The One of Keys

the beginnings of ice

Isyla received the One of Keys from a man without a name. That is always how the One of Keys is acquired. That is how it always begins.

It was a normal day in Revula. Isyla slinked through the streets and plied her trade, as unnoticed by the citizens going about their chores as the stone rats who nibbled on the cobblestones, or the singing bees who hummed their songs to the flowers that grew between the stones. Today she practiced her craft on Lumina Street.

None of the other silvertips would come anywhere near Lumina Street. The people who walked there had friends and enemies and armed bondsmen woven among the crowd. It was close enough to the Illuminated Gardens that green light exposed all but the most stubborn of shadows. And it was near enough to the Bellowing that the stimulant-laced air made every who traversed it alert and uneasy. But where her fellows saw insurmountable obstacle, Isyla saw opportunity. Those with business on the street were wary of each other, not a skinny girl in a polished marble dress with ribbons in her hair. It was their words and their glances they kept clutched tightly to them. Not their purses.

Isyla slipped through the crowd as if she belonged there. She sampled a honey ant from the sweet vender. She gazed with only half-affected longing at a bracelet being sold off the wrist of a vendor wearing dozens, to show potential buyers how the golden resin gleamed against her jet-black skin. Isyla haggled with the woman for several minutes before they settled on a price. Then she called out to a mother that wasn’t there that she needed coin so she could buy the bauble, and harumphed in indignation when her cries were ignored. All part of the play. The jewelery-clad vendor merely smiled at her, and wished her luck in improving her talents of parental manipulation for next time.

All the while, Isyla slipped mercury-coated fingertips into pockets, or the brims of hats, or the space between ankle and boot. Anywhere coin or note or piece of amber might be hidden from the emerald light from above. She moved up and down the street, playing her game and filling her pouch. The fatter it got, the more difficult it was to keep the superior smile away from her lips. That smile could give up the game to a wary mark, even if her technique stayed true.

Midday passed, and she was well past her quota. But only a fool quit once they reached their numbers. Anala had shown her the math, and she believed it even though she still found it hard to work out the sums herself. So she continued, and imagined what she would buy with her surplus once she gave Silverkeeper her cut. With each tiny victory, Isyla’s daydreams grew more extravagant.

The handful of Klenkrykan coins she purloined from the fat man who smelled of firespice would buy her a new shawl to replace the disintigrating silk one that hung over her bed. The 300 gyla note she acquired from the woman with the feathers where her head should be – Makers knew what manner of creature she was – might mean Islya could finally buy herself the gemferet she had fallen in love with over at Malika’s shop. It was one of those days where Isyla’s fingers never faltered. Where every suggestion whispered by her quicksilver companion on which well dressed citizen was a rich mark, and which a poseur in borrowed clothes, turned out to be true. Where, it seemed, she could do absolutely no wrong at all.

Until she felt the cold fingers clamp around her wrist.

“Hold, girl,” said a gruff voice from behind her. It was a coarse, whiny whisper, like two pieces of rough glass scraped against one another that just barely made an audible sound.

Isyla froze in fear. The shock of getting pinched threw her so violently out of her effortless reverie and back into harsh reality that it took her a moment to realize she really was freezing. She turned and saw that the grip on her arm was made of ice. She looked up at her captor, into the nearly translucent eyes of an iceform.

“Are you trying to steal from that gentlemen you were following, girl?” he said. Isyla could do nothing but stare. She had never seen an iceform up close before. They didn’t normally walk the streets. Shouldn’t he –she?– be melting? But he showed no signs of melting, even if the sweltering mixture of sunlight and gardenlight. Maybe they didn’t really melt. Maybe that was just a thing the kids said around the well. You couldn’t believe all of that stuff. Benalin Coppermark swore that the Virisae dissolved if you threw salt on them, and Isyla knew that wasn’t true.

She was amazed how see-through the iceform was. She wasn’t sure she would have been able to see him at all, save for the metallic robes he wore and the way the green light reflected off the sharp angles of his body. And his eyes. Looking straight into them, it was easy to see the thousands of facets of his intricately carved irises.

