Yearly Archives: 2015

Three Fantastic Surprises

This is the Fantasy portion of your free gift (in every box.  Be the first kid on your blog… ahem.)

The first story was published in Baen’s Big Book of Monsters and the third is The Camels of Christmas.  The middle one is a never before published short story, which I hope you enjoy.

Again, give it away to friends, relatives, enemies, acquaintances, strangers or aliens.  It was pointed out to me in my author’s conference on Facebook that you can also trade it for sexual favors.

Just don’t claim it’s yours and don’t sell it and we’ll remain friends and my lawyer won’t have to get bent out of shape.  (And you don’t know how interesting a shape he can bend into.)

Oh, and don’t revise it.  I know it will have typos, they’re the fault of the green dragon who lives under my desk (okay, he’s black and he’s a cat, but never mind.)  However those are my typos, and if you fix them you might add your own!

threefantasticsurprises

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Three Tales Of The USAians

I said I’d have free gifts for you by the end of the year, and I do.  If I can make this thing work, below will be a free book to download.  (There will be another — fantasy — later. I’m entering edits RIGHT NOW.)

These are all stories that have appeared on this blog, and I edited them, but it was done over the last week while house searching, so don’t expect flawless.

You can give them to friends, relatives, random strangers you accost on the street, but don’t sell them and don’t claim you wrote them, or we can’t be friends anymore.  (Also my lawyer will get very upset, and you don’t want to upset him, as he’s a very nice man.)

 

threefromtheusaians

Link for epub download

Link for Mobi (kindle) download.

An open reply to Mr. John Crisp, on the subject of Sgt Bergdahl – William Lehman

An open reply to Mr. John Crisp, on the subject of Sgt Bergdahl – William Lehman

In this season of Christmas, Chanukah, Yule, and so on, when most major religions recognize a time of love, faith and forgiving, I would like to echo those sentiments. But sadly, this isn’t that sort of post.

John Crisp is an op-ed columnist for Tribune news service (it’s interesting to note that my spell check wanted to make that communist, I think the machine knows more than I do) and teaches in the English department at Del Mar College, says the little bio that accompanies his column. This explains a lot, when you start to read his various opinions. (I’m semi surprised he holds the opinions he has while living in Texas, but well he is in the ivory towers, oh excuse me ivied halls of academia) Yes, this is pertinent, as I’ll get to in a moment.

Mr. Crisp felt the need today to speak out on the issue of Sergeant Bergdahl (yes, that’s right you clown, he is, at least until the court-martial a sergeant, not a private.) Crisp goes out of his way to paint a piteous picture of a poor, troubled, emotionally disturbed individual who should never have been allowed to enlist, and was mentally destroyed by the horrors of combat in an illegal and immoral war. He goes on to claim that Bergdahl’s most outspoken critics have never served in the military, much less in combat, and therefore are not qualified to judge him, but instead are using him as a political tool to attack the President. Further, he implies that actual soldiers will sympathize with this dirtbag, and in the end, it’s all Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld who should be going to prison, not this poor misunderstood soul, who should be let out of the military without bad paper, much less a sentence.

Well Professor, I am a combat vet (Navy, not Army, but on this it doesn’t matter) and I’ve also been part of the staff (as the work programs director and Brig Duty officer) of a Naval Brig (you call it a military prison). So let me help you understand a few things:

I’m going to explain this to you in detail because I’m fairly sure that 1) you never served a day in uniform, 2) you probably don’t know anyone who has ever served a day in uniform, and 3) based on your editorials over the years you hold the military in general and those that serve in uniform in contempt, in spite of having absolutely zero first hand information to base that opinion on.

Now it is certainly possible, as you point out, that the Army screwed up in allowing this dirt bag to enlist. Be that as it may, he enlisted. One of the prime principles of the Military, a basic truth if you will, is that “we take care of our own” (now that isn’t always the way it works out sadly, sometimes because of politics, sometimes because we all fail and fall short of perfection, and sometimes because of idiots like you). How that maters in this case, is that for better or worse, Bergdahl was ours, he was a sergeant for Pete’s sake. (that is a Non Commissioned Officer, a guy in charge of other guys) So he had to have had something on the ball. He wasn’t the hopeless psycho you paint him to be, or he would never have made Sgt. As one of ours we are honor (a concept you have only an academic understanding of) bound to take care of him for good or ill. He abandoned his post. He violated the first general order of a sentry. In time of war, in a combat zone. We owe it to all of the men that did their job to hold him to the same standard.

I had a prisoner detainee (he hadn’t been convicted yet) who was absolutely insane. He was less than 24 hours from a “recruiter discharge”, for being absolutely bugfuck crazy (multiple personality disorder, hallucinations, you name it, he had it) when he lost it and racked up 18 charges in 30 minutes, including assault with intent to kill on a police officer, and assault with intent on a commissioned officer in the performance of his duties. We had him for 9 months while the defense fought to keep him from being given a Court. During that time, he spent most of his time on suicide watch, because of his issues. The Navy failed him, and the rest of us, and gave him his discharge. (we literally took him to the gate and tossed him out) We didn’t hold him and treat him, we just tossed him out on to an unsuspecting populace. He racked up several charges and hurt some folks badly. He’s spending the rest of his life in western state. It wasn’t his fault, it was our fault for releasing him.

Now let’s look at Bergdahl. He wasn’t insane, at least in comparison. (I’m sure you think we’re all a little loony to put on the uniform) he made Sgt, and made a conscious decision to walk off his post. Here to for, no one has tried the insanity defense for him that I have seen, but I’m sure that his defense council will try that, and every other trick in the book to save him from the results of his actions. Maybe they will succeed, and like that prisoner I had, he will be released with a medical discharge. That’s why we have court-martials, is to make that sort of call. But John, you are right about one thing, no combat vet that I know, and in fact, no vet at all that I know, thinks Bergdahl deserves prison. We think he deserves to be hung by the neck until dead, in accordance with the Uniform Code of military justice as pertains to Article 85 c. desertion in the face of the enemy.

 

Wanted

Day before yesterday, around the kitchen table, we were discussing how different the Spartans were from what 300 showed, and how 300 softened things considerably.  (One of the advantages of having the boys home for the holidays is that it elevates the cultural tone of the house. Being rather devoted to our work, Dan and I usually just discuss “things we’re stuck on.”)

One of the things we discussed was “father decision.”  I.e. when you presented the newborn to the father, yeah, he could reject him (or her) for gross deformity, for weakness (my dad who loved me dearly used to joke with me that if I’d been in Sparta, having been born very premature and at 11 inches long, I’d have been toast.), or simply because he wasn’t feeling it.

This brought to mind a discussion I had with my friend Eric Scheie, who says that the problem (one of them) with the current abortion system is that for all intents and purposes it makes humanity conditional on the mother’s say so.

This is not a post about abortion: it is a post about being disposable, and about conditional humanity, and fleeting “I won’t kill you” status.  But it is impossible not to touch on abortion.

Now whenever I bring this up, I’m met with a barrage of very strange argument, something like “Well, if the babies aren’t wanted they’re not going to be happy, so this is the right way to do it.”

Um… okay.  I don’t know about you guys out there, but I was not a wanted baby.  At least not by my mother.  (Dad wanted a large family.)  I wasn’t even wanted after she was pregnant with me.

Though I’ll say that after I was born she fought tooth and nail to keep me alive, a dicey proposition my first three years of life, and sacrificed time, health and treasure to the endeavor.

