The Important Stuff

A Beginning

A story has to begin somewhere. If you've ever played a RPG then you know that many stories start in taverns. How else are you to gather...

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Story Of Creation

The white-haired priest adjusted his robes as he waited for the children to settle onto their mats. Orphans. Abandoned. Unwanted. Exploited by vile men and women. They were the children of a society that could not contain the rot at its core. The most vulnerable. The ones who suffered first and hardest when times were lean. May the eternal virgin, Rachiel, show mercy upon their innocent souls.

“Are we ready young ones?” He tapped the end of his staff against the floor as all eyes turned to him. “Thank you for your attention. Are you ready for a story? A story of life. Of love. Of betrayal. Of war. The first story. Without this story there would be no others. Good. Now listen well.”

“The Sleeping God awoke and thus reality was born. It was not yet as we know it though. There were no trees. No rivers. Not even so much as a pebble. No crawling insect. No flying bird. No dog nor cat. Reality was an empty place and the Sleeping God was lonely. But he was a God, he did not have to be lonely if he did not want to be, thus he created his first children. From the very essence of magic itself he created the Dragons.”

“They were beautiful the Dragons. Their scales twinkled like stars and sparkled like jewels even before such things existed. As bright as the sun, or as dark as the deepest shadow. They came in every color imaginable. There were Dragons beyond count. From ones small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, to mighty beasts larger than the largest mountains we now know. Each Dragon followers of the laws of Order, Neutrality, or Chaos.”

“The Dragons never knew deprivation for if they hungered they simply created something to hunt. If they found their situation dull, they shaped the reality around them to be entertained. If they needed to feel love, they were surrounded by their many brothers and sisters who would take one to the breast of the other.”

“Their Father watched his children grow and multiply. He was pleased with his creation and knew it would continue long after him. So, it was he resumed his long sleep. With their Father once more asleep the Dragons chose the wisest, strongest, and oldest among them to lead as a council. There were 8 Dragons on that ancient council and even you know their names children.”

“The Dragons of Order voted on who was to lead them. The gold Mage, the silver Scholar, and the copper Alchemist were given three seats. It was said the Dragons of Chaos did battle so that only the strongest would lead them. The red Antagonist, the green Leviathan, and the blue Defiler won their seats. No one knows how the Dragons of Neutrality picked who would sit upon the council from among their number. But in the end, it was the black Passionate and the white Stoic who stepped forth to take their reserved places.”

“You may ask how long the Dragons held dominion over all of reality. But what is time to immortal beings created of pure magic? Only know that it was time beyond mortal reckoning. Then, in the blink of an eye, they were no longer alone. They were no longer the only children of the Sleeping God. The Young Gods were born.”

“But how were they born I see the question in your eyes. There are some who say the Sleeping God dreamed them into existence. Others say they simply appeared out of the ether. And then there are some who believe they are all part of the Sleeping God still, only manifested outside of his divine form. The how does not matter children, we’ll save those theological discussions for when you are older, all that matters is that they appeared.”

“At first the Dragons and the Young Gods lived in peace. Some might even say they were friends. Were they not both children of the Sleeping God? But as you may well know, siblings do not always love one another as they should. And as such did the Dragons and the Young Gods grow distant. You see children, the Dragons were made of the very essence of magic. It was in their blood. They created life with just a thought. The Young Gods did not connect with the essence of magic as easily. Of course, they could touch it. They could channel it. They could create great wonders and often did. But they lacked the Mastery of Magic that the Dragons had.”

“In time, much as the Sleeping God, their Father, did. The Young Gods wanted more. The Emperor of the Young Gods, Anael did cleave to his consort Nalerah, and from their union the first humans were born. This is why you must always respect your fellow humans children for we all carry a touch of the divine within us.”

“Now, where was I? Ah yes, the birth of humanity. The Young Gods loved their creations. They each shared some of their divine knowledge with us. They lived among us to protect us, shelter us. Each of the Young Gods influenced and shaped humans in their unique way. In time the Young Gods realized that there were flaws in their creations. While they were immortal, flawless, powerful. We were weak. Our lives were but brief sparks compared to their eternal flames. We were populous, as the Young Gods had given us the gift of creation within ourselves. But just as we achieved wisdom, our lives ended.”

“The Young Gods wanted their children to live as they did. So it was, that they turned to the Dragons. They went to the Council of Dragons as they were the oldest, wisest, and strongest of all. The Young Gods asked of their elder siblings, teach our children magic. Teach our children how to extend their lives so they could live and love as one with their creators.”

