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JeffV
Posted on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 07:19 am:   

I thought a thread to post short excerpts from works in progress, whether short stories, novellas, novels, or essays, might be of use. Perhaps limited to no more than 500 to 800 words? And when the thread gets unmanageable, create a Works in Progress-2 thread?

JeffV
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Monday, June 16, 2003 - 06:41 pm:   

Count me in! This is the first 800 words of a long short story I'm working on, tentatively titled 'Of Hydrangeas and Gin'.

The rose-glass goblet with its sprinkling of gold enamel stars. Black Toby the smiling Saracen jug, his white turban peaked in front to form the spout. The ivory horse, the two white bisque children, the galleon plate. Josephine Claiborne was dusting her treasures by moonlight. Having been roused at a quarter past three by one of Nature’s importunate calls, she had not been able to go back to sleep. This was not unusual for her. It was not just the aches that seventy-four years had planted in her body, which impoverished her chances of finding a comfortable position to lie in. She stayed out of bed more for the reason that she had secret taste for the small dark morning hours. Once awake after midnight, she felt an excitement in her head, which drew her up and into her slippers, a housecoat and her glasses, and called her into the kitchen to bake a cake, or into the sitting room to dust and polish.
The knowledge that most people were dormant in their beds, doing nothing more than breathing, hardly even being, existing only in their own dreams, brought a sense of enhanced significance to the motions of her cleaning rag. The only work done at that hour was either essential or clandestine, and this touched Josephine with the feeling of belonging to the club of the night. The fact that none of its other members, the watchmen, burglars, murderers, drivers of mail coaches and goods trains, secret lovers, harlots and spies, were likely to imagine an elderly woman as one of their own, did not diminish but rather strengthened her sense of belonging to that society. She felt justified in imagining herself as one of the most secret among the secret.
It was a warm, muggy night in the middle of summer, and Josephine had opened the bay window in the room. Thanks to the strong light of the moon, which was almost full, and that of a streetlamp outside the house, the night was a very genteel visitor in the sitting room. Darkness was present in a degree enough to grace everything in the room with a polish of mystery, but not enough to be a nuisance. Josephine could see well enough not to need the light on, and with the room open to the garden and the air of the night free to enter the house, she felt her sense of isolation from the world—a sense she had had for a long time, and to the sadness of which she was accustomed—ease, not entirely, but sufficiently for her to notice. While she took greater pleasure in imagining the nocturnal club, after she had been up for half an hour or so she would admit to feeling a bond, of a different sort, with the sleeping majority, almost as though they were children and she a mother, unknown to them but by no means uncaring or inactive.
In the physical world, she enjoyed the merging of the sitting room with the garden. The summer flowers were out—the roses and gardenias, the blue hydrangeas by the side fences, the carnations and liliums, and the old guelder rose in the centre of the lawn, all its branches carrying lacy, matrimonial posies of white flowers, looking so marvellous in the moonlight that Josephine paused often in her dusting to look at it and smile.
A person peering through the open window would have seen a tall, large woman moving around, cloth in hand, bending over and under furniture, opening glass cabinets, picking objects up and wiping them carefully. At the same time, a soft-edged shadow swam across the walls and furniture behind her, aping her motions. The shadow’s paws lifted up a great flossy cobweb and brandished it, as Josephine shook the dust out of a lace table runner. Josephine was puzzled and perturbed by the amount of dust in her house, particularly the extra large amount that accumulated in this one room. Believing that it was plaster dust, she had paid for all the cracks in the ceilings and cornices throughout the house to be repaired, but quantity of dust had not diminished at all. Though disappointed, she took comfort in the fact that the house looked better for the touch-up. She did not want anyone to think she might be turning into a slovenly old person.
Her friend Irma Gouge maintained that household dust was mostly particles of human skin, something Irma had read in one of her sensational magazines. Josephine didn’t put much store by what was written in publications of that sort, but just in case Irma was right, and all this white dirt was coming from her, flaking off day and night, she always wore stockings and long, buttoned sleeves indoors, and for going into the sitting room and the little dining room next to it she kept an old pair of gloves in a pocket of her housecoat.
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Kage Baker
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 07:29 pm:   

Here's the opening for a Company novella (set in Transylvania, no less) I'm working on at present:

In a country of mad forests and night, there was an open plain, and pitiless sunlight.

A man dressed as a clown was running for his life across the plain.

A baked-clay track, the only road for miles, reflected the sun’s heat and made the man sweat as he ran along it. He was staggering a little as he ran, for he had been running a long while and he was heavy, and the silken drawers of his clown costume had begun to work their way down his thighs. It was a particularly humiliating costume, too. It made him look like a gigantic dairymaid.

His tears, of terror and despair, ran down with his sweat and streaked the clown-white, graying his big moustache; the lurid crimson circles on his cheeks had already run, trickling pink down his neck. His straw-stuffed bosom had begun to slip, too, working its way down his dirndl, and now it dropped from beneath his petticoat like a stillbirth. Gasping, he halted to snatch it up, and peered fearfully over his shoulder.