How much of this was that she now wanted me and how much was basic human decency, I don’t know and don’t care to probe.  I’m fairly sure she loved me by the time I was 16 due to an incident that proved it.  And we get along now.  (Btw. if you’re a doctor, telling the ten year old who just came in with a massive autoimmune attack that the asthma/arthritis/eczema complex is the “mark of the unwanted child” is not a kindness.  While it is possible, because epigenetics does amazing things, you’re still doing no one a favor when you say that.)

Yeah, mom and I had our rocky patches — anyone here didn’t have a rocky patch or two with their parents, particularly in adolescence? — partly because we’re different and alike in all the ways calculated to drive the other insane, but if you asked her, with as much of a pain as I was, I’m convinced she’d tell you I was worth it, now.

Leaving that aside, I might not be living amidst rose beds, but I’d say I’m one of the happiest people I know and certainly the most blessed.

A perusal of craigslist pet adds (I sometimes found myself there, and no, I don’t know why) tells you how fleeting and unreliable the “If you’re wanted you’ll be spared” status is.)  All those pets there were, presumably, once upon a time wanted.  And let me say right now that hell reserves a particular place for people who give away elderly dogs.  You keep the animal all his life, and convince him he’s loved and wanted, but when the going gets rough you expel him from the pack to live among strangers?  I’m sure killing the animal is kinder.

I don’t know which came first, abortion for convenience of the enshrinement of “being wanted brings happiness.” Back in the eighties I noticed Americans in general were more likely to euthanize their pets because “he’s senile.”

Now, we have euthanized two pets, and two others died while we were considering it.  In both cases there was no doubt death was imminent and there was nothing but pain on the way.  One’s kidneys had failed, and he couldn’t move and was just crying.  And the other, cancer fused her jaw.

However in the eighties I saw people euthanize pets literally because “he’s not as pretty as he was.”

I come from a farm culture, where animals meant not much.  (Even though I always had a tendency to get attached to birds who had fallen from nests, and bunnies missing a foot, and other things I dragged home.  Not right in the head is the real problem.  Too soft by half.) But treating a pet like a child or a family member and then killing it for not being pretty shocked me.

So the element of disposable was already there, in the eighties.

But there is more to it.  There is a justification or at least a strong excuse for this callousness.  Our lives are massively more complex in terms of changing circumstances than our relatives.  My dad had two jobs, and retired at 80.  Dan has had … 5?  (I think.  I haven’t counted.)  And he’s not near retirement age, yet.  My parents moved once.  They lived with my grandparents for years after marriage, then moved when I was seven to their own house, where they still live.  This house we just sold was the house we lived longest in: 13 years.  The next house we buy will be our fifth.  Our kids were born in different states. And we’re a very stable, never-divorced family and celebrated our 30th anniversary yesterday.

In all this change, children or pets that were very much wanted and even needed, suddenly are encumbrances.  Because I’m soft in the head, we kept the cats all through these moves, even when doing so cost us having to rent while selling.  But we did give up a (young) dog once, simply  because I was afraid she was going to get killed.  Our life had entered one of those periods when everything went crazy, I was (unexpectedly though very much welcomed) pregnant, and she got bored and kept tearing up the boards of the fence and getting out.  We lived on a four lane road, with continuous traffic.  She had several narrow escapes and then we decided we had to give her away.

Strangely and very much to my chagrin, 6 months later we were living in a semi-rural area with a dog-proof fence and our lives had changed to where I’d have cherished the dog as a walk companion.  I still miss my loup garou.

Which again goes to show that “wanted” or “inconvenient” is a fleeting state that should not be the only mark of “you’re human.”

There are already — spits — bio ethicists proposing euthanasia for kids who … don’t meet specs, I guess.  Or that the mother stops wanting.  I’d very much hope this never catches on but with all the arguments of “if you’re not happy you aren’t human” who knows?  I know in Europe, in certain countries (Holland, I’m looking at you) “I’m not happy” is a valid reason for assisted suicide.

It’s not our fault.  Our lives are complex and ever changing.  What was convenient and even a source of pleasure — a cat, a dog, a baby — becomes an unbearable burden when the job change or the house move, or the financial disaster strikes.

But perhaps that is the very reason that getting rid of living things or making them precious only at the whim of one of the members of the family or one of the partners in a marriage is a strange way to go about it.

At least the Spartans, once they’d accepted the kid, assumed he was human.  … well, at least unless he failed his manhood tests.

I don’t regret keeping the cats with us even when it was hellish during moves/changes.  I do regret giving loup garou away.

Maybe it’s because I’m soft in the head.  Maybe normal humans don’t feel that way.

And maybe I’m the one who is crazy thinking “mother’s approval” is a weird way to distinguish the babies we’ll chop to pieces in the womb from the ones we will go through extraordinary measures to save at 26 weeks.

But–

This is not a post about abortion, because dying might not be the worst thing that can happen to you.

I’m wondering more about the babies who were born and who are if not discarded treated like they’re not human because a new marriage, a move, or the child’s own lack of perfection made them “unwanted” and therefore less than human.

Like a lot of other people, I was “born owing money.”  From my earliest years I had the idea that there was something I must make up for.  BUT at least it never occurred to me that I wasn’t human.  Or that by not being wanted my life was worse than death.  Which is what we’re telling unwanted kids now.

I wonder what effect that has on adults.  It probably doesn’t stop them finding happiness, but does it make them feel more like they’re adrift in a world that doesn’t want/love them?

Maybe that’s why the “We all must belong to something.  I belong to the state” respondent at DNC said what she did.

And maybe that is the problem with trying to have a republic of free humans right now.

I don’t know.  I don’t care.  For all of you reading this: If no one else wants you here, I do.  And I will fight for you if needed.  It’s all I can do.

 

 

 

Joining the Majority – Amanda S. Green

Joining the Majority – Amanda S. Green

 

The coming of a new year always brings with it new laws. Most of the time, those laws go into effect with little to no fanfare. Many received even less coverage in the press when they were proposed, debated and eventually signed into law. This year is different. All you have to do is turn on the national news or pick up a nationally circulated newspaper or go onto social media sites like Facebook to know that Texas has completely lost its collective mind and should be shunned or removed from the union or some such idiocy. Curious as to what sort of horrible, terrible and really bad law goes into effect the first day of the New Year? Open Carry.

That’s right, folks. Texas finally joins the vast majority of states in this glorious union of ours by allowing people to legally open carry their guns.

Yes, you read that right. It joins the vast majority of states. As in it becomes the 45th state to allow open carry.

Read that again. The 45th state to allow open carry in public places.

Funny, you don’t see that when reading all the stories condemning Texas for passing the law. Frankly, it surprised me when I started researching this post to discover that so many states already allowed open carry. Yet Texas is being painted as a horrible state and asking for so much trouble by allowing its citizens to do what 44 other states already allow. Funny how that is never talked about in the anti-gun propaganda.

A quick search on the internet this morning revealed the following stats:

  • Four states and one other area do not allow open carry in public places: California, New York, Illinois, Florida and Washington D. C.
  • 31 states allow open carry in public places without any sort of license or permit. In some of these states, the weapon must be unloaded.
  • 15 states allow open carry in public places with some sort of permit or license.

Texas falls into the latter category. To be able to legally open carry a handgun, a person will have to 1) legally own the gun and 2) undergo the permit process which includes the CCW training class, fingerprinting and background check.

Something else you don’t hear much about in the media, and certainly not in the social media condemnations of open carry, is that businesses can choose whether or not to allow open carry on their premises. The Wall Street Journal has a pretty good article on how some businesses and other corporate entities are approaching the issue. It also notes that the same exceptions to the concealed carry permit currently in effect will also apply to open carry.

