Friday, December 30, 2011

Answering questions the fun way...

Sometimes I get in an impish mood (okay--pretty much most of the time).

It's fun to answer someone's question, and only the question they ask--not the one they meant to ask.

For example:
When someone I don't know calls me on the phone and says, "Is Dave there?"
I say, "Yes."
Then I hang up the phone.

Tonight someone said, "Could you give these people directions to the hotel?"
I said, "Sure! I could..."

The other day a lady asked me: "Do you know where the bathrooms are?'
"Yes, ma'am. I do."

I'm small, but I know when to run!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quilt Completed! We'll enjoy it for years.

 I thought I'd share a few photos of the quilt I made my wife for Christmas. The quilt is actually for a queen size bed, but I put it on the twin bed in our guest room because the lighting was better for photos. Trust me...this bad boy will be on our bed for years. Under it will be other quilts I've made, but this one will be on top unless it's in the washing machine or dryer, or I feel like seeing some other quilt when I open my eyes in the morning.
I started making quilts years ago, after getting bored at my mother-in-law's house. My mother-in-law taught me some of the basics of quilting, and I put the lessons to use shortly after that.

This quilt is made from one big hunk of fabric, and the lines you see are created by small stitches. A good quilter makes small, even stitches. I'm pleased to say I manage 7-8 stitches to the inch, and they're uniform in size. Most quilters will tell you that even stitches are the goal and that the number per inch doesn't matter much. I'd agree, but only in part. I like the way small stitches make the detail "pop."
Every line on this quilt is made by hand-stitching. My hands hurt a bit from all the stitching. A month and a half ago I got the idea that I would finish this quilt in time for Christmas. I did, but it involved a Herculean effort of 4-6 hours a day of stitching by hand. I used sports cream when my hands got sore, and it'll be a while before I can shake hands without pain.
It was worth the effort when she opened it and we put it on our bed.
Here's the story behind the quilt: 
When I took a job in Cleveland in 2003, my wife stayed behind in Wisconsin to finish out the school year. She's a teacher and we always said that if we moved during a school year, she would stay behind to finish it. I admire that, and that's what we did when I moved to Cleveland.  I lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment for a couple of months, and I got bored. I ordered a kit that included a top with blue lines (they washed out) and was intimidated when I saw how many blue lines I would have to quilt over to make this thing. I started it, got the center medallion done, and shoved it in a closed after my wife joined me.

I got sick in 2005, and if you've read much in this blog, you already know I was sick with Wernicke Encephalopathy. I recovered, which is a story of it's own. I used to drink while I was quilting, and I wasn't sure I would ever be able to quilt again. I was afraid I'd want to drink when I quilted. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to quilt as well sober as I did when I was drinking. Seriously! I have hand tremors. Drinking steadied my hands until sobriety slipped into drunkenness. 
When I was trying to decide what to give my wife for Christmas this year, I pulled the quilt out of the closet, looked at it and thought, "I have the middle done. Won't take much time to do that last four feet around." 
I should've known better. This isn't my first quilt. It's my fifteenth or sixteenth quilt. The center of the quilt is the easiest part--the smallest hunk. Each time around the center gets exponentially bigger, as anyone better than me at geometry can tell you. That's just about anyone, by the way. I'm a mathemagical moron.

Dogged determination is how one makes a big quilt when the only design is created by stitching. Quilting, (to steal a phrase and warp it a bit) is 10% skill and 90% persistence. I think I almost made up for the years it sat in a closet by finishing this thing in 6 weeks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A serious car accident, and we were able to help along with a lot of good people

It's a dark night tonight with no moon, icy roads, and a thin sheen of snow on the roads her in Michigan.

My wife and I were on our way home, driving North on I-75 through Flint, MI. I was at the wheel, and the road conditions had me driving well under the speed limit. My wife was sleeping in the passenger seat.

There are four lanes of traffic on that part of I-75. There was an accident. I saw two cars on the right side of the road, one on the shoulder, and pulled over to the far left lane. I was looking at the wreckage to see if others had stopped and if anyone was calling for assistance. There were other cars stopped, so I decided to keep moving rather than risk blocking traffic. I think I was moving at about 20 mph at that point.

On my right another car barreled by. I don't know how fast that driver was going. I can tell you she didn't hit the brakes.

She rammed one of the cars on the right, about twenty feet in front of our car. Sparks flew. It was horrific. I parked our car, no longer questioning whether or not we should stop. My wife woke up and I said, "There's been a bad accident and we're stopping to help." She agreed immediately.

I got out of the car and started walking toward the vehicle that was hit. It was now on my left, on its wheels, but sideways across the lanes. As I approached it, I saw a man bent over something in the road.

The something wasn't a thing at all, it was a someone. His girlfriend, as it turned out. She was lying facedown on the pavement.

I had a sinking feeling that she was dead. How could she not be?

She's not dead. I thought traffic was still coming at us, so I looked at the other man and said, "Let's get her out of the road before someone hits her."

We touched her and a woman behind me said, "Do not move her!" I didn't argue with her. I looked at the oncoming traffic and saw that my wife and another man--bravely--had stopped all other traffic. Several others were already on cell phones, speaking to 911 operators.

My wife (who has better and more up-to-date first aid training than I do) was at the woman's side, on the ground in the middle of I-75, along with several others. I went to the car that had been hit and flung, and looked inside to see if there were any other victims. The car was empty.

Then I went to the car that hit that one. The driver was a young woman, maybe 20-25 years old. She was shaken. A man had just finished speaking to her and he passed by me and said, "She thinks she killed that lady in the road. I told her she didn't."

The driver of that car, that young woman, was hysterical. I got her to calm down enough to be able to tell me if she was okay or not. She got the message that she hadn't killed anyone, and wanted to know about damage to her car. I don't blame her much for that. She was desperately trying to wrap her brain around something, anything, and she settled on asking about her car.

I took a look at the hood and said, "Your car is totaled, but I want you to look out the windshield at the woman on the ground. She's not dead, but she's not okay. Your car? It's the least of your worries. Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"I'm okay."
"She's not dead. Breathe. Stay here. Don't get out of the car until EMT's check you out. Got it?"
She did.

Fortunately (and by that I mean the Hand of God was all over the place and quite present tonight), the accidents happened not far from a Michigan State Police post. Within just a few minutes, ambulances and police were on their way.

According to the boyfriend of the woman in the road, they were involved in an accident, and he got out of the car to check on the other driver. His girlfriend was driving their car, and she was about to get out and offer assistance as well. She unfastened her seatbelt...his door, the passenger door was open...

I went back to the woman in the road, and a man was saying a prayer of thanks over her, and I thought that was appropriate and a good thing to do. He said he's a doctor, and that she's lucky. He couldn't check her out thoroughly, but said her arm was broken and her shoulder was dislocated, but she wasn't paralyzed. I knew she wasn't paralyzed because I put a blanket over her feet (her shoes flew off when she was thrown from the car), and she moved her legs when I did that. Others had already covered her with coats and blankets from their cars.

It was about an hour between when we came upon the accident and when we were turned around and allowed to proceed, slowly, home.

I'll probably never know the names of anyone involved in that terrible thing, but I know this: there are a lot of good people on this beautiful world of ours. We all make mistakes and accidents happen, but it helps a little to know that there are a lot of good people who will do a lot, risk a lot, to help their fellow human beings when they're in trouble.

Merry Christmas! Drive safely.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm making something that could last 100 years. What's a Quilt?

A quilt is a quilt. A blanket isn't a quilt unless it's quilted. A comforter isn't a quilt. A knitted or crocheted blanket isn't a quilt. Only a quilt is a quilt.

What makes a quilt a quilt? Trust me--you want to know this unless you want to offend someone who has a bevy of little needles and isn't afraid to stick them into soft parts that bleed. They stick their own fingers frequently, so don't assume they won't stick you if you offend their over-declicate though deservedly delicate sensibilities.