“Now the Dragons had watched from afar since the beginning. They found humans intriguing, but were we interesting enough to make immortal? The Council deliberated for generations of the lives of humans. When they returned the Council was split. The Dragons of Order thought the humans could benefit from their gifts. But the Dragons of Chaos did not. To them humans were little better than the creations they themselves brought into existence when they wished to hunt. The Dragons of Neutrality sided with Chaos in this. Humanity was the creation of the Young Gods, if they wanted humans to be immortal, them let them find the way and means to do so.”

“This angered and vexed Anael. But what could he do? Even though by now humans outnumbered Dragons, they could not simply wrest the power away from the Dragons. Such was impossible. As he puzzled over this problem Anael went away. Where he went no one knows for certain. It is believed he went to the very edge of reality and there he gazed into the void which had been all there was before the Sleeping God awoke. What he saw there. What he learned there, we can only guess. For you see children, when Anael returned he was not alone. With him was the first and most powerful of the demons of vice. We shall not speak their names here today children, to do so would be to call their gaze upon your innocence and I will not have you so corrupted.”

“Anael had learned something from his time away. And one by one he took each of his siblings away to teach them as well. And one by one they returned with another demon. Where once there was only good and innocence, now there was the potential for evil and wickedness. But you ask, why did Anael, Emperor of the Young Gods, bring evil into the world? Well children, because only the demons could teach humans the next lesson they needed to learn. From the demons of vice, we learned how to hate. We learned how to make war. We learned how to kill in anger. Thus, did the first war begin.”

“I do not tell you this to frighten you children. We look to the Young Gods for guidance. We, in our innocence, think them infallible. But I tell you today children, even the Gods themselves can make mistakes.”

The Priest fell silent as he let the weight of his words fall heavy upon the shoulders of the children. He smiled when there were no tears or protests to what he said. They were strong these children who had known the evils of the world so well. There were adults who refused to accept that the Young Gods were not perfect. He cleared his throat before he continued.

“The Dragons were completely unprepared for war. In those first days it was a slaughter as the humans attacked many Dragons who had once been their friends. Humanity swarmed like ants armed with weapons crafted by the god Razot himself. Where we went, only death and destruction was left in our wake. But you ask, didn’t the dragons have magic? Didn’t they know how to hunt? Did they not know how to fight?”

He stroked his long beard, “There are differences in how one fights to feed their belly, and how one fights to take a life in anger. There are differences in fighting for dominance when you know one side will yield once they know they are beaten. But in war children, there is no mercy.”

“No mercy. Every Young God, but one, fought by the side of their children and the Demons of Vice. Sweet Rachiel could not watch so much death. So much destruction. She turned her light away from the war her brothers and sisters fought. She wept for every life lost, from human to Dragon.”

“Their bodies, the bodies of the Dragons fell like meteors from the sky. They piled one atop the other until there were so many you could not tell where one began, and the others ended. As their magic was extinguished their scales went dull. Their bodies created the land you see now. As more fell, the violence of their fall rent chasms into the newly made ground. When the largest of the Dragons were thrown down mountains were formed. Each life lost left a tear in the sky, the magical blood spilled the light of the stars we see now. Rachiel’s tears continued to fall like rain to fill the depressions in the newly formed land. Soon there were lakes, rivers, and oceans.”

“While all this death happened, something strange took place. Amid so much tragedy, life was created. As magic ran like blood from the bodies of the Dragons it met with the Divine Tears of the Eternal Virgin. Grass grew. Trees rose into the heavens. Flowers burst into existence. Soon insects crawled, birds flew, and creatures both predator and prey found their homes in the new world created.”

“The war raged for generations. Humans born, lived, and died knowing only eternal war. Yet even war between gods, man, and dragons cannot last forever. In time only the oldest, strongest, and wisest remained. The Council called for a parlay. It was either that, or the last of them would perish, and possibly magic itself, reality itself would be extinguished. They met with the Young Gods and it was a very different meeting since their last. They were forced to agree to the Young God’s demands and give humans magic. They could not give us immortality, but they were able to awaken the spark within humans that we could learn magic. We could harness and channel magic to a degree, of course we will never be as strong as the Dragons or our creators.”

“In exchange for the gifts the Young Gods allowed the last 8 Dragons to live. They were not to interfere in the lives of humans who had moved to the newly created world and claimed it as their own. It is said as the Dragons agreed to the terms of the surrender, somewhere atop the highest peak of the Sky Slicer Mountains, their tears fell until a new river was created. The very river which runs through the city to this day.”

“The Young Gods had won. Their children had the spark of magic within their breasts. A fresh new world to call their own. But there was one problem. The Demons of Vice. Emperor Anael knew he could not allow the Demons of Vice to roam free among his children. Their evil was too great. Their potential to do harm too great a threat. So it was that Anael conspired with his brother Razot and they prepared a trap. A giant maze deep beneath the ground where the fires of the world burn. A maze that no matter how much they tried. The Demons of Vice could not escape, for there was no escape.”

