Ashes to Ashes

I’m not typically someone who is affected by celebrity deaths. After all, the passing of someone who I have most likely never met, and wouldn’t be aware of my existence isn’t really something I find worth dwelling on.

But there are two very big exceptions to that rule, and it surprised me that they hit me so hard. The first exception was Sir Terry Pratchett, whose death in March 2015 after a multi-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Pratchett was (indeed, still is) my favorite author and I’ve enjoyed the Discworld series of comic fantasy novels since a friend recommended The Colour of Magic (I was still living in England back then, so the title did have that extra ‘u’ in ‘Colour’) to me in 1993.

Now, twenty-three years later, there is one last entry in the series that I haven’t read. The forty-first Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown awaits me. In some ways, I don’t want to read it because then it really will mean that there won’t be any more output from Pratchett to read. I think that’s why I decided to re-read the entire series again from scratch. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll see that I’ve gotten a good way through the series on this re-read. I’m both looking forward and not looking forward to the end of the series.

The other celebrity death that really affected me is that of David Bowie. As of this writing I’ve known that Bowie is no longer among the living for eighteen hours, and it still doesn’t quite have the sense of reality. When it comes to favorite things, my answers for favorite book, favorite song, favorite movie or favorite food vary depending on my moods, but s far as I can remember, I’ve always only ever had one answer to “Who is your favorite singer?” Bowie.

I’ not going to claim that I have some kind of ineffable, ephemeral connection to his music or that I associate seminal moments or compelling memories of my life with Bowie’s music. In fact, most of the seismic events in my personal life (two marriages, the birth of my son, moving to the US) and in the world in general (the death of Princess Diana, the 9/11 attack) are associated with quite banal music that has become elevated by association with those moments. It’s the only reason that I unabashedly enjoy Avril Lavigne’s Complicated (and I’m guessing this blog is the only place that song will ever be associated with David Bowie ever.)

Bowie’s music was different. It is different, it didn’t need personal associations to elevate it to greatness. It achieved that all on it’s own (with the possible exception of The Laughing Gnome) The omnipresence of the tributes to Bowie online show the sheer breadth of the man’s body of work. I’ve heard snippets and songs from just about every album from 1967’s David Bowie to last Friday’s Black Star and it’s impossible to narrow any of it down to choose a favorite song. Heck, it’s such a strong discography I don’t think I’ve heard two people pick the same Bowie album as their favorite. For the record, my pick is Lodger,  the last of the Berlin trilogy. But even that is subject to change.

And beyond the music, Bowie was a damned good actor. The range that can encompass the haunted Major Jack Celliers of Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence to the gleeful malevolence of Jareth, the Goblin King in Labyrinth and so many roles in between shows that it was more than just the novelty take of a musician turned actor.

I’m also amazed that the internet, noted home of trolls, malingerers and assholes galore doesn’t seem to have a bad word to say about David Bowie. There’s none of the toxic vehemence and disagreements that have characterized reactions to so many news events and deaths. It’s weird and also somehow life-affirming to see the outpourings of so many strangers united in their unabashed love for the musical output of David Bowie.

There are o words here that can really pay tribute to him any better than the literally thousands of other sites and posts that are doing so, so if you feel inclined check those out. For me, I’m going to pay tribute by appreciating the man’s work one more time. It doesn’t even matter which album or song that plays when I hit “shuffle,” it’s Bowie. It will be great.

For the record it was the title track on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps.)

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Flash Fiction: Shreds of Doubt

For months now, the world stank of piss and putrefying flesh. The constant drum-roll of German shell impacts drowned out the buzzing of a billion angry flies. But what really bothered Private Liam Jenkins was the omnipresent mud. The filthy stuff coated everything and you never truly got clean. At the rate things were going, he’d still be breathing this foul mud by the year 2000.

He hoped that he would escape out of this Belgian shit-hole by then. A hubbub of activity among the non-commissioned officers sure made it seem like they had heard something from the brass. He assumed that old Haig had given the order to go over the top and hoped to God that the Hun’s machine guns would make Jenkins’ inevitable death come quick.

