Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Jean Roberta: Rescuing "La Chatte Blanche"

[Jean Roberta has been having trouble posting here, so I'm doing it for her--Sacchi.]

Jean Roberta

The theme this month is "Rescue." So here is a fairly long passage from "Madame Blanche," my fairy tale based on "La Chatte Blanche" by the Countess d'Aulnoy. In my version, a transman trapped in a female body and a noblewoman trapped in the body of a cat must rescue each other.
"Madame Blanche" is in my story collection, Spring Fever, available here: https://www.amazon.com/SPRING-FEVER-Other-Lesbi…/…/B07T9FCFC
Val rode through one village after another on her quest, and the people addressed her as “Your Lordship.” But the only dogs she saw were thin or half-wild and clearly not fit for a King, and so her quest seemed fruitless. As though Nature herself wished to discourage Val from riding ever farther from her own hearth, the autumn winds blew cold and gray clouds often hid the sun.
At length she came to a dark forest, and her horse was reluctant to go forward. But Val knew that many wonders can be found in such wild places, and no one ever overcame a challenge by surrendering to fear. She urged her horse to pick his way between the trees until they arrived at a clearing that reflected the light of precious jewels: glowing rubies, sapphires as blue as the sky, cool green emeralds, golden topaz, brilliant diamonds. She found herself staring at the walls of a small but exquisite castle made of gemstones, with golden doors and crystal windows.
"Who lives here?" she asked aloud, and her horse neighed as though he were perplexed as well. No gate or sentries impeded her approach, so Val dismounted and strode bravely to a shining door with a great knocker in the form of a lion showing its teeth.
The clang of the knocker echoed deep within the castle. Slowly, the door swung open although no one could be seen within. A sweet voice called out:
"Welcome, Traveler. Have no fear.
Here is linen, meat and cheer."
Val peered into a dark foyer, and saw no one. "Who welcomes me?" she called loudly, knowing she had come to a place of enchantment. She was wary, but determined not to surrender to fear.
The clear voice answered:
"One whose truest form must be
Concealed until her heart is free."
Val felt she had heard herself described. Whoever dwelt in the wondrous castle was surely afflicted, as she was, with a body which did not represent her true self.
To her surprise, a pair of hands floated through the air to seize the bridle of her horse and lead him to an outbuilding which appeared to be a stable made of copper. Another pair of hands seized her by the sleeves and gently pulled her inside, as though honored by her visit. Val’s curiosity and her determination to face every challenge prompted her to accept the strange, unspoken invitation. As soon as she had crossed the threshold, the door closed behind her with a ringing crash.
A hand holding a torch led her into a grand hall whose walls were entirely covered with murals of cats on wooden horses hunting mice, cats dancing upright in elegant clothes, cats fighting battles with drawn swords, cats seated around a table, looking as serious as judges. Val had no time to study the curious images before the hands pulled her firmly to the door of a bedchamber in which all the furniture was decorated in green silk. The pale hands lit the fire and the lamps, then exited. When Val tried to open it, she found herself locked in.
No matter, she assured herself. I have a comfortable bed for the night, and my horse doubtlessly has food, water and clean straw. She would not willingly have deprived the beast of nourishment, although her own appetite had quite fled. Whatever awaited her in the enchanted castle, Val knew that rest would help her to preserve her strength. She removed her clothes and donned the soft nightshirt she found folded on the bed before climbing under the coverlet and falling into a deep sleep.
When Val awoke refreshed in the morning, the door opened, and the hands presented her with a savory meal of venison and dove’s eggs on beautifully pattern china, with fragrant tea and cherry juice to quench her thirst. No sooner had she eaten and drunk her fill than she regretted giving way to her hunger. Would she be held in this place forever by a cantrip?
