Mar 18 2007

Writing Exercises (found at winebird.com)

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#1

A CONTRAST IN PEAS (WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN SNOWFLAKES)

Two peas in a pod, that’s what Uncle Chester says to mama. I’m thinking: what the hell does that old curmudgeon know? Callie ain’t book smart but she’s sexy and cunning–a whole heap of trouble tucked inside a single, pretty wrapper.

Callie drinks. If the folks in this house didn’t smoke like industrial coal burners, they’d know she sneaks out to smoke, too. And the men…let me tell you all about them. I swear that girl sexes the men folk as if she were a dat-burn mare all crazy with heat.

The fellas do seem to love my sister, though. I seen ’em buy her things. Mostly trinkets, but sometimes she gets diamonds or pearl earrings. She really likes the pearls and starts crying whenever mama takes them to sell.

Two peas in a pod, Uncle Lester agrees with a nod. The fool grins and winks at me. The gap between them front teeth turns his mouth into an airplane hangar. For a moment, I dream of parking my fist in it. Honestly, I think the man needs to clean them fancy glasses of his. First time I ever smoked was the very last; I swear I was queasy-green for weeks afterwards. Booze ain’t nothin’ but devil piss. It stinks to high-heaven and I’m s’posed to drink it?

Speaking of all things foul, I’d rather be gut shot and left to die than wear any of those frilly, froufrou dresses Callie adores. I mean, really, who the hell can climb trees in a stupid dress? Really, it ain’t for me.

And see, the men folk have learned better than to try to sex me up. Them that do try just get belted in the nose. Broke me a knuckle doing it once, too. Seein’ how I don’t have fair skin or Callie’s light eyes, mostly now they just leave me be.

Mama accuses me of being dark and morose. She don’t curse Callie none for her wickedness but she’ll sure as hell take a switch to my backside if she gets the itch. If you asked me, I’d just tell you the woman is done cracked. Why, ain’t neither one of those molester twins really my uncle. Callie and me like two peas in a pod? Like hell!


#192

ALL BOOKS CONSIDERED

“Diel?”

“Yes, Jace?”

“I swear I’m gonna shoot you.”

“I’m already dead, Jace.”

“Then you won’t feel a thing.” Shoving aside books, Jace rolled over and sat up. Hiding none of his disdain, he glared up at Diel. Maybe she was cute and curvy, even incorporeal as she was, but she could still be a bitch sometimes.

Closing his eyes, he counted to ten. Then he asked, “Want to explain why you just pushed a bookshelf over on my head?”

She drifted toward him, picking up the books that had fallen and replacing them on the shelves. As she bent, rose, and turned, blocks of over-sized shadows angled up the library walls, swelled and diminished across the ceiling. It made Jace think of a candle flame, except the halo of light surrounding Diel reminded him more of cool moonlight.

“We’ve been through this, Jace,” she told him. “You’re not taking my book.”

He sneered up at her—her and her thousand-year-old piety. “Do you have any idea how much I can profit off that thing?”

She flashed him that look — the one meant to make him feel like a thirteen-year-old speaking out of turn. He regretted his words, not because of that look, but because he knew very well that greed had stopped being his motivation weeks ago. Part of it was knowing he’d never have to work again, but the deeper understanding was in recognizing he’d stepped into the midst of something much greater than himself. The world would change for the better, and Jace not only knew he was a part of it, he wanted to be pivotal to that change.

“Do you know how much I could make from a bounty on your head?” She asked.

“Hmm, none? You’re dead.” He chucked a nearby book through her midsection. Stunned, she issued a tiny, bird-like squawk and gazed down at her midriff as if in fact he had shot her. Her light wavered momentarily, and this caused her eyes to vanish into darkness, leaving behind black, eyeless sockets. Jace recoiled; he much preferred the full-color, daytime version of her.

She recovered gracefully; any untoward emotions stayed hidden behind a haughty sniff. Sweeping back the hem of her skirt, she knelt to gather the books littered around him. “We all have our boundaries,” she said. She paused long enough to show him an unfriendly, cloying smile. Then she patted him on the head — a gesture he didn’t feel — as she rose, adding, “Even thieves should know their limitations–”

He cut her off. “Woman, don’t start lecturing me. You were lit on fire for witchcraft!”

Diel vanished. The wounded, horrified look she gave him lingered, suspended in the air a moment longer than the rest of her. She took her ethereal halo with her as she went and left him sitting alone in darkness. He chuffed softly at her sensitivity before he picked himself up.

“Damn,” he whispered and thrust a hand out in front of him. With a bit of luck and two nasty knocks to his shin, Jace guided himself to the end of the bookcase. From there, he maneuvered towards the observatory where the Book of Graces was kept.

“Diel?” He called. He felt bad, but it would never occur to him to apologize. “Come on, angel, don’t be upset.”

He fumbled around the library’s main floor, lost and wandering the corridors between tall bookcases. The heavy musk of decaying books offended his nose, leaving him with an even deeper appreciation for the compact technology of his personal library. Literally, it gave him over two million documents available at the press of a few buttons. The books around him were the relics of another time and although they were sometimes printed for nostalgic reasons, the wood shortages of 2032 almost all but eradicated the age of printed material.

