Letters From The Fishbowl

The life, times, fiction, and mind-lint of V.B. Rising. Enter at your own risk, traveler, for here there be rants and misplaced modifiers.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

WTF, Ghosts?

So, here's something new and different: my ice cubes are haunted:

They are growing stalagmites!  Icy stalagmites of DEATH!

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Short Story

Here is a short story I wrote after listening to Abney Park and Emilie Autumn all day.  Abney Park has a great song called 'Herr Drosselmeyer's Doll' and that was half the inspiration for this story.  I was listening to it today and thought it might be interesting to explore the doll's point of view.  The other half came from Emilie and all her songs that showcase a very Victorian attitude toward women.

This story is dedicated to Lauren, for introducing me to the song and for generally just being an inspiring person to be around.

Please feel free to leave comments with constructive criticism after you read.  This is the first thing I have written in a long time, and it was really hard to muster up the courage to post it for public consumption.  Still, be honest, I can take it!

Coppelia: A Fable In Clockwork

The tinker built it from the scrapheap during his slow, rainy fall season. With the ruthless eye of any good craftsman, he saw that it was flawed. With the dark mean scowl his good-natured profession belied, he believed it to be nothing but junk and time wasted, and back it went, akimbo on the pile in the shed, curled stiffly like a long-dead spider.

The Yule approached and the scrapheap grew as the tinker bent copper, snipped tin, painted his brushes to pig bristles, whittled, carved, fit gears, crafted keys, smelted silver. Curls of splintering wood piled atop mountains of metal shards piled atop useless clouded glass bits atop torn reams of paper and wisps of cotton. The whole lot needed to be burned, the tinker thought, but that was a job for another time. He caught sight of one unblinking brown eye, huffed, and slammed the door to finish a set of miniature soldiers. Their intended child was too old for such things, but it was no matter to him; he collected a purse of coins for his troubles and put his feet up until Spring.

When the snow sank beneath the soil and mud sluiced in the streets, the tinker admitted the thaw made him stiff in his bones, and he hired several boys from the town to clear out the old shed. The scrapheap had grown into the walls, metal embedded, twines hopelessly coiled, every abandoned ingredient crushed and clinging desperately to its prison.

The boys were loud and his head nearly split, but after he'd shouted and scolded and threatened to scourge, they went to work quite admirably. He boiled his tea, pushed a lunch he knew would not digest easily around chipped China, and when he shuffled out to the shed, they were nearly done.

Weren't sure of a few things, they said. Didn't he need this bit, that bit? Did he know what he was throwing away? Didn't he want, wouldn't he take, had he seen this was here by mistake?

The tinker was on in years and he had passed the point of careless mistakes, almost immediately after he'd denied himself the ability to admit to one. Did they look at the scrap with an artist's eye, he demanded. A cough rattled his chest and made his voice fearsome. He knew every inch of dust in that place and each and every one sickened him. Off with it.

They shrugged and bent back to their work, each in his own head planning what they'd say about the old man if he ever dragged himself back into his house. Bitter old bat; if he missed any of his junk come next Christmas, it'd be no fault of theirs.

And what of this one? The voice that asked was young and curious enough to turn the old man in his trek back to the warmth and relative dryness of his own lonely kitchen. The boy had received a troop of tin soldiers not four months ago, a toy for which he'd been too old, and the whole lot had ended up beneath his bed, batted about once in a great while by the housecat.

Now he held another cast-off creation. But no bent wire this, no scrap of nothing, no formless folly. Here was a doll, half-finished in his hands. This one too, into the furnace?

The tinker gave the doll a dismissive glance; he'd long since given up. Hadn't it failed to move correctly, its gears catching and clanking no matter how he fine-tuned them? Hadn't its eyes always been too dead, despite the twinkles of bright paint he'd dotted on? He was past the point of making careless mistakes. He had thrown it away because it was useless.

