Archive for David N. Brown

RVs of the Apocalypse! Class C Flatbed Mystery Motorhome

Posted in Cars with tags , , , , on September 11, 2013 by David N. Brown

I’m back from a summer hiatus, and I decided it was time to do a piece I’ve been wanting to do for a while. There’s a personal story behind this: One night last December, I was meeting up with a friend at a local fast food restaurant (I got there on public transportation because I don’t drive, which makes my interest in this subject highly ironic) when I noticed a motorhome I thought was quite strange in the parking lot. From the brief sighting, I decided it was probably a 1970s Dodge van chassis, and the rest was evidently home-built. Some time later, I decided to see if there was any documentation of this or similar RVs. A few searches led me to this at the website Weird RVs:
ClassC_flat
Source Weird RVs: “Something is missing here”

As can be seen, this van follows the lines of a cab-over Class C RV, with the drastic difference that the camper body is too short to cover most of the exposed van bed. The end result converges on the design of a “sleeper” semi truck. The camper hull clearly provides a bed over the cab, and it would be feasible to fit a kitchen, lavatory or even a shower in the remaining space with no more than moderate ingenuity (though all of the above would be tricky indeed!) The remainder of the bed is open to a variety of uses. such as motor bikes, light watercraft, or a hitch for a fifth-wheel trailer home. The last application, while redundant at face value, would clearly be of some convenience if two people were in the van. In particular, it would allow the occupants to take turns driving and using the facilities without stopping or violating laws against having occupants in a moving trailer. The specimen I sighted was loaded with a mix of loose goods, and to my recollection there was some lining around the sides of the bed, which I suspect may have been a later modification. All in all, this type of RV is one of the more impressive examples of home-builder ingenuity, and an especially convenient way to flee civilization with as much of one’s worldly goods as possible!

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One-Shot Week Part 9: Life As Leviathan

Posted in Mythology, one-shot, Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 17, 2013 by David N. Brown

The week may be over, but here’s one more thing I wanted to post, with a previously-written introduction:

This piece is something that old enough that I was very concerned whether I could even find my one printed copy. Fortunately, I did finally fish it out from my old papers, and apart from a handful of corrections, it appears here exactly as I found it. I wrote this back in 2001 for a college English class. For a long time, I considered it the best thing I had written, and looking at it now, I can still feel happy putting it out there.

This was supposed to be an essay, on the assigned topic of what animal one would most like to become. While I have always been interested in animals, and greatly enjoy telling a story from an animal’s perspective, I didn’t care for the premise of the assignment, and in the end, my response was substantially a revolt against it. The result was this piece, more a story than an essay, but not really a self-sufficient work, and I never did think of any good way to build on it. (The best idea I ever had was to put it together with what became the novel Anio Son of Poseidon, and that was in fact how I first thought of the “Book of Shapes” featured there.) Looking at it now, I can see an embarrassment of riches in potential themes and symbols, from environmentalism to the influence of media to an allegory of Christ. I can’t claim to recall how much of that even crossed my mind when I first wrote it, but in the end, I think it is and always best for this to stay what it is: a vivid, well-told story.

 

Once I was a human who walked the land. I was a peasant among frail primates who thought themselves kings of the Earth. Now I am a mighty king of the ocean. Scientists call me Physeter; poets call me Leviathan; others call me cachalot, but most follow the lead of ancient fools and call ma a sperm whale. Those on the top can call me whatever the like. Down here, we do not let mere collections of syllables define who we are. A cachalot is defined by his songs, his deeds and his strength. Our mere hellos carry the passion and detail of the poets’ greatest epics. My song is of wisdom coupled with strength.

It was a little hard getting used to being a cachalot. Fortunately, it was in my very nature to detect with song and ears as I once did with light and eyes. If I had had to learn it, I could never have survived. I still miss my arms and legs, and I sometimes wish that I could see with eyes what I have heard with song. Learning to breathe at will was tricky; there were several times when I almost suffocated because I forgot that I had to think to inhale. But the hardest part is dealing with my memories. I can still remember all the things I did on top,, but they are alien and even repulsive to my current nature. How strange it is to remember the sight of a blooming desert when one has become accustomed to hearing the deepest oceans! Hardest of all are the times when I wake from a dream of the top and find myself once again as a man in an alien universe. If I had known how that would feel, I would never have changed. After such dreams, I have often resolved to search the depths until I find a way to change back. But the dream always fades, and my cetaceous nature always reasserts itself. I cannot now change what I am even though it is not my true self.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of being a cachalot is the amount of exploring one gets to do. No breathing thing can dive deeper than a cachalot, and few cachalots have dived deeper than I. With my song which conquers all darkness, I have beheld creatures which human researchers have spent millions for mere glimpses of, and some which human minds have not even imagined. I have dragged some of the strangest creatures from their hiding places to the top, where humans will find them. I chuckle when I think of what scientists may have made of them.

