November 2011


“Well, that’s it,” I said. “I’m done. Or at least as done as I’m going to be.”

My muse, seated in the tattered desk chair behind me, cracked open a fresh beer, not even bothering to mop up the droplets that splattered on their beat-up t-shirt. “Well, was it everything you thought it would be?”

“Sort of,” I said. “I mean, it’s always a thousand times better in my head.”

“It always is,” said my muse in between slugs of Pabst. “But was it worth it?”

“It was a real slog sometimes, especially with the deadlines,” I said. That wasn’t the half of it. Late nights in coffee shops on the weekends, struggling to craft a sentence or two between shifts at work…Sometimes the words would flow out so fast I was afraid I’d type my fingers into raw and bloody nubs. More often I’d sit there sweating bullets at the sight of a blank page, that most pale and personal of horrors. For every piece of prose that soared, there were two more that sank in the morass.

“That’s not what I asked.” My muse tore open a bag of greasy potato chip and began to eat. “Was it worth it?”

I looked at the words on my screen, the pages upon pages that, bad as they were, hadn’t been there before. I glanced at my story notes, breathing some tiny spark of life into people that would never exist, no matter how cardboard or inconsistent they might be.

“Yes,” I said. “It was worth it.”

Melody Greer preferred to be known as Subcommander MG, at least when planning sabotage operations with her Humans for Ethical Animal Treatment group (or “cell” as she preferred to call it). A consensus had rapidly developed among the HEAT members in Cascadia regarding Melody, one that had withstood membership changes and trips to the cooler:

-She was a gifted leader and passionate organizer for the local HEAT.

-She was completely batshit crazy.

This time, she appeared before the seven local members wearing an East German surplus field sweater and a drawn balaclava. “Greetings. Our target this time will be the C. I. Winslow Farms. We will liberate their entire stock of hogs and cattle, and sabotage production systems.”

A hand went up in the back. “Isn’t that a family farm? I think I went to school with the Winslows.”

“Love to, but can’t,” Sheila said. She took another generous sip from her thermos. “Dead.”

“Dead?” Ruckell said. “I think I’d have heard about that.”

Sheila shrugged. “Obituary’ll be in Monday’s paper. We got the news too late to make Friday’s.”

“What happened?”

Another long, deliberate sip. “Not sure it’s any of your business.”

Ruckell sighed. “Do I really have to stick my badge in your face again, ma’am?”

“Do you?” Sheila raised the thermos again.

Ruckell swatted it away. It clattered to the ground–there was nothing in it. She’d been sucking on an empty thermos just to spite him. He held his badge inches from Sheila’s face. “How…did…he…die?”

“Whitewater rafting,” Sheila hissed. “Boat overturned. They found everyone downstream, drowned.”

serialCabal: I’ve got a bit more information for you. Scuzzy was attempting to make a local copy of something from Datane Systems, LLC.

existentialCrisis: Datane? They’re a low-level server farm from what I can see. They rent their servers and processors to other companies at peak times when their cloud computing can’t handle the strain.

serialCabal: Not exactly a major player in the world market. Why’d Scuzzy attempt something so risky with such a dinky target? Making a local copy off some two-bit server farm…it just doesn’t add up. Unless he was trying to get something that went through Datane.

existentialCrisis: Hold on. I put in a query to Dongelle and she just sent over a list of clients that have been using Datane. Says CeeAreTee got it off an illegal drive that someone hawked–tax documents and internal stuff.

serialCabal: And? who have they been selling to?

existentialCrisis: Nobody. Datane has been in business for ten years and they’ve never sold a single bit of server space or processor time.

In our modern age of mass and instant communication, it seemed like a good idea: a writers’ circle. Each participant submitted 500-1000 words when their turn came up, either something they’d just written or a fragment of something longer. We’d all read and respond and then it would be someone else’s turn. No fuss, no muss.

I was enthusiastic to the point of having 5-10 entries prepared in advance. “Oh, Sally, you’re always such a fast writer,” they’d say. Yeah right. Most of it had been on my hard drive since high school if not earlier.

Plus, I was a speed demon compared to the others as they dropped out one by one.

“Oh, I didn’t have time.”

“I read it but I don’t have any comments.”

“Work was crazy this week.”

It was great, because the excuses simultaneously made me look like an overachiever and also someone who had no life. I had 17 credit hours at school and 40 hours at work and managed to get my writers’ circle work done anyway! Some of my circlemates were bona fide slackers with zero credit hours and 40 hours in their parents’ house.

In the end, the circle lasted two rotations with three stories out of twenty-two participants–two of them mine.

“The High Commissioner decided to mete out the harshest punishment to the iButere, as an example,” Smithton said, swirling his tea.

“Annexation?”

“Annihilation. Every last iButere male over the age of 17 was lined up and shot, while the women and children were given over to allied native groups as spoils of war. And spoil they did…”

The reply was frantic, colored with disbelief. “Wait just a moment. We’d have heard if something like that had happened. There would have been articles, stories, reports…people would have known even if they approved!”

“Would they, now,” Smithton said indulgently. “I suppose they all heard about the demise of the Vilcabamba Incas, or the Tayasal Maya?”

You see, Britain and France both claim the totality of the area, and further claims had been advanced by Germany, Italy, and other countries late to the colonization game. King Xmube, you see, was no fool; he negotiated the treaty in front of representatives of every interested nation, declining to reveal his choice until the end. Furthermore, he added that it was to be renegotiated every year before agreeing to sign.

Xmube had the treaty text translated by a missionary, and signed the mineral rights in the Mdogo Triangle to Britain, the seaport and trade rights to the French, and the protectorate status jointly to the Germans and Italians. It was a morass, a mess, and Xmube took great delight in the confusion it caused.

Eventually, of course, the Europeans colluded with one another to settle their affairs and put Xmube out of the picture courtesy of an ambitious nephew. But his legacy was such fierce wrangling over such a tiny area that even today no one is sure who owns the Triangle and Xmube’s people live much as they always have–for now.

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