Unfortunately, the WSJ also promulgates the same argument so many opponents to open carry put forth: open carry will put police officers at more risk.

On the face of it, there might be some merit in that concern. However, there is one thing those spouting that “concern” seem to overlook. Open carried weapons are visible. The police will be able to see the weapon and act accordingly. If anything, I am more concerned about officers – or concerned citizens – overreacting when coming across someone open carrying.

That same article does point out one concern I have as a citizen, that of complacency by the police to calls from citizens worried because they have seen someone with a gun. In this case, the Colorado Springs 911 operator told a woman reporting a man walking down the street with a rifle that open carry was allowed and did not prioritize the call. The person with the rifle wound up killing three before being killed by police. Did the dispatcher follow policy? Probably but a simple call to the local patrol unit to check on the person might have helped prevent the deaths.

As I’ve written this post, I’ve debated whether or not to touch the real elephant in the room – private ownership of guns of any sort. There are those in this country who would take away our guns. Others would take away only some of our guns. The arguments for such strict gun control range from “no one needs an assault weapon” to “only our police and military should be armed” to “if there were no guns, there would be no mass murders”.

For me, it’s simple. A person who follows the law concerning gun ownership, no matter what the law is in that state, should be allowed to own as many guns as she wants. Outlawing guns or increasing the difficulty of doing so won’t stop gun crimes. If someone wants to shoot another person and they don’t own a gun, they will get one by stealing it or buying it from the black market. And yes, there is a black market for guns now and there most definitely will be one if we start outlawing guns.

That is the biggest fallacy in the anti-gun movement’s argument. Whether they actually believe violent crime will fall with the removal of legally owned guns from the equation or they just think the rest of us will fall for their line, I don’t know. But I would recommend they spend time in a country where there is a shortage of some non-essential commodity. Watch the black market in that country in action. Look around and see how many items not “legal” are not only owned by the citizenry but used, whether for good or ill means.

As for those who will feel “uncomfortable” because someone might walk into the same room with them carrying a gun, grow up. If a person means ill, not letting them open carry isn’t going to stop them. They will secrete the weapon upon their persons or will already have it stashed in the location. They will find a way to carry out their plan, law in place or not.

However, if that same person walks into a room or building, looks around and sees others open carrying, it very well might give them pause. Yes, there are those folks out there looking to commit suicide by cop and that could turn into suicide by open carry. But most are cowards who believe that brandishing a weapon is all they need to do to get what they want. When faced with people who have trained for open carry, self-preservation will kick in and – bingo – plans change.

Ask yourself something else as well. If you or your loved one is in a situation where an armed perp is threatening to kill them, would you prefer your loved one to be unarmed or able to defend himself? Oh, I know the argument that more people would be wounded or injured by those open carrying or concealed carrying but where are the stats to back that up? I don’t know about you but I am tired of our heroes being killed protecting innocents. Isn’t it time to even the playing field for them?

As long as it is legal to own guns, it should be legal to open and conceal carry. The fact that 45 of our 50 states plus the District of Columbia agree with me ought to say something. For all those crying “foul” about Texas joining the majority, grow up and get a life. Open carry isn’t a return to the Old West, at least not in Texas. The weapon has to be legal and the carrier has to be licensed and that means having taken the class and passed all the other requirements. Don’t like it? Move to one of the four states or the District of Columbia where it is not allowed. Just think about why several of those locations have such high crime rates when you do.

Most of all, remember that Open Carry is not universal, at least not in Texas. There are exceptions to where you can Open Carry just as there have been exceptions with Concealed Carry. You can’t take your gun into the courthouse. You can’t take it to sporting events. You can’t take it into businesses that make 51% or more of their profit from the sale of alcohol. You can’t take it into businesses and other locations that have said you can’t. That includes churches and privately owned businesses. They have to post the prohibition and it is up to the gun owner to secure their weapon off-premises.

All I can say is “Thank you, Texas, for finally joining the majority of our country when it comes to Open Carry.”

 

The Myths of Collapse

Okay, lately I keep running into people who say some variation of “we’re going to collapse” or “this will all have to collapse.”

Last night I realized when people say stuff like that, they’re coming from an entire mythology of collapse, that has absolutely nothing to do with the real world and everything to do with the ubiquitous messages of our entertainment, and the equality ubiquitous myths inherent in how our history is taught these days.

The messages of our entertainment should be self-explanatory.  We are the most thoroughly entertained generation in hisotry.  By which I mean we have more entertainment available, more hours of the day than anyone at any time in history.  Even I, who grew up in a different time, with only radio and books available (and not as much as books are/were available here then) was massively entertained compared to my parents and grandparents.

What that means is that messages embedded in the entertainment we consume assume the power of reality to us.  Well done story telling forms sort of false memories, which people have trouble distinguishing from real memories.

I suppose this was okay when the only storytelling were tribal traditions and epics.  You want people to internalize this.

But then there is the extra added layer of visual entertainment.  The reason I don’t get disappointed when movies murder my favorite books is that movies aren’t novels, in narrative scope.  They are at best novellas, but really short stories.

Pride and Prejudice is a tiny novel by today’s standards, but it took a six hour series to do it justice.

What I’m getting at is that there are now ingrained shortcuts in our most common entertainment.  There are things that everyone knows aren’t so but are used in the movies because it makes the narrative fit in the time we have.  (Note, for instance, the way people fall in love with a single look.  This happens in books too, because the real process is messy, confusing and often lengthy.)

Other things we watch that we also know aren’t so, or at least historians do are for instance that if oppression gets strong enough there is a revolution.  This isn’t actually true.  Most revolutions follow on a period of liberalization AFTER the real oppression.

But this is ingrained in both movies and the way history is taught in schools.  Collapses are messy things; often leave no clear records.  In addition, collapses are chaotic and almost impossible to teach unless you go on the micro level, which even when available is the province of serious researchers, not popular histories OR schoolrooms.  So one gets “French society collapsed, and then Napoleon–”

This generates several myths, which are actually hurting the decision making people are doing RIGHT NOW.

1 Myth one — collapse creates a tabula rasa, upon which a completely different society can be built.  Honestly, I think this comes from the teachings on the collapse of Rome and the truly execrable way the middle ages are taught.

First of all, once you poke closer, Rome only sort of collapsed.  Depending on the place you lived in, your life might not have changed much between the end of the empire and the next few centuries.  I come from a place where it’s more like Rome got a name change and went underground. In both the good and the bad, Portugal is still Rome, just Rome as you’d expect after 19 centuries of history or so.

Second the society that was rebuilt wasn’t brand new and tabula rasa but partook both of the empire and the incredible complexity of what happened during collapse.

Look, even before the renaissance there was a lot of Rome around, it was just twisted, bent, and modified in uncontrollable ways by the collapse.  Which brings us to myth two.

Myth 2 – A well organized group with a vision can control the collapse and emerge from it on top, so they can create their perfect society.

This, curiously is a myth of both communists and Libertarians.  I think the communists got it first and propagandized it very well, so the libertarians bought it.

No one can control a collapse.  It would be like controlling an avalanche. There are two characteristics of collapse, both physical and societal: fragmentation and complexity.  I.e. things break apart and therefore, within the pieces, they become very contradictory/conflicting/complex.  What I was saying above.  Some portions of the ancient Roman empire were Rome in all but name, but others were thoroughly taken over by the invaders, others yet reverted to pre-Roman patterns of culture and civilization and yet others were varying degrees of mixes.  The state during collapse was incredibly more complex than before.