“Anael invited the Demons of Vice to a feast. A victory feast. They gathered at his table in the Emperor of the God’s own hall. They feasted on the delicacies of the gods, foods the Demons were not allowed at any other time. As they feasted Anael left the room and with Razot’s assistance they dropped a trap over the demons. A puzzle trap, for that is how you trap a demon children. Give them a puzzle and they can do no harm until they have solved it.”

“Razot had crafted giants made of metal and stone. Each giant picked up a cage which held one of the Demons of Vice and they were sent down into the depths of the world. When the last Demon was in the maze, Anael himself closed the gate behind them. It is said that even now he carries the key which would unlock it on his person as he trusts no other to keep the world safe from his folly.”

“This is but part of the story children. We all know there is so much more. We know about how the Antagonist chafed under the laws laid down upon them by the Young Gods. We know how he crafted an army bent on destruction of all of humanity and of life itself. We know that the half human child of the Mage brought the three human kingdoms together into one mighty Empire and defeated the Antagonist and his armies.”

“There is so much more story children. Every day a little more is added to it. Why even one of you may play a part in the story someday. But that is enough for one day. I see the Sister is here to take you all to supper and I think I shall join you for my throat is parched and my stomach growls. Off with you now children. You can’t grow to serve the Young Gods if you don’t get enough to eat.”

The Priest watched with a fond smile as the children ran from the room to follow the Sister of Rachiel to their supper. He could still remember his days in an orphanage very like the one he told his stories in. How he had longed to be a hero, so his name might one day be carved in stone, celebrations of his memory nationwide holidays. But that was a long time ago and he was a very old man now. No better time than to pass on his own youthful hopes to the little ones of today.

With a grunt he pushed to his feet and left the small open-air chapel. Just before he passed through the door he looked to the statue of Rachiel as she held out her hands to accept the souls of the innocent into her care. For a moment he thought he saw a tear track down her weathered stone face. But then it was gone. His eyes often did play tricks on him as he aged.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Let Them Eat Steak and Lobster! pt 2

Before I get into the discussion of SNAP there was another school shooting today. The 18th school shooting so far this year. It is February 14th. There is something broken with this nation. Do we care so little for our fellow humans that when our children are getting killed in their schools we offer useless ‘thoughts & prayers’ then move on with our lives? I’ve got more thoughts on this illness that our nation seems to suffer from. Maybe I’ll work on a gun post next. At least it will be added to the to-do pile. Now back to the matter at hand.

The current administration… I am not a fan. I’ve not been a fan of that Cheeto faced menace since the first time I saw him on my TV screen in the 80s. Why the hell was some New York con man national news? Why should I give two fucks about his infidelities? I still don’t beyond what his lack of morals is doing to my nation. He’s everything I despise. I can’t even listen to his voice without cringing. So yeah, I didn’t vote for him. Have you seen the shit show of a budget proposal they just released?

So, what has me pissed off? There are a lot of things, but let’s focus on how they want to change SNAP. They want to take away choice: low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month — just over 80 percent of all SNAP recipients — would get about half of their benefits in the form of a "USDA Foods package." The package was described in the budget as consisting of "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables." The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.

The administration wants to take away my ability to choose what I feed my family. They want to take away my ability to effectively shop sales and use my coupons. They want to take away my ability to minimize waste by only buying what we eat, by forcing us to accept boxes of food packed with preservatives that may or may not be things we eat. Remember food allergies? Food aversions? Restricted diets? Yeah. These boxes won’t take those things into consideration. Everyone gets the same box.

Mah Tax Dollahs! Is a common refrain in discussions of our country’s tattered social safety net. And what makes you think this new program is going to be cheaper? In part 1 I linked to information about the effectiveness of the current SNAP program. SNAP is a multi-billion-dollar government program with only 7% overhead. The rest of that money? Feeding families. Fraud is barely .01 out of every dollar. The IRS can’t even boast of being this effective and good at its job. Do you really believe that boxing up pre-packaged food and somehow delivering it to all the families on SNAP is going to be more cost effective than the current system? Though I am sure it will make some government contractor a tidy profit.

Is that what you want? Do you hate people in poverty so much that you would rather an effective program be dismantled just so some corporate crony of the current administration can increase their profits off the backs of tax payers? And this is just if they can actually implement it at all. They can’t even feed the hungry people in Puerto Rico properly after a natural disaster, what makes you think they can feed the millions of hungry people in the continental US?

I have seen some amazing posts on social media from people who have been in the trenches just like my family. People who know what SNAP is and isn’t. Who know how much it can help people. How it can be the only reason there is any food in the house. It is heartening to see so many others fighting to keep a program that has such a positive effect on so many lives.

