You Asked For It…

God help us all.

Yes, that’s right…Chibi Nuckalavee, Krasue, and Squash Kachina are now all available on RedBubble!

I’m a little scared, too.

(To forestall inevitable questions—because I was pleased with their quality compared to Cafepress and others and because life is short and I flatly refuse to ever muck about with T-shirt stock ever again, and yes, it is possible that other designs will be added, but no, I am not spending a year uploading my entire artistic catalog because you will find me dead with a .PNG hanging out of my mouth like a semi-transparent tongue.)

Also, this is American Apparel shirts, they run SMALL. Their website says that medium fits most because it’s stretchy. This may be true, but the art does not stretch nearly so gracefully as the shirt, so if there is any doubt, my advice is to go large, lest Nuckalavee appear even more distorted than he already is. I require a large to get over my rack myself. It fits snugly and looks good. I suspect that the medium would make me look like a sausage.

You know, I have a Dremel…

My mother is odd. And a brilliant painter. And a genuinely nice person, much more so than I am, but mostly a terrifyingly brilliant painter.

She has started a blog about her creative process. Interspersed with poetry in trochaic tetrameter assembled from sentence fragments about exploding Tricky-Dip, there is art that makes me want to cut off my painting hand.

Circuitous Route

O, the Dreadful Wind and Rain

…is not actually hitting us. We’re getting some okay gusts, but honestly, I was hoping for a lot more rain—the lake’s so low that anything we get would be a big help. What we’ve gotten so far is basically “windy with drizzle.” So far the only casualty is my Mexican salvia, which fell over and will require some major staking tomorrow, and the top of a big hickory on the other side of the fence that cracked clean off in a gust. (It was taller than its neighbors, so it was probably only a matter of time anyway.) The wind is no worse than any heavy thunderstorm, and frankly a lot less than some I’ve seen.

As the eye has passed and gone up the coast, and we’re in one of the wimpy quadrants now, I suspect we’ve seen the worst of it in my neck of the woods. Could still have some branches come down, but probably not a massive hit. The goldfinches have formed a flock of at least fourteen individuals on the feeder, and they seem largely unbothered, so I’ll take my cue from them. (They’re entertaining—whenever it gets windy, they jump off the feeder and fly down to the vegetable garden, so that if you look out the window, there’s a dozen goldfinches perching the basil.)

Good luck to all still in the path, and those on the coast, who got it much heavier than we did.

Well, that was…interesting.

So yesterday, I had an IUD put in.

This is your five-second warning—if such things unsettle you, click away from the post now.

So. IUD.

Now dere’s a ting..

The tone of the experience was set when the nurse walked in with a box the approximate size and shape of a carton of cigarettes, and I said “Dear god, tell me most of that is packaging!”

(It was. Thankfully. The nurse was amused. I wanted to tell her that I was only getting warmed up, but y’know.)

The doctor inserting the thing was an enormous black man with a positively subterranean voice, the sort you hear primarily through the soles of your feet, and he attempted to distract me for the first portion of the job by discussing the weather, the upcoming hurricane, and how he delivered a baby in the middle of Hurricane Fran some years ago.

After that, it started to get sufficiently uncomfortable that the weather wasn’t gonna hold me. I would compare it to a particularly unfortunate pap smear, of the sort I got in my youth, before there had been any significant traffic in the area if, ahem, you know what I mean. It was bearable, I just didn’t much enjoy it.

Then he had to get the forceps or whatever the heck they are into the cervix to pry IT open, and things got a little more unpleasant. Still not exactly painful, but really really uncomfortable. As I was chewing on a knuckle and staring at the ceiling, the doctor suggested that I sing to distract myself.

God help me, the only thing I could think of, despite having an extensive folk music collection, despite having lived through every 80’s pop-song ever made, despite an angsty youth that rendered me conversant in the entire Nine Inch Nails catalog, was…the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

(Look, I was on the spot! I had not expected to have to perform a musical solo while doing an imitation of a gutted fish!)

“Uh—err—okay—um—Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”

There are times that this song is appropriate. In case you were wondering, sitting with your feet in little stirrups and your cervix flapping in the breeze is not it.

When both nurse and doctor had recovered themselves sufficiently to continue, and I was struggling to remember what came after the bit about trampling out the vineyard, he actually inserted the IUD proper, which meant that, possibly for the first time in history, the grapes of Wrath were stored in “OH MOTHERFUCKER!”

That bit hurt. Just so we’re clear. I mean, it was over very quickly, but it hurt.

“That is the appropriate thing to say,” the doctor assured me, probably because he felt bad for cracking up when I was in pain. “I mean, at that bit…well, yeah.” The nurse, who had been fanning me so I didn’t faint, managed to get her giggling under control and resumed fanning.

I am told that this process is far easier if you have been pregnant. Not, however, belonging to that sorority of women that has passed something the size of a cantaloupe through the eye of the needle, as t’were, it was pretty unpleasant.

So that was that, and I put my clothes back on, and got in the car and realized that I now had the worst cramps I’d ever had in my life. For some people, this bit may be nothing much, but I don’t get cramps. Never have. I actually got cramps badly for the first time earlier this year, and I thought I was passing a kidney stone or something.

*pause to allow less fortunate female members of audience to throw things at monitor*

These were some REALLY impressive cramps, too. I had a charley-horse lodged in my pelvis.

I drove home grimly. Various friends and Kevin had offered to drive me home if I needed it, but it was one of those I’m-going-to-be-in-pain-whether-I’m-driving-or-not moments, so y’know. I texted ahead to inform Kevin that he needed to locate the Really Good Painkillers.

So most of yesterday was spent in a grim opiate haze with a heating pad planted over my abdomen, playing tower defense games and praying for death.

