Now it’s serious– a few political thoughts, May 4th, 2016

In the 2012 HBO movie Game Change about the 2008 US presidential election, John McCain (Ed Harris) makes an observation about the populist anger he encountered in his town halls and rallies late in the campaign.  This is not a direct quote, but I think it captures the gist– “There is a dark side to American populism, and there are some politicians who are willing to exploit that dark side for their own advantage.”  It was an apt observation at the time, encapsulating the building political rage that would culminate in the Tea Party, and the politicians who have been willing to pander to it.  Unfortunately, it is even more apt eight years later.

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.  Every other conventional or semi-conventional candidate flamed out and fell short, even the hard right conservative– in fact, dangerously theocratic— Ted Cruz.  Against all conventional wisdom, Trump has tapped into the boiling rage of people on the right who feel disenfranchised and left out.

Ironically, their sense of dislocation is not wholly without foundation.  People in this country across the political spectrum sense that the system is rigged, benefiting an elite rather than the greater mass of citizens, with a ossified governmental apparatus and economic forces that are grinding the middle class into non-existence.  This has found expression on the left first in the Occupy movement, and then in Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign.  The right-wing expression of this rage, unfortunately, is larded with racist memes and scary nativism.  The Tea Party and their allies are not wrong in saying that they’re being screwed, but they go wrong with their proposed solutions.

And now all this populist anger on the right has found a spokesman in Donald Trump.  People looking for an outsider who says what he thinks have elevated him to the status of someone who can right everything they see as wrong with our current system.  And Trump is an excellent salesman, who has proven adept at selling himself as the one person who can right the ship of state– no matter what it takes.

In other times and places this sort of person has been called ‘a man on a white horse’.

I don’t believe I am engaging in hyperbole.  Many autocratic or fascist strongmen have gained power not through a coup or a revolution, but by exploiting populist grievances to achieve office through established constitutional paths– and that list includes Adolf Hitler.  We have now reached a very scary moment in the life of our nation.

By all the evidence I can see, Donald Trump has no actual plan for America, and no guiding principle other than his megalomaniacal self-importance.  On the other hand, I see no evidence that his stated concern about working people is genuine.  It appears to be mere shtick.  His proposed policies are horrifying when they’re not just plain ludicrous.  His whole campaign has been about him, and the promotion of his ‘brand’.  He is clearly unfit for high office, and even conservatives recognize this.  And yet, the base of the Republican party has anointed this man as their chosen one.  You would think they’ve all gone dotty at once, except that Trump is actually the logical result of decades of Republican pandering to the dark side of the American right.  I can do no better than to quote John Scalzi on this point–

“Again, Trump has been leading the GOP polls almost without interruption for months. He’s not an outlier. He’s there for a reason. The reason is that the GOP has made space in their party for race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots, and has done so for years by conscious and intentional strategy. Trump did not bring his supporters into the GOP. They were already there…..The GOP wasn’t always the party of race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots — there’s a reason the term was “Dixiecrat” and not “Republidixies” — but they took possession of them 50 years ago and have been banking on them ever since.

The GOP’s problem is that Trump is the distillation of every political strategy they’ve honed over the last several decades, and particularly ramped up over the last two. Lionizing the “political outsider”? Check! Fawning over billionaires? Check! Ratcheting up political rhetoric so that everyone who opposes you is the enemy and sick and awful? Check! Scaring the crap out of not-young white conservative Christians with the image of lawless racial and religious minorities? Check! Valorizing the tribalism of white conservative Christianity over the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States? Check!

There’s a reason why the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director wants GOP candidates to “be like Trump” even as [Lindsey] Graham bleats that Trump doesn’t represent the party. Lindsey Graham, are you shitting me? Trump doesn’t just represent your party. He’s the goddamn Platonic ideal of it. You can’t spend decades preparing the way for someone like Donald Trump and then pretend to be shocked, shocked when he roars down the field, flawlessly executing your playbook.”

So here we are, facing a choice between (mostly likely) a flawed but competent Democratic candidate, and a man who should not be allowed within ten miles of the levers of constitutional power, never mind the nuclear launch codes.  Voting for this man in the general election would be a vote for anarchy and, quite possibly, the end of the Republic.  I can’t put it any simpler than that.

Everyone who gives a damn about this country needs to oppose this man.  Even if you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary, please, please don’t vote for Trump.  Support your preferred down-ticket candidates if you wish, but do not cast a vote for this man.  A vote for him is a