We are all one disaster away from ruin. Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Some are lucky enough to have a little savings, but not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone is lucky enough to have family who can take them in if they lose their home. Not everyone can jump from one job to another and come out on top. Not everyone has the health, physical or mental, to deal with the everyday tragedies. When that happens we have the means to take care of our most vulnerable citizens. The SNAP program can do what thousands of charities can’t. Put food on the table of millions.

Now I don’t think this budget has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing Congress. But that doesn’t mean the GOP isn’t watching their base to see how they react as the different parts of the proposal are combed over and translated into layman’s terms. Paul Ryan already wants to cut social programs. They gotta pay for those tax cuts to the wealthy somehow. If they think they can get away with some part of the proposal, just worded a little different. I wouldn’t put it past them to try. Their only goal is to maintain their own wealth and power, often on the backs of their own voters. Not to mention there is probably some CEO somewhere salivating over the thought of that sweet sweet government contract to enact the program. Always follow the money. That didn’t make it into the budget all on its own. Someone saw an opportunity for profit and lobbied for it.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford to buy a politician. I’m just a wanna be author living in poverty with my spouse, kids, and pets. Maybe lightning will strike, and people will like what I write. Maybe I’ll become a world-famous author. But until then I do what I can to take care of my family. They are my one and only priority. The care and safety of my family supersedes all other concerns. They are why I have zero shame in accepting government assistance to keep food on the table. I will never be ashamed to ask for help if it keeps my family healthy. If it keeps my family fed. Clothed. Safe. I don’t see any shame in that.

Thanks for reading. Have a banana.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Let Them Eat Steak and Lobster! pt 1

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Political rant and some old-fashioned education incoming.

Hi! I’m your friendly neighborhood writer and my family is on food stamps. Call it by other names, EBT. SNAP. It is a government program to give food insecure folks the means to acquire food. The means are provided by the funds put on a debit card that is used only for food stuff. You can’t buy beer. You can’t buy cigarettes. You can’t buy toilet paper or medicine. In some places you can purchase seeds to plant a garden. There are very few exceptions to the food rule.

SNAP is a highly efficient program that does its job well. It is much more efficient than the physical paper stamps that were the original program. More efficient than its sister program WIC, Women Infants and Children. WIC is only for pregnant women, infants, breastfeeding women, and children up to age five. Unlike SNAP which uses a debit card you can swipe at the register just like you would a debit card from your bank. WIC is a voucher that much be picked up, usually ever three months. And you can only get what is specified on your voucher. This can lead to some annoyances at the check out line as you must run back to the dairy aisle to swap the cheese you thought was covered for the cheese that is covered. BTDT.

Not to diss on WIC. It is a useful program. But between the paper vouchers, the limited goods you can get, and having to plan an office visit every three months to pick up more vouchers, it is a pain in the ass to use. SNAP is much more convenient and easy to use. Plus, it is beneficial to the economy. How you may ask? Well let’s travel down that rabbit hole.

When the economy is in the dumps and jobs are few and far between SNAP will increase its spending. Cause, no job equals no money, no money equals no way to buy food. SNAP fixes that equation by giving those in poverty, either long or short term, a hand up so they don’t suffer needlessly. According to the USDA’s own figures for every $5 spent in SNAP dollars, it generates as much as $9 in economic activity. But how you ask.

The most obvious source is where the SNAP benefits are used. Grocery stores, some convenience stores, and there are some farmer’s markets that can take SNAP cards to pay for fresh produce. This benefits the user of the funds by giving them access to fresh food, it also benefits the farmer who has a purchaser for their produce. What happens when you put money in the hands of others? They can spend it. Stores need cashiers to run their registers. People to stock their shelves. If there was no demand, then there would be no need to schedule cashiers to work, and fewer people needed to keep the shelves stocked. Create demand, create jobs. And of course, the farmers can pay their bills with maybe even something left over at the end of the day. Trickle down is bullshit. Money trickles up, not down.

I won’t go into the issue of corporations using SNAP to subsidize their low wages which keeps their employees in poverty. That’s a rant for another day. I am here to explain the SNAP program to those who aren’t familiar with it. Still with me? Good.

With SNAP you sign up and if you are approved you must seek renewal of your benefits every 6 months in my state. And if your income changes over a certain amount you must report that change. You are limited in what resources you can have, how much money you can set aside to save, and other things to show you qualify for assistance due to low income. Many of the stereotypes you hear about people on SNAP driving fancy cars, wearing fancy clothes, having fancy phones, and so forth. That is all they are, stereotypes, and often harmful ones. The mythical welfare queen of the 80s does not exist. Reagan's story was a fabrication about one person who never was a representation of the whole of welfare users.