And yet. His old eyes watched young hands that did not just hold the doll, but nearly caressed its naked porcelain with such care it might have been alive. The boy was young enough to imagine, but never to have seen, and he stared with frank fascination at the doll's curved body, its slender molded figure.

And yet... The tinker shuffled forward and took the doll by one arm, holding it limply before his face for inspection.

It was near life-sized, the figure of a not-so-very-young girl. He'd imagined it'd become a ballerina, a lavishly decorated companion for a girl with such interests (and appropriate means). The body was curved only subtly in the bust and hips, arms and legs long and slender, every inch of its porcelain skin smooth but for where it was jointed and wired, its face softly sculpted.

The face stared blankly. He'd painted the eyes before the final attempt at winding it up for a dance, but had tossed it away directly after it failed to perform. He stared into the face, smudged and pale, a template for beauty never realized. He remembered the grind of gears that had set his teeth on edge, and the terrifically annoying clanks as the clockwork cogs that served as its heart had failed to turn properly. The thing had stumbled and jerked wildly about the workshop, drunk and undead. The din had brought complaints from the neighbors. All this work for one toy? One toy to be given to a spoiled child, given and then no doubt broken, like so many of his other creations. Or worse, to be given and then forgotten, tucked away where dust could stop its springs and mice would become its maggots.

And yet, there they were, printed in smudge and soot across the doll's modest breast, the prints of a boy who was nearing manhood, a boy too old for soldiers, but young enough perhaps for something else.

The tinker tossed the doll over his shoulder and struggled it back into the house. The boys heard the thunk as it was deposited on the workshop floor, and they shrugged and finished their work.

Soon, really sooner than anyone in the township had been prepared for, it was Midsummer once more. The carnival on the town green was in full and boisterous swing. There was a buzz of gossip and speculation around a makeshift stage, erected at the tinker's request, as the curtains were drawn back by two volunteers.

The tinker stood in the center of this bandstand, bent in the heavy heat of twilit summer. Before him was a coffin, dark and handsome – and open.

He reached down and as he did, a slender white arm reached up, up from the box, its movement as smooth and strong as a sailing ship with a fine wind. He pulled her free, helped her stand, but she hardly seemed to need his assistance. Donning pink and blue like spun sugar, she stepped with a cat's grace from the coffin. The doll stepped away and gave the tinker a deep curtsy.

There were whispers in the crowd. One could see her joints sliding as she moved; her face was shining porcelain and painted with a soft red smile, such pretty work, isn't she?; her costume was so fine, but really, even a doll should have a little more modesty! They joked and marveled as the doll stood before them, her feet with their ball-jointed ankles in a smart coupe. Her hands were sculpted each from one lot of polished plaster; her fingers, stiff and unified, lay waiting at her sides. Her skin was hard and cold like marble as the tinker took one arm firmly, but she was painted head to toe in a soft yielding pink.

He took her arm quite firmly, and he turned her with a jerk so the crowd could view her profile. Again, the townspeople muttered at the daring cut of her costume, at the slope and swell of her figure. As they watched, the tinker slid one hand down her neck, down her spine, finding the oversized brass key that sprouted beneath her shoulders. It did not so much clank but purr as he turned it thrice.

The tinker stepped back and the doll began to dance.

Now they all watched in silence, in awe. She could turn and plie; she was sure-footed as any ballerina has ever been. She balanced and spun, pink and blue whirling nearly as fast as the long fall of coffee-black hair. She lunged, she bowed, her arms lifted and fell, her face always in a dignified tilt on her neck. Her shoulders worked, her back arched, her feet pointed, hard statues in silk slippers.

And all without a sound, until the key in her back began to rotate more and more slowly. Then, she too in a decrescendo, the dance slowed, until she dropped into a low bow and was still. In the silence of the night, the key could be heard buzzing to a halt.

There was an explosive applause immediately after, but the tinker did not receive his highest praise until long after midnight. He sat on the closed black coffin on the edge of the square, tapping pipe ashes into the grass; a squad of young men approached.

