Winter Berries

I woke up to find frost on everything. Just enough to be noticeable, not enough to really think of it as hoar frost. But then, last February’s bout of hoar frost spoiled us, I think.

I only wish I had my macro lens with me.

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Red Thread

It was a single piece of red thread, just lying on the bench. One or two people might have noticed it as they walked by, but they spent little time on it, and none could have said where it had come from.

That did not make it unusual. Many things get left behind in this world. Often no one knows the story of how something came to be where it was. The world moves quickly, and people lose things.

A boy sat down on the beach, waiting for his mother and sister to finish in the store. Seeing the thread, he picked it up to play with it, to occupy his time. Absently, he wrapped it around his ring finger. The idea of love immediately popped into his head: meeting a woman, for coffee, at three o’clock.

The thought was odd and alien. He didn’t have a girlfriend, and he never drank coffee, so why did he think those things?

He unwound the thread, and the thought left him. The thread made him feel funny, so he put it down. Maybe somebody would meet the woman at three. Or maybe they’d already forgotten. The boy was already forgetting it himself. He just wanted his mom to hurry up so they could go home.

Later that day, when three o’clock arrived, he asked his mom if he could try a sip of her coffee. A bit startled, she agreed. He said he liked it and asked if he could have his own cup.

Too Early, But Pretty

Neighbors across the street have already turned on their Christmas lights. It’s too early. They shouldn’t be on until after Thursday (in my humble opinion).

That said, there is a bank in south Fargo whose blue lights are really pretty.

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I’m a sucker for blue lights. So I’ll forgive them this time.

Escape

Today was a bit more hectic than normal, and I didn’t have a chance to write something brand new. So I thought I would share another passage from the novel I’m working on, The Shifter. Looking at this excerpt with the previous one, it would seem Cassie spends the entire novel getting attacked and knocked out. I swear that’s not the case.

Cassie walked into the general store. A bell rang, but there was no one in sight. Looking around, she saw various tools and cooking implements. Perhaps this was merely a store front for the blacksmith. She wandered around a bit and found some sacks of grains and flour: food, but not what she needed.

She was headed to the door when she spied a small rack of dried meats near the counter. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. She was counting out strips when an older woman appeared through a curtained doorway.

“I hope you’re planning on paying for those.” The woman seemed preoccupied and barely gave Cassie a disapproving look.

“Of course.” She hadn’t been planning on stealing the food, but Cassie felt guilty anyway, as though she had been caught somehow. “How much?”

The woman looked at the strips of meat and opened her mouth to answer when she finally really looked at Cassie. “I don’t recognize you.”

“No, ma’am. I’m just traveling and stopped to buy some supplies.”

“Traveling? Alone? A young girl like you? That is… unusual.”

“Well… I… Um…”

“Wait. Were you traveling with a boy? Weren’t you at the inn last night?”

Terror overwhelmed Cassie’s attempt to find a believable lie, and she ran out the door. She couldn’t know how the woman would react, but she didn’t expect it to be good. All she wanted to do now was to get out of the village before anything else went wrong. She was still holding some of the dried meat, so she shoved it into a pocket before running down the path.

A voice shouted after her, “Hey! Wait! Come back!” But she didn’t slow down to look back.

As she neared to the edge of the village, she saw a horse with a rider headed towards her. Immediately, she recognized the man’s colors: Terrgat. Her terror increased, and she ducked behind the nearest building.

Had he seen her? Did he know who she was? There was nothing to be gained in finding out the answers. She started running again, making for the trees behind the building.

Blood pounded through her ears, covering any sound of pursuit. She didn’t dare slow down to look behind her. There was no goal, no destination; she just ran, barely noticing anything around her. The trees might provide cover. It had to be better than running out in the open.

She felt someone behind her. Whether it was paranoia or real didn’t matter; she simply ran faster. And it made her reckless; he first misstep was nearly her undoing. Somehow she managed to keep from falling down. She was not so lucky the second time as her feet flew out from underneath her, and she sprawled out onto the forest floor. Expecting to hear her pursuer or even find herself being grabbed, she scrambled back to her feet and began running again.

Her body ultimately betrayed her. It couldn’t keep up the pace, and she fell again. Still feeling urgency born of fear, she forced herself back up, more slowly this time. The next time she fell, however, she hit her head on a branch. She tried to hang on to consciousness, to keep moving, but this time the blackness took her.

