Stan did. His imagination.

His longevity. Long after the others passed, or gave up and moved on, there was Stan, fighting the good fight. Holding onto the faith long after it might have turned to madness. That this little four-color art had, not just meaning, but something more than that. Appeal, for the normies and the geeks alike.

Who'd have thunk it? Onward. Upward. Write the stories I want to read, you want to read, always write the next story. And keep the faith.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Like I Ought To - A Story of The Return of Things Buried

The thing haunts me. As it ever has. It sits there on the shelf, hiding. Until I need it.

Until it needs me.

Just a book. That's all. Simple cow's leather, board, cotton, parchment. No dragon's hide or human skin, platinum or blood for ink.

A student's book.

Not a beginner's book. I received my copy at the same stage as when I passed down a copy to my own apprentices. In that moment, the one that comes to us all, when mentor and student have passed through the initial veil.

Leaving resentment and the urge to move on. "If you know so much, then this book will be no large effort for you," she told me.

How correct, and how wrong, she was. There are no exercises. No potions to be constructed with painstaking attention to detail. Only the most basic of explanations, piece by piece, layered.

The back of it is full of references. I spent my hours dreaming of those books, listed for anyone to find. How many of them, out of the hundreds, have I spent money and time collecting?

My shelves stretch through the entire house.

And yet, this simple book, hiding amongst the plenty, somehow always finds a way to hand.

Owetanama B'ek is said to have died face first in his copy. His tower, refuge, he'd built it in the shadow of the Mountain Hiding In Plain Sight. Where he gazed at the snow, always present and never accessible from the sun-baked plains beneath.

His last student found him, nose down in the chapter on static effect. Our most fundamental pursuit. And he'd returned to it, as we all do. What did he find there that stopped his heart that day, still young and hale?

Latemad Le'at, the student, says that B'ek had clawed at the desk. Pried bits of it loose, splinters buried between his fingernails and the quick beneath. B'ek died in pain, or generating pain against something worse. What was it, that hid in the pages?

I slaved over my copy. I carried ambitions, then. To be known. Respected, not feared.

Not to the world. To my peers. To have my name occasionally spoken of, with a nod and a smile for work well done. That's what I wanted. The book promised this. If I understood what the author did, perhaps then I could learn something new.

The way of energy, perhaps. We work it, draw it forth from the land and the waves and, sometimes, the stars. Mold it. Shape it. Freeze it in place and set it loose to burn and dance.

I began my study of that book believing my mentor had nothing more to teach. No banalities I had not already heard a thousand times.

When I finished my first read-through, I understood that, just maybe, she knew still more than I had thought. Perhaps, I told myself, she could open the paths before me. Or help open them.

I had ambitions, still. But yet, I had gained some ability to listen to others, however undeveloped that method was.

Bella Nore Tiaroma is said to have taken her copy of the book to the gallows. As reading material to calm her nerves, on that long trip from the jail cell.

As something to stand on. Bella was short, and she knew the stool wouldn't be enough. So the book became that extra couple of inches she needed to take her dignity to the rope.

And then, the book went with her to the grave, the only thing the howling madness of the mob allowed her in the descent to eternity.

Martin Alazaba Merona is, was, Bella's student. He claims that she was searching the book, even as she mounted the steps, for one last escape. A path, a hint, some means to escape her fate even as the door was latched and the hemp dangled.

If she found it... then her buried corpse testifies to the cost. Martin left the book there in the coffin. He hopes, I think, that some later tomb-robber might find a small step to enlightenment through what she finds there.

Or be driven to madness. Either way.

There came a time when I turned my attention to the practical life.

Marriage, and a child on the way. I laid my ambitions aside. For a short time, I told myself. Farm, chickens, water buckets and shovel the pig sty and fold in compost.

I didn't set aside what I had learned. The plants and the animals exchange energy, constantly; magic I had known only glimpses of. I watched, as my husband worked and my belly swelled. As our child grew to adulthood.

I touched the flows, warmed to their response. Breathed them to life where they faltered, supported them and let them support me and mine, through sickness and disappointment, love and plenty.