No sign of his pursuers yet; but they were mounted and must catch up with him soon, on this long straight empty plain. There was no cover anywhere, not so much as a single tree. He ran on, clutching his bosom, whimpering. Gnats whined in his ears.

Then, coming over a gentle swell of earth, he beheld a crossroads. There was his salvation!

A team of slow horses drew two wagons, like the vardas of the Romanies but higher, and narrower, nor were they gaily painted in any way. They were black as the robe of scythe-bearing Death. The man didn’t care. He aimed himself at the hindmost wagon, drawing on all his remaining strength, and pelted on until he caught up with it.

For a moment he ran desperate alongside, until he was able to gain the front and haul himself up, over the hitch that joined the two wagons. A moment he poised there, ponderous, watching drops of his sweat fall on hot iron. Then he crawled up to the door of the rear wagon, unbolted it, and fell inside.

The driver of the wagons, hooded under that glaring sky, was absorbed in a waking dream of a place lost for millennia. Therefore she did not notice that she had taken on a passenger.

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JeffV
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2003 - 08:42 pm:   

Blimey! Good stuff--both of them. (And Kage, you must know I'm now literally addicted to the Company material. Nice interview in Locus, too!)

Here's an excerpt from my novel-in-progress. Messy and incomplete and out of context.

JeffV

****

If there is a starting point in Duncan’s life, it would have to be the day that our father, Jonathan Shriek, a minor historian, died of convulsive joy at our house in Stockton. This joy ripped through him and destroyed his heart when I was 15 and Duncan only 10. I remember it because I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework when the mailman came to the door. Father heard the bell and hopped up to answer it. Father was a defiantly ugly man, built like a toad, with wattles and stocky legs. So when I say “hopped,” I honestly mean “hopped.”
I heard him in the hall, exchanging small talk with the mailman. The door shut. Then the crinkle of paper as my father opened an envelope. A moment of silence, as of breath being sucked in. Then a horribly huge laugh, a cry of joy or triumph, or both. He barreled past me to the open hallway that led to the back door.
“Gale,” he was shouting, “Gale,” my mother’s name. Out into the backyard he stumbled, me right behind him, my homework forgotten, beside myself with suspense. Something marvelous had happened and I wanted to know what it was.
At the far end of the lawn, Duncan, ten and sandy-haired, was helping my mother with our small herb garden. My father ran toward them, into the heart of the summer day, waving the letter over his head and yelling, “Gale! Duncan! Gale! Duncan!” His back to me, me running after him squealing, “What, Daddy? What is it?”
He was almost there. He was going to make it. There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to make it. But he didn’t. He stumbled. He fell. Flat on his face in the grass. The hand with the letter was the last to fall, the other hand clutched to his chest. Into the sweet, strange grass. Dead.
I stopped running when I saw him fall, thought he had tripped. Looked up across the lawn at my mother and brother. My mother was rolling her eyes at her husband’s clumsiness, but Duncan’s face was wide with horror. Duncan knew that his father hadn’t just fallen, but had been made to fall by something wrong inside of him. A moment later my mother realized this too, and all three, we ran to him converged on him, held him, searched for a pulse, called for the doctor, sat there crying when he did not move, get up, say it had all been a joke or an accident.
It was Duncan who took the letter from our father’s hand and, after the doctor had gone and the mortician had taken the body away, sat down at the kitchen table and read it—first to himself, and then to us, our mother staring vacant-eyed from the living room couch, not hearing a word of it. The letter confused Duncan in ways that did not occur to me or our mom. It bent the surface of his world and let in a black vein of the irrational, the illogical, the nonsensical. To me, my father was dead, and it didn’t matter how or why it had happened, because he was dead regardless. But to Duncan, it made all the difference. He had, I think, been so madly fearless to that point, so much a little explorer, because he felt safely anchored in place and situation. He was too young to have encountered chance and irony, dislocation in brutal combination. Until now.
For my father had died in the grasp of a great and terrible joy. The letter, which bore the seal of the Kalif himself, congratulated “Jonathan Shriek for having won that most Magnificent award, the Laskian Historical Prize,” for a paper published in the Ambergrisian Historical Something or Other. The letter asked my father to accept an all-expenses paid trip to the Court of the Kalif, there to study further and to examine books unread for five centuries, including the holiest-of-holies, the Journal of Samuel Tonsure. It was a letter that rescued my father from obscurity, and it killed him, his blood cavorting through his arteries at a fatal speed.
The funeral that followed was farce and tragedy. We attended the wrong casket and were shocked to be confronted by the visage of a young man, as if death had done my father good. Meanwhile, another family with a closed casket had buried my father.
“Death suited him.” It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true—it seemed true. That he had gone into death old and come back young. And more comforting still—the idea that there had been a mistake and he was still alive somewhere.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 06:00 am:   

Folks...wow. I've really enjoyed reading these.

