The Storyteller (part one)

“Has he come back yet?”

Moth Ara’s silver hair glinted orange as she looked up from the fire at Sis Eres.  “No, not yet.  I expect him soon.”

Eres sat down across from her.  She was younger than Ara, but she recognized concern quickly enough.  “Do you think he got into some trouble?”

Ara shook her head.  “No.  I cannot think that.  Not yet.  We will hold out some hope.  Did you see the younger ones off to bed?”

“Yes.  Mora and Pru helped me corral them.  We gave them some soup to quiet their bellies, but we’ve stretched what ingredients we had about as far as they will go.”

“Good.  For now that will have to be enough.”

“Tomorrow I could take a couple of the other women out foraging.  Or we could send Bern and Simot out to try and catch some meat.  The children are doing okay so far, but the adults are quite hungry.”

Ara shook her head once more.  “No.  Until we know what happened to Jonon, we cannot afford to send more people out.  It is too dangerous.”

“But how will we find out what happened to him if no one is allowed to leave?”

“He will come back.  Trust me.”


Ara held up her hand to stop her.  “Sis Eres, when you become Moth, you will be free to do things your way.  For now, my job is to make sure you get to see that time.  Go get some rest, and leave me with my thoughts and the fire.”

“Yes, Moth.  I apologize.  Goodnight.”

Ara nodded as the younger woman walked away toward her small dwelling.  She did not intend to be so harsh with her, but Jonon’s lengthy absence had made her unease grow with each day that went by.  She knew Eres was right; they needed more food.  But Ara was unwilling to give up just yet.

*     *     *

The next morning, she woke to Eres’ voice outside of her own dwelling.  “Ara!  He’s back!”

She did not know what time she had gone to bed, but she was very much awake now.  In her chest, relief mixed with the desire to yell at Jonon.  Hurriedly, she went outside.  “Where?”

“The central firepit, but…”

She did not wait for Eres to plead for kindness on his behalf, instead striding quickly to the center of the village.  She found Jonon standing there.

“Where have you been?”

“Moth, I’m…”

“We have been worried.  And the food situation has become quite difficult.”

“I’m sorry, Moth.”

“Tell me you managed to bring something back.”

“I did.  I found a cache of supplies that had been abandoned.  We may even be able to go back for more.  I also managed to bring down a couple of deer.”

“Good.”  More relief.  “But it still shouldn’t have taken you…”

“What else did you bring back?”  Eres had come up behind her.  Ara shot her a questioning look, but Eres shrugged it off.  “Let him tell you.”

Ara turned back to Jonon.  “What is she talking about?”

Jonon had fixed his eyes on the ground in front of him.  “I found someone, Moth.”

“Who?  Where did you find this person?”

“He helped with the deer.  In the woods.  Managed to get them into the wagon.”


“I brought him back with me.”

“What?!  Why did you do that?”

“Moth, he’s a storyteller.  I thought…”

“I don’t care what he is.  We can barely feed the mouths we have.  And how do you know he won’t bring back some of his own people here to raid us?”

“He doesn’t have any people.”

“So he says.”

“And he helped me.”

“Part of the ruse.”

“Moth,” Jonon pleaded, “I know I should have asked you, but there wasn’t a chance.  And we need a storyteller.”

“We need no such thing.”

“The children…”

“Have been doing fine without.  We need food, not more people.”

“Well, he’s here.  We can’t just turn him out.”

“We most certainly…”

Eres put a hand on her forearm.  “Ara.  I know this was foolish.  I gave him a good talking to before I even woke you.  But if you’re right, we don’t want him running back to his people knowing where we are.  And if Jonon’s right, well, it would do us some good to have a storyteller.  Maybe we should give him a chance?”

“Sis Eres, that is…”  Ara stopped herself when she saw the look on Eres’ face.  Jonon had been foolish, but maybe she was being rash as well.

“Very well, Eres.  But I will hold both you and Jonon responsible for him.  Any harm that he brings to us will be upon your heads.  Clear?”

Eres nodded, smiling.  “Yes, Moth.”

“Alright, Jonon.  Let’s see this storyteller of yours.”

My Rules for Writing*

  1. No 2-dimensional, cartoon villains.  (Think the Emperor from Star Wars.)  These aren’t real people.  People have motivations.  People are complicated.  Villains should be people.
  2. All narrators are unreliable.  Even without dishonesty, events will look different from different perspectives.
  3. Don’t be afraid of the supernatural.  Use it to tell stories.
  4. Don’t overuse it, either.  It will get stale and lose its capacity to inspire wonder and instill fear.
  5. The world doesn’t make sense.  Not everything gets explained or tied up in a neat little package.
  6. Alienation.  People don’t completely understand one another.
  7. Listen to your characters.  These are their stories.
  8. There is no such thing as fate.  The good guys can lose.
  9. Really examine your characters’ plans; look for loopholes and flaws.  Either plug them or explain why they don’t matter.
  10. In the service of the story, all of these rules can be broken.


* These rules are merely descriptive, not prescriptive.  Other people should follow their own style.


“Friends, Romans, countrymen…”

“Not likely to be too many Romans there.  I think they all died off centuries ago.  Some Italians maybe.  But not Romans.”

“Fine!  It was for dramatic effect.  Set the tone, you know?  Shall I change it to ‘Americans’?”

“That would be more appropriate, I think.  Still, don’t you find it redundant?”

“How so?”