A quilt is three layers, sewn together. A quilt consists of a top, batting, and back, stitched together.

If it's knit, it's not a quilt. It's a blanket, it's an afghan, but it's not a quilt. If the top and back are tied together with bits of's not a quilt. It's a comforter.

I'm making a quilt for my wife for Christmas. It's a beautiful thing already, and I'm only in the quilting stage. It's not my first quilt. I think it's my fourteenth or fifteenth. I've been a quilter for almost twenty years now, and I'll admit I'm pretty good. Okay, false modesty aside, I'm very good.

Quilts tend to last a very long time because people treasure them. They should treasure them. I make mine by hand. Every bit by hand. Takes a long time to stitch the design through all three layers, and the stitching comes at a price. Hand damage is one price, if I quilt too long. You can see burst blood vessels on the back of my needling hand, and callouses develop on the tips of my fingers. I use the nerves in my fingers to tell whether my stitches have gone all the way through, which means I don't use a thimble. Wakes me up a bit when I stick myself, but it's worth it.

The quilt I'm making my wife for Christmas it a white on white quilt. The top and back are each made from one very large piece of cloth (nearly 10 feet by 10 feet), and the stitching--called quilting--makes the design. It can be washed in the washing machine and dried in the dryer and will be stronger for it, for the first forty or fifty years or so. That's part of what makes quilts durable.

Like vampires, quilts don't hold up well to sunshine. This quilt is white, so sunlight won't fade the colors. It's still going to be vulnerable to sunlight because direct sunlight dries the cotton and that makes the fibers weak. If you have a quilt, please don't let sunlight fall on it on a regular basis. Eventually it will fade and fall apart. If you have to let sunlight fall on it, rotate it from time to time and keep the fading--which gives it an antique look--as uniform as you can throughout. Take it off the bed every once in a while and use something else as a bedspread.

If you're lucky enough to have someone make you a quilt, please don't ask them to make it large enough to cover your pillows and go all the way to the floor all the way around. I've stopped making quilts for most people because of requests like that. If you want a bedspread that covers the entire bed, frame, and pillows, get thee to a Walmart and buy a bedspread. Adding a foot or two on all sides increases the area of the quilt by a lot (simple mathematics), and offends the quilter. Quilters, by the way, who are people who make projects intended to span generations, have long memories.

Darn. Can't get started yet. I'm waiting for the recipient of the quilt I'm working on to go to bed. This huge white on white quilt, the one that takes me four hours to quilt a single square foot, is a surprise Christmas gift for my wife. I'm on a deadline. Soon I will start humming a lullaby...and I hope it puts her to sleep, and not me.

Monday, November 28, 2011

No Credit Card? You can shop online without one!

My wife and I try not to use credit cards unless there's an emergency. Some people don't have a credit card. How do you take advantage of Cyber Monday deals when you don't have a credit card, or don't want to use a credit card?

It's easier than you might think.

Banks and credit unions sell Visa gift cards. The idea is that one can buy a Visa gift card and give it to someone instead of cash. I don't look at those as gift cards.

I see them as prepaid credit cards. In fact, they offer a better deal than a credit card. Visa gift cards only cost a couple of bucks to buy, and you can deduct the cost of the card from the value of the card.

When you want to make an online purchase, you enter the numbers from the gift card and make your purchase. Online retailers accept the gift card as if it was a credit card.

Head to the bank and get a Visa gift card, then head to your internet connection and take advantage of those great deals from internet shopping sites. While you're at it, let me suggest one--one where you can buy a set of great books by  a guy named David J. Steele (me!):

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sobriety, the Holidays, and Me

There's nothing wrong with having some drinks during the holidays. For many, it's part of the holiday tradition.

I'm a survivor of Wernicke encephalopathy, which means I can't drink. I used to drink a lot, by any standard. Drinking almost killed me, and I've written quite a bit about that.

I'm sure it's hard for some alcoholics to stay sober during the holidays. I'm lucky. It's easy for me to stay sober during the holidays, and I'm grateful for that blessing. I don't feel jealous, and I don't get worried about those with glasses of adult beverage in their hands. I get a kick out of it actually, and find myself glad I don't want any of what they're having. I sip my decaf and smile.

I remember hearing the whispers no one thought I could hear the morning after. The whispers of concern, quiet concern, about the quantity I consumed the night before. I remember feeling bad about things I might have done or said, but that were gray memories the morning after the holiday. I don't miss the wondering, or the whispers.

Is it hard for me to stay sober during the holidays? Nope. I add sobriety to the long list of things I have to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Quilt for My Bride

We've been married almost twenty years, and my wife is still my bride. I don't have to close my eyes to see her in that white dress.

This Christmas she's getting a quilt. Another quilt. A special quilt. It'll be special to her, anyway. It will be special because I'm making it. It will be special to her because, like her wedding dress it's white. White fabric, white stitching. A lot, I mean a boatload of white stitching. It's whole cloth quilt. Whole cloth quilts are quilts made from one piece of cloth. In this case, the piece of cloth is 102" by 102".

There's a story behind this quilt. There's a story behind every quilt, which is part of what makes them special. Here's the story behind this quilt, this quilt for my wife:

In 2002, I moved to Cleveland to stay with the BSA when my position in Wisconsin was eliminated. I rented a one-bedroom furnished apartment, and she stayed behind to sell the house and finish the school year. She's a teacher and we agreed she would never move during the school year.

I was lonely and started making a quilt. It's my fifteenth quilt. It's not hard to make a quilt. You only need to know how to do a running stitch. Get good at it, is my advice. To make a quilt, you're going to do a lot of running stitches, mostly tiny ones. Thousands of thousands of tiny stitches. That's what makes it a quilt. Tiny stitches through three layers: top, batt, and back.

I started the quilt in that apartment. Worked on it day and night. When she moved to Cleveland and we bought a house, I put it away in a closet. Never forgot about it, but didn't do any more work on it. When I got sick with Wernicke Encephalopathy, I stopped quilting. She has asked me several times why I stopped quilting, and I didn't have a good answer. I think part of the reason I stopped was that I always drank when I quilted, and without drinking I wasn't sure I could quilt anymore.

That was a foolish notion. I can't think of anything I can't do better sober than I could when I was drinking. The test came about three weeks ago when I decided to finish that quilt and give it to her for Christmas.

Honestly, I can't see any difference in what I'm quilting sober and what I quilted with a few beers under my belt. That's a good thing. It answered my fear that my hands wouldn't be good anymore. I have essential tremor--a medical condition that makes my hands shake--and beer helped me steady my hands enough to thread the needle. Now sheer stubbornness helps me thread the needle. I just keep poking it until I find the eye.

In any case, this quilt is going to be a beautiful addition to our bedroom. I have miles to go before I finish it. I've been quilting for at least four hours a day for the past two weeks, and have to keep up that pace until Christmas if I'm going to finish it. I'll tell you this... I'm going to finish it. That's how I work.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Anosmia means I can't smell...

Anosmia. As disabilities go, it's not bad. We (speaking as a human) typically have five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. I didn't put the words in any particular order, but those missing the first three have bigger problems than those lacking the fourth and fifth. I feel for the blind, and deaf, and those who can't feel physical sensation. Those who can't taste food have problems, too. I can't imagine what that's like.

In all likelihood, my sense of smell went out the window with the first touch of wernicke's. I didn't notice it go. Shoot... I didn't really notice it was gone until 2005, but I'm sure it went away before that.

I was able to smell when I was younger. Some people are born without a sense of smell, but I'm not one.

There are dangers in not being able to smell. Not as many dangers are there are to those who can't see or hear, but there are dangers. I just have to be careful.

What are the dangers? Thanks for asking (or reading).