He stumbled over the stairs on the central landing and paused, squinting up at the twin, glass-front doors of the observatory. Suddenly he felt very anxious and that anxiety skittered across his skin, lifting the tiny hairs across his body.

The Book of Graces, the premier documentation on magic. Real magic — the type needing no spell, no incantation, not even so much as a taper.

He really didn’t know much about the book, or magic. In fact, very few people did. Jace knew only that Graces was preordained to rival the Book of the Fallen in popularity, some time around 2018 — that was after the Second Revolution and the ensuing collapse of the Bush Dynasty.

Unlike the Book of the Fallen, though, Graces never made it to print. In true biblical fashion, the fire that claimed Diel’s life took her manuscript, too. Diel was the reason Damon Ashburn had contacted Jace. Jace’s reputation for being a fairly good, seasoned thief had very little to do with this assignment. No, Ashburn had wanted him because of his abilities as a bona fide medium and Jace had been more than a little insulted. Disgruntled even. Then one morning 3-mil in corporate credits landed in his private account. Ashburn wasn’t taking no for an answer, and Jace took the job.

Ashburn promised another 3-mil CCs if Jace could secure the actual book. At first, Jace suspected Ashburn wanted to secure it for his private collection. Then he met Diel and he understood: Ashburn had found a way to resurrect her lost magic through him and would pay anything Jace demanded. Jace had set to work immediately.

Even so, here he was, eight months later, skulking around at night, locked in the library with a spirit whose feelings he’d just hurt.

“Diel? Honey? I guess charming you out of the book is a no-go, then?”

Jace paused before the twin glass doors and listened. Diel had hidden somewhere in the library and now she was crying. Her sobs drifted to him, first from the north, then from east and south. He couldn’t tell if she was moving about or if it was merely another trick from her bag of haunts.

“Woman, stop your caterwauling or I swear I’ll march you and the damned book right out of here.”

He heard her gasp and a second later, her head popped up from behind a rack of unclassified books. “You wouldn’t dare,” she said.

He dangled her locket before her. “Try me.”

“You’re a foul man, Jace.” She scrambled over the stack of books.

“I know.”

“Leave my book alone,” she told him, fiercely.

“That’s my girl,” he replied and flashed her a charming grin. He peered through the observatory doors. This was it. Finally. His heart felt sluggish and his mouth dry, as if he’d just swallowed a cattail. The pads of his hands began to sweat.

It stood almost mid-floor in the observatory on a pedestal, protected under glass. Nestled against a swatch of navy blue velvet, the book rested atop a clear Lexan stand and was left open to a random page. It was back lit, mostly for ambiance, but during the day angled spotlights caught its pages at just the right pitch to make them near opaque. Sometimes, at certain hours of the day whole sentences even materialized, or so some people claimed.

Only one thing had stood between Jace and his 3mil in Corporate Credits: Diel. What a lovely, pigheaded ghost she was. He’d spent the last seven months trying to schmooze her into letting him have the book, but she’d refused. Quite by accident, though, she’d given away her secret. Anyone at any time in the past hundred years could have marched in and taken that book, but none ever had.

“Jace.” Diel spoke gently.

“Yes, Diel?”

“I turn the pages for a reason.”

“Yes, I remember. You explained.”

“Don’t take my book. I like it here.”

“You said no human hand could touch it. Why are you so worried?”

She sighed softly. “I said no living hand could touch it.”

“Well, darling—personally—I don’t know many ghosts.” The observatory doors opened with the tiniest of shoves. It seemed both man and ghost held their collective breath for a moment, but it was Diel who gazed reverently at the book as she drifted to it.

“Diel?”

“Hmm?”

Jace slid a digital recorder from his jacket pocket. Squinting in the dim light, he checked to make sure it worked and then turned back to her. “Open the book,” he said, “first page.” Carefully, he raised the glass dome for her.

She reached out and caressed the open pages. For her, the book was real. For her, it had substance. He couldn’t resist his curiosity; he stuck his hand out, too, but it sank right through. Diel smiled and gloated broadly.

“Just read it to me,” he said, scowling in response.

“That’s all?” She looked mildly surprised.

“Yes that’s all. Now, would you just read?”

Smiling, Diel opened her book to the first page and began to read.

***

In the underground trade district, Damon Ashburn, the man who accepted Diel’s recording was often and mistakenly referred to as “The Dealer.” Those who knew him more intimately, though, called him “The Librarian”. He considered all books a treasure, especially the rare ones, but it was Diel’s he valued most. Jace haggled ferociously over royalties for the reprinting of the transcript and his efforts resulted in a payout far more lucrative than his initial 6-mil of credits. He banked 10% for himself and another 10% for Diel (which he directed straight to the library’s funds at Diel’s insistence). In the end, the Librarian paid handsomely for Diel’s recording and Diel made Jace promise not to steal anything ever again; a promise which he kept. In return, she promised not to hit him with any more bookcases; a promise which, for reasons of her own, she failed to keep.

But that, dear friends, is a tale of its own.


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