A bit of my latest, which is turning into a real old space opera:

Yskatarina Iye: named for the sounds she made on her emergence from the growing-skin, first a hiss and then a cry. The name - her child-name, not the appellation of her clan - proved difficult to dislodge and Yskatarina retained it into adulthood, along with the doppler, that grew beside her from a hatchling no bigger than a dragonfly. The doppler, spawned from the lineage of the clan and grown by means of haunt-tech, just as Yskatarina herself had been, possessed no name, or perhaps many. It whispered variants to Yskatarina as she slept, throughout the long illnesses that marked her childhood after the amputation of her useless shins: dreamfevers, feral malaises, the modified malarial infestations that would enable her not only to suffer the possession when the time came, but to welcome it. She spent the endless dark with the doppler crouched beside the cot like a murmuring spider, spinning webs of words.

Possession almost killed her. She lay in the blackness of the laboratory as the engrams re-wrote her: erasing, changing, a process of alchemical transformation that she was powerless to resist. When she opened her eyes once more, she was reborn, and the doppler's claw was clasped tightly in her hand all the while.

Then, when she entered her thirteenth year, it was Yskatarina's turn to wait and watch, anxiously muttering useless reassurances, as the doppler passed into its chrysalis form and a silverblack shape hung motionless from the ceiling of the laboratory, dependent from a piece of growing bone. Somehow, she did not expect the doppler to emerge alive - although, perhaps, 'alive' was too imprecise a term - but emerge it did, gliding from the wreckage of the chrysalis, arachnid, escorpionate, baleful.

Yskatarina knew, then, that there was nothing that she would not do to keep the doppler beside her, no matter what the clan might say, or try to do.

When they were both well enough to venture out, she found that she felt safe beneath the doppler's solicitous, multi-faceted gaze as they wandered together through the shadowy passageways of Tower Cold. The doppler taught her the secret ways between the walls: they slipped past hidden chambers as Yskatarina's feet crunched and crackled on the thousand-year old bones of mice. Concealed behind living tapestries, they watched as the Steersmen Skull-Faces bottled up the canopic jars and dispatched them into the boats that would carry them to the gates, there to be launched upon the Night Sea for their endless journey. They scuttled through the Weighing Chamber, whilst the mourn-women sang the ancient songs, conjuring the spirits of the future dead, untied from the rivers of time.

And it was the Doppler who told Yskatarina, upon the evening of her nineteenth birthday, that she had come forth from the growing skin with a destiny: that it was to be her task, and hers alone, to seek out the hito bashira from the teeming billions of Earth and Mars and the Chain, to seek the girl out, and slay her.

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Michael Cisco
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 02:16 pm:   

from THE GREAT LOVER:

Let me tell you about the Prosthetic Libido – in the dim mass crowding the streets of downcast and tense faces his features gleam bright and clear with powerful feelings – step off the curb into the crosswalk and out from the shadows of the buildings into dazzling sunlight reflecting in puddles scattered on the pavement and the street blazing with blinding flakes of burning light – everything in your field of vision burns stiffens and chimes around him, in all of literature there is no character more beautiful.

***

Dream called:

“Prosthetic Night”

the Prosthetic Libido - it breathed in chords - it raised its hand emitted jagged light, transparent light, he's fascinated by the light - transparent flame and spear-shaped projections ... the sensation is truly indescribable: corposants rising in the air of this tiny, stripped room, there's a green one, pale color of spring leaves ... there goes a gold one, I guess they can also be gold. Crashing, blue-white waves of force - can you hear it it's trilling - my eyes were closed as I wrote this, but on reviewing the text I find that my handwriting is ungarbled and clear - it looks up at me as though ... was it expecting me? The light flickers violently, and the effect on me of those trembling glints darting over its face, with the unceasing, uncoordinated movements of its features - the contained flight of its face was a series of foggy pictographs - now although the rest of its body is rigid the head is lolling drunkenly - its waist swivels - it gives off a powerful smell like burning electrical insulation and boiling oil - something condensing and running in droplets down the walls, now they're slick with oil - the ceiling gone I seemed to see a shining ziggurat - the ceiling is a black pane of space - its manner, a mixture of yearning and exasperated tiredness, like an invalid, veillety, I want ... I want ...

***

“I want to go home with you,” the Prosthetic Libido folds lightly against him.
“I have no home. I live in the sewers.”
“Couldn’t we hide there?”
“I have no need to hide myself,” he looks at the Prosthetic Libido sharply. “But you are right to believe you should be hidden.”
“Then take me down there.”
The Great Lover shakes his head, “I don’t want to get you dirty.” He puts his hands on his knees and stands up. “Come with me, I know where to put you.”
They walk out together into the park, the Prosthetic Libido wants to put his arm through the Great Lover’s, but he receives no indication that this would be permitted. Empty green slope deep trembling green in rain light, framed with soft trees.
“Look at all the space. May I run?”
“Of course. You may do what you like.”
The Prosthetic Libido goes bounding away down the slope brandishing his limbs in transports of joy, his voice rings out like a glass harmonica. He ses the great profusion of life the birds the squirrels the trees the plants – all the wonderful profusion -
“Oh how awful that I can never be a part of it!”
He crams his fists in his mouth and stops. He drops into a crouch and his head rolls forward until his hat drops to the grass. The Great Lover lumbers over to him.
After a few minutes, he says, “I shouldn’t exist.”
The Great Lover doggedly replies, “Neither should I.”