As though in response to her questions, a pair of hands tugged at the nightshirt which was her only covering. She held the fabric in one hand as she used the other to repulse the hands as though they were weapons. At length, the hands laid a washbasin, soap and a comb on a beautifully carved table before her, and placed a powdered wig and the clothes of a court gentleman on a silk-upholstered chair. A pair of fine, buckled shoes, too small for most men but just the right size for Val, were placed on the carpet beside her feet. Then the hands made an elaborate shrug in the air, floated to the door, and disappeared. Val knew that her magical attendants were waiting to escort her to their master or mistress. When she was fit to be presented to others of her rank, she opened the door and followed the beckoning hands.
Val was led back to the great hall with its painted scenes, which was now filled with cats large and small, all dressed as rich nobles and twitching their tails at the sight of her. She marveled at the sight before her, and then she held her lips tightly closed to prevent a laugh from escaping. The most awful meowing echoed off the walls and the ceiling, and the Princess realized that the assembled company must be discussing her in their own language.
A small, graceful figure covered in a black veil and matching gown came forward, walking on hind legs.
"Welcome, Visitor," said the figure, whose French was as perfect as that of the court in which Val had been raised. "We so rarely have a chance to offer hospitality to strangers that we are grateful for your company. Though you may leave whenever you choose, I hope you will stay with us at least until spring returns. I shall not demand your true name or your position in the world, but I will tell you mine. I am Blanche, and I am the chatelaine of this place."
"Pardon me, my Lady," said Val, "but can all the members of your court speak as humans do?"
"We can," answered Lady Blanche, "but amongst ourselves we prefer to speak as cats."
Val felt very self-conscious, being the object of so much curiosity. Many pairs of green and golden eyes stared at her openly. For once, she felt too large. As she had often felt the lack of a tail in front, she was now keenly aware that she also lacked one behind.
Lady Blanche turned her head to confront her too-curious courtiers, and at once all the other cats looked elsewhere as though searching the wainscots for mice. “Please forgive our incivility, Sir,” she asked her guest. “Will you join us in the hunt this afternoon? Hunting rats is great sport, and it discourages them from invading our larders.”
“I would be honored.” Val thought this the most diplomatic reply.
“And now will you join me in my private quarters? We may converse more freely there.”
Val gladly assented. By now, she suspected Lady Blanche and her court were humans of high rank, all under an evil spell. If they were so cursed, Val hoped she could restore the lady and all her courtiers to their true forms by fighting a dragon or perhaps an old witch: whoever had changed them to cats. And perhaps in return, Blanche could help her win her father’s favor and inherit the kingdom which she knew to be rightfully hers.
The other courtiers scampered hither and yon in a way that looked startling to Val, who was accustomed to human etiquette. Lady Blanche skipped lightly on four paws to lead her guest out of the room, glancing back to make sure she followed.
They came to a charming room outfitted in teakwood and rose-colored damask draperies, where Lady Blanche curled up on a loveseat. Like all cats at ease, she seemed to be waiting to be stroked, but Val did not dare presume to touch her. Val sat as closely beside her hostess as she thought seemly.
The little cat used her forepaws to lift her black veil over her head, revealing a furry white face with delicate whiskers. Val could have sworn the cat was smiling. "What am I to call you, my Lord?" asked Lady Blanche.
"Prince Val," answered the visitor. "In thanks for your hospitality, my Lady, I will explain how I came to enter your domain." Looking at the cat’s sympathetic little face and gently-moving tail, she found it easy to recount her father's dilemma and the strange challenge he had given to his three offspring.
"Ah," replied Lady Blanche. "As you may have noticed, dogs are not welcome here. However, you may ask me for a favor before you depart, and I will do all within my power to help you."
"You are most gracious, my Lady. Everything about you leads me to think you are really a noblewoman in the form of a cat. May I not help you to return to human form? I am fearless in battle, even when fighting magical enemies."
"I have faith in your courage, Sir," replied Lady Blanche. A small pink tongue delicately flicked out between two rows of sharp little teeth. "But do not ask me to tell you my history because I cannot. That is part of my condition. We will not speak of this again."

