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Entries in writing (41)

Friday
Dec092011

An Affliction of Alliteration

Here’s another piece of fiction I wrote for one of Chuck’s challenges.

The Five Four O’clock Flashers of the Great Garden
Or, The Elector and the Exhibitionists

When Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Lithuania, ordered a copy of the Aphrodite Kallipygos for the Great Garden of the city of Dresden, he could not have anticipated what would transpire.

As a young man, Augustus had visited the court of the Sun King, and when he became Elector of Saxony (after his older brother died without issue), he resolved to make Dresden as full of splendor as Versailles was. Augustus was every bit the absolute ruler as Louis XIV, and he spared no expense to make his seat of government a wonder to behold. The Great Garden was the centerpiece of his works. It lay just beyond the old city walls, its landscape bedecked with statuary and sculpture. When he had seen the Aphrodite Kallipygos in Rome, he knew that a copy must be his.

“Kallipygos” is a Greek word that means “of the beautiful buttocks,” which may explain Augustus’ fascination with the statue. The sculpture depicts a beautiful woman (reputedly the goddess Aphrodite) lifting up her peplos — the slight garment favored by Greek women in the Classical period — to reveal her shapely backside. Augustus was well-acquainted with shapely backsides; despite his marriage at a young age to Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, he was known to have had at least a dozen mistresses, and though he had only one legitimate child, he was by some accounted to have fathered more than three hundred children.
This was the kind of man, then, who walked through the Great Garden in the city of Dresden, at just past four in the afternoon on Wednesday, the twenty-third day of June, in the Year of Our Lord Seventeen Hundred Twenty-Three.

Augustus was recently returned from Warsaw. Since his election to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, his rule over those lands had suffered one setback after another. Though he was greatly desirous of that realm — he had imperiled his own standing as Prince-Elector of Saxony by converting to Catholicism in order to make himself eligible for the throne — he never felt as at home in Warsaw as he did in Dresden. He had not yet visited his wife (who refused to join him in Poland) and he was that afternoon enjoying the rare opportunity for a constitutional through the Great Garden. The Elector had brought his financial ministers with him, and he was indulging in one of his most common pastimes: Haranguing them about their inability to produce more revenues to fund his beautification projects. As they walked through the garden, he continued his exhortations to find new taxes to apply that would raise the necessary money without inciting a general revolt, his words given particular emphasis by the ivory-handled cane with which he jabbed at the air. Just as he passed the fountain he had built two summers past, he noticed that his companions’ objections had suddenly ceased. As he turned to scowl at them, he discovered why.

In front of the Aphrodite Kallipygos — unveiled not three weeks earlier — stood five women. They ranged in age from the middle teens to the early geriatric. All five of them mimicked the statue’s pose: their heads turned over their right shoulders, their skirts hiked up to their waists, and their bottoms bare. For a brief moment, Augustus fell as silent as his councilors.

The moment was broken when the Elector’s cane clattered to the ground, his famously strong grip having failed him in this moment of confusion. The women’s heads swiveled toward his party, and as they saw the gathered onlookers, they scattered in every direction.

“Halt!” cried Augustus. “I command it!” But they did no such thing. His ministers were all men in their fifties, as he was, and ill-suited to give chase. The two younger guardsmen with them might have had a chance, but their pursuit was doomed by head start their quarry had over them. In a flash, they were gone.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Augustus. His companions shook their heads and suggested they examine the statue more closely. The perplexed company walked across the glade to where the sculpture stood, but drawing closer revealed no further clues as to the reason for the women’s behavior.

“I will get to the bottom of this,” said Augustus as the troupe returned to the palace. One of the guards snickered at this, but did so out of earshot of the Elector.

Throughout that summer, Augustus turned his city upside-down searching for the five women he saw that afternoon. Word went out for the exhibitionists to turn themselves in. It was said that they would not be punished, and that the Elector only wished an explanation of their curious gathering. When they failed to produce themselves, he offered a reward for any information that would lead to their discovery. This, too, bore no fruit. As summer turned to fall, the great man’s obsession and desperation grew. Augustus’ men were seen ransacking the homes of people alleged to be hiding the mysterious ladies. In October of that year a rumor passed through the city that Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, had been seen, late one night, in the Great Garden, wearing a peplos and gazing over his shoulder at his own bare bottom. Surely such talk was but slander spread by the Elector’s enemies and should not be taken seriously.

On the first day of February 1733, Augustus died in Warsaw at the age of 63, never having discovered why five women revealed their bottoms on that afternoon ten years earlier.

In February 1945, the Aphrodite Kallipygos of the Great Garden was destroyed in the Allied bombing of Dresden, its shapely behind consumed by the flames of war.

Thursday
Nov242011

A Star is Born

It’s been a few weeks, but I’ve written another piece of flash fiction, again for one of Chuck Wendig’s challenges. This one was particularly interesting to write; I used my recently acquired set of Rory’s Story Cubes to help me along.

Arturo Fuego, who in ten years would be hailed as the greatest dramatic tenor of his generation, stood in the wings with a frog in his throat.

The opera-goers had just discovered Enrico Arboles would not be performing his most famous role, having developed a severe fever an hour before. The theatre was deeply in debt and so had not cancelled the performance. Bringing in the understudy was a risk they had to take.

“The audience expects nothing of you,” his father had said over the phone. “Forget Arboles. Be Fuego.”

The orchestra started to play, and the legend began.

Saturday
Nov192011

Revising My Plans

I’d originally planned on spending November doing revisions on the zeroth draft of the novel. I’d told a couple of people that I wanted to have a shareable draft by the end of the year, so I needed to get going on it. For a variety of reasons, I’d decided to put it off to December. But it occurs to me that next weekend — when I’ll be at home for four days, when a bunch of our friends are out of town, when I don’t really have anything planned — would be a good opportunity to get a head start on it.

