Regency Heroes 2


Henry Forster had the unfortunate condition of being a very large boy with a very gentle temperament.  While his cousins enjoyed sports and hunting, he found contentment in his mother’s vast library and was the favorite of his tutors.  His twin sister, Lily, though she shared much in the way of physical similarities, did not share his love for dusty knowledge.  No amount of cajoling or threats could induce her to remain indoors when she so desperately needed to be outside.  Her father bemoaned her ever being properly educated while her step-mother lamented only that the sun turned her so dreadfully brown.  The new Lady Forster was ever ready to coddle her step-children.  She had heard too many tales of wicked step-mothers to feel any sort of security in her present position and was only too aware that were it not for her handsome fortune she would have little to recommend herself in the ways of intelligence or skill.  So while she had no talent for art or music and was eminently stupid, at least she was kind.

Miss Forster had no great liking for her step-mother, conscious that the woman was barely ten years her senior as well as being dull and silly.  But she endeavored to be civil, if only because Lady Mary doted so genuinely upon the twins and was so humorously discomfited by Elinor’s presence.  It was perhaps cruel that she did nothing to alleviate that discomfort, but at least she was aware of that cruelty and mildly ashamed of it.

The twins, for their part, could not understand the coldness exhibited by their elder sister and loved Lady Mary with all the ardor of small children who have all their wishes acquiesced by someone who should be controlling their behavior.  So it was that Henry was allowed to neglect his physical education while Lily was allowed to wander the grounds without escort and often (to Elinor’s horror) without shoes.

“Lily, I shan’t speak with you like this.  Civilized persons do not converse from trees.”  Lily was in her mother’s tree, which had grown to be a great oak over the last ten years.  Since she could walk, she had been drawn to the clearing and her first clear utterance was concerning its origins.  The bark, though strangely smooth, still bore three scars on the trunk which looked very nearly like the hand prints of a small child and two infants.

“I don’t see why you cannot join me.  If I can get Henry to read outside, surely I can tempt you to greater heights,” she called from among the branches, her bare legs dangling carelessly.  Henry looked abashed and hid behind his ornithology text.  He had never been tempted to the heights of those branches, but he did admit to a certain comfort in reading at its base.

“You know very well how inappropriate it would be for a lady of my standing to behave like such a buffoon.  You continue this way and the whole village will think the faeries exchanged my sister for an ape.”  Both twins blushed at this remark, Henry in embarrassment and Lily with anger.  Elinor immediately regretted the insult.  It was said in temper by the spiteful part of her which knew exactly the best way to cause the most harm.

“Well, if I am the changeling chimp of your real sister, then perhaps I should start acting like it.  Henry, fetch me some manure.  I am certain I have a strong desire to fling it at unsuspecting ladies.”  Henry did his utmost to disappear into the trunk of the tree.

“Oh, Lily!”  A dozen threats skittered through Elinor’s mind.  Why was she given such an unruly sister?  What would happen to the twins without her to give them some semblance of order?  With that thought, her anger dissipated and she was left only with the deep melancholy with which she had set out to find her siblings.  “Lily, please.  I have some news and I would like very much to speak of it with dignity, not scream it into foliage.”  Lily responded with ape-like shrieks and some rude noises, so Elinor placed one slim hand on the tree trunk and asked her mother to dislodge her troublesome sister.  Moments later, Lily found herself unceremoniously tossed to the ground next to her brother.  Henry, seeing the resigned set of Elinor’s shoulders, reverently put down his book and draped a massive arm over Lily’s shoulder to keep her from scurrying off again.  Lily resigned herself to sulking.

Elinor paced from one side of the small clearing to the other.  Now that it had come to it, she couldn’t quite bring herself to blurt out what she had come to say.  She really wished the twins had found some place less personal to seclude themselves.  For all that she didn’t want to tell the twins, she was especially reticent for this news to reach her mother.

You are lucky, dear Elinor.  You are the eldest, yes, but you are not the heir.  I married out of duty.  Fond of your father as I have become, our wedding was the bitterest of days because my heart felt nothing for the stranger I was joined to.  You have no duty to this house but to leave it.  They will tell you to marry well and I urge you to do so by marrying him to whom you may give your heart.  You have no other duty.  To do less would break my heart.

“I’m to be married to Lord Riverton twelve months hence.”  The admission gave her no relief, only adding to the oppression she felt with her father’s announcement.

“But…Nathan is only twelve this year,” said Henry slowly.

“Good God, you can’t mean Old Riverton?” exclaimed Lily with undisguised revulsion.  “Why, he’s older than father!”

Elinor colored at this remark.  “Lord Riverton is a very fine gentleman and father says it is a most desirable match for me.  I have little enough to offer a suitor.”

“But you cannot seriously accept that old man as your husband.  He’ll be dead and buried before an heir is born.”  Elinor was shocked so utterly by this inappropriate statement that all manner of composure was forgotten.

“Fortuitously, as Henry pointed out, there is already an heir to the title.  I, at least, am not only a broodmare to carry on the family affliction!”  The words passed her lips with no input from years of genteel upbringing, or she never would have uttered them.  Lily’s face paled, but instead of lashing out, she shook off her brother’s arm and dashed further into the forest in a flash of copper curls.  There would be no finding her now.  The trees would hide the girl until she chose to come home.  Without the least concern for her skirts, Elinor sat on the grass with a heavy sigh.

“Wish you wouldn’t fight,” Henry moaned into his chest.

“I know.”  Silence but for the chirping of some songbirds and the clicking of insects.  “I’m nearly seventeen, Henry.  This is the only offer I may ever get.  I have no fortune and I have no gifts.”  She hesitated to share her full reasoning with her brother.  It might hurt him, yet she could not leave him with only the impression that she sought only security and fortune in this arrangement.  “Young Nathan has taken the iron testing* and shown great promise, so there is no pressure for me to provide an heir, as I said.  Can you understand the fear this alleviates?  I have lived in terror of the birthing room my whole childhood.  Thrice did I watch my mother suffer through it, each time more painful and more prolonged.  Last of all I watched the iron take her to madness.  I heard my gentle mother, who never raised her voice or spoke a harsh word, ranting and shrieking as I lay in bed in the dark.  And after all the screaming and pain, when it was over, she was a stranger to me, the life drawn out of her into those hated bracelets.”  She wiped her face with a kerchief.  “At least Lord Riverton is kind.”

To this, Henry had no reply.  He had always been in awe of his sister, who had seemed like an adult from his earliest memories.  She had acted as their mother in a way that nursemaids and tutors could not.  While she and Lily were constantly at odds, he had every confidence that Elinor always acted for their betterment.  To see her so resigned, so helpless, so defeated by her circumstance suddenly made him feel much older.

“He does have a nice estate.  A very fine library, I understand,” he ventured at length.  To this she smiled, acknowledging that from him it was high praise indeed.  It was only when she smiled that Elinor took on the visage of her mother, the only one of her children to take after her in looks.  Henry and Lily both took after their father in figure, though only Henry has his blonde hair and brown eyes.  Lily’s eyes are a shocking shade of emerald like her mother’s, an early indicator that she inherited her mother’s power.

“Nanny approves.”