Monday, November 18, 2019

#Rescue Never Give Up On a Dog, Ashe Barker

Meet Ethel. Today was her three monthly wash and brush up so she is looking unusually clean and tidy. The lady who works this miracle, Cera, comes to our house and spends an hour or so making Ethel and Saffy, her daughter, look fit to be among decent folk. Naturally, we chat during all of this, and she tells me about the dog rescue charity she runs.
It never ceases to amaze me how uncaring and downright cruel people, can be to animals. Thank goodness for Cera and people like her who intervene to give these luckless souls a second chance.

It reminds me also of another friend of mine. Sarah used to be the PR consultant who worked with the company I was once employed at. We met frequently during the course of work and became good friends, a friendship which endures to this day even though our paths parted professionally over a decade ago.

Sarah had a rescue dog, a cute little mongrel which used to come with her to meetings. Lizzie was very sweet and would curl up under the table while we dealt with the business. Sadly, no dog is immortal and Lizzie died of old age about five years ago. Sarah was devastated but determined to get another rescue dog.

Most of us trot along to the RSPCA or the Dogs Trust. Not Sarah. She went one better and rescued her dog from the streets of Romania. Ursu was in his middle years when she first saw his picture on a website. He had been a street dog his entire life and distrusted people – with good reason. When he was eventually rounded up there seemed to be little hope for him, but Sarah knew better. After long and protracted negotiations with a rescue charity specialising in rehoming Romanian strays to the UK, a deal was struck and Ursu began his journey across Europe.

Sarah tells the tale of arranging to meet the courier who would bring him to the UK in a motorway services on the M1. The charity would deal with all the paperwork, veterinary care, health certificates and such like to ensure everything was nice and legal, but a dog like Ursu needs special care.

“Bring a lead” they said. “A strong one.”

Sure enough, the moment the crate door was opened in that car park, the dog made his leap for freedom. It took three of them to wrestle him into Sarah’s car, and he yowled the entire way back to her house. Once there, they had to almost drag him inside, then lock all the doors because if he got loose they would never see him again.

The following weeks were somewhat harrowing as Ursu became accustomed to his new life. He had never lived indoors. He was scared of the television, and absolutely petrified of the vacuum cleaner. He couldn’t manage stairs and would leave a huge puddle on the floor if anyone came to the house. He was friendly enough, but painfully timid.

Months passed, and he became calmer. He got so that he could venture out of the kitchen to explore the other rooms. He could even go outside, though to this day no one would think it wise to let him off the lead. He enjoys chasing his squeaky toy, and even took a dip in the sea.

Ursu probably won’t make old bones. No amount of pampering – and he gets plenty of that these days – will compensate for years of near starvation and neglect. But his life is happy now. He lives with people who adore him, and a more affectionate dog is hard to imagine.

Being something of a wordsmith, it was natural that Sarah would want to tell his story. Her book, Ursu: Never Give Up On A Dog is available on Amazon and is a must read for dog-lovers everywhere.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

An unlikely savior - #HolidayRomance #SelfPublishing #Homelessness

Slush cover
For my promo post today, I have a bit from my story Slush: A Holiday Romance. This title represented my very first foray into self-publishing, nearly five years ago.

A lot of books under the bridge since then! I’m still fond of this gentle tale, though, about a rich guy who’s rescued by a homeless young woman.

You can get a copy (only 99 cents!) at Smashwords, Amazon, BN or Kobo.


Hot shot Boston lawyer Ian Pierce has everything but peace of mind. Christmas Eve finds him alone, wading through the slush to his BMW so he can drive back to his lonely luxury apartment. Then everything goes black. He awakens with an aching skull to find himself in a freezing, boarded-up garage occupied by a street kid. At first he blames the dodgy-looking youth for his troubles, but before long he realizes the raggedy girl who rescued him from the gutter may well be a Christmas angel in disguise.


Hey, mister – you okay?”

The youthful voice filtered down the deep, dark hole to Ian’s flickering awareness.

Urgh.” That was his own voice, a groan that kicked up pounding echoes in his head. Irritated by his own incapacity, pushing the pain aside, he tried again.

I – uh – I don’t know...” He forced his heavy eyelids open, blinking to dispel the maddening blurriness, and tried to focus on the pale face hovering over him. “What – what happened?”

I think you were mugged. I found you unconscious in the alley, lying in the gutter next to some fancy car.” The teenager had a thin face with a toothy grin. A knitted Bruins cap pulled low over his ears hid the kid’s hair. His breath condensed into white clouds when he spoke.

A shiver wracked Ian’s body. Even that slight movement exacerbated the throbbing at the back of his skull. Damn, it hurt! And it was freezing in here!

Where am I?” Ian tried to sit up, impatient as always with any kind of weakness. “Ow – shit!”

He sank back onto something yielding, breathing hard. A damp smell of mold assailed him, mixed with hints of motor oil and wood smoke.