Today I am a bit better, with occasional stabs of unpleasantness. It is…tender. In weird ways that I do not expect my guts to be tender. It is sort of like having very bad indigestion, except that one cannot deliver Tums to such a zone, and you do not get to hope that one twenty-minute session in the bathroom will make life beautiful again.

I suppose this is a small price to pay for five years of infertility, but that was certainly an experience, and not quite over yet.

And I had a patio to dig, goddamnit, but I think it’ll be a few days before THAT gets done…

The Wolf and the Woodsman – Part II

Hey, I wasn’t gonna leave you hanging THAT long…

 

“Perhaps it would be best if Turtle hid in the outhouse for this,” said her grandmother.

Turtle wanted to protest—if somebody was going to get killed, she certainly didn’t want to be hiding in the privy and wondering what was going on!—but the wolf beat her to it.

“Your children are cubs too long already,” he said. “You do them no kindness by teaching them to be fools.” He yawned. “And if she stays out there, what is to stop him from finding her there first? It is better that she stay here. If she is here, we are close enough to help her.”

“The wardrobe, then,” said Grandmother, and bowed her head.

“How do you know he’s going to try and kill you?” asked Turtle, whose eyes were so wide that she thought she might never blink again.

“He killed the goat,” said Grandmother. She swiped the back of her hand over her eyes. “That makes me the angriest. That poor goat. She never did anything to anybody. She was a nice goat.”

“He killed your goat?” Turtle had listened to the description of the woodsman with the general ambivalence of children, but this was something else again.

Like many people who live close to the land, Turtle’s family divided animals into two camps. There were those animals that created food—milk cows and laying hens and and plow horses and the better sort of nanny goat—and there were animals that were food. And while the latter went unnamed (unless it was “Dinner”) the former fell somewhere between employees and family. They had names. They had personalities.

Even Turtle’s mother had to wipe at her eyes when the black-speckled hen had died last year.

So far as Turtle was concerned, killing a goat—particularly that rarest of breeds, a nice goat—put the woodsman in a camp of villains that included the devil, her father’s mother, and Attila the Hun.

“And the worst of it,” said Grandmother, getting up to pace and gesture with the sloshing tea cup, “the worst of it was that he somehow expected that to make it better! Like chopping the poor goat’s head off was going to make me glad to see him again!”

“What did you do with the goat?” asked Turtle, who was a practical child. There was a lot of meat on a goat.

“I couldn’t deal with it,” admitted Grandmother. “I was too angry. My friend here took it.”

The wolf grinned and dragged his tongue across the white fringe of his teeth. “We are not sentimental about our meat. To keep live prey about the house is a strange foolishness of humans. But I accept that this is a human thing, and to kill another’s house-prey is a great crime.”

He stood up and stretched, and the cottage got a great deal smaller again. “Soon, now. The woods are quieting in the wrong sort of way. Someone is coming.”

Grandmother checked the blue bottle again, stuck her little finger in the neck, and licked the thin film of moisture again. “Very well,” she said, tossing it down. “Turtle, get into the wardrobe. If things go badly—if—well—if something happens—“

Something is going to happen,” said the wolf, amused. “Perhaps we will all sit around like cubs in a den, and frighten each other with what we imagine to be outside, but even that is something.”

“I shall kick you,” said Grandmother with dignity.

“I shall bite off your leg,” said the wolf, grinning.

“Very well, then,” said Grandmother. “Turtle, if I am—killed—then go with the wolf. He will see that you get home safe. And if we are both killed, then stay in the wardrobe and do not make a sound until he has left, then run home as fast as you can.”

“That is better,” said the wolf.

Turtle climbed into the wardrobe. It was a few inches off the ground and creaked a little. There were winter blankets piled on the bottom, under the hanging clothes, and she was flexible enough in the boneless way of girl-children to curl herself up inside.

The keyhole let a little shaft of light inside, and there were gaps under both hinges. By shifting ever so quietly inside, Turtle could see both the door and the bed, though not both at the same time.

She pressed her eye to the keyhole.

The wolf lay down on the bed again, and Grandmother draped the orange crazy-quilt over him. “Loosely,” he said. “It will do no good to draw him near if I cannot escape the blankets in time.”
“I hate this,” muttered Grandmother. She picked up her faded mobcap—Turtle could not remember ever seeing her wear it, but it had lived on the bedpost as long as she could remember—and set it over the back of the wolf’s head. “Don’t wag your tail, no matter how much this amuses you. No, that won’t do. Your ears are too big.”

“The better to hear with,” said the wolf, still sounding amused. “And I hear now that the birds outside the clearing have fallen silent. Truly, if you would let me tear his throat out at the door, this would be much easier.”

“I don’t want to kill him,” growled Grandmother, sounding almost like a wolf herself.  “If he would simply go away…” She stuffed the wolf’s enormous ears under the mobcap, and draped it across the side of his face. With the quilt pulled up high and the fire burning down, Turtle thought that perhaps it was not completely unconvincing.

“He will not go away,” said the wolf, very softly. “He is coming even now.”

“I know,” said Grandmother, and dropped with grace that belied her age and slid underneath the bed.

The steps creaked.

“Amelia?” called a voice from outside the door. “Amelia?”

It was a male voice. It did not sound strange or monstrous. It didn’t sound the like the voice of a goat-killer, but who knew what they sounded like? Turtle wiggled in the blankets and peered out the narrow notch underneath the hinges.

“Go away!” yelled Grandmother. “I don’t want company!”

“Now Amelia…” said the woodsman, opening the door. “Don’t be like that.”

Grandmother groaned. She might have been acting, but Turtle thought that it was a particularly heartfelt sound. “I don’t feel well. I just want to sleep. I don’t have anything to say to you. Go away.”

