Posts Tagged ‘Story’

Here’s the backstory: currently on Facebook, it is all the rage to use your Notes application (read: blog) to write up 25 random facts about yourself, then “tag” 25 other people to make them have to do the same thing. Personally, I think that this was started by the Facebook people themselves as a way to introduce people / drive traffic to the Facebook blog functionality, and since my WP imports via RSS to FB, I figure I’d do it here so that people can get their fix and stop tagging me.

Original rules (as in, I didn’t write this schlock):

“Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)”

25 Random Things:

  1. I am a better human beat box than Justin Timberlake
  2. If you ask me what one word describes me best, I will always reply with “lucky”
  3. I still suffer from ADHD just like I did when I was a child, but I am better at masking it; I do wish, however, that my metabolism had kept up with the rest of the handicap
  4. I have always been in love with being in love, with music, with friendship, with my family, and with you
  5. I have been known to embellish a story or two, but usually it is due to my tendency to describe my friends and acquaintances as movie-worthy comic book heroes, which is born from a deep respect for their individuality
  6. I often wonder what would have happened if Monster Zero had accepted the gig to open up for No Doubt on their first West Coast Tour in the summer / fall of 1990
  7. I would be happy if I could just listen to music, select cool tracks, and play them at loud volume to interesting people all of the time
  8. For some reason, in some election I was not made aware of, I am the de facto communications hub for a bazillion people; you look up Murdoch if you want to randomly communicate with someone who you lost track of years ago, and somehow I have some sort of last known contact info
  9. Possibly the greatest thing I have ever done is the eulogy I gave Chris Feher after he died doing what he loved: rock climbing Half Dome in Yosemite by himself
  10. I hate children, especially babies, but apparently, they love Unkle Mike, and this fact never fails to humble me
  11. Speaking of luck, I was lucky enough to be adopted at birth by the best parents in the world — Diane and Gordon — and what I can piece together about my biological parents is pretty crazy: Mom was from Massachusetts, married, and had three other children, aged 8, 9. and 11 when I was born; her husband was NOT my father; she was short, Swedish, and had blond curly hair; my dad was an Italian steelworker, son of an immigrant shoemaker who woke up one day to find a note from his wife that she was leaving him and half of the closet was gone; Mom’s husband had a nervous breakdown and was committed; this explains a lot of what is running around in my genetic pool — don’t blame the Murdochs
  12. I am the best party liaison this side of Van Wilder
  13. I have three home-produced album to my name under various alter-egos (see Pus & Zero Boy) and one professionally released 12″ single called “Everybody” that I did with Grant Goad and Andres Mijangos
  14. I am still very proud of all the work I did to become an Eagle Scout
  15. I wrote poetry every day for almost 15 years; most of it is available — tagged and searchable even — on my WordPress blog; my current favorites are “Cellardweller“, “I, Ape“, and, of course, “Froggacuda
  16. I often wish that everyone else could hear the soundtrack and audio effects track that accompanies my life
  17. I am a pack rat, especially for things that provoke nostalgia; for example, I still have many of my childhood toys — Legos, Transformers, Micronauts, etc. — and a box full of the stuff I had pinned / nailed to the walls of my room when I was in high school, such as Fishbone ticket stubs, a referral from Coach T (R.I.P.), and extra pictures of hot chicks I had crushes on from Yearbook class
  18. I have always owned a “strange” pet as well as my beloved cats ever since Linda Nickel bought me my first Emperor scorpion; currently I have Tuonetar Mac Mordenkainen, who is the third Mexican Red-Knee tarantula in a long line of wonderful arachnids I have loved
  19. I don’t code Web 2.0 anywhere near as well as I did Web 1.0
  20. I love jackets; first and foremost is my ska-patched black jacket, which used to be a bomber, but out of all the clothing you can wear, nothing beats the right jacket for the right occasion or situation
  21. I have been a true (4 elements, y’all!) fan of hip hop ever since seeing the Sugar Hill Gang perform “Rapper’s Delight” live on Solid Gold 1979; this seminal moment changed my life forever
  22. There is nothing better in life than having a good conversation filled with enthusiasm, a meeting of the minds, and laughter
  23. Being rejected in junior high school by the popular white folks as a glasses-wearing, uncool, too-smart nerd has served me well; I have good friends and strong cultural ties to non-white communities who have accepted me for who I am from then until the present day; this is one of my greatest sources of pride and what makes me wince when I have to choose “caucasian” on “optional” survey information
  24. I love language, especially since the world is made of it (see the collected works of Terence McKenna), and I have a fierce propensity towards sesquipedalianism just because long, multisyllabic words sound cool and are sometimes the key to doing what Salt & Pepa, Madonna, and Dr Dre during his NWA tenure said best: expressing one’s self
  25. There is nothing I value more in life than my friends; they are the Desiderata of my happiness, the real value in social networking, and many times, the only reason that I keep on keeping on, because I can’t do it all for myself

There we are: 25 random things about me. Feedback — as always — is very welcome. Have at!

“…about three bad bullet points you may not know so well.”

# INVEST in the Creation of a Good Story:

Anyone who sits down to write a Story should not just dash something off to get the project / feature / defect / doohickey started because you want it now. Although Chris has mentioned the INVEST acronym before, it bears repeating.


Nothing helps create a good Story like keeping it small. I have overheard discussions where people say that it is too small to make a Story out of it. I profoundly disagree — creation of the Story IS the Discovery phase of the Achieve Approach. Investment in a Story is more than the acronym itself; investment also means to put some critical thinking, time, and effort into writing a good Story. A Story in time saves nine, my friend.

# Good Stories are SMART:

SMART Stories also consider another clever acronym to keep Storytelling focused and to the point::


One crucial concept in SMART is “Time-Boxed” — a fancy way of saying that the Sprint is a non-negotiable timed event. Time is one of the three sides of the Project Triangle (ding! ding! ding!) and is one of those things that is tweaked as a factor throughout project life cycles in order to make the other sides (Quality, Cost) look better to a Client. Time-boxing a Sprint stops moving the goalpost on this aspect of working, and it really makes a difference when you know that you must deliver working code by a fixed date.

# Well-designed Stories SELL:

Once upon a time (last week), with a Client far, far away (ok, up in LA), there was an IT Manager who was trying to explain what he wanted to do with his website budget. After several frustrating meetings with the holders of the purse-strings while bandying around phrases like “anonymous user caching performance tuning”, “multi-vertical expletive parsing modules”, and “discombobulation of dilithium crystal flux capacitor obfustication”, a certified Achieve Internet Product Owner wrote some Stories to explain what he was really wanting to do. These Stories had a formula:

[general summary goes in here]

[business value / reasoning goes in here]

[logical flow goes in here]

* [bulleted list of “doneness” requirements / use test cases]
* xxx
* xxx

* [bulleted list of questions for PO to ask Client if needed]

* [any assumptions being made by the Client or Achieve relating to this Story]

By following this formula (and attaching a quick table of phases with time estimates), the Product Owner followed the Achieve Approach and Scrum. However, this is normally an internal process; in this particular (and highly educational) case, providing the Stories to the Technical Contact at the business armed him with the ammunition needed to succinctly explain what he wanted to do with his budget! In short, writing Stories in this fashion sold the services because they were comprehensible to the Business Owners at the Client.

This is truly value-add for Project Management at Achieve, and I believe it is an eye-opener for our massive and talented Sales and Marketing divisions. Writing good Stories lays out the proposed solution (read: expenditure of money) in a clear, concise, organized fashion, and leverages the Client’s own business goals and logic to justify the project. When a Client can read that this money spent will do x, y, and z right next to “our business goals are x, y, and z”, they are much more likely to make the connection that will turn that light bulb on over their head and produce their checkbook.

But wait…there’s more (besides not being sold in any store)…in addition to Client comprehension, the inclusion of Stories also plays it forward by being the foundation for Scrum and the Achieve Approach within our own Company. This will allow a formatted vehicle for true Client communication all the way through our enterprise in a procedural, Agile fashion. A Story that has been approved by a client-side decision maker allows the Product Owner to get that signature line that says “this is what we are going to deliver for you”. The Lead Developer, ScrumMaster, and Team now have an official from-the-Client document that can be negotiated with the Product Owner, then tasked out effectively, and delivered to the Client to their own specification of “doneness” (the bullet list of requirements above). This will enable everyone — from the Client to the PO to the Team to the Business Owners) to all have a central agreement to refer to. At least to me, this seems a heck of a lot more Agile than arguing the meaning of paragraph 5, page 215, of the Technical Specification document version 1.13 referring to Wireframe #522.

As a Certified ScrumMaster at Achieve — and the Scrum evangelist — I take a lot of crap from my beloved Lead Developers because everything I do or say has to embody Scrum in it’s highest form. Now, no matter what I ask of them, large or small (could you remove my unpublished blog from the published blog list please? could you PDF this web page for the CIO please? Are you ever going to pay me back my two dollars?) the response I always get is…

Story please!

At the 2007 Achieve Summit, Gary Markowitz presented The Achieve Approach. This is — from my point of view as a ScrumMaster — essentially a scalable series of questions that needs to be asked and acted upon for each and every thing that an Achieve Team does, no matter how large or small the chore is. To quote Chuck D from Public Enemy, “here come the drums.”

The Achieve Approach consists of four items:

  1. Discover
  2. Architect
  3. Develop
  4. Deploy (or Launch)

If you look at these items as a series of questions that are to be asked of every Task, Story, Project, Sprint, or other work that we do at Achieve, we have a framework to insure that the Team is thinking through a problem, rather than rushing to Development and missing critical bits of information that later crop up as impediments. Even though it may seem — at first blush — a little ridiculous to ask these questions for every Task that a Team creates for a Product Owner’s Story, the scalability of the Achieve Approach will make this a valuable exercise.