“Next time, I suggest you start with that information.  Lily is always more amenable to Nanny’s opinions.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Super Heroes, Misc Short Stories

Regency Heroes


It was with mild trepidation that Lady Jonathan Forster entered her confinement.  This was only to be expected, as it was her fourth time since turning twenty and only her seven-year-old daughter Miss Elinor Forster yet lived.  Still, the pregnancy itself had been far easier than the first three to reach term and she had the advantage of the services of the village midwife, a witch universally called Nanny Winston, though she was barely older than Lady Forster herself.  Since taking the position of village witch last spring, the whole county had benefited from her talents, bringing an unprecedented amount of successful births, an ease of common maladies, and far fewer cases of mortal illness.

Nanny’s greatest contribution to birthings was to disabuse the public of many practices that she considered detrimental to the health and safety of both mother and infant.  So rather than being enclosed in a dark room made sweltering by a blazing fire and sealed windows, Lady Forster’s room was filled with sunlight and fresh air.  She was made to bathe every day in hot water, as was her lady’s maid (the only person besides Nanny herself permitted into the room).  In only one circumstance was she in conflict with Lady Forster.

Nanny insists that I need not wear the iron bracelets, not even during the ordeal itself.  She claims that she has borne the process with women of all manner of gifts, yet I cannot imagine any of them had a condition as severe as mine.  I cannot risk my child or the estate on the hope that a woman’s protective instinct will prove stronger than my affliction.

So when Lady Forster entered her confinement, it was the blacksmith who welcomed her with two bands of iron an inch wide and one-quarter of an inch thick, the seams of which were carefully welded together once they encircled the lady’s thin wrists.  She tested their strength and made sure that no amount of contortion could slide them passed her delicate hands.  Nanny looked on with disapproval, but said nothing.  There could be no harm in this tradition except its perpetuating the innate destructive nature of a woman’s power.  Lord Forster was assured that his wife and child were in the best hands and then firmly dismissed from the room.

After a week, Nanny began to note an increasing degree of agitation in her patient.  The lady paced as much as she could, being unwilling or unable to sit still for any of the restful activities Nanny suggested.  No book could hold her attention and embroidery was swiftly abandoned as well.  At night, the lady could find no rest, spending the whole of it shifting about as though the mattress was full of itchy hay.  Nanny also noted that the lady’s hands were in constant contact with the bracelets, spinning and twisting the bands until they left her wrists positively raw.  Nanny would have liked to pack the soft skin with a soothing poultice but the iron was to close to leave room for such a remedy and the lady refused any binding that would cover the iron seeming positively alarmed to have the iron thus bound tight to her arms.

Lady Forster was barely aware of her outward behavior and certainly took no note of Nanny’s concern.  All she knew was that the child must come soon.  From the moment the iron had touched her skin she had felt its effect, drawing her affliction into itself.  The sensation was abhorrent, like the onset of a wasting sickness, though she knew the necessity.  Her condition had been under her control since she was a young child, but it could be brought out by severe physical or emotional duress.  At the age of twelve, she had learned this to her horror when bandits had set upon her family’s carriage in town and her father had been shot.  Very little of the bandits had been recovered for burial and it was only through the intervention of her uncle that she was left unbanded* as the law would normally require for girls with such strong gifts.

However, accepting the necessity of the bracelets made them no less easy to bear.

Each day that passes  takes me further from myself.  I feel cut off from the earth, caged in my own flesh.  I begin to imagine the iron no longer draws my power so much as it invades my temple.  What once was a mere irritations now burns.  I see the hellish glow of the bands when my eyes close and feel the poison seep into my skin.

By the second week, it was clear to Nanny that Lady Forster was not, as she had been made to believe, the secondary strength of the estate.  The lady was the Seat of Power and true heir.  Her husband was heir in name only, a distant cousin chosen for convenience to act as figurehead.  Lady Forster’s uncle, who had been chosen as Seat over his elder brother because he had inherited the family gifts, would have named his niece heir if the law had permitted, but was forced instead to name his cousin John on the condition that he marry his niece.  Lady Forster was a vessel of terrible power and as such bore a greater sensitivity to iron than Nanny had ever witnessed.  Her pacing was an expression of her natural desire to flee the iron as a threat.  While her body was weakened daily by continued contact her mind worked ceaselessly to fight the attack against her.

Nanny wanted very much to insist on the removal of the bands, yet for the first time, she was unsure of herself.  Her gift gave her a natural affinity for the health of her patients.  Before her was a gentlewoman of no small ability and the knowledge of her strength made Nanny nervous.  Though she had often argued that a gifted woman would be incapable of destructive outbursts during labor, seeing Lady Forster’s increasingly agitated state made her wonder.  And no amount of subtle arguments against the bands could make the lady waver on her belief that the bands were all that could keep everyone safe from her power.  After a particularly bad night where the lady had left bloody gouges in her wrists from her unconscious scratching, Nanny made sure to trim her nails short and eventually insisted the lady wear gloves to bed.

Nanny looks grimly on my bracelets.  As if she could possibly comprehend how dangerous I would be without them.  Her hearth skills are nothing but a shadow of what I am.  My body hates the poison upon my wrists, yet my mind knows that without them I could kill them all.  Even my sweet Elinor.  This is no gift, as she calls it.  It is my affliction which I live with as is my duty in the hopes that I may pass it on to a son who may be strong enough to wield it.

Three weeks into her confinement, the flowers in the room died all at once.  This decided Nanny against removing the bracelets.  Here was a clear sign that the lady still had unconscious access to her abilities, which had either been keeping the flowers fresh or had killed them out of spite.  Lady Forster no longer spent all her time pacing, though she still had no concentration for any diversions.  She would lounge on the chaise for hours, staring at nothing with her fingers feverishly spun the bands on her raw wrists.

I have insisted that the windows be closed against the fresh air, which has become a torment to me.  It no longer sings as it once did, sweet melodies at ease with my soul.  The melody is wrong, jarring, grating against me because I am separated from it.  The iron turns sweet music into screams of agony.  When I dream, it is of shrieking children locked in iron cages.  Iron thickens my blood so I cannot move for the lethargy in my veins.  Send for the leechman that he may draw the iron from my heart and serve it to the blacksmith for nails.

In the fourth week, the grounds about the house began to sicken as though fall had come half a year too soon.  Even the sheep, pigs, and horses who resided on the grounds took ill.  Nanny insisted that the house be emptied of all living creatures, even the servants.  This was done with alacrity, the entire household packed off for town while the field hands transported the livestock and domestics to nearby farms for the time being.  Only Lord Forster and his daughter were permitted to remain with Nanny.  When the time came, against all tradition, Lord Forster acted as aid to the midwife while Elinor was instructed to play at the pianoforte which had been moved to the hall directly outside the birthing room.  Lady Forster, whose distress had increased exponentially since the pains had started, begged for the music as the only cure for her nerves.  As soon as Elinor began her exercises, the lady had calmed considerably.