Not like Thompson, whose death seemed to stretch on for hours. The only reason he knew it wasn’t days was because the sun never set. Jenkins ended the man’s burbling screams of agony with a bullet to his throat. He could still the body entangled in the barbed wire.

He could remember when enlisting seemed like a good idea, back when a young woman handed him a white feather. She branded him a coward for not “fighting for King and country.” What the King wanted with this rain-soaked bog of shit, mud and corpses eluded Jenkins. Still, the Kaiser obviously gave it some importance, so Jenkins and the rest of his unit tried to take it back inch by painful inch.

By the flurry of activity, Jenkins assumed the unit were about to fight for another inch. He wiped the grime off his wedding ring and kissed it. He doubted he’d see his Lizzy again. Three men either side of him knelt in prayer. It’s true, Jenkins thought, there really are no atheists in foxholes. Jenkins didn’t know what he believed about God, but he damn sure believed in Hell. He’d lived in it since the mid February.

Two minutes later, as the setting sun bathed the mud-choked battlefield in an ugly crimson hue, Jenkins finished answering nature’s call and pulled the duckboards away. As he clambered out of the trench, his foot stomped down on gristle and bone of a severed arm. A fading stripe on the sleeve suggested the arm had once belonged to a corporal. Jenkins kicked it away as he crept on to the battlefield, his rifle at the ready.

He felt the shock wave of what he fervently hoped was the last artillery shell launched at the German lines seconds before he heard the roar of impact. Maybe it would kill a few of the enemy, or better yet, flatten some of the infernal barbed wire. Jenkins slithered forward on his stomach, trying not to think about the staccato bullets of the enemy machine guns as he advanced. Then came pain and blood as his earlobe ripped away.

Unable to go on, Jenkins stood up and bolted back past his own lines as bullets zipped all around.

The inspiration for this piece of 500-word Flash Fiction was a prompt I found online (I forget the site, or I would link it) that read “shreds of doubt.” It’s a first draft, but feedback and comments are always welcomed.

“1st World War Statue” photograph from FreeImages.com/David Walsh

Flash Fiction: Why Didn’t it Happen to me?

The mud stained Sandra’s fingernails as she scratched at the rain-soaked ground. The soft earth gave way to her frenzied digging until she banged her fingers against the ash wood box. Her tears mingled with the raindrops beating against the box lid. Sandra pulled the box against her, leaving an ugly brown stain on her dark blue dress. She headed inside, prising the battered lid off the box on her way.

 

Sandra curled up on her battered leather sofa and spread the contents of the box on her coffee table. Two moldering photographs, a pair of friendship bracelets and a rough grey stone with “Caitlin + Sandra 4ever” scrawled on it crudely in white chalk. Sandra gripped the stone tightly, feeling its coarseness against her palm. She found the grittiness against her skin oddly comforting. She raised her eyes heavenward and began to whisper.

 

“Will you remember me when I see you again? I know I could never forget you. I tried for a while.” Sandra took a deep breath and picked up the first photograph.

 

She turned it over and looked at the back of the yellowing print. The words “Dewey Beach vacation, June 12, 1983” were scribbled on the back in felt tip pen. Had it really been that long? Sandra wondered. It felt like yesterday. She turned the photograph around and looked at the picture of the two of them. In her mind they had been children, looking towards Mom’s old Kodak camera and flashing matching gap-toothed smiles. The girls in the picture looked older, almost in their teens and something about Caitlin’s eyes made her look ineffably older. Those eyes looked as world-weary as Sandra felt, sitting their holding a memory three decades old.

The other photograph lay face down on the table. Sandra couldn’t bring herself to look at that one yet. Instead, she picked up the braided friendship bracelets with their red, white and blue almost painfully bright in the dark, storm-lit room. She inhaled them and just for a moment she could smell that distant summer again. The salt air, the artificial sweetness of cotton candy and the coconut smell of Caitlin’s suntan lotion. For a moment, the years disappeared and Sandra became the devil-may-care child in the photograph again. Her sigh broke the illusion and brought her back to the here and now, with rain beating a grim tattoo against her windows.