Scalability means that a routine (in this case, examining the four parts of the Achieve Approach) is suited for both large and small applications, and that it is nimble enough to apply equally in micro- and macro-environments. The Approach seems to be built for a Project: these four steps are “phases” or “stages” that are dealt with in order to be able to produce the needed information to move to the next stage or phase. This type of approach will be derided by hard-core Scrum practitioners as “waterfall methodology.” Just the fact that you have to complete Discovery before you move on to Architecture sends CSMs into a foaming-at-the-mouth frenzy. “This is not Agile! Waterfall is for lumbering oafs! We don’t need no stinking Discovery!” Although there is some concrete value in having a phased approach, Scrum itself loathes this sort of Six Sigma PM thinking because of the perceived waste of time that comes from doing classical due diligence with rigid phases.

That is not what the Achieve Approach is about. The scalability of the Approach is what keeps it Agile. At a Project level, there may be specific phases that Achieve walks through in order to insure that when we hit the Development phase, we have all of the information needed to successfully Develop. At the Scrum level, it is much more of an Agile process where we simply ask the four questions on a per-Story or per-Task basis in order to bubble up impediments before they interrupt the Sprint. Ingraining these four steps into our everyday thinking should help us ask the questions that need to be asked in order to provide accurate estimates, the correct number of tasks, and bite-sized chunks of work to insure that we can deliver quality and timely releases to our Product Owners within the timebox of the Sprint.

Here’s a real-world example of the Achieve Approach working in a Sprint in question format:

STORY: As a [client developer] I want to be able to [easily theme the four verticals on my website] in order to [implement the new Rotato without making it look like it is a new part of the website]

REQUIREMENTS: [simple functional specifications and use test cases as provided by the Product Owner] — this is to be addressed in a later Art of Scrum

TASK IT OUT: Normally, the Team would start throwing out sticky notes with tasks on them in order to try to meet all of the requirements that were laid out by the Product Owner within the Story; here is where, as a ScrumMaster, I am going to ask for the Achieve Approach to be considered.

  • Scrum it up and bounce out all of the Tasks needed to complete the Story
  • Arrange the Tasks in the order that is needed to complete the Story
  • Keep in mind the Team’s resources, and if Tasks can be done in parallel — this is important for Agility
  • Have the Team consider the four elements of the Achieve Approach: even if it takes 15 minutes extra per phase (mostly Discovery and Architecture I am guessing) it is massively important to think these things through at the Planning Scrum so that estimates are accurate and that the Team does not incur Technological Debt
  • Perhaps each Task can be labeled with the Achieve Approach steps in order to insure none are missed

START SPRINTING: If an impediment occurs, again run through the four elements and see where the impediment was missed, if applicable

DELIVER THE GOODS: Make your Product Owner feel like a Hero by giving them a Product that they cannot wait to demo to their Stakeholders

I would like to see Achieve be able to understand Projects, Stories, and Tasks — especially with their resulting impediments — categorized into Discovery, Architecture, Development, and Deployment so that we could understand better where additional work is being generated by not thoroughly planning ahead of time. Although Scrum is designed to deal quickly with problems as they arise, I still feel that the best way to avoid problems is to think them through in the first place. Perhaps we as a company are not doing enough Discovery. It may be that we are arrogantly trying to Architect on the fly. It could be a common misconception that Launching (or Deploying) is a simple push-button process.

This is a rather long blog (hooray for Nyquil), but the upshot is this: learn it, love it, repeat it: Discover, Architect, Develop, Deploy. This mantra will become a saving grace as we find it reminding us of the path to quality code and products.

Once upon a time, there was a project that was supposed to be done at the end of the month. There was a full Product Backlog, some of which was well defined into twelve Stories, and an enthusiastic Team ready to tackle the four week-long Sprints it was expected to take to finish the project. Confidence was high, and the predicted due date seemed to be no problem. Flip the hourglass with the sands of time; enter: Reality.

Once upon another time, a college student was given a credit card. Charge all you want and pay it off at the end of the month and it was like getting an instant, interest-free loan. Payday is the 30th (read: end of the month), so let’s get some shoes.Again, enter Reality.

Both of these scenarios, when adding the cosmic constant called Reality, are the beginning of accruing debt. In Scrum terms, technological debt is that work that is NOT done when trying to hit a predicted due date once reality enters the picture and starts to pump chaos into the well-sculpted predictions made at the beginning of the project. Another way to look at technological debt is to think of it as credit card interest. If the Team can hit the predicted deadline dead on (pun intended), no debt accrues. But any deviation beyond the due date creates a situation where, when normal business pressures come to bear, compound interest starts to make things interesting.

Let’s expand my first example. Sprint week one: an Impediment arises that chews up four hours of productive time during the Sprint, causing the third of three Stories to not be completed properly. Planning Scrum for week two: this issue bubbles up to the surface and is taken into account by using the second week Sprint to finish the work not completed on the first week’s third story. This causes the Team to lose Velocity and only complete two stories in the second week. The Team now completes the second Sprint, and has a total of five Stories complete in a quality manner — code is solid, all testing is done, and the work is up to par. Now, halfway through the project, this is noted, but optimism is still high, and somewhere in the next two Sprints, this extra Story needs to get done on top of the remaining six . This is not yet technological debt, but it should be cause for concern for the Product Owner, the ScrumMaster, and the Team. Interest is looming.

As the two final Sprints are planned and executed, somebody comes up with a fabulous idea of a shortcut to keep the project on track to be delivered on the predicted date. These ideas are usually along the lines of not completing due diligence on testing, outputting hacked code, skipping code reviews or full QA, or otherwise not doing high quality work. Project is delivered, client and Product Owner look like heroes, and everyone is happy, right? Wrong.

Technological debt — or interest — exists in the product itself. The entire Team — Product Owner, ScrumMaster, and Team Members, all know that within the delivery lurks something that was not up to par, and may come back to haunt them later. Extrapolating my second example — including the introduction of reality — at the end of the month, it is more important to pay all of your rent and only part of the credit card bill, so your $300 pair of shoes only gets $250 dumped on the bill. Waiting until the end of the next month to pay for your new clogs will actually cost you $75 more, not the $50 that it would have taken had you paid the whole thing promptly before the interest rate started getting that rear-naked choke hooked in. Technological debt works the same way. Your shoes just cost you $325. Next month, as the compounding really gets rolling, they will be a $350 pair of shoes, all the while losing value while you are wearing them to your Scrums every day.

Back to example one: client is so happy with the delivered product, they want it installed on all three of their websites, and expects that it should be an easy chore. We delivered them a quality, scalable, perfectly-factored product, right? Unless the technological debt is addressed immediately in the new estimates — probably a whole week’s worth of Sprint on top of this new client request — the problem is not just going to sit there and be a static problem value; it is going to gain interest. As the product is scaled, built upon, sold as-is to other clients, this debt is accruing interest. As long as this debt is ignored, it will continue to compound and cause problems in the future, especially in terms of codebase. Technological debt really gets good when the programmer who put the hack into code in the first place either is no longer with the Team or doesn’t remember what was done to create the problem in the first place. Time is the factor that is compounding — in this case, to find the problem and fix it. The sharpest pain in the process of catching up on technological debt is that there is nothing that can be sold to the client as an upgrade or a new feature; this was supposed to be done in the name of Quality last month…or six months ago,,,or whoever the dude was that built this code in the first place.

One of the central concepts of Scrum is honesty. Honesty within the Team is crucial, and in the case of this example of technological debt should have been clear communication to the Product Owner that due to the Impediment, the project needed another week to be delivered with the quality that the client deserved. If the client could not wait one more week for a quality product, then the Team has to get a Business Owner involved — usually to OK overtime, working lunches, and otherwise reducing other responsibilities in order to retrieve the additional time to do it once and do it right. In the case of the shoes, you would have saved your money and purchased them the 15th of the next month when you could drop $300 in cash and not absorbed any debt in the first place.

For a good graph-and-chart-laced article on the issue of tech debt, check out Technical Debt and Design Death by Kane Mar.

Originally published: Tuesday, 12/11/2007

Really good Product Owners always start Planning Scrums with something along the lines of “Once upon a time…” The reason behind this is that one of the least understood but most powerful concepts in Scrum methodology (along with the Squeaky Toy) is the Story. A Story, essentially, is a short description of the usefulness of a feature or product, including vital information such as who is going to use it, why they want it, and what it is supposed to do.

From this trite-sounding invention, you can deduce what is important to who in the Scrum process, the business value, the importance in the grand scheme of the entire project, potential use / test cases, and a whole host of other information within the bounds of a properly-formatted sticky note. Product Owners are the conduit to the customer, or Stakeholders, and as such, they are responsible for translating important pieces of the Product Backlog into Stories. Stories are a bite-sized translation of a feature or client request into terms that the Team can understand, cut up into Tasks, and agree to deliver at the end of the Sprint.

According to Mike Cohn, a properly formatted story is thus:

"As a <some role> I want <something> so that <some value / justification>"

This deceptively simple formula drives Product Owners crazy, because it forces them to get rid of all of the ballyhoo and explain the basic purpose of this feature to the Team. In response, the Team is able to meet the Product Owner halfway and start from the bottom to build a feature or product that the client really wants by describing a series of Tasks that will reach this goal — demonstrable and working — by the end of the Sprint.

Once the Story is told, the Product Owner, the ScrumMaster, and the Team complete the Story by negotiating an Agreement. The Story is usually the top half of the sticky note; the Agreement is the bottom half. In order for the Team to be successful, it must meet the requirements set forth in the Agreement. Agreements are usually a series of bullet points that describe what should be demonstrable to the client by the end of the Sprint.

To put this into perspective, here is a Story with an Agreement from Achieve’s history. Note that Achieve has exercised the First Rule of Scrum: if the rules don’t work for you, throw them out.

“This Story allows [the site administrator] to deploy quiz question creation to site users while guiding them to provide these questions in the right format.”

* Exactly four answer boxes, all required
* No title field for users
* No feedback per question
* Auto-generate title field based on taxonomy, question field, and an incremental random number (to prevent repeats in any possible case)
* administrative controls to enable / disable functionality
* show mockups for the way this feature would look to a user

With a Story defined with an Agreement, as long as the Sprint is a reasonable length of time for the Team to perform this work without impediments, there will be a happy ending!