He stood framed in the door. He was tall and rawboned and his face was lined, except for the skin around his eyes, which was smooth. He carried an axe in one hand, a wicked looking thing with a curved blade, and Turtle’s heart clenched at the sight of it.

“Don’t be like that, Amelia,” he said again. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Can I make you some tea?”

“Just go away,” said Grandmother (whose name, yes, was Amelia).  “I have plenty of tea. I told you I didn’t want you here. I will feel better if you leave.”

The woodsman took a few steps closer.  “I came to say that I forgive you for the things you said earlier,” he said.

“For the love of god, will you just go?”

It was his death she was warning him away from, Turtle thought, and he didn’t seem to be listening.

In fact, he was staring at something by the foot of the bed.

“What is that?”

Turtle slithered around to the keyhole. Had the wolf’s tail popped out? What was he seeing?

“What?” asked Grandmother, and for the first time, Turtle could hear the fear in her voice. She craned her neck to one side, trying to see what the woodsman was looking at. Her left eye ached from not blinking.

It was the basket of muffins.

“Someone’s been here,” said the woodsman.  His voice was thick and choked. “Someone else came here. We talked about this…”

“It was one of my grandchildren,” said Grandmother wearily. “And you are a fool. I will see whoever I wish in my own house. Leave now, and don’t bother me again.”

She knows he won’t do it, Turtle thought. She wouldn’t sound so tired if she didn’t.

The woodsman stepped toward the bed. His face had gone red and blotchy. The straw mattress rustled a little as the wolf shifted his weight.

“We talked about this,” the woodsman said again, sounding almost plaintive, standing beside the bed.  Turtle thought that surely he must see through the disguise, surely the shape of the ears must be wrong or a tuft of gray fur would show through, something.

He lifted his axe over his head.

“Fool,” said Grandmother under the bed, with the finality of a death sentence.

The wolf erupted from the quilt.

For Turtle, watching through the keyhole, there was only a blur of grey and a flash of the orange quilt and a horrible yell that turned into a gurgle that turned into nothing at all. The woodsman’s body came crashing down. The wolf gave a muffled yelp and a snarl and the metal axe-blade clattered across the floor.

And then there was no sound at all.

Turtle flung the wardrobe door open, heedless of the very strict orders, and saw the wolf crouched atop the woodsman’s chest, his teeth still buried in the man’s throat. The orange quilt was splashed with blood, sodden with it, a color that matched the orange rather regrettably well.

“Well,” said Grandmother, surveying the scene, “that quilt’s had it.”

Turtle nodded.

The wolf let go. Turtle very deliberately did not look at what he had done to the woodsman’s neck.

“Are you hurt, my friend?” asked Grandmother.

The wolf licked at his shoulder briefly. “Hardly at all. He dropped his axe on me. It will heal.”

Grandmother pulled the quilt the rest of the way off the bed. “Well. I suppose…I suppose we should…”

She put her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. “I am sorry, my friend,” she said. “I do not seem to be able to think right now.”

The wolf nodded. “Help me roll him onto the quilt,” he said. “The cub and I will see to the body. You should rest.”

“And have more tea,” said Turtle firmly.

“Yes,” said Grandmother after a moment. “Yes. You are both right.” She spread the quilt next to the dead man and grabbed his shoulder. Her eyes were averted and stared at a blank spot on the wall.

The wolf, with dexterous teeth, grabbed the woodsman’s clothing, and they rolled him face down onto the quilt. Grandmother pulled the far end over the top of him.

“I think that is all that I can do,” she said. Her lips were very white.

“It is all that needs to be done,” said the wolf. “Rest. When you are done resting, clean your den.”

“You’ll have to stain the boards,” said Turtle practically. “With walnut juice or something. You’ll never get all this blood up. When Father killed the white rooster and it got inside the back door without its head, we had to stain with walnut.”

The wolf made a noise that in a human might have been a cough.

“Thank you, Turtle,” said Grandmother dryly. “I will take that under advisement.” A little bit of color crept back into her face, and she swung the tea kettle back over the fire.

“Come with me, cub,” said the wolf. He grabbed the end of the quilt and lifted it, and proceeded to drag the body toward the door.

Turtle felt odd. She felt a bit like crying, but there did not seem to be any time to do so, and the wolf was clearly expecting her to open the door.

The body went down the steps in a series of damp thuds. Turtle wasn’t quite sure that she wanted to go with the wolf, but while she stood on the porch, undecided, he reached the gate in the fence, and Turtle had to run to open it, and after that, it seemed that the time when she might protest was gone.

It was an odd journey. The wolf hauled the dead man, wrapped in his crazy-quilt shroud, and Turtle held low tree branches aside and shoved the woodsman’s arm back into the cocoon when it flopped out. She wrapped the end of her hooded cloak around her hand so she didn’t have to actually touch him.

They followed some kind of deer path. The wolf set his burden down occasionally to turn his head and look up it.

They did not speak. They travelled in silence, the three of them, the wolf, the girl, and the dead man. There was only the girl’s footsteps and the wolf’s breathing and the scrape of the body over the ground.

Once, across a rough patch of knobbled tree roots, the dead man was jarred partway out of the quilt. The wolf stopped, and Turtle had to grab the woodsman’s pant leg and help roll him back into the quilt.

The wolf pushed his nose briefly against her arm. His nose was cold. Blood had dried in stiff red spikes across his muzzle, but Turtle felt better for it anyway.

“Here,” said the wolf, what seemed like a long time later. “This is far enough.”

It was twilight. Turtle was amazed that it was only twilight. It seemed like several ages must have passed, like it should be twilight of the day after.

They stood in a little clearing. Turtle shook herself and looked around. Night was gathering under the trees, and there were eyes in it, and a suggestion of teeth.

A growling began somewhere behind Turtle, and ran around the ring of trees. It was very soft and very hungry.