I once cleaned my coffee maker with ammonia instead of white vinegar. We used to keep the jugs of both chemicals under our kitchen sink. Not anymore. I couldn't smell the difference between vinegar and ammonia. Fortunately for me, I hate the taste of vinegar. When I clean the coffee pot, I rinse it five or six times. I didn't drink the ammonia, but my wife knew something bad had happened the second she walked in the door.

I make doubly sure to change the batteries in our smoke alarms. If there's a fire and I'm the only one home, I won't wake up with the smell of smoke. I get a little worried when I clean behind our gas stove. If that pipe goes, I won't smell the telltale odor of gas.

If food in the fridge hits the dubious line between fresh and puke-your-guts-out, I have to ask my wife (she smells great!) to tell me which side of the line it's on. I mean, sure, sometimes I can see when I should toss it. Gray ham is never as good as it sounds...

Sometimes I can smell. The sensation confuses me. It tends not to last long. Goes away in a few minutes. When the sense does come and I figure out what it is I'm smelling, I have noticed that most of the time (darn luck) I'm around something that doesn't smell good.

In my case, there isn't much hope the sense will come back on a permanent basis. Nerve damage is the cause. I'm okay with that. I'm a survivor of Wernicke-Korsakoff. Losing my sense of smell was and is a small price to pay.

I did a little research tonight to see if anosmia is effecting my sense of taste. Some say it does, and they're probably right. I can taste food. I don't get the aroma that makes some food taste better. I don't get hungry for bread when I pull it out of the oven, but I do like the way it tastes.

I'll never be a good judge of fine wines, I say with a laugh, and that's okay! As a survivor of Wernickes, I can't drink that stuff anyway. Grape juice (the closest I come to wine) tastes like grapes whether I can smell it or not.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don't fear the semicolon; love the semicolon

I think I gave more than one junior high teacher and at least one high school teacher a rash by asking about the semicolon. You know the semicolon: it's a period on top of a comma.

The semicolon seems to be a feared bit of punctuation. Most don't know how to use it, and if they do know how to use it, they're afraid of it. It's not a colon. A colon is a big deal. It adds emphasis, and it announces lists. The colon can make the leap from sentence to mathematics, where it announces a ratio.

But how do we use it in language? How do we use it in writing?
Don't feel bad if you don't know how to use a semicolon. And no, grammarian wannabe, I don't mean badly, I mean bad. As in "bad person." You're not a bad person if you don't know how to use a semicolon. 

Think of the semicolon this way--the way that finally worked for me: it's a hinge. A semicolon is like a hinge in that it can join two sentences very closely together, as a hinge on a door joins the door to the frame.

A semicolon is a marriage between the period and the comma. It's a partial stop. The acid test for the semicolon is whether or not the two parts of the joined idea can stand on their own. Take a look at this example:

1. I like semicolons. They're cool.

Two separate ideas. The way the example is written, we read two things. Two separate things, joined only by proximity.
But...if we want to speed it up and express the point in a subtle way, example two comes in:

2. I like semicolons; they're cool.

If I wanted to make a bigger deal of it, I would whip out the colon:

3. I like semicolons: they're cool.

There is a certain dubiousness to the semcolon, cast upon it by English teachers--the dusty ones who don't want to argue punctuation as style. Don't get mad at them for it. They're mostly human and have limited time to spend on the more subtle pieces of punctuation because they're too busy fighting the run-on sentence to give students the out by teaching that a semicolon exists, yes, exists, to make the run-on sentence a piece of good writing.

*I salute E.B White who, in addition to his famous book Charlotte's Web, wrote Elements of Style, a little grammar book that explains things like how to use a semicolon. Some people harried good old E.B for writing the book. Those people were pretty successful in burying the little book. Those people were grammarians who want to apply rules to communication by regulating punctuation and other rule-ish stuff like that. Those people, in their anal retentiveness, obviously couldn't read the title and didn't know the difference between grammar and style.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wrting--when it's gooooooood

I wish I could see a brain scan of what happens with my gray matter when I'm writing and I'm in the zone.

I was in the zone earlier this evening, working on Sexton Retribution. It felt great. What's it like to be in The Zone? I'll try to explain...

Stephen King called it "The Hole in the Paper", that special feeling a writer gets when he or she is able to write as thoughts occur, when fingers fly and words seem to appear of their own volition. I call it The Zone because it feels like a place.

If you've seen that TV show with the woman who works with the police and has a perfect memory, you'll know what I'm talking about. When she goes into her memory to revisit a crime scene, the viewer sees her in the middle of the scene observing everything around her. In those scenes, she's in what I'm calling The Zone.

Tonight I started a chapter with a frightened Cedric alone in his room in the Fortress Balfour. I could see him on the bed, struggling to stay awake, knowing he was about to be visited by what he thought was a ghost. That's the image I had in mind when I started to write. While I let my fingers go on auto pilot, I imagined (saw) pertinent things in the room: candles on the table by the bed, more candles on the table by the door. On closer examination, I saw he had blocked the door with a dresser and a chair.

I didn't have to think about him blocking the door, I didn't have to think about what he would block the door with. Those details were part of the picture in my mind. When Nick's form appeared in the room, I "saw" Cedric react. Writing about it was secondary. I didn't have to compose the sentences. They just came to me. The dialog came to me too. I was playing the scene in my head.

When I'm in The Zone, I don't feel like I'm directing a movie. I'm not conscious of composing sentences. I don't feel like I'm the one writing the dialog. My hands are divorced from my consciousness. They caress the keyboard.

That's why I write... I love the zone. I love to read the output, but mostly I love to be in the scene, unconsciously recording the conjurations of my mind.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Boy Scout training has helped me save a life or two...

I earned my Eagle Scout a few weeks before my 14th birthday, and stayed with the program through college, and spent 17 years as a professional Scouter. I've had the opportunity--by being in the right place at the right time--to save a couple of lives, but not because of anything special about me. I know how to react in a crisis, and I think most of that ability came from the years I spent as a kid in the BSA.

The first time I saved a life, I had to put my own at risk. We were in Peru, and a man did a foolish thing. He tried to cross a rope bridge over a river running through a narrow canyon in the Andes mountains. He fell. I jumped in after him. The water was glacier run-off, very fast, and it tossed us both against a rock like we weighed nothing. It wasn't a pretty rescue. We both made it out more by the grace of God than by any sort of swimming ability. I know two things about that: 1) I was able to stay calm because I was trained to stay calm, 2) I was also trained that doing something is better than doing nothing.

The second time I saved a life was at no danger to myself. My neighbor across the street was screaming at the top of her lungs. I couldn't see her swimming pool from the window of a bedroom on the second floor of my house, but I could see her over her privacy fence, staring down at the pool at something and screaming her head off.

When someone is standing by a pool, screaming their head off...odds are pretty good there is something in the pool that has struck sheer terror in their heart. There was. Her grand-daughter, a toddler, was in the pool unconscious. I ran across the street, ripped open the gate, and jumped in the pool after the girl. I pulled her out. She was unconscious and not breathing. She started breathing with God's help before I could remember how to do infant mouth-to-mouth.

Last night while at work, I heard someone fall down some stairs near where I was standing. I ran down the stairs and found an older woman lying on her back on the stairs. She was trying to pull herself up. I held her gently by the shoulders and saw blood on her forehead. She must have spun to her right and struck either the banister or the wall on her way down. I held her and told her not to move while I felt (gingerly) the back of her neck to see if there were loose bones. She was able to move her arms and legs. I told her to stay put until help came. Another man came down the stairs and took my position while I used the telephone nearby to summon help. I didn't notice the blood on my hands until after I called 911. I'm kicking myself a little bit for that--the blood came from a wound on the back of her head from striking the brick at the bottom of the stairs.