“I asked you a question,” he said. His voice didn’t sound angry, or accusatory. Just curious. When he spoke, his jaw moved straight up and down like a wooden puppet, but his lips did not shape the words. “Were you planning to steal from that man?”

Isyla almost denied it. That was what she was trained to do, after all. Like Enam always said, “spy, lie, deny, deny deny. Anything else, you’ll do nothing but die.”

Maybe it was the innocent look in those diamond-eyes. Maybe it was the fact that Enam was an idiot with his stupid rhymes, and Isyla was twice the silvertip he was, even if he was nearly twice her age and experience. Or maybe she was just feeling reckless.

“Yeah,” said Ilsya. “I was trying to pull that runewatch from his pocket. Worth 500 gyla, I figure, easy.”

The iceform laughed, a sound like crystal chimes in the breeze. A surprisingly beautiful sound, after the roughness of his voice.

“I believe I could ask any question I could devise of any ten of the people here of my choosing,” he said, “and yours would be the only honest answer I would hear today.”

“Um…thanks?” said Isyla. “Could you let go of me? Your hand is cold.”

The iceform nodded, but did not let go. “You are a silvertip, I gather?” Islya nodded. “What is your name, silvertip?”

“Islya,” she said. “What’s yours?”

The iceform narrowed his eyes. A strange gesture. He had eyelids of pale blue that obscured his eyes, but his brows and cheeks were rigid and unmoving.

“We cannot be marked, and cannot be branded,” he said.

Isyla considered this unusual answer for a moment.

“So you don’t have no name?” she asked.

“Even so.”

“So what do people call you?”

“We are not called,” he said.

“Oh.” Islya frowned. “That sounds lonely.”

He nodded. “We are very lonely.”

The frankness of the answer took her aback. This iceform didn’t talk like any person she knew, and the people she knew came in all materials and arrangements. But all of them had names. It made her a little sad, inside her in a place she didn’t use very often.

“Are you going to turn me in?” she asked after a minute.

“Do you wish me to?”

“No way!” she said. “The meta’s’ll grind my silver to powder and throw the rest of me to the root-snakes, they will.”

“Then I suppose I should let you go, then,” said the iceform.

“That would be much appreciated,” she said. Then added, “sir.”

The iceform laughed again.

“You have to promise me no more stealing,” he said. She opened her mouth to protest. “Until next sunrise,” he added.

“Oh. Yeah. I can do that. It’ll cut into my earnings some, but I’ll manage.”

“It is well, then,” he loosened her grip on her arm, and she pulled free.

Isyla rubbed her wrist. There were angry red marks where the iceform’s frozen fingers had seared her flesh. She whispered in her secret voice to her quicksilver, and it rushed towards the damaged skin and began to sooth the wound. She felt better instantly. She looked up into the iceform’s crystal eyes.

“Well,” she said, “I’d better be off then…”

“I have something else for you,” he cut her off. “Sometime aside from your freedom. So your earnings do not suffer.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she said with a grimace. She’d been playing the game long enough to know not to trust anything given that wasn’t earned. But he had already reached into his pocket, and now held his outstretched hand over hers. She opened her palm, and he dropped something in.

It was warm to the touch, and the faint sound of music hummed in her ears. She looked down at object. It was flat, like something cut out of paper. Then, before here eyes, it inflated into a small sphere, glowing faintly with white light, with a tiny spike jutting from the top. It began to spin slowly in her hand, throwing tiny specks of its light against her skin.

She stared at it.

“Thank you,” she said in a quiet voice.

“No.” The iceform shook his head. “Do not thank me. Never thank me. Not for this.” He stepped backwards into the crowed, and when Isyla next blinked, he was gone.

Part of Isyla wanted to run after him and ask him what he meant with that strange statement. But most of her wanted nothing but to keep staring at this miraculous thing in her hand. After a long time she closed her eyes, and then her palm. She went to slip it in her pouch. Then she thought better of it.