She was a wonder, they said, kicking clumps of dirt. A marvel, really, a testament to his genius, and the tinker agreed, aye, she was that.

And she was beautiful. They'd never seen a girl of flesh and blood so beautiful, so sweet of face, so finely crafted in body and movement. And the dance had been truly something to behold, something they would not forget. She was exquisite, and the tinker agreed, aye. She was that.

But, he prompted, his eyes glittering.

One boy, the eldest, the biggest, looked up. And there it was, the tinker saw, the same hunger, the same curiosity he'd seen so long ago on the face of a boy whose hand had lingered along smudged porcelain.

But what else could she do?

As it happens, the tinker said thoughtfully, she can do quite a number of things. Small tasks: the fetching of slippers, the serving of tea, suchlike. But did not these fine gentleman have mothers and wives for those things?

They did, they did at that. Say, would the tinker not sell his pretty prize? Surely tonight was her one and only performance before she was bought and given to a very rich and lucky little girl? What price did he expect for such a treasure?

The tinker scratched his grizzled beard and he gave the men a stern glance each. Not for sale, he said. Not this one.

And he confided to them that he was old, which they already knew; that he was arthritic, which they already suspected; that he would now consider himself retired, which they accepted with solemn nods. And in his dotage, he said, having no children of his own, did he not deserve a girl to bring him comfort, to support him, see to his needs? The doll could bring money once when sold, and the money might last, or it might not. But it could bring money again and again if rented, he continued, and although he was now retired, he had no plans to die anytime soon; there could be decades ahead in which he would rue giving her up.

Rented, he said, to dance for parties. To serve at dinners. To entertain in any way she might to any man who might pay.

So it began. Years passed in the town, years in which every Friday night, the doll would dance. Sometimes she was a ballerina, sometimes a gypsy, sometimes just a woman in white. Sometimes in a tavern, stained tables backed against walls so that she might have the floor. Sometimes in rougher establishments, she would be balanced on the bar, where she would spin and weave amid the half-empty glasses, whiskey and spit sinking into her silk slippers. Sometimes she danced at gentlemen's clubs, a dream in the cigar smoke, an angel in the opium clouds. The tinker would stay, or he would go. When he stayed, he partook. When he went, he collected her the next morning, and grumbled over the state of her, how much repair she would need that week.

He sold most of his tools, most of his stock, most of his land. He bought a house in town, nearer to the doctors and apothecaries upon which he was beginning to depend. He kept a small chest of springs, cogs, gears, wires, keys, paint, horsehair. Bottles of alcohol, polishes to bring her back to an innocent sheen. The doll had a closet larger than any woman in town's, bursting with costumes and accessories, anything she might need on a given night. Silks were torn and replaced. Slippers were wrenched away, ground underfoot. She had laces, damasks, velvets, satins, lawns, brocades, and when she was dressed, she could be anything, any type of girl there was.

So it went. She was employed by men, boys, the odd woman, but mostly she was an attraction for a group. If anyone in the town knew the truth of it all, they did not let on. If anyone minded, they did not say. It simply was, in the way that drunks were and brawls were, an odd sort of delinquency accepted by all.

And if the doll seemed to tire, if her shoulders were weaker, her steps less dainty; if her painted smile seemed oddly careworn; if her brown eyes never quite matched the sparkle of her debut; if when she danced, her arms seemed to reach further and further toward a lost distance, her feet carry her increasingly past open windows where the fresh air teased and beckoned; if her dance became desperate, her face forlorn; if somewhere deep in her clockworks, something groaned steam when she was grabbed; if her aging springs screamed in the night; if the doll seemed to tire, no one noticed.

Until one day, someone did.