She was alert and conscious when the paramedics took her to the ambulance. I hope she's okay now.

I'm nothing special in this regard--I'm just trained to react. I think that's one of the many things the BSA means with the motto of "Be Prepared."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sometimes I love the old ways, like shaving soap & mug

Shaving cream is alright. It's a time saver. Just a shot of the stuff in the hand, smear it on the face, and you're ready to shave. I use it sometimes and get satisfactory, but not great results.

Like shaving cream, the new ways of doing things have their advantages, and most of the time the advantages are enough to win popular support and all but kill off the old ways.

This morning, and yesterday, and tomorrow, I shaved the old fashioned way.

You can still buy shaving soap in most places. It comes in a little box, about half an inch high, by three inches, by three inches. In the box is a little round cake of soap. I have a cake of that soap in a mug on the shelf in the bathroom and a shaving brush--an old one from my grandfather--with long, soft bristles. I get the brush wet and swish it around in the mug. I like the clink, clink, clink of the handle of the brush hitting the sides of the mug. I like the feel of the soft bristles as I paint my face with the thin layer of foamy, warm soap. I use a moden twin-blade razor. The razor does a good job, and the thin layer of soap is just enough to lubricate the bristles, but not so much that it clogs the razor.

When I'm done, I have a soft, smooth face. Sure, sometimes I still use the shaving cream. Sometimes I just don't feel like I have the three minutes or less that it takes me to make the lather in the mug. When I'm really feeling pressed for time, I use an electric razor. It's not the same, though. I can feel the difference all day and feel like I cheated myself out of a simple pleasure (and better shave.)

My fountain pen is another example of a thing of the past (mostly) that has been replaced by an inferior, but more convenient device. The ballpoint pen has trumped the fountain pen. It's cheaper, even if you buy a nice one that requires refills. The ballpoint pen doesn't spatter ink of you drop it. You're not going to bend it out of usefulness if you drop it. It can write on almost any surface.

It also smears ink on my left hand when I write, unless I handicap myself by bending my wrist unnaturally and obscure my already bad handwriting. No thanks.

I like the pleasure--yes, I said pleasure--of writing with a fountain pen. You can really feel the contact with the paper through the sound of the nib (the point, for the uninitiated) on the paper. The ink flows from the nib and sinks into the paper. There is no smear on my left hand.

For a couple of years now, I've been using my Cross fountain pen. I bought it with my first royalties check for about $60, and I don't let anyone else use it. It's my pen.

At first I bought modern ink cartridges that fit in the pen. No muss, no fuss with those ink cartridges. They're a modern contrivance for an ancient device. Yes, ancient. The first fountain pens appeared in Persia before the death of Christ. I discovered those little ink cartridges get expensive. I was going through about three a week.

So I went back to the old way. I fill my fountain pen from a bottle of ink now. That takes a little practice. At first I got ink on my forefinger and thumb when I filled the reservoir from the bottle. Now I don't.

Shaving soap and mug. Fountain pen and bottle of ink. I love them. I'll tell you what else I miss, for what it's worth. I miss writing on a typewriter. I don't do that anymore.Writing on a computer is much better (for me at least) in every way than writing on a typewriter. But... I do miss the sound of the keys clacking on the paper on the roller. If I could find a program that made those sounds to go along with my word processor, I'd be happier when I wrote. That would take some doing--I'm happiest when I'm writing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It was like watching a Benny Hill sketch, or someone try to herd cats...

I get a kick out of life.

Tonight was a slow night at work--where I greet people when they enter the building. It's a very large restaurant with several dining rooms, and guests need someone to make them feel welcome and tell them where things are.

A bus group came by for dinner, with 56 elderly passengers and one tour guide. After the meal, several of the passengers asked me where the gift shop was. I told them, of course. It's part of my job. They went downstairs to the shops in twos and threes. A couple wanted to know if they could get to the bus from the shops and I told them how...also part of my job.

Apparently (and this is the part I really like), they were told they didn't have time to visit any of the shops. As I stood at the top of the stairs, I saw the passengers going as many different directions as was humanly possible. The tour guide walked into the lobby, looking for her passengers.

Old doesn't mean dumb. Those passengers knew darn well the bus wasn't going to leave until they were all on it. The tour guide knew that they knew that. Her exasperation was obvious.

She went downstairs to round them up. I didn't laugh, but I could hear the music from The Benny Hill Show playing in my head as I watched pairs and singular elderly passengers hustle in different directions at the bottom of the stairs, while the tour guide ran back and forth trying to get them back to the bus.

It was like watching someone try to herd cats.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Taking my own advice: a writing exercise

I need to warm up a little before writing chapter four in Sexton Retribution. It's been a couple of days since I wrote the last chapter.
Let's see... Nah. Let's not see.

He got out of the car and frowned at the dark house. Tripped on the third step on his way to the porch. Drizzle, cold drizzle fogged his glasses and didn't help him see. He wished he left the light on, but it was still sunny when he went to work.
  Three jabs at the doorknob with his key finally resulted in success. He twisted the door open and walked onto the porch, reaching for the light switch with his left hand.
   Stepped on something soft, greeted by a his and a yowl that would've made a hellhound cringe. Both he, and the cat he just stepped on, cussed out loud.

Hmmm. Well... Now that I have bad writing out of my system (please, o' Ralph the Muse, let it be so), I think it's time to get serious and put good stuff in the next installment of the Sexton Chronicles. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Where do I get my ideas? I'll tell you in a word.

Ideas are the easy part. We all have ideas. They might be ideas for a book, a commercial, a song, a painting, or a better way to slice cheese. Ideas are the easy part.
   Execution is the hard part.
   I've talked in past blog posts about a time in my recent past when I had lost the ability to write and how hard I worked to get it back. I won't bore you with that if you've already read it, and if you haven't, I invite you to poke around this blog a bit until you find it.
   Now I find I can execute the ideas--put them on the page in paragraphs and dialog, description and mood, reflection and protection--with ease, most of the time. When I have difficulty, I just start posting things on Facebook, or temper myself with the Tweet limit of 140 characters.
   Sometimes it comes easily and I give credit to a fictional character I created, an affectation I call Ralph, the Muse. Good old Ralph, though he doesn't exist, wears a long, stained, once-white toga like bed sheet, has tangles in his beard full of bread crumbs and lost forks, and smells pretty bad. Sometimes it comes like an eight-grader trying to write a 500 word report on Robert Frost's poem about taking one path or the other through the woods when it's plain he would rather be inside watching cartoons (Frost, and the eighth-grader.)
   Here's a tip for someone who wants or has to write, but can't get started:
Write something. Anything. Just get the juices flowing. Be prepared to delete or otherwise obliterate what you write. Or post a Facebook update about something ridiculous (especially if you need to keep your eye on word count), and then delete it or show some cajones and post it.
   I think you'll find that getting the motor started is the hard part, and that once your brain is used to stringing words together it's pretty easy to continue.
   Go for it. Stop reading now. Write something.

Monday, September 19, 2011

If you need a speaker who knows Wernickes from having it...

I'm willing to talk to people, or groups, about my experience with Wernickes and Korsakoffs. I'd like to bring hope to some folks, and maybe get a chance to thank health care workers.

I'm not looking to make money in speaker's fees, and would probably turn them down if offered. I'll gladly speak for free. The only problem I would have is that I don't have a travel budget. If you'd like me to speak to your group, please let me know. If you can get me there and provide a place to stay and meals (if needed), I'll come if I can. I'm not asking for anything in return, just a break-even deal for me. You can contact me via email:

I wrote a book (links are on this page) called Green Goblin, which is my narrative of the time I spent in the hospital with Wernicke Encephalopathy, and Blackout: A Look Inside Wernickes", which includes the full text of Green Goblin, and more on the healing/recovery process I went through.