***

Why the sudden thrill as I run across the words “dead bodies ... An inn, country house” in a book?
“What does this mean?” the Prosthetic Libido asks, pointing to the book.
“Slang for masturbate.”
“Jack off,” he says smiling and lifts his face to the ceiling, “jack off jack off jack off.”
And deep in the night, the Great Lover sits with his chin on the table, looking at a lemon seed twirling at the bottom of a glass of sepia gin. Dusky brown candlelight shines through the glass with its painted Spanish dancers, illuminates shadow lemon seed spinning behind painted stems and blossoms in the steady flame glow ... two tufts of pulp cling to the flat seed ...

“I am going to jack off,” the Prosthetic Libido says, and beams at him.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 08:38 am:   

Well, I hate to even attempt following up those kick-ass snippets of works-in-progress, but I just can't help myself. Maybe posting the opening to my near-futue SF novel here will get me motivated to finally fix up the ending get it into proper shape.

From the Prologue to THE WANNOSHAY CYCLE:

Living on Earth, simply surviving from one day to the next, even in the days before the ships landed, was often a maddening prospect. Every human had a breaking point, and Albert Warner’s breaking point came two weeks after the snowstorm that brought the ships crash-landing to the frozen Midwestern plains.

He’d started that day by downing half a bottle of vodka and three capsules of Blur. After driving through the narrow, car-choked streets of southern Chicago all day long, his senses becoming more and more muddled as the competing chemicals -- hyper-stimulant and old-fashioned depressant -- raged inside him, he ended up in front of his sister’s church, staring with doubled vision at the cracked archway as organ music drifted down on him from inside. He could barely control his own hands as he dug out the gun from under the driver’s seat of his car.

His younger sister attended the church with her Italian husband and their children, but Albert had refused to go to Mass with them. He hated the prospect of taking communion next to olive-skinned, black-haired men and women who often refused to speak English here in his sister’s Chicago church. He also feared what the priest might say about the meaning and purpose behind the arrival of the ships. But more than anything else, Albert hated and feared the almost three dozen ships from space and their mysterious, unidentified passengers even more.

I can’t take this any more, he thought, hefting himself out of his car into the November air, his entire body shaking convulsively from the cold and the chemicals in his tired body. He’d been drinking and using Blur ever since he downloaded the first Netstream report of the ships a week ago. He could still see the reddish-pink streak of light one of the ships had made before it hit Earth, caught by a lucky Netstream filmmaker.

He slammed his car door and turned into the cold winter wind that cut right through his cheap Brewers jacket. His gaze moving from one spot to another -- gray archway to stone steps to red square of stained glass on his right -- so fast his eyes ached, Albert climbed the front steps, gun held in front of him like an accusing finger. Someone needed to give him that explanation, now.

He was down the side aisle of the church in seconds, the nearly-full church streaking past in multi-colored flashes. Still the organ music played, louder now, hammering into his thoughts. He lifted up his gun and screamed up at the stained glass windows, and his words ran together as the Blur took over.

“Why-have-you-forsaken-us Lord? Why-did-you-let them come-here? Tell me.”

The music stopped, and a balding, red-faced priest hurried down from the main altar toward Albert, a small bottle of communion wine still in his hand. Parishioners ran past the two of them or slid low in their pews, but Albert barely noticed: his gaze was now locked onto the twenty-foot-high stained glass window above Mary’s altar: Jesus praying on the rock at Gethsemane in front of a purpling sky.

“Please,” the priest said, his hands shaking so badly he spilled red wine across his ornate robe. “Put the gun down.”

“The ships,” Albert said, trying to slow himself down, to no avail. “Can’t Jesus see-the-ships? The-ships-are-right-over-his-head. How-could-God-let-this-happen-to-His-own-son? I deserve an-explanation.”

The priest opened his mouth to say something, and then he glanced off to Albert’s right. Albert spun and raised his gun just as a burly, black-haired man tackled him. Both men hit the carpeted floor in front of the exit, and the gun went off.

Gasping for air, Albert pushed the now-heavy man away, wiping blood from his face. “They’re-turning-us-against-ourselves already,” he whispered. His head was filled with the sound of pounding waves, his eyes stung with sweat dripping from his forehead, and his vision was turning gray.

They can’t stay here, he thought, trying to focus on the shaking piece of black metal gripped into an old man’s hand that he finally recognized as his own. Can’t stay.

The priest must have seen what Albert was getting ready to do, because in some dim corner of his flashing mind he registered the touch of the other man’s hand on his. But the priest wasn’t fast enough, and Albert was beyond caring anymore. Albert turned his gun on himself and pulled the trigger.
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Jay Lake
Posted on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 06:16 pm:   

Well, in the spirit of fun, here's the first two pages of the Dark Town story I'm working on right now called "The Lizard of Ooze." -- Jay

...