No. She wouldn’t show this to Silverkeeper. This was not part of her take. This was all hers. She whispered again to the mercury, and it spread out and formed an opening in the flesh of her arm. She slid the strange object into it, and felt its warmth as it nestled inside her skin. Where no one would find it.

Then she turned to look at the crowd. She considered going back to work. There was still plenty of daylight left, and of course the garden never set. But she told the iceform she would not, and a promise is a promise. So she turned her back to the bustle of trade and business and secrets, and headed back towards home.

That is how Isyla received the One of Keys from a man without a name. That is how it begun. That is always how the One of Keys is acquired. That is how it always begins. Isyla could not know that the first is followed always by the second. She did not know, yet, that the choice to pursue the third is nearly impossible for those to whom it is presented to resist. Would she have thrown the cursed, magnificent thing into the Hungry River, if she had known that her path to the Whispering Woven was about to begin?

She asked herself that many times, in the moments to come. She never came up with an answer.

Undreaming Places

Chapter Two B

Now that my horror phase has passed, as we knew it must, my newest obsession is with highly creative and unusual settings. Much like horror, this is a life-long interest that never quite leaves me alone, even when it’s nestled around my brain-stem rather than trying to chew its way through the front of my skull.

Apparently, the horror imagery has left its mark. Oh well.

In any case, unusual settings have been a deep love of mine forever. I am easily bored by the familiar, and my love of fantasy stems fundamentally from the fact that I am intrigued by the possibilities allowed us by the imagination, and can’t see why anyone would want to dwell solely in the real world when so many others are open to us. This is all sounding a bit pretentious, but I think that’s what this kind of mindset does to me. Hopefully I’ll get it all out of the way here, so it won’t worm its way into my prose.

I’m definitely interested in hearing about fascinating and highly original settings people have run into, especially in well-developed worlds. For context, some of my favorite are Planescape, Fallen London, and Bas Lag.

Naturally I’m developing a crazy setting of my own. It’s very nebulous at this point, and I’m not sure which of the ideas I’ve come up with will make the cut and which will be purged, or if it’ll go anywhere at all. I started to write a story about it, but then realized it was too long and I really wanted to put something smaller and self-contained up on the blog. So I began a different story set in the same world.

Which of course ended up as the first sliver of a much longer and more intricate story. Oh well. At least it works fairly well as a stand alone. Anyway, here it is:

The One of Keys

Time and Nevertime, Messenger: Part 2

A meeting of nibs

Time and Nevertime

Messenger

Part 2

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

 

“It’s a pen,” said Diya. She couldn’t quite keep the disappointment from her voice.

“Is it?” asked Messenger.

“What do you mean? Don’t you know what a pen is?”

“I know many things,” said Messenger, still smiling that stretched-out smile. “But I cannot know what sits in the palm of your hand.”

Diya blinked in confusion. “It’s a pen. It’s right here. Look.” She held it up towards the strange being’s face. As she did, she noticed it seemed to glow faintly.

Messenger eyes widened until they took up a full third of his face.

“It is nothing, yet. A unperfumed memory, still undreamed. A softened ingot of molten luminescence, not yet cast.”

“Yeah, well,” said Diya. “It looks like a pen.”

“You see a future,” said Messenger. “A wish.”

“My wish?” asked Diya. “Why would I wish for a pen?”

“Why indeed?”

Diya sighed. “Okay. So you’re, like, a trickster god. I read about this. So you speak in riddles, or something?”

“Do I?” Messenger’s mouth opened in mock shock and scandal. It was so ridiculous and exaggerated that Diya laughed, despite everything.

“I don’t know,” she said. “That’s why I’m asking.”

“I speak in truths,” said Messenger. “Sometimes they are simple, sometimes they are complex. Sometimes,” he leaned down towards Diya, and looked back and forth like a criminal in a cartoon. Then he said, in a whisper, “they are lies.”

Diya shook her head. Messenger wasn’t going to explain himself. That was fine. Whatever. It wasn’t exactly new territory. As far as Diya could tell no one ever explained themselves. Not fully. Sometimes they didn’t want her to know the full truth of the situation, or thought she couldn’t handle it. Sometimes they were just too dumb to realize what was going on. It didn’t matter. She would do what she always did.