Green Monte Carlo

Posted: October 16, 1997 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I used to own a 1973 olive green Monte Carlo. It served my family quite well until I really learned how to drive; it was Shelby Brown who convinced me to see how high I could launch it above the ground one lifeless night in San Diego. Shelby Brown has a penchant for getting me into trouble: my parents frowned on him for “borrowing” this same car without my permission from a party and returning it an hour later with a half-tank less gas and the excuse that he was jump-starting his car down the street. This night, though, I remember him looking over at me with a slightly surprised expression as the engine was roaring at 5500 rpms since the wheels were no longer in contact with the ground. As I lifted my foot from the gas pedal, and the engine noise died to a faraway murmur, Shelby had time to say “Gee Mike, we’re really high.”
The rooftops of cars were passing below the tires of that green Monte Carlo as we flew down Dickens Street.
My friends Chris McGee, Brett Hathaway, and Matt Graham were in the back seat staring at the San Diego Bay’s skyline through the windshield. Dickens Street is in a moderately well-to-do part of Point Loma, and the views from those houses were magnificent. The intersection that had enabled us to defy gravity for a few precious seconds was at the top of a hill that had a sudden gradient change from steep to steeper in the middle, and ended one short block down in a T intersection which crossed Dickens, not continued it. What made me acquiesce to Shelby’s request to power my poor seventeen year old Monte Carlo down this street at 43 miles per hour is, to this day, beyond me.
The five of us had thought to go to one of a few parties we knew of, but nothing was happening. The Monte Carlo was a very unique car; only Chevrolet in the early part of the 70’s would have been able to sell my father on that color, and it was one of the favorite rides to and from parties. Plus, the large bumpers and the couple of dents put in it by my parents on ill-placed light poles and tight parking spaces were adequate to cover up any small damage we would do to the bodywork while driving down alleys spinning trash cans with our momentum. Most of the purpose of taking the Monte Carlo was the diversions that we would find on the way to and from parties. Dickens Street bent the steel frame of my car, almost sent the five of us over a cliff into the roof of a Vons forty or fifty feet below, and was the most talked about event of the next three weeks among my friends. Nobody ever convinced me to do it again, though.
The top of the street had a huge dip and bump in it; it was this which propelled the car into the air in the first place. The unique design of the street, getting steeper halfway down, gave us even more hang time once we got there. The 1973 Monte Carlo was a heavy car, even for those days of the V-8 engine and the swivel bucket seats; when we came down, we landed partially on the front bumper. The impact of the automobile jarred the engine in its motor mounts, and it stalled. Heading towards a sturdy white fence with three reflective red diamonds on it that guards a large cliff is no time to lose your power brakes or your power steering. I hauled with all my might on that steering wheel, driving around a parked car on the wrong side of the street to its left, over a curb, some shrubs and a lawn, through three galvanized trash cans and back on to the street. As the car rolled down yet another hill, but at a lesser speed, I shakily put the car in neutral and started the engine. We drove on in silence, down and around to the parking lot of that Vons.
When we got to the supermarket, I stopped the car where we could all see the white fence. I opened my door and climbed out. I let the occupants of the back seat get out and walk around. Everyone had the look you have after getting off of the Viper rollercoaster at Magic Mountain or after seeing a movie like “Die Hard”. Shelby, though, was having trouble getting out of the passenger’s side. I walked around the car, checked to see that the door wasn’t locked and hauled on the handle really hard. It finally swung open with an awful squeal, and Shelby got out. Matt pointed to the roof of the car, where there was an almost unnoticeable crease in the paint: the car had compressed a little in the thin material of the roof. That meant that the frame had bent on my Monte Carlo – it was why the door on Shelby’s side didn’t fit quite as precisely as it was designed to fit anymore.
I drove everyone home after that; nothing could top that incident off, so we just talked about it as everyone was delivered in the remarkably durable green Monte Carlo. The next day I told my Dad that I had hit a dip a little too hard on Ebers Street, famous in Point Loma for its gaping, canyon sized dips. A few months later, the mechanic who was changing my tires for me pulled me aside and asked me what I did to my car. It was up on the lift, and he pointed out that the A-frame which holds the right side tire on the axle was bent and twisted just a bit. I swore him to secrecy and explained the “Dickens Street Leap” as we had dubbed it, and he looked at me as if I was crazy.
Maybe I was crazy back in high school, but Dad and I sold that Monte Carlo this time last year, and it was only after we had sold it that I admitted to him what I really did to it to make the door squeak so horribly. And I never admitted to him that Shelby Brown was in the passenger seat.

Once Upon a Time…A Story

Posted: September 29, 1996 in Poetry
Tags: , , , ,

Once upon a time I wrote a story
Which caressed the face of the girl I love,
But the real life situation
Is untenable.
She has lost sight of what I once was
In my prime, in my heyday,
And this stubborn pride
Speeds my fall.
Once again, the impact will wake me
To a life in shambles;
Nothing gold can stay.

Three nights I have lain awake
Storming through half-sleep dreams
And possibilities, thoughts,
Mental magical carpets,
Half real, half realized;
Doors half opened and swinging
Smooth computers peripherally
Analyzing and verifying
Believing yet incredulous
Of the panoramic impossibility.
The stark lightning of imagination
Energized and rampantly naked;
Leaping obstacles with merry, nimble feet
Barely touching – gracing – the earth.
A sweeping wave of everything
Reconditioning, revitalized
Colorization by raw power
Of a reality as credible as anything,
Dreams of genie lamps opening
Construction paper flowers blooming
Water falling, cities lit by their own fires,
Shadows mocking their creators.
Stories so rich in texture
That you live them overnight,
Morning comes when it comes
With the snap of the blind
And a sense of weariness bone deep.
Aches from riding warhorses,
Twinges from old wounds,
Bruises and abrasions that quietly throb,
That you don’t remember receiving.
Nights pass in a variety of times
Lying awake, or so I think,
Chasing reflections in mirrors,
Tuning in to the colored snow
Falling inside my eyelids.

Perhaps my only true loves
Are those that are inanimate,
Or are animated soley by my
Magical imagination.
They love me like a god –
I give them life, they give me
Love without strings attached.
They could attach their strings
If they ate from that forbidden fruit
That Adam and Eve partook of.
But that is the difference
Between mankind and animals,
Plants, minerals, Elves, Dwarves, and Faeries.
We know we do wrong – we still do it.
Some barrier was broken and we keep on breaking,
We made god to subtly blame for our position.
(We call him Satan)
We told him to forgive us because
It wasn’t in our own power
To forgive ourselves for evolving.
We are now the chosen species of the planet
And, collectively, we all want to go home.
So these inanimate things I animate,
Infusing them with imagination and belief.
I can believe in them because it was I
Who made them real in the first place.
God didn’t make me; I made him
Just like I make a dream a reality,
A story my existence, and item alive
And bounding to and fro with innocent excitement.

The Unfinishable Tale

Posted: February 14, 1994 in Writing
Tags: ,

[Note: This was a document circulated around my college group of friends, mostly D&D players, all of us poor writers, but the idea was to try to pass this around and write something that would, at least, entertain us later on. I know at least Geoff Stearns and I wrote on this.]

The Eternal Campfire burns somewhere in a valley deep within the Wombat mountain range north of the town of Hell’s Purchase, or so the old minstrels tell. Those individuals foolish or wise enough to give up their dreary but safe lives to follow quests hidden in old stories journey first to Hell’s Purchase where they inevitably end up in Braco’s Tavern, a large but unimposing and comfortable structure constructed of wood from the forests covering the mountain slopes and stone brought from the old quarry by the river.
Many folks who have tales to tell of their visits to the tavern speak of the plaque made from an unidentified metal that hangs over the fireplace, and on which is written wise words to the weary traveller. Every traveller who speaks of it seems to recall a different moral or a different saying upon the plaque. Legend has it that each sees something different and personal written there – especially if one has visited the bar first.
One night at the tavern, the usual motley group were playing darts upon the far wall and buying up rounds of ale. It was dark, windy, and raining brutally, and all were glad of the fire. Suddenly, the door burst open with such force that the wood of the frame made an audible cracking sound, and the wind drove hard enough to put out the candles on the tables within ten feet of the door. A smallish, slight, hooded figure stepped in the door, accompanied by a large dog with a luxuriant, though drenched coat. Although two young men had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to close the door against the rain, the hooded figure stepped in, grasped the door’s edge with one hand, and gently closed it.
“Stranger.”, the barkeep said, “We allow no animals in here. You’ll have to leave your dog outside.” The figure, which had been in the act of taking off its gloves, paused, and seemed to bend slightly toward the dog, which had sat upon its haunches. An almost inaudible whisper came from under the hood, and with a glance up, the dog moved quietly to the corner of the room and made itself compact beneath some chairs.
“We mean you no trouble. Surely my friend will be of no offense to you in that corner. As you see, he can make himself unobtrusive.” It was a lady’s voice that had come from beneath the hood, and the barkeep, appearing a bit confused, swept an unreadable look over the bottles behind the bar, and then tapped his finger on the bar surface.
“All right, I love me dog myself, and such as its raining… he can stay if ya can keep ‘im quiet.”
She nodded her head, for now all could see that the figure was a she. Her hood was let back, and her dark hair was caught up in a rope that disappeared into her travelling cloak. She made herself comfortable in the same corner as her dog, in front of a steaming cup of coffee, to which she surreptitiously added a dash of blue powder from a jewelled bottle with a cork the size of your pinky-nail.
“A wee bit rainy out an’ about in tha wind t’night.” An old broad-shouldered man with a Gaelic accent leaned over and said to the young lady, startling her. As she turned and looked at him quizzically with her piercing green eyes, there was a bang and a shout from the dart-players.
“What in Hades…?” questioned the young lad at the fireplace, who was attempting to roll a hot log back into the hearth proper, “It just popped right out – almost hit me in my eye, right!” He turned around, a little sheepish from having yelled, and recieved similar looks from his two friends at the dart board. The two in the corner traded glances, then went back to their respective drinks.
The grey dog leaped up on to the wide window ledge behind the seat of the broad-shouldered man, who spilled part of his Guiness. He cursed something under his breath, and then, smiling tiredly to the traveller, got up and sat at the bar. The bartender looked like he was about to say something, but grimaced and poured another stout for the older gentleman. Silver was exchanged, along with a wink and a nod at the dog, now sitting and looking out of the window, into the rain, as if waiting for someone else to come in from the cold.
One of the other patrons, a rather short and stocky individual with a huge flaring beard and moustache and a balding pate brought out a small wooden flute, and began playing a simple rustic melody, reminding the other individuals of the mountain streams and high forests which surrounded the tavern and its curious plaque. His eyes were closed and almost obscured underneath his bushy white eyebrows as he played his tiny instrument, and the few conversations on that rainy night died down to nothing as the bard told tales of secrets hidden under rocks and in the boles of trees with the lilt of his flute.
The voice that issued forth from the bard’s lips was one which, almost magically, transported his audience into the depths of his tale. This golden voice blended with the notes of his flute so well that no one at the pub ever noticed when the bard was singing and when he was playing. The entire pub seemed to be transported. The fire roared and flared at the mention of strife, but, just as easily, it resumed its soft crackling and playful bouts when the bard wished it to be so. The song he sang was that of the story of the plaque.
Flashing a smile to the lady and her dog in the corner and raising his flute to his magical lips he began,“This is the ballad of which I may be the only soul who knows,” This was the only introduction he made, and after hearing the ballad, even it was unnecessary.
Being that it was a song that the regular patrons had never heard, they all gathered around the bard. They had all heard this man’s magical tales before, but no one had heard the ballad of the plaque. The woman in the corner turned her attention towards the bard and all one could focus on was her flowing black hair and sparkling eyes that seemed that they knew more than the others ever would know. As the bard began his tale, the dog looked up at the woman from over his shoulder with a look which can only be described as a knowing smile. The three gamers quietly put up their darts and turned chairs towards the bard and the fire, and the barkeep leaned on his oaken bar next to the old man, who sipped from his mug thoughtfully.
The minstrel tripped through a keen melody, and after a small pause, in which he caught everyone’s eye with his own twinkles, he proceeded to sing.