Better not move,” the kid counseled. “You might have a concussion.”

Ignoring this advice, Ian managed to work himself into a half-sit. The softness beneath him was an old mattress, covered with a stained woolen blanket. He leaned against a plywood wall. Cold seeped through the thin barrier from the winter night outside, all the way through his coat and his shirt. His back muscles cramped and he shivered again. He glanced around the dim, crowded space, noting that the other walls and the floor were bare concrete.

Here – try this.” The younger man grabbed a thick wad of newspapers from a pile in the corner
Tilt forward – yeah – that’s right.” He slipped the papers into the space between Ian’s back and the wall. They worked surprisingly well as insulation. The kid smiled, showing those even white teeth once again. “Better now?”

Ian nodded, then regretted it as the pain in his head surged. “How did I get here?”

The teen’s laugh was high and girlish as he gestured toward a rusty supermarket cart parked near the door in the plywood partition.

You’re joking!”

Nope. A sled might have been better on a night like this, though.”

But how... why...?”

The kid gazed at him, hands on his hips. “I couldn’t leave you there in the slush, could I? You would’ve froze to death, no question.”

Ian peered more closely at his savior. The teen – well, he might have been twenty, twenty one at most – looked plump in his miscellany of sweaters and sweatshirts. Underneath the bulky layers, though, he was slightly built. His hands, wrapped in orange mittens, were small. Bright red long johns showed through the holes in his ragged jeans. Despite the inclement weather, he wore no boots, only dirty sneakers, which looked soaked through. That observation made Ian realize how wet and cold he was in his own clothing.

He shivered again. “Don’t you have any heat in here?”

The kid shrugged. “I could light a fire, I guess. I don’t like to do that too often – makes it more likely someone will figure out I’m in here. But I suppose nobody’s going to be prowling around on Christmas Eve, ‘specially when it’s so miserable out.”

He dragged a battered oil drum with a deeply dented lid into the center of the room and started piling on bits and pieces of wood from a box near the newspapers. Then he crumpled some of that paper onto the top and struck a match.

The merry flames made Ian feel marginally better. The ache in his occipital region faded a bit and the numbness shrouding his brain cleared. He began to remember, brief impressions at first, then whole scenes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"To Play" A rescuing story . . .

Snow falling. The endless snow that reminds me of the haunted midnight forests of my old Bavaria. I turn my head up to the silver night sky, the glowing iridescent clouds and the snow falls straight down into my cold eyes like a shower of tiny meteors all aglow.

On the crest of the hill, I smell him, it is a big male, a gray wolf such as my Uncle Snorri sometimes hunted and killed and hung on the gatepost of the sheep pen as a warning to other wolves. I smell the wolf. The wolf smells me. We two indolent hunters, passing in the night. His blood is as warm as any, but his nobility protects him from me. We are too much alike. A large furred beast. A small thin woman with snow colored hair; my pellucid face glows as white as the snow, so that without the blood in my eyes I might vanish in the wasteland like a ghost.

He doesn’t know what to make of me. He sees human. But his excellent nose confuses him – the girl standing under the pine tree is not human. Does he feel that? A little out of tune? He must wonder what I am to be so strange. If I wait, yes, he comes now. He can’t stay away. He wants to know. It’s the craft and curse of my kind. What does a nosferatu do best but fascinate?

He comes close to me, as though he were my own gorgeous dog, but then stops. Growls, snarls and shows his teeth to me. I have remarkable teeth too, wolfie dear. I brush the unmelting snow from my icy and bloodless skin and snarl at him showing my long sharp canines and he backs off, baffled.

Now he is frightened of me, because I am small and thin. Just a girl, easy meat and I should be afraid and I am not. He knows that’s wrong. Suspicious. Beware herr wolfie, when they are not afraid of you.

I gauge the distance. One leap. Say, two for the snow. Three if he runs. I would have his neck in my hands and teeth. It’s as hard to attack a wolf as a sheep, because they have so much hair over the throat. You can’t reach the vein at all unless you first kill and then peel them like fruit. It’s a mess.

And besides, aren’t you beautiful herr wolfie? Play with me, wolfie. Look how I’m all alone, and no one to play. I hold out my hand, stretch my fingers. Come. Come, come. He only watches, never taking his golden eyes from me.