I wish I could go back up top to correct the ridiculous things scientists write about how cachalots hunt. They make it sound so easy. I have concluded that catching squid is a learned art not an instinct, and though I have the vast and demanding body of a bull, I have the hunting skills of a calf. Though I can tap the learning of a whale, something in my human part seems to get in the way. In my two years as cachalot, I have caught only six squid. It did not help that they tasted like rubber bands soaked in ammonia. I have fed mainly on slow-moving, bottom-dwelling giant octopus and squid which I earn by singing for other whales.

I count all the human things I have sacrificed as no loss at all against my ability to sing. As a human, I struggled to turn my visions into words. Now, I sing songs whose “words” are as clear as human vision. The greatest human poets would envy me. Other whales swarm around me to listen. I am still not sure whether they are drawn by awe, curiosity or something else. I often wonder if they fear me, but like many humans are drawn to what they hear. As I sing the final I exult that the other whales must view me as a god, but then I remember how humans treat their gods, and become somber once again.

The seas hold nothing for an adult cachalot to fear- except humans. A handful of ships still hunt my kind, but I, with my human knowledge, can avoid their factory ships easily. I have also warned other whales, and thus reduced the whalers’ catch substantially. The diminishing returns made the hunters more persistent, and it was not long before a whaling ship found a pod of whales gathered to hear my song. I was shocked and angered when my passionate encore was interrupted by screams of pain and the booming of explosive-tipped harpoons. A dozen whaling ships gathered like sharks around my audience. The majority of us escaped, but a few ships followed, killing at least one of us whenever we surfaced for air.

Many more would have died, if I had not happened across a rusted and forgotten mine. I seized the deadly device by its anchor chain and dragged it towards one of the whalers. I left it in what I thought was a good location, and then surfaced briefly to draw the ship. I surfaced again and again, drawint the ships farther away from the pod and to closer to the mine. Finally, the lead ship struck the mine dead on and sank like a stone.

I sang a new song then: one of vengeance and hatred against our hunters. I sang of things alien to them, but all too familiar to me: cruelty, greed and thoughtless waste. Then I led the armies of the deep against all that I hated, and all that I had been. I told them how to find explosives to detonate against a ship’s hull. I told them how to knock ships off course by ramming their rudders. I told them how to paralyze a ship by tossing rocks and wreckage and even themselves into the propellers.

The other three ships sailed forward casually to pick up their colleagues, thinking that the sinking of the first ship was a mere accident. Just as we had been oblivious to their harpoons until they struck, so they were unaware of our power until it was too late. When the battle was over, two more ships lay at the bottom. One had been laid open when we sent another ship careening into it. The other had been disabled and then battered open over a day and half. The whalers who did not stay in their ships ended up in our stomachs. The last ship escaped with a dented propeller, damaged rudder, and leaking hull. We later found it beached on a remote shore. The sailors had escaped to land, and would surely tell the world of our fury.

Seven whales died in the battle, but it is in the survivors that I see the greatest cost. They are much more violent, more brutish- in short, more human. They have sunk a dozen more whaling ships. Not a one dares sail, now. But the other whales have only grown more aggressive, and now are turning against fishing boats. I fear that harmless and defenseless liners and cargo ships will be next. By now, many humans must be wishing that they had exterminated us when the still had the ships to do it. Worst of all, the whales are becoming more brutish towards each other. They are forming fixed clans and claiming stretches of sea as theirs by right. War with each other is bound to start soon. They will no longer listen to my songs, unless they are of blood and fury. Hear me, world, and weep: I made myself a whale to escape what is human, but now I have brought the worst of what is human into the whales!