From the collapse, a more organized (and therefore simpler/less chaotic) society always emerges, but it tends to be, looking at history, a form of strong man government (perhaps because that’s inherent in human psychological evolution, proceeding from the way hominid bands organized.)

Neither the perfect egalitarian society nor the perfect individualist society emerges.  Just some right bastard “brings order” and therefore creates the illusion he’s indispensable.

Which brings us to myth 3.

Myth 3 – collapse is complete and reverts to much, much earlier tech and society.

A lot of preppers seem to assume this, particularly in the States.  I’ve nothing against preppers, and some of the stuff they do is on target, mind.  But a lot of it makes me roll my eyes.

I’m not talking about the truly psychotic, who are looking up recipes to use on their neighbors after the collapse.  Some of them might get  away with that, but it says nothing about the state of society.

I’m talking about the people who say things like “I’ll be all right, I know how to spin my own cloth.”  Or “I’m moving to a farm with 10 acres, I’ll just grow my own food.”

I know this is hard to conceptualize, but looking at recent collapses, say Venezuela or Argentina, or even Mexico (which is in many ways a failed state) not to mention the various grades of cluster fry in the Middle East, that’s NOT how collapses happen.

This is due to the chaotic nature of collapse.  Unlike in the movies, or even the classroom, it doesn’t fold into an earlier, rougher order naturally.

Instead, it goes in patches and lurches.

Well, sure, that farm might come in handy, or at least you can have a market garden and take produce to the local market, or sell them on the black market, which will replace your job if you lost it.  But don’t think yours are going to be the only produce or that people will be dying of starvation.  In modern collapse, we don’t see famines.  Apparently to engineer a modern famine you need a government.  What we see, rather, are shortages because of distribution and disruption problems.  So, your produce grown on that farm won’t be saving people from famine, but they might relieve their boredom from the month when there was only turnips in the markets.  (Monorhimic supplies is something that socialists seem to generate everywhere.)

As for cloth, given today’s capacity for producing it, hand woven cloth is unlikely to become needed.  There will still be factories making cloth, somewhere.  Probably more lucrative to know how to do alterations on existing clothes, to compensate for those distribution problems.

But don’t expect the things you have to go away.  They just become unreliable, sporadic and harder.  So, you might only have electricity five hours a day, and you’d best have extra batteries for all your electronics and charge them all in that time.  And if the water is likely to be erratic, you keep buckets of it around.  And if toilet paper gets erratic, you need to resort to press releases by great leader and dispose of it without flushing.

There are business opportunities in every collapse too, and not the ones you’d expect.  For instance, while typing the previous paragraph I thought “And within two months of erratic electricity beginning, we’d have someone marketing computer battery chargers, so you can charge laptop batteries without having them in the laptop.  Probably chargers that can charge ten batteries at a time.  And they’d become REALLY rich.”

It’s impossible to guess which skills will do well, so just concentrate on knowing how to do a lot of things.

Same thing with land.  Collapse doesn’t necessarily favor rural locations.  In Portugal the hard times prompted moves to the city, where stuff was more likely to be available, including jobs.  And in Argentina, I understand isolated country properties were more vulnerable to raiders and home invaders, while in the city you were sort of kind of safe.  And even in cities, people managed to grow market gardens, in balconies and backyards.

So — once you strip away the myths of collapse:

Collapse isn’t Santa Claus.  Don’t count on it to give you what you want, unless what you want is some strongman with his foot on your neck.  If it is, you have a pretty good chance of getting it.

Collapse is not simple, and doesn’t simplify options.  It’s incredibly complex, scary and often lethal.

Collapse doesn’t regress to an earlier and simpler age.  It might require some skills from that time, but mostly it just makes your life more confusing, complex and see above, scarier.

I understand the temptation to burn it all down.  Things seem so irretrievably  Tango Foxtrot that if it were possible to really burn it all down and start again, I’d be all for it.

But that’s not the way collapse happens, and if you set fire to what we have, what you end up with is burning patches you don’t want, perfectly all right portions you wanted burned, and those things that smolder and make further developments unstable, kind of like the scars of the French revolution burning beneath all the subsequent republics.

Does this mean it’s impossible to change?  By no means.  We have moved a lot away from progressive lunacy since the fifties or even the eighties.  It starts with people not assuming the government is a sort of magical fairy.  And I know what you’re going to tell me: people still assume that, a lot of them do, a lot more than ever before.

Well, that might be true, but only because we have a bigger population.  The idea that a central government makes everything better is no longer THE de-facto idea of everyone and certainly not of anyone who is informed.  Even statists try to work around the fact we can’t trust the government and everyone knows that.  Or of course, in Obama’s case, he just yells at us for not trusting government.  But he wouldn’t do that, if trusting government were the default position.

The big destruction and rebuilding is very tempting.  It’s also a myth.  It has never happened that way, and it never will.

Put down those matches and take up your hammer and nails.  The only solution is to build under, build around, to teach, to learn, to change minds and hearts.  The future must be built piecemeal.  So… that’s what we’ll do.

It’s not fun.  It’s not glamorous.  It’s the only thing that can save us.

Screw your courage to the sticking place, and possess your soul in patience.  And work.

Be not afraid.

 

 

 

 

The Fish Ate My Homework

So, I know you’re all tired of my saying I’m late because of a cat or another.  That’s okay.  These last two days it was the fish’s turn.  The fish is a red and blue (with tiny little bit of white on the necktie fins) betta, whose full name is Agile Antelope Betta Version, but whose calling name is Derp, also Derpfish and Derpsardine.

He’s about one and a half years old, his main hobby is building magnificent bubble palaces, in hopes I’ll relent and getting him a bride.  But for the last two weeks not only hasn’t he building a bubble palace, he’s not been eating as usual.  Normally he devours his pellets, and I only clean the product of the other end from the tank.

I’ll start by saying I’m an obsessive aquarium keeper.  This is my first fish, and I feel obligated to him — since he’s alive and I got him (mostly to rescue him from the Petsmart, I’ll admit, but also because of his color) I don’t want to make him suffer, so I try to keep the tank spotless.  It’s five gallons, with lots of places to hide, in two seashells and behind silk plants.

I change the water a little bit every day, when I clean it with the pipette, and before I feed him for the night.  I give him the recommended food.  I warm his water before adding to the tank.  I put in conditioning and aquarium salt.

I read all the books of things that could happen to aquariums and bettas when I got him, of course, but I always KNEW the cotton wool-like fungus that takes over aquaria and kills bettas wouldn’t happen to me.  Mostly because I’m a good aquarium keeper.

I was wrong.  On Tuesday older son who is back for the holidays remarked derpsardine wasn’t moving much from behind his thermometer.  I told him I’d noticed, and also that yeah, he’s not been eating much.

Son’s eyes are better than mine and noticed the swelling below the eye, which after a day was a little cotton-wool like puff.

We spent much of yesterday looking for an open place that carried the spring water we put Derpy in, with no success.

At any rate, I used my last gallon in the secondary tank, (a one gallon) with drops of antifungal medicine.  He seems more animated, but before I return him to the main tank, I had to break it down and soak it in baking soda solution, because (again, son’s eyes are better than mine) son pointed out that there were little white bits in the water.  This morning, when I broke down the aquarium, filters, aerator and all the toys, I noted that there were actual rings of fungal stuff floating in the water.

It is all now in its second rinse, and yes, I do realize I’m going to need to re-cycle the aquarium when all this is done to reestablish the good bacteria that keep ammonia down, but there was no other choice as I must get rid of the fungus.