I met Daniel on just such a night. I tried so hard to kill him. He won my heart with snowballs.

Wandering the haunted woods near his home in Maine, which forests I loved, he rather smelled of death and depression like a beacon. A crazed and tired mind. What must I have looked like to him standing in the trail in the falling snow. Buxom, ragamuffin girl. Hungry little matchstick girl, with matchstick arms and legs who has lost her matches, preserved in my ever girlhood like a frost maiden.

He never feared for me, because he was so sure I was not real. A drug dream or hallucination. He talked to me in the thickening storm, and I bided my time pretending to listen. I longed for him even as he disgusted me. The snow in his hair like jewels. I took my fatal step towards him, dull eyed I was, whispering when he took up a wad of snow and threw it straight up high in the air. I looked up just as it burst on my face. Masked in snow, I stood shocked into waxwork stillness, sparkling like a Christmas tree. I awoke. I threw snow at him. He threw a ball at me, and again, hitting my face every time. I chased him round a tree; we tumbled together like wolf pups.

He did not lust for me as men do in the beginning. Nor hate me as men do at the end. He played with me. That’s all. No one had played with me, ever.

I chased after him, in German cursing; far onto the ice, laughing. Throwing snow. Forgetting my fell purpose.

Into the ice he dropped through some fisherman’s hole. Clawing at the snow barehanded, fingernails scratching blood he held on. He discovered he wanted so badly not to die, after all. Because he had to know if I was a real girl.

I came up to him, with cruel slowness, showing him my true nature, deciding it was time to end our game.

His imploring grappling finger tips. I poked at them with the toe of my old tennies. He looked up at me, baffled. I had a notion that his frozen heart, crushed flat would look like a pressed blood flower. It would be my Christmas treat.

My white face reflected in his fading eyes like a star.

What do we know of our lives? Who will save us or why? Who will finally pay the price of our salvation, not once but many times?

As he slipped under the black water I kneeled and reached his hand.

The wolf sees me. I see the wolf. In my hands a big snowball packed tight. It hits him on the muzzle and he barks and jumps back, shaking snow from his eyes. Now he leaves. So. So, go away then, who needs you. Stupid old wolf.

Alone again, rejoicing in the silent music of this cold choir, I give myself over to the storm’s embrace of desolate quietude. Fall snow, cover me. I will not melt you, not even in my cold mouth. Bury me like a proper corpse, on my maiden back, imagining a bridal bed of white lilies, as I am until dawn.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Rescue and Revival

Sacchi Green

Sometimes I really don’t know where my stories come from. No, scratch that “Sometimes.” All of the stories that I think of as my best come through characters who are nothing like me, with lives nothing like mine, but whose voices come naturally as I write. One of the best examples of this, in my biased opinion, happens to fit our current theme of “Rescue” quite literally, so rather than trying to figure out whether I’ve quoted from this story here before, I’ll just go with the serendipitous flow and offer an excerpt from a story that appeared first in Kristina Wright’s anthology Duty and Desire, and is now reprinted in my recent collection Wild Rides.