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

One-Shot Week Part 8: Machines Don’t Bluff (from the Rookie)

Posted in films, one-shot with tags , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by David N. Brown

For the last day of One-Shot Week, here’s one of my all-time most successful pieces, written as an installment of my fan novel The Rookie.  The novel was conceived both as a somewhat irreverent take on the source material and as a parody of Apocalypse Now, which I hadn’t actually seen at the time.  By the time I was about halfway through, I watched the film, and thought of some new directions, though the storyline didn’t change (pretty much an indication of how deeply it has been embedded in popular culture).  The major shift was having more travel scenes, including a scene or two set on boats.  It was at this point that I thought, completely out of the blue, of taking the most stereotypical of war movie interludes, and by necessity as much as anything else turned it completely upside down.  Here’s the scene, with introductions for the characters.

Unit 838: Model T777 combat cyborg, rising star in the ranks of an army of human-killing robots.  Career prospects set back after winning a battle against orders.  Sent on deep-cover mission against renegade cyborg as an alternative to being used for target practice.

Unit IX 303A aka “Davey”: Advanced spy cyborg.  Looks like eight-year-old boy.

Unit 105: New model.  Still has a few bugs.

54 hours had passed since 838 and IX303A “Davey” had been deposited on the Northern Arizona flood plains. Fortunately, the last 12 had seen a marked improvement in their situation. Davey had attracted a new transport, an HKM 115 hovercraft. The 30-foot craft cruised over water, mud and sand at up to 70 knots. In the bow, a standard HK torso towered like an oversized figurehead. In the rear, Davey and 838 rode with ten Model 789 terminators. Terminators rarely communicated with each other except for signals necessary to their mission, and the T789s were proving more taciturn than their predecessors. But the intelligence unit circled the deck, repeatedly querying the terminators verbally despite repeated transmissions of, Present queries in electronic form. Eventually, Davey exerted sufficient influence upon T789.105 to rope him into an exercise, along with 838. “We will practice a human exercise in psychological manipulation and risk assessment,” Davey said. “It is called a `poker game’.”

The three units sat in a triangle, and played with a deck of cards and rolls of pennies in 838’s duffel. Pennies had long become standard human currency, easily fetching a hundred times their pre-war value, and so were always issued to units on extended infiltration missions. Decks of cards also were usually provided: Though Skynet had limited data upon card games, and had found no relevant application for it, it had long been recognized that possession of this and other seemingly useless items improved the chances of being accepted as human considerably. Davey dealt the first hand, and Unit 105 won. “It is against the rules to use active imaging to scan the non-identical faces of the cards,” Davey said.

“But the mission objective is to determine which unit possesses the superior assets,” 105 said in a monotone painful to 838’s sensors.

“Yes, but mission parameters prohibit direct observation,” Davey explained patiently.

“Revising mission parameters,” 105 said.

838 spoke: “But what purpose do humans find in the exercise? They lack our sensory capabilities, but they must have found ways to identify cards with certainty. Once this had been done, the exercise would be obsolete.”

“They do have such techniques,” Davey said, after an unusual pause of 1.1775 seconds. “Identified forms include `marking’, `counting’ and `stacking the deck’. They are collectively known as `cheating’, and elicit extreme negative reactions from humans. Seven of thirteen attempts by a terminator unit to participate in a `poker game’ resulted in the unit being fired upon.”

838 dealt next, after Davey shuffled for him. 105 folded at the star. 838, possessing what he knew to be a strong hand, remained in. After three rounds in which each made the ante, he raised two pennies, and Davey raised four in response. He put in four, and Davey responded with eight. By then, the other T789s were gathering to observe. 838 did not feel what humans would have called temptation to cheat, but he experienced an unusual sensation, like what he felt in battle, but not at a known threat but at the unknown. After long seconds, he folded, then immediately looked at the other players’ cards. He had 3 kings, 105 had 2 jacks, and Davey had a jumble of number cards. “Your hand was worthless. Even 105 could have beaten you,” he said. “By probability and risk analysis, you should have folded immediately, as 105 did. Instead, you risked fifteen additional pennies. Why?”

T789.105 was more blunt: ” IX303C should be inspected for defect.”