And yes, I know, all of that sounds incredibly boring and somehow a lot of work.  I agree.  It’s likely when we do lose Derpy we’ll have no other fish ever, because I don’t have time for that kind of hobby, and I’m not even sure what possessed me to pick up Derpy in the first plce.  However, now I have him, and he’s my responsibility.

Oh, and the answer to “how did things get this far he got fungus” is “Because all the time I have I’m not working or cleaning or doing other such things, we’re looking at house.”  I’ve had a lot of nights where I simply lack the steam/spoons to do anything but crash at around 10:00 pm, which means no extra things (like cleaning Derpsardine’s home) happen.  I’ve done the little bit of water replacement I do every day, but instead of replacing all the water and wiping down the toys, etc, once a week, I haven’t done it in a month and a half.

And yes, I feel horribly guilty because a living thing shouldn’t suffer through my being too busy.

I’m trying to edit two very short collections for ya’ll for the holidays, but it will be probably another day, what will all the excitement.  Ditto with Witch’s Daughter and a bunch of the newly-reverted books.

Anyway, this must be the longest excuse note I ever wrote, so I’ll let you discuss fish and stuff, while I go finish cleaning the aquarium.

A Sale

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They say confession is good for the soul.  I didn’t mail the physical books I promised subscribers, though I hoped to, right up to yesterday.  You see, where we are there is no post office in walking range and I’m still not driving as I haven’t been for the last 3 years.  (For various reasons some my health and some the car’s, both of which are being dealt with but aren’t instant.)  I had issues coordinating my time and another person’s enough to make it to the post awful.

If you were counting on the books for gifts, I’m very sorry and I promise to get them off on the 26th, so just tell whatever relative the writer has many good qualities, (I hope) but organizing herself isn’t one of them and this will be a Russian-Style new year’s gift.

Meanwhile, to compensate, and also because a lot of you have friends and relatives who will be getting new kindles for Christmas and you can send them to these books for cheap reads, I put a bunch of my books on sale for 99c.

Death of a Musketeer (Yes, that cover sucks.  Yes, it will be redone when I have time.)

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No Will But His:

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Ill Met By Moonlight

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Crawling Between Heaven And Earth:

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Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it.  The d*mn books will be in the mail as soon as I can possibly organize it, and meanwhile, tomorrow, when you’re possibly a little tipsy and groggy, come by here because I hope to put up some downloadable gifts.

Now be good warm yourself at the fireplace, play with the cats, and don’t Bogart the snickerdoodles.

Oh, and if you haven’t yet tried the OTHER Hoyt, it’s still on sale!

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The Camels of Christmas- Complete short story

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The Camels of Christmas

 

Sarah A. Hoyt

 

There was someone new in the enclosure. And something was very wrong.

The thought flashed through Jason’s mind, and the next moment he realized he’d thought it, and that it had been in words. Real words, not the vague feelings, senses and impulses that had occupied his mind for… how long.

He looked around with a sense of waking up. He was in the camel enclosure in the zoo. As he should be. Beyond the enclosure, there were twinkling lights, and sounds of singing, and of people laughing and kids yelling. That wasn’t right. The zoo didn’t have any visitors at night. Or did it? He listened again. Ah. The songs were Christmas carols. So. This was the time of the year when the zoo decorated for Christmas, and they have visitors close on to midnight. He had a vague memory flit through his head, of walking through the zoo as a human, with a girl on his arm and—

He dipped his head and took a vicious bite of some of the grass on offering. It was suitably juicy and just crunchy enough to give him something to bite. But, to be fair, it tasted like straw. He wanted a cheeseburger. He wanted some of the hot chocolate he could smell in the wind. Which was a completely human thought.

Jason sighed. Okay, so there was no way he was going to be able to go back into just being a camel. The human part of him was awake now, and restless. And it had all started because there was something wrong in the enclosure. No. There was someone wrong.

He squinted at the shadows, in the dark of the enclosure, and counted. There was … He didn’t have a human name for her. She was a darker patch, against the fence, her legs tucked under her. And she might be asleep. His human brain wanted to name her Great Humps. Then there was the elderly female. Grandma. That would do. And there was the other male. Bad Ass would do for his name.

There were two very young juveniles, the progeny of Bad Ass and Great Humps. But there was someone else. He squinted at the dark and saw him. Male, his nose told him, and definitely a half-grown juvenile, moving his legs restlessly, and giving the impression he would run at the slightest provocation.

And then his nose told him something else. This juvenile was, like Jason, a shape shifter.

The shock was so great, that Jason found himself halfway through his shift, coughing and twisting in the pain of grinding-together bones and wrenching muscles. He had just enough mind left to drag himself into the darker shadows at the edge of the enclosure.

I’ll be naked, flitted through his mind, followed by a half amused and half appalled, all we need is for some kid to see a naked man in the enclosure. An arrest would surely make my return to the human world… interesting.

When the pain subsided, he took a half fearful, half curious look at himself. He looked leaner than he had when he’d come into the enclosure… however long ago that was. And he was filthy. Or at least he smelled like the camel enclosure.

He knit himself with the fence, at the darkest edge, behind the feeding through, and looked at the suspicious juvenile. Who was looking right at him, his ridiculously wide camel eyes opened eve wider, his nose twitching.

Part of him wanted to go to the kid and tell him to shift now, but if he did that, he’d be in the full light. He could already see the headlines, tomorrow, in Goldport’s local paper. Mentally Disturbed Man Molests Camels at The Zoo.

Shifters could not afford a sojourn in a mental institution. Well, not that normal humans could. But if they have Jason drugs to help with supposed psychosis, who knew what they’d do. Besides making him turn into a camel? And this time, he might not be able to get away fast enough…

The memory tried to surface and he closed his mind off to it. He remembered only that once upon a time he’d become a camel to forget. He shook his head, and instead of going towards the juvenile camel shifter, felt his way along the fence to the gate, opened it and squeezed out. Outside was a cleverly disguised service tunnel, of the kind used by personnel and hidden from visitors, because all the zoo needed was for someone to find their way to the enclosure and let the animals out. All things considered, the camels were not the worst to let out. Imagine someone decided to release the bears, the lions, or even the elephants.

Jason had only known where the service tunnels were because he’d worked for the zoo, occasionally. He once again tamped down the memories, save for one. Years ago, with the police – or at least the authorities, he wasn’t sure which – hot on his tail, when he’d decided to leave humanity behind and take on his camel aspect forever, he’d left himself an escape hatch. He knew he couldn’t become a human again, and join the crowds stark naked. So before shifting, he’d taken off all his clothes and hidden them.

Of course, he’d hidden them when the zoo was closed. Now, climbing onto the bench on the side of the tunnel stark naked, and feeling about at the top of the wall for the bundle he’d left there was rather more daring, but he saw no other way. Finding the big plastic bag, he dressed quickly. He stank and the clothes would stink, but he saw no way around this. His younger self hadn’t thought of having clothes of convenience till he could shower.

A quick thought of his condo came to him, and the thought that for all he knew it was no longer there. First order of business, find out how long he’d been a camel. Second order of business, which might become first depending on circumstances, find one of the employee showers and hope his contractor badge still worked. Third order of business—

He’d reached the end of the service tunnel and hovered there, with his hand on the latch to the outer gate. Third order of business, of course, could be that he forgot it all and just went back to the camel enclosure. Great Humps and Bad Ass weren’t bad, and Grandma was… well, grandmotherly. And none of this, none of it, had the emotional complications and the complex calculations of human relationships.