Sgt. Rae

Sgt. Rae was so strong she could carry me at a run through gunfire and smoke and exploding mines. Two years later, she’s that strong again. With just one hand she can keep me from getting away, no matter how hard I struggle. Even her voice is enough to stop me at a dead run, so it doesn’t matter that she can’t run any more. And anyway, I’d never want to run away.
I’m smaller, but I’ve got my own kind of muscle, even if it doesn’t show. A mechanic in an armored tank unit has to be strong just to handle the tools you need, and if you’re a woman doing the job you need a whole extra layer of strength. I’m not an army mechanic any more, but I can still use tools; Sgt. Rae isn’t an army Sgt. any more, but she’ll always be in charge. At the town hall where she’s the police and fire department dispatcher, they tell me she’s got the whole place organized like it’s never been before.
In our house, or in the town, I’m supposed to just call her Rae these days, and mostly I remember. I’m just Jenny. In the bedroom, we don’t need names at all, except to wake each other when the bad dreams come, and whisper that everything’s all right now. Or close enough to handle, as long as we’re together.
Out here, though, on this trail I’ve made through the woods and across the stream, we play by my rules, and that means I’m Specialist 2nd Brown and she’s the ball-buster Staff Sergeant, even though neither of us has any use for balls.
She’ll be coming along the trail behind me any minute, coming to see what new contraption I’ve constructed. What she expects is something like the exercise stations I’ve built for her into every room in the house, chinning bars and railings and handgrips at different levels, and in a way that’s right, but with a different twist. She expects I’ll want her to order me to drop and do fifty push-ups or sit-ups, or run in place until I’m panting, but this time I want something else.
I check the gears and pulleys one more time, even though I already know the tension is set right. It’s my own tension that’s nearly out of control. The posts and crossbars are rock-solid, while I’m shaking in my old fatigues, so nervous and horny that I can’t even tell which is which.
I hear the motor now. I could’ve made it run quieter, but if you’ve been where I’ve been, where we’ve both been, you want to be sure you know who’s coming around the bend.
She’s crossed the rocky ford in the stream where no regular wheelchair could have gone. I salvaged tracks from old snowmobiles at the repair shop where I work, and they’re as good as any armored tank tracks, even though they’re made of Kevlar instead of steel. Fine for this terrain, and even the steel kind got chewed up in the desert sand in Iraq.
Mustn’t think about the desert now. Here in New Hampshire, green leaves overhead are beginning to turn orange and red. This stream flows into a river just beyond our house, and we can watch canoes and kayaks pass by; no desert in sight. This is home. We’re together. Safe. Except that safe isn’t always enough, when you’ve known—had to know—so much more.
Now I hear Sgt. Rae veering back and forth through the obstacle course, steering the mini-tank around trees, stumps, boulders, right over small logs. With a double set of the tracks on each side, the only way to steer is by slowing one side while accelerating the other, and that takes strength. I think of her big hands on the levers, the bunched muscles of her arms and shoulders, even stronger now than in the army because she insists on a manually powered chair anywhere but in these woods. Gloves help, but her hands get calloused from turning the wheels. Calloused, and rough, even when she tries to be gentle… Anticipation pounds through my body.    
 I kneel on the ground, close my eyes, try to clear my mind—but on the distant bridge over the river a truck backfires, and in spite of the leafy dampness the desert flashes around me again, the clouds of dust, the explosions, the machine gun fire on that final day. I think of Sgt. Rae’s powerful voice, how it cut through the pain and confusion and kept me breathing when I didn’t think I could last another second. “Brown!” she bellowed, again and again, coming closer to where the shattered truck cab trapped me. “Brown, damn you, report!” That sound gripped me, forced strength into me, so that I moved, just a little, no matter how much it hurt, and she found me.
I never remember what happened next. I don’t think Sgt. Rae does, either, but somebody told me later they found a bent assault rifle barrel nearby, and maybe she levered the truck cab up enough with that to drag me out. I just remember being slung over her shoulder, feeling her run and swerve and run some more, and hearing her voice drilling right through to my heart in a tone I’d never heard before. “Jenny, Jenny…hang on…”
Right then, with bullets still screaming around us, it was like I’d died and waked up to a new world. Ever since the day we met, Sgt. Rae had mesmerized me, obsessed me, and I’d worked to hide my foolish longings behind hard work and casual jokes and chatter. But in that moment, as her strong voice shook, a window opened in the midst of hell and gave me a glimpse of a heaven better than anything they’d ever preached about in church.
I passed out when she set me down behind a sand bunker some of our guys had piled up in a hurry. Maybe I heard somebody say another soldier was still out there, or maybe I just heard later how she went back into that hell. Either way, I know she went.
It was a month before I saw Sgt. Rae again. I was still bandaged but up and walking. She wasn’t. At first, when I stood beside the hospital bed, I wondered whether she was really there at all, inside, until she saw me.
I could scarcely hear the word. But then strength came back into her voice, and the power I’d always felt surrounding her was there again as though a light had been switched on. “Specialist Brown, report!”
So I did, listing my injuries and treatments and recovery, even though her half-smile softened the formal order. Later, when she’d had her meds and fallen asleep, I pumped the nurses about her injuries and prognosis, and from that day I was never away from her for more than a few hours. There were some rough parts, and sometimes I had to be the strong one to get her through. A nurse or two caught on that there was more to it than just that she’d saved my life, but they never made any fuss. It helped that I could fix mechanical glitches in the orthopedic ward’s equipment, and even make some things work better than originally designed; I think somewhere along the line they claimed me as an adjunct physical therapy technician.
The dampness of the ground soaking through my jeans brings me back to the present. Sgt. Rae is coming around the clump of hemlock saplings. It’s time, and now I’m ready, in position, on my knees, hands clasped high above my head, ropes wrapped around my wrists, head bowed.
I can’t salute in this position, but I try to sound as though I were doing it. “Sergeant, yes Sergeant!”
“What do you think you’re doing, Brown?”
“Sergeant, I’m kneeling, Sergeant.”
“I can see that. But do you know what you’re doing?”
Without looking I can tell she’s surveying the situation. A pair of leather-wrapped rings hangs right where she can stretch up and reach them. The system of gears and pulleys is rigged to offer just the right amount of resistance and stability for her to pull herself to a standing position, brace with forearms at chest level on a crossbar, and then lower her weight slowly back down. Three of the doorways in our house have similar setups, but this one is more complex—and in this one, the counterweight is me.
“Sergeant, yes Sergeant, I do know what I’m doing.”
There’s the slightest of creaks as she begins to rise. The ropes tighten, and I rise, too, until I’m dangling in the air, helpless—or as helpless as I can make myself seem. My wrists are padded just enough to keep the circulation from being cut off. I could thrash, and kick—I fought off rape a time or two in the army, before I got to Sgt. Rae’s squad, where you’d better believe no woman ever had to fear attack by fellow soldiers—but now I’m sinking into sub space, wide open, vulnerable.