It was a time of Dragon’s fire
That the souls of Kings were born
From the fear of Demon’s ire
Rose a hope for those forlorn.
The simple men whose lives were led
With doors barred shut and fires high:
Those women who feared to tread
After the dark had seized the sky:
These common folk, no sorc’rous king
Did bring the Magic to the World.
Not in Swords or Magic Rings,
But in the form of boys and girls,
Who, taught the strength of father’s might,
And told the lore of mother’s art,
Grew tall and strong against the night,
Grew wise and bold and good of heart.
This plaque which no one sees the same,
Is said to be a craft of Elves
To whom the tricks of Magic came
With ease; it is one of their spells.
Yet others call it Dwarvish make,
Their skill with metal’s not unknown,
But who had such the time to take
And sink this plaque in fireplace stone?
It took not Dwarf or Elf to cheer
The Hearth, the heart of every room,
It is the men and women here
Who saved us all from Demon’s doom.

The sound of his voice trailed away for a moment, and then the bard’s flute spilled a short melody which spun hauntingly to the smoke-stained rafters to pool and dissipate into the old wood. The Dwarf stopped with a sigh and looked around. Movement resumed in Braco’s Tavern after a moment of reflection, but the patron’s voices were quieter; some of them spoke of other legends that the Dwarf had reminded them of. The dart game resumed and more silver was exchanged at the bar between the ‘keep and the gentleman.
Thunder rumbled outside, with force enough to rattle mugs on tables. One of the gamers walked to a window and stood looking out into the storm through the violence of the rain on the glass. Turning to the bar, he said jokingly “Well, Braco, it doesn’t look like any of us are leaving anytime soon…”
“In a cloudburst like this, nobody’s going anywhere,” Braco answered over his shoulder as he absentmindedly dried a mug, “Funny how it was clear until around sunset. Didn’t see a cloud in the sky ‘till then, and then the darkness came fast and quick up the river, like if it was following someone here.” His bushy eyebrows raised as if to point to the mysterious woman. The dog turned and looked at him as he hung up his towel on a peg. Looking out the window again, the young man started and turned white.
“Hey Marco!” he motioned to the two dart-playing youths, “Lito! I…I think I saw someone out in the rain.” The two men at the bar exchanged another glance and the older man shifted from his stool to face the door; the other young men joined their comrade at the streaming panes.
“Sure enough,” said Marco, “I think there be seven or eight visitors arrivin’.” Marco turned away and headed back to the dart board.
“Brandon…” started Lito, who was next to him at the window, “What are they ridin’?”
“I can’t rightly see through the storm,” replied Brandon hesitatingly, “They got water down their necks alright, though. Look at them runnin’ around all hunched over.”
A snarl from the grey dog startled the patrons, including his owner, who turned and looked askance of the noise. Again, she whispered a few indistinguishable words in his ear, but rather than calming the creature, his hackles rose higher. He glared out of his window into the rain.
The traveller turned a questioning look to the gentleman and Braco. The gentleman returned her gaze, and starting to speak, looked over to Lito and Brandon. “How many?”
The door crashed open and a flash of lightning illuminated several figures in long black hunting cloaks. Striding into the bar, the newcomers dumped water out of the folds of their gear, the ninth one in shutting the door against the storm with an idle hand. Braco opened his mouth to say something about the moisture on the floor when the lead traveler flung his cloak aside and rose to his full height.
“The map, runt!” the Bugbear growled at the Dwarf. Seven and one-half feet tall, his head barely cleared the beams of the open A-frame ceiling. Water dripped from the grey fur on his face; his semi-canine features were twisted in the semblance of a smile, his eyes glittered in the firelight. His companions shed their cloaks.
“Bugbears! All of ‘em!” whispered Lito in a small, frightened voice. Bugbears were rumors from explorers who had been past the first escarpments of the Wombat mountains and deep into the Northern Wastes beyond. Brandon shuddered next to him.
“Ah, Gulash! What a pleasant surprise,” said the Dwarf calmly, “If you really want the map, like I know you do since you’ve been following me for years now, I guess I’ll co-operate.”
The Bugbears rumbled among themselves and the tallest one, obviously the one referred to as Gulash, placed his hand on the wicked scimitar at his belt and stepped forwards with an open hand. The bard reached down and opened his large leather backpack, rummaged for a moment, and carefully drew out an ivory scroll case, studded with emeralds and wrought gold. Marco’s eyes went wide; he loved his silver enought as it is when he won at darts – this was unheard of. Handing it over with a great regretful sigh, the Dwarf spoke:
“Well it’s been a great conversation piece, but I wasn’t going to do anything with that map – I’m too old now.” The Bugbear chief looked confused for a moment, then a crafty look stole over his face.
“How do I know the map’s really in here?” he asked with a grin at his companions who grunted agreement.
“Maybe you should read it, Gulash,” replied the Dwarf, playing with his flute, “I can help you if you…”
“I can read!” growled the Bugbear. The dog bared his teeth at the dripping Bugbears and was shushed by the lady. After a few seconds of struggling to open the scroll tube, Gulash pulled the end cap off with his teeth while Marco winced at the lack of finesse. Turning it over, Gulash shook it until a lavender-tinted piece of parchment slid out and into his furry palm. He chuckled and unrolled it, looking at the Dwarf. His gaze turned to the paper and squinted hard.
The bard put his hands over his ears, provoking puzzled looks from everyone in the tavern; Gulash emitted a choked question and the paper exploded in his hands, running blue fire up his arms and around the edges of his studded leather armor, knocking him back into his gang. The smell of sulfur hung in the air for a moment with the laughter of the Dwarf who was doubled up in tears.
“Oh my, my,” gasped the hysterical bard, “The same trick worked on him two seasons ago.”
A broadsword slid across the surface of the bar to the old Gaelic-accented man, who hefted it in one hand and drained his beer with the other. Braco looked at the Bugbears with an oaken club resting on his countertop.
“There’ll be no fightin’ in my tavern.” The Bugbears slowly pulled out various ugly looking short blades: curved, straight, hooked and sharp. Gulash was hopping around with smoke wafting from several charred patches of fur.
“Alright, Dwarf!” said Gulash in a guttural snarl, “Yer goin’ down.” He yanked out his black tulwar and menaced the bard.
“You heard Braco,” piped up Marco, standing by the dartboard, “No brawlin’!”
“Shut the pipsqueak up, an’ be quick about it,” spat Gulash to his Bugbears. Two of them moved surprisingly quickly for Marco, and grasped his arms firmly before he could draw his shortsword which he had quietly retrieved from the back of his chair.
“I said shut him up!” Gulash gestured across his throat with his index finger.
“Marco!” yelled Lito and started towards him. A hairy Bugbear grabbed him by the arm and hurled him over a table into a corner by the fireplace, where he slumped and groaned. Brandon backed slowly around the table to Lito, and fell to his knees to tend to him, glancing over his shoulder nervously at the Bugbears grinning at Braco, the Dwarf, and the gentleman. The Dwarf had suddenly recovered from his laughing fit.
“Hey, now. No need for violence, just as the good ‘keep says.” The Dwarf took his feet off of a low stool and stood up. “You were never very good at diplomacy, and I see it is time for you to learn another lesson.” Reaching behind his chair, he seized a good sized battleaxe and removed the leather sheath.
“Not this time, fat little rodent!” said Gulash smugly. He barked an order in his native tongue, and a smaller, shadowy Bugbear stepped forwards. From a fold in her ragged clothes she produced a glowing red vial the size of her fist.
“Numinmentat sthaass quo Demontum voothat Volatum! “ she cried, dashing the glass to the floor. The Dwarf stepped back, surprised, and the silent woman in the corner slowly got to her feet, the palms of her hands flat on the tabletop. The dog was still grimacing at the Bugbears, but had regained some control over itself. Smoke spun towards the ceiling in thick coils; the firelight died unnaturally in the haze and the candle-flames spat sparks. Braco cautiously stole a sip from a bottle and surreptitiously passed it to the gentleman. The vapors were rising rapidly from the glowing red liquid that had been in the vial, evaporating it into the folds of the smoke, leaching from it a bloody aura which was coalescing into some sort of creature. All of the Bugbears were shifting between their feet uneasily, forgetting about silencing Marco or keeping an eye on the other patrons; even the Bugbear incantatrix was watching fearfully. The Dwarf muttered something under his breath in Dwarfish and gripped his battleaxe firmly. A blue-silver twinkle played across the blade of the axe; he backed up as the smoke curled around his feet.
A voice erupted from the column of vapor like the strike of a serpent: “Toluwait Rockthain, we require a Map which is in your possession.”
“I…don’t believe I have made your acquaintance,” the Dwarf stalled for time, “You are…”
“We represent the interests of a power that does not appreciate your trifling in matters that do not concern you in the least.” The eerie red vapor began to swirl into a more definite form. A heavily muscled torso appeared first with little licks of orange lightning wrapping like chains around its curves and corners. Two eyes the color of metal hot from the forge winked on, and twin stag antlers, gilded with copper, materialized above the smoke that veiled the creature’s face. Lito trembled at the sight of the Demon; Brandon clutched at his tunic and prayed under his breath. The bottle was quietly passed from the gentleman back to Braco.
“Can you fight him?” asked Braco under his breath to his friend.
“I don’t know, Tuledan,” replied the gentleman, using Braco’s little-known last name, “I dunna think you need a sword but a good clean-shaven priest.”
“Look here Mister Sean Murdoch, I just run a cosy tavern,” said Braco, half-turning to the gentleman, “You’re the one with the fifty years of military service.”
“Yes but spikin’ an Orc here an’ there dasn’t give ye experience with the spawn o’ the divell, ya cretin!”
“Shut up you fossils!” Gulash tried to assert some authority, “And I thought I told you to kill that boy!” He pointed at Marco, and Lito struggled to his feet, leaning on Brandon, a horrified expression on his face.
