Meet Charlie

30 03 2012

 

This is Charlie. He moved in with me today. Someone on Facebook asked me whether I adopted him or he adopted me. I’m still not quite sure about the answer to that one, although I did get him from a friend. The first few hours, he was very uncertain about the whole thing and hid under the sofa, but after I’d taken a nap (no cats allowed in the bedroom!), he seemed to have accepted this turn of events and decided that I’m pretty good at giving scritches. And also that my blanket is apparently very good at digging his claws into.

And yes, his name is the same as mine. Sure I could change it, but he’s 5-6 years old and imho, Charlie is a perfectly good name, so I see no need to give him a new name.

Oh, and look! New cat-egory! (har har)

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Socialising and Alcohol

18 03 2012

Disclaimer: This is not a criticism of anyone who likes alcohol or enjoying to meet over a drink or a glass of beer. These are just my thoughts about it and why I dislike it.

 

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me start by saying that I’m a child of alcoholics. Not the type you’d imagine when the word is said like that, but the functional type, who went to work, managed to feed me, dress me and even pay attention to me more often than not. But alcohol was always there. I just didn’t notice it until I was well into my teens, at which point I learned that it wasn’t normal for most people to be drinking several bottles of beer a day. It must have been a slow realisation because I can’t remember being shocked or surprised by it, so perhaps deep down, I’ve always known that my parents were somewhat different than other parents.

And maybe the Danish culture of alcohol being part of nearly every type of social interaction has something to say about that. It’s not unusual – at all – to get drunk at parties, family gatherings, at Christmas or New Years, etc. It’s not even considered outside the norm to drink beer or wine when going on a picnic or to the beach or just sitting in the sun on summer afternoons/evenings. In fact, it’s almost required.

Which is part of the reason I have such a hard time getting together with people in my own peer group. Drinking and getting drunk is part of the culture. And not just for my own peer group. It’s part of the entire Danish culture, from poor to rich. Some say that Danes come together over the Royals or football (soccer, to you Americans). I say it’s alcohol. Just back when I was a child, it was fully acceptable to have a beer with lunch for many groups in many and various levels of the work force. By now, it’s not as acceptable, but I don’t think it’s terribly frowned upon (at least not compared to smoking).

With my background, I’ve ended on the hard edge of the scale that says ‘no alcohol whatsoever’ and I even have a hard time being around people who are drinking/drunk. The smell of beer makes me sick and the sound of bottles in a plastic bag brings up memories that I’d rather be without. So when – on a rare occasion – I’m asked to a party or a get-together by people I know, I say no. Because I know alcohol will be involved. And I simply cannot deal with that.

Being as anti-alcohol as I am is hard in a country where alcohol is such an ingrained part of the culture and socialising. I’m not good at the whole socialising thing to begin with and to bring alcohol into the mix just makes it near impossible.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I just don’t give people a chance. But when I look at Facebook and see people update on the weekend’s parties and hangovers… Well, I’m not so sure. I just hope that as I continue in this endeavour to come out of my shell that I will find people out there who will be able and willing to get together with me once in a while without alcohol being involved.





The Gate

12 03 2012

Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds. This one I like a bit better, but that may have to do with bringing out an old roleplaying character of mine to star in this little story. Feels good to write for Matty again even if she’s in an entirely different universe this time (I’ve played her in Star Trek and Firefly earlier). Maybe if I continue with these challenges, I’ll use Matty more often.

This past week, I talked about word choice, so it seems only fitting I choose words for you.
I have, in fact, chosen 20 words.
You must choose 10 of these words and use them throughout your ~1000 word flash fiction story.
Might be tricky, but hey, that’s why this is a challenge and not, say, me tickling your privates with a feather.
The ten words:
Beast, brooch, cape, dinosaur, dove, fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, justice, mattress, moth, paradise, research, scream, seed, sparrow, tornado, university.
You’ve got a week. Friday, 15th, by noon EST.

The words I ended up with are bolded throughout the story. Hopefully, that won’t confuse the reading of it. The story is 937 words long and starts with a rude awakening. Enjoy!

 
The Gate

The gate was open.

Doc slammed on the brakes as soon as he saw and the Beast came to a sudden halt that woke Matty by way of her forehead smacking into the dashboard in front of her. Grunting, she gave Doc a hard glare as she started to say something obnoxious and insulting about his driving skills. Then she saw.

“Shit,” she said, knowing that a wide open gate meant nothing but trouble. With a capital T.