It's a city in a great, deep hole, Ooze is, a pit black as any mine, buildings and towers clinging to the walls as if they had nooses about their necks. Sunlight leaks in the top, a little, a few hours a day, and darkness fills the rest, down to the monster-haunted depths.

I live between the light and darkness. I hunt what doesn't belong on our laddered stairs and narrow, pit-girdling streets. I am a Shadow of the Shadow stirps, a quiet brotherhood no better known than smoke, no easier caught than steam.

Ooze is among the darkest of the Dark Towns, those cities hidden within the blank spaces of the map. For all that good Kentucky bluegrass grows far above our heads we may as well be worms in a cave.
Which suits me well, pale as I am.

I was sidling along one of the streets of the Mycotic Level one night, leaning out past the outflung beams of the growing trays, when I heard shouting from somewhere above me, perhaps the fifth or sixth ladderway along the Seats of Ease which are the next higher level.

Quickly I scuttled up a side-ladder. Shouting is not common in Ooze -- echoes have a way of reaching far into the inky depths and returning in the mouths of strange creatures that then must be Shadow-hunted. Lives can be lost, and the bounties due to my stirps are never cheap.

The Seats of Ease are great banks of limestone panels set in ells, a high bank and narrower bench, with polished oval voids carved out of them, where the folk of Ooze meet to relieve their bowels and discuss politics, sex and dancing. There are usually chattering groups there, or young folk with their robes hitched around their waists holding hands and kissing.

Tonight there was a mob, a group of Fine-Icers and some several folk from smaller stirpes, and even a few limerocks, those sad neutrals who hold no place in the pageant of our city's life. The whole group of them was crowded onto the landing of fifth ladderway, shouting and shoving. They were mobbing someone to death.

_And to sunlight with that_, I thought. If anyone's to be killed here, it's me going to do the killing. I stroked my shadow suit into noctilucence, drew the Blades Sinister and Truth, and stormed the crowd from behind, roaring with the voice of winds all Shadows are taught if they would live through their initiatory journey into the depths.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 06:48 am:   

Wow. Cool stuff, Jay! I dig those Dark Town tales. Keep it up.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 10:50 am:   

The opening of a short story, "The End of Words":


Humidity clung to their clothes like the gnarled hand of a beggar. There was no sound in the garden except for their voices.

The bench they sat on was not comfortable. Its worn wooden seats were little more than loose planks dotted with splinters and damp moss, and its metal frame had been corroded by rain into almost nothing, a latticework of dull grey strands like the hollow carcass of an animal which, going against the natural order, had allowed its bones to rot away while keeping its circulatory system intact, leaving a defiant spider web of calcified veins in lieu of a skeleton. As the man laid his arm on one of the armrests, he felt his flesh, soft and slightly loose, sinking into the gaps.

"Did you have a good rest?" he said.

She laughed. "No, had the fucking dreams again."

"What about?" he asked.

"You know I don't remember," she said. "But bad."

"Poor dear." He paused. "Are you hungry?"

"A bit."

"I'm not. Not really. But we could--"

"No," she said. "I’ll wait. We’ll have brunch."

"All right, then."

They sat in silence. The air was getting warmer. The man lifted his arm to look at the pattern the armrest had made. It seemed to stay for a long time.

"Do you want to do a word now?" the woman said.

"I suppose we’d better. It's getting on in time," he said, rubbing the grey stubble on his chin. "Then again, I thought we might go for a walk first. We could do the word by the pond. Have a picnic. How does that sound?"

"I would, but my headache. . . especially in the morning. I've told you."

"All right, love," he said after a time. "I think I'll go for a walk myself, then. Get some rest, okay?" He levered himself off the bench with some effort and reached for his walking stick.
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Jay Lake
Posted on Friday, July 18, 2003 - 08:37 am:   

Here's another bit, from the middle of my novel in progress TO WIND THE MAINSPRING OF THE WORLD

---

That night, Hethor's sense that he heard clattering gears inside even the smallest things was stronger than ever. Tiny, hairy, resembling children costumed as so many apes, the correct people danced before a great fire, throwing fruits and meat and even their spears and breech clouts into it. Drums echoed in the African night, and even the stars above seemed to waver to the beat. Clicking and whistling they sang, the music counterpoint to the rhythms of the dance.

The food on the fire crackled and hissed and raised a smell not unlike a feast fit for angels. The correct people raised a sweat of their own, the scent almost sweet and more than a little challenging to Hethor's nose. Beetles the size of Hethor's hand, and some larger, flew out of the jungle into the flames, exploding like little fireworks as they burned, while enormous moths with crying faces upon their wings circled above.