Who uses SNAP? Well, the poor obviously. Most people who receive SNAP benefits are children, the elderly, the disabled, and their caretakers. And yes, you can work and work hard while you still qualify for SNAP. What counts is your income. And if your income is low because your wages are low, you can qualify for SNAP. What about the able-bodied adults you say. Well what about them? Are you saying if someone lost a job they don’t deserve to eat? Or if they live somewhere with high unemployment which makes it even more difficult to find a job, they deserve to starve? If you think that then you have a problem with empathy and I think you might need therapy.

Keep in mind, just because you might have been able to do something. Or you had the resources and the ability to do something does not mean everyone else can do what you did to rise out of poverty. Someone might live in an area with high unemployment because that is where their family lives, and they can’t afford to live anywhere else. Or they don’t have a vehicle at all. Being poor often means either living without a car or having an unreliable one. And when you remember that mass transit is not a priority in many parts of the country, that only further hurts the already vulnerable.

You can be a smart, hard working person and still need SNAP to feed your family. Your intelligence and drive does not always mean your job pays what you deserve. Just look at adjunct professors at many colleges. There can be other factors as well. If you are the caretaker of small children or someone with a disability, or an elderly person, you might need a flexible schedule, so you can make doctor appointments for them. So, you can see to their needs, especially those who can’t be left alone to care for themselves.  Which bring us back around to low wage jobs not paying enough for someone to cover all their expenses.

One of the other good things about SNAP is that it takes into consideration your bills. What are you living expenses? How much is your rent? How much are your utilities? If you have a car do you have payments? Insurance? Medical expenses? All of this is taken into account to see how much you qualify for in benefits.

How do they find this out? Well if you get any money from the federal government, like say Social Security benefits, they know how much you get before you do. And there is also having to turn in pay stubs. If you have a checking account, statements from that. Medical expenses, better keep those receipts. A copy of your lease. Copies of your utility bills. If you share expenses, proof of that. There’s a lot of paperwork involved.

Speaking of paperwork. To receive SNAP benefits, you must prove your identity. They want copies of your state issued ID if you have one. Birth certificate for every member of the family. Social security cards for every member of the family. Marriage certificate if you’re married. You must be documented. Which means, drumroll please…

The American born child of undocumented immigrants may qualify for benefits, but their parents wouldn’t. There are exceptions for certain refugees, victims of abuse/trafficking, and other very limited exceptions. But all of these are documented in some way. You must have your documents in order. You must have proof of your identity. You must be in the country with some legal status.

What other stereotypes should I bust open tonight?  I’ve covered welfare queen. Able bodied adults. Immigrants. I’ve discussed how those receiving SNAP benefits often do work. I’ve discussed the economic impact of SNAP. Oh yes. Drug users.

Unlike what certain media outlets want you to believe, people on SNAP are no more likely to use drugs than those who don’t receive government benefits. Research has shown that those on SNAP use drugs at the same rate as the rest of society. Remember boys and girls, drugs cost money. And if you’re on SNAP it is because you lack money. Let’s drug test CEO’s who receive government contracts before we drug test the working Mom making minimum wage.

Oh, but they sell their benefits you say. Prove it. Fraud by users and vendors of SNAP benefits is .01 cents out of every dollar, and SNAP is a multi-billion-dollar program. Find another government run program with such results. You can’t. When someone says they know someone who sells their benefits I have one answer for them. REPORT IT! If you know someone is committing fraud, can prove it, and care that much about how federal money is spent. Report it. Do your civic duty and report the fraud. Otherwise you’re just spouting anti-poor propaganda.

“But but but! Steaks and lobsters!”

Are you kidding me? Have you priced steak and lobsters recently? Do you know how much people get in SNAP benefits? My family gets $357 a month. That’s it. My family of four gets what amounts to $2.98 per person, per day to use to feed ourselves. When that money is spent, it is gone. No more money until the next month. If I buy meat at all it is cheap ground beef, frozen chicken, and whatever is on sale. Exceptions made at Thanksgiving and Christmas when I find the cheapest turkey breast and ham I can find. There are usually good sales. If there is a steak in my cart, it is because it is my husband’s or son’s birthday. Or it was in the ‘nearly expired so here’s meat cheap’ section of the meat department.

“Oh, but junk food! Soda!”

Why are you paying so much attention to what is in my cart or how I am paying for my purchases? That $357 has to stretch. That means lots of generic brands. I watch sales. I use coupons. I am not the only person on SNAP who does this. If I get some soda, so? Are you saying your kids can have a coke but mine can’t? We don’t go out to eat. We don’t go to the movies. I can’t remember our last vacation. We stay home. If I want a Mtn Dew to wake myself up in the morning instead of coffee, that is what I will have to wake me up. When they are gone it is back to Kool-Aid and sweet tea until the next month. I’ve gotten more junk food from food banks than I’ve purchased with my SNAP card.