“Leave him alone, you bastards!” yelled Lito. Passion consumed his features, twisting them in pain and rage. Brandon looked quickly at his friend, then at the mass of Bugbears. The incantatrix glared at the interruption of her Demon’s business, and flung an arm towards the pair. Speaking several words of power, energy started to crackle at the ends of her fingertips. The woman’s dog snarled loudly and started forwards, but was restrained by his owner with a tense grip.
“Oh, no! My bar!” said Braco.
Two blue missiles of light flared at Brandon and Lito; Lito threw himself behind the Dwarf’s table, Brandon froze and shut his eyes. But the table in front of him leaped as if thrown, and intercepted the two missiles. An extraordinary talent, Brandon had always been a little wary and frightened of his psionic strengths; now he found them handy for saving his life. The Bugbear magician howled in surprise and disappointment as the table absorbed the missiles; Marco still struggled helplessly against two seven foot tall smirking beast-men.
“Rockthain,” rumbled the Demon.
“Bite it, moron,” countered the Dwarf. Lito stopped climbing up from behind the table and stared at the bard.
“There’ll be no fightin’ in my goddamn tavern!” screamed Braco. He ducked just in time as a Bugbear throwing axe embedded itself through a bottle of whiskey into the rear wall of his bar. Thunder stormed outside, and the Demon waxed a glowing scarlet. “Kill them. Kill them all!”
The Bugbear holding the squirming Marco was gibbering at his comrade, who had thrown the axe at Braco. Lito picked up a stool and brained the axe-thrower. Gulash pointed at the Dwarf and spat a command; several burly Bugbears warily approached through the smoky skirts of the Demon, who fumed and glowed brighter.
“Alright, enough of this nonsense!” said Murdoch rising from his barstool to meet a pair of the brutes. Easily cutting one in two, he caught a blow from an axe in the ear and rolled under the bar holding the side of his head. The Bugbear, leaning over to cut at him again recieved a solid crack on the skull from Braco, wielding his short club with both hands. The Bugbear was thrust out of the way with Murdoch’s sword point as he clambered out from the bar’s shadow.
“Drink?” asked Braco, lobbing a bottle to Murdoch, who, catching a look from the woman in the corner who was being threatened by a single Bugbear, turned and slid it across a table to her She caught it deftly as it dropped off of the end and reversed it in her hand, braining the incoming Bugbear neatly. As it fell to the floor, the dog leaped upon it and savaged it. The two creatures rolled around knocking chairs about and upsetting tables.
The Dwarf was engaged with several Bugbears at once, but his battleaxe was making quick work of them; several of them had already fled past Gulash and into the night clutching ragged rents in their flesh and light armor. Brandon crouched behind a table in the corner by the window and watched, appalled at the situation. The Bugbear incantatrix, avoiding the great swings of the Dwarf’s axe or Murdoch’s deft blade, pulled out a vicious curved knife and stalked Brandon. Caught in the corner with no weapon about, he looked about him hopelessly. The magician grinned at him evilly across the table, then shoved it out of the way carelessly, approaching him with the knife held in front of her glittering eyes. With the sound of shattering glass, an enormous sword plunged through the window from outside and impaled the Bugbear neatly between the shoulderblades. The knife dropped out of her hand, and she slumped forwards to the ground with blood pouring out of her mouth. A short curse was heard from outside through the rain being swept into the window: the greatsword was stuck firmly in the body of the Bugbear and was standing straight out of her back out of reach from the window. A great wet shaggy head was stuck though the broken window pane for a moment, swore horribly, and then disappeared.
The Demon screamed his disapproval of the Bugbears’ teamwork, or lack thereof, and, forming two enormous fists within his cloud of vapor, struck the bard, hurling him into a table which buckled underneath him. His axe flew backwards and chopped into the leg of the Bugbear holding Marco, who bellowed ferociously and released his captive to clap his hands to the wound. Lito, who had barely dodged the Dwarf, the table, and the axe, danced around with his stool and clubbed the other Bugbear that had been threatening Marco. Marco grabbed the darts from the dartboard, and as the Bugbear turned to slash at Lito, he jammed them down solidly into the back of his neck. Lito beat the confused creature senseless with the stool, and then found shelter behind the bar with Marco – the Demon was approaching the stunned Dwarf and its forge-fire eyes were showering sparks.
The door flew open for the third time that night; a Bugbear was propelled backwards out of the rain and into a chair, out of the way of the owner of the two-handed sword which saved Brandon’s life. The man was well over six feet tall with a great mane of curly hair and a bushy beard. He was drenched from the rainstorm and lightning illuminated him in the doorway as he sighted Sean Murdoch.
“Yer late for dinner, Sean!” he bellowed above the fracas, “The missus missed you an’ sent me to fetch ye.”
“You could be a better help than a windbag, Joffrey” grunted Murdoch. He was keeping a Bugbear at bay while the mysterious woman was chanting and making mystical signs with her hands. Gulash turned around and screamed a challenge; Joffrey Marcus balled his big blacksmith hands up into mighty fists and charged him. The two of them fought wildly, but Marcus bit the sword arm of the Bugbear and forced him to drop his wicked scimitar. Gulash ripped at Marcus with his horny claws, drawing blood in several places, but Marcus’ strength from his work at the forge prevailed: Gulash was throw bodily out into the storm, and the tavern door slammed on him. Brandon was still crouched in his corner, gaping at the Demon who was picking up the Dwarf’s body.
A boiling of icy energy wrapped around the joined hands of the lady behind Murdoch. With a sharp cry, she hurled the spell at the Demon as Murdoch ducked. It removed the head of the last Bugbear and slammed into the smoky form of the evil being. It dropped the heavy Dwarf to the floor with a thud and spun around to face the other side of the tavern.
“I dunna think a bottle is going to work on this one, Braco,” muttered Murdoch as he hefted his broadsword. Marco and Lito looked on helplessly from behind the bar as the Demon swept over towards the gentleman.
“If ye got another ball o’ ice, toss it now,” said Murdoch over his shoulder to the mage. She gave him a quick, frantic glance and continued drawing sigils in the air. Marcus stepped behind the creature with his huge sword and swept it clean through the smoke; nothing happened – the Demon didn’t even seem to notice.
“Vistakir Aleph-Doksari; hail and well-met!” said the Dwarf from a sitting position. He had recovered his axe and was drawing on the floor in a pinkish chalk. The Demon flared yellow for a moment and whirled on the bard.
“How dare you speak one of my names!” flashed the Demon menacingly, “We have such delights for you in our domain, bug. The map is nothing; your soul shall be ours!” It flew at the Dwarf, who had set his axe aside and grabbed his flute. The bard blew an incredibly quick melody and brought the Demon up short, right over his little chalk drawing; a circle with a few odd characters around it. Playing a short but forceful tune, the bard started to walk around the Demon, who was suspended over the drawing. The Demon’s eyes followed him, but he made no move. Murdoch and Marcus exchanged glances, and Braco passed his bottle down to Lito and Marco; the woman stopped her low chanting and watched the Dwarf carefully.
The bard kept playing and walking around the Demon, and some of his awful red glow was dissipating; the dog, muzzle covered in Bugbear blood, began walking around the circle, also. Brandon came out from his corner and also began to circle the Demon; he didn’t know exactly why, but it seemed to be working for the smoke was floating away into the rafters, without the evil reddish tinge that the presence of the creature lent it. Murdoch sat down heavily in a chair to have Marcus look at his ear; the lady shook his tired hand.
“My name is Tishan Willowtree, my Lord,” she spoke and cast her hood back, revealing slightly pointed ears and delicate features; an Elf, or at least there was quite a bit of Elven blood in her veins. “Thank you for your defense.”
“Thank you for the timely incantation, my lovely lady,” replied Murdoch, who was wincing under the blacksmith’s inquisition into his wound.
The Demon was nothing but a pair of fading eyes as the patrons of Braco’s Tavern watched the Dwarven bard banish it into a pall of smoke. Drinks were replenished all around, and the three young men helped right the tables that hadn’t been splintered and place the chairs back into order. The Bugbears were dragged out into the rain by Joffrey Marcus and Braco, who came in white-faced after cutting their mounts loose.
“I never seen such big wolves,” said Marcus, shutting the door tightly behind him.
“It’s good that they eat Bugbear,” replied Braco shakily, “I hope they don’t bother anyone on their way out of town.”
“Bard,” called Tishan to the Dwarf, “What map is this that you own that attracts the attention of such doubtful company?”
“Ah, my lady,” said the Dwarf, bowing deeply, “My friends, I owe all of you a great apology for this inconvenience. You see, I don’t have the map that these monsters were bothering me for – I just know where it is.
“I am the bard Toluwait Rockthane, son of…”
“Yes, yes, sir. I can guess. I have met enough Dwarves to pass on hearin’ your family’s history,” interrupted a gruff Sean Murdoch.
“Well, as I said, I don’t have the map, I just know where it is,” continued Toluwait, “It is a treasure map, which shows where there are great riches and greater perils. I have been waiting to go get the map because I was doing… research on the veracity of the information regarding the locale and the indigenous life.”
“Were you?” questioned a grumpy Braco, who was fixing a sheet over the broken window, “Well, where’s the map?”
“It’s right there,” said the Dwarf, and pointed to the plaque above the fireplace. The company gathered around the plaque, but saw nothing but its normal proverbs and useful sayings; no map was evident.
“There’s no map here, old Dwarf,” said Marco disappointedly, “It’s just tthe same old plaque.”
“Ah, yes, my boy! But it is a Magical Plaque!” Toluwait lifted his flute and played a haunting melody that hung in the air like the Demon’s smoke, and the plaque changed. The lines of the letters grew and swirled into a map of landmarks: mountains, forests, creeks and valleys, with an X at the foot of a certain hooked crag. Marco hurriedly pulled out a piece of parchment which he had bought to write love-letters on and began carefully copying the map. The bard played his simple melody on until everyone had seen the map for a minute or two, and then let the notes fade away into the nighttime rain. Thunder growled around the tavern.
“So, is anyone interested in a fortune in gold, Magic, and jewels?”