It was only when Nanny began her physical examinations of her patient that she realized how badly she had misjudged the situation.  Lady Forster’s skin was hot and dry, her breathing unsteady, her heart fluttering, and her eyes saw little.  Nanny’s gift to naturally sense and ease the duress of her patients was actively being blocked by the iron.  She was no better than a mundane midwife.  There was a spike of fear at being so robbed of the power she had come to rely upon, but she was a witch.  It is not power the that makes a good witch.  It is strength of will and mind.  It was too late to remove the bands, certainly too late to save Lady Forster, but the child would survive.

It was only a short time from when the pains started that a baby girl was born to only mild disappointment.  Though she was eminently healthy, a boy was always preferred.  Moments later to the astonishment of even the midwife, a rather small spindly boy was born.  It took some minutes of work, but Nanny convinced him to breathe on his own and pronounced him healthy.  As she turned to help Lady Forster finish, it became apparent that the lady would need no further care except to close her eyes.

The blacksmith was the first to be summoned to remove the iron bands.  The rest of the household was quick to return and nursemaids were easily attained from the village.  It was with a somber air that Lady Forster was laid to rest that evening.  The procession followed a well-tended though little used path into the forest, past trees that bore no crude carvings and forest creatures with no fear of man.  Once under the verdant canopy, the air took on the brisk freshness of the first frost.  Faerie lights twinkled on either side of the path, but no one was foolish enough to follow them.  Lord Forster led the procession, marking his steps with a weathered staff of smooth wood, blackened by generations of hands.  Nanny brought up the rear with a basket of protective herbs.

The clearing was only large enough for the grieving family to stand around the edges, so the village stood about under the trees.  The Milky Way was a thick ribbon arching over the little clearing so uncounted stars witnessed Lady Forster’s return to the earth.  In silence, Lord Forster and the blacksmith dug the grave, gently lay the silk-wrapped body in the dark earth, and covered her again.  Lord Forster took Miss Forster’s hand and pressed it to the fresh dirt, then did the same with each of the twins so that each left a definite print mere feet above their mother’s face.  Nanny spread the flowers and herbs from her basket around the grave and without any outward cue the entire procession left.  Before the forest was long empty of the people, a strong sapling had grown up from grave with three knolls on the bark which looked very like the hand prints of three small children.
*When a person was deemed to have abilities too strong to control or has used said abilities to commit a serious crime, the person is banded (given permanent bands of iron which encircle the wrists and ankles).  This procedure was often done on females once their abilities presented because it was believed women were physically incapable of ever gaining control.

Leave a comment

Filed under Misc Short Stories, Super Heroes

PSA


Stop asking me how I’m doing/feeling.  As sincere as you might be in your concern, you don’t really want to know because it’s complicated and depressing and there’s nothing you can do except maybe stop drawing attention to my less-than-ideal situation.  In general, I am fine.  Obviously, I could be better.

Other ways to help:

Answer my texts.

Show up when I invite you over.

If you can’t make it, let me know.

Eat my food.

Also, if you are in need of a movie buddy, I am accepting applications.

 

Leave a comment

15AM00000062011 · 06:42

Endings


There is blood on my carpet. Again.
It’s the cheap, off-white carpet I hated the moment we stepped into this shabby townhouse. Neutral in color to appease house-hunters, but quick to turn dingy and a magnet for stains. The coarse texture is poor relief after fourteen hours of standing behind a desk and dealing with the ceaseless barrage of human indignity.
Night descends when I close the front door, but I don’t wait for my eyes to adjust, trusting memory to get me from the front door up the narrow steps to our tiny bedroom. No reason to turn on the lights and risk waking you at (oh, my) 3:48 am. So I kick off my rubber-soled shoes and tread softly until cold seeps up through my sock. My hand fumbles blindly for the light switch at the bottom of the stairs and there it is. A bloody boot print. There’s another, and another traipsing up the stairs, the distance between prints indicative of you recklessly skipping steps in your hurry to, what? Reach the bathroom first aid kit? Leave as few prints as possible so as not to infuriate me?  You could have at least dropped your boots at the backdoor.
I consider following the trail to its source, perhaps to find an innocent explanation. Like maybe an overturned beet smoothie or a severed finger on the cutting board.  I consider heading to the kitchen for the matches and setting fire to the hated carpet, which you swore would be ripped out the day we moved in. It’s an easy fix, you said. You promised me hardwood and tile, yet all I have to show for it is more bloodstains that never come out no matter how much I scrub or how many times I borrow that carpet-shampooing vacuum from the creepy land lady. I tell our friends that it’s red wine, or I used to when we still had friends. They stopped hanging out when I started drinking red wine to make my lie plausible and you kept ditching early and leaving me to explain, all because of your habit.  It’s job stress, you know.  Or the roller derby league.  I think the last time I swore you were trying out for a water polo team.
I lean against the staircase wall and peel off my crimsoned sock. At least bloodstains on clothing are something I can handle, as well as vomit, feces, and other unmentionable fluids. Ascending the stairs, I strip off my scrubs and try to mellow my anger by focusing on how physically weary I am. Each step sends a sizzle of white heat over my thighs, down my calves, and right into my aching feet. I swear, like I do after every long shift, that I’m going to buy good shoes and get serious insoles for my poor arches. I have a brief fantasy about dancing about the ER on gelled insoles made by a qualified doctor. At the top of the stairs, I limply toss my shirt into the open maw of the washing machine in the laundry closet, feeling only a little remorse for the horrors the My Little Ponies decorating it had to bear witness to. With less finesse, I divest myself of the matching pants and the socks, then turn on the water, add the requisite laundry soap, and drop the lid with a satisfying clang that is echoed by the empty dryer. I no longer care if I wake you. Those who dare to bleed on my floors and don’t even attempt to clean it up are not worthy of that small courtesy.
There is no friendly glow from your phone as it sits on its charger. This is not surprising since you are always forgetting to plug it in. I stalk stiffly to the bathroom to wash off today’s grime. Scrub under my nails, brush my teeth, wash my face, let you stew for a bit since you must know I’m tired and angry, but you can’t be sure which is the stronger motivator. At last, I decide I am calm enough to shame you without yelling or bursting into tears. My shadow from the bathroom light falls on the bed so I can’t really see your face, but your open eyes glint at me.

“This has to stop,” I say, and the sheer exhaustion in my voice is surprising. “We had a deal. I stop my habit, you stop yours. I know it’s important to you, I do. But I’m just tired of having this fight.” Seems like we have it every night. It starts with the carpet. Then it slithers onto unfinished projects, money problems, the failed adoption, and always at the root of it is your dangerous addiction. Broken promises and abandoned dreams.  Everything goes on the back-burner, like your physical training studio you were going to create in the screened-in porch. Four years here and instead we have a half-painted porch with the screens still falling out and crowded with boxes we never unpacked.

I sit down on my side of the bed. “I don’t want to fight. I want to sleep and not dream about everything I saw today.” The school bus accident was the worst. Because of that, I instinctively reach out to hold your hand, illuminated by the bathroom fluorescent light. It is wet and sticky and limp and the smell of blood suddenly clogs my nose. I’m so used to it at the hospital that I completely tuned it out. The little reading lamp on my bedside almost crashes to the floor in my rush to turn it on. Oh no.