“It would be wise,” said the wolf, “if you would lay your hand on my shoulder now. And I will see you home.”

Turtle set her hand on the wolf’s shoulder. He was hot as fire under his fur, and his ribs heaved as he panted.

They walked away from the clearing. The wolves under the trees slunk out of their way, heads low, their eyes gleaming like frozen moons.

She thought about looking back, but the wolf said “I wouldn’t,” so she didn’t.

It was not a long walk. She cried a little. There seemed to be time now. The wolf didn’t say anything. When she stopped, she tangled her fingers in the wolf’s fur, and felt better.

They reached the path home twenty minutes later. Turtle expected it to take longer, but then again, it went much faster when one of you was not walking backward and hauling a dead man’s weight in his jaws.

They stood on the edge of the path, where the spurge grew thick and choked out the ferns and daggers of grass stabbed up through them.

“Well?” said the wolf finally.

Turtle thought about it, scuffing her foot in the dry pine needles of the path. “I’m sorry he had to be killed. But he shouldn’t have killed the goat.”

The wolf bowed his head, accepting this judgment.

“Will Grandmother be okay?”

The wolf shrugged. His fur rippled under Turtle’s hand when he did so. “She is strong. She would not be a friend to wolves if she were not. Give her a day or two to re-make her den around her and howl, and then visit her again.”

“Will you be here?” asked Turtle. “I mean…if I come into the woods, some time…”

“It is very likely,” the wolf said.

“Would you talk to me?”

“Quite possibly,” said the wolf. “If you are not too foolish, and will be silent sometimes. You do not smell like a foolish child, but there is often no way to be sure.”

“I promise to be silent sometimes,” said Turtle solemnly.

“Then I will be here,” said the wolf, and turned like a cat on the path and vanished into the wood.

 

No, that’s not the end of the story. Hush. I’ll tell you the rest. There isn’t much.

Turtle went home. The yelling was mostly over, although Turtle’s mother said a few things about the state of her clothes and the stained hood.

“Grandma’s goat got killed,” said Turtle, and that was enough explanation for everything, although Turtle’s mother then muttered a few more things, mostly related to letting a child gad out in the woods so late.

“It wasn’t late when I started,” said Turtle, much aggrieved, and that, too, was enough explanation for everything.

Nobody asked about the woodsman, then or ever. He probably had a name, but Turtle never learned it and did not ask. Her grandmother continued on the same as ever, except that she stopped hiring anyone to cut her firewood, and Turtle’s brother came home sweaty and full of splinters and complaints.

Her next batch of brownies came out chewy and if they were overly wet in the middle and burnt to a brick-like crust around the edges, everyone agreed that it was still a great improvement.

The Wolf and the Woodsman

Here. Listen.

I’ll tell you a story.

Listen.

Once upon a time there was a girl. She was probably about twelve or thirteen, but that was an age when children were older than their years and expected to do real work and help with the harvest, so perhaps she was only nine or ten.

Her hood wasn’t red. Red dye is expensive and doesn’t hold well, and nobody who had to dye it themselves would make a red cloak for a child who could be expected to outgrow it by autumn. That was added later because it alliterated. It wasn’t a riding hood, either—the only horse she ever rode was the broad-backed giant that drew her father’s plow.

Still, we make do.

Her name was Turtle. Probably that wasn’t her name, probably she had a perfectly normal name, like other girls, but everyone in the village called her Turtle. There is undoubtedly an amusing story about this, possibly involving a pudgy five-year-old and a suspiciously good-natured snapping turtle, but time is short and dawn comes earlier every year.

Turtle loved to bake.  I am sorry to say that she wasn’t very much good at it. Her scones were like rocks and her cinnamon rolls weighed more than the crookback iron stove they were cooked in.

Children are odd creatures. If they are thwarted, they tend to do one of two things—they refuse to ever do whatever-it-is again as long as they live, or they grit their teeth and throw hours and days and weeks at it, like a general throwing soldiers at a wall until they can stand atop their piled dead.

Turtle was one of the piled-dead variety, at least with baking. She brutalized flour and butter, she visited wartime atrocities to milk and yeast. She committed acts of crumpet. She developed the sturdy forearms that come from punching dough, but since all the other children had the muscle that comes from milking cows and wrangling goats and digging potatoes, no one noticed.

One day Turtle had savaged an innocent bowl of batter into something that almost (but not quite) resembled muffins. Her mother, who had a great deal to bear on other fronts which do not enter the scope of this story, except to say that Turtle had three older brothers, each more reprehensible then the last, opened the back door and told Turtle to take herself and her regrettable muffins to her grandmother, and if she had to stay the night, so much the better, as there was going to be a great deal of screaming presently, and Turtle was a bit young to be hearing all the words that Turtle’s mother planned to be using.

Turtle, not being a stupid child, swept her muffins into a basket. They went glop, which is not an appropriate sound for muffins to make upon contacting wicker, but Turtle was pleased by this, because the last batch had gone clonk and glop was progress of a sort.

She set out of the backyard and into the woods. Why did her grandmother live a good half-hour’s walk into the deep dark woods, and not in the village? An excellent question. Very likely it had a lot to do with the aforementioned brothers, and the fact that her grandmother loved her mother very much and would chew her own leg off at the hip before she lived in the same house with her. Families are complicated that way.

Turtle set out on the forest path, with her hood thrown back and her basket swinging and the muffins jostling and sloshing inside.

She had gone only a little way—just far enough for the bustle and frolic of a woodland edge to give way to the deeper quiet of a wood—and a wolf stepped out on the path and said “Where are you going, my child?”