Oh yeah. We don’t have a car. That means if I’m lucky I get two trips to the grocery store a month. I can occasionally get a ride to a convenience store for milk, but I hate doing that as it is .75 more expensive there per gallon. Yes, I pay that much attention to prices of milk. So, two trips per month. That means I pack as much into my cart as I can get as it has to last about two weeks if not longer. You think I buy like that every week? If I could get to the store once a week, my cart would be a lot less crowded. But because without a car of my own I can’t guarantee when I’ll be able to get back to the store, I buy as much as I can afford. My anxiety demands it.

I doubt I am the only other SNAP user who must shop like this. If you don’t know when you are going to be able to make it to the store again, are you buying enough to last a couple of days? Or do you buy enough to feed your family for a couple of weeks? Use your brains people!

I’ve told you what SNAP is and isn’t. If you didn’t already, you now have a base understanding of the program. Please see part two of my post for a continuation of this discussion.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Who am I?

Who am I?
Oh boy. Buckle up kids, we’re in for a ride.

Who am I?
I’m a fancy pants dandy. Obsessed with clothes, hair, and make up. Only the finest things in life will do. To love is easy because I can see who someone is on the inside. I know who is truly beautiful and who is a cancer walking around in lace and silk. I crave moments of intimacy, no matter how fleeting, that were denied me for so long. It is a hunger that will probably never go away.

Who am I?
I’m a brash, violent, angry red neck. Life is shit and everyone leaves. Can’t trust anyone because they all lie. But damnit if I don’t keep trying. I create my own family and hold tight to them with a fierce possessive passion. I’m an asshole, but you fuck with my family and I’ll fuck your day up. You’ll wish your mama had swallowed. Now stop bogarting the weed and pass it over here.

Who am I?
I’m a general. I’m an emperor. I’m a healer. I’m a slave. I’m a criminal. I’m a mother. I’m a father. I’m a child about to die. I’m an immortal who has seen it all and then some. I’ve walked through the jungles of a war zone. I’ve danced in ballrooms. I’ve held the hands of my dying best friend. I’ve cured cancer. I’ve killed my enemies. I’ve betrayed my comrades. I’ve run away from love when it hurt too much. I’ve begged them to stay so I’d not be alone.

I am a writer.
I am god. I am death. I am life. I am all three sisters of fate as I weave the threads of lives into a tapestry for my eyes alone. But if you ask nicely enough I might let you have a peek.

I am a writer.
Life is my inspiration. How many generations of life has the mighty oak seen? Who walked the roads I now walk long before I existed? Say something in my range of hearing, and I might just write a story about it. I follow in the footsteps of the giants who have come before me. Their names need not be spoken, only their initials and all know who they are. I leave the door open in my wake so that others may walk this path after me.

I am a writer.
And yet I suck at writing about myself. You want facts? I write fiction. You want reality? I’ll share my dreams. I am a rolling ball of chaos made up of words, ideas, and pictures that are in vivid technicolor in my mind’s eye until I try to share them. Then they are black on white, constrained by vocabulary and grammar rules.

I am a writer.
My voice is a whisper. I am a shadow in the back of the room, pay me no mind. I am the flower against the wall. I am ‘What’s your name again?’. I am, ‘Oh? You’re still here?’. My throat choked by anxiety when you look at me. Why do you judge? My voice may be a whisper, but my written words are the roll of thunder across the prairie. My written words are the crash of the waves at the bottom of the cliffs. The words I put on paper are the howl of the wolf at the full moon. What I write is the real me. The me that isn’t worried the group laughing over there is laughing at me. The brave me. The fearless me. The strong me.

I am a writer.
I want to be the reason you smile. I want to give you someone to love. I want to give you someone to hate with an all consuming passion. I want to give you a world to dream about. I want to give you a world where, if given the chance to go there you are all the NOPE! That place is scary AF! I want to share rainy days with you. I want to rest on your chest after you fall asleep. I want to be the reason you didn’t get any sleep last night. I want to be the reason you blush when you experience ‘that’ scene on the bus. I want to take you somewhere you’ve never been before, while sharing a story as old as time itself.

Who am I?
To tell you the truth I have no idea. I think that is why I write. I write so I can try on different identities. I can explore different bodies. Different experiences. Different parts of the world I might never get to see in person. I get to be what I will never get a chance to be in real life.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Empire of Shenendril: Payback is a Bitch!

“What Do You Mean You Can’t Take Me Out Of The City?!?” Genevieve Rutledge’s voice rose in volume and pitch as she stood so fast her chair scraped against the dirty plank floor of the disreputable tavern she’d found herself in.