He sat in front of his hut, where Orilla had so often lately sat to watch him, and listened to the clattering. Even the wind seemed a thing of metal artifice, the crackling flames mechanical in their hunger for the fuel on the fire. Every one of the correct people moved with the clicking of an automaton, yet another counterpoint to their click-whistle language and their shuffling steps, so that Hethor felt as if he was witness to a great conference of automata, a sort of coven of fleshly machines met to worship in a jungle lair.

Just as he had lain in his narrow bed in Master Bodean's attic to listen to the clattering turn of the world, so Hethor now turned his ears to the sounds that tugged at them. He was close enough still to his recent deafness to feel a warm and profound gratitude for the return of his hearing, even it was strained through this metal sieve.

All Creation was artifice, was it not? Any man with eyes could see that, bearing witness to Earth's orbital track, the gears atop the Equatorial Wall, the mechanical motions of the stars, even the lamp of the sun. Why wouldn't men, and correct people, as well as animals, beetles, trees, fire and wind, be artifice?

Hethor could not decide if this was heady philosophy or maudlin foolery, so instead he closed his eyes and listened, really listened, to the underlying music of the world. The pounding beat of the correct people's festival-rite only served to make that underlying music clearer, as if providing a texture richer and thicker than any silence, against which the world could make itself heard to him.

The beetles buzzed like tiny spring-wound toys. The fire's crackle was the disjointed fall of a box of small brass parts, tinkling forever. The correct people moved and spoke and sang with a precision fit for any ship's clock or astronomer's time piece. Even the smells seemed composed of smaller and smaller mechanisms, each one's parts themselves assembled from tinier parts, as if all of Creation held a myriad more Creations nestled inside itself.

As each man was a Creation of his own, a mind unique in God's world.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Friday, July 18, 2003 - 10:48 am:   

Oh, okay, I can't resist, 'specially since Nicholas and Jay are posting such cool excerpts. From a story-in-progress (all apologies to gamers everywhere):



Andy was DM again, and the stupid spaz couldn’t stop using the word to describe everything, to the point where Mark wanted to blast him with Electricity spell for a massive hit-point loss until he had no choice but curl up behind his D&D screen. But of course, Dungeon Masters were impervious -- see, Mark wanted to say, I know fancy words too! -- to any form of damage. They were untouchable.

“The painting is exquisite,” Andy said once the party entered the ancient castle gallery via a secret door Kennedy’s thief had found. “Painted in gilt, um, paint, with exquisite lapis lazuli borders. It’s a map of Darcovia, with Castle Deepmoat at its center.”

“Turn up the stereo!” Lucas shouted, knocking over his figures with a skinny arm. “I love this damn song. ‘Do ya come from-a Land-a Down-a Undah?’”

“Come on,” Andy said. He gave his round, thick glasses an authoritative tweak. “There’s no fricking music in Dungeons and Dragons, and if there was, it wouldn’t be that crap.”

“What else is on the map?” Mark said, trying to focus on the task at hand. “Anything interesting? Kennedy, have your thief check it for traps first, why don’tcha?”

“Who died and made you leader?” The other Chris, Chris Kennedy, glared at Mark, his dark eyes barely visible over the lank bangs of his bad comb-forward haircut.

“Ummmm, gee, let me think,” Mark said in his most sarcastic voice, leaning back and staring at the swirls plastered into the Kennedy family’s kitchen ceiling as if trying to figure out the world’s trickiest sixth-grade spelling word. “Your fighter did, I guess. Like, when he caught the cudgel from the orc king with his head, maybe? Making my magic-user the leader, cuz of his experience. He’s at the third level already, right, Andy?”

Roll,” Andy growled from behind his DM screen as Men at Work embarked on a flute solo. This was the deepest into a game the four boys had ever gotten, and Mark could tell Andy had afraid things were going to start disintegrating at any moment. In their two months of weekly D&D get-togethers, they had yet to finish a single campaign. The siren song of the Atari 2600 was hard to ignore.

“Who rolls?” Lucas said. The song had ended, and he turned down the boxy stereo a notch or two. Kennedy’s parents were out bowling, and wouldn’t be in until midnight.

“The thief rolls the ten-side die three times, to see if he hits any traps on the map.”

“’Where women glow, and men thundahhh!!’”

“Come on, Lucas,” Mark said. “Zip the lip.”

As Kennedy’s dice rattled three times across the fake wood of the table, Mark peeked at his poor attempt at a map. He was on his third sheet of graph paper, the blue on white squares refusing to cooperate with his number two pencil and Andy’s mumble descriptions. They were in one of the towers of Castle Deepmoat. Or two levels deep into the castle dungeons, depending on which map you liked best.

“Twelve,” Kennedy said.

“Okay... So there were no traps.” Andy disappeared behind his DM screen, and Mark could hear the mad flipping of pages. Andy wrote all his campaigns himself, unable to lower himself to actually buy an already-written module at the Dubuque Waldenbooks.

But,” Andy continued with a sudden burst of drama the made his voice crack, stopping Lucas before he could reach a skinny arm toward the volume lever on the old radio, “you have awakened... something.”