Then he thought of the kid in the enclosure. He didn’t know who the kid was, or how old, though he’d suspect he was just a teen, at that age when shifting first tended to occur. If he stayed in the enclosure…

Jason had been able to hold on to some of his own humanity, to an extent, because he was an adult, with an adults sense of self and of self in the world. But a kid, who was still trying to find himself, might become a camel in fact, and forget forever he’d ever been human.

Considering how – not happy, but – content Jason had been in the camel enclosure, the idea that the boy could become a camel forever shouldn’t have been horrific. And yet it was. The idea that someone wouldn’t even try adult humanity, that he wouldn’t ever experience the joys of those more complex realities—

He paused, shook his head, thinking that if he allowed himself to pursue that line of thought, he’d end up applying it to himself. Which would be sane and just, except that right then he didn’t want to do it.

Instead, he thought the kid must be convinced to join the human race, at least long enough to know what he was rejected.

With this thought in mind, he opened the gate and strode out into the zoo.

It wasn’t the part of the zoo thronged with visitors, but those byways and alleys, surrounded by tall hedges that only employees knew. Which was good because just the proximity of garrulous humanity on the other side of those hedges made him shiver a little. It was weird, because of course, while he was a camel he’d seen humans. But they’d been safe distance away, on the other side of barriers, never coming close.

Now it seemed that the idea of humans that near was unnatural and a little scary.

He lucked out though. He’d clipped his zoo ID to his shirt, hoping no one looked too close and realized it was outmoded, and the only person he met, a woman going the other way, only looked at his id and said, “oh, excuse me, doctor,” before hurrying away, probably afraid of his stink.

He hurried to the little building that housed showers, in case doctors and workers got dirty while dealing with the animals. It was still there, and nothing had changed. He took his clothes off hurriedly, got under the shower and washed away the camel stink with the rather astringent disinfectant soap.

Dressed once more in the street clothes which now only smelled faintly of dromedary, he took a deep breath, and decided to brave the byways of the zoo on his surely outdated id again.

He was about to leave the utility building, when it occurred to him that being seen with a naked young male might actually be worse than being caught naked himself. He found the closet where coveralls were kept for those people whose clothes got ruined in the course of their zoo duties. They were cheap coveralls, of the sort people wore while painting. But they would do. Supposing of course, he could talk the kid out of camel.

He walked back into the enclosure, noting the way the others shied away from him. The only one who didn’t was the young male, who stood, looking awkard and ill-at ease as Jason approached. Jason laid a hand on his neck and said “Shift back to human. Now.”

The kid blinked his ridiculously fringed camel eyes and snorted. He took a step back and it looked like he was contemplating kicking Jason, but he didn’t.

“Listen, buddy,” Jason said. “I know things look bad, but they’re not that bad. And I understand what you’re going through. I get it.”

The young camel visibly shook his head. “Yes, I do. You know I also shift shapes.”

Another snort.

“Okay, tell you what, you shift and come with me. I’ll buy you a burger and you can tell me why you decided to be a camel. If you convince me that you have reason to stay here, I’ll bring you back. If not, I’ll help you deal with whatever it is that drove you here. How about that?”

It hung in the balance. Jason could sense that the juvenile really wanted to be persuaded to do this. On the other hand, whatever had driven him here must scare him enough he didn’t think he had a place on the other side. Jason bit his lip. Then gambled it all, by standing on tiptoe and whispering as close to the camel’s ear as he could, “Come on. I’ll buy you a cheeseburger with onion straws. Between you and me, that grass,” he nodded towards the trough with his head, “tastes like straw.”

The camel snorted, and Jason moved back, then realized the more-than-camel eyes were laughing, and that the snort might have been a burst of laugh. The juvenile nodded, and allowed Jason to lead him out of the enclosure to the little tunnel, where he shifted. It took a long time to shift, and Jason had the impression the kid was fighting it. When he was done, he revealed himself as a tall, stringy teenager, maybe thirteen or fourteen, with the sort of build that betrays a rapid growth spurt and no filling in, or muscle. He had a tuft of ginger hair atop his head, a longish face that reminded Jason of his camel face, and big, confused grey eyes.

He put on the overalls, turning away to do it, which meant he couldn’t be used to shifting. Not that Jason had met many shifters, at least not before coming to Goldport, but it seemed like once you’d shifted a few dozen times, even the most modest of girls started dressing and undressing wherever, with no problems.

When he turned back, Jason said, “Nice to meet you. I’m Jason Fleming. What’s your name?” He hadn’t given his full name, of course, because he never used his first name. When pressed, he’d sign himself D. Jason Fleming. Because Dimas was not a name anyone should be forced to confess to, and what had possessed his parents?

The kid hesitated, perhaps feeling the lack of complete honesty, then sighed a sigh that reminded Jason of the camel snort. “Codie,” he said, and hesitated. “Codie Smith.”

Jason nodded. “Come on, Codie.” And headed towards the exit of the zoo.

“Dressed like this?” Codie asked.

“Well…” Jason said. “Did you think to hide some clothes somewhere before shifting?”

“No, but—”

“Always hide clothes somewhere. Lots of somewhere. You can get thrift store t-shirts and sweat pants for a couple of dollars, and it will help—”

“I didn’t know I could shift,” the boy said, and gave a moist snort with the impression of holding back tears. “And I just want to go back to the zoo and stay there. It’s what I deserve. I’m just an animal.”

“I don’t think so,” Jason said. “Animals don’t argue because they have to go out of the zoo in uncool clothes.”

“Oh,” Codie said, as though this struck him. And then, in a rallying tone, “And I can’t go out barefoot.”

“Oh dear,” Jason said, noticing this for the first time. “No, you can’t, not in December, even if it’s mild. Come on.”

He took Codie to the utility building and grabbed a couple of the spare socks kept there, as well as a couple of the patens supposed to be pulled over shoes. They weren’t shoes precisely, but they were black rubber and stretchy, and the smallest ones covered the kid’s feet well enough that he wouldn’t get frostbite. Anything else would have to wait. “I can’t lend you my shoes,” he told Codie. “We don’t wear the same size.”

“No…” Codie said. “But look, I have to go back. I can’t go back to school. If—”

“Never mind. I promised you a burger, remember?”

As they walked out of the zoo, Jason fumbled for his wallet and phone and keys. “I don’t suppose you know what year it is?” he asked.

“Sure I do. It’s 2015. Why?”

“December or January?”

“December.”

The realization that it had been a year and a moth sank into Jason’s brain, followed by a strange relief it had only been a year and a month. His condo was paid for, and he had paid the HOA dues for a year and a half in advance, so he wasn’t even delinquent. He didn’t intend to take a skittish new-shifter to his condo, because the kid was likely to imagine all kinds of nefarious stuff. He remembered the paranoia of the newly-discovered shifter.

But at least Jason knew that once this was done, he would be able to go home. He felt a strange longing for his shower, his clothes, his computer. He wondered what had been happening in the world in the year he’d been a camel.

He put his key back, tried to turn his phone on but the battery was gone. Which meant they’d have to hope a cab went by, never a certainty in Goldport. But at least when Jason, at the time convinced he’d never want to be human again, had put money by in case the impossible happened, he’d put money by, and not just credit cards.

They walked two blocks, in the cold, crispy evening air, before they flagged a taxi. There was only one place to take the boy.

When Jason had first come to Goldport, he didn’t know he’d been lured by shifter-pheromones laid thick around a diner downtown. The former owner had needed to attract shifters for his and his girlfriend’s purposes. Now, under new management, the diner remained a shifter haven. Shifters of all kinds gathered there, and the owners were a male dragon shifter and a female panther shifter, and what was more important, Tom and Kyrie were almost foster parents to the entire community, and unusually kind to youths and lostlings.

