Monday, October 31, 2011

The Tiger Machine: A little Halloween fic

The Tiger Machine

The machine had stopped. Seventy plastic tigers had appeared in rapid succession before the breakdown, each with a significant flaw: no stripes, teeth as long as their legs, bushy tail of a mule, etc. These were simply not the sort of plastic tiger that a small child would be interested in. And worse, they might give the impression to the child in possession of one that tigers actually, for example, had a row of spikes down their backs.

“Well, if they did have spikes down their back, it’d make ‘em more fearsome,” said First Machine Attendant Luigi Lamorocca.

“What! What nonsense!” the shift manager, Mr. Gallstable, spluttered. His tremendous mustache shook. “Tigers are black and orange with proper tails and teeth and claws. Make this machine make them properly, or you shall lose your job.”

“Both of us, sir?” asked Second Machine Attendant Charlie Chattock. “Or, or just him?”

Gallstable’s mustache had a minor earthquake. “Both,” he hissed, and he stalked away, muttering that the elephant and whale machines were working just fine.

Luigi had nothing to say about the elephant and whale machines. It was well known that the tiger machine was the most difficult to operate in the entire factory. Why, the elephant and whale machines almost operated themselves. It took no skill whatsoever to keep them popping out respectable elephants and whales.

But the tiger machine, that was a different story. It took an experienced machine attendant to keep it working. The machine roared and quivered throughout the day, the oven in its belly needing constant stoking with chunks of coal large as a man’s hand. It would shake until its rivets loosened, snarling to be free. Its wheels and pulleys groaned, eager to snap.

Four men had lost fingers, one, an eye.

The plastic tiger reigned in sales, even over the elephant, which is a very popular animal with small children, and the lion. The lion machine seemed not to care; it produced tawny plastic lions all day with identical airs of disdain about them. The zebra machine quivered, but it might’ve been because it was situated on the factory floor so close to the lion machine. And the monkey machine, neighbor to the tiger machine, squealed and thumped and shot bolts and clouds of oily smoke at the tiger machine.

Luigi crossed his arms and watched the Shift Manager waddle away. Then he turned to his Second Machine Attendant and handed him a long wrench.

“What’s this for?” asked Charlie, as if he didn’t know.

“What’s it for? You know what it’s for! Look in that machine and find out what is wrong with the damned thing.”

Charlie pouted as pretty as a sixteen year old girl. “I don’t want to.”

“Listen! I am your boss, and I’m telling you to look in that machine and see what is causing it to make the bad tigers.”

“They’re not so bad, really…” In the pocket of his baggy coveralls, Charlie had slipped a purloined tiger with horns like a bull. He thought his sister might enjoy it. Or he might put it on the dash of his old Comet, where it would be a sight better than the bobble-head puppy that currently sat there.

“No, no, they’re not too bad,” murmured Luigi, almost to himself. “But they must stop, and good tigers come out. So find the problem. I’ll be over here.” And Luigi leaned against a metal railing and stroked his own mustache, which was far more tremendous than the Shift Manager’s.

Charlie turned to the rumbling machine. He removed five bolts and took off a plate which revealed the inner workings of the machine. The hot breath of the machine blasted his face as he leaned close. Its conveyor belt was still, its gears and axles paused in the very act of turning out a tiger, the last of which was only half-formed and protruded from a dark tube, unpainted and without fine detail. Here was the tiger that had stopped it. If he removed it, perhaps the machine would start up again. But that would not solve the problem of incorrect tigers.

He wasn’t so sure that the tigers were wrong. But it wasn’t his job, in the end, to decide what a tiger should or should not look like. That was for others to say. And so, he carefully reached in and put his hand over the unformed tiger.

