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Happy New B’ak’tun!

Posted: December 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Hope your 13.0.0.0.0 is as eventful as your 12.0.0.0.0.

~ Ian

Happy All Hallow’s Eve, everyone!

Or actually, it isn’t really Halloween while I’m writing this. In actuality, I am writing this at 7:43 PM on October 30, a time that many of you may know as THE PAST. But, through the magic of WordPress’s “Schedule” option, I’m making this entry post automatically when it reaches noon on October thirty-first!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(that was a ghost sound, not a party sound, by the way)

For this edition of CWW, we have yet another poem. This isn’t any ordinary poem, though. A couple weeks ago, I was thinking about a special poem to post on Axolotl Ceviche on Halloween, and I started thinking about what the creepiest form of poetry is. And once I considered the answer, it was obvious:

Children’s skipping rhymes.

Seriously. Picture it. You’re all alone in a creaky old house. Night has fallen, and a chill mist blows in from the moors. The house is dark, and as you head up to bed, you hear it: the tinkling sound of a girl’s laughter. Unsettled, you tell yourself it was just a trick of the wind, and then you see her: a little girl, dressed in a pretty blue pinafore, her face shrouded in shadow. In a voice like the tinkle of windchimes, she recites:

Ring-around-the-rosey, 

Pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall DOWN!

As she says the last word, a flash of lightning illuminates her face, and you can see that she has no eyes…

If that didn’t wig you, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, I wrote a creepy children’s skipping rhyme. And then, because the rhyme itself suggested a whole rich history, I decided that I’d write some of that history up, creating a fictional explanation for the fictional rhyme.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Wherever you are, may your night be filled with tricks and candy, and may shadows always cross your path.

~ Ian

 

Ten little girls walked out of town, 

One little girl went tumbling down. 

 

Nine little girls went out at night, 

One little girl didn’t feel quite right.

 

Eight little girls went looking for eggs, 

One little girl had broke her leg. 

 

Seven little girls stood on their heads, 

One little girl just woke up dead. 

 

Six little girls squished through the mud, 

One little girl got covered in blood. 

 

Five little girls would dance and shout, 

One little girl couldn’t find the way out. 

 

Four little girls cried out for their mum, 

One little girl was just struck dumb. 

 

Three little girls played silly games, 

One little girl got caught in the flames. 

 

Two little girls flew through the sky, 

One little girl caught the Devil’s eye. 

 

One little girl went and cried for help, 

One little girl was burned in Hell. 

 

No little girls came back that day, 

Wonder what their mother will say?

 

Ten little girls walked out of town,

and ten little girls went tumbling down. 

 

The preceding children’s rhyme is dated as having originated around the year 1705, possibly in Philadelphia (it was certainly common by 1790, when British folklorists Wycombe and Tully, in their first trip to the new United States, recorded it being sung by children in Newton, Massachusetts, and a Georgia lawyer and slaveowner Geoffrey MacAnder noted in his diary a variation of the rhyme “which a Negro girl learned me as a boy”. It spread to England in the 19th century, and has been a popular skipping rhyme for generations, common up until the 1940s.

Like many children’s rhymes, it is claimed that the rhyme is based on historical events (such as the oft-cited and possibly spurious claim that “Ring Around the Rosie” dates back to the Black Death). However, as far as I can tell, the rhyme is based on a very old story: that of the Maids of Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury, New York, was a village of about five hundred inhabitants located on the Hudson river, near the location of Poughkeepsie. In the year 1684, eight full years before the Salem Witch Trials, the people of neighboring villages reported that several young women between the ages of twelve and seventeen (the accounts differ as to the number, although it is usually given between five and fourteen) were running naked through the woods, cavorting with Indians and making noises like animals. The men of Shrewsbury, fearing witchcraft, allegedly locked the girls up in a cellar. However, shortly after midnight on the night of Saturday, August 16, 1684, neighboring villages saw a number of “huge winged beasts” rising from above Shrewsbury, which “screamed like women”. These beasts took off in all directions. Shortly after this, at around 3 0‘clock in the morning, there were a number of bright flashes from above Shrewsbury, visible for twenty leagues around, which looked like “colored lightning”, in the words of the contemporary minister from Kingston. The next morning, when a number of locals visited Shrewsbury, found that the village had disappeared– not burned to the ground or destroyed, but simply vanished, as if it had never been there. The visitors found a number of burned, dismembered female bodies in the nearby woods. For years to come, it was believed that the area where Shrewsbury had disappeared was haunted. Reportedly, the same phenomenon of “colored lightning” has occurred on the night of August 16 several times in the same part of New York, the most recent in 1891.

Whether the story of the Maids of Shrewsbury is true or not is not for a historian such as myself to decide. However, it is known that the vanishing of Shrewsbury was a key influence on the town fathers of Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch trials, and perhaps began the witch-burning craze in America during the late 17th century.

(from Marcus Amesbury’s Life in the Colonial Hudson Valley, 1967)

It’s getting to be Halloween, that time of the year when identity goes out the window, when our darkest subconscious urges come to the fore and we are released from mundane life for a while, and for one night, we revel…

Halloween is my favorite holiday, as you may have guessed.