“Oh shit,” Mark said, a wide grin crossing his round face. “Here we go!”

The two Chrises grabbed for their character sheets and dice, sending half-painted pewter figurines in the middle of the table flying. Andy ignored the chaos and waited until all movement stopped, and even Lucas’ Men at Work cassette cooperated, going silent at the end of Side One. Andy inhaled.

“From the far corner of the room comes a slithering sound, the likes of which none of the heroes of the party have ever heard, except in nightmares, the kind that wake you up screaming except you can’t really scream because you’re too damn scared. Anyway, the shadows part, and the voluptuous figure of a woman inches forward. The air is filled with exquisite hissing sounds. Your eyes are drawn to her. Now, everybody roll!”

“Oh,” Mark said. “Shit.”

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John Klima
Posted on Friday, July 18, 2003 - 11:11 am:   

This is from a novella I'm working on that came out of a dream:

You’ve wheeled your father out to the porch. The houses in your neighborhood are smashed together like bullets in a clip.

You want to tell him what you’ve got planned, but he’s still angry with you. You don’t want someone else getting the info to him. He’ll be hurt.

He’ll be hurt regardless. You know he wouldn’t have wanted to raise two sons who can’t get along, much less spill each other’s blood. And with the thought of you putting his only daughter, your sister, in the hospivault. But he’s more unhappy with what your brother’s done with his life and what that’s done to the neighborhood.

Before your father’s accident, he would have kept people like Garrett out of your neighborhood and regular people would have been proud to walk the streets. Your father was not quick to anger, but no one was faster with chunk of pipe. His dream was to return the neighborhood and the city back to the way things were in his youth at the turn of the century. Back when people could walk to the corner store alone, without a piece tucked into their pants. Back when your biggest concern over your neighbor was who made the best empanadas.

This is your dream, too.

A vintage 1970 Chevy Chevelle 454 SS rolls to a stop in front of your house. A frizzed-out blonde is behind the wheel. While you and your father stare at the car, the passenger-side window rolls down.

One of Garrett’s lackeys leans out. He begins to make accusations, threats. You glance at your father, and you can see that he is not scared, not even particularly worried. Rather, he is angry.

You reach down beside you and you pick up an old battered baseball bat that’s been on the porch since Sol outgrew sports in favor of cars. As the muscle-bound lout continues to throw epithets you advance on the car.

He doesn’t get it. The blonde doesn’t get it. Your father does. He smirks from his wheelchair.

The headlight goes first. It breaks nicely. Then you begin denting the hood as you move towards the open window.

This is Garrett’s nonsensical style; send an unarmed mercenary in a slick car to make threats. It must scare most people.

You aren’t most people.

The bat head drives right through the windshield, startling the blonde out of her drugged numbness. Her screams are piercing. You’re glad you’re outside the car.

You manage to clip the shoulder of Garrett’s boy before he gets it through the blonde’s frizz to drive, and drive fast.

Before it gets away from you, you knock off a hubcap and take out the taillight.

You never said a word.

You never broke a sweat.
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, July 18, 2003 - 11:12 am:   

BTW, I should have added that I think all the posts previous to mine are way cool.

JK
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Saturday, July 19, 2003 - 02:19 am:   

Nice work, John! And you even did it in 2nd person without totally turning me off the story -- it worked. And hey, any story with a muscle car is one I wanna read!
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David Marshall
Posted on Tuesday, July 06, 2004 - 04:19 am:   

Do you have to be a published author to post a work in progress? How about a completely unpublished, aspiring author like me?
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Kage Baker
Posted on Tuesday, July 06, 2004 - 10:29 pm:   

Gee, I'd guess anybody could join in. Peer review is good.

This is a bit from an episode of CHILDREN OF THE COMPANY I'm hammering away at, so as to get it ready for next year. Tentative title "O Enkidu".