For a moment, he froze in surprise. For beneath his fingertips, the pliant plastic gave and rose. As if the toy breathed. And there, as he grasped it now, he could feel – yes, it felt like – was it – a heartbeat? He brought the unformed tiger up, four legs, long tail, a blob of a head that turned… But it couldn’t turn, it couldn’t, and yet, there it was, rotating in his hand, eyes opening, peeling plastic back, mouth widening as it prepared to roar for the first time. A roar that never sounded, at least not to Charlie’s ears, for as he took the tiger out from the belly of the machine, the gears came to life, clanging and smashing, a divine roar that shook the factory. With a vast yawning breath, an iron arm edged in steel teeth came crashing down and slammed through blood and muscle and sinew and into bone and Charlie, Second Machine Attendant, became the sixth man to feed the tiger machine.

His screams echoed alongside the screech of stopping machinery. Falling onto the grates, Charlie grabbed at his missing arm, the tiny prick of little horns against his thigh lost in the sea of pain.

They took him away and left his arm and the machines quieted, except for the tiger machine, which panted and panted and then fell quiet too.

The next day was Sunday, and the factory was closed. On Monday, they reopened, and Luigi looked at the machine, purring and humming; waiting. Waiting.

Luigi put a hesitant hand to the ON button. He thought of his daughter, whose own toy tiger sat silent in a bucket on a shelf in her room with all the other animals. He pushed. The button glowed red, and the tiger machine rumbled and clanked. And all day, it produced absolutely perfect plastic tigers. 


First appeared at Cast Macabre. My thanks to ed. Barry J. Northern for presenting this story at his most excellent audiocast, and for making the totally excellent banner to accompany it.

And thank you to everyone who continues to drop by this blog; yes, works are forthcoming (dates unknown, at this time), and yes, I'm working on a large project that is consuming my free time, hence the reprint of this story here for Halloween. 

When the zombie apocalypse comes, may you all have a gun, chainsaw, tire iron or weapon of your choice at hand.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fic rec: "Hot Damn" by Martha Stallman; OneWord

Martha Stallman, winner of Playboy's college fiction contest with Hot Damn, presents a blindingly funny, tragic story of a guy who just wants to get to the mailbox so he can pick up his Social Security check and pay the woman who gives him his "girlfriend experience."

Not only is this story a wry farce, but Stallman is another believer in the temple of Parentheses. I secretly love them. My love used to be more open, until a beta beat it out of me. I have now moved on to em dashes, and by god, I won't be swayed! 

Seriously, the story rocks. Totally read it. 


His Initials Were A.T.

The way he signed his name was pure artistry. I presented sheet after sheet of paper, until the house was his, my love growing with each flourish, each zip of a crossed ‘t’. And then it was finished, and he shook my hand.
It took me a week to master it. Every wall in every room covered with it. And now I need more. Starbucks in one hand, scissors neatly concealed in my purse, I walk to the door of his newest purchase, speech practiced so I won’t stumble over the words.
He opens the door and lets me in.
Who lets a mortgage broker in?
He smiles, I offer coffee, and the scissors grow heavy in my bag.

The above was brought to you by today's OneWord
I've been using it as my warm-up exercise for writing. I want to say more about what I've been working on, but I have become suddenly, powerfully superstitious. I was never like this. I always had no problem babbling on about projects. But not this time. 
So... Yeah. But feel free to tell me what you're working on!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Mirror Shards; Halloween Decorating Pics

I love anthologies, because I love the short story, and my shelves are full of science fiction, horror, and fantasy collections. Why add another? Because despite having approximately three thousand sci-fi anthologies, I didn't have one based around the concept of augmented reality. Was it worth it, or was it simply a novel (heh) buy? Definitely worth it!

Mirror Shards, edited by Thomas K. Carpenter, contains thirteen stories of possible futures, a time when we may have implants to our optical nerves, allowing us to see the world around us in a flood of information, brought up by merely thinking about it. A world in which no one sees us, but our avatars. Where cities are digitally realized, and the universe expands beyond the physical.