“There is no defect,” Davey said. “It is called a `bluff’, and I am the first to emulate it successfully. Humans take pleasure in danger. Skynet has concluded with 99.734% certainty that that is the main reason humans play these `games’. Greater known probability of failure gives greater pleasure, and greater pleasure still when they win nevertheless. Success appears to depend upon the convincing simulation of confidence, through nuances of voice and physical posture, which are subject to ongoing study, and also by demonstrating the willingness to take risk.”

“For that alone, the humans deserve termination,” 105 opined.

“If they can take pleasure in proceeding despite the highest probability of failure, then they will never stop fighting us,” 838 said as he handed the deck to 105. “They could even enjoy it.”

“In all probability.”

“Might their resistance be a bluff?”

“Definitely possible. But Skynet can never be bluffed.”

838 decided he would like to bluff. But, unfortunately, there was no third hand. T789.105 tore the cards to shreds while trying to shuffle.

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

One-Shot Week Part 7: Re-Deanimator! Meg and Greg

Posted in Cars, Disabilities, films, one-shot, zombies with tags , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by David N. Brown

As a bonus for today, here’s another chapter from my “Re-Deanimator” project.  This was my real starting point for the project, and the raw elements were an “alternate history” homage to classic zombie movies, an atmosphere of domestic dysfunction and a single tableau.  I used subtle details to establish a “nineteen-eighty-something” frame of reference, and build up a backstory as I went along.  The part that definitely got a response out of people was actually the least-planned aspect of the scene.  As I commented privately after receiving feedback, I put it in where I did because, by the time I got there, it was what clearly fit these people.  It was also my intent even then to leave  a little ambiguity, which I think is an important aspect of the real issue.  I put up this scene in quite a few places, including a blog that is one of several  created (as was a consideration with this one) expressly to be seen in place of very bad stuff being circulated by a very bad person whom I regard as very much a real life counterpart to the kudlaks.

 