He was not standing on his hind legs, as he may be in some illustrations you have seen. Wolves are more dexterous with their paws and mouths than you would believe, but walking on their hind legs hurts their hips. He was not wearing clothes or jewelry or anything else. He was just a wolf, a big, rangy grey-furred beast with a deep chest and narrow hips, and that meant that he was leaner and taller and longer-legged than Turtle, who was used to dogs, would have imagined.

Also he talked.

Turtle was not as surprised by this as you or I would be. In that part of the world at that time, talking animals were not completely unheard of. The problem was figuring out if they were a wicked fairy or a cursed prince—royalty was very bad about being turned into animals, and there were quite a few noble houses who still kept Great-Grandfather’s hide nailed up over the fireplace for a conversation piece—or just an ordinary talking animal. Fairies and princes tended to get you mixed up in unfortunate doings, but there was nothing wrong with a talking animal, who were usually more polite than most people you would meet.

That it was a wolf was somewhat comforting. Wolves talked occasionally. So did bears. Foxes talked all the time, particularly if you caught them in the hen house, where they would do their best to addle you with fine nonsense until they could slip out the door, and it was generally believed that all cats could talk and simply refused to do so for inscrutable reasons of their own.

Talking stags, on the other hand, were nearly always bespelled royalty, and fairies, who could theoretically choose to look like anything, nearly always picked white cats or black horses. Fairies are very beautiful and very vain and they haven’t got the imagination to fill a thimble. And they never learn from their mistakes.

So Turtle was not terribly frightened of the wolf, but she was wary. She gripped her basket in both hands and bobbed a curtsey to the wolf and said “I am going to my grandmother’s house, Master Wolf.”

The wolf looked at her for a little while. He had big gold eyes and he smelled strong, like a lathered horse or a cat in heat, one of those rough animal smells that humans do not like and cannot drive out with soap or candles.

“Be careful,” said the wolf finally. “There are unkind things in the woods today.”

“Oh,” said Turtle. “Um. I will. Thank you?”

The wolf nodded once, and turned like a cat in a tight space, nose over tail, and trotted into the woods. She saw him slip into a run, and the thick green ferns closed over his trail.

She realized that she was gripping her basket very tightly, and pried her fingers loose. There were red marks in her palm and across the pads of her fingers where the wicker handle had bit into the skin.

Still, she was young, and it did not occur to her to turn around and go home. There might be unkind things in the woods, but there were very definitely brothers and yelling at home.

So Turtle kept walking down the path, and because she was a little nervous, she began to sing to herself. She did not have a very good voice, and she could not remember most of the words, but that didn’t matter, because the point was to make noise and reassure herself that she was not scared, not one little bit.

Eventually she fell back into a lot of “hey fiddle dee and hidey ho,” with the occasional “hey nonny” thrown in. “Hey nonny” is a parasite that attaches itself to folk music, and left unchecked can suck an unsuspecting song completely dry.  The infestation of this particular song was not far advanced, but did not bode well for future generations.

So Turtle went on, singing badly and occasionally remembering a line or two about crows in the corn and the wee yowes amongst the heather. (It is worth noting that Turtle had a vague image of a wee yowe as some kind of miniature monster, possibly an elephant.) And in such a state, she arrived at the clearing that held Grandmother’s house.

Her grandmother kept the house tidy, and flowers grew all around the front porch. Hollyhocks rose in great columns against the wattle walls and a climbing rose had invaded the thatched roof. Turtle walked under the thorny archway and tapped the door.

It was slightly ajar and swung open at her touch. She took a step inside, holding her basket in front of her with both hands.

“Grandma?” she asked, in her wavering child’s voice.

And stopped.

And stared.

There was a wolf in her grandmother’s bed.

Turtle was not a stupid child. The wolf was clearly a wolf, even across the room, not anything else. He lay stretched across the blankets, as long as a human was tall, and he raised his great head and looked at her.

It was the same wolf from earlier. She was almost sure of it.

She did not scream. She did not run away. She most certainly did not say anything foolish about her grandmother having very large teeth, because she was not a sarcastic child by nature, and even if she had been, her heart was pounding very loudly in her ears and making it very hard to think.

“Oh,” she said, in a very small voice, and clutched the basket handle so hard that the wicker cut into her fingers.

“Turtle?” asked her grandmother. “Child, what are you doing here?”

Her grandmother sat up in bed. She had been lying next to the wolf, with her arms wrapped around his neck and her fact buried in his shoulder. Her voice was thick and raw and it did not occur to Turtle until much later that her grandmother had been crying.

“Mother told me to come and stay with you tonight,” said Turtle. “Um.” More explanation seemed to be needed, so she flapped her hand in the direction of the village. “My brothers…”

“Ah,” said her grandmother, with all the comprehension that one can pack into a single syllable. She pinched the bridge of her nose between her fingers. “It would have to be tonight, wouldn’t it?”

Turtle’s grandmother was not an old woman, not in the sense of being ancient and crooked down by the weight of years. They had children early in that part of the world, early and often. I would say that she was about sixty-five. The oldest part of her was her hands. Her hair had gone the color of iron. She was still handsome in a tall, haggard way, and there was never any problem with living alone. She hired men to chop her firewood, or dragged her grandsons out to do it, but that was her only concession to age, and the broad vegetable garden she weeded herself.

Grandmother swung her feet over the edge of the bed and said “Perhaps it would be better if you went home.”

Turtle fidgeted. She did not want to go home. The woods had frightened her a little, and the best thing she could hope for at the end of the return journey was yelling and brothers.

“If she goes now, she may meet him coming here,” said the wolf.

Grandmother inhaled sharply.

“Who?” asked Turtle.

Her grandmother fidgeted a patch of quilt between her fingers.

“The woodsman,” said the wolf, when it became obvious that the older woman would not answer.

“The woodsman?” asked Turtle, puzzled. “Which one?”