I would like to see more done to prevent the disease, and more done to help sufferers get back on their feet.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blackout: A Look Inside Wernickes -- A new book, by a survivor

This book was hard for me to write, but I felt it had to be done. I can't find any other survivor's accounts of Wernicke-Korsakoff. I wrote "Green Goblin" as a stand-alone book, describing what it felt like to be in the hospital with Wernickes, and touching a little on what came after.
This book contains the full text of Green Goblin, as well as the long journey I went through before being diagnosed with Korsakoffs. It is my hope that someone (or a lot of someones) will benefit from this book. Recovery is possible--not easy or common, but possible--from Wernickes. It is possible for someone with Korsakoffs to manage the illness and go back to normal life. I don't have answers as to how that can happen, but I can show that it did happen in my case.

The link takes you to the paperback version. It's also available as a hardcover, and soon will be a Nook book at Barnes and Noble, and a Kindle book at Amazon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What's the story--Sexton Chronicles? What's it about?

The Sexton Chronicles is a series of fantasy novels about Tom, John, and Andy, three American teenagers who find a gateway between worlds. They have to make their way in a world they don't understand, and do surprisingly well.

 In the first book in the series, they are separated. John and Andy make friends with a man they knew of but who vanished in Mexico in the early nineteen hundreds, a man by the name of Ambrose Bierce. Tom is trained in law enforcement, in a police force that kills criminals without the benefit of a trial.

Once re-united, the three young men discover a lucrative trade--buying forbidden herbs and spices from a country to the south of Sexton, and importing them for sale in the doughnut and fried chicken restaurant they open. Simultaneously, there is an evil power in Sexton re-awakening after long centuries of dormancy. The three Americans are once again caught in events beyond their control.

By the time the third book in the series begins, they feel responsible for the brewing war with the country to their south. Things are not going well for them.

In the fourth and recently released book, Sexton Sand, the Americans are on a mission to end the war and free their friend--a man from the enemy country, who also happens to be its king--from a demon possessing him, and stop the war they feel they started while they're at it.

I have begun the fifth and final book in the Sexton Chronicles series. It's called Sexton Retribution. The title will give you a clue.

The books are available in paperback and hardcover from or from amazon as a kindle books, or Barnes and Noble as Nook books.

Sexton Chronicles. School has started--don't you think you deserve a little adventure yourself?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Blackout: A Look Inside Wernickes" --closing paragraphs

I finished the first draft a few minutes ago. The book I'm writing, Blackout: A Look Inside Wernickes", which will be available for purchase in a week or two, is ready for final edit and publication. The book contains the text of Green Goblin, as well as details of my struggle with Korsakoffs.

I thought I would share the closing paragraphs with you. The 'how it came to be' is what makes up the rest of the book, a short book of 140 pages.

I remember what the doctor I mentioned earlier in the book said about having one or two being okay. I’m not going to do it. In my case, it isn’t okay. I’ve “slipped” once or twice, but not often. The slips are followed by a period of self-anger I don’t like. I don’t do that anymore. On those couple of occasions when tested myself, and had a beer, I paid for it with bouts of dread and uneasiness in 24-48 hours. It’s not worth it.
I’ve had foods prepared with alcohol in the recipe: a beer dumped on hamburgers prior to grilling, in a rum cake, and maybe one or two recipes others prepared. Same deal as above: uneasiness, and random twinges of unidentified fear. Now I ask if there is alcohol in the preparation of food, and if there is, I have something else.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I would love to sit down and drink a few beers. There are times when it sound great. Then I don’t do it. I just don’t. I have too much to lose, and I’m not going back to that dark place with the red hills. Sobriety is key. I still have no desire to attend AA meetings, though I know they help a lot of people. I do my best when I don’t think about drinking, and do other things with my time, like write, and cook, and bake, and read, and spend time with my wife, and, and, and...
I still enjoy situations where alcohol is present. I like bar environments, and restaurants, and parties. I actually like them better now that I’m sober. Some people who have had struggles with alcohol and alcoholism don’t or can’t be around those situations, and most people respect that. I think I’m lucky I can go anywhere and not drink. If it bothered me I would avoid those situations, and that’s probably not easy. In my present, paying job (other than writing books), I spend hours at a time less than ten feet away from the bar. Not only does it not bother me, I like it.
You see, my friend, every time I don’t drink...every day I’m sober, every night I fall asleep sober...I win. When I go to the grocery store or drug store, I go out of my way to walk past the beer, wine, and booze. If you’re next to me you might hear me hum and chant, “Nee-ner-nee-ner-NEE-NER!” I’m singing to the containers. I won.
I’m not going to play again, mind you, but I won.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's not easy to write about Wernicke-Korsakoffs, but I feel like I have to do it.

I survived Wernickes, and although I have Korsakoffs, few know it unless I tell them. That makes me a rarity, unfortunately. I wish everyone recovered from that set of serious illnesses, I wish no one suffered from it, I wish no family member had to deal with a loved one who is lost to either illness. I wish more people knew about the disease, if the other wishes can't come true.
   I wish a lot of things. Wishing isn't enough. I wrote a little book called Green Goblin, and it's selling some copies. It's a good little book if I do say so myself, and I hope more people read it. Green Goblin is my account of the acute phase of the illness, the part that takes place in the hospital for the lucky ones. Undiagnosed and untreated, Wernickes can be fatal.
 Green Goblin is good as far as it goes. Few who have had Wernickes have ever, and I mean ever described what it was like. Most can't. And since I can, I felt I should. I felt I had to do it.
   I wrote that book a couple of years ago, and now I feel I have to take the next step. I have to face the disease again...this time from the comfort of my chair. This time from the discomfort of my chair. I'm sober, but have to look back on getting sober, if I have any hope of helping people get to and through what I had to go to and through.
   I intend to give it my best shot. I'm not sure when I'll be done with it, but look for an announcement here when I finish and publish it. I think the writing of it will go quickly. I think when I peel away the mental bandages and examine the wound, I'm going to want to rip away the gauze and look fast.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Odds against me? I'm fine with that, and here's why...

I got my proof copy of Sexton Sand (Sexton Chronicles IV) today. It wasn't the first copy sold, and I think it's cool that I know who bought the first copy because he told me when he bought it. Lulu gives me a way to make sure I get the first copy, but I don't play it that way. You see, I'm hopeful. I'm full of hope that one day, although the odds are against me, these self-published Sexton Chronicles books (genre: fantasy. BUY 'EM TODAY) will hit the big time.
   Odds are against that happening to self-published books. It's been done, so I know it's not impossible, but odds are against it for a variety of reasons. I won't enumerate those reasons because I really don't care what they are.
   This isn't the first time in my life the odds were against me, and it won't be the last.
   Odds were against me living much of a normal life when I had my first epileptic seizure when I was about six years old. Through no fault of my own, I beat the epilepsy.
   Odds were against me when I declared, at the age of 10, that I would be a 13-year-old Eagle Scout. I made it with days to spare.
   Odds were against me when I decided to go for a full-tuition scholarship to college when I had a 3.0 grade point average in high school and played no sports. I got one.
   Odds were against me meeting a sitting President of the United States in the White House. I did.
   Odds were against me in 2005 when, through a fault completely mine, I fell ill with Wernicke's Encephalopathy and Korsakoff's Disease. I beat it--with a lot of help from a lot of people and God.
   So when I look at the odds of going from self-published to big time, I know it's been done before.

And I intend to be another one. Have a great day. It's up to you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How does it feel to get a book you wrote?

I'll tell you!
   It's exciting and strange and scary all rolled into one.
   Tomorrow I expect to find Sexton Sand (Sexton Chronicles IV) in my mailbox. Lulu is fast with the orders, considering they print one book at a time. I won't be the first one to receive a copy, and I'm fine with that. I don't get my books for free--because printing costs money--and sometimes I have to wait until I have the cash before I can order a book. I take it as a compliment now when someone beats me to the first copy.