I should have gone to them instead of running to the zoo, he thought. And for the first time he felt as though he’d spent an entire year running from himself.

He told the cabbie to drop them off at the George, handed off a handful of grubby bills, and go out of the cab. Codie followed, but stood still on the sidewalk, staring at the diner’s neon sign.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Jason asked.

“Why– Why is the dragon flipping pancakes?”

“Guess!”

“The cook is a … a dragon shifter?”

Jason grinned. “Bingo.”

“Why couldn’t I have been a dragon shifter?” Codie asked. “Camels are lame.”

“Oh, now,” Jason said. “I’ll have you know the camel is a noble animal, a symbol of exotic travel and enlightenment, and also of resilience.”

He didn’t know if what he heard from the kid was a snort of amusement or confusion, and he didn’t turn to look. Instead, he opened the door, and went into the diner.

It wasn’t busy. There were a couple of booths occupied in the main part of the diner, and a couple of tables in the annex next to it, but not the crowd that normally thronged the tables. Jason had a momentary pang of fear that The George was going under, but a glance at the clock showed him he was just between times. It was four in the afternoon, despite the full darkness outside.

He picked a booth in the row parallel to the front window, mostly because all of those were empty and the only people likely to hear their conversation would be those operating the register, and most of those were shifters or knew about shifters.

In seconds, a young woman with long brown hair, the ends dyed in a tapestry pattern came to the table. She gave a little start of surprise on seeing Jason, “Doctor Fleming,” she said. “We were so afraid– That is, we thought something had happened to you.”

“Something had,” he said gravely. Once more he felt he had been an idiot. He should have come here, instead of running away. But just becoming a camel had seemed so right, so worry free. He cast his mind over the last year. Just eating straw and sleeping. Why had he thought this would satisfy him? He basked in the glow of the lights from the ceiling, the subdued conversations from the various tables, and he longed to find out what was going on in the world at large. Why had he given it all up to become a camel?

He ordered two double burgers, and milkshakes, onion straws and fries, then as Kyrie, the co-owner of the restaurant and its waitress at least for some shifts, walked away, he turned to Codie.

“So, why were you being a camel?”

The kid flushed. “I- I—I– It started happening like three months ago. Always when I didn’t mean it to. At first I thought I was going crazy, and then I thought it was stupid. Of all the things one could turn into, why a camel?”

“Why not a camel?” Jason asked. “One of the guys around here turns into a giant squirrel. Sent him a little funny in the head, I tell you. He became a Marxist and keeps trying to organize a rodent liberation front.”

The boy blinked and Jason realized he probably hadn’t got most of that. He said, reassuringly, “Never mind. So you had some inconvenient shifting. But why did you decide to become a zoo camel?”

The boy flushed. “I was in the football team.”

“Was?”

“I don’t think I’m going to be now.”

“Uh oh. What happened.”

“I shifted. Right in the middle of a game.” He covered his face. “I ran away and kept on running. I can’t go back. Can’t. Then I thought there were camels at the zoo. I’ve been there three days. I want to go back. I can’t go back to school. Everyone will know I’m a lame camel.”

Jason didn’t say anything. He was struck by the idea that Codie had been at the zoo for three days, and he’d only now noticed it. Or had his first thought in words taken three days to wake him fully. The burgers arrived. It struck him, suddenly, that their cases were very similar, which made him laugh suddenly.

Codie looked mutinous, until Jason said, “I just realized how similar our cases are. I was about to say your solution was that of a kid, but I did the same thing at thirty six.”

“You changed in front of the football team?”

“No… I… My wife left and I was really depressed, so I went to a doctor, but the stuff they gave me made me change. Since I went to emergency, I shifted in front of a crowded emergency room. I ran all the way out, made some preparations and ran to the zoo, because I thought there would be a warrant for me.” Towards the end of this he realized Kyrie had stayed nearby and was listening. He realized it because she sighed.

He looked at her, “I should have come here,” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “You know you can always come here for help. But that was not why I was sighing. Neither of you have anything to worry about, you know. People won’t see what’s actually in front of their eyes, when they believe it to be impossible. They see what they think they’ll see. Your team probably thinks a camel just ran through and you ran after it. And you, doctor, they probably think there was some weird camel intrusion. No one has searched for you, that’s for sure.”

“I thought that, when Codie told me his story,” Jason said. “I mean people must shift without meaning to often, and if every time were reported, everyone would know about shifters.”

“If only I knew for sure,” the boy said with the anguish of the early teens.

Kyrie smiled. “You can, Codie, is that your name?” When the boy nodded, she continued. “You can call your parents. Do you get along with them?”

Codie stopped for a moment, looked forlorn as though he’d just realized how his actions affected his family, then nodded.

“So, call them,” Kyrie said. “They must be pretty worried, right? And if they know you shifted into a camel they’ll tell you.”

“Or I could go on being a camel,” the boy said miserably.

“You could,” Jason said. “But then you miss on burger and fries. You miss on learning stuff about the world. You miss out on being able to create and live, and try out all the cool things that adults can do in the world. You can never travel as a camel, except as a zoo transfer. You can’t pick your own food. You can’t even pick whether you live or die. If you’re a camel, you’re a thing. The zoo makes that decision for you. I don’t think that’s what you want.”

The boy shook his head. “I’ll call my parents,” he said.

Kyrie got the phone out of her pocket and handed it to him. He dialed. He said, “Hi, this is Codie.”

Even though he didn’t have the phone on speaker, Jason heard the shriek of a woman on the other side. There was a flood of sounds from the phone and it was a while before Codie said sheepishly, “Yeah, mom. I’m fine. No, I didn’t get killed. I just—” a pause while the woman talked. “I chased the camel, and then I got lost. I lost my phone. And someone stole my clothes.” Jason would like to know how the kid would explain that one, but he suspected that the mother wouldn’t probe too hard. There was more squawking.

“A doctor helped me, and I’m at the George. Yeah, downtown. The one that has a sign of a dragon making pancakes.”

When he hung up, he looked surprised and relieved all in one. He handed the phone to Kyrie like a kid in a dream, “My mom says she’s coming to pick me up,” he said. “It was as you said. She thought it was a camel that came in, and that I chased it out…”

“See, I told you,” Kyrie said, and hugged him.

“Oh, and I’m not a doctor,” Jason said. “I’m a veterinarian. But you know, sometimes I treat shifters, so it’s the best of both worlds.”

“I always wanted to be a veterinarian,” Codie said.

“You can be one. But not as a camel. Camels can’t be vets. They don’t have opposable thumbs.” He knew things were going to be all right when Codie laughed at the lame joke.

The kid finished his burger in seconds, and ate all his fries and onion straws and Jason’s, too.

By the time Jason was done with his hamburger, a middle-aged red-headed woman in a tailored, expensive suit came in. She rushed to the booth and hugged Codie who looked suitably embarrassed. Then she paid the bill for their dinner, and it had taken all of Jason’s stubbornness to keep her from paying him for rescuing Codie.

Somewhere in the middle of her effusions, he realized it was Christmas eve.

Once they left, Kyrie approached the booth. “It was a good thing you did there, Doctor, bringing that kid back.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “He brought me back too. I realized my flight into … well… non-human was as stupid as his with less excuse. It seemed to me my life was broken beyond recovery, and in believing that, I almost made it true.”

“Will it be hard for you to… to recover from this?”