These authors all managed unique takes on the concept, so even if I wasn't especially enjoying a piece, I loved the imagination behind it. Anthologies are like that -- some call them "uneven," but it's really more a matter of taste. Subjectively speaking, I liked some and some were just okay -- for me. A highlight was Grayson Morris's "More Real Than Flesh," in which the anti-heroine Petch attempts to escape from her life, without realizing that she's tried it before. Intriguing on its own, there's a quasi-Blade Runner twist near the end that had me -- and Petch -- thinking about the nature of humanity and the price of freedom. Also a stand-out was the first story, "El Mirador," a galaxy-noir fic with voice and thrills.

Overall, I highly enjoyed Mirror Shards and recommend it to anyone who likes sci-fi and wants something very different, very intriguing.


P.S. I first heard of this anthology via Grayson's blog. Her posts are often thought-provoking, generally humorous, and she's pretty cool. Today's post about being a writer -- street cred! -- is a great example. Put your two cents in.


And now, our house, decorated for Halloween (I may get a bit crazier with the decorations, but right now, I love it!):

That last one's wonky. Sorry! Some of the pumpkins are heirloom pumpkins; the white one is called White Ghost. Cool.

I have a witch outfit planned, but probably not enough time to pull off what I want to do with it. That's be okay, though.

Our Halloween is always this: sitting on the front porch with blankets, big orange and black bowls at our side and filled with candy, drinking hot apple cider with a touch :) of Capt. Morgan's. I do share with neighbors. Feel free to stop by and claim to be my neighbor!

Next year, for the first time, we plan on not being home for our favorite holiday, but spending it in Disney World. The decorations aren't as lavish as what they do for Christmas, but still cool, and besides, they have Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, and it. Is. So. Freakin'. Awesome!

And speaking of apple cider, Not So Humble Pie's recipe of the day is for Spiced Apple Cider Caramels. If you're a dessert freak or just a foodie, you must follow Mrs. Humble. For one thing, the pics are food porn. And second, the recipes are fantastic. I've made several of her ice cream recipes and not plan on making the caramels.

Did you decorate your house for Halloween? Please share pics!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Damnation: A Friday Flash


Sly reflected that damnation was probably this: senility. Wondering constantly where your keys were, and why did you want them in the first place? Also, there was the matter of his car not being in the garage any longer, after Sly Jr. had come and taken it away. Sly tried to grump about a special hell being reserved for ungrateful, greedy sons, but he didn’t have the heart. After all, his boy was, really, just like his mother: pale-skinned and kind-eyed and far too concerned with making Sly live to a hundred.

If only Callie had been so concerned with her own self. He drank his calcium-fortified o.j. and stared at the spot on the carpet where he’d found her. He still stepped over it, still occasionally kneeled to touch it, still could not forget this one thing: that she’d left him first.


Thank you for reading. If you're looking for something a bit more witchy, may I suggest yesterday's microflash, The Witch's Lover?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Witch's Lover

The Witch's Lover

We jettisoned the secret offer sent by Spring — a potential error, but who needs crocuses and tree nubs when fallen oak leaves, all damp and black, make the best hats? So we witches, in our sweet time, held the hourglass until dinner, when Autumn’s arrival at our table was met with furtive glances and just the slightest knocking of knees. Spring may be innocent and pure, but Autumn, dear Autumn, we swoon for thee.


Another OneWord; it makes me write strange things. At least I'm writing!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OneWord and An E-book rec

The Heart is a Prison

The wily Desdemona earned her conviction: that sly bastard Robert at her side, she'd brought old Frangia to the riverside, a bouquet of lobelia in her hair. Green water claimed the men, and Desdemona had taken off on Robert's sweet Indian. She sits across from me in the cell, tempting dandelions to the window ledge with her stare, but tiny suns never bloom in this place, though my love does. Should she find out, I fear it will be me, in the cold, rank waters of our toilet, joining the men as the final part of Desdemona's macabre menage a trois.


The above is brought to you by today's OneWord.