   Still, the book will be in the mail. I know that  book better than anyone alive. I was there when the words Chapter One appeared at the top of a blank page in my word processor. My hands typed the first sentence. My brain (which sometimes I like to call Ralph the Muse) unfolded the first scene, breathed life into the dialog, and drew first blood.
   I was there, or rather here at my desk when I hit the inevitable moment I'll call the "Uh-oh, now what happens?" moment in every manuscript where I wonder if maybe--just maybe--I have come up with a false start that needs to be deep-sixed to the recycle bin. That doesn't happen to me often anymore. This is my 8th book.
   I'll never forget the day Sexton showed up on my doorstep. After years, decades actually, of dreaming I would one day hold a book I wrote in my hot little hands, it was there. I was afraid to open the box. Seriously! I put it on the dining room table and stared at it like it contained some sort of dream-killing bomb. I wondered if the sentences that flowed so easily from my Ralph-the-mused brain through the keyboard, to the screen and finally to the printer, would make any sense in the light of day sandwiched between two thin pieces of cardboard.
   Finally, I cut open the box and gazed on Sexton. My first book. My first foray into the world of Seeking the Paying Customer. Sure, I published the book as a Kindle book a few months earlier, but the Kindle thing didn't seem real. For one thing, I don't have a Kindle and didn't have the software to read the book on my computer. I had no way to see the finished product in that case. The book was (and is) selling as a Kindle book...but it wasn't real to me. Real was in the box on the dining room table. Pulsating. Throbbing and whispering to me, "Open the box, Mr. Author guy. Open the box. See what you have made!"
   When I finally dared open the box, I'm man enough to say my eyes fogged up a little. It was beautiful to me. I counted the hours until school let out so I could take the book to show my wife the teacher, and see her face when she saw that my first book was (of course!) dedicated to her.
   It was cool.
   I was just as excited to open the box with Sexton Spice, but not afraid. I was just as excited to see Storm Clouds Over Sexton, and Just for Fun: A Little Sexton and Some Other Stuff, and Green Goblin, and Bouffon Vert, and Return to Sexton.
   Tomorrow. I got an email the book was mailed on 8/12, and tomorrow is 8/15. The book should be in my mailbox. Sexton Sand. It's a good book. I know. I've read it a couple of times when I revised and edited it. It's got a fancy cover that combined a couple of photos in an artsy-fartsy way. It was my first experience with a photoshop-type program.
   I know I'm not as excited as I was when Sexton arrived, but I'm still excited. I'll get it in my hands and stare at it for a while, remembering how it felt to pound on an electronic typewriter in my room in the fraternity house at college and dream of seeing my book for sale one day. I'll look at the construction of the book. Then I'll flip through it to make sure it's all there, knowing that it will be all there but checking just the same. I'll stick my nose in it and pretend I can smell the paper and ink. If you want to know why I can't, order a copy of Green Goblin.
   I:'ll carry it around with me for a couple of days, pretending I'm trying to see if it's durable but really just showing it off a little. I'm entitled, don't you think?'s pride, pride in the effort it took to produce a good work of fiction, pride in producing a work I feel is good enough to sell with my name in big letters on the cover and spine.
   My book. That is...
          ...That is, until you buy your copy. After you buy your copy, it becomes your book. That's when I get to feel really good--when I know you're being entertained reading your copy of one of the Sexton Chronicles.

   Tomorrow will be a good day.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sexton Retribution (Sexton Chronicles V) Chapter 3


White light flared in his vision when they hit him again. Tom landed on his back on the sand. Catcalls came from all around him and bounced off the walls of the little prison in the desert. He stared up at the cloudless blue sky for a second and waited to see what his attackers were going to do. It was a showdown, but they didn’t know that. They thought they were teaching him a lesson because he made a comment during the morning meal that rubbed them the wrong way.
He kicked out with his feet and bucked his hips at the same time, throwing himself into a standing position. The looks on their faces showed the move had the result he wanted: they were re-evaluating him. They weren’t the first big guys to assume a little guy was an easy target based on his size. They also weren’t the first big guys to be wrong about that. He wondered as they came at him slowly, if they knew why he picked the fight or if they knew he picked the fight. They were the informal leaders of the prision. Bullies who picked on the people from their country as much as they picked on him.
He needed them and to recruit them he had to beat them.
Maybe we should talk about this, gentlemen,” he said. His hands were in front of him with his palms out, held at about chest height. “Think it over before you start swinging again.”
Think it over?” The one on the left said. He barked a laugh as dry as the sand. With a fat finger jabbing toward Tom, he said, “You should have thought it over before you called me fat!” His shirt was off. The sun gleamed on droplets of sweat on his tan chest. His gut stuck out father than his pecks, which looked like small fat breasts.
You work so hard to maintain your bulk, I thought fat would be a compliment.” He grinned. The man was getting mad at him, madder than he was when he took the first swing. That was good. He watched the fat guy’s nostril’s flare. Come at me, bull boy. The other guy, the tall skinny one, was on the fat guy’s right. If he was smart, he would have moved away so Tom would have to choose which one to watch.
The fat one charged him; the skinny one was half a step behind. Tom put his weight on the ball of his left foot and spun out of the way when they charged him, he continued the spin and clocked the fat man on the back of the neck with his hands together. The man’s head went down as Tom opened his hands, put them on his back, and shoved. The man fell forward and slid on his belly on the sand. The skinny one turned, right into a punch Tom threw with his left hand. He hit the man squarely in the nose. Blood flew.
He moved back and waited for them to pull themselves together. The fat man pushed himself up, spitting sand. His eyes were full of rage. Rage and surprise. The tall guy was temporarily out of the picture. He was clutching his nose with both hands in an attempt to stem the blood and clear his vision.
The big one charged Tom, and he didn’t wait for the collision. He ran into it, charging the big man with his head down. The big man tried to wrap his arms around Tom, but he was moving too fast. He came in low and brought the top of his head up into the man’s chin. Teeth clacked. He punched rapid-fire with both hands and landed seven or eight blows on the man’s gut before he jumped back. Grunts turned into a roar. The big boy charged again with his arms open.
Tom charged the man charging him. The arms couldn’t close around him before he rammed his forehead on the bridge of the man’s nose. He felt the big man jerk back and grabbed his shoulders in both hands. Their eyes were inches apart—the fat man’s unfocused—when Tom rammed his right knee into the fat man’s groin. The roar turned into something that sounded almost meek when the pain from the blow rose into his stomach.
Tom cracked his forehead on the fat man’s nose and pushed him back in almost the same motion. When he landed on his back on the sand, Tom took a step and stomped on his stomach. One down, and maybe one to go. The tall guy was taller than Tom by almost a foot, just as wiry, and probably at least as strong. He took his eyes off Tom’s for a second and looked blankly at the man on the sand. When he looked back at Tom, it was without self-confidence.
I left him alive because I almost like him,” Tom said in a near whisper. “How do you think I feel about you?” He grinned with no hint of friendship.
His grin was returned. The skinny man’s grin had the special malice held by someone with the upper hand in a mismatch. His eyes went to his hand. Tom wasn’t sure where he got it, but the sun glinted in a piece of metal about two inches long sticking out between the man’s fingers.
In a blast of speed and burst of sand behind him, the tall man charged at Tom. His hand went back, straight back, and he tried to jab Tom’s stomach when they closed. Tom slipped to the side, easily avoiding the blade and the hand holding it. He grabbed a handful of the man’s hair with his left hand and rammed his right palm against the man’s Adam’s apple. He slipped his fingers around the side of the man’s chin, shifted his left hand so he gripped the side of the man’s head, and twisted. The snap of his neck crackled the dry air. His feet went out and he fell back on the sand, staring at the sky with unseeing eyes.
Tom spun on the big man on the ground. He was pushing himself up, made eye contact with Tom, and looked at the body of the other man on the sand. Tom stepped toward him and in a low voice said, “Him, I didn’t like.” He reached out with his right hand. “Are we done fighting, or would you like the study the sky like he is?”
Done. We are done fighting, little man.”
Call me Viper.” Tom reached out and let the big man grab his right wrist. He helped him to his feet. In a whisper only the other man could hear he said, “We’re going to put our energy to good use, you and I. It’s time we took over this place. Understand?”
I do.”
That was all the conversation they were allowed. The guards approached and pulled them apart. Tom looked over his shoulder only once. He wanted to see which cell they dragged the fat man to. Two more guards were dragging the dead guy away. Tom didn’t watch them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Speckles on my glasses: spray starch and cat sneezes

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be a smartass...