Last Breath

The clink was familiar. Irregular footsteps, metal boots hitting rock, he knew what he would see even before he opened one eye to gaze at the figure approaching. Was he trying to sneak in all that armor? Absurd. Almost as silly as wearing the armor in the first place. It never protected them, but they kept doing it.

“What do you want, human?”

The man stopped, apparently startled. “You can talk?”

“Of course.” Other than opening one eye and speaking, he had not yet moved. The human did not seem to be much of a threat, but it was good to be cautious; they were unpredictable creatures.

“No one told me you could talk.”

“Indeed. Did they also not tell you I can hear?”

“What?”

“That armor you are wearing. It is rather… loud.”

“Oh.”

“I will ask you again. What do you want?”

“Well…” Even though humans were largely a mystery to him, he recognized discomfort.

He lifted his head, slowly, and turned so both eyes could focus on the man. That seemed to make the intruder more nervous. “You were sent here to kill me, yes?”

Perhaps the man had thought his purpose had not been obvious. In any event, he took a step back and began pulling at his sword. It caught in its sheath.

“Someone must want you dead, sending you to me. You clearly are not prepared for such a battle.” Without uncurling his body, he spread his wings a little. He wanted to be able to move quickly in case the man actually attacked him.

Instead, he gave up trying to draw his blade. “It is true that this adventure was not exactly my choice.”

“Then why come? Surely you know that this will not end well for you.”

“I want to prove myself. I am trying to win the affection of a woman.”

“And your death will accomplish this?”

“Not my death. Yours.”

“But how do you hope to manage that?” His curiosity was genuinely aroused. Humans never really spoke to him. To be fair, he never gave them much of a chance to speak. This one’s willingness to answer made him aware of how many questions he had.

“I… I do not know. I suppose I thought my love would give the strength to succeed.”

“Love? I admit I know little about it, but I do not see how that should be of use in this situation.”

“I must confess I am not so certain myself anymore.”

“So what will you do now?”

“I must find a way, even if love is not the answer.”

“What? You mean to still attempt my death?”

“I must. I cannot return unless I do. I will fight you until my last breath.”

“So even if I allow you to leave, you will refuse?”

“That is correct.”

“Very well.” He opened his mouth wide and exhaled.

The Lesson

“No. Try it again.” His master scowled.

It was a simple enough technique, but he struggled to get anywhere with it. And his master was growing ever more irritated. Trying to ignore all of that, he focused once more on the candle in front of him. The strands of power were obvious all around, and he pleaded with them to touch the wick, even briefly, just enough to set it alight.

But the glowing threads, normally so responsive to his call, seemed indifferent now. No amount of coaxing moved them. It was useless.

“Stop!”

He winced at his master’s tone. The disappointment was obvious. A scolding – or worse – was not far behind.

“It is too painful to watch you fail over and over. Why are you incapable of learning the simplest things?”

It was a rhetorical question. He knew better than to answer. The rant was just beginning.

“I sometimes wonder if you have the gift at all. Starting a fire is the first skill any wizard learns. After a year, you still cannot manage it. Yet you ask me to teach you other things. I have half a mind to send you back to your parents. What use is an apprentice who cannot even light a candle?”

The whole thing was unfair. There was more to magic than starting a fire. He had achieved other effects. The power bent to his will easily. Yet his master was convinced that he would never be a wizard if he could not do this one thing.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself? Why should I keep you?”

There was no right answer to the question; that much he knew. However, if he did not answer, it would be worse for him. He wanted to take the tinderbox and light the candle with it. But he did not. Clever though it might be, the old wizard did not appreciate cleverness. The lesson was to be performed correctly. And though he did not admit it aloud, he was as frustrated with himself as his master. How could he manage to freeze water and control the cold but not generate a single spark? It didn’t make sense.

Wait, he thought. Maybe that was it. It should not work that way. Cold was supposed to be merely the absence of heat. But what if cold were just as real? Could he…? There was only one way to find out.

Ignoring his master’s expectant glare, he turned again to the candle’s wick. This time, he asked the threads to pull all the cold out of it. The strands of power pulsed. He knew it was an odd request, but they tried to comply this time.