For there were woodsmen all through the land in that time, and none of them were precisely alike. They carried axes and cut down trees for houses, most of them, but they were also hunters and trappers and brought fur and pelts to trade, or wild mushrooms, or strange herbs. There was one woodsman who lived up in the hills—no one knew exactly where—who panned for gold in the streams and brought tiny vials of glittering dust to trade.

They were odd people. They were welcome in town, of course, and if land needed clearing, you sent out word and a half-dozen would show up with their great pitted axes, but they had territories rather than homes, and they wore furs instead of homespun.

“His name isn’t important,” said Grandmother. “I’d rather not…that is…oh, surely she can go home!”

The wolf, who had no name (wolves never do) said “She may do as she wishes, but I would not let a cub of mine go down that path tonight.”

“Perhaps he won’t come,” said Grandmother wretchedly.

“Then he will come tomorrow,” said the wolf, “or the next day. But I believe it will be tonight.” He heaved himself off the bed and paced toward the fire.

Turtle set down her basket, which was growing heavy, and put her hands on her hips, and said, in her very best grown-up voice, “I want to know what is going on!”

“Oh…oh, my dear…” Her grandmother fidgeted again. This was unusual. Her grandmother was not a fidgeter by nature, and she generally had little patience with maundering.

The wolf lay down. He did it all at once, with a great hwwuffff! and he took up a great deal of the cottage doing so.

Grandmother sighed. “Let us have tea. This will be easier with tea.” She got up, stepped around the wolf, and poured herself a very small drink from a small blue bottle on the mantle. She drank it.

Turtle tapped her foot. This did not look very much like tea.

“The woodsman came here earlier in the season,” said Grandmother, coughing a little on the contents of the bottle. She took down the kettle, shook it a little—water sloshed inside—and she set it on the pot-bellied stove to heat. “He offered to cut firewood for me, and I accepted. He would take no payment, but he seemed lonely, so when he stayed to talk to me, and came back sometimes for tea and to talk, I thought it was the least I could do.”

The wolf set his head on his paws. Turtle sat down on a little three-legged stool and hugged her knees.

“He seemed lonely,” Grandmother repeated. She got out two mugs for tea, gazed at the little blue bottle for a moment, then took a slug directly from it. “And odd, but many of the woodsmen are. They live such isolated lives. I thought—perhaps he had simply forgotten some of the social graces. And he said that people had been unkind to him. I felt sorry for him…”

Sarcasm is largely foreign to wolves, and completely unknown in dogs (although coyotes have a well-developed sense of it), but the sound the wolf made was very close.

“Yes, well,” said Grandmother. “I should have listened to you.”

“Yes, you should have,” said the wolf. It was a statement of fact that held no censure in it. “But you did not, and now we are here. Perhaps if you had listened, we would also be here. There is no counting the rabbits you did not catch.”

“He came more and more often,” said Grandmother, as the tea kettle began to wail.  “He wanted to talk more and more. It was not so strange, perhaps. But I was tired of listening to him, because he told all the same stories of people being unkind. It was exhausting to listen to. And he would do things around the house—little things, things I do not mind doing or do not want a stranger doing—and then would be angry when I asked him not to.”

“That’s odd,” said Turtle, hugging her knees. Chores were something you did, but getting mad because you didn’t have to do them was completely incomprehensible behavior.

Her grandmother shook her head and ran a hand through her iron gray hair. “He would act hurt. He said he didn’t want to be paid, that he was doing it because I was alone out here, and hadn’t he chopped my wood? And asked for nothing in return? It was all very tiring. It was easier to just let him patch the wall or hoe the vegetables than to listen to him complain about it.”

Turtle accepted her cup of tea and chalked this up to one more example of grown-ups being strange.

Her grandmother shrugged. “It is a long story, and it doesn’t reflect too well on me. I should have told him not to come here then. My friend here told me as much. But I felt sorry for him. And some of the things were so odd, it was hard to know how to react—he would get angry over such odd things—do you remember when you brought me those scones last week, dear?”

“They were cookies,” said Turtle.

“—and they were lovely,” said Grandmother, who was an accomplished liar about the important things. She investigated the blue bottle again, found it nearly empty, and grumbled. The wolf huffed a laugh.

“Well, never mind all that. It was too much. He had been here three days running, and the cucumbers needed pickling and I did not want him in the house again dredging up all those tales of past hurts. I told him to go away, that I was busy and needed time to myself to work. There is something very satisfying about pickling, isn’t there? You get the neat little rows of jars and wax seals and the house smells like dill and vinegar, and I know it’s not supposed to be a nice smell, but I rather like it.”

Turtle nodded vigorously. She loved pickles. Pickles were one of the great unrelenting good things in life, and the highest state that a cucumber, which was otherwise a rather wet and insipid vegetable, could aspire to.

“And he…well, he said a lot of things. Not nice things. I don’t know what he was expecting, but I wouldn’t take that kind of talk from your grandfather, so damned if I was taking it from some crazy woodsman who hung around the place like a puppy waiting for a kick. “ She gave an awkward little laugh into her tea. “I am old enough that I should have known better. If I had driven him off early on—well, maybe it wouldn’t have come to this. But I felt sorry for him. Stupid of me, but there you are.”

“Pity is a poor kin to mercy,” said the wolf.

“And what do wolves know of either?” snapped Grandmother, nudging the wolf with her foot.

“Of pity, very little,” said the wolf agreeably. “But of mercy we know much, particularly when it comes with teeth. That is what we are doing here tonight, is it not?”

Grandmother sighed. “I suppose.”

“What happens tonight?” asked Turtle, leaning forward on the stool.

Grandmother gazed into her tea.

“Tonight,” said the wolf, “I believe the woodsman is going to come to kill her. And we will kill him first, or not, as may be.”