There was water, and mud, and there were reeds.
That was all. No cities, no arts, no industry. In short, no Civilization.
The mortals hadn’t cared; they’d been happy enough, with no Great Goat Cult to fear anymore, living in little clutches of reed huts that were too amorphous even for villages. They’d been well-nourished too, hunting for ducks, fishing, gathering roots and wild grains.
Young Atrahasis hadn’t cared either. It was all one to him if the monkeys never came down out of the trees, let alone built themselves nations. He much preferred the social life at Old World One, in the company of his fellow junior executive immortals.
And, while it was true that there were only so many times one could attend a fancy-dress ball in the costume of a god before it just wasn’t amusing anymore, there was still the sex, and the unending delicious gossip. There was the ongoing challenge of how to falsify his monthly reports to his superiors, so that his utter lack of productivity was disguised.
Best of all were the times he got out on his own in his personal aircraft, soaring above the marshy world. It was fun, swooping over the reed huts and watching the little mortals scream and point at him. And when he flew by moonlight, over the wide land and the glittering water, under the white stars: oh, then he truly felt like the son of Heaven.
But the day had come when he had been called into the office of Executive Facilitator Nergal, and kept sweating in the antechamber a full two hours before being called in at last and told, with exquisite understatement, that Dr. Zeus had a special place for slackers and liars, not a very nice place really, and would young Atrahasis care to do a bit of work for a change? Such as, perhaps, organizing the mortals in his assigned region into a useful, civilized society?
He didn’t have to be told twice.
Shaking with anger and fear, he had flown out above the land between the two rivers. The first mortals to encounter him did not fare well, especially after they shot arrows into his glider.
But mortals certainly came to fear him, in time, and so they obeyed him. He bid them call him Enlil.
*
There was water and mud, which must be separated, even as the Lord gathered the waters under heaven together unto one place and let the dry land appear. Atrahasis ordered the mud raised into arable fields, the water drained away into canals. The weary little mortals leaned on their shovels and looked around at this flat arid-seeming place, where the old easy life would no longer be possible.
They asked the cruel young god whether they might not rest now; and in response he gave them oxen and plows, and barley to sow. Atrahasis made them farmers. By day they toiled for him in the fields; by night they filed back in long rows to the long reed houses where he stabled them, and slept guarded by his security technicals. Any who tried to escape were punished spectacularly.
But after a few generations they had come to accept this, once Atrahasis explained their cosmos to them. The gods, it seemed, had grown tired of drudge work, and so they had created mortal mankind to do it for them. Mortals had no other purpose in life but this labor. Mortals who worked diligently at draining the marshes, or planting the fields, would be rewarded in this life by being granted a little dry land and a house, and perhaps a day of leisure once a week.
The afterlife, unfortunately, was a dark and horrible place of twittering ghosts, so suicide had better not be thought of. But if a mortal worked hard all his life, and begot many children who worked just as hard as he did—why, it was just possible that mortal might be granted a slightly less gloomy corner of the underworld for his own, and might even sup of the crusts and dregs from the gods’ own table.
And they believed him! The darker and more unpleasant Atrahasis made their world, the more desperately the little mortals clung to what he told them, the more obedient they became. It helped, of course, that he could back up his words with all manner of stage effects to awe them.
It helped also that he could kill them with impunity; for he had discovered that as long as he could meet an annual production quota of barley for the Company’s mills, and present statistics showing an overall increasing birth rate among his mortal charges, Dr. Zeus was fairly disinterested in the occasional sacrifice.
And when the rivers rose one season and drowned three-fourths of his mortals, Atrahasis waited out the catastrophe on high ground, watching with a peculiar thrill as bloated corpses were swept past his feet. He told the survivors it had been their own fault, for not loving him enough.
***
Atrahasis, BTW, is later known as Labienus-- for those of you who've been following the stories.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Tuesday, July 06, 2004 - 11:02 pm:   

Hey guys, great stuff all around. It's nice to see the different styles and to get a little preview of upcoming works. Here's the opening paragraphs of an sf short I'm still tinkering with:

Challenger, like Columbia, was an institutional failure. That is, it wasn't just a matter of the decision-making structure, but had to do with the entire organization and its culture, the critical parts of which have never really changed. Take the identical moon-rock fragment "good-will" gifts President Richard Nixon gave to the leaders of one-hundred-thirty-five nations in nineteen-seventy-three -- apparently everyone else has. Over half of the pea-sized, acrylic-ball encased samples have gone missing in the past thirty years, brining Girish Lochan, investigator for NASA's Office of Inspector General, to the back door of a Chinese restaurant in downtown Hollywood during a midnight drizzle.

A Caucasian man answers Gir’s bangs, six-foot-two, no facial hair, approximately forty years of age. Gir tries to relax, turn off his police training, but it’s ingrained in him like the heart of an onion. He decides to play it up, make it a part of his character.

“Maximilian Lichtermann?” he asks. The man’s eyes narrow, he tries to close the door. Girish sticks his foot in the way. “I’ve traveled a long way to be here,” he says. “I don’t think Max would like to know you turned me away.” He wags his briefcase. The man adjusts his tie and lets Girish inside.

The kitchen stinks of fish and exotic spices. A live squid lolls in a tiny aquarium in the corner. The smell is nothing to Gir’s seared Indian palate, but he can tell his escort is not at home in these surroundings...
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David Marshall
Posted on Sunday, July 11, 2004 - 12:47 pm:   

Thanks Kage. Now I just have to decide which one of my works in progress is good enough to post with the stuff that's already here:-)
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natipal
Posted on Friday, January 27, 2006 - 11:58 am:   

Kage Baker:

I know this is well after the post. (2 years later). I read that(not having looked at the poster's name) and I thought, this sounds just like Mother Aegypt! .....It is Mother Aegypt!

That was a great story by the way! I thought it was the best story in the anthology. At least I remembered it the most.

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natipal
Posted on Friday, January 27, 2006 - 12:03 pm:   

Is "The Problem With Synthesizing A Sandwich In Outer Space" too long? Or would the editor demand to shorten it?

I have it all printed out and just need one more going over before I send it in.

It is a humorous short(about 2500 words) sci-fi story I wrote.

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