“Nah. I’ll make up some excuse. I went to look after my aged parents, or something. I might have to find another job, but most of my work as freelance and as a contractor, anyway. I’ll recover. My car was left in the condo garage, and it might need repairs, but it will recover too. And for the rest…” He shrugged. “It might be difficult at times, but I’m sure I can figure it out. Being human is more complex than being a camel, but it has better rewards. Like burgers, and sleeping in a bed. And friends.”

And then Kyrie hugged him too, which was very nice, and didn’t even complain about residual camel smell.

And that reminded Jason of another good thing about being human. Sometime in the future there would be a human female, or maybe even a shifter one.

His wife had left, unable to cope with his long, unexplained absences, and his irregular schedule, the combination of veterinarian and shifter too much for her. But if he found a shifter girl, she’d understand. And perhaps he would meet one.

As he left the George it was starting to snow. His condo was three blocks away, and unfortunately his fedoras were in the closet there.

But a little snow wouldn’t hurt him.

He walked down the street, with his hands in his pockets, enjoying the snow, and the lights, the people driving by and the sound of music, faint, from the doorways he passed.

Being human was a lot more complicated than being a camel. But it was more rewarding too. He thought of Codie and his mom. And most of the complications and most of the rewards were other people. And that was fine too.

He walked on, softly singing to himself, “Peace on Earth, goodwill to camels.”

*This story takes place in the Shifter/Goldport universe.  For those who don’t know the world, the first book in the series, Draw One in the Dark is free for the kindle on Amazon:

 

51jrzrapbfL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

Or you could buy the omnibus of the first two books:

Night Shifters OMNI

Shifters’ omnibus

End of promo.*

 

 

 

Evie Jones and the Spirit Stalker- Amie Gibbons

*Yes, the camels will come, eventually.  But Euclid took a claw from Greebo just above his eye.  It’s probably nothing but I didn’t want to drag it through Christmas, when the vet is closed, and have it get massive and maybe have the cat lose his eye.  So we took him in for a shot of Convenia (slow release antibiotic) but course, the clinic was packed with people who don’t want to leave it till after the holidays, whatever it is.  So… an hour and change there.  And then my mom is supposed to call, I have the house to clean and cookies to bake, but yes, I’ll do camels first.  After I have lunch. Which hasn’t happened yet for reasons of running around like crazy people.  Meanwhile I leave you with a promo for Amie Gibbons’ novella.*

Evie Jones and the Spirit Stalker:
http://www.amazon.com/Evie-Jones-Spirit-Stalker-Novella-ebook/dp/B0174CBVHW/

Excerpt:

Mandy looked behind her like she was checking the door was still closed. “I… no.” She chewed on her bottom lip again for a second. “I think I’m being haunted.”

“You mean by a ghost?” I froze, eyeing her with fear sliding icy fingers up my heart. “Why do you think I could help with a haunting?”

“I talked to my professors and some of the graduate assistants who know about this stuff. And they said, you know, ghosts are possible. They show up all the time throughout history. And they had theories, but I could tell they didn’t believe me. But after that, Chet said you might be able to help with more than just the theory stuff the professors know.”

“Chet? Ohhhhh, you’re taking anthropology?”

She nodded. “I’m a freshman. Chet’s my TA; he said you could help. He said I had to keep it under wraps. Couldn’t tell anyone because you could get in trouble if people know you… know something about this stuff?” Her voice went up, making it a question.

I rubbed my forehead. Oy vey, I’m going to kill him.

Chet had seen magic at work when we were attacked a few months ago and I swore him to secrecy. We’d dated, but after I lost my job I told him I needed some time to figure out where I was in my life and we were better going back to friends for now. He’d been the one to tell me about the job at the U of U Hospital and put in a good word for me, but other than that, we hadn’t talked in two months.

“Why do you think you’re being haunted?”

“I don’t think I am. I know I am.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. I was the adult here after all. “Okay?”

She nodded again. “It started maybe a week ago. I’m not sure because it was so gradual. You know when something feels wrong and you just shake it off? Like you had a bad dream or the place is too cold so you’re on edge and shivery?”

I waved a hand and nodded. Come on, kid. I’ve got real work to do here… well, kind of.

I blinked and realized she was still talking.

“…so I just shook it off. You know?”

Apparently I hadn’t missed anything important.

“Yeah,” I said.

“But the cold kept getting worse and my roommate couldn’t feel it and then my laptop disappeared.”

“Someone stole it?”

“No. I put it in my backpack, went straight home, and it was gone when I opened it, right after I got home.”

“But you didn’t notice the change in weight?”

“Well, I mean, I ride a bike and put it in the basket. It’s heavy. You know?”

“Okay. What else?”

“Two nights ago, I heard something in the bathroom. It was sort of a thump?”

I wanted to say, “Asking or telling, kid?” I kept my mouth closed. So sometimes I had tact.

“I got out of bed and went in there and the faucet was on. I went to turn it off, and it was like pouring blood.”

I sat up straighter. Okay, that was definitely a sign of a ghost. A pissed off one, and powerful at that. Meant either a poltergeist or a dead witch. Either way, she could be in serious trouble.

“And then I turned on the light and the blood was gone,” she said.

Or she could be a kid with an overactive imagination fried from the bleach she took to her head, and a TA who was all too ready to fall over himself to help her. Oy vey, I was in a pissy mood. Still, I was so going to get Chet back for this.

“I tried telling myself it wasn’t real. It was my imagination. I was freaking out from the noises in the dorms. But my laptop popped up this morning. I pulled it up and the screen saver was a picture of my family, with my eyes crossed out.”

I shivered, sitting back. “Okay, that’s creepy. Do you have the laptop?”

“No. I screamed and ran to the common room to get my roommates. When I got back, the laptop was gone again.”

“I know the professors probably already asked you this, but are you sure you’re not seeing things? Halloween’s on Saturday, creepy decorations are up, there’s horror movies in theaters. You don’t have any proof. Nothing has stuck. If it was a ghost, wouldn’t he leave stuff around for you to show others so you’d get really worked up?”

“Do ghosts like it when people know about them?”

“A ghost pissed and powerful enough to mess with things on our plane wants chaos. Fear. They can’t move on for whatever reason, so they start to lose it and want to take others down with them.”

“Then wouldn’t he keep making only me see things so I’d think I was going crazy? If there was proof, I’d know I wasn’t.”

I shrugged one shoulder. “True, but ghosts aren’t coherent. They aren’t sentient the way we think of it. They’re an echo. A memory. They just react.” I leaned my elbows on the desk, pressing my fingers together in front of me. “Though, if it’s not a ghost, but a trapped spirit, it’d still be coherent. That requires some serious power… and the proper rituals before death to pull it off.”

“You do know about this stuff,” she breathed, grinning. “I knew it!”

Oy vey.

“Do I need to say what I’ll do to you if this gets out?”

“Whatever you’re already going to do to poor Chet?”

“Yep… only he’s getting the dull hedge clippers because he’s older and owed me keeping my secret.”

“I’ll owe you forever if you can make this thing go away.”

I pointed at her. “Never say that. I mean it. To anyone, but especially anyone…” I bit my tongue.

“Were you going to say magical? Anyone magical?” She grinned.

“What else has happened, if anything?”

She told me of the bad feeling building up, swearing she was being watched when she was alone, someone peeking into the window when she was at her boyfriend’s place, the cold spots.

“And…” She finally paused for breath. “I’ve been hearing things from other people after I talked to the professors today. I walk past someone and a voice hisses at me. It’s happened a few times and it’s only been like two hours.”

“What does the voice say?”

“It says…” She looked down and when she met my eyes again, hers were filled with pure terror. “It says if I want to play it that way, I won’t live through the night.”