 

——–

Yes, yes, there will be more. This is just first…err…chunk. There will be a part two at some point, and yes, it’s mostly written, don’t worry. But as I currently have no place to put short stories except to toss ’em up here, enjoy!

Pravda Speaks!

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, art4love.com was down, markyourspot.com was down, (although zombie versions were still be located) nobody was answering phones or e-mail, and much of the internet was hopping mad.

Today, I actually finally got an acknowledgment from Craig Pravda. This guy is A) the name on the paypal account of art4love, and B) shows up on a couple of other shady websites with Chad Love Lieberman, the dude who stole my art, other people’s art, rather foolishly Marvel and DC’s art…etc.

So Craig Pravda has a Google+ account. There is one public post on it. It is about seafood. For lack of any other contact option, I commented there, asking (quite politely, might I add!) about how I could reach Chad Love Lieberman.

Today, I actually got a reply. So far as I’ve heard, this is the first comment any of ’em have made that I’ve run across.

For those not on Google+, it says the following:

Thank you for alerting us,

We have been notified by Art4Love, the company that licensed us the images that they are removing the content that they have provided us and that they have sold their entire collection.

We apologize for any misrepresentations that Art4love or its executives have made about the ownership of their content. We will continue with the game MARK YOUR SPOT and work directly with any artists that want to form BRUNCH TEAMS in their area in the future.

You may contact Art4love at 877-266-5884 or [email protected]

Thank you
Don’t bother with the e-mail, it bounces instantly. The phone might work, I wouldn’t count on it.

I am most interested in the phrase “sold their entire collection.” As far as lies go (and I suspect this is one) this is so utterly the WRONG thing to say that you almost want to take the idiocy and frame it, like a little jewel.

If people are baying for your blood for selling their art without permission, telling them it’s okay, you’ve sold it all now is not the correct answer. It is the least correct answer. It is having someone run up yelling “OH GOD, I’M ON FIRE!” and saying “Oh! Don’t worry, I have matches!” It is someone thrashing on the floor with their throat closing gasping “…epi…pen….dying…” and attempting to open their airway by forcing peanuts into it. It is magnificently wrong.

Due to epic sleuthing by others, (check comments in some past blog posts) we have found all kinds of nifty heads on this hydra, and I am by no means the only one looking into it.

So this is how it stands. At least they know people want their blood, and have said something. On a post. About octopus salad.

The Sequence Of Events

So it kinda went down like this, in case the police ever ask.

First, my mom called.

My phone was in my pants. We had, however, moved to the No Pants Portion Of The Evening. (This is not a euphemism. I just detest pants and take them off around eight-ish, where I move to pajamas or yoga pants.) So the pants were on the dresser.

To reach my pants, which were now playing a merry tune and vibrating, I lunged off the bed and fumbled for said pants.

The phone, like a greased otter, slid out of the pocket, skidded across the dresser, and fell down behind it.

I flung myself over the top of the dresser and pressed my eye to the crack between dresser and wall, attempting to make out the name on the front. Had it been my agent, I would, of course, have torn the dresser from the wall with super-human strength, but it was my mother. I love my mother, but my agent makes me money.

I went into the stoffice to ask Kevin to help me move the dresser to get my phone back. (It’s a BIG dresser. With attached mirror and things.)

Kevin managed to pry the dresser away from the wall a few inches, but in order to reach the phone, he had to climb over a wingback chair wedged in the corner.

Behind the wingback chair is the domain of Cassie, a feral rescued cat that never did adapt to humans. (Her brother acclimated fine, so go figure.) Eventually we will need to sedate her and have her back shaved, owing to a growing mat there, but I keep hoping we’ll get her calmed down enough that I can get a brush to her, as she does allow me to pet her occasionally. But this is neither here nor there.

What happened when Kevin put his foot into Cassie’s realm was that the cat exploded. A black-and-white blur came over the back of the chair, launched off Kevin’s shoulder, knocked most of the contents of the nightstand to the ground, banked off the bedpost and went down the hallway in a streak of fur. Kevin fell backwards and narrowly missed being impaled on the somewhat ragged tail-spines of a largemouth bass that is stuck to the wall with a hand coming out of its mouth. (It’s art. Don’t ask. No, really, it’s attached to a canvas with block prints of naked women, so it’s totally art. I swear.)*

The cat tearing down the hallway set off the beagle, who lunged from under the bed after the cat, baying hysterically, which did nothing for the cat’s nerves. Cat and beagle streaked down the hallway. Cat made the turn successfully and went off down the steps. The beagle…did not.

Unfortunately, his failure to make the turn meant that he hit a litterbox. At that time, Benjamin T. Cat, undisputed ruler of the household, was in the litterbox, taking care of some fairly serious business, which meant that he was staring into the middle distance with an expression of vague concentration, and then a beagle hit him.

At this point, the beagle’s life was forfeit. There is really no getting around that fact. Even given my decided partiality for Ben, I must point out that no jury in the world could convict him.

For Kevin and I, trying to get to the phone, all we heard was “YAWP!” Then the beagle tried to snarl. Then he went “YAWWWWP!” again, somewhat more shrilly.

I poked my head down the hallway to see Ben, with a more-than-usually grim expression, sitting in the hallway, while the dog cowered in the doorway of one of the kids’ rooms.

The phone was retrieved, the dresser replaced, Ben stalked back to finish the business that he had been engaged in when he was So Rudely Interrupted, and I called the idiot dog to see what had happened. I was expecting a clawed nose, which is not terribly uncommon, although the beagle has learned in the last year or two not to screw around with Ben.

His nose was fine. He put his head in my lap and looked piteous and I told him he was a very stupid dog but we loved him anyway and somewhere around there I realized that my hand was covered in blood.