I guess I know what I’m going to be printing out on Monday…

Monday
Oct312011

Link Roundup for 31 October 2011

I realize these should be scary, but they’re just writing-related instead.




Update

Fitness: Rest day
Thursday
Oct202011

Render Unto Caesar

This is the fourth week out of five that I’ve done Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge. I foresee doing as many of them as I can in the future. A week is just long enough to let me stew on an idea, particularly if the piece is a thousand words or less. I have time to think, but not time to dally. Cranking out a story every week is also making certain habits and weaknesses clearer to me. Now I just have to figure out how to fix them.

I was surprised by how many positive comments I got on last week’s piece. I seemed to have tapped into something I resonated with a lot of people. I don’t think my response to this week’s challenge will grab people the same way. Still, I had fun writing it, and I think my influences show through pretty clearly.

It doesn’t bother me that my accountant is a vampire. It bothers me that he drinks too much.

Mark is — quite frankly — the best tax accountant in the business. He should be, too. He’s been a bean counter since Augustus’ head was on the denarius. He’s saved me a bundle over the years. The problem is that every so often he gets melancholy over something and he crawls into the bottle for a month or two. In November, it’s not a problem. In March, it is.

It’s the middle of March when I drop by the small collection of business suites where Mark has his office with the shoebox full of receipts that make up my ledger. I know you’re thinking that’s no way to run a business. Here’s the thing: I’m good at what I do — finding people — and I’m not at counting pennies. If I was, I wouldn’t need Mark to work his magic. Anyway, the hallway door to his office is open just a crack, so I push my way in. That’s when I smell the whiskey.

I find him passed out under his desk, a trio of empty bottles nearby. I shake my head and put the shoebox down on the desk between the piles of paper that have accumulated there. I grab an empty coffee mug from the desk, walk down the hallway to where the bathrooms he shares with the rest of the office suites on this floor are, and fill the mug with water from the drinking fountain. Then I come back and pour it on his head.

He comes to in a squall of flailing limbs and curse words in a dozen languages. His gyrations are more comic than fearsome. He’s still on his back when his eyes finally focus on me.

“Guy,” he says. “That wasn’t very nice.”

“And it wasn’t very nice of you to be passed out on the floor when I showed up for my appointment. Don’t you have a coffin nearby for that?”

He pulls himself to his feet, using the desk for support.

“It’s… being cleaned,” he says.

I snort.

“No, really, the velvet was getting a bit mildew-y. So I had Tony send it out to be cleaned.” He sits down in the swivel chair behind his desk. I walk over to the couch and sit, pushing aside the pillow and blankets piled there.

“You’re getting careless, Mark. The door was ajar. I could have been anyone. I could have been Crow.”

“Crow’s nobody. I’m not worried about him. He probably thinks we’re in New Mexico or something,” says Mark. He reaches down and slides open the bottom drawer on his desk.

“Oh, that’s a great idea,” I say as he pulls out another whiskey bottle, this one only half-empty.

“I don’t care what you think.” He picks up the once-again-empty coffee cup and pours himself a double.

“Did she leave you again?”

He stares at me. “She’s been gone for three years. She didn’t come back after the last time.”

“Oh,” I say. Have I really not been paying attention? Still it’s only three years. “Do you… want me to ask around?”

“No.” He knocks it back and starts pouring another.

“Then what it is?”

He stares at me again. This time he leans on the desk and uses one arm to keep his head steady. “What day is it?”

“What, today? It’s Tuesday.”

“What’s the date, Guy?”

“It’s the — oh.”

“Yeah.”

The room is quiet for a moment. Slowly, I stand up and walk over to Mark, reaching out to take mug from him. He refills it, then hands it to me.

I fling it across the room where it shatters against the wall, bits of ceramic spraying about the office, the whiskey streaking down the cheap wallpaper.

“Bona Dea, why did you do that?” Mark says, still holding the bottle.

“Because I’m tired of you moping around.” I poke his chest. “You need to cut it out. He’s been dead for more than two thousand years. It’s not even the same calendar anymore.”

“But…”

“Get over it.” I poke him once more for emphasis. “I have.”

“He wasn’t your friend.”

“No, he wasn’t. He was a tyrant. ‘Sic semper tyrannis’, right?”

“I never said that.”

“No, but you could have.”

“Well…”

“No, seriously,” I say, calmer now. “That sort of dramatic flourish wouldn’t work without the gravitas you have. That’s why we needed you.”

He smiles a little. Flattery will get you everywhere.

“I understand,” I continue, “that you have regrets about how things turned out. I don’t feel great about it myself. Regardless, we did what we had to do.”

Mark is nodding a little now.

“We have to move on. Remember why you started this business up?”

“So that tax season would keep me busy,” he says. “So that I’d have so much work to do in March and April I wouldn’t think about it.”

“That’s right. Because you throw yourself into your work.” I’ve got him now, so I go in for the kill. “So you know there’s only one thing to do.” I nod at the shoebox and close my mouth.

He stands there for a moment, his eyes unfocused. Slowly, he puts the bottle back in the drawer and slides it closed. He sits down in the chair, clears away one of the piles of paper, pulls out a legal pad and a pen, and cracks the lid on my shoebox. He sighs and looks up at me, one hand on his chin.

“This could take a while,” he says.

“How about you take a pass through them while I go grab something to eat?”

“Sounds good,” he says without looking up as he pulls the first stack of receipts out and starts to sort them. “I’ll have a blonde.”

“I think I will, too,” I say.

I close the door to his office and head out to hunt. Crisis averted.




Update

Fitness: Ran 3 miles