The sheets are ruined, cut into strips and wrapped around various injuries on your limbs and torso. I immediately check your vitals, getting a weakened but steady pulse at your carotid artery and shallow, regular breathing. Nurse-mode activated, I examine every inch of you top to bottom, stripping off clothing as gingerly as I can. I leave it where it sticks and use your Kabar to cut away what I can. Your boots prove the most difficult, being heavy construction steel-toes spray-painted black. I know it hurts, but you don’t scream and that scares me more than anything. There’s no pulse at your ankles. Your feet are stone cold.
Somewhere, deep in my stomach is a whine of panic while I rush around turning on lights and getting the serious first aid kit from my car trunk. There is a lot of blood, but most of the bleeding has stopped already. You’re covered in bruises but no bad breaks, not even in your ribs thanks to the body armor I make you wear. Most of the cuts are shallow or at least missed major arteries. I’m unspeakably grateful for all the practice I’ve had stitching you up over the years as it takes mere moments to close the more serious lacerations.  I try not to think about how much more helpful I could be if I hadn’t tapped out my strength on that school bus.

Everything which can be treated by my kit is cleaned and bandaged before I take a full breath again. I kneel by your head and gently touch your shoulder to get your attention. Your dark brown eyes are glazed with agony and your jaw is swollen and crooked, probably dislocated, yet you still try to smile. “Stop that, idiot,” I admonish softly. I cannot, will not cry. “Now, I’ve done all I can.” Dexterous fingers, so practiced at stitches, easily untie your black domino mask and drop it to the carpet. I stroke your hair, ebony black and only a couple of inches long, the tight curls springy against my palm. “I need to call an ambulance. You need x-rays at the very least, probably a CAT scan, maybe even an MRI.” You clearly want to argue. “Can’t argue with a dislocated jaw, hon. Nor can you run off when you can’t move your legs.”  Your eyes widen in panic.  Must not have noticed when you lost feeling down there.  “I don’t know what you got into tonight, but whatever bad guys you fought were clearly above your fighting weight.”

Speed dial quickly gets me connected to the head nurse on duty. “Lola? Yeah, it’s Constance. I need an ambulance. No I’m fine. It’s Sam. I’ve stopped the bleeding, but she’s in bad shape. Dislocated jaw and left shoulder, possible spinal injury, no broken bones that I could find but she could have any number of fractures. Could you send Kali? Tell her to be discrete, no sirens. Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”  Discretion would be key.  I could trust Lola and Kali not to run to the Council liaison about any suspicious injuries.  Plus, it’s a full moon so the rest of the staff should be too busy to notice you.
“Don’t give me that look. You got yourself into this.” Again, I want to say. This is the worst time, yes, but this isn’t the first time you’ve been under my professional care.  “We’ll tell them it was a mugging on your way home. You fought back of course, but there were too many of them and your phone got smashed in the process. You only barely made it home.” There’s a catch in my voice because it’s clear in your face just how close to the truth my story is. You saw someone in trouble and, death-seeking fool that you are, you donned your little mask and ran to help. Never mind that your talent is laughably weak and completely unsuitable for crime fighting, or that, since you aren’t certified by the Council, it is a criminal act for you to do so.
If you were certified, you would have health coverage for this kind of thing, not to mention state-of-the-art facilities and teams of people whose entire purpose is to monitor your health so that you don’t almost die in your own bed all alone.  Since you aren’t certified, you are a Vigilante, which is punishable by death because untrained heroes get innocent people killed.  They don’t even have to give you a trial, just send in the Alpha to snap your neck and make a lesson of you.
Something hot and wet hits the back of my hand, which is clutching the dumb little mask so hard I’m shaking. Hastily, I brush away the tears stinging my eyes, but they won’t go away. The adrenaline that got me through the last hour has turned against me and I feel sick and flushed. I bolt from the room, down the stairs, and out the front door. Crying bursts out in painful gasps, choking me as I pace helplessly under the yellow porch light. Deep breaths, in and out, but then there’s your face, too still with glazed eyes and blood everywhere and I just can’t.
Mask still in hand, I storm through the dark living room to the galley kitchen, flicking on lights as I go. The matches are right where I always keep them. Then it’s out the back door, through the crowded back porch and down the rickety steps to the cheap tin fire pit we got at that yard sale when we still had dreams of barbeques and lawn parties. I douse the mask in a little lighter fluid and watch grimly as the flames consume it. Tires in the driveway have me running back to the front door where a sprightly blonde elf-girl and her burly partner are already hefting the gurney up the steps.

They follow me up the stairs and we carefully load you up. I hold your hand all the way to the hospital and hope feverishly that the Council has better things to look into than one little Vigilante with a dislocated jaw.

 

Now that you know how it ends, let’s go back to the beginning.

Leave a comment

Filed under Misc Short Stories, Super Heroes

Zombies


It has recently come to my attention that zombies are the dumbest of the undead creatures and that people who indulge in zombie apocalypse hypotheticals are less than what Darwin might consider prime breeding material.

This was the essence of an angry rant that was posted in the comment feed after I posted the results of a quiz that ensured me that it could tell just from looking at my Facebook page how far I would travel, how long I would last, and what would get me killed in the event of a zombie apocalypse (Yorktown to Golden Gate, CA, 12 days, faulty shoelace).  Now, I take a lot of those dumb quizzes, primarily to ascertain how wrong they can be about me, but I usually don’t post results.  Why?  Because the results are often embarrassingly wrong.  Like, how could my “book husband” be anyone besides Mr. Darcy?  The quizzes are dumb, frequently easily manipulated to get the answers I want or far too simplistic to be trustworthy.  How exactly can they know what my dream life is based on 10 questions?  Especially when 5 of the questions are about my favorite color, my “spirit animal,” or my favorite way to spend a rainy day.  I mean, dumb.  But they take up my time, of which I have a lot, and they keep me entertained to a degree.  They also act as a platform for discussions on interesting subjects.  Which is why I posted the zombie quiz results.  I have pretty set ideas of my apocalypse strategy and it in no way involves a crosscountry trek or faulty shoelaces.  It was fun seeing people’s responses, especially from those who also took the quiz for equally bizarre results.  It was an intellectual exercise, which was ruined a bit when someone decided we were being serious.  There was some trolling and I had to dress down the troll, which took some time and effort, but which was certainly better than name-calling.  But it got me thinking, mostly because the troll’s argument was pretty weak, but his overall point was relatively valid if poorly defended.  And since I’ve done posts on vampires and werewolves, it seemed only right for me to complete the horror trinity.

First things first, we need to define our zombies.  Like all monsters, they have evolved over time.  I haven’t done much deep research into  the origins, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I know of general knowledge, zombies started out in voodoo (probably far earlier, though) and they were primarily individuals risen by a powerful magic practitioner to be slaves.  I have read some versions where they are used as assassins, essentially given the name of a person whom they will tirelessly hunt down.  Once they have your name, there is no escape.  You could call it an allegory for the inevitability of death.