A few weeks ago, I sent a ghost story in to a contest that Patrick Rothfuss was judging. If I’d won the contest, I would have my story read on the public radio. In Wisconsin.

Don’t question the logic of my entering. It made sense at the time.

Sadly, my story didn’t win, but I still feel like sharing it. So, here it is: “Songs of the Lost”. My flash-fiction space-opera ghost story.

~ Ian

Songs of the Lost

Ian Johnson

When I was a child, my grampa and I would sit in the fields outside our cabin and watch the rockets take off from the launchpad down in the valley. I always liked watching them, thinking about where they were going: to Alpha C, or Niobe, or Terra, or Väinämöinen, or even the Outer Worlds. I wondered what wonders they’d see, what passengers they were carrying, if they would be lost in transition between the stars, like so many other ships had been in the past.

One day, when I was eleven, my grampa asked me an unusual question.

“Can you hear them?” he said. “The ghosts?”

“What are you talking about, grampa?”

He smiled, placing his broad leathery hand on my cheek. “No, I guess you wouldn’t.  You’re young. But me…” My grampa looked off into the distance, off towards the jagged mountains red with alien vegetation. “When I was a kid, and folks first came out here, this world was already occupied. Not by people, y’hear. But by strange creatures, tall and hairy: peaceable enough, if you were on their good side.”

He paused, took a long drag on his cigarette.

“But we weren’t on their good side, boy. They took a dislike to us when we first came here. Tore through our settlements somethin’ fierce, I tell you. They had four arms, and when they grabbed hold of you, they’d rip you to little bitty pieces…”

My grampa smiled his crooked, rakish grin. “But that’s not for young ears to hear,” he said. “To make a long story short, I joined the Earthling Defense Unit. And we made sure that they wasn’t going to bother us no more. Not a single one of them still walks on this world. Not anymore.”

My grampa gestured, cigarette in hand, its burning orange tip cutting a wide arc through the air. “But even though they’re all gone, the old folks like me who remember them… when the wind is right, I can hear them, still echoing through the hills. That’s how they talked to each other, boy. They would make the most beautiful, howling music that would freeze you where you stood with fear and awe. Like wolves, only lower, and sadder.

“I know there ain’t any of them left to walk this world. But I still hear ‘em. In my gut, I can hear the music they make. When the suns go down in the east, that’s when I hear the ghosts. Calling to each other. Mourning the loss of their world.”

My grampa had a stroke and died three months later. I’d always thought that there’d been something wrong in his brain, that the songs had been his breaking-down brain imagining sounds that nobody had heard in decades.

But I’m an old man now, and the red-forested mountains have been strip-mined away to nothing. Even so, when the wind is right, just after the suns have set, I can hear them far away, howling, mourning.

And when I see a rocket lift off, a red-orange flower of fire as it flies into the black, I think of my grampa, and the times we had, in the fields outside our old cabin.

I am no traveler. But I have heard the stories from those who are, and what they say is this:

At the forty-ninth parallel, there is a veil of mist that extends from ocean to ocean. This veil cannot be penetrated by mere mortals. Those who try to pass through it find that no matter how far they penetrate the mist, they become lost in a maze of shadows and fog. They cannot find the way out. There is no way out. And the longer they remain beyond the mist, they grow colder and grayer and eventually fade into nothing, into mere fog-wraiths, without ever seeing the sun again.

Nobody goes north of this barrier. Nobody can go there. Armies have marched through the mist, and disappeared forever.

Some say that the mist marks the north end of the world. Some say that there is nothing beyond this place.

But then, on one day every year, the veil of mist parts. On the first day of the seventh month (or on the second day, if the first day falls on a Sunday), the veil of mist parts, and we southrons are permitted to pass beyond.

I have never seen the land beyond the mist. But I have spoken with those who have gone beyond, and this is what they say:

They tell of a country made entirely of ice. They tell of a land forever bound in snow, from the gently-lapping salt sea to the peaks of the highest mountains at the backbone of the continent. It is a cold land, and a savage one, but beautiful still, shining white and brilliant beneath the ever-burning midnight sun and the eerie green glow of the aurora.

Those who have gone beyond the veil tell of a queen that lives in this country, a lady both beautiful and terrible. She travels the snow-bound country in a sled made of hoarfrost and icicles, pulled by a team of thirteen white bears. Wherever she goes, she is accompanied by a procession of knights, wearing surcoats of red, mounted on the finest of steeds. Her rage is the frozen anger of a blizzard; her smile is the promise of spring. She crosses the country, dispensing justice, for she is a wise and stern ruler, and all love her and despair. It is said that her face gazes balefully out from their currency, which shines with all the colors of the rainbow.

I have also heard tell, from those who have gone north of North, that the warriors in this country wear bladed shoes, and they challenge each other in grand arenas of ice, and their tourneys are the delight of all the people who live there. I have heard that their healers are noble and just, and that they will not refuse a patient for lack of money, for it is said that among those who walk in the snow-country believe that healing is a duty, not a whim. I have heard of the birds and the beasts that live beyond the veil, the mighty grizzled bears and the giant hornèd deer, the fearsome direwolves and the golden-voiced swans that howl and sing all the night and day.