I reviewed Amal el Mohtar's The Honey Month last year, and I've just found out that this lovely little book of the fantastic and gently brilliant is now available as an e-book.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

First, an excuse (of sorts): During a routine visit to a doctor yesterday, there was a minor incident. Despite it being somewhat embarrassing (I prefer to be seen as strong and healthy and capable), the good thing is that it led to the discovery of severe anemia. Well, not such a good thing, but it explained many things, including my serious, complete, and confounding exhaustion for the past six months. When your blood pressure is that low, apparently, they are surprised to see you even standing!

I'm typically fairly hyper and always on the move, always doing something, and it's been seriously depressing to come home from work and barely be able to take a shower. Dinners have not been cooked, and I have not been writing -- that was the worst of all. I just didn't have the energy to sit down and write. If I wrote 400 words, I would be utterly spent. So anyway, anemia is not the world's worst thing -- hey, I was at the doctor in the first place because I am at high risk for breast cancer, and speaking of which, Ladies, Get Your Boobies Checked! -- but treatment is slow. Apparently, it takes about three months for your blood to completely renew itself. And I perceive physical problems with my body to be some sort of personal failing. I know, whacked.

This could be a sign that I need to slow down and take a break. OR NOT.

I hope to be back to regular blogging and writing daily again soon.

Now, the review:

Free Food for Millionaires has been on my to-read list for a couple of years. Deeply immersive, it follows Casey Han, daughter of Korean immigrants, as she struggles to find her place in America. Casey wants desperately to be rich -- or possibly, she just wants to be everything her parents are not. Whatever one's nationality or upbringing, it is a common thing among those in their twenties to struggle for identity. If I could tell Casey -- and every other twenty-something in the world -- something right now, it would be: Let it go. Stop fighting and enjoy each day. With time comes some sort of wisdom and grace, so allow time to flow. And for heaven's sake, follow your heart. You'll wish you did later on.

But of course, just as I would've ignored such advice when I was that age, so Casey struggles: with men, with her own morality, with money, and with a sort of sick pride that manages to sabotage her every attempt at making her life better.

Author Min Jin Lee writes with a delicate, almost spare hand, while showing us the perspective of nearly all the characters in the book. Lee says that she wanted to emulate the classics she most admired, such as Bronte, and I dare say she brings a modern touch to the style. I soon began to love it, although the head-switching initially threw me. If anything, it shows Lee's enormous grasp of social niceties, of the subtleties of social interaction, something so difficult to pull off.

While the book reads with a gentle flow, much like those 18th and 19th century classics that Lin adores, it manages to fascinate. I rooted for Casey all along, and I recognized those hallmarks of growing up in your twenties with a sad twitch: meeting the first love at a wedding after you've broken up, and he's there with his fiancee, or not understanding how to deal with a relationship in which things are going terribly wrong.

A strong main character and a vividly drawn minor cast, all set in the mysterious and yet mundane world of Korean immigrants, bring Free Food for Millionaires to life. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flash fic: Wheels


Lake wasn’t sure if it was his new skates or all those vitamins, but either way, he’d finally, in his eighty-eighth year, made it around the Great Skate roller rink fifteen times without falling. The skates were terrific: black leather, bright orange stop, and they fit like gloves. Of course, it could be senility. Weren’t old men supposed to be afraid of breaking hips, or worse, looking like fools?

Teenage girls blew him kisses and laughed as they flew by. He smiled back, gliding off the polished wood and onto the carpet for a breather.

A girl in white skates with pink poms skated over.

“Cool. Wanna get a Coke?”

Damnation. Life never ceased to surprise.


One of several attempts for Boxing With Pencils. I fail at word limits. 

If you're so inclined, look them up. Like Lily's Friday Prediction, they offer three words, and you must write a story in under a hundred and put it in the comments. The words for this challenge were: senility, carpet, damnation.

This piece is dedicated to my grandpa, who is 92. He stopped skating years ago, but he took us every Sunday when I was a kid. He had his own black leather skates, and he taught me to skate with a pillow tied to my butt with rope. He could skate forwards and back and was the most graceful man on the floor. 

And if you're wondering, I can still Shoot the Duck. *g*