This is a far cry from modern zombie interpretations, except for the undead bit.  Modern zombies are more frequently the results of a disease and, of the undead trinity, have the least to do with supernatural forces.  This might explain their general appeal for hypotheticals.  Vampires and werewolves are steeped in mystical lore, but zombies are more and more scientifically explainable.  There is even some scientific basis for the original zombies (something to do with a neurotoxin n a plant or animal that can induce a zombie-like trance in living people).  Furthermore, while vampires and werewolves are popular, they aren’t good vehicles for apocalypse theorizing because they rarely come in the form of a pandemic, which is a genuine concern.  Just look at the panics we had about Ebola, bird flu, and AIDS.  The Zombie Apocalypse is the Black Plague of the modern age.  Here you have a disease which has no known cure, is extremely virulent, and the corpses are just as dangerous as the live carriers.  Plagues have a long history of being how population levels are reduced when they get too high, so as the planet gets more and more crowded, the basic anxiety about such acts of God become more  and more realistic.  Furthermore, in cases where the virus is man-made, zombies represent the dangers of scientific hubris.  Someone is trying to play God to a disastrous result.  So zombies are a very thorough representation of the conflict between science and religion, while vampires and werewolves are more indicative of the conflict between emotion/instinct and civilization.  Zombies are our modern Prometheus tale.  Which says a lot  about our society.  In every zombie story, there is a moment where the protagonist sees someone they care about turn from a rational, thinking person into a mindless monster.  This is something we can all relate to, right?  Any time a friend or family member succumbs to addiction or mental illness, we stand by and watch, feeling helpless.  When the victim is someone you know, you can instantly empathize.  If it isn’t a stranger, then it could be you.  Just think back again to the Ebola outbreak, which no one gave two figs about until some of the victims came here for treatment.  Suddenly, it wasn’t a disease in some faraway place.  It was on our soil and that much closer to being in our homes.  Panic.

Psychologically, zombies are an interesting subject.  The people who tend to get pulled into zombie stories are not your typical heroes.  There isn’t a Van Helsing leading the charge against an evil foe.  It’s usually just people running for their lives, trying to survive.  So the story isn’t about the monsters at all; it’s about how ordinary people handle crises.  The whole reason I watch The Walking Dead is because it isn’t really about zombies.  Yeah, they’re there, and it gets gory and violent.  Still, the journey and struggle of the humans is why I keep watching.  And World War Z (the book, DEFINITELY NOT the movie) is fascinating because it goes so far beyond the initial crisis which is usually the whole scope of the movies.  This is the plot of a standard zombie story: Group of people at the beginning of the outbreak running for their lives and either getting overrun or getting rescued by the military or something.  It stays on a very individual level to make the peril seem more immediate.  But TWD and WWZ both look at the further implications of an outbreak on the civilized world.

So, yeah, zombies are popular for good reasons.  But like all monsters, there are serious flaws in their mythos.  The first and most immediate issue is that they are actively decaying monsters.  It adds to the gruesomeness, sure, but also to the improbability of them as a serious threat for long.  I mean, how could they be that dangerous against whole, healthy people with full use of their limbs and fully functioning brains?  Well, numbers help.  That’s a major factor in every zombie story.  The living have limited resources and have to do things like eat and sleep, while zombies tend to keep going without either for long periods of time.  It’s the classic race between the tortoise and the hare.  The hare loses, though he is the faster animal, merely because the tortoise just keeps going.  Zombies have no higher brain function so they are driven by base instinct.  Nothing else matters, not pain nor exhaustion nor severed limbs.  And they will continue to be driven until the brain is destroyed, regardless of origins.  Even though scientific zombies still need some form of body to function, as long as the brain is functioning, they are driven until the body is burned out completely.  Zombies are obsession, the meth addicts of the undead.  Which is why it doesn’t actually matter if they are “fast” or “slow” zombies.  It isn’t really the speed or numbers that make them effective.  It’s the inevitability.

Still, as decaying monsters, that draws the question of the outbreak itself.  In many older stories, the zombies all rise from their graves (this is most often a mystical rather than scientific outbreak).  Now, this is very gross and creepy, but seems to imply that zombies have super strength since they are able to not only escape from their coffins but up through six feet (at least) of packed dirt.  Now, there is some validity to this argument, which is probably why modern stories are skipping graveyards entirely, but it does speak to a degree of ignorance about coffins.  Yes, we build them out of steel as well as wood but trends are leaning more toward environmentally friendly coffins which decompose with the body, so they’re not impregnable.  Moreover, as stated above, zombies are driven by base instinct, not higher brain function.  This doesn’t give them super strength, per se.  It’s more like the strength a normal person can get under a surge of adrenaline.  And since they don’t feel pain, any injury incurred while escaping the coffin that would cripple a normal person is simply shrugged off.  And, since this kind of outbreak is more likely of mystical origins, the bodies are not being operated by muscles and sinew but by willpower.  Regardless of how far the body is decomposed, if some of it is left it will strive to reach the surface.  That’s not to say there wouldn’t be a bunch of bodies stuck below, just that the assumption that none of them would make it is based on the strength of coffins is a weak argument.  The freshly dead, at least, would surely make it because they are the most intact and the dirt least packed.  Also, there is the question of people not buried properly.  I imagine the desert around Vegas would be swarming with victims of the mafia.  And finally, escaping from the grave is, if not an easy feat, then at least a probable means of survival for people in movies (think Kill Bill Vol. 2).  Right, that’s in movies, but if we were talking about reality, the topic wouldn’t be zombies, would it?  To be fair, though, the super strength does not seem to be limited to escaping the grave.  Zombies are capable of ripping a living body apart with their bare hands.  Usually this is seen when an individual is mobbed by a horde of undead (so strength in numbers), but individual zombies are apparently just as capable of detaching limbs by just pulling and biting though just about anything wrapped in flesh.  Part of this can be attributed to that “adrenaline” strength, however mostly this is movie magic bringing the expected gore.  Humans are no longer equipped to be carnivores and it takes more than brute strength to accomplish a dismemberment.  Without sharper teeth and claws, it is unlikely that they could be so very effective at this particular feat.