I do the ironing around here. I don't mind the task, and I'm good at it. What I'm not good at is throwing away empty cans of spray starch. Call it a random bit of neuroticism. I just don't like to toss aerosol cans in the trash or recycling bin or trash. I see them as small cans that could blow up.
  My wife picked up an armload of empty spray starch cans from the basket next to the ironing board. She gave me The Look #643--a variation on look #5--that says "My husband is a lovable moron."
   I chose to ignore, cheerfully, the look. In an attempt to make half an excuse, I said, "They're all empty."
   She chose to push the button on one.
PSSSSSSHHHHT! came the sound.
   Speckles on my glasses. Lots of speckles.
          The world went gray, and I couldn't move my eyebrows for half an hour. Speckles. The can? Not so empty.

   The other day I picked up one of our cats. I get along great with the little nutless wonder, I really do. When I pick him up, he puts one paw on either of my shoulders and usually starts to purr while he licks my cheek.
   This time, no purr. He pulled his little head back and looked confused for a second.
   Then PSSSSSSHHHHT --sneeze. Cat sneeze.
   You know? Cats refuse to cover their mouths when they sneeze.
   They cover their owners.

Speckles on my glasses. Lots of speckles.

Sexton Retribution--Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

I'm not going to post every chapter of this book, but I'll post the first 10 chapters. It will give you a taste, and I hope it persuades you to buy the books!


King Rolof was fit to be tied, and Benecala thought he might have to do it: tie him. He looked at the red velvet curtains covering the door to the balcony for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes with the same glowering stare each time. Benecala watched him carefully. Given that the king had a penchant for doing whatever he wanted regardless of the good advice his wizard gave him, it was possible he would make a dash for the balcony and address the crowd below.
John was sitting on a bench against the wall to the right of the king’s chair. He was as nervous as he had been in years. It wasn’t hot in the room, but his armpits were dripping against his ribcage and he wished he could unbutton the top of his white shirt, or at least take off the velvet cloak he was wearing. The crown felt heavy on his head, too. He didn’t blame Rolof for not wearing it very often.
I fail to see the morality in it,” Rolof muttered.
The morality in what, sire?” The question came from Raj, the only one in the room who could possibly understand how King Rolof felt. Raj was a Crescen, once the King of Crescens. Although he ruled only briefly before a demon took over his body, he ruled long enough to know what it was like. “The morality of keeping yourself alive because your country needs you?”
That part I understand.” He jabbed a finger at John. “What I see as immoral is sending him out in my stead—having him pretend he is me—so the people of this country can rally around their king. The king who is, in practice and in fact, hiding behind a damn curtain!”
It worked for the Wizard of Oz,” John said. The looks they gave him made him wish Andy looked more like the king than he did. They would have laughed if Andy made the joke, even if they didn’t get it. Andy was the one with the reputation of being a funny guy, but he was out in the streets, one more pair of eyes protecting the king. He was out in the clammy chill of the day, mingling with the dirty, smelly massed, but at least he wasn’t the one who was going to be blasted by druids if the protection wasn’t enough.
Rolof looked at the faces in the room. Raj gave him an encouraging smile and a shrug that seemed to indicate he should relax and let the plan unfold. Benecala’s face showed deadly seriousness, and King Rolof realized quite suddenly that the wizard was not going to let him give the speech no matter how much he begged, pleaded, cajoled, or even ordered him to allow it. John was the only one not looking at him, and that was fine with Rolof. It allowed him to see what the other two did to make him look like him. They did a very good job, he had to admit. His hair was the same shade of red as his, and the beard the wizard created looked very much like his. John was only a little smaller than him, but the distance from the crowd afforded by the balcony, and the fact that few in the crowd had ever seen their king up close made up the difference. John would be a passable double.
Sistelli watched the crowd with suspicion. The suspicion was part and parcel of his role as a colonel in the Protectors Guild of Sexton, and it had been running higher than usual since the druids attacked the palace from a ship—one belonging to the king before it was captured, somehow, by druids. It had been a month since the attack on the back wall of the palace drove a hunk of it down the cliff to the bay below. King Rolof had not been seen publicly since that day. Many believed he was dead.
They were gathered in the square before the palace on a rainy morning because word had gone out that the king was going to make an appearance on the balcony, and perhaps address the citizens. Sistelli felt it was time for that to happen. Not that anyone asked him, of course, or that they would ask him. His role was to keep the king safe no matter what, and some of those in power thought the attack on the palace was a sign of dismal failure on the part of him and his men. It was a ridiculous notion, and a persistent one.
He scowled at a group of young people that shuffled by his position on the corner. They were staring at him, not with the admiration or fear he had come to enjoy, but with something that was almost contempt. One of them, a young blond man, met his eyes. He couldn’t stand the glance and looked away within a second or two. Not for the first time of late, he wished he could leave the guild and spend his energies and time with Questa, building their whoring operations in the city. Business was good, the money was good, and he was in charge, but he needed to maintain his image as a protector, not to mention the contacts within the guild he might need should trouble arise. They had nothing to fear from the druids, but their whoring operations were illegal. Tolerated, but illegal. As long as he was inside the guild, he would be in a better position to protect his interests than if he wasn’t.
He needed to pull his mind back to the task. Given the attack on the palace and the way rumor and fear of magic spread from person to person, he needed to at least appear vigilant and watchful. The sky was overcast with a silver mass of clouds, but the light from the clouds was still bright. He put the side of his hand to his forehead and looked at the rooftops of the buildings around the square. Several of his men were in strategic positions on the roofs of buildings around the square, with crossbows trained on the crowd. If they saw a glimpse of a red eye, or a hand raised as if casting a spell, their orders were to take a life. There would not be, nor could there be, another attack in the city.
Two more of his men, also armed with crossbows, were under the balcony on either side of it. They watched the first few rows of people in the crowd, and were also under orders to kill anyone who made suspicious hand gestures or had red eyes. The crowd was also interspersed with protectors who were not from his unit, and still more managed the crowd from the sides and rear. This was the most protected appearance of the king he had ever seen or heard of, and they were still nervous.
A man passed him and looked at him a little too long. He was shorter than Sistelli by a few inches, and his build was the kind of stocky that would probably turn to fat in his later years. His hair was a little strange: dark brown or black, but the ends were a much lighter shade, a greenish blond. His beard was black and full. Their eyes met for a moment, and the man smiled before he shifted his eyes to look at someone in the crowd. He waved at whoever he was looking for in the crowd, and moved along his way. There was something about the man that seemed familiar, but he didn’t have time to wonder why.
Andy’s heart was still beating hard when he broke eye contact with Sistelli and pretended to look for someone in the crowd. He had been watching the colonel for several minutes—long enough to see his eyes when he checked on his men in the crowd. It was the first time he remembered being glad Sistelli was as paranoid as he was. The guildsmen on the roofs were well placed, and there was no doubt in his mind they would kill anyone who even looked like a threat. Whether or not they actually were a threat wouldn’t bother Sistelli a bit. Once again, Andy was glad he had stronger moral fiver than the scumbag guild officer.
The reaction of the crowd told him the curtain had finally opened. It got very quiet in the square, as if three or four hundred people held their breath. He sidled between two big men in clothes only half a step up from rage, and looked up at the balcony. He blinked. The man on the balcony could have been King Rolof. He knew it wasn’t, but only because he knew it wasn’t.
Three or four seconds went by the the quiet felt uncomfortable. I might as well be the first one, he thought as he sucked in his breath to shout. “There he is everybody! Good King Rolof! I knew he was alive. Three cheers for the King of Sexton!”
That did it. The crowd erupted in applause and cheers. He looked around, and even stood on tiptoes with his hands on the shoulders of the men in front of him. Young and old shouted cheers for their king. There was a mix of income groups in the crowd, including some who looked rich and some in the middle, and the two workers in front of him. They shouted at the balcony—greetings of welcome, cheers of relief, and even a few strongly worded suggestions of what to do to Crescens that were graphic enough to make Andy cringe.
John raised his hands to quiet the crowd, and forced himself to smile. “I AM ALIVE!” was all he got out before the cheers of the crowd roared through the square again.