“Oh…crap…”

Ben had torn up the beagle’s ear. It was almost surgical–one claw, inserted in end of long floppy ear, one claw removed, beagle dealt with, and now back to the litterbox.

Like I said, no jury in the world…

It bled like crazy for a minute or two—head wounds and all—but wasn’t bad enough to require more than cleaning. Unfortunately the beagle did one of those floppy-eared headshakes, which meant that a spray of red went all over the carpet, my pajamas, the walls…

The carpet was trashed already, but I do not wish to spend the year until we lay out for a replacement walking on beagle splatter wounds, so we got down on our hands and knees—assisted by a helpful and worried beagle—scrubbing the stuff up.

Then I called my mother back. Then Kevin went down the hallway and cleaned up the drips.

So, y’know. If they ever ask about the blood splatter in the bedroom. That’s how it happened.

 

*Not MY art. Somebody’s else.

This Gets More And More Bizarre

My art, apparently as related to this “Art4Love” dude, was featured in an article about him.

The article is titled “New York Multimedia Pop Artist Insures His Own Nuts.”

(Boy, THAT was a take-down-my-art letter I didn’t expect to write today…)

If one chases the sock-puppet defending him on the article, it goes to http://www.officehomes.com/ where it kindly lists yet another phone number for Chad the multi-media artist. All the other numbers are either shunting directly to what I’ll guess is a very very full voice mail, but this one gets me a busy signal, so perhaps I’ll keep trying it.

Tsk, tsk. This thing’s like a hydra. You stomp five heads and there’s another one left…

 

ETA: Mad props to the staff at the Campus Socialite, who got back to me in under ten minutes and promised to pull everything and edit the article—they were just as outraged as you’d expect them to me. I’ve actually granted them permission to use the art with appropriate credit if it’ll help illustrate the issue (pun intended.)

Mostly Charmed Life

My life is too good, and it’s starting to scare me.

I can hear sympathy turning off all over the internet, so let me hasten to say that my life is awesome and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. That’s kinda the problem.

It’s going too well. I have moderate writing success, a boyfriend who is deeply and genuinely good, which sounds corny and really isn’t, and enough money in my bank account that I don’t need to worry about how to pay the electric bill, and believe me, if you grew up poor, that feels like vast and inconceivable wealth.

I find I am waiting for the hammer to fall.

It may be Catholic upbringing or a generally well-concealed pessimism, it may be a superstitious belief that the gods are jealous of too much happiness, it may be coping skills so well-honed that they are desperately seeking things to cope with, but I can’t help but feel that somewhere, surely, there must be a hammer. In the deep watches of the night, I wonder where it is, and whether I’ll see it coming, or whether I’ll just get an aneurysm and die on the toilet.

This has nothing to do with whether or not I deserve to be happy. Everybody deserves to be happy. Everybody deserves joy and peace and recognition. We don’t all get it. Life is full of things that nobody deserves, both good and bad. The fact that sometimes we get what we don’t deserve is hope and dread all at once.

And it has nothing to do with talent, which again, is as much a matter of life landing on the deserving and undeserving alike. There are people who couldn’t wordsmith their way out of a wet cardboard box who can light their cigars with hundred dollar bills. And there is someone out there right now with ten times my talent and none of my flaws, who is writing a book of miserable, shaky-eyed beauty, the sort of the book that makes you howl like a dog and gnaw on the covers, and when they are done, they will shove it in a drawer and twenty years from now, the executor of their estate will say “Hmm, old papers. Put it out by the curb.”

That’s just life. If you think about it too much, you won’t ever get anything done.

No, I think it’s a well-honed sense of narrative that makes me worry. When your life is wonderful, that’s not a story. That’s where the story starts, and it generally involves all that being taken away, and I start to hear a narrator somewhere in a made-for-TV movie trailer starting up with “SHE HAD EVERYTHING, UNTIL…”

What happens after that depends on the kind of movie, and also on my mood.

…UNTIL SHE GOT HORRIBLY ILL! (Life-affirming story of overcoming disease du jour, or possibly short, tragic plea for greater funding for disease du jour research. Hopefully not really heavy-handed life-affirming story of recovering from horrible brain injury and learning to paint again with a brush held in my eyelids, because Christ, I am not cut out for that.)

…UNTIL A DERANGED MURDERER TORE HER WORLD APART! (Movie version of Dean Koontz novel, in which case I will end it with a golden retriever and a working knowledge of firearms. Alternately, trailer for Saw 23: Saw vs. Predator vs. Leprechaun.)

…UNTIL IT TURNED OUT SHE WAS MARRIED TO A SERIAL KILLER/RUSSIAN SPY/STEPFORD ROBOT ALL ALONG! (While I would absolutely be the person going “No, honestly, I had no idea at all!” I will say that Kevin is doing one hell of a good acting job and has disposed of the bodies really really well, and also that the Stepford robots fart quite a lot in their sleep.)

…UNTIL CLOWN-FACED VELOCIRAPTOR CULTISTS FROM OUTER SPACE ATE HER HEAD! (Sci-Fi Channel is probably involved in this one, and as I have large breasts and cannot use a chainsaw, I am at least assured of being put out of my misery in the first twenty minutes, although my zombie body may come back in a suitably wet and badly ripped t-shirt to act as bait for the stupider members of the protagonist’s party.)

Well. It’s a high-class problem to have, as they say. The problem is that when things are good, and you’ve pretty much got everything you ever wanted—moderate success, a garden, love…I guess it’s probably normal to be afraid of it all going away.  And lord knows, life will probably generate enough suffering to keep me busy between now and my eventual possibly-velociraptor-assisted end, and I should stop worrying.

Still, it nags at me. Mostly at night. Worry is not so easily turned off merely by knowing that one should stop.

Go figure.