“We were supposed to last forever,” she said. The room swallowed the words into oppressive silence. Steeling herself, Sandra turned over the second photograph. This one didn’t have anything written on it, instead the date was printed on the photo in impersonal sans serif type. “06 January, 2003.” The black and white photograph only pictured Caitlin, those same ineffable eyes stared lifelessly at the Medical Examiner’s camera, framing the bloody opening of Caitlin’s fatal wound.

“We were supposed to last forever.” Sandra murmured, closing her eyes.

Sandra still gripped the second photograph tight three days later when her sons found her body on the couch.

 

The inspiration for this piece of 500-word Flash Fiction was a prompt I found online (I forget the site, or I would link it) that read “why didn’t it happen to me?” Apparently, I was feeling rather maudlin in my interpretation of it. It’s a first draft, but feedback and comments are always welcomed.

“Rain Cloud” photograph from Freeimages.com/weliton slima.

2016: Resolutions

As I type, it’s still (just barely) the first weekday of 2016. And, as with so many other things about the start of a New Year, it’s all about looking forwards, rather than backwards. That said, 2015 was a pretty big year for me, as I got married. I also got a new employer.

Instead of dwelling on that, I’ve decided to set myself some goals for 2016 just like I did two years ago. These goals ae less self-improvement focused as I’m in a  much better mental space than I was back then. Let’s look at those goals and a little bit of the whys & wherefores of them:

New Diet

This is on of the few self-improvement goals I have for this year. I have made a start on improving this. The biggest flaw in my diet is that I still eat out too much. This is something I want to fix for a few reasons. The biggest is that cooking together became something of a couples highlight/activity between my wife and I, to the point that we would blog about it. This fell by the wayside this summer as we were distracted by our wedding, participating in GIshWHes, various travel commitments and then the holidays.

New Weight.

I mentioned this in my 2014 goals, but I’m still not happy with my weight. I have been carefully calorie counting and taking advantage of the gym in the basement of the apartment building for much of 2015, and it has paid off. At the start of 2015 I was around 270lbs and had gotten down to 220lbs. However, based on relaxing the diet over Thanksgiving, various holiday parties at work, and New Year, I’d assume I was at least 230lbs as of this writing. My goal was 200lbs before, so that’s still what I’m aiming for, though if I lose more, I won’t exactly be complaining.

Communicate Better

I’m horrible about keeping in touch with people, and I need to work on this 2016. I want to reach out to my son more often than I do, because he’s awesome. I also want to make more effort to contact my mother, father and sister.

Blog More

I enjoy writing entries on this blog, and I don’t do it enough to be worth following. My goal for 2016 is to blog at least once a week. Hopefully even more frequently than that, as I want to make serious headway in my Supernatural blogwatch project as I have eight seasons to get through.

Read More

Pretty self-explanatory. I enjoy reading, and have used the Goodreads app to set myself reading challenges. In 2014, my target was 50 books, which I exceeded. In 2015, my target was 55 books, which I just met. In 2016, my target is 60 books. I’m currently reading my way through the Discworld series in honor of Terry Pratchett’s death and am up to Monstrous Regiment the 31st of the 41-novel series.

Write More

This is something I did poorly at in 2015. For the first time, I failed to complete my  National Novel Writing Month project, and I didn’t get much written even outside of that, aside from some brief flash fiction. I think the solution to this is more discipline, so I’m setting myself the target of writing 500 words every week day throughout 2016. Some of those will likely appear on this blog, but many won’t. The reason I say every weekday rather than just every day is so that I can reserve the weekends to catch up if I miss a weekday. Hopefully that won’t happen often (and I’m cheating today be counting this blog entry as my 500 words…)

Game More

This is more of an enjoyment thing for me. I’m generally not a video gamer, but I do enjoy playing the occasional game. I saw something called the #12in12 challenge on Twitter. The goal is to finish 12 games in 12 months. Since I’m a long, long way behind the times on modern games, my twelve will probably be somewhat retro. I’m starting with the first Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game, as I enjoy RPGs and, well, Star Wars has had something of a media saturation lately and it worked on me.

So, those are my resolutions for 2016, what are yours, dear readers?