John was taken aback by the cheers. It wasn’t his first public appearance, or public speech—if a season of high school forensics counted as public appearances and public speech—but it was his first time people really thought he was a king. It was heartwarming and a little surprising to feel the joy, real joy, the people in the square shouted up at him. Or at Rolof, who they thought he was, but he wasn’t, but they didn’t know that...
Speech, John, he thought. Make the speech!
Yes, I am very much alive!” he shouted. “As you can see. People of Sexton, we have been attacked! Savagely attacked.” More shouts went up, and this time they weren’t joyous. There was anger in them. Calls for revenge. He held up his hands wit the palms out. “The cost to us of that attack was not devastating. We lost a few bricks to the sea...”
More shouts. They knew damn well most of the back of the palace fell to the bay. They were the great unwashed, but they weren’t dumb. He was glad King Rolof was able to remember that, but he could see—standing over the people as if he really had command over their lives—how easily a king could feel like he was more than a man. The shouts were angry calls for revenge. One voice carried to him clearly and it was representative of what the others were probably shouting. “We’ll kill the bastards!”
He held up his hands, palms out. “Let us not be hasty in deciding who we will kill! Leaning forward, he went on. “Lives were lost. Lord Mage Benecala lost his daughter, Quaiva. She was with child, but the child was not killed. She was my friend. I knew her well when we were little and we remained close.” His voice choked a little. He was beyond acting. Although he was thinking more of Tom’s loss than his own, it still hurt to know she died when part of a ceiling collapsed on her while she gave birth. He hammered the railing with both fists. His anger was real and matched by that of the crowd.
Do you know who killed her?” he shouted when he straightened. “Do you?”
The cry went up from the crowd. Different voices. Different volumes, but the same cry. “Crescens!”
No!” The crowd went quiet so suddenly he almost lost his train of thought. “Crescens did not kill her! She was not killed by soldiers. She was not killed by citizens of that country. She was killed when magic cast by druids was hurled at the walls of a symbol of this nation. Magic cast by druids! Druids!
We are in the midst of a war, my people. It is a bloody war. Your sons are fighting this war as we stand where we are. They fight in the desert. They fight on the sea. They fight each other like men. Make no mistake...we will win this war.”
Cheers went up again. The tone was powerful and resolved. He had to bring them around, and give them something...something to direct their anger against. Something they could do to help the cause. “Remember this attack! It was more than an attack on this pile of rocks we call a palace. It was an attack on what we are as a nation. Remember as well...” He leaned forward again and swept his eyes across the mass of people in the square. “...Druids. Priests of a god that cares nothing of men and women and children. Druids did this! There is a long history of war between us and the Crescens, but every one of those wars was directed one way or another by druids!
I will tell you how you can help the effort. Would you like to help the effort?” The question was one that made Benecala itchy, but it was Rolof’s idea and it was endorsed heartily by him and Andy. The crowd roared their assent. Before he could speak, the real King Rolof’s voice came through the curtain behind him.
Be careful now, John. Do not over incite them. You could cause a riot if you do not proceed with caution.”
John held his breath for a second, pretending he was waiting for the crowd to calm. “Be vigilant. If you see a rat, kill it. The druids are capable of changing their shape. They like to become rats—for that is what they are in human form, and it is natural for them to assume it when they spy on our streets and neighborhoods. Be vigilant. Look each person you see in the eye. If the eyes are red as lamps outside a whorehouse, continue on your way and find the nearest protector. They will handle the situation.” There was a slightly muted roar. Mistrust of the guild ran almost as high as the public’s trust in it. He wondered if Rolof knew that, and realized he probably did.
They can take other shapes and forms as well, but their eyes always give them away. Red as coals, they are. They stand against all that we stand for! They want this land...but not the people on it. If they had their way, there would be no Sexton man, no Sexton woman, and no Sexton child left alive. We will not stand for that, will we?”
The sounds from the crowd answered his question. Hats were tossed in the air. It was like seeing a multicolored wave sweep the square. He held up his hands again and waited for them to calm down.
Now let me tell you what we will not do. I say this—nay, I order this—as your King! We will not blame the people of Crescens for the attack on the palace! We will not!”
The mood of the crowd changed like the colors of a traffic light, from green to red, in a hot second. A few started to boo and it spread. He couldn’t let that continue. Didn’t need Rolof to tell him that.
The people of Crescens are not of themselves evil! You know this! You are all good enough to know this!” He continued to project his voice, but toned it down so it wasn’t a shout. “For a long time we have had Crescens live peacefully among us. You buy from them in the bazaar. You seek the fabrics they import. You sell them grain, and buy their beer. They are people. Same as you, if different in some ideas and fashions.
The soldiers fighting our soldiers—your sons—in the battlefield, must be fought. We will do that as long as the druids running Crecens make us do that. We will be victorious in this war when druids are destroyed. I urge you...I beseech not panic. Do not kill until you see the reds of their eyes!” A little line stolen from the American Revolution couldn’t hurt, he thought. “But when you see red eyes, act swiftly.”
Well played,” he heard Rolof say through the curtain. “I think you have them now. Finish it.”
John stepped back from the rail so he could see the crowd. They were waiting. He had their attention, and he had given them something to do. Helplessness on the part of a group of willful people was dangerous. “Druids. We fight druids. That they are among us is beyond doubt. Be vigilant. Be the brave people our ancestors were, the people who fought the beasts that killed their children, the people who tamed the forests and tilled the fields and built the city. We are those people! We are not animals who kill to kill ideas and who seek to bring about the ruin of civilization. Druids do that! We can, and must, and will defeat the druids.
For my part, I am and remain your king! I have led troops in battle, and now I pledge to you that I will lead you as well. We will win this war. We—not me, we—will win this war against druids. If you see a red-eyed creature, kill it! If you are friends with a Crescen, or someone of Crescen ancestry, maintain that friendship! They are not the enemy, the druids are! If you know, if you have friends that are Crescens, talk to them about the druids. See what they have to say, and let them help you root them out. Will you do this?”
The cheers were loud enough to overcome the thunder in the distance behind the walls. It started to rain, not hard, but hard enough to obscure the balcony and the man standing on it.
In the crowd, Andy looked around. He was impressed at the way John picked up on their emotions and turned them the way they wanted. It was a lot better performance than the one he gave in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as a high school junior, and a lot more important. He pressed his way through the crowd and headed back toward the palace. He liked the bit about red-eyed rats. Chuckled at the idea. He might not know it, he thought, but he just ordered a hit on every rat in the city whether its eyes are red or not. And I’m damn glad I’m not an albino rabbit. Those are toast, too!