That’s about two thirds of the story, but by the end it’s even more clear how each of these characters has rescued the other.

(Just a note to apologize for my lack of commenting on other posts on Oh Get a Grip, but for some time now this site—and even my own blogger site—won’t accept comments from me, even though I can manage to do new posts.)

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Rescuing the Phantom

One of my favourite novels of rescue is Phantom of the Opera.I read Gaston Leroux’s novel long before I saw the wonderful musical. I found all the old movies based loosely, very loosely, on the book missed the point entirely. While Phantom of the Opera weaves together our worst nightmares so tightly with our deepest hopes and wildest dreams that it’s impossible to pick the threads apart, ultimately, it is the story of rescue and redemption. 

I think stories in mythology about seduction of mortal women by the gods are really stories of inspiration. What better description of inspiration than divine seduction. But sometimes, occasionally, they are twisted and turned in such a way that the heroine is more than just a victim of a horny god. The story of Psyche and Eros is an example. Ultimately Psyche is brave enough to rescue herself, with a little help from the gods. That doesn’t happen very often.

Leroux’s Phantom of the Operatwists that plot even further. There is no help from the gods, and the hero is not the dashing young viscount from Christine’s past. The god in the story is not irresistibly beautiful, but horribly disfigured. He knows the soul of an artist, and he knows the real seduction is in offering a deeper understanding, a deeper mastery of her gift, and the lovely Christine is willingly to accept what her Angel of Music offers. The Phantom’s darkness is the balance to Christine’s light, and his music of the night allows her true gift to shine. Through it all, Raul, the viscount, is clueless, convinced that he can keep Christine safe. But Christine knows the darkness now. She’s seen it, embraced it, and a part of her loves it, longs for it. Her seduction by the music of the night has a chilling price that the whole story revolves around. In the end there is no sword battle, no cunning tricks, no magic wand. In the end there is simply a kiss, far more devastating than the sharpest blade. Compassion and acceptance does what muscle and gunpowder cannot.

I still get shivers when I read the descriptions of the Phantom’s lair and the dark lake under the opera house, when I revisit the terrifying scene in the graveyard. Yet throughout the whole of the book I felt an ache for the Phantom that was much more about seduction than pity. Phantom of the Operais a compelling, beautifully woven mix of fear and awe and raw desire for a man who is so much more than human. But though his actions tell us he is a monster, he compels the reader to desire him, and we long for him and Christine to be together, for all wounds to be healed. We long for the happy ever after. 

But there can be none. Instead, the happy-ever-after is gifted to Raul. He is to claim what the Phantom has nurtured and longed for but can never have. It is Christine, however, who earns that gift for Raul by being willing to pay the price for his life. There is no doubt she is the hero of this story. She is the goddess hidden, then revealed only at the end when a choice must be made between the death of Raul and Christine’s submitting willingly to life with the Phantom. She not only chooses, but she chooses unconditionally, unreservedly to love the Phantom, to understand him, in as much as it’s possible to understand such tortured genius. She is the true giver of the gift in this story. She restores the balance. Just as the Phantom’s darkness has infused her gift with the music of the night, her light heals him, enabling him to let go of that which he knows does not now, nor has it ever belonged to him, the gift and the possessor of that gift.

And what does that have to do with inspiration? In the Greek stories and myths, it takes time for the magical child to be born and trained up to fulfil the task for which he was conceived, and it is usually a he. In Leroux’s story, we aren’t told how long Christine has been studying with her ‘Angel of Music,’ but it is clearly enough to make her singing enthralling to anyone who listens.

I think Phantom of the Opera is a story of the compelling seduction of the creative force. It is inspiration and hard work moving through the fear to restore balance, and coming out on the other side to places we never could have imagined. Then it’s repeating the whole process over and over again. Inspiration is rescuing the phantom in each of us, redeeming the darkness and overcoming the fear. 

Is this what Leroux wanted his story to convey? I don’t know, but I do know that the sensuality, the deep driving hunger coupled with the fear of moving past the point of no return is something every writer encounters. Our story, my story is about overcoming our fears and rescuing our phantoms. That’s not just the hero’s journey or the writer’s journey, that’s the journey of every person. 

What we create, what we bring forth is the result of passion leading us down into the depths of ourselves, the results of seducing ourselves in ways that terrify us as much as they attract us. We are changed by that passion, by that deep connection with what inspires us. Innocence is lost and something totally new is created out of our fears, and we are inspired to move forward and to face unconditionally what comes next.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Early Taste of Christmas

By Tim Smith
Next month I’ll be pushing my newest Christmas Stocking Stuffer from Extasy Books, but this month I’d like to highlight one I released a number of years ago. “Mistletoe and Palm Trees” was the first in a two-part series I did, released in 2010. It was followed by a sequel, “Snowflakes and Palm Trees,” which completed the story arc.
“Christmas in Key Largo, Florida—palm trees, bright blue waters, tropical temperatures, and two people feeling the sting of a bad break-up. When Tom McCoy fled there to forget his latest romantic debacle, the last person he expected to meet was beautiful Brooke Devlin, who is trying to heal from a mishap of her own. Their mutual attraction is strong, but is it real or just rebound? Will their holiday affair last beyond check-out time, or become the stuff Spring breaks are made of?”
The genesis for this story was based on an actual incident that happened to yours truly. I had planned a trip to Florida with my sig other for a working vacation that included some book signings. Shortly before we were to leave, she had an accident and was unable to travel. The reservations were non-refundable and publicity had gone out for my personal appearances, so it was decided that I would go solo. I thought “What if this guy traveled to the Keys alone because he’d broken up with someone, and he meets a woman who is there under similar circumstances?” It was a fun story to write because of the will-they-or-won’t-they aspect. Here’s a sample:
Brooke’s eyes took on a sultry look accompanied by a small smile. “So what’s a lonely girl to do for a week in a tropical paradise by herself?”
“Find an equally lonely guy to bum around with,” Tom answered.
“Where would I find such a guy?”
“They’re all over the place.”
“Maybe I should run an ad.” She placed her hand over his on the table. “Unless you’d like to apply for the job.”
“I’d be happy to provide references.”
She gave him a playful look, one that made her green eyes sparkle. “What are your qualifications?”
“I’m here, I have no plans, and I find you very attractive.”
“What’s your availability?”
“At your service, twenty-four-seven.”
Her look turned sly. “Does that include nights?”
“Of course.”
She laughed. “You’re hired. How soon can you start?”
Tom squeezed her hand. “I just gave notice on my last job.”

If you’re in the mood for a fun holiday romance, reminiscent of what they show on Lifetime this time of year, check out “Mistletoe and Palm Trees” and the sequel, “Snowflakes and Palm Trees.” You can find them at the links below.