She would figure it out for herself.

“So I summoned you,” said Diya. “Because I need you for something.” She looked up at him. He gave the slightest nod. “And you’re a god. No, no, you said you weren’t a god. Didn’t you?”

“Indeed,” said Messenger. “Gods are to us as that,” he pointed to a statue of Ganesha on Diya’s dresser, “is to a god.”

“Us? There are more of you.”

“But of course,” said Messenger. “I am merely the messenger.” Something about his faint smile made Diya think there was no “merely” about it.

“So, okay, wait,” she said. “So gods are real? I mean, my dad said there aren’t any gods. That people just made them up to explain things in the world that didn’t make sense. Stuff they couldn’t understand.”

“Yes,” said Messenger. “They did. Us.” He held up his hand, and fingers formed out of the liquid metal of his arm. Each one of them had a face. One was stern, one was angry, and another was very calm. They all looked familiar. Like family members she hadn’t seen in forever. Or friends from a half-forgotten dream. She tore her gaze away from them and looked back at Messenger.

“So why are you here? What did I summon you for? And how did I summon you? I mean, I don’t know how to summon stuff.”

“You will,” said messenger. “In time, you will have the strings of our fates dancing in and out of the loom of your fingers, even as we pour the golden path before you, and so choose where you step.”

“Fine,” said Diya. “Fine, whatever. But, I mean, what do you do? Why would I even want to summon you?”

“Ah,” said Messenger. The wings on his head and legs spread out, and he seemed to fill the entire room. “Now we come to it. I am here to bring you a boon. A gift.”

“You mean this?” She held up the pen. It left trails of fractured light as it moved through the air.

Messenger nodded. “Whatever that may be.”

“But it’s just a pen,” said Diya. “Why is it worth summoning a…whatever you are? I mean, do you just carry messages? That sounds kind of useless. I’ve got a phone.”

Messenger laughed.

“Men have called my name and attention to their dance because they wished to learn secrets, or because they wished to enter a door sealed to their footsteps.” Blackness spread over Messenger’s eyes, until they were pools of inky nothing. “But most of all,” his empty gaze caught Diya’s. “Because they wish to connive.”

“Connive?” asked Diya. “What does that mean.”

“They wish to swindle. They wish to inveigle. They wish to…”

Diya looked deeply at the pen clutched in her fingers. She saw the light inside of it earlier. But there was more. It wasn’t just light. And it wasn’t made of plastic. Not really. When she looked closely, Diya saw that what she thought was a normal erasable pen was actually, somehow, a dense collection of words, woven into physical form.

“To cheat,” she finished. Suddenly everything made a lot more sense. A cold feeling ran through her blood, while at the same time she tingled all over with excitement.

“Indeed,” said Messenger, and he smiled that terrible smile. “You, my Epimethea, have a problem. The message I have manifested to deliver can become, if you so wish, the solution.”

Diya wanted to cry that she accepted, that she would do whatever it took to make this wish come true. But something Messenger said caught her.

“Epimethea?” asked Diya.

“Your name,” said Messenger. “The name spoken by the wind and drowned in the sunlight and tasted in the tears that salt the soil.”

Diya bit her lip as a terrible thought lanced through her. Was it possible this messenger, this terrible, impossible, wonderful thing, had come to the wrong person? It was with great hesitation that she said what she said next.

“That’s not my name.”

“Oh child,” said Messenger, as his face-wing reached out and stroked her cheek. His voice was thick with amusement and something else Diya could not quite place. Pity? “Oh my ridiculous, magnificent, star-stained child. It will be.”

The Delicate Gift of Blue

Crystal Clear (explored)

 

Limni woke to soft blue light pressing against her eyes. Her lips slipped into a smile. The sky outside her window was that special shade of blue, the one her mother and father and sister couldn’t see. Like the nectar squeezed out of a twilight cloud. She leapt to her feet and slipped on her night dress hung her moonstone pendant around her neck. Then she bounded down the stairs.