When the source is viral or scientific instead of mystical, coffins aren’t really a problem at all.  Most people aren’t buried immediately after death.  It takes a couple of days, which is more than enough time for someone to “turn” by most sources.  According to WWZ the movie, it takes 10 seconds from being bit to turn, but only if you don’t cut off the bitten limb in less than that.  TWD clocks it at no more than 2 hours from death of the host.  This is about the standard for the zombie films I’ve seen.  It takes an indeterminate amount of time for the infection to kill the host, but turning is within hours and even minutes of death.  This helps to explain the swiftness of the outbreak to some degree, but isn’t fully satisfying to me.  See, even in cases of normal diseases, the outbreak needs just the right conditions to spread as fast as zombie outbreaks do (usually from a single case to global pandemic in a matter of days).  The virulence of zombie-ism is mostly an expression of fears, like globalization and the dangers there of, but isn’t all that realistic, especially if you consider how obvious the symptoms would be.  Yes, some people would be able to hide bites for a time, but it’s not a disease that spreads before symptoms are apparent.  The worst diseases are spread through the air before anyone even knows they’re sick, so the fact that the zombie host has to die to become an active vector is a bit of a drawback.  AIDS is a far more effective disease and, while it is still a big problem, it didn’t take over the world despite years of free reign on society.  I mean, it passes the same way as zombies (usually interpreted as an infection via bodily fluids like saliva and blood, with the bite being just the most likely means of transmittance), but the initial spread happened because people didn’t have symptoms until later stages (HIV-positive to full-blown AIDS).  This simply can’t happen with zombies.  Even in cases when the infection has symptoms like fever, hallucination, etc, the person is not contagious until they die.  Plus, the point of plague is more than just population control.  The Black Plague in the 1340’s wiped out an estimated 3rd of the population and is the major reason civilization moved from the Dark Ages into the Enlightenment/Renaissance.  Besides having a major effect on how man viewed the world and how society was shaped, it did what all plagues do in nature: it made a stronger herd made up of survivors.  It wasn’t deadly to everyone, after all.  Despite how quickly it spread and the lack of medical understanding of the cause, some people were naturally immune.  Those capable of surviving or remaining immune to infection passed on their genes to the next generation.  Standard survival of the fittest.  Logically, the zombie disease would have the same natural drive and some people would be immune.  This is never the case in the movies, though this could be because the disease is most often a man-made one rather than something brought on by nature.  Again, this is evidence that a zombie outbreak is based solely on fear rather than real science.  The only source that seems to find a loophole is TWD.  If you haven’t seen the show at all, I’m sorry to give away spoilers.  In the show it is soon revealed that everyone living or dead is infected.  So even if you die of natural causes, you turn.  This is a brilliant way to explain the global decimation of the population.  There is no way to stop the infection, no way to avoid or contain it because everyone is a carrier.  There wouldn’t be a Typhoid Mary.  Just one day, there would be 56 million zombies worldwide who died of natural causes.  This is a level of horror unheard of in any other story.  It does return a bit of the mystical back into the zombie mythos (how else could the entire planet by infected all of a sudden?), which to me is a bit refreshing after all the strained attempts at “scientific” explanations.  But without that aspect of the myth, there is little chance of a genuine global pandemic, whatever the fear monger media says.

One myth that can be completely dispelled is the success of amputation to stop the spread of infection.  The zombie disease is blood-born and your heart pumps blood too quickly.  The time it would take you after a bite to remove the limb is far too slow to stop anything.  Even if you manage it in under 10 seconds.

Conclusion:  Zombies are not real.  They, like other monsters, are allegory for common, widespread fears.  They are rife with improbabilities and scientific inaccuracies.  They are obviously fantasies.  And when normal people engage in discussions about fantasy topics, they aren’t being stupid.  It is really only worrisome when people start building zombie shelters in their yards and stocking up on MREs.  And being a fan of something is an indicator of taste, not intelligence.  Which is why I try not to hate on other fandoms, even of those I find abhorrent.  I may have good reasons to despise them, but the minute I start throwing shade, I leave my own fandoms open to attack.  Amazingly, there are people out there who do not love everything I do.  That doesn’t make them dumb or inferior.  Just makes them different.  So even if they start hating on something I love, even when it would be so easy to make insinuations about the childishness/stupidity/inferiority of their own fandoms, I resist the urge.  Even when I can attack them on a personal level, I don’t.  Part of the problem with our culture is that we don’t argue.  If someone disagrees with us, we get defensive and immediately take the stance that the other person is stupid.  Instead of having a discussion which can enrich both sides even if they never come to an agreement, we attack the person in a downward spiral to hurt feelings.  Nothing is learned, nothing is gained, we are all reduced to assholes.  I admit that I don’t always act the adult, but I am trying to become more open to other viewpoints.  I may not like your stance, but I will endeavor to see the validity of it.

 

And in case of a zombie apocalypse, I would steal an LMTV or MTV from the Transportation Museum on post and head for the Appalachians, since I’m on the east coast.  I know most people argue for heading to the nearest coast, but since the traffic to VA Beach is impossible on a normal day, I’d rather not get stuck in tunnel traffic with a horde on my ass.  The Appalachians are ideal because they have a lot of low-population areas, they are fertile, and they aren’t as treacherous as the Rockies.  They still can have harsh winter conditions, but looting a Dick’s Sporting Goods on the way out of town would be a means of attaining winter survival gear, all of which would fit easily in my LMTV.  My vehicle choice is built on a few factors.  First is familiarity.  I need a vehicle I know how to drive.  Second, both vehicles are high off the ground, ideal for off-roading, fording, and relatively safe from attack from the ground, making them good for temporary shelter until a more permanent defense can be managed.  They’re large enough to plow through a great deal of debris/road blocks/traffic jams and can hold a great deal of cargo and personnel.  Finally, they’re older vehicles and I’m assuming that the local military would be using the more modern troop carriers to fight the zombies.  Drawbacks include how slow they are compared to commercial vehicles and they are not fuel-efficient.  However, given enough of a head start, I should be able to stock up on enough diesel fuel to get us to safety.  And you better believe the cab is gonna be packed with MREs and empty bottles for stocking up on water.  What about guns?  Nope.  While guns are highly effective for sharpshooters, I am not a sharpshooter.  They also make a great deal of noise, which can draw more zombies, and they run out of ammo.  I prefer swords and axes, though I might rig up a lawn mower shield ala Dead Alive.  If I have my husband and cats, we might make it a year or more.  Without my husband, I wouldn’t leave my house.  Then again, depending on the situation, we might be smart to just stay on post.

Honestly, though, I’d probably die in the initial outbreak for no other reason than disbelief.

 

Sources/Favorite Zombie Stories:

The Walking Dead (AMC)

World War Z by Max Brooks (book only, eff the movie => it sucked)

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore (A Tale of Christmas Terror)

Shawn of the Dead (Simon Pegg/Nick Frost)

Dead Alive (Peter Jackson) => you will never look at pudding the same way

Zombie Strippers => don’t ask.

Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez)

MythBusters (Season 11, Ep. 11: Zombie Special)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs

Romero Zombie Movies (haven’t seen them all, but I have general knowledge)

 

Leave a comment

15PM00000032011 · 15:03

Practical Reasons for Missing My Husband


There are lots of obvious reasons for missing my hubby.  Most are emotional, of course.  But since we just passed the six month mark, I thought I might enumerate some of the daily reminders.

1. Chores:  Maintaining a house is work, but at least with him here, we can divide the work load.  We  trade-off on doing the litter every night.  If one of us cooks dinner, the other washes dishes.  When I run the dishwasher, he empties it and vice versa.  Plus, when we have friends over, cleaning up the house and prepping food goes twice as fast before.  And when everyone leaves, we eventually get everything cleaned up because at least one of us will be prepared to motivate the other.

2. Two-Man Jobs:  The thing about houses is that they are large and rife with tasks that seem to require two people.  Like emptying the gutters.  I have a ladder, but need someone to hold it.  Or spring-cleaning the flowerbeds.  I admit that I managed this on my own this year, but it was a lot of rigorous work and would have gone more smoothly with a partner.  Especially one willing to do more of the heavy lifting.DSC_1088DSC_1089DSC_1113DSC_1116DSC_1114

3. Heavy Lifting:  Now, I am a grown woman and do not need any man to open doors for me or carry my groceries or any other pansy BS.  However, when I was at Lowes to pick up the lawn supplies (9 bags of mulch, 4 bags tree/shrub top soil, 1 bag garden soil, 16 bags top soil, 1 sage plant, 2 Goldie yarrow plants), I could have used my big, strong, manly husband to load the cart, push the unbelievably heavy cart to the register, and then help me load my car.  Now, I did get help from some of the staff on all these tasks, but I hated having to ask.  Additionally, my husband is particularly good at efficiently packing our vehicles.  And he would have known to bring his car instead of mine, which has more cargo space.