I have heard tell of this land, even here in my southern home, so close to the sun, so far from the cold. And though I may never look on the face of the ice-queen, or see the knife-soled warriors jousting on pitches of ice, or hear the call of the loon so mournful in the frigid night air, I can still dream.

And I do dream.

It is my fondest wish that one day I see this place. One day, I hope to pass beyond the veil. And though I do not know if I ever will go that way, if my restless feet shall ever take me to the far North of the world, I still wonder.

And thus it is that I am given hope.

Happy Canada Day.

~ Ian

Well, people, today is Leap Day, so named because it is the day when, every four years, the earth’s gravity decreases by one-half, allowing us to take massive leaps like we never possibly could have any other day in the year…

…or something like that.

I don’t actually know.

In any case, since I was a little bit bored a couple nights ago, my mind was wandering– you know, like it does– and I somehow came up with the first line of this stupid poem. That is also a folk song. About Leap Day.

It makes no sense whatsoever.

Please note, the nonsense words in this poem have no translation. This is not “Jabberwocky”. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out what the hell they mean, exactly.

~ Ian

 

Leap Day

 

I went out a-riding on Leap Day

to nobblify my gorblemeep.

When who did I spy out a-walking

but a bogglious boy with a sheep?

I said to the boy, “Good day, son”,

to the sheep, “How do you do,”

and I said “Do you know how to get to

the town of Cobble Caloo?”

 

Said he:

 

“You go past the oogle and under the moogle

And right round the joggily jee.

You make ixlings behind the old mill-pond,

Are you sure that you understand me?

You framtify your gillgaloney,

You dorgle your chomble and spong.

You imble and amble your umbler.

I tell you, I steer you not wrong.”

 

Said I to the boy, “Thank you muchly,”

and I said to the sheep, “Fare thee well.”

and I rode past the spingle and thutchly,

and I passed the orgullic gram pell.

When I found that my mind it had wandered,

and my path it had gone all awry.

So I asked a young man for directions,

for he looked like a pretty smart guy.

 

Said he:

 

“You go past the oogle and under the moogle

And right round the joggily jee.

You make ixlings behind the old mill-pond,

Are you sure that you understand me?

You framtify your gillgaloney,

You dorgle your chomble and spong.

You imble and amble your umbler.

I tell you, I steer you not wrong.”

 

When I came to the cobbulous village,

I spied a young maiden quite fair.

She had long shiny teeth and a top hat,

and gleep-flowers grew in her hair.

I lay her down under the bong tree,

and she zimbled and quorkled my spling.

“Oh, wompluck my shorble,” I cried out,

“Droobquay and zorbuck my thing!”

 

Cried she:

 

“Oh, please yorgrick my steeble and shadrick,

gumble my trooblious fwees!

Quockle my torbulent pimbo!”

Said I, “I’ll do what you please.”

So we passed a long while ‘neath the bong tree,

as she cried out, “Quip quip quooray!”

Although winter had not quite furmuckled,

it was just like the First of May!

 

FIN

Well, it’s Wednesday again. Time to shit something out show you examples of my creative bounty.

First of all, I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. In fact, I’m not much of a fan of romance in general. I feel like society keeps pushing this idea that “either your love is PURE and PERFECT and ETERNAL, or you are a HORRIBLE PERSON and YOU DON’T DESERVE TO BE HAPPY”. Furthermore, it always seems like the only way to show your beloved that you care about them is by buying them sentimental, useless crap. The way to pure happiness is through things. Buy your lover some expensive chocolates– she deserves it. Diamonds are forever. Every kiss begins with Kay.

So yeah. Valentine’s Day is essentially bullshit. It’s a horrible facade of a holiday, and I want nothing to do with it. We don’t need a goddamn holiday to show our significant others that we love them. We should show them we love them by, you know, loving them. Every day, not just on a societally-sanctioned romance-fest.

So, for Creative Writing Wednesday, I made a poem that shows the darker side of romance. How it isn’t always a pure, magical thing. How it gets under your skin, and hurts, and leaves you feeling broken and alone.

The poem’s pretty crappy, honestly. I wrote it when I was still waking up yesterday. But it has to do with romance, so think of it as a special edition of Creative Writing Wednesday.

~ Ian

 

See You In Hell

A long lingering glance

A fumbled conversation

An exchange of phone numbers

A lovestruck situation

Three dinner dates

One action movie

A tumble under the sheets

Everything’s feeling groovy

Tension mounts and builds

A couple small mistakes

An angry accusation

A bleeding heart that breaks

A dozen shots of gin

A head ringing like a bell

A heart that’s just a scab

And I’ll see you in hell

Yeah, I’ll see you in hell

Friend of Axolotl Ceviche, Blake Hihara, just sent me a link to a blog post entitled “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing”. It’s a pretty good article, too! If you’re a writer, you should probably take a look at it.

Here you go.

And, by the way, happy MLK day for those of you in the US, and happy Monday to those of you who aren’t.

~ Ian