“Lim?” said her father from the couch as she ran past. His eyes never left the television. “Is that you?”

“Yes, daddy,” Limni said as she put on her silver shoes.

“Where are you going, sweety?”

“Outside,” she said. “The special blue is coating the sky.”

“Now?” said father. “It’s awfully late.”

“The special blue is in the sky,” she repeated.

“Um, okay,” he said. “Just don’t go far, okay?”

“I won’t, daddy,” she said, grinning. It was both truth and lie, and it felt delicious on her tongue. She grabbed the iron shovel from the hook in the foyer where it lived, and darted out through the door. Into the nectar-blue night.

The jasmine and moonlight scent tickled her nostrils as she ran through the wet lawn of the backyard. Rain was a dream from which the sky above had recently awoken, and memory of its fancies lingered on the blades of grass that tickled her ankles. She giggled with delight. It was rare, for the special blue to come so quickly after a rain. The clouds would trap the blue past her vision. But this was perfect. The ground was soft, and so fewer of them would shatter and disperse among the earth.

Limni climbed the fence where it was lowest, and leapt into Ms. Pearson’s year. She patted her lawn faerie on the head, a tiny tribute, and then flew past towards the fence that divided the yards from the fields beyond. The field was special, like the blue. The grass in the field was alive. Awake. It sang its seedling song up into the night. An invitation for anything bright that found itself flung from the darkening sky.

It wast he best place to find them.

Limni raced out into the tall grass, mindless of how the droplets of clinging rain-soaked the skirt of her night dress and raised goosebumps on her skin. She reached the middle of the field, and closed her eyes. She breathed in the scent of grass and pollen and night-blooming flowers. The song of the field rose up around her and filled the secret ears that lived behind her regular ears with its hidden music. Her dream ears, mother called them.

But mother didn’t really understand.

Limni threw out her arms, and let the night breeze dance against her skin. She closed her normal eyes, so that her dream eyes could see the trails of stardust and faerie lines and flowing secrets that swirled all around her. It was all so beautiful. Ethereal finger paint tracing its way along the canvas of the air. Even if she didn’t find anything, this was worth it. She stood there, just watching, as time and night trickled away like grains of sand.

And there it was. A dim, fiery trail off in the distance. A coal ember, smudged into a line of sparks against the black of the night that hid behind the blue. Limni smiled. She gripped her shovel in her hand and ran towards it.

The field-song rose in her ears as she ran, and the grass gripped at her ankles. No, it seemed to cry. No. We do not wish to let her go. She is too beautiful.

“I know,” Limni said to it as she ran. “I know, but she cannot stay. Her beauty will burn you up. You know this.”

We know, cried the song. We know, but still we cry.

“Yes,” said Limni. “We always cry.”

The trail was almost dimmed to nothing by the time she reached the spot. It was almost too late. Limni jabbed her shovel into the ground and dug furiously. The grass cried out about her, but it did not protest. It understood.

This patch of ground was stony, and filled with roots from an old tree. It was hard work, and her fingers ached as she jabbed the iron shovel over and over again into the earth. This one had fallen deep. If it was not for the softening of the soil by the rain, Limni would never have been able dig this far down.

She lifted a mound of dirt up from the ground, and her shovel began to vibrate. The resonance traveled through the handle, up through the blade, and made Limni’s entire body hum.

I found it!

She poured the contents of the shovel gently onto the ground. Then she brushed the dirt off. Carefully. Gingerly. Grain by grain. Soft light glowed through the soil as she brushed it away. It grew brighter, and brighter.

And there it was.

Limni’s breath caught in her chest, and tears filled her eyes. In front of her, the tiny, impossibly delicate crystalline form opened her magnificent eyes. They were the gembright blue of the sapphire of which all other sapphires are lifeless imitations. Despite their needle-tip size, the creature’s eyes seemed to fill the entire world.

“Where…where am I?” said the thing in its harp-string voice.

“You are in the field of singing grass,” Limni said once she found her voice.

The creature blinked. “What am I?”