“Sit down ya daft bitch or do ye want to bring the fuckin Watch down on all our heads.” The man hissed as he reached across the table, grabbed the aristocrat’s arm, to yank her back down.

She jerked her arm away from his as she tried to regain her calm while she adjusted her skirts. Stolen from a clothes line the fabric was cotton, not the silks she deserved as due to her station. But to wear silks in a tavern like this would have gotten her throat cut, and her neck was already in danger of the executioner’s axe. “You are supposed to be the best smuggler in the city. Are you saying that claim isn’t true?”

“What I may or may not be is not important. The Watch has the city locked down tighter than a guild virgin’s cunt. Ain’t no way in, nor out. Not for you, not for me, not for no one.” He leaned back once more and picked up his pipe. “They got the chains up in the river. Ain’t a single ship allowed out of the harbor till it’s been inspected by tha college mages.  No one gets in or out of the gates without having ta answer the Watches questions... and they’ve mages that can read yer mind to catch anyone in a lie… Every wagon, cart, and barrow is being searched.”  He puffed on his pipe as he sent clouds of smoke towards the stained rafters. “Even the sewers n’old mine tunnels got Watch patrols in ‘em. So, unless you’ve got magic you’re stuck here with the rest of us.”

“If I had magic I wouldn’t be here consorting with the likes of you.” She sneered.

“Then I suggest you find the deepest darkest hole in the city and hope they don’t shine a light down it.”  He growled around the stem of his pipe.

Genevieve Rutledge glanced over her shoulder at the two men with her.  The only guards she had left. She considered having them kill the insolent man across the table from her but that would only bring the Watch down on their head.  She let her eyes drift over the others in the tavern, too many witnesses, and even her guards could not get them all without the risk of a Watch patrol called to see to the disturbance. She turned back to the smuggler before her as she removed a small pouch from her sleeve and pushed it across the table to him, “For your silence.”

He picked it up and tossed it a few times in his hand as if he could count the coin within just by feeling its weight then tossed it back to her, “Keep it.  I only take payment for a job done… and you’ll be needing this more than I.”

She wanted to slap his insolent face. Just a few days ago she could have had a man like him killed and no one would have questioned her right. But now circumstances trapped her… and he was right.  She had limited coin with no way of getting more. She stood with a rustle of skirts as she pulled up the hood of her cloak to shield her features from view when she turned and walked away.  Her guards quickly fell into step behind her as they left the filthy tavern. Once outside they trailed after her for a while before the elder of the two moved to walk by her side, “My Lady... where do we go from here?”

Her jaw clenched, and teeth ground together at the question. If she knew the answer to that she wouldn’t be on those filthy streets, nor need to dodge gods knew what floated in the puddles. She had thankfully not been in the family manor when the Watch raided the other night.  The Watch had chased her out of three hide outs already, once she barely escaped minutes before the Watch burst through the door. She had tried to do the Empire a favor when she poisoned that useless guild bitch Katherine. They should hail her as a hero... if only her attempt had succeeded. Instead that thrice cursed whore, catamite of the Lord General, had saved the bitch’s life and now she had to run for her life.

Just as she was about to tell her man that they sought new shelter for the night she saw someone step out into the road from a nearby alley. A woman, tall, curvaceous, with golden tan skin, who wore indecently form fitting white leather. Her bright red curls spilled onto the white leather like blood. She must be some sort of mixed breed whore, the Gulch was full of such indecent, low class women. Sailors from the Goddess Isles paid well for mainland women to spread their legs for them only to leave half breed git in their wake. It disgusted a woman of refined breeding such as Genevieve Rutledge. The people of the Gulch bred like rats in the sewers.

The whore walked towards them and Genevieve was fully prepared to ignore the strangely dressed woman. It wasn’t like the woman was a member of the City Watch, not dressed like that. With her guard on her left they went to pass by the girl. There was a sudden flash of light then Genevieve felt something warm and wet splash her face. She heard her second guard cry out in shock as she turned and saw that her man’s head looked ready to fall off his shoulders from the deep slash to the throat. She screamed as she stumbled away from the guard’s body as he slowly dropped to his knees then fell forward to land with a heavy splash in a muddy puddle.

Genevieve looked at the woman again. The woman stood there with crimson blood to match her hair splashed on her neat white leathers, in her hands were what looked like twin daggers made of light. The aristocratic woman backed away in terror as her second guard swept in to defend her. That strange deadly girl ducked under his first swing and caught his second swing on her crossed blades of light, a shower of sparks rained down onto the cobblestone road. He tried to press his advantage of height and weight as he bore down on his sword, to break through her crossed blades. The girl’s lips twisted into a cruel smirk and for a moment it was like her eyes glowed as Genevieve saw what looked like lightning crackle along her guard’s blade and into his arms and all through his body. She watched as the man’s body convulsed before he too fell dead at her feet. The girl then turned on Genevieve.