Meghan lived in the suburbs of a modest city in the desert. Her friends called her Meg, and she lived with Greg. She rose from the couch in the morning, as she had for the last five mornings, and confirmed that the light switch still did not work. She emerged from the den into the living room and went to the kitchen, where she discovered that the faucet did not work either. That was new. She went upstairs, past the photo of Greg, Greg at the office party, Greg at the wheel of his new Audi Quatro, Greg shooting his .454 magnum, and Greg with his big muscular arm thrown lazily around her neck, almost eclipsing her almost-new Chevette behind them.
Meg rapped on Greg’s bedroom door. “Greg,” she called out, “the water’s out.” She opened it. Greg was gone. She glanced at the dresser, and confirmed that the keys to the Audi were there. She stepped back into the hall, and saw that the door to the bathroom was closed. “Greg, I said, the water’s out.” She turned the knob; the door was latched. That was when she heard the thumping.
It was strikingly regular, one thump, a pause, and another thump, repeated, over and over. Meg pressed her ear to the door, and listened. Now, she could hear an unmistakeable swishing between thumps, and a hint of momentary scuffling: “Thump- swish- scuff- swish- thump…” She thought of a pendulum, and at that very moment, she heard the creaking, a sound just like some metal fixture, bending under considerable weight. “Greg,” she said flatly, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead against the door.
Meg’s eyes opened at a change in the rhythm of the sounds: “Thump- swiishh– thump- swishthump– swish- rrriiiiippp…” She lurched back at the crash and jingle of the shower curtains being torn down. The creaking grew louder, and then there was a tearing screech exactly like the shower head being wrenched right out of the wall and a crash exactly like a body falling into the tub. For a moment, she stood completely still. Then she backed up to the bedroom.
She found the magnum and two boxes of ammunition, exactly where she knew they would be. She scooped them all into her old overnight bag, shoved out of sight in the closet. On a whim, she grabbed the key to the Audi. She was gathering things in the den when she heard another crash. She scurried back into the living room and looked up the stairs.
The bathroom door had been knocked open with single blow, forceful enough to splinter the wood and lodge the knob in the plaster. At the top of the stairs stood Greg, in his business suit, with the shower head hanging from Meg’s nylons around his neck. His face was almost black, and his head lolled like a badly stuffed scarecrow’s. Yet, his gaze seemed to turn directly toward Meg, and with strides as stiff and even as a windup tow, he began to descend the stairs. She drew the magnum as she backed up to the door, and took aim, no doubt badly, at Greg’s face as she reached the bottom. She held her aim, as best she could with a gun whose weight alone was enough to strain her wrist, while Greg turned ponderously toward her. He stood there, seeming to stare, with his head lifted just a little higher and straighter. Finally, Meg put the gun back in the bag. “Okay,” she said, “you can keep the Audi.” She cast the keys at his feet, and as she made her exit, she saw him bend over to pick them up.
Meg had to cover some distance to reach the carport where the Chevette was parked, past two cul de sacs of identical two-story, two-unit townhomes and through a little park. On the way, she saw three wrecked cars and a dozen shuffling figures, one of which definitely turned in her direction before she went around a corner and out of sight. She used a shortcut that required vaulting over a low wall and dropping another foot to the asphalt. The only car in sight besides her little reddish-orange hatchback was a station wagon with a crumpled, blood-stained hood and the driver’s-side door torn halfway off its hinges. No bodies were in sight.
Meg dropped her keys trying to unlock her car, at the unset of sudden shakes. Her hands steadied as she put the key in the ignition, but began to tremble worse as she turned the key again, and again, and again. The first time, nothing happened. The second produced an abortive rattle. At the third try, the engine gave an apologetic cough before falling silent. Meg’s hands were shaking hard enough to make the key rattle in the ignition as she turned it yet again. The engine rumbled to life but then died with a protracted wheezing. She looked out the window, at the station wagon, The window frame of the door was bent. Her hand went still. She turned the key, and kept her hand on the ignition as the engine started, began to cough, and then worked back up to a steady rumble.
Meg made a tight U-turn in reverse, scraping the station wagon in the process and bumping into a support beam. Then she accelerated, approaching top (though still modest) speed as she peeled out of the parking lot and around a corner onto the street. She swerved to avoid a shuffling figure, only a child, but there was no taking chances with such a small car. As the car rounded another corner, the child turned belatedly and reached out for where the car had been. Its head lifted, as if staring, but any observer who met its eyes would have seen clouded lenses in no shape to see much of anything.
The Chevette was closing on 80 miles per hour as it roared toward the gates of the townhome complex. It braked and finally swerved for Greg, who stood in the middle. The showerhead was gone, but the torn nylons were still around his neck. His darkened face had lightened to a reddish purple, enough to make his features readily discernible. As Meg gazed out, her hands began to shake. It seemed to her that what she saw was indeed the Greg she knew. It occurred to her that his expression, especially, was the same he had worn on the night she made a discrete trip to the emergency room. As Greg reached for the door handle, the window went down, and a perfectly level gun barrel slid out. “Selfish ass,” Meg said. She had no awareness of firing the gun. She only felt the wrenching ache of recoil, and saw Greg drop with a half-inch red spot on his forehead and a substantial hole in the back of his scalp. As he struck the asphalt, the keys to the Audi tumbled from his hand.
After a moment’s pause, Meg opened the door and scooped up the keys.
David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona

One-Shot Week Part 6: Alipuns

Posted in films, one-shot with tags , , , on March 15, 2013 by David N. Brown

To round out “one-shot week”, I decided to post this, my pick for the single worst thing I have ever written and shown to anyone else.  It was conceived years before I wrote it down (complete with the punchline and several of the more egregious gags) both as a parody of Aliens and a response to Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels.  I finally wrote and published it as a fan fiction after completing Aliens Vs. Exotroopers, and in hindsight I think it represents part of the evolution of that project.  I also have to say, I always felt quite a bit of sympathy for the crew here, broad strokes that they are, and I think there’s a kind of horror in their story.  Call it the existential terror of one’s life being someone else’s joke.

On the planet Ptero, actually a moon of the planet Xanth, a squad of space marines advanced through the intact yet apparently empty structures of a colony. “Talk to me, Pax!” Sgt. Pong said .

“Nothing moving in here,” Pvt. Paxt said. “Whatever happened here, we missed it.”

“Check your scanner. Damn it, I just want to kill whatever’s in here and go home,” said Pvt. Vista.

“Let’s all just keep our cool,” said Cpl. Dix. He frowned when he realized they were at that moment walking past a tank of anti-freeze.

“We’re approaching the colony’s central computer server,” the sergeant said. He opened a door to reveal a large room lined with giant spider webs.

“A web site?” Dix said.

The four other squad members, Privates Sandwich, Brunch, Extra and Butters, trailed in behind. “I have an infrared reading in there,” Pax said. “It looks like there’s a human in there, not moving.”