“You are a star,” said Limni.

The star pointed its tiny, glassy finger up past Limni’s shoulder. Limni glanced to where she pointed. The special blue was nearly gone. There was only a small patch of it left, over in the distance, leaving the star to point at the ordinary, constellation-filled sky.

“No,” Limni shook her head. “Not one of those. A true star.”

“Oh,” said the star, with a pout of her lip. Her eyes stared into Limni’s, and the human girl gasped. “And who are you? Do you love me?”

“Very much,” said Limni, choking back a sob.

“I think I love you, too,” said the star. “Are you going to care for me?”

Limni shook her head. “I can’t. You don’t belong here. Your voice would shatter everyone’s dreams, and your fire would burn this field to cinders.”

The star cast her eyes down. “I don’t want that to happen. Am I going to die, then?”

“No!” Limni cried out. Tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’m going to send you home.”

The star smiled. “I think I would like that. I think I love you very much.”

Limni took the star gently in her hand, and stood up.

Hurry, the field sang urgently around them. There isn’t much time!

Limni looked up and saw the blue patch was almost gone. She pressed the star to her chest, tucked her head down, and ran. She ran and ran and ran. The grass moved aside to clear her way. The stardust stretched a bright path to her dream eyes, so she would not trip and fall into the darkness. Pain ran up Limni’s side, as she ran as fast as she had ever ran before.

Finally she arrived.

“Will this hurt?” asked the star.

“No,” said Limni. It was both truth and lie, and it felt bittersweet on her tongue.

“I don’t want to go,” said the star. “I want to stay with you.”

“I know,” sobbed Limni.

“But I have to.”

Limni lifted the star up far above her head, towards the patch in the sky. The star giggled in delight, and the crystal-chime sound danced out into the night.

“I remember my sisters, now,” said the star as it lifted out of Limni’s outstretched palm. “I remember them all.” She looked down at Limni with those sapphire eyes. “You would make a beautiful star.”

And she was gone.

“Did you have a good time, sweety?” said father from the couch as Limni took off her silver shoes and hung her iron shovel back on its hook.

“Yes, daddy,” she said.

“Did you remember to wipe your feet when you came in? You know your mother gets cross.”

“Yes, daddy.”

“Good girl. Goodnight, my little star.”

Limni smiled. “Goodnight, daddy.”

She skipped up the stairs, traded her night dress for her nightgown, and slipped back into bed. She looked out into the window, into the ordinary star-filled sky. It was beautiful, too, in its own simple way. Then she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Time and Nevertime, Messenger: Part 1

liquid mercury

Time and Nevertime

Messenger

Part 1
Epimethea was eleven years old the first time she encountered a Never. So very young. She wasn’t called Epimethea yet, of course. She still had the boring and ordinary name her parents gave her.

“Diya!” her mother called up from the bottom of the stairs. “You get down here this minute!”

“No!” Diya cried as she marched into her room. “I’m never coming down again!” She slammed the door.

“Fine,” she heard her mother’s muffled voice say through the door. “Do what you like. Do I care? I do not care.”

Diya threw herself onto her bed and buried her face in her pillow. Tears threatened at the edges of her eyes, and she cursed them. She wouldn’t cry again. Crying was for weak people. Stupid people.

“Stupid people like me,” she muttered into her pillowcase.

“Tsk Tsk. Utterances like that, once spoken, sometimes come true,” said a voice from behind her. Diya squeaked in alarm and spun around.

There was no one there.

“I’m must be hearing things,” she said into the empty room.

“You are,” the voice came again. “You are hearing my voice.”

Diya’s eyes widened and she leapt to her feet.

“Who’s there?”

“You can’t see me?” said the voice. Diya didn’t recognize it. It was an adult’s voice. Male, maybe, but soft. Like the speaker’s vocal chords were made of silk.

Diya reached out to her bedside table and grabbed the iron necklace hanging from one of the pegs.

“If you’re some kind of bhut or something,” she said, “I’m warning you. I have protection.”