I watched our neighbors. When drought came, insects, I remembered the lessons hinted at in my books. I had set aside my ambitions. So I concentrated on making sure we survived, nothing more. That we had food as needed, but no feasts.

No extra gold, or milk, or wheat. Our crops and pigs and chickens were healthier, perhaps, but that was just the luck of having chosen well.

I won't go to the fire.

The book didn't allow me to forget it. It lay there, in a chest hidden away in our attic, waiting. The constant presence.

I turned my hand to the work again. When my husband left with the brown-eyed girl. My daughter had her own life by then. It was time for me to see if my ambitions had grown lighter.

My own mentor still keeps her copy of the book on the shelf behind her chair. I can detect no real interest in such a simple thing.

There are no 'prentice copies sitting on the desks of those who work for her now. They are all devoted to grander things.

Calling forth gold from the coffers of patrons in exchange for splendid works. Towering accomplishments.

I talk to her, of simpler pursuits. She knows of the work of Chien, and Luong, and the others. She always has wonderful insights.

That I remember only in bits and pieces when I am no longer in her office.

It has a purple color. The only concession to vanity. The purple book, we call it.

Say that to one of my peers, and our hands reach for it without thought. Always there and ready.

Well, almost. When I am caught up in something, the purple book hides, in the shadows collecting dust. The purple color does not stick out, then. Until it does.

And then I dive into it once again, looking for that which I only barely remember. Or some insight of those that went before, unrecognized.

I tell myself I am no longer ambitious. There are no court positions waiting for me. I am past my date for such things.

Robert Le Moigne took his copy with him on The Crossing. Amongst all the worldly goods available to him, chests of this fine cloth and that aged wine, in the small locker where he kept his daily clothing, on the very top, that's where he laid his copy of the purple book. Every day at hand, on waking and on falling asleep at night, the book was ready for another reading.

I helped him pack. I admit to pride, that in all the glory of The Crossing, he still yet watched for the Walker's Path.

If it gave him insight to the Way Back... there is a torched ship's timber, sitting on the beach below my humble apartment overlooking the bay. It floated back in on the tide, the day after Robert's caravel sailed for the Gate. What price awaits, I ask myself.

It calls to me, again. As I knew it would, yesterday, when I received two last bits of news. On the baptism of my granddaughter; on the passing of my long-lost husband.

Untooled leather, the purple now faded by sun and hand; except for the coffee stains. I take my book and yet another cup of coffee and I walk up to the chair I keep on the roof's perch. The home beneath me is clean, old, small; the view from my roof is worth more than any king's ransom.

Fishermen work their boats against the wind, with the tide.

I dive into the book, again and for the first time.

Hours pass; I know, now, what I have missed. I understand.

Is that the burning of ambition, again, long lost enemy? Yes, it is, isn't it? There are discoveries yet to make, aren't there, one last windmill to tilt at, the language itself is such a delight we never even thought of this, how could we have all missed it?

I will set this out, I will go out to the world and

The past week has been the end of the marching season; our daughter has a few more committments yet that way, football season continues, but at least we are through the contests and extra rehearsals. The work beckons me; the voices that come from not writing and working as much as I'd hoped are building up. I've a backlog to work through, and I can't wait to get to it.

In minor celebration, here's a new story. About? Who knows, it jumped into my head and wouldn't let me go. Herein a story of a particular book, and the stories that go with it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

And the Walls Came Down - A Story of Hungry Ghosts

Not that they had much choice. When you hook a one-ton truck to them and stomp on the gas, they're pretty much guaranteed to come tumbling down. It's almost a law of nature or something.

The house is our old family home. We have to demolish the thing after the Great Ghost Flood of '08.

Not that anyone else calls it that but me. The rest of the family would just assume not talk about it. There's always that idea that 'certain things nobody else needs to know' and 'stop joking about it'.

That I never will understand. What else are you gonna do but laugh at it? All moping's gonna do is make sure that it happens again, if not to us then to the next generation when they learn how depressions feeds the little beasties.