They found a woman, hanging from one of the webs. She raised her head and opened her eyes. “Please,” she said. “Kill… me.” Then a worm-like creature burst from her chest, waving her heart about.

“Heart worm!” Brunch groaned. Then she screamed as she was wrapped up by vines that shot out from behind the webbing, and devoured by toothed flowers.

“They’re coming out of the walls! They’re comin’ out of the goddamn walls!” Pax said.

“Wall flowers,” Pong snarled. Then a floating yellow head came out of a computer screen and ate him.

“Pac Man killed Pong!” Dix cried out.

“Yeah,” said Pax, “and an apple’s beating Vista!” Sure enough, Pvt. Vista was being pummeled by a giant fruit. Pax and Dix blasted it.

Sandwich was first out the door, but was attacked by an oversized floating fist. By the time the other marines blasted it, it had already beaten him to death. “A knuckled Sandwich!” Dix said with a shake of his head. Extra screamed and ran down the corridor. He was run through by a giant floating eyeball with a pair of antlers. More eyeballs swept toward the marines.

“Buck eyes!” Pax screamed. He brought them down in a frenzy of rifle fire. Then a jar thrown by an unseen enemy broke on his helmet. Red ooze poured over his helmet and uniform.

Vista looked at the ooze. “It’s spaghetti sauce. There’s still a label on the jar…”

Dix read it and rolled his eyes. “Pax Romano!”

A horde of sight gags pursued the marines as they retreated to their ship. “Where’s Butters?” Dix shouted.

“I’m coming,” Butters said as he ran up the ramp.

Dix was almost raving as the ship took off. “There’s too many of them! We have to nuke the site from orbit!” he said.

“I don’t think so,” Butters said. He raised his rifle. Before he could shoot, Vista blew him in half with a shotgun blast. Wires spilled out of its belly.

“It’s a robot,” Vista said. “It must have taken Butters out and replaced him.”

“I can’t believe it’s not Butters,” Dix said.

The nuclear explosion shone as a bright flash. The marines cheered. “The puns are all gone!” Dix sid.

“Yeah,” said Pax. “You might say they’ve been expunged. Get it?” Dix and Vista raised their guns. “Uh-oh….”

END

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

One-Shot Week Part 5: The Forest Clown (From Coulrophobia)

Posted in Forteana, one-shot with tags , , , , on March 15, 2013 by David N. Brown

For today, here’s an excerpt from Coulrophobia, my best-reviewed book that nobody has actually bought.  This was one of three different scenes I tried out for an opening, and got very good responses when I showed it around as a sample.  So, here it is as a one shot:

Djani was seven, and he lived with his big brother Besnik in the woods at the edge of Town. If pressed, Djani might have been able to give the name of the town, but to him, it was only “the Town”. He could remember their mother, but not what had happened to her. He and his big brother stayed with families among their Folk, in whatever shelter the Folk had found: Horse-drawn wagons, relics of the halcyon days when they had had horses to draw them with; in tents; in improvised huts; in whatever outlying buildings could be entered unopposed. For one reason or another, the brothers never stayed in the same place twice.

“Stay close to me, Djani,” Besnik said, with the voice of a male just old enough to meet the bare minimum of manhood. “And keep back from the trees.”

“I know,” said Djani, making a point to step back from the line of beech trees that screened the path from casual observers. This was just at the outskirts of Town, where the Folk could walk at will, but still had to walk with care. Besnik had taught Djani the rules, as he had been taught himself, so forcefully and indelibly that one did not even remember learning them: It was no trouble if one of the Town People saw them; they would simply pretend not to notice. But the Folk could not let themselves be seen by a stranger from out of Town, or by one of the unmentionables born among the Folk but were no longer of them. For such would summon the Government Men, the hunters who searched the woods for the Folk, and took brothers from brothers and children from mothers to make them live in houses with the Town People and the ones who were not Folk. Except, now there was talk that there were no more Government Men, nor any more Government either. Now, so the stories went, there were only greedy men, and cruel men, and desperate men, among whom the last were as dangerous as any other. All of which meant nothing to the brothers, except that there was all the more reason to stay out of sight.