The voice laughed, a sound like velvet claws tracing their way up Diya’s spine. “You need no protection from me,” he said. “You’re the one who’s dangerous. You still can’t see me?”

“No,” Diya said as she backed up against the wall. “You’re invisible.”

“Another attempt, then.”

A splintered mass of light burst into Diya’s vision, blinding her. There was a strained, flapping sound, like heavy wings beating against thickened air. Diya rubbed her eyes with her hands. She opened them slowly. Reluctantly.

And there he was.

“Was I successful?” he asked. “Can you see me?”

She nodded. She could see him, standing there. By no close margin the strangest thing she had ever seen in her entire life.

He stood about six feet tall, in the rough shape of a man. Or at least, a person. Diya couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, or even a human. He had arms and legs, but it looked like he didn’t have to. Like they were just a trick of the light, and any moment they might flutter away. His entire form was silver, and it glimmered with colors like a sheen of oil on a puddle of water. The silver substance rippled and flowed. The only solid things about him were the ragged, scaly wings that jutted out of his legs and from the sides of his head. The quicksilver of his form surged and frothed around the wings as if in protest of their rigidity.

Diya gasped in realization. Mercury.

“Are you…” she stammered, “are you Hermes? Like, Hermes the god?”

The man laughed. It was strange, since he didn’t quite have a face. It flowed between human features and those of different animals. A bird, some kind of dog, a giant spider. Diya stared.

“That is one of my Lies, yes. But a god? Perhaps not.”

“Lies?”

“You call them names, we call them Lies. The namer is the poet is the liar is the betrayer. If you wish to call me something that is not a lie, call me Messenger.”

Diya nodded, slowly. “What are you doing here? This is all, I mean, is any of this real? Am I dreaming or something?”

“Come now,” said Messenger. “You are clever enough to answer that. Do you feel like you’re dreaming?”

Diya tensed her muscles, which was her usual way of telling if she was awake when she fell asleep in class. She was awake now. She already knew that. She was just looking for a boring explanation. Most of the time, when something strange happened, it had a really boring explanation.

“I’m awake,” she said. She didn’t know whether to be excited or terrified. She settled for the middle: curious.

“So you are,” said Messenger. “So now the question becomes, what am I doing here?”

Diya furrowed her brow in thought. “I…summoned you here?”

Messenger laughed. “Now why would you think that?”

“Well, most of the time,” she said, glancing over at the books on her shelf, “when a strange creature comes into a kid’s room and doesn’t eat her, that means she summoned it. Did I? Summon you?” She looked up at him.

“Indeed you did,” said Messenger. He spread his arms out to his sides and gave a formal curtsey. “You did, and you will. I am always the first, and always the last.”

“The first?”

“The first to Never, and the last to Always,” said Messenger. One of his head-wings bent down and sank itself into the pool at his center. When it emerged, it clutched something in its enfolded feathers. “You have summoned me, because you have need. I have come, because you are the Acolyte, and it is time for the Work to begin.”

Messenger’s gaze caught Diya’s, and his face locked into human form. As he grinned, his mouth spread up his cheek bones, and past his ears, all the way up to the top of his head. Part of Diya wanted to shudder, but she was just too fascinated.

The strange being’s wing stretched out towards Diya and opened slowly. The feathers unfolded like fingers to reveal a dancing multi-colored flame. Diya gasped. Without realizing what she was doing she reached out to grab it. Then she caught Messenger’s gaze again and stopped herself.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Take it.”

Diya’s hand wrapped around the flame. A warm, gentle tickle ran up her arm and spread through her body. The scent of honeysuckle and new paper filled the air, and she tasted strawberries and fennel seeds and cardamom.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Look for yourself,” said Messenger.

Hesitantly, Diya opened her fingers. There, in the palm of her hand, lit as if by its very own shaft of sunlight, was a blue, plastic, erasable pen.