I guess I'd better start at the beginning. Or at least as close as I can tell about. The real beginning happened so long ago I don't have much to do with it except as a note in the big bible. I just mean the beginning for me.

I never spent much time around the family, except weekends and summers. Dad and I lived a couple states over. We knew every gas station and burger joint in the three hundred miles between our house and the old place, though.

We'd get home, me from school, him from work, throw a couple days' worth of clothes in the car, and head on out down the highway. Maybe once, twice a month, often enough for him to remind everybody he was part of the family, not so often that they could sign him up for something and count on him to show up.

At least, that was the theory. Seems like most times he'd find himself having to pitch in anyway. Th family ignored his pretensions to independence.

Me? Well, it's only the past few years that they bothered me about any of it. When I started college, I figured I'd stick with Dad's method. Pick a campus close enough to visit, far enough away for no accidental drop-ins, and everybody gets along with a minimum of screeching.

How was I supposed to know that the way they figured it, once I finished high school, further education had to be a hobby? Something I did on my own time, not theirs.

Sorry, that sounded worse than it really was. It's not like they spent every spare moment dreaming up things for me to do, ways to keep me from going to school and doing what I needed to. It's more like, whenever I did start showing up on a regular basis, then all of a sudden I found chores ready for me whenever I came home.

Cut the grass in the pasture. Clean out the carburetor on my grandfather's boat so he'd be good to go for shrimping season. Make sure the boards and nets weren't rotting in the back of the old shed.

Hide the old man's whiskey and cigars where grandmother couldn't find it. That sort of thing. Nothing major, but somehow there was always something. There were times I showed up, sat down to eat dinner with my grandparents, and the phone started ringing before I could finish a plate.

Dad thought it was funny. "I had to run off and join the army before they'd leave me alone, son. Just realize that when you get frustrated with it, all voicing your complaints will do is hurt their feelings. They're not going to change for you or me, and you shouldn't expect them to."

I wonder how much pain there was in that comment. He was laughing when he said it, red-headed Irishman gently poking through the family trouble, but he didn't exactly say he liked it. Or that he'd changed any of his habits.

Just, like he was at peace with it. Acceptance.

So, about the storms. We live in hurricane country, every ten years or so, the Gulf brews up one tailor-made for us, and then it's 'Katie, bar the door' and batten down the hatches. The place is far enough back from the coast, about three hours or so, that we don't get the storm surge or the really high winds, most of the time.

Everybody's scattered, more or less, over a couple hundred miles. When one of the big storms comes through, there's one place we all know to go to, to get in out of the rain and wait it out. There'll always be enough food, beer, and the farm tanks always have enough gas and diesel for what comes after.

It gets awful loud when that happens. One of my girlfriends came, once. She laughed at me when I offered her some earplugs. At first.

For some reason, next time a storm came through, she ran home to her parents before I could even offer. Something about it being quieter, she could get her work done in peace. Our family's a little stressful to outsiders.

At least, I hope it was just us. I mean, I know the ghosts assemble, once we're all under the same roof, the joining up of the family choir, but we're the only ones they bother. Most of the time.

The ghosts came this time with the wind. Howling, tearing. Screaming. They feast on our fears. Our anxiety about where we stand in the family order.

Uncle Mortie, I thought, was immune to it. Grandpa was the Good War vet, went up the spine of Italy and brought Grandma and the ghosts home from Palermo.

Mortie served in Korea. Younger brother, made good in the Air Force in its first blush as independent, Sabres and aces and a wife from a Seoul suburb. Aunt Mei brought her ghosts, too. She and Mortie followed her family's advice. Feed them, placate them. Host them.

Fall to them, scratching at the door when the real winds hit so that we didn't find them for another hour. No one could hear them on the other side of their door. Aunt Mei's fingernails were embedded in the carpet. Torn off at the roots.

Mortie and Mei, and then Uncle Irving. The oldest brother, he was a Good War vet too. Said that when he went to France, everybody laughed at the French he, and Grandpa, spoke. Said he sounded like their grandparents.

He brought a wife home, too. Aunt Gwen, from Brittany. She didn't bring any ghosts with her, that we know of.

She joined them here instead. Uncle Irving didn't know she had tuberculosis. Aunt Gwen hid it from him until it was too late. He traded a wife and joy for a newborn daughter and endless guilt; worry that he couldn't do right by Aunt Cindy all by himself. The ghosts followed him like fleas on a field dog.

We found him in his favorite old recliner, knee locked out straight like it had been since D-day, when he'd parachuted into a slate-roofed church.

I didn't know a man who jumped out of a wooden plane straight into the face of a Nazi barrage gun field could really be frightened, not in his eighties. His fingers were locked across his face, thin gnarly interlaced claws. I wonder if he'd been able to make the sign against evil, the one he'd caught from his grandmother, if they'd have paid attention to it.

That first night was long. Morning tried to come, but mostly we saw it was daylight by accident. It was dark, and then sometime after the coffee was made, it was a little lighter. Not enough so we could blow out the old kerosene lanterns.

The flashlights fluttered, catching faces peeking out from under blankets. All the cousins were scattered, laid down on pallets wherever there was space. The younger ones, the kids, most of them didn't want to come out.

It was safer under the blankets.

The house breathed, no, held its breath. Force against force, the beams and sides flexing under the pressure. The winds started from the north, northeast. Then, around midnight, they switched, slow, over to true east.

By the time we found Mortie and Mai, the wind was switching again, over to the southeast. This storm was a slow mover. Each step, the house groaned its soft low response to the new demands.

Some storms, we'd have been drinking by now, beer cold and ready to pace the rebuilding. Not this one. No one trusted it. By the time we found Uncle Irving, we were pretty well done with that idea.

Most times, when we're all together, daylight's the signal to give us a break. The ghosts howl all night, and we howl out at the moon right along with them. Bonfires, four-wheelers stuck in the mud, beer and guitars and songs none of us remember the lyrics to.

There wasn't enough daylight to signal, to banish the invisible choir back to wherever it is they wait for us. They didn't howl, now. Not that I could hear.

It was a low, bitter hum. Hymn. Like you'd be listening to, wondering why you couldn't quite make out the lyrics. Maybe if you went somewhere where everybody wasn't so loud, you could understand better.

I watched my cup of coffee, tried not to think about the way the others at the kitchen table gripped their own cups. White knuckles.

Mine were because I didn't want to go someplace quiet. I didn't want to know what they were singing. Grandma and Grandpa, and Dad, slumped down like they were half asleep. But their hands on the table weren't asleep.

Time to play some cards, I guess. I held up the cards, but they all shook their heads, no. So I fanned out a solitaire game.

Four hands in a row, the queen of spades stumped me.

I don't know if she meant anything by it, but I figured one way or another, I wasn't getting anywhere. So, I put the cards away and got out the chess set.

Ok, so I'm slow. I ignored the black queen across the board for an hour or so before I realized what I was doing. "Anybody for some breakfast?"

That much they could work themselves up for. Uncle Rob had finally got the house generator working, a big old diesel beast under cover just outside the utility room, so we could put the lanterns away and throw on movies for the kids.

We had to move Uncle Irving's body, first. The kids were awfully quiet through the first couple movies.

Rob said he'd have to babysit the generator, the fuel pump was barely hanging on. So he was back and forth, making sure it kept limping along.

Three or four times of that, and you stop paying attention. It wasn't until the generator's hum turned to a cough, and the lights flickered, that we realized Uncle Rob hadn't come back recently.

Turns out, they don't need it to be quiet. I found him, slumped down in the corner of the generator room. The cough when the generator interrupted itself must have been when he accidentally grounded the beast. The kick from it was enough to throw him across the room.

After that, the generator ran smooth and clean for the rest of the storm.

"Ok you three. What the hell is going on?" Sometimes you have to prod them to get an answer.

Dad, Grandma, Grandpa. Dad was the one who answered. Or didn't. "I guess they're hungry, son."

"Hungry? For what?" Not that the answer wasn't obvious, by this point.

"You, me. Us."

I'd brought the three of them out to the utility room where I'd found Rob. He's Dad's youngest brother, the one who'd taken over the farm duties, and the income from it.

And Dad didn't begrudge him either one. "He earns it" was the only comment I ever heard him make.

Dad and Grandpa knelt down beside the body, Grandpa's knees cracking, Grandma stood behind them with her hand on Dad's shoulder.

"What about the kids?" There aren't many of us, but that just means there aren't many of us to lose. The little ones can get on your nerves, but I'm sort of fond of them anyhow.

I'm Dad's only, but he's got three brothers and sisters, and each one of them had three kids. Plus Cindy's three, and Mortie and Mai ended up adopting three kids from the wave of Vietnam refugees.

Half the time, I wonder if two of the ghosts are missing spots, the two kids Dad and mom would have had, if only. The hole theory of ghosts, maybe.

Cindy, Gail and Paul, Cynthia and Rob now gone, Darla and Mike. Six adults not counting me and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa, fifteen young and younger kids. Should be plenty. But eventually, the older kids were going to start exploring the house.

At least, they would when the electronic toys and the movies got too boring for them.

I wanted somebody to tell me the kids were safe. "Don't worry, they're ok," or "They know better than to go after the younger generation, otherwise what'll feed them down the line."

You know. Some idea that, maybe just maybe, the adults know something about this. Know what's going on. How it'll end.

I'm still waiting. Dad and I picked up Uncle Rob and carried him through to the room, Mortie and Mai's room, impromptu morgue. "They're gonna start to stink," I tried to joke.

Dad just shook his head.

It wasn't until I was back in the kitchen, warming up next to the stove, that I realized he hadn't been shaking his head at a poor attempt at a joke. That room was ice cold. Like they were still feeding, taking every last erg.

Fine. "This has happened before?"

Grandpa shook his head. "Not this bad. Well, maybe when Audrey came through, it was close."

Dad was standing at the window, watching the big willow tree in the back yard whipping around like it was getting ready to helicopter away. "That's when we lost my grandparents."

"And your brother, Donnie," Grandma added.

Wait, brother? "Grandpa's brother?" I asked.

Dad looked at his mother, walked over and kissed her on top of her head. "No, son. My brother. The baby, he was, what, a year and a half old?"

"Fifteen months," Grandpa answered. He got up to make another pot of coffee. "Just to the point where we had to ride herd on him."

The kids are all about eighteen months apart. Dad, Gail, Rob, Darla. Dad's the Vietnam kid, born in '48, the lottery never quite hit Rob's age group. I guess I knew about Donnie. A line on a gravestone in the family plot.

"Ya'll never told me what happened."

"We didn't tell anybody. It's not like there were many people worried enough to ask questions. Not when they're fishing bodies out of the canals."

That story I remembered, Dad and Grandpa and Uncle Irving taking the little john boat out to the canals and bayous, bringing bodies back to town. There's still only a few good roads through the marsh, back then the French families were the only ones who knew where people lived well enough to go out and find the corpses.

"I'm still pissed at you," Grandma said. "Taking a nine year old out for that."

"He was old enough to steer the boat," Grandpa replied.

No wonder they were hungry. Every decade or two, here comes another storm, and another round of bodies in the bayous.

Except for the part where technology caught up. We learn, little by little. Even the hard-core marsh families don't hang around for the storms anymore, they pack up and haul ass for the red dirt country. There's no sense hanging around, not when everyone you know has lost family, and homes, to the storms. Repeatedly. For generations.

And here we were, lined up for them again. Apparently, if there weren't going to be bodies and new energy for them outside, they'd take what they could get.

The winds switched to the south somewhere around lunch time. The beast outside finally making its way far enough north to call it as 'the worst has passed'.

The rain still came, the bands connecting the dying monster to its home, its source. But even that thin chord was vanishing, if the weather dudes and dudettes were to be believed.

Good. Time to open up and plan for what's next. Gail and Paul were the first to start packing up. They lived closest, just a few miles down the gravel road. The only reason they'd bothered was because they didn't want to be cooped up with the kids for days by themselves.

Gail's got one of those big Suburbans, four-wheel drive, room for the instruments and bat bags and whichever team or band group needs rides this week. Most times, she and Paul would have climbed in, run down to the house to make sure it was still there, then come back for the kids.

Not this afternoon. I waved at them from the carport, rain still driving enough to obscure Gail through the windshield. Five escapees, tail end of the storms a whole lot better than what waited for the rest of us.

Darla and Mike were more 'civilized' than that. Until little Marie started coughing, choking on a day-old donut. Bad enough, but then it was like an asthma attack. She couldn't get enough energy to catch up with her breathing.

Like something was holding her back, draining just a little too much. Mike put her in the car, 'just to see', and that's when she caught her breath again.

Darla loaded the other kids up five minutes later. Five more of the family brigade weaving through the rain for somewhere else. Family reunions somehow always end up a little disappointing.

Problem now was what to do with Cynthia, Cindy, and Mortie and Mei's broods. Nine kids, two adults, and one of them a fresh widow. Where in the hell were they going to go?

Four adults. "Mom, dad, it's time for you two get out of here." Dad cut to the point. "Hell, all of you load up and head to my house, if you need."

"Storm's still headed that way, son," Grandpa pointed out. "Your place might not have a problem with it, but no way can we make the drive. Not with all those kids."

"Fine, go to Biloxi. Mom can play the penny slots to her heart's content, and Cindy and Cynthia can send the mob to the kids' resort."

Not that they did it that way. Mortie and Mei's house was still in good shape, and it wasn't much farther away than Darla and Mike's. Cindy drove Grandpa's van, the one with the extra seats so my grandparents could take a van-load to Disney every couple years.

Dad and I stood at the carport, watching the caravan head out. Now it was just us, and the ghosts.

Which is where the one-ton truck, a hundred feet of chain, and two idiots tearing down a house in the rain comes in. Well, at least after the part where we spread kerosene through the house and tossed the lanterns in after.

There's no time to burn a house down like the middle of a hurricane. We watched the flames from the safety of the barn.


"Just one." Enough for the Vikings in the family tree to get their due, not so much to throw us off the next step.

I didn't trust them. Flame, wind, rain.

I was right not to. Dad insisted on being the one to tie the chains, when the flames died down. The old place had collapsed, mostly, roaring bonfire just a hot pile now, surrounded by the walls still standing. "We'll pull them in as best we can, let the rest of it burn."

So, him in the truck, chains and yank like hell, then me with the tractor pushing the walls onto the burning pile. The first few went just like you'd expect, me sitting in the now-drizzle, worrying about the old man, wondering when the hell they'd make their last attempt.

Because no way were they going to let us get away that easy.

Last wall, last chain. He didn't make it back into the cab. I was on the wrong side of the truck, saw him walk along the bed to make his way back to the cab.

And then he wasn't there.

I jumped down and ran to him. He was on his knees, classic heart attack position, hand on his chest hand on the truck. Rain pouring down his face. Was it real, or was it them? Did it matter?

You know how hard it is carrying somebody through the rain and mud? That hard, and harder. I may or may not have much connection to the place. But he grew up there. Loved, lost, laughed.

They, it, we grabbed at him, didn't want to let go. I walked away one hateful loving step at a time until there was no choice anymore.

My little truck was just far enough away, I hoped. I piled him into the passenger seat, both of us grunting. I didn't say anything.

I couldn't, I was breathing too hard. But I had enough left to run back to the big truck and finish the job.

I drove Dad's big truck over to the barn, then the tractor after. By the time I crawled back into my truck, the bonfire was well and truly going again, the walls giving cover to the coals beneath.

I backed the truck up, all the way to the mailbox, slow and easy so we could watch the thing burn. Whatever attacked Dad, it eased with every foot, and every flicker of the flames.

We sat there, intermittent wipers and defrost, soaked and miserable at the loss. The people are still here, we'll always be here. I guess the ghosts will, too. But for now at least, they've been disbursed to the four winds.