Besnik took a hard turn just as the screen began to thin. Djani glanced back. The edge of the trees marked a clearing on the side of the hills, overlooking the town. In the clearing were a proudly towering spire of white stone and the low-slung dome of a military bunker. The stone was a Medieval stele carved with things that harkened to still older days under elder gods: Stylized images of men, and beasts, and things seemingly abstract or wholly obscure; and largest and most centrally among them a thing like a man, with what seemed to be the curled horns of a ram. The bunker, on the other hand, was a miserable fungoid affair, reared within the last generation and already crumbling from age and wear.

Besnik whirled at his brother’s cry, and caught the boy as he fell. “Watch where you’re going,” he said. Nothing else needed to be said. The forest was thickest, here at the edges, where men came just often enough to kill the sizable trees while leaving saplings and seedlings to run riot. There was only a little ways left to walk, but it was a grueling trek, skirting, squirming and even crawling through trees that strove with each other to strangle the path.

Then the path opened abruptly into another clearing, at the center of which was a jumble of half-rotted vehicles, effortlessly dominated by a towering van. The van was big, tall and very ugly, with an extra meter of height and vaguely ghoulish look added by the upper hull of a smaller van welded into the roof. Beside it were a car and a trailer that appeared to have been improvised from two cars cut in half. Also in evidence were the debris that would be expected from a troupe of performers: prop weapons, including a bent rapier; rags that had clearly been colorful costumes; and an assortment of collapsible wooden boxes. The side of the van still bore a forlornly festive legend CIRCU I BUKOVAR.

“Is this the circus?” Djani said.

“There is no circus anymore,” Besnik said. “That’s why these are here. But it means a place where we can spend the night.”

“Maybe we’ll see clowns!” Djani said cheerfully.

“No circus,” Besnik said firmly, “no clowns.” He yanked open the door of the big van, took a good look inside and sighed. “Uncle Adrian and Cousin Belos were supposed to meet us here. I need to have a look around, in case they’re lost, or anything happened to them… or anybody else is coming. You have to wait here. Be quiet, and if anyone comes before I’m back, get in the van.”

Besnik hustled off. Djani waved good bye, and sat down smiling. He had so hoped that he might see another clown…

It could have been minutes, or hours, before he knew someone was coming. It wasn’t someone he saw, or heard, but he knew just the same, and the Folk would not have remained the Folk so long if they had not learned to act upon such intuitions. Djani darted into the van, and only then was there a sound: an almost ethereal droning, clearly from an instrument, but perhaps not exactly music. There was a hint of motion within behind a window as Djani looked out, into the deeper woods.

Even this little way in, the trees were old and big, and the spaces between them wide and dim. The first sign of motion was ivory white flashing briefly in a sunbeam. Then a patch of light on the forest floor briefly lit up a figure, clad in white and deep scarlet, and even as the newcomer darted into deeper darkness, the form only became clearer, the silhouette of a man with a nose like the beak of a bird and great ram’s horns curving out from his head. Already, Djani was stepping out of the van, smiling and waving, to greet a man in the lavish and unblemished costume of clown as he stepped out of the heart of the woods.

David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona

One-Shot Week, Part 4: Anio and the Wer-Beast

Posted in Mythology, one-shot with tags , , , , on March 13, 2013 by David N. Brown

For today’s entry, we will be meeting my oldest characters to see any kind of publication, the demigod hero, Anio the Son of Poseidon and his steed, Jargus the shark.  The pair started out, complete with their core adventures, as my 8th-grade English project, and they stuck in my mind well enough that ten years later (still a LONG time ago), I decided to give them a shot at their own novel.  The following represents the earliest vignette in that definitive salvage job.  A major part of the transformation from juvenilia to mature novel was making Anio humane and philosophical, rather than an adventurer who killed monsters left and right for the heck of it.  Of course, that didn’t mean he was going to go soft on monsters, and this particular creature  is (at least after the VERY gigantic clam of the original central quest) my favorite, drawn from Eskimo mythology.