Slowly, they pulled the cold away from the wick. Just as slowly, it began to smolder, and, many seconds later, it finally lit. It did not burst into flame; rather, it begrudgingly gave way to fire.

His master snorted at the result. “That was rather inefficient. But at least you finally accomplished this simple task. Such tricks will not always work, however. You need to learn to do things properly.” He paused to think a moment. “Enough for now. Go clean my laboratory. And do not break anything. We will pick up your lessons again later. Be sure to practice lighting the candle. I want to see improvement.” With that, he walked out, leaving his apprentice to his chores.

It might not have seemed like much, but getting through that without a beating counted as high praise indeed. At least he had finally lit the candle. He hoped it would get easier, but suspected that he would not be so lucky.

Falling Down

The burning in his throat woke him. The air reeked of sulfur and ash. He found himself on his side, facing a campfire. A man sat, tending it, only half facing him.

Pushing himself up to a sitting position, he asked, “Where am I?”

The man just gave him a blank look and went back to the fire.

The land around was barren, scarred and blasted, only a few dead trees broke up the hilly landscape. It was black overhead, but no stars shone down. Heat permeated the air.

“I’ve never seen this place before. Where are we?”

The man looked at him again. He had short black hair and very light eyes, which served to create a very eerie appearance. “You have seen this place. Everyone has.”

“No. I’m sure I’d remember something like this.” But he didn’t feel as sure of himself now that he had been challenged. There was something familiar about it.

“You have. Think back to your worst nightmares.”

That struck a chord.

“Wait. You mean I’m in… Wait. I’m dead?”

“Everyone dies sometime.”

“But…” He was dumbstruck. This didn’t make sense. “How did I die? Why can’t I remember that?”

“Must not have been important to you. But really, is that the question you want to ask?”

“Well, why am I here?”

“Ah. There it is. The question everyone asks.”

“Are you going to answer it?”

“Can’t.”

“What? Why not?”

“Not my place to answer it. You have to. Some people figure out the answer right away. Other people… Well…”

“How do I figure it out?”

“That’s up to you.”

“You’re not very helpful.”

“Never said I was trying to be helpful.”

“Argh! You’re infuriating, you know that?”

“I have been told so. More than once.”

“So if you’re not here to help, why are you here?”

“Ah. I’m not going to tell you that. Personal, you see. None of your business.”

“No, I mean… Why are you right here, sitting by this fire, waiting for me to wake up?”

“I’m by the fire because it’s warm. You happened to fall there. I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Can you tell me anything useful?”

“I can. And before you get annoyed further, I will. See that crack in the ground there?”

He did.

“Follow it until you can see a large building. Then, go into the building.”

“And I’ll find answers there?”

“No. Probably just more questions. Though you seem to have a steady supply already.”

“So why would I go there?”

“Almost everybody does. And, no, I haven’t gone, and I don’t know what you’ll find. So you can either stay out here with me, or go there. It’s up to you. But I’ve got nothing more to say.

He stared at the man, but true to his word, he just watched the fire and said nothing more.

This was crazy. It had to be a dream, didn’t it? But what if it wasn’t? What if he had really died and gone to…? He didn’t even want to think it. Instead, he stood up and began walking. Away from the crack.

That was enough to break the man’s silence. “You’re going the wrong way.”

“No. I’m not. You said I had two choices. It struck me as odd you didn’t mention the obvious choice of seeing what else is here. So that’s what I’m going to do. Good luck sitting by your fire.”

The man said nothing, and soon he was too far away to hear anything if he had. This seemed impossible. Even frightening. But he was determined to find out why he was here, though he wasn’t certain he would like the answer.

Titan

I have posted lots of pictures of my cats over the years (here and at my old blog). But I figured I should try to appeal to the broadest base possible. So I present to you, Titan. (He’s a German Shepherd puppy, only a few months old, but he’s getting big fast.)

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Besides, with those big brown eyes, how could I not post a couple of pictures of him.

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Bridge over Calm Waters

We got snow again last night. Just a bit, but it seems to be sticking around this time. So I went down to Gooseberry Park to see if there was any interesting scenes. It turns out that they put in a new pedestrian bridge over the Red River into Lindenwood Park in Fargo some time in the last few months. I hadn’t realized it.

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Looks like a nice bridge. I hope there isn’t a flood that wipes it out any time soon.