Later, he could not put his finger on exactly why he had done it; indeed, he could barely recall how it had been done, although there was not much time to dwell on either once the morning came. But one night, during a witching hour that stretched endlessly far away from the dawn, a man no longer young tossed in his bed. He had seen the doll again that night, watched her entertain half a dozen patrons of a tavern that even now still rollicked the thickly moonlit night. The tinker had taken her home. She would need a scrubbing, a paint job, some patchwork on her dark brown scalp, new slippers, oil in her joints. She would be in the small workroom at the back of the house.

The man swung his legs over the bed. A tin soldier rattled and fell against its comrade somewhere deep in the dust jungles below the mattress as the man put his feet on the floor heavily. He had no wife, no family, and so he slipped out.

Why did he bother, he asked himself. He was a good man in fine standing; he had never so much as bent a rule, and yet here he was. He slipped through the shadows. Why should it matter? The doll was an object, nothing more. And another man's object at that, another man's property. It was not his place, but he went on.

There was an outcry the next day, and the man was beaten to within an inch of his life. With a foot in his grave, the townsfolk shook him and interrogated him below a blazing noon. Had he no decency? No worse than a common thief was he, and a boor at that, to destroy such a work of art! She had been a thing of beauty, an old man's last pride and joy. They left him in the dust of the street; he saw the sun and a pair of sparking brown eyes; a shadow fell over him like dark coffee.

There was an ax that a young man was bidden to take outside town and bury below a large hawthorn. A larger parcel was taken down another path and buried, unmarked. The young man went that afternoon, swinging the tool in the dirt. Grime stuck to the criminal's blood on he blade; there was a fine dust of broken porcelain, a long black hair, a scrap of silk. He did the job.

When he came back, he and the others gathered outside the tinker's house to hear the news. It was on the scrapheap, he said, with its accoutrements and its baubles. Would someone be kind enough to light the furnace?

No one asked, and they did not need to. It was beyond repair, the tinker said. Irreparable. And yes. Irreplaceable.

As the years went on, this was proven correct. The scrapheap smoldered and the ashes blew away a bit at a time with every summer storm. The next winter, the tinker died. There was never another object so fine as the clockwork doll.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cooking Fail

Dear Self,

Please remember to turn on the toaster oven before cooking.  Otherwise, it is just a really big egg timer.  Thank you.


P.S.  You frigging idiot.

Home Sweet Home

Dear Everyone,

After much hardship and toil, I have finally moved in to my new apartment in Oneonta.  Long story less long, my original plan to move went awry when my landlady turned out to be a crackfiend and gave my apartment away; cue me panicking.  Luckily, Rob came through, as he always does and found us a new place: nice neighborhood, a block from Main Street, hardwood floors, pets allowed.  Pretty much awesome.  Drawbacks include: nosy (if well-meaning) downstairs neighbor who epitomizes every Jewish mother stereotype there is; SMALL kitchen, I'm talking miniscule; no stove, although the landlord says it will be here by the end of the week; and finally, history of being robbed by next door neighbor's heroin-addict-boyfriend.  Apparently, the cops have been milling around all week and Skippy McDumbass got the hell out of Dodge, but still.  Kind of messed up.

Anyshit, thanks to my AWESOME BEYOND WORDS friends, I moved in on Tuesday.  Thanks to the fact that living alone is boring as shit, I was completely unpacked by Wednesday afternoon.  Lenore enjoyed the obstacle course made of boxes that I set up for her.*  Megan showed me how to make stuff in my Crockpot.  The shower and lights all work.  There are no bugs.  Generally, things are well.

Here are some pictures:

Our living room.  Still have to clean up all the boxes (haven't been THAT bored.)  The door leads to my balcony, where there are yet more boxes.

The geek shrine.  The Roadrunner guy who came this morning was most impressed.

Bedroom.  Lots of open floor.  Better dust off the yoga mat!

Some of Grandpa's artwork.

My stuff.

Itty bitty tiny kitchen.

Itty bitty tiny bathroom.

So that's the tour.  Hope everyone is doing well!


*See above re: bored as shit.