“Shit, indeed,” Doc agreed, in that quiet and severe tone of his. Doc wasn’t an actual doctor. Not of the medical kind, anyway. He was one of those Ph.D doctors with a degree in literature or history or one of those things that were useless in more practical sense. Still, he’d been smart enough to survive ’till now, which was why Matty was always happy to be teamed up with him on recon missions.

“I’ll go in and have a look around,” Matty said and pushed open the door of the heavily armoured truck, grabbing the shotgun from the rack at the back at the same time. “You stay here.” Glancing back at him, she could tell that he would rather come with her than stay here alone and she gave him a shrug of her shoulders. “To guard the Beast. Case they’re still around…”

“Yeah, okay,” he said unhappily, then tapped his ear with one finger as his other hand dug into a shirt pocket to extract an in-ear comms device. “But stay in touch, will you?”

“Deal,” she said and jumped down, booted feet throwing up a small cloud of dust from the road’s surface. She slammed the door shut and turned, took a deep breath of cold air and started walking toward the open gate, shotgun held at the ready.

* * *

The world had been ending for a long time even before The Change. Human kind had not been kind to the planet they inhabited and depended on for survival. The only home they had. Scientists had warned about things like climate change, rising sea-levels and pollution for decades upon decades, but the economy had always taken precedence over the environment and by the time the politicians finally took the warnings seriously, it was far too late to do anything about it. Paradise was lost.

Those who survived the aftermath of the wars, the illnesses and the weather isolated themselves in small communities of like-minded people, splintering a human race into ever smaller and smaller factions, each with their own agenda and method of survival in the post-Change world.

This was the world that Matty had grown up in. The Change had started when she was just a toddler and she had no memories of the sort of world Doc talked about, where people went to work and school, ate out in restaurants before catching a movie at the theatre, went to a ballgame on Sunday afternoons. Lived what he called normal lives.

The stories Doc told were like fairy tales to Matty, something she could hardly believe had been reality, but she would never tire of them, no matter how long he went on and on, trying to teach her some of the things he had learned at university all those years ago.

* * *

The first thing Matty saw as she went through the gate was a bright orange plastic dinosaur lying on the ground near the door to the constable station. Stegosaurus, if she remembered Doc’s lessons properly, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that she recognised it as belonging to Constable Singer’s little girl, Delia. What mattered more was what she saw as she looked around.

Destruction everywhere. Doors kicked halfway off their hinges, windows glass laying shattered in a thousand pieces on the ground. There were signs of struggle, blood staining the ground here and there, but no bodies. But no sign of survivors either. She continued, following a trail of blood drops, through the narrow and twisted alleys, the silence making her want to scream just to break the spell, to make herself wake up from this nightmare.

“Matty, what’s going on? Talk to me.”

She’d stopped talking to him without even noticing. Now she could hear the fear and concern in his voice as he spoke. “Sorry, Doc. Still with you. Don’t worry,” she said as she turned a corner, walked slowly toward the large building at the centre of town. “Haven’t found them yet, but I’ll keep looking. I’m checking the community centre now.”

She found them there, all of them. The raiders had shepherded them there – men, women and children – and lined them up against the wall and then shot them. Everyone she had ever known, gone. Killed. The immense weight of shock and sadness forced her to her knees, a numbness spreading through her body and her mind like a rapid fever, sapping her will and strength until there was nothing but darkness and emptiness left.

* * *

“What now?” Doc asked quietly as he sat beside her in the Beast. They had buried the dead and loaded the truck with what few supplies that had been left behind by the raiders. They were ready to move on, but they hadn’t discussed whereto or what they should do. They had simply agreed silently that they couldn’t stay here.

Matty held the wheel so tightly that her knuckles turned white. She glanced sideways at him and released one hand to turn on the engine, Singer’s constable badge, which she had hung from a chain on the rear-view mirror rattling with the vibrations. “Now we deliver justice.”





Town Without Pity

8 03 2012

Flash Fiction Challenge made by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds:

Go to Your Favorite Music Player. Dig out your digital music collection.
Maybe this is iTunes or Spotify, or use Pandora if you’d rather go that way.
Hit SHUFFLE, then “Play.”
Translation: pull up a random song.
The title to this song is the title to your story.
Use the song for inspiration, too, if you feel so inclined.
Word count is the full-bore double-barrel 1000 words, as usual.

iTunes provided my with “Town Without Pity” by Gene Pitney and this story ended up at 982 words (according to Open Office). I really have no idea how it ended up being as sappy as it is, but as usual, my characters took over and decided what was going to happen. Me, I wanted the whole thing to be cruel and nasty, but I guess Dmitri and Elisa had other ideas. Anyway, here you go…

 
Town Without Pity

The sun had just crested the horizon when it started. It was subtle at first, just a flicker of a light here, the rattle of a misaligned fan blade there. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. Little things that happened every day in a place like Orwell. Business as usual.