4. Manly Tasks:  Okay, in an objective world, there are no such things as jobs delineated by gender, because only willpower and ability (or lack thereof) are barriers.  To be perfectly honest, the jobs that fall primarily to my husband are those tasks which I would prefer not to do.  Top of that short list is mowing the lawn, which I imagine is going to be my eternal torture if I end up in Hell.  Now, since mowing the lawn is his permanent chore because he doesn’t mind doing it, I do all the laundry since I don’t mind doing that.  It isn’t an even exchange, in my opinion, but it works for us.  All the other “manly” tasks are just those I don’t know how to do, like home or vehicle repairs.

5. Ladder Work:  I am 5’4.  My husband is not.  My step-ladder has been used a great deal more the last six months.  And Buddy has little difficulty replacing the air filters in the ceiling, while even with the ladder I have a hard time reaching.

6. My back is cold when I sleep.

 

That is all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Misc Short Stories

Not Sleeping


This is me trying to sleep.

Okay, got my sleep mask.  Got my water.  Got my knee pillow.  It is all dark and cozy.  Just need to close my eyes and let nature work.

Brain:  HEY WHAT’S UP WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL DAY I HAVE SO MUCH TO TELL YOU!!!!!

Me: Oh, hey, Brain.  Yeah, it’s been a long day so it’s time to shut down.  Tell me all about it tomorrow.

Brain:  OKAY JUST THOUGHT YOU MIGHT LIKE TO RECAP ALL THE THINGS YOU SAW/READ/SAID/THOUGHT TODAY AND MAYBE RUN SOME STORY IDEAS BY YOU AND THEN DWELL ON ALL THE MISTAKES YOU’VE MADE IN A DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF…

Me:  No, seriously, Brain.  I need to sleep.  I have a lot to do tomorrow…

Brain:  SPEAKING OF WHICH HAVE YOU THOUGHT OF ALL THE THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO CUZ SERIOUSLY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER ALL OF THE DETAILS AND PLANS DOWN TO THE MINUTE EVEN THOUGH YOU KIND OF WANT TO PLAY IT BY EAR AND ALSO HERE ARE A BUNCH OF WAYS IT COULD GO HORRIBLY WRONG AND YOU KNOW IT WILL GO WRONG IF YOU DON’T OBSESS OVER EVERY LITTLE THING…

Me:  Could you just stop yelling for a minute?  I think I’m getting a migraine…

Brain:  OH RIGHT BECAUSE YOU DID ALL THAT SWEATY WALKING TODAY AND I DIDN’T ONCE TELL YOU TO DRINK WATER BUT I DID INVITE THE MIGRAINE GNOMES TO START DRILLING ON YOUR CRANIUM AFTER YOU HAD LAY DOWN SO YOU WOULD HAVE TO GET UP AND CRAWL OVER BUDDY TO GET YOUR MIGRAINE PILLS IT’S YOUR OWN FAULT FOR DOING ANY KIND OF OUTDOOR ACTIVITY HEY YOU REMEMBER ALL THOSE CEREMONIES YOU USED TO DO WHICH REMINDS ME OF ALL THE ARMY STUFF I LOVE REMEMBERING THE ARMY STUFF OH AND DON’T FORGET TO BE SAD BECAUSE YOU’RE HEADING HOME SOON AND YOU REALLY NEED TO START LOOKING FOR JOBS AND WHY HAVEN’T YOU HAD ANY BABIES YET AND…

Me:  What?!?  Could you just calm down–

Brain:  HERE’S SOME MORE STORY IDEAS SINCE YOU ARE SO FAR AWAY FROM ANY WRITING UTENSIL THIS IS REALLY GREAT STUFF SO I HOPE YOU REMEMBER IT OH AND DO YOU WANT TO DO A RECAP OF ALL YOUR FAVORITE SHOWS BECAUSE I CAN DWELL ON ALL KINDS OF USELESS STUFF FOR SIMPLY HOURS AND HEY WHAT IF YOU AREN’T A GOOD MOTHER OR CAN’T FIND A JOB OR THE PLANE BLOWS UP OR HIS PLANE BLOWS UP OR THE APOCALYPSE HAPPENS OR ZOMBIES…

Me:  HEY LOOK!  SUDOKU!!!

Brain:  ooo feeling drowsy think i can sleeeeee–  HEY WHY’D YOU TURN IT OFF THIS BED IS UNCOMFORTABLE HOW DOES HE ALWAYS SLEEP SO WELL I’M GONNA MISS HIM I MISS THE CATS BET THEY ARE ACTING LIKE BRATS OH YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO MOW THE LAWN WHEN YOU GET HOME…

Me:  Sigh.

Brain:  OH WHAT WAS THAT ANNOYING SONG YOU HAD STUCK IN YOUR HEAD IT WENT AWAY A COUPLE DAYS AGO BUT I BET IF I JUST THINK FOR A MOMENT THERE IT IS TOO BAD YOU DON’T KNOW ALL THE WORDS CUZ THAT MEANS I JUST HAVE TO REPEAT THE REALLY LAME CHORUS GOOD LUCK DROWNING OUT BRATTY POP MUSIC!!!!!!!!!!

 

Later that evening:

Subconscious:  Hey, Brain!  Are you sleeping?  Ever wonder what would happen if Big Bang Theory and Walking Dead combined?  Let’s find out.  In the form of Pins.  MWAHAHAHA!

Leave a comment

15PM00000012011 · 13:41

I am a Picky Eater. Honest.


We all know picky eaters, right?  They won’t eat something for reasons incomprehensible to you.  No corn unless it is on the cob.  Potatoes only in mashed form.  Milk only in a certain glass.  Most of the time, we hear specifications like this from kids.  I knew a little girl who, for a time, would refuse any food that was a combination of ingredients.  This may seem completely impossible, but she was young and didn’t understand that almost all prepared food is a combination of ingredients.  All she knew was if there was an “and” in the description, she wasn’t having any.  “What’s in the rolls?”  “Butter and bread.”  “No, thank you.”

By the next Christmas, she had grown out of it, as most kids do when their parents get sick of catering to such habits.  One can only put up with so much.  Still, there are plenty of adults out there who could be classed as picky eaters and they are a bane for people like me.  I am a Feeder.  My self-esteem is linked to how people receive the food I offer them.  Rejecting my food is rejecting me.

I realize this is a little extreme and I am working on it.  Taste is unique to everybody and just because someone doesn’t like chocolate doesn’t mean we can’t be friends (though I’m sure we’ll never be close).  I do have to actively remind myself that turning down the cookies I’m offering is not a comment on the quality of the food or myself as a person.  This is especially true for what I call the “legitimate” reasons, i.e. dietary needs and allergies.

It is still a challenge, though, because there are all those “illegitimate” reasons.  The “I just don’t like it” or the “I don’t like the texture” or the “I’ve never had it before.”  As a food snob, I admit to some amount of scorn for people with mundane palettes, those who won’t try something just because it is new or different.  Simply put, I don’t like picky eaters.  I don’t like when people refuse the food of their host because they just don’t like it.  I hate when people quibble or complain because there’s nothing for them to eat.  “I would have eaten that, but they put pepper on it.”  “Oh, I only eat Velveeta cheese.”  “I’m sorry, I don’t like vegetables.”  “No, I don’t eat fish unless it is in stick form.”

Sadly, this makes me a hypocrite.  As it turns out, being a food snob makes me a picky eater by default.  I turn my nose up at food if it wasn’t made from scratch from fresh ingredients.  I snub processed foods like fish sticks or Hamburger Helper.  I despise anything that contains a “processed cheese product.”  And fast food is pure evil.  Cafeterias/buffets are out of the question.

While my parents were visiting, we had to pick up some fast food before doing some sight seeing.  I obstinately ordered some grilled chicken nuggets and planned on getting something more substantial later.  Except I couldn’t find anything.  At first, I felt like it would be rude to have a nice sit-down meal in front of others who weren’t eating, then because the eateries I saw didn’t suit me, and finally because I couldn’t find a food truck or similar small meal dispenser.  Mom pointed out the irony that I would eat from a food truck, but not fast food, to which I replied that food truck food isn’t fast food.  And then it hit me.  I am full of sh*t.

I was looking for food trucks because they are trendy now.  There are innovators out there turning food trucks into classy yet inexpensive cuisine, but that doesn’t mean that all food trucks are making good food.  I am just as picky as those people who bring their own food to parties because they can’t be sure if there will be food they can eat.  I worry that I’ll show up to a gathering where all there is to eat is junk food that I can’t stomach.  I’ll admit to going hungry and fervently wishing that I’d eaten something before venturing out.  I have (shamefully) thought less of my host for not making food to my standards.

Unfortunately, my dietary choices put me at odds with normal people, but refusing junk food doesn’t make me better than anyone.  I admit to being a picky eater, but that doesn’t have to make me a bad guest.  As a Feeder, I see the cardinal sin of a guest to be refusing the food of the host.  In ancient times, such a refusal could be seen as a grave insult or a declaration of animosity.  In The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my absolute favorite books), Edmund makes it a point not to eat the food of his enemies, even as he pretends to be their dearest friends.  So I am only picky when it isn’t rude to be so.

The reason people don’t like picky eaters is because it’s rude.  When someone makes food for you, you should eat it without complaining.  This is a lesson many of us learned as children when Mom gave us the old “there are starving children in China” speech.  We all have foibles about food, but unless those foibles will put you into anaphylactic shock, then it is best to smile and shut your mouth just for courtesy’s sake.  Another tip for picky eaters when meeting with new foods is to just try it.  You may need to engage a poker face to hide how horrible something is, but refusing to try something just because it is new could mean missing out on stuff you may actually like.

Ah, but the testament between guest and host is not a one-way deal.  When hosting, you have an obligation to provide for your guests, which seems kind of obvious.  Except that this obligation isn’t always fully understood.  I’m not saying that you have to make a special dish catered to the tastes of every guest.  That would be ridiculous.  But there are some things one must keep in mind when providing food for a crowd.  The first is timing.  If the party falls during a meal time, then people will show up expecting more than finger food.  Easiest thing to do is have burgers and hot dogs ready to grill -OR- have pizzas ready (frozen or otherwise).  Any other time of day, snack foods are fine.  For finger foods, chips and dips are classic, but I always recommend a fruit or veggie tray as well, especially with the number of people on specialty diets nowadays.  You can always ask your guests to bring stuff, too, if they want.  Then you get lots of variety without stressing yourself out.

The key to party feeding is not to get anything you won’t eat because there will be leftovers.  That means, I don’t ever by chips because I don’t eat them regularly.  Most have too much salt for my taste and corn-based chips tend to give me migraines.  People will still bring chips and often leave them behind, but I just stow them away for the next party.  If I decide to put together a veggie tray, I’m only using veggies that I cook with regularly or have for snacks, so no radishes or jalapeños.  If you don’t like veggies, don’t put out a veggie tray.  If you don’t like salsa, don’t buy a big jar of salsa.  You are obligated to provide enough food for your guests with some variety of choices, that is all.  Provide for picky palettes only so far that it doesn’t actually inconvenience you.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a social contract we must adhere to regardless of our personal tastes.

1.  The host will provide enough food for guests, accommodating to dietary needs (allergies, diets, etc) within reason.

2.  The guest will eat food when and if possible.  If no food is edible (for whatever reason), the guest will politely decline.  There should be no complaining, especially if food is being declined for any reason other than allergies or medically prescribed diets.

Now, let’s say we aren’t talking a serve-yourself buffet-style party but an actual sit-down dinner.  Social contract says that you eat what is put in front of you unless it will kill you.  This is not always easy, and I understand that.  It isn’t always about taste.  Sometimes it’s about health.  Sometimes it’s about cooking methods or cleanliness or quality of ingredients.  Sometimes it’s about cooking skill.  And, yes, you may have to stomach food you don’t like in order to be polite.  But let’s say you don’t like someone’s cooking and it’s someone you eat with frequently.  It’s Grandma or Father-in-Law or Spouse or Best Friend.  You don’t want to hurt feelings, so you claim picky eating as an excuse.  Don’t.  Honesty in this case is very important.  Picky eating to many is a childish excuse and not to be tolerated.  And lying about your reasoning will only add tension to a relationship.  So find a way to talk to this person, face to face and not over a meal.  It may not make any difference, but it’s better than lying.

I’ve rambled a bit, I know.  I’m trying to get back into writing habits.  Plus, I wanted to set the record straight.  My Mom, like all Feeders, has a thing about picky eaters.  Refuse her food and you will never be her friend.  But she is so proud of me for not being picky, just because I’m always willing to try new foods.  The fact is, I think everyone is picky about their food and with good reason.  It’s just a matter of balancing personal preference with politeness.

2 Comments

15AM000000112011 · 11:39

Ups/Downs


Yesterday was a good day.  Which made me begin to wonder what makes a good day.

If I were to melt down all the elements of a good day, would it separate into good things and bad things, with more good than bad?  Because, well, it doesn’t seem to matter so much what happens as my mood when it happens.

If I’m down, everything pulls me down.  Whatever I try, be it shopping or chocolate or reading, the down stays.

If I’m up, then even sleep deprivations, expensive car repairs due to the incompetence/neglect of the dealer,  and an ill-fitting leather jacket that must needs be returned won’t bring me down.

Of course, sushi will always switch a down to an up.

Not really interesting, me pointing out that attitude is everything, but I think it’s a misconception that positive attitudes can be forced.  I don’t decide my ups or downs.  I just ride them, trying to maintain an even keel as well as I can.

Leave a comment

15AM00000012011 · 01:02

2014 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Leave a comment

Filed under Misc Short Stories