Sea

googley eyed sea painting
Mama told Adia
Over and over
What not to do
She told her
Not to do oh so many things
Adia sometimes thought
she would explode

Mama said
Never to cross the street without an adult
Never to eat the crispy-hot buns, just when they came out of the oven
all glistening and beautiful
and
Never to walk through the grimdark park, by nightfall
or she might cut herself
on its edges

But most of all
Mama told Adia
Never to take the long walk
through the town square
past the seafront shops
and onto the black-sand beach
no matter how nice the sand might feel
between her toes

Because the winds were sharp
and Adia might slip
into the Sea of Confusion
and be lost
Amidst the hyperboles
and the logical fallacies
and the dangling modifiers
Never to be coherent
or articulate
Ever again

But one day, when mama was very harsh
Adia ran away, in the middle of the night
Across the street
with a bun in her hand
through the grimdark park
down the town square
past the seafront shops
onto the black-sand beach

And surely enough
the winds were sharp
and they swept her off, into the Sea of Confusion
where she was battered by mixed metaphors
and malopropisms
until her tiny skin was store

But she was not lost

She emerged, a day later, a smile on her face
consciousness streaming from her lips
armed and ready to tell her mother
in flowery, illustrative language
just how very wrong she was
and feeling confused, of course
but not that confused.

The Quantum Electric Meta-Fountain of Dynamic Creativity

Brain Spark

 

One of the most frustrating things about being an intelligent, widely read person who isn’t a genius is having to deal with the perpetual state of a head full of thought-forms and idea-particles and mind-sparks that are fascinating and intriguing and illuminating but that stubbornly refuse to gel into anything concrete or useful.

Now I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that if I was a genius — a true, spectacular, few-in-a-generation, genuinely brilliant mind — my problem would be…exactly the bloody same.

If you read a lot of writing on writing by writers, you will be well familiar with the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s infamous. It has become sort of a parody of a parody at this point. Supposedly, writers hate the question, and this is something everyone knows, and yet writers are still asked this all the time. Fans asks this for two main reasons:

  1. They want to generate the kind of ideas their favorite authors come up with, and
  2. They are baffled as to how to do it.

Authors hate this question both because they here it far to often, and because they cannot answer it sufficiently.

Better to ask an elephant how it got those lovely trunks. Because the terrible truth is that they are basically the same question. Writers — particular those in the more speculative and abstractly creative genres like SF and fantasy and all of their twisted, steam-powered, sparkle-dripping spawn– don’t go look for ideas so that they can become writers. They become writers because they have so many ornery and insistent ideas that won’t shut up until they write them down.

I wonder how often professional writers are asked the much more interesting and useful question: “How do you stop getting ideas?”

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about having writer’s block, because I was suffering from writer’s block. A reader left a comment that if my way of dealing with writer’s block is to transform it into a fantasy story then that is an unusual form of writer’s block. He was spot on. I don’t get the “I don’t have an idea and can’t write” form of writer’s block. At least, I haven’t gotten it since I actually started writing regularly. I haven’t posted anything here in almost a week, because I have too many damn ideas. It sounds great on paper, but it’s the dark-side of a hyperactive brain that naturally generates ideas. None of them will leave me alone long enough to spend enough time with any one of them to really get to know it.

Because writing a story is all about intimacy. It’s taking one of the ideas constantly calling and emailing and knocking at your door and finally letting it take you out to a nice dinner. The two of you have a glass of wine, laugh at each other’s bad jokes, and explore whether you find each other mutually interesting enough to try to make something together, even if it only lasts a short while. Because a lot of ideas are sexy. But sexiness isn’t enough, especially if you are going to do something so foolish as write a novel out of your idea. Good hair and high cheek bones aren’t enough. There needs to be depth. And compatibility.

Am I saying that if you don’t have a high-pressure idea pump without an off switch lodged unceremoniously in your brain that you can’t be a writer? No, of course not. Quite the opposite. Having ideas isn’t enough. And having too many ideas can be just as bad as not having any at all. After all, a single fantastic premise is all you need for an excellent novel. All I’m saying is that if coming up with intriguing and unusual ideas doesn’t come naturally to you, that probably isn’t the direction in which you should travel. You’d be better off focusing on writing engaging and believable characters in interesting but relatable situations.

That’s what most readers care about, anyway.