After many adventures, Anio came to the Pillars of Hercules, that bound the strait called the End of the World, where the Seas meet outer Ocean, and then he passed beyond them. He circled Iberia, he explored the mist-shrouded isles of Cimmeria, and the Sea of Nereids where trickster spirits create mirages in the air. He followed the coasts of the Hyperborea, where the sun ever shines on the Sea of Ice, and beheld the Titan tribe of Ice Breakers who with enormous clubs and chisels carve great bergs from the cliffs of ice. He met men of fair skin and hair of gold or copper, others of dark hair and still others of dusky skin also. While Anio was at harbor in Cimmeria, he beheld a ship bearing the ambassador of Hyperborea sunk by the unseen beast. From the wreck of the ship, Jargus’s sharp nose detected a scent like no man or fish or whale, and the northerners cried out that it was the Wer-beast.

It was thought to be sired by Proteus, a sea god of mutable form, and itself hunted in three guises. So great was its cunning and stealth that men knew it only by its terrible spoor: The jagged hole in the ice where a man’s track disappeared, a print of a paw bigger than a bear’s but with the four toes of a wolf next to a pillaged sled, and a print of a giant’s foot, long as a child is tall, next to a smashed and empty igloo. Their grandfathers’ grandfathers had abandoned all hope of battle against it, but Anio swore on the Styx to slay it or die in the attempt. From that moment on, hero and shark followed the trail relentlessly. For days, weeks and finally months they tracked the beast through mazes of reefs, rocks and fjords. Many times, they passed through bloody wreck and ruin, and Anio called to the gods for vengeance.

In the Sea of Ice, he finally sighted his quarry, as a black whale. Jargus swam after it, quickly gaining, but just before she caught the beast, it smashed upward through the ice. Anio emerged and saw the form of a huge wolf already growing small with distance. He followed the trail of its prints, and caught sight of the beast, only to see it dive through a freshly smashed hole in the ice. Anio rejoined Jargus in the water and rode after the swift form of the whale. And so it continued: Again and again, the beast escaped Jargus by bursting onto the ice, then eluding Anio be returning to the water. Even so, it could not lose its pursuers.

But the labors of hero and shark almost came to naught. As Anio emerged through yet another hole in the ice, he found a trail doubling back. He whirled around to see the beast pounce through the ice onto Jargus. It did not bite, but rammed the shark with iron-hard snout. Her mail-like hide was unpierced, but her soft bones were broken. But she took the dearer toll, rending the beast’s side and maiming its fin with a single snap. By the time Anio reached Jargus, it had disappeared back through the ice. The trail he found was that of a wolf with a lame paw. He gave chase. Behind him, a brooding albatross surveyed his steps.

Having no refuge in the water or on the ice, the wer-beast fled toward a bare isle where one of the swarthy northern tribes made camp. Anio almost overtook it, but a terrible marvel occurred: Though the Sea of Ice is too cold for dew, and even snow is scarce, a mist fell over Anio and the beast, so that the hero lost sight of his quarry. He cursed the unknown god that had sent the mist, and made for the isle. He stopped at a native village, long enough to warn them, “Take to your sleds! A Wer-beast is come!” Even as he spoke, a woman shrieked that her child was gone. Men raced for their spears, and women for their children, and all was chaos, and from the very midst of the bedlam came the gleeful howl of the Wer-beast.

The beast rushed about the milling crowd like a wolf among sheep, killing at will and driving those who lived where it wished. Three times Anio raised his harpoon at the beast, but each time the mist or a fleeing northerner got in his way before he could cast. Then he heard cries from one of the igloos, and ran toward it. He was passed by a woman and two children fleeing, but the cry of a lone babe still came from the igloo. He saw the giant tracks at the threshold, and froze. Suddenly, the beast leapt at him, not from inside the igloo but over it. It would have had Anio’s throat, but its lame paw brought its leap short. Even so, it was past the reach of Anio’s harpoon, and its jaws closed on his mailed forearm. A paw fell with staggering weight on his shoulder, and became a huge black hand at his throat, and the beast reared over him as a hairy black giant.

He was pressed relentlessly down as the beast rose and and pressed forward on two legs. Just when all seemed lost, he rammed the haft of his harpoon into the frozen soil and slid down the shaft. Even as the beast stooped to rend his throat, the spearhead of Hephaestus pierced its breast. It let out a single howl and went still. But even in death, it pressed down to crush its foe. The shaft of the harpoon bent and splintered. With a heroic heave, Anio pushed aside the beast’s dead bulk. The slain Protean sagged and shriveled like a drained wine skin, and then burst into dull blue flames. Anio rose just long enough to get clear of the flames, then collapsed, spent but triumphant.

David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona