Edge of the Waves

I’m not sure what inspired this. Perhaps a longing to see something new.

She ran along the wooded path, past towering ancient trees that loomed over her, towards the sea. Ravens squawked as she passed, disturbed by her footsteps, but quieted after she thundered by, though their black eyes followed her till out of sight. It was a cold morning, no snow or frost but as her Gran would say, ‘there’s a bite in the air.’

Despite the chill her face was beaded with sweat when she finally arrived at the sea. Waves threw themselves at the shore like an invading army, grim and unrelenting, at least until the tide changed.

Leaving footprints, she now walked to the large outcropping of rocks that stood at the edge of the ocean. Carefully, because she had fallen into the icy waters before, she climbed to what she called her throne, a niche of rock that she could sit in comfortably, or as comfortably one could on wet cold stone.

Squawks of ravens a distant memory, she watched the gulls circle above the water. Sometimes they sounded sad, other times as if they were inviting her to join them and soar across the sea. Whatever their mood, it always filled her longing.

Are you going to do something today,” the Voice asked.

She didn’t know who the Voice was. A spirit? Maybe even the ocean itself. She could be mad. Hearing voices was not something you shared, it often ended badly for those who admitted it. And yet, her Gran had told her to listen to that little voice inside her head when she was unsure what to do.

The Voice was not little. It was deep and wise sounding and only spoke to her on her throne.

I’m not sure,” she replied.

You are never sure.”

Don’t be cruel.”

With a rumbling sigh, the Voice replied, “I have no wish to be cruel, but you come here often and just stare out.”

That’s doing something.”

I suppose so.”

A wave slammed against the base of the rocks and fine spray erupted, leaving a taste of salt on her lips.

Is there nothing better to do?” inquired the voice.

All my chores are done.”

Good.”

I just like looking out.”

Are you hoping to find something?”

Maybe.”

And what is it you are looking for?”

I’ll know it when I see it.”

Ahhh,” the Voice responded.

Suddenly, the gulls dived to the surface and a feeding frenzy began. As quickly as it started, it ended and they rode the wind again.

There is much out there,” observed the Voice.

Where?”

Across the sea.”

Like what?”

People and places.”

We have those here,” she sniffed.

You want to see what else there is,” stated the Voice. It was not a question.

She sat silent for a while before replying, “I do.”

I thought as much.”

What are they like? All those other people.”

Some are kind, others wicked.”

How can you tell one from the other?”

It’s not always easy.”

It should be.”

Many things should be.”

Frowning she looked back to the woods. They offered no wisdom. The trees never spoke to her.

What else is out there?”

Wonders and disaster.”

If you don’t really know, just say so.”

Were I were to catalog it all, you would die of old age before I would finish.”

Ha! That sounds like a lie!”

It is not.”

There can’t be that much out there.”

But there is.”

Tell me one thing.”

Very well. Far from where you sit is a grand city called Nanthotept. In it, thousands of people live. It is surrounded by a mighty wall, taller than the trees behind us. There is a university where the wise come from all corners of the world to study.”

People travel to study?” she asked suspiciously.

Indeed.”

What else do they have?”

A zoo with animals from distant lands, where people can come and marvel.”

Do the animals enjoy it?”

As with all living things, there is no one answer.”

It seems cruel, to lock up someone just so they can be gawped at.”

Not untrue.”

What else do they have?”

It is a center of trade, it is been said if you cannot find in the markets of Nanthotept, it does not exist. There are lush gardens, filled with flowers and plants of every color.”

They are very boastful.”

Perhaps, though many have sung their praises.”

If you say so.”

At the gates, there are two, enormous statues. One is a man with the head of a bull, the other, a woman with the head of a lion. It is said, if the city is in peril, they will come to life and defend it.”

How many times has that happened?” she asked excitedly.

Never.”

So it’s just a story.”

Maybe. But no one has been foolish enough to try.”

She pondered this as the tide began to retreat, the waves crashing further and further away.

I think that I’d like to visit that city,” she finally said.

Very well.”

But not today.”

It is a great distance from here.”

There are things I need to do.”

Naturally.”

Standing, she looked towards the woods.

I should go back now. Gran will need me to help with supper.”

Of course.”

I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Until then,” the Voice replied, ever patient.

Climbing down she followed her footprints back to the treeline. Just before entering the forest she paused and looked out over the water. The Voice was silent. She never heard it here. ‘I’ll start tomorrow,’ she promised herself as she ran home.

What Do You Want?

What’s the difference between working for a major corporation and being damned to Hell? One is a series of unending tortures inflicted upon you by sinister forces who delight in your pain and the other is run by Satan. The other thing they have in common is both inspired this story.

So, you’re the Devil?” Jordan asked, “I thought that the Devil was… male.”

First, I am a devil,” corrected Marchosias, “Secondly, the Devil, the undisputed ruler of Hell, is known as Lucifer Morningstar.”

Jordan took a sip of coffee and pondered this new information.

So there’s more than one Devil?”

Lower case devils, yes. Uppercase, only the one.”

Does that mean the bible is right? There’s a God and Heaven? The Earth was created in seven days?”

Marchosias pushed her golden hair behind her ears and smiled. Most mortals found it disarming. She had honed this combination to perfection over centuries.

Some of it is right on the money, but consider the source.”

What do you mean?” 

Well, imagine you had a fight with your girlfriend or boyfriend,” began the devil.

Girlfriend.”

You’ll find Hell is surprisingly tolerant, so no worries about that. Back to this hypothetical. After the fight, you go to your friends and talk about what happened. She is doing the same thing. However, you are both telling different stories.”

So the bible is a lie,” stated Jordan.

What I’m saying is everyone is the hero of their own story,” suggested Marchosias.

Even fallen angels?”

Especially fallen angels.”

Marchosias reheated her coffee with a gesture and took a sip. Delicious. A quarter’s worth of coffee for four dollars was one of Hell’s best ideas. 

I have so many questions,” Jordan blurted out.

Clearly!” the devil replied with a laugh, “But let’s get back to why we’re here. What can we do, to get your soul?”

So souls are real?”

She smiled as if she meant it. Why did everyone want to talk so much these days? 

Jordan, if souls weren’t real, this would all be a waste of time.”

Makes sense.”

Excellent! Now, what do you want? Anything and everything is on the table!”

Fame?”

Very popular!”

Jordan tapped his fingers on the table.

And you’ve done this before?”

Many, many times.”

Anyone I might’ve heard of?”

If I told you, you would be shocked!”

Can you give me one name?”

With a wicked grin, she leaned in and whispered into his ear. Jordan’s eyes went wide.

NO!”

Absolutely.”

It doesn’t make sense!”

With a shrug, Marchosias smiled.

But they’re so talented! Why would they do this?”

The universe is full of undiscovered talent. Getting your break, that’s something else entirely.”

Wow! I mean…,” he grasped for what to say but ended up just saying wow again.

Also anyone who gained fame on the internet, that’s us.”

Ewww! People sold their immortal souls to be internet famous?”

As I said, we don’t judge in Hell.”

Huh.”

Not everyone likes the spotlight. But there must be something you want? Riches? An endless supply of gorgeous lovers? Power?”

Superpowers?”

Why not? You could be the world’s first Super-Hero! Or Super-Villain!” the devil offered.

So, you can offer me anything? Anything I can think of?” 

She held her arms wide open and uttered, “Literally anything you can dream of!”

Jordan looked her straight in eyes and said, “I want you to release all the souls you tricked into signing contracts with and to stop the business of tempting people, whoever or wherever they are. Universe wide.”

Silence of a sort followed this. The sounds of people ordering coffee, eating scones, enjoying free wifi, working on novels and screenplays filled the cafe. Then, an explosion of laughter. Marchosias had not laughed that hard in centuries. When she finally stopped she said, “Thank you! That was hilarious, really. Now, what do you actually want?”

I just told you.”

No, you didn’t.”

Yes, I did.”

She smirked but then looked at him. Not joking.

You would sacrifice your soul for strangers? Greedy, stupid strangers?”

No-”

Aha!”

-because of the terms of my wish, everyone who signed a contract will Hell would be released.”

That’s not how it works.”

If you fulfill my wish, then that’s exactly how it works.”

 

Marchosias was about to counter but stopped and thought. A moment later, she replied, “We can’t do that.”

I thought you said anything?”

Hell is not a charity!”

If you don’t have the power…”

Her eye twitched and her fangs began to protrude, ever so slightly. It was not going the way it usually did.

Power? Would you like a demonstration of the infernal power of the underworld?”

Okay…”

Crack! Marchosias transformed into an enormous, fire-breathing wolf with griffin’s wings and the tail of a snake. Panic ensued in the cafe. 

BEHOLD ME IN MY TRUE FORM! LET TERROR BE YOUR ONLY COMPANION! FEAST ON FEAR AS YOUR BLOOD BOILS IN YOUR FETID BODIES! THIS IS BUT A TASTE OF WHAT IS TO COME!”

Fire erupted and oily smoke roiled from jagged rents in the floor and walls. Marchosias reared back and breathed a gout of hellfire that engulfed everything.

And then it was over. All traces of Hell vanished. People shook their heads and slowly returned to what they had been doing, the brief, waking nightmare fading.

Powerful enough for you?” asked Marchosias who returned to her human form.

Jordan was pale and sweaty. He picked up his cup with both hands and drank.

Impressive,” he finally said.

Just so we’re clear on things.”

Very.”

So, what do you want?” she asked.

He took a deep breath and said, “I told you what I want.”

Are you shitting me?” sputtered the devil.

I am not.”

That’s not going to happen. Pick. Something. Else.”

He took a moment.

I’m going to pass.”

You can’t do that!”

Why not?”

We’ve had a meeting. You’re committed.”

I didn’t sign anything, we don’t have an agreement.”

That’s not how it works!” she hissed.

Isn’t it? From all I’ve read, Hell is big on rules.”

She frowned and her eye smoldered a dark crimson.

Why in the name of all that is unholy are you doing this?”

Honestly, curiosity.”

That is new,” the devil growled.

I always wondered why someone would sell their soul. It seemed like an obviously bad deal, like subprime mortgages.”

We’re very proud of that one,” she said with a wistful smile.

That tracks. But I wanted to see if it was real. Hell, Heaven, all that stuff. And now I know, so thanks for that.”

You are not at all welcome. By the way, I left out a lot of details so you actually don’t know the real deal with the universe.”

I know more than I did before.”

Marchosias stared at him, then asked, “Did you think Hell would grant your wish, did you?”

It seemed like a long shot, but you miss all the shots you don’t take.”

Fine, if you’re not going to play ball, get out of here before I drag you back to perdition,” she snapped.

If you could do that, you’d be scooping people up with, I don’t know, monster trucks? Rules are rules. Even for devils.”

Have a terrible life, knowing that your wildest dreams will go unrealized,” the devil churlishly spat at him.

We’ll see.”

With that, he left. Marchosias thought to herself, ‘We have to stop recruiting through LinkedIn.’

A Light in the Dark

There is a tradition of saying goodbye to the old year like a guest who has long overstayed their welcome. Hit the bricks Old Year, we’re sick of your nonsense! Come on in New Year, you HAVE TO BE BETTER! WooHoo! While that is absurd, one tick of the clock doesn’t erase the sins of the past, it feels as though all those previous ‘to hell with this past year’ this has been a dress rehearsal for where we are now. In the interest of being candid with you and myself, things might be even worse this go around. Let’s hope not. Happy New Year!

Rather than dwell on the horror show that 2021 was, I’m going to tell you about a highlight. My friend Angela invited me to see Neal Brennan’s new show, Unacceptable. While that was an excellent show with equally delightful company, the highlight I refer to came as we walked to the show.

About one hundred feet from the front of the Cherry Lane Theater, we passed two gentlemen talking. One of them looked familiar to me. I turned back and asked one of them, “Excuse me, are you, Adam Savage?”

Why yes I am,” he replied.

For those who are unfamiliar with Adam Savage, he is a special effect designer, one of the hosts of MythBusters, currently the host of Tested, and an unofficial ambassador of the maker community. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, he is as kind, funny, and gracious as you would hope he would be.

For ten or fifteen minutes, he spoke to Angela and me about making and other subjects. She showed him pictures of the table she made to his delight and they discussed techniques of building. As I said, just as you hoped he’d be.

While I had seen him speak at New York Comic-Con many times, and would do so again the next day as it had arrived, I had never been able to ask him a question as the line for that filled up rapidly, though there was one I very much want to ask. Here was my chance, no lines required.

Is writing making?” I asked.

Yes!,” he replied, “Anything you put out into the world, any act of creativity is making!”

It was of course, what I wanted to hear. While I knew, in my heart of hearts that was true before I asked it, hearing it aloud, it became an affirmation. Words were my materials and my laptop was a workroom. I am a maker.

We all went into the theater, Adam sat a few rows in front of us and saw a superb hour of comedy and self-reflection by Neal Brennan. All in all, an outstanding evening.

I would also to thank my constant readers whose existence gives me that extra push to continue. You are all gorgeous, amazing geniuses with exquisite taste. I wish that everyone could be like you. Really, I need more readers.

Let’s go into this year with optimism, despite everything that has happened. Perhaps cautious optimism. Also, remember that if you appreciate something that has been done or made, let people that are responsible know. External validation shouldn’t matter but it does. A lot.

Happy Guarded New Year to all!

For those who think the above tale fictional, here is photographic proof. I should’ve smiled but I still was stunned by this chance encounter.

 

Gift of Giving

I am an excellent gift giver. Is this a brag or even a humblebrag? No, it’s a fact and one other thing, which I will reveal later. “Why bring this up at all?” you might be asking yourself, “I’m busy enough without your non-brag bragging.” 

Because it is the season of gift-giving. I’m going to pause here for those who questioned this topic to go “Ahhhh!”

Pause…

Now back to the gift-giving. It is for many people, a source of great stress. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves on getting that PERFECT GIFT. A gift that will make this holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus, Orthodox Life-Day, Saturnalia, etc) complete. That’s a lot to ask of a thing, so let’s accept that while a gift can be excellent, it’s not magic.

If it’s not magic, then what’s the secret? How can we match your self-declared skill in this specific wheelhouse? Simmer down there, I’m going to lay a little wisdom on you all. Ready? Good.

ONE-LISTEN

People tell you what they want or need all the time. Sometimes literally. “I really need a new scarf.” Or “I quite liked the Dune movie, I should read the book.” Maybe, “I’d like to start cooking more.”

All of these are just sitting there, ready to be picked up. Scarf, copy of Dune, cookbook, cooking classes, or a new pot and/or pan. All you had to do was pay attention. It also involves not being self-involved.

Simple and so hard. Even before supply chain problems and the world being on fire, it’s not always easy to not worry about oneself. I’m not advising a Saint’s level of selflessness, just be aware of what’s being said. Here’s an example of this from my own life.

When shopping at a Costco with an old girlfriend, (ah the romance), I looked for those giant cartons of Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers but they didn’t have them. A mild disappointment at best but I mentioned it to her, then promptly forgot about it.

The next time I was at her place, one of those giant cartons of Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers awaited me. It was one of the best presents I’ve gotten. It meant that what I said, even in passing, perhaps especially in passing, mattered.

Are we still together? Let’s just say that love and goldfish crackers aren’t a universal solution. Nonetheless, this is the sort of thing to listen for. Whomever you do this for will be touched by your attentiveness. If not, those little crackers will fill the hole left by loneliness. Just kidding. Nothing will fill that hole.

TWO-ASK

Don’t ask the recipient, unless you both don’t care about the surprise. Do ask their friends or family. Often times they can give you excellent insights. Also swear them to secrecy, if you can trust them to do so. Use your best judgment. 

THREE-DON’T WAIT

It’s July, you see a sea glass necklace your sister would just love, but her birthday was two months ago and it’s five months till Christmas. You could make a note to come back later and pick it up close to the holidays. It will still be there, right?

WRONG! Oftentimes, unique gifts will not wait for you to make up your mind. If you know that’s an excellent gift for someone. Get it. If you fumfer, you will likely lose out. Or more accurately, the person who would love that thing loses out. (A side note: Don’t tell them that you saw something that they would adore and but waited too long. In this case, the thought DOES NOT COUNT!)

So as you go through life and you see something that you know will bring someone else joy, just get it, and put it away. When the holidays roll around and everyone else is franticly searching for presents, Jingle All The Way style, you’ll be sitting comfortably in front of a roaring fire, drinking eggnog like a boss, listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and smiling because you’ve done your shopping. Well done!

FOUR-THE PERFECT GIFT

As stated previously, perfection doesn’t exist. However, it’s possible to come close, but it is a real challenge. What is this rare and wonderful item? The thing that you didn’t know you wanted till you saw it.

This is tough to pull off, maybe even impossible. But when you can do it, wow, it’s amazing! Naturally, there is no one thing that can fill that order for everyone. Especially a car with a bow on the roof. If you do that you’re a dead-eyed, soulless monster. Am I planting my flag on this hill? You bet your holly jolly jingle bells I am.

Okay, back to why this is so hard. Say your sweetie collects Peanuts memorabilia. Charlie Brown and Snoopy stuff all over the place. You want to give them something special but it looks like they have everything already. Given their breadth of what they have, it’s a concern. They likely have done daily deep Google dives looking for additions to the collection. What do you do?

Let’s go back to part one. Listen. Did they mention a piece they are looking for? A character they resonate with? Start with that. 

Additionally, you can find a lot of artists who will make something for you to order. A wholly unique gift. It will also show that you’ve been paying attention.

As I said before, it’s tricky at best. Even if it’s not an epiphany in wrapping paper, the fact you made a real effort will be appreciated. In this case, the thought DOES count.

FIVE-WRAPPING UP

So, I’ve given you two solid techniques, one possibly useful trick, and a final aspirational idea. The fact is that being good at gifts isn’t that difficult if you pay attention. Here’s another tip, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. The best gifts don’t have to cost a lot of cash. If you have a big budget for gift-giving, good for you. It must be nice. Or so I would imagine.

In the beginning, I said that my being an excellent gift-giver was a fact and one other thing. The other thing is you don’t always get excellent gifts. 

One Christmas, I was given by a close friend, a memo cube. You might ask, “What is a memo cube?” A memo cube is a plastic cube filled with square pieces of paper, for writing down messages. This was not something I ever desired nor was it was something I never knew I wanted. Truthfully, had I given memo cubes even one second of thought, I wouldn’t have ever desired one. Why did he give it to me? I still don’t know.

Just so you don’t think I’m just grousing, I have received many thoughtful gifts over the years. For example, I’m a big fan of robots. A good friend of mine gives me a robot or robot-themed gift for my birthday every year. Clearly, I’m not the only excellent gift giver. A reassuring thought.

So when you go off to shop for the holidays, keep my advice in mind. Those you give to will appreciate it. And if by some twist of fate you come across a memo cube, keep walking.

It Begins with Me

My environment as a child never lacked any of the basic needs.  We had lean times, but I slept in a bed at night. I was sheltered from weather.  At 14, I ran away and learned a little about what it means to be homeless — but only a little.  I was more uncomfortable than I had ever been in my life, but help was everywhere.  After a week, I returned home.

Twenty or so years later, I learned about homelessness again…