# # # # # # # # # # #

“I dunna give a damn what time it is in the mornin’, Braco!” yelled an irate Sean Murdoch, banging a flagon repeatedly on the countertop of the bar,“Where’s the Glenfiddich?!”
“You’re crazy, old man!” retorted Braco wearily as he shuffled around the end of the bar rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “I still can’t believe you believe that old Dwarf’s tale of the Eternal Campfire. I tend this bar and I have yet to hear a whopper like that one the Dwarf told last night.”
“What about the map?” Murdoch pointed at the plaque above the mantel.
“What about the bottle of Glenfiddich we drank last night?”
Murdoch put the mug down with a thump and turned half away from Braco. Willowtree was making her way down the steps from the rooms above the tavern, keeping one slender hand on the railing, the other one massaging her temples. She sat down gingerly on a barstool and groaned.
“Do ye remember what ye promised last night, lady?” Murdoch winked at Braco, who rolled his eyes and started a kettle over the fire.
“I need a cup of coffee, a new head, and a gag for the gentleman over there, Braco,” she said over her shoulder, pointedly ignoring Murdoch.
The door to the tavern opened, and several youths came bounding in, carrying all manner of implements and bags. Among them were Marco, Brandon and Lito; there were several others, including a girl who was clinging to Lito’s arm as if he was about to disappear for good, and the majority of the teenagers in the town of Hell’s Purchase.
“You can’t go! We’re supposed to be betrothed!” cried the girl.
“Marisa,” Lito tried to pry her fingers from his shirt, “I’m going and that’s final — my father doesn’t like it either, but I’m my own man, now.”
“But….” stammered Marisa, her lower lip trembling as if she was about to cry, “But you’ll never come back! Who’ll take care of you?”
“I can take care of myself,” replied Lito, almost proudly. Murdoch and Willowtree exchanged resigned looks. Murdoch banged his flagon once more to remind Braco, and turned to the gaggle of teens.
“Alright ye miscreants!” he barked out. The commotion stopped as his voice cracked like a drill seargeant’s through the pub. “What in the Devil is all that crap?” he said, pointing to the equipment that occupied several chairs and a table. Murdoch strode over to Marco, Lito and Brandon and started looking at their possessions. “Ten foot pole, six changes of underwear, breath mints,” Murdoch rustled through an open rucksack, “What the hell ye think this is gonna be, a walk in yon woods?” He started throwing their equipment out of the open door into the courtyard.
“Sounds like a corporal,” Willowtree commented to Braco, who was pouring her a cup of coffee.
“He actually retired as a captain,” Braco nodded at Murdoch’s back.
“Get rid of all this worthless junk!” roared Murdoch as he kicked a skillet out of the tavern to bounce on the flagstones outside. The group of youngsters beat a hasty retreat outside to reorganize. Marisa was still hanging on to Lito and the sound of her cries were redoubled. Murdoch slammed the door behind them.
“Better get him his Glenfiddich,” said Braco, looking under the bar.
“Bloody sassenach,” growled Murdoch, sitting down at the bar again and looking for his flagon.
“There there, now, Sean,” soothed Braco, putting a glass of whiskey down at Murdoch’s elbow, “You needn’t turn them into soldiers overnight.”
“I dunno why the damned Dwarf invited them along in the first place.”
“He said that the composition wouldn’t be right without them,” said Willowtree from down the bar. Rockthane entered the Inn laughing at that moment.
“What a fine group of heroes we have outside,” laughed the Dwarf, “I don’t want to hear a word about it, Mister Murdoch.” He waggled a short finger at Sean as he took a seat. “I dropped by Joffrey’s smithy on the way here. He’ll be along with a friend, he said.”
“When are we leaving?” asked Willowtree.
“As soon as we’re all assembled,” said Rockthane, “And, of course, the courtyard is cleaned up.” He winked at Braco, who smiled in spite of himself.

# # # # # # # # # # #

It was quite a large group of people who assembled in front of Braco’s Tavern. Not all of them were going along with the Dwarf and the adventurers, but the sight of people gearing up for such an outing was always something of a commotion. Murdoch passed his helmet around and collected enough spare change to finance a public keg of Hairfoot Triple Stout, and that added to the draw of the event.
The three young men, Marco, Brandon and Lito were considerably better equipped. Each wore a decent leather jerkin for protection and a grey-green travelling cloak. They each had a knife on their belts as well. Lito carried a old mahogany shortbow that he swore was a family heirloom from the Hobgoblin Wars of ‘23, and wore a motheaten quiver of arrows that looked like they were about the same age. Their “equipment” had been miraculously compressed into a backpack apiece.
Murdoch wore his chainmail and his traditional green military gear.
“Thought soldiers never wore skirts,” said Willowtree, her eyes twinkling.
“Thought you’d ride a unicorn, Elf,” grumped Murdoch in reply, “And it is not a skirt; it’s a kilt.”
“Well, sir, I’m only half-Elf, so a whitish horse will have to do.” Willowtree’s canine friend was sitting in the shade of a large tree along the avenue that ran through Hell’s Purchase some distance away. It kept its eyes on its master protectively.
Joffrey Marcus thrust his way easily through those assembled with his broad shoulders, making way for a second person.
“Good morning to you all!” he said cheerfully. A man in a foppish hat with a jaunty white feather stuck in it stepped out of the crowd behind him. “This is my friend Karza. He’s on his way out of town anyhow, and he’s invited himself along for the journey.”
“That’s the Baron Karza,” he pointed out testily, sweeping his hat off and performing a graceful bow in the direction of the Dwarf, “I need protection from the thieves and brigands who wish to make off with the riches that I carry.”
“Yes well anyway,” smiled Marcus, “I’m about ready. Ah, yes…wait one moment.” He turned and thrust his way back through the crowd again.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintences,” said the Baron, smoothly making his way for the keg and pouring himself a flagon.
“Wow! A real Baron!” said Lito to his friends.
“I think this is going to be pretty exciting,” replied Marco.
“My head hurts,” said Brandon, receiving a sympathetic look from Willowtree.
Marcus returned leading two strong horses loaded with gear. Murdoch took one look at the mass of items strapped to the two mounts and groaned. “I hate travelling with Joffrey,” he muttered.
Marcus unstrapped a trio of shortswords from his steed’s saddle and handed one to each of the young men. “There’s no use adventuring without a bit of steel for good luck. May the great Goibhnie keep your blades sharp and true.” Marco and Lito took their presents with wide eyes, and strapped them on under their cloaks awkwardly. Brandon hesitated, then took his and tied it on to his saddle. They thanked him.
“Alright, alright,” grumbled Murdoch, refilling his mug at the tap, “Who are we waiting for now?”
“Good things come to those who wait,” grinned the Dwarf, who was behind him in the line for the beer. Marisa had reappeared, this time in a rather provocative dress, and was again trying to persuade Lito not to leave her in a piteous voice.
“I hope we don’t have to wait too long,” said Marcus, switching his empty mug for Sean’s newly refilled one. Willowtree smiled and watched the Baron throw copper pieces to the children.

…to be continued…?