“Well, you’re an American.  Your countrymen are American.  So it seems to just repeat the address.  Besides, it’s also rather exclusionary.  Aren’t you going to speak to the women in the audience?”

“Maybe I should begin, ‘My fellow Americans’?”

“You’re not the president.”

“Argh.  Alright.  Stop it.  Can I continue?”

“By all means.”

“Thank you.  Ahem.  I come to bury America, not to praise her.”

“More jokes?  You’re still on Shakespeare?  I don’t mean to tell you how to do this…”

“Like hell you don’t.”

“… but one line is pushing it.  Two is practically plagiarism.  Do you really think people want to hear Mark Antony’s bit that much?  Say what you’re trying to say.  Let the cute stuff go.”

“I was trying to signal the irony from his monologue.”

“They should be able to figure it out if you’ve done it right.”

“Okay, okay…  We have been told America will become amazing once more.  And since an honest man has been elected to the highest office, we can be sure it’s true.  But before the new age dawns, the one that is so new it will be old, let us take a few moments to reflect on what we have left behind.  In the past few years, the country has seen several changes.  The expansion of insurance coverage to many millions of people was one of the biggest.  Unfortunately, the government’s actions forced insurance companies, which have always fought to keep rates low, to raise prices for consumers.  The companies have bemoaned this state of affairs.  Now we can look forward to the companies being allowed to lower those prices again, making insurance affordable by allowing only some people to have it.”

“Ah.  Better.”

“Thank you.”

“Please continue.”

“Another change that we had suffered through was social in nature.  Women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community had seen slow but perceptible improvements towards equal treatment.  This came at the expense of white males who had built this country through their own efforts without any help whatsoever.  These changes gave white males the barest of glimpse of how these disadvantaged groups had been treated for centuries.  That injustice threatened their feelings, and thus the very foundation of our once proud nation.  Now we can look forward to a return of the white male to his proper place.”


“Too heavy handed?”

“Perhaps a bit.  Go on.”

“Finally, our formerly advanced country had begun making moves towards the technologies and realities of this new millennium.  The transition was difficult as manufacturing was being shipped overseas and the demand for old energy sources declined.  This slide stops now.  We will close our border to immigrants who have never contributed anything to our country.  Rather than prepare for the future, we need to move our own workers back to factories and mines.  This will help us in several ways.  We can take pride that we are making things.  Also we will help make Social Security and Medicare more financially stable, since life expectancy will lower with the accidents and illnesses that are rampant in mines.  The one way that we cannot go back, however, is with unions.  These are job-killing organizations.  If we let workers have rights, it is no wonder these companies feel forced to look elsewhere for labor.  The best strategy to get jobs back is to set up sweatshops with the same conditions and pay that we see in southeast Asia.  That will return our labor force to financial security.”

“Well, that was…  rather…”

“And so, we will soon usher in the end of the privileged political class, those people who serve in political office for years and develop expertise for the job.  We have ended corruption and returned power to wealthy private individuals whose only concern is that of the working class, with whom they have so much in common.  America as we knew her is gone.  May this new America, this return to the good old days of the 19th century, be everything we have hoped for.”

“Well, then…”

“So how was it?  Once you get past the opening bits you hated.”

“Maybe go back to those.”


“Shakespeare had the nuance right.  A bit more subtle.”

Et tu?




“Oh!  Hello.  I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Same.  It really is a small world, isn’t it?”

“Yeah…  So, uh, what brings you across the Atlantic to London?”

“Just a little vacation.  Trying to get away from everything for a bit.  You?”

“Pretty much that.  Thought I could forget things for awhile.”


“Uh huh.”

“Well, I should leave you to it…”

“This is silly.  We’re both here.  You might as well sit for a spell.  Visit a little.  Two foreigners alone in a strange place.  Old friends.  Why not have a cup of coffee…  Unless you have someplace else to be…”

“No.  Just didn’t want to intrude on your time.”

“It’s okay.  Really.”

“Old friends, huh?”

“What would you call us?”

“I don’t know.  Something more complicated, I think.”


“So…  how’s your mom?”

“Well, things have been a little rough on her since dad died.”

“I heard.  I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.  After the scare…  back when we were…  well, we had him with us for longer than we expected.  So that’s something to be grateful for.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“How about your family?”

“They’re the same.  As always.  Nothing’s really changed since you last saw them.”

“That’s good.  Right?”

“Sure.  I guess.”

“… This is awkward, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.  It was nice seeing you.  I’m glad you’re well, but I should let you be.”

“Alright.  Take care.”

“You too.”

What If?

Something a little different to kick off 2017: some questions that plague me.

What if God created the world as an experiment, and it failed, but he didn’t have the heart to destroy it, so it sits forgotten in his closet?

What if reading was a sport more popular than football, baseball, or soccer?

What if no one ever lied?

What if everyone who had died could watch you whenever they wanted?

What if everyone in your life is merely playing a role they were hired to play?

What if we could fly as easily as we could walk?

What if we had never invented war?

What if we never died of old age but we also lost the ability to reproduce?

What if nothing you do matters?

What if everything you do matters?

What if The Lord of the Rings were a work of history rather than of fiction?

What if everyone could know what anyone else was thinking?

What if everyone looked the same and believed the same things?

What if you are merely a side character in someone else’s story?

What if animals could talk?

What if you are lucky at cards or love, but not both?

What if the world stopped spinning?

What if everything you do or say were reported in the media?

What if every year the slate was wiped clean, and we all got to start over?

What if right here, right now was all that there is?

What if everything you believe is wrong?