“The reward they offer… I’ll pay you double to leave me in peace… triple!” She nearly tripped over her own skirts in her effort to get away from that deadly girl.

“I am not here on behalf of the crown.” She stalked right up to Genevieve to back her into a wall. The girl met Genevieve's eyes as if they were equals. There was no deference or respect in her gaze.

“Then why?  Why are you doing this?”

“There is only one ruler you shall see tonight Genevieve Rutledge… The Shadow Empress of Auranapolis.”

“She’s a myth! A story told to scare the foolish!” She gasped in desperation.

The girl’s lips twisted into a smirk as if she mocked the woman’s denial, “Unfortunately for you... she is very real.” And the girl hauled back and delivered a sharp punch to the aristocratic Genevieve, to send her to the ground in a heap where she moaned. The girl knelt by her victim to lift her up and drape the woman across her shoulders. She left the dead guards behind as she carried her prize into the same alley from which she emerged and disappeared into the shadows.

When Genevieve awoke sometime later she found she lay upon cold rough stone. A single lantern hung from a chain above her that left only a small circle of light where she lay, the rest of the room lost in shadows. With a soft groan, she pushed herself upright. The stolen dress was gone, now clad only in her shift with her hair unbound to fall loose about her shoulders. Other than the slight ache in her jaw from the punch she could feel no other wound upon her body. But that was small comfort when she had no idea where she was and who had sent that strange little bitch after her.

“Is anyone there? Where am I?” She called into the shadows as she got to her feet. The rough stone was cold against her bare feet as she moved to the edge of the light. Something moved in the shadows, just beyond her vision. “What do you want?”

“Did you think it would be that easy?” A distinctly feminine voice purred from the shadows. “Did you think you could kill the Imperial Consort, mother of the future Emperor, and lay the blame elsewhere?”

“Why do you care? You aren’t declared enemy of the crown... you aren’t the one running for your life.  Is it money you want... My family…”  The deep hiss of a shadow viper cut off further words.

“Your family precious… is no more. Perhaps some distant cousin will throw themselves upon the mercy of the throne and the name shall live on... but much diminished.”  Her captor said with a laugh meant to mock her. “You have nothing precious... Not even your life.”

“What! No! Do you not realize what is happening?  What is going to happen? That boy cannot grow to be Emperor! If he’s Emperor, then we all die!  I was trying to save the Empire damnit!”  Tears streaked down her face to fall from her chin onto her chest.

“And you believe the lies the enemy is telling you precious?  Do not look so surprised… We know who has been telling you lies. We know that you think you shall be rewarded when they sweep down from the mountains.  Poor sweet deluded child… the only reward those monsters will give you is a swift death.  Otherwise the best you could hope for are their hordes to rape you to death before they feast upon your flesh.” As she spoke the figure of her captor finally came into view. Tall, pale skin, with hair so dark it looked like midnight personified. She wore a dress that clung to her curves with a deep v neck that reached almost to her navel and a slit up one side all the way to her hip. Draped around her neck was a truly massive shadow viper that had to be at least eight feet long. The woman caressed the deadly serpent as if it were a beloved pet.

Genevieve dropped to her knees, “Please! Whatever I have done to offend you… I take it back.  Whatever you want... I will get for you. If you are the Shadow Empress… Surely, we can come to an agreement. My life is in your hands... what can I do for you to spare it.”

The Shadow Empress stepped into the circle of light to look down at the pathetic human at her feet.  The veil she wore hid her eyes, but not the smirk upon those blood red lips. “It is too late for begging little one. Perhaps if you had the intelligence your gods gave a slug you would have considered the consequences of your actions. There is only one sin which I cannot abide and will not allow to fester in My city… and that is stupidity.  Good bye Genevieve Rutledge, perhaps your death shall serve as a warning to others.”

Genevieve shook her head as the shadow viper which had draped so innocently around the woman’s shoulders reared its head to look at her.  She fell backwards and started to scramble away as the massive snake slithered down its Mistresses body onto the stone floor in pursuit of its prey. The noblewoman screamed as the last image seared into her mind was of the shadow viper as it reared up and struck, its wicked fangs sank deep into the flesh of her thigh. Perhaps luckily for her, she received a full dose of the deadly venom, and her death, while brutal was swift.

The next morning as the sun banished the last shadows of the night the body of Genevieve Rutledge appeared not far from the foot of the Golden Orchid Bridge on the western side.  Pinned to her shift was a note which simply read, “A Gift.”