Posted: August 8, 1993 in Writing
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Leopold sat on the steps of the 3 story apartment building with a paper bag between his knees. He was wearing a torn red flannel shirt that draped over it, so it was a little bit hidden. It looked like there was a sandwich in it. I sat across the street on my fire escape in the hot shade with a sketchbook and drew him.
“Leopold!” yelled a woman from inside the apartment building. He didn’t answer. She screamed again and he didn’t even react. I squinted through the shimmers of the sunlight cracking the pavement and decided that Leopold was drunk. I drew some lines around his eyes and turned his mouth down at one corner. That made the drawing look more like Leopold. Maybe I could sell it for a few bucks to his old lady to get a bottle of 7-Up.
Two other tenants walked up to Leopold. They had come back from the corner store. One of them, a fat Mexican man everyone called Tio Ramon shoved a bottle of wine in Leopold’s hand and told him to drink up.
“You’ll get better!” he guffawed, then tore the wine out of Leopold’s hand and drank some, red liquid spilling down his chin and making dark spots on the cement. Leopold didn’t move much; once he looked up at the other man whom I didn’t recognize for a moment, then went back to staring at some point on my apartment building.
The man I didn’t know leaned on his cane. It was a black lacquered cane with about the last six inches of it painted white and it looked like his prize possession – he leaned down with his other hand and patted Leopold gently on the head, then turned and started walking into the courtyard. Tio Ramon shouted some filthy Spanish into Leopold’s ear and walked after him.
Leopold sat there, quite nicely for another fifteen minutes, then, as I was drawing the trash cans to the right of the steps, he got up very slowly. I glanced over the top of my sketchbook and watched him pick up his paper bag carefully by the bottom and walk around the corner down the alley towards Giuseppi’s, which started serving cheap keg beer about this time.
I finished the trash cans and thought about putting a cat in by Leopold’s feet to make him look a little less sad when I heard a single gunshot tear around the corner and sing Hallelujah to the rest of San Diego.

Rumble’s Cavern

Posted: August 1, 1993 in Writing
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After one great adventure, Rumble the good-natured half-Ogre decided to leave the life of a mercenary and become a businessOgre. He had enjoyed swinging his oversized weapons to save the kidnapped daughter of a Duke, but he was really in search of something else. And he hadn’t found it sliding down secret traps into spike-filled pits.
Upon presentation of the stolen princess or whatever she was, everyone had been awarded riches and presents. Even Rumble, as he admitted himself, who had been the butt of many insensitive Ogre or “half-breed” jokes all of his life out of fear of his size, strength and heritage, was awarded the same as his other companions. As his friends decided to pursue adventure and danger and riches, Rumble invested his money elsewhere. The big city he had come to was a far call from the small port of Nazbo back in Orcland where he had originally set sail for adventure. This menagerie was teeming with all sorts of humans and demi-humans with half-Orcs the most populous of the humanoid peoples. His half-Ogre bulk made it difficult for Rumble to get about without attracting stares, so he quickly went about his business and signed up to crew a ship leaving for home.
While in the bustling city of Chigoca, Rumble sought out a Sage of no little repute, who had a great knowledge of unusual things and was reputed to have the ability to blow smoke rings in different colors. Rumble was fond of smoking tobacco, a habit he had picked up during a week-long stay with the Halflings who had rescued him from being lost in Lurkwood, but had never been able to blow a smoke ring. Rumble had tarried with the Hobbits for a week, performing voluntary labors in thanks for his timely rescue from a spider of extraordinary size who had caught him in a well spun lasso of silk. Cutting him free in the nick of time were a pair of Halfling woodspeople, Nicholas and Anatina Merryfoot, who proceeded to help Rumble dispatch the bloated purple arachnid and then lead him out of the forest to their secluded and hedge-encircled town. After a week’s visit, Rumble was fondly attached to his small friends, and in bidding each other farewell, Rumble left his rescuers with a bone totem of his father’s which would be significant in bargaining with the local Ogre Stonethrower Union, and Nick and Tina gave him a furred tobacco pouch and a feathered oak and brier pipe, carved with big people dancing with little people, tailored to his respectable size. Rumble also recieved a half-pound of fresh tobacco and enough seed to grow his own patch. After this strange and happily-ending encounter, Rumble made his way by foot to Barrelton, and then sat smoking on the edge of a raft with his large feet in the water until he reached Walpurgis, where he walked to Nazbo and thence sailed into a short career adventuring.
After the rescuing-the-Duchess business, Rumble found himself running out of tobacco. The Halflings had an undiscovered luxury in a long cut and unique cavendish tobacco; the coarse and unrefined burleys that were available in Chigoca were not to Rumble’s liking. He quickly learned that the Halflings’ cavendish was much more potent and mellow, whereas the port’s tobacco was almost uncivilized. Wherever he went and smoked, soon a few dignified people would overcome their racist disgust and inquire about the beautiful aroma that arose from his pipe. Rumble was always as friendly as he could be; after all, his purse had been stolen or cut four times in the city, and would let his audience pass his pipe around and try some of the Halfling blend. Many offered to purchase his tobacco, but Rumble always declined; after his adventuring, he was well-off anyways and didn’t want to sell any of his gifts from his friends Nicholas and Anatina.
Inquiring at the door of a large basalt tower in the midst of a well-kept garden, Rumble was ushered into a small antechamber to await the arrival of the Sage. After a few minutes, he arrived in person. Balding, yet with a full grey beard, the Sage was dressed in flowing grey and white robes and carried a tablet of fine paper, an inkwell, and a white-plumed quill.
“I have yet to actually meet a half-Ogre,” the Sage said affably, sticking out his hand, “I hear that you require my services, and I decided to put off some of my studies in order to hear about your concerns.” Rumble hastily rose and bowed uncomfortably, then gingerly shook the old Sage’s hand.
“Thank you, your majesty,” Rumble didn’t know how to address a person of such magnitude.
“Oh, bosh!” said the Sage good-naturedly, “I saw you admiring my gardens and you looked intriguing. Being a Sage pays well but can be extremely dull. What can I help you with?”
“Well, your holiness,” started Rumble, “I would like to know more about smoking a pipe and growing tobacco.” The Sage lifted a grey eyebrow, and several blue twinkles escaped and dropped on to the rich carpet.
“Yes,” said the Sage, “I smoke a pipe upon occasion. Go on.” Rumble proceeded to tell him the story of how he was lost in Lurkwood and saved by the Merryfeet and came to smoke a pipe through the Halflings of Orcland. “And I haven’t been able to find any other tobacco quite as pleasent to enjoy in my pipe,” finished Rumble lamely.
“But you stated that you had seeds to grow your own tobacco,” reminded the Sage.
“But I’m frightened to plant them,” said Rumble, “I’ve never farmed before – all I’ve been told I’m good at is fighting.”
“Ah, now that,” intoned the Sage, “is complete nonsense. I can tell you many tricks about farming and the tending of plant life and will be happy to do so. But first I ask a favor of you, Mister Rumble.”
“You can just call me Rumble,” the half-Ogre said shyly, “I’ll give you all the money I have if you want.”
“No, no, my boy!” laughed the Sage, “No, nothing like that. I have enjoyed just listening to you and studying a half-Ogre up close. And I must say that you are much more pleasent to speak with than most of my snobbishly rich clients anyhow.
“No, the favor I ask for is a bowl of this Halfling cavendish that you have made my mouth water with in your descriptions.” Rumble was taken by surprise; he hadn’t been expecting this, but he knew he should have been. After all, the Sage had said that he smoked a pipe now and then.
“Of course, your lordship,” said Rumble, hesitantly bringing out the last of his tobacco.
“Stop with that ‘lordship, holiness, majesty’ crap, Rumble,” laughed the Sage again, losing a few more twinkles which flew about his head for a few seconds, “I only yesterday entertained a man who offered me a good sum of money to find out where a certain half-Ogre obtained his wondrous tobacco. I can only assume he meant you. Of course, I don’t do detective work like that and refused him; you paying me a visit is just another humorous coincidence that I’m sure I will fondly recall in the years to come. Now, pass me that golden Hobbit cavendish!”
Rumble peered into his tobacco pouch, which was more like a normal man’s satchel, and sighed. His last bowl. But if the Sage would tell him how to grow what he had, then he could be happy, and live a peaceful life as a tobacco farmer. He passed the bag carefully to the Sage, who looked into it and then at Rumble.
“Judging by the size of your pipe, this is your last bowl, son,” said the Sage slowly, “I won’t take your last bit of tobacco.”
“No, please, go ahead,” said the half-Ogre, “I’d just like to learn to grow the seeds as best as I can so that I can have my own Halfling cavendish to smoke and share with other pipe smokers.”
Looking out from under his craggy brows, the Sage looked quizzically at Rumble, and then deftly packed himself a small bowl of Halfling tobacco in a long-stemmed platinum pipe that he had shaken out of his voluminous sleeve.
“Thank you very much, Sir Rumble,” said the Sage gratefully, firing his pipe with a aimless wave of his hand. Handing the pouch back to Rumble, who found he had most of his last bowl remaining, the Sage sat back in his high-backed armchair and puffed.
The Sage raised an eyebrow, then the other one came up to meet it. He readjusted himself a little lower in his armchair. He put his feet on the coffee table. His eyes shot little fireworks of blue surprised twinkles that lazily fell like feathers into the valley of his white robes between his legs and stayed there, dancing little jigs. The Sage smoked in silence for ten minutes; Rumble patiently waited, though his back was beginning to hurt from sitting straight up for so long. Then the Sage knocked his pipe out on the sole of his shoe and conjured up a little whisk broom and dustpan to clean it up.
“This is amazing. I have smoked everything available on this continent and three or four imported aromatics, not to mention my share of fascinating substances and magickal reagents, and nothing is as purely enjoyable as this Halfling stuff,” he whistled, “You’re wishing to grow this stuff?”
“Yes,” answered Rumble simply.
“Well then, Rumble,” said the Sage as he stood up, swirling his robes around him as Sages do, “Let us take a walk in my garden and discuss the nurturing and growing of plants. Especially tobacco plants.”
For a week, Rumble and the Sage researched and spoke and talked. Rumble tried many of the special tobaccos that the Sage had tried and agreed that the Halfling cavendish was by far the mellowest and most relaxing. They discovered that tobacco was unusually resistant to duplication spells and other magicks of that sort, and on the sixth day, the Sage called upon the Grand Druid of Wolvesbane Forest through his magickal apparatus, and spoke at length with him. The Grand Druid also sampled a small amount of the Halfling tobacco, and proclaimed it another miracle of Nature. After the week was up, the Sage came to Rumble and spoke of an answer.
“Between the Druid and I, we have researched many ways to insure your tobacco crop,” started the Sage.”I have placed a short piece of advice on each of the pages of this book…”
“But I can’t read!” stammered Rumble.
“Don’t worry; they’ll speak to you,” replied the Sage testily, “Anyways, there is your research. And there will be no cost for you to pay except for the generosity which you have already demonstrated.” Rumble stood waiting.
“Of course, Rumble,” said the Sage gently, “You know how I love my gardens.”
Picking five seeds out of the secret pocket of his now empty tobacco bag, he handed them to the Sage and shook his hand gingerly again.
“Thank you very much!” Rumble said as he turned and made his way out of the lush gardens, through the stony gates and to the wharf to find passage back to Orcland.