A business that was keeping Dmitri busy this morning as all those little malfunctions were piling up. “You know this ain’t right, Ellie,” he said as he called up the latest failure message on his smart sheet, frowning over at his colleague, who was looking unconcerned.

“It’s just coincidence, Dem,” Elisa said with a shrug as she looked at the list on her own smart sheet, making adjustments to prioritise the jobs in order of urgency. “Besides, the place is getting old and run-down. Things just need a little bit of extra TLC ’till the next drop arrives.”

“In five months, El. That’s a lot of love for a guy like me,” he said, then gave a wince at the wording, quickly changing the topic back to shop talk. “What I mean is, this isn’t just the usual wear and tear. It’s like…” He paused, looking around the workshop and the shelves that were starting to look much too empty.

“Like what?” she prompted with the raised brow of a sceptic, knowing what was coming.

He shook his head and flashed her a slight smile along with a gesture of dismissal. “Never mind. Just a silly old man’s fantasies.” No use admitting to the ever pragmatic Elisa what he really thought was going on here, although she had probably guessed. He’d talked with her about it often enough, after all. “Just forget I said anything. Let’s get back to work, eh?”

It got progressively worse by the hour. It wasn’t just minor things going wrong now; lights were going out in entire sectors, and stayed out. Life support in one area failed completely for a full fifteen minutes and the airlock in the garage opened and closed by itself, letting in a fine layer of red Martian dust. It was only pure luck that no one had been in there at the time.

A team of cartographers were the first to die. The two had returned from an week-long expedition along the southern rim of the Valles Marineris, and as they transferred from their rover to the base, the airlock had malfunctioned, venting in the thin Martian air instead of human breathable air. By the time Dmitri and his people had gotten the inner door opened, Carol and Josh were beyond rescue.

“It’s only the beginning,” said Dmitri, convinced now that this was the end of the first town on Mars. Sitting on the floor of the workshop, his back against the wall, he felt tears coming to his eyes as he looked up at the dusty dome above. “We can try and stop it, Ellie, but in the end…” He turned his gaze toward her where she was crouching in front of her. “In the end, the dust will win.”

The dust got into everything. It jammed up anything and everything with moving parts. Even in the most airtight and clean parts of the base, eventually, the dust would find its way, one tiny particle at a time. It got into your lungs, your eyes, your ears and nose. Crept into your mind and your soul and played havoc with your health.

Relentless. That was the word for it. The dust was relentless and that was why it would win in the end.

“Dem?”

Elisa’s voice brought him back from his reverie and he looked at her with vision blurred from the tears that had filled his eyes. She sounded worried, scared that he’d finally gone and lost his mind completely. But there was something else there, in her eyes. Compassion. Love.

He saw it then. And he wondered how long it had been there. How long she had loved him without telling him? More tears came to his eyes. Tears of regret, of time wasted. “Why, Ellie?” he asked as he leaned forward, gently putting a hand on her cheek. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

She leaned into his hand, cheek soft against his old and roughened palm. Her eyes closed and she lifted her own hand to cover his as a tear fell down the other cheek. “There was never time,” she whispered and he knew it was a lie. For whatever reason, the always pragmatic and honest Elisa had kept this one secret to herself for longer than Dmitri dared to think of. And now it was too late.

He came forward, wrapped her in his arms, holding her tight. Said nothing, for there were no words to be said.

“Dem?” she asked quietly, after a while, pushing back a little to look at him. “Why didn’t you?”

He blinked, not quite sure what she meant. Then, a few moments later, it hit him. Why hadn’t he told her that he loved her? “I…” he started, but had no good explanation. Not even their superior-subordinate relationship was a good enough excuse. Not now. But he had always known that he loved her. He had just managed to lock it away in a hidden part of his mind for reasons he couldn’t fathom now.

“I love you, Elisa,” he said and heard the sound of sirens going off somewhere else in the base as he spoke. He gave her a gentle kiss and held her again. “I always have. And I always will.”

As the sun lowered beyond the horizon and darkness fell, the dust swept into the open airlocks of Orwell Base – mankind’s first town on Mars – and quickly obliterated any sign that there had ever been an artificial construction here.

The dust ruled on Mars. And the dust was as patient as time itself.