* * * * *

Hiking north from the Keep at Gronk towards Noland, Rumble stopped at a small wooden homestead where Grizzle Road meets the north-south Madonna Road.
“Howdy, stranger!” said a man in leather overalls from the porch. He was in his early thirties and had pleasant crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes. He introduced a woman sitting next to him. “This here’s my lovely wife, Rebecca. Do we have any coffee left?” he asked her.
“I’ll go see, sugar,” she said, getting up and disappearing inside.
“Hello, sir,” said Rumble.
“My you’re a big guy,” said the man, walking down the steps towards him, “Might I ask who and, sorry about this, what you are?”
“Of course,” said Rumble, who was used to explaining his size, “My name is Rumble, and I’m part Ogre.”
“Well, now; that expains a lot. Care to have a cup of coffee?” The man walked up and shook his hand warmly. “ “Becca’s always got coffee on. My name’s Rump. I’ve opened a sort of stopping place – a general store, you see. I figure that there should be a town around here sometime soon, this being halfway between Gronk and Tadox, which is just a speck in the eye of the Maker, anyhow. Where’re you travelling to, Rumble?”
“I’m looking for a place to plant some crops,” said Rumble a little bit guardedly.
“Well, I don’t want to make you stop here, but there’s a pretty patch of land just up beyond the circle of the two roads, over yonder past those big trees you might want to look at,” Rump pointed up the road about 400 yards, “There’s a little spring right past those trees on the grassland side, and a gentle valley that gets good sun all day.” Rebecca came out with three cups of coffee and they stood in the road in the late morning, talking.
After a while, Rumble said he would go look at the land; he was tired from a long journey, and had had a bad experience in Paddywak with a gang of brigands. Rump and Rebecca were sympathetic, and they told him he could leave his belongings at the house while he traipsed around.
The trees that Rump had pointed out were huge; they were all massive oak trees with great histories enscribed in their bark and in the boles of lost limbs. The spring Rump mentions sprang from the roots of one of the great trees and bounced merrily down through the grassy slopes into one of the many small riverbeds in the mild rolling fields of the Jumpback Grasslands. Sitting down in the shade of one of the oaks, Rumble took out his tobacco pouch, which now held the book the Sage had given him. He opened it up and leafed through the pages to the section on proper land. He held the book up to the scenic view of the valley, and it exclaimed immediately: “Perfect!”

The Decay of a Cartoon

Posted: July 28, 1993 in Poetry
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The poet sojourns
to the real world,
concerned with education and finances,
too busy with real matters
to watch his own walk
like a bluejay on a telephone line
assuming it is his,
too bust to enjoy
the glances at his jester clashed clothing
and his odd squatting posture,
recounting endless stories
of dubious origin.
The decay of a cartoon
into another weary act of flesh and blood
is done through weight,
burdens of soggy peat responsibility
and the yokes of limiting your own strength.

I fell from 20 feet up, from a tree branch
and I landed on my head;
when I should have been dead,
(I was 10)
I walked into the house
to bandage my gashes
so that Mom wouldn’t worry about me.

I tell myself I can’t do that now
because my weight has quadrupled
from all of these woes I balance on my nose
trying to smile around them
everyday at other people,
and their circus tricks;
jugglers and mimes and tightrope walkers,
sometimes the fear of falling shows as plain as day.
It’s getting heavier and higher and
we’re all being thrown more things to juggle.
So if I fell from that tree
would I end up worrying so much on the way down
that I’d break my neck?
Or could I bounce like the balls I juggle?

The Memory Tree

Posted: June 14, 1993 in Poetry
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I don’t have very many pictures of my life;
no cute heart frames around me and my brother,
no portraits capturing me with any of my friends
so I can reminisce about them.
nothing but my memory is left
of the times I’ve spent with some of them
whom I remember but have no proof
that I knew them at all
except for a story or two I’ll tell too tall
and sometimes that is enough
when I’m in good form mnemonically
and I can picture my pictures easily
on my eyelids when they’re closed,
when I’m quiet and smiling a little
about some shenanigans with a figure from the past
who’s bigger than Abe Lincoln to me
or George Washington and his cherry tree
because he or she hails from my history.
I’ll remember them all when I have the time
just to stay put and write,
whittling my own likenesses of them out of paper
and colored ink; phrases and expressions
that I stole from each one of them
in order for me to memorize them;
it’s something I’m looking forward to doing later.

Scorpions from Sedona

Posted: May 2, 1993 in Writing
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I was sitting halfway up on the bank of Oak Creek, on a steep slope of crumbled orangish rocks. I threw these Arizona rocks in long arcs above the tops of the trees along the riverbed. They would drift lazily in the air until they decided to plummet through the foliage with the sound of rustling newspapers and plunk into the shady water, sometimes where I could see a little plume. I could hear the rocks fall deep, and I listened to the hiss of the water as it fell back on to itself. The ripples spread out in circles under the leafy branches.
I had disappeared on my parents; I was starting to get sick of them on this vacation. The guy behind the counter of the Oak Creek Liquor and Deli grinned at me when I put a five dollar bill on the counter next to a 40 oz Mickey’s. He took all my money and didn’t say a word.
I had to clear a little level place in the hillside for my bottle so it wouldn’t tip over, and I threw rocks into the river and drank my beer in the late afternoon sun. I thought about girls back home and how I couldn’t seem to talk to them very well. There was a girl in the liquor store who winked at me and she was really cute in faded cutoffs and a red flannel shirt, probably two or three years older than me and I could still feel the flush on the back of my neck that wasn’t all sunburn.
Picking up rocks and throwing them through the trees into the river helped a little with my sour mood and the prospect of four more days trooping around in Arizona without an escape from my parents. Each stone seemed to carry a little weight from my shoulders. My hands were caked with a thin layer of earth from the rocks and dust sticking to the water condensing from the beer bottle when I picked it up. The beer didn’t really taste that good, but it was cold, and it was alcohol, and all of my friends back home drank Mickey’s, so I did too.
As I picked up another rock, I glanced at it to see which way would be the best way to hold it in order to make it to the water, and there was a little brown and yellow scorpion poised on it. For one long moment I studied it, my face no more than a foot from it; it was exactly like the ones they had in the tourist souvenir selection in the motel lobby frozen in some sort of plastic to make a wonderful eye-catching paperweight. Mom had purchased one for me yesterday. And here, virtually in my hand, was the real thing.
I flung the rock away from me with a quick gesture and scrambled to my feet on the shifting slope, knocking over my carefully ensconced beer to clatter down the slope and into the river. Throwing rocks through the trees into the water no longer appealed to me with the same casualness. I turned and struggled up to the edge of the road that led down to the motel and put my hands in my pockets. The girl in the cutoffs gave me a ride back in her jeep after I had walked a third of the way there.

a boy with a stick
thinks it’s a fishing pole
and can catch fish in a puddle.
this same boy
wields that stick
as a keen cutlass
fighting his monsters.

in childhood, a boy
finds a swing as a jet plane,
a few trees as a forest,
a soccer ball as a championship game,
a jungle gym as a spaceship,
a frog or a spider a best friend,
a good story as a previous lifetime.

my imagination
used to make what I had
into treasures,
and now my treasures are memories of my imagination,
and all I have.

Bishop Speaks Only in Riddles

Posted: November 30, 1992 in Poetry
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What secrets do I have hid up my sleeve
For careless players thinking it’s a game?
I warn them that it’s easy not to grieve
When their persona is alive and sane.
Nightmare of sewers made of rotting flesh,
The ever present threat: Nathaniel’s ghouls;
These horrors from the past, they still impress,
But blind the future to these witless fools.
Your characters will come and go my dears;
They never perish like the one before.
Just tally up your growing list of fears;
The ones that really scare you to the core.
And every time you think the story ends,
I’ll introduce one more of many friends.

The Maker of Myths

Posted: November 26, 1992 in Poetry
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“Had he no staff? Then with a dream-thread he held
the illusion. Breathing, he held it; the void, the illusion,
and felt for its earth. There was nothing to feel:
‘I shall gather the void’. He felt, but there was nothing.”
-Uitoto Indian Myth from The Red Swan

He had questions, and thoughts
About feeling nothing but the void,
Wishing for earth to stand on;
Dreaming of thread to hold the illusions
Of nothing, of the void.

Weave the earth from dream-thread
And the illusion of the void.
Where there was nothing,
There is now earth.
Gather the void into itself,
Into the crook of your arm,
Into the fold of your dress,
Also made of dream-thread.
All of you, made of earth.

“Now in the underworld, thinking and thinking,
the maker of myths permitted this story to come into being.”

Story Book

Posted: September 27, 1990 in Poetry
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books, covers grinning with coveted secrets,
stacks upon stacks, grey bricks of a castle,
dusty pages of knowledge untold and ancient,
stories of old; phantoms, dragons, angels, devils,
crumbling parchment, yellowed edges
on bookshelves in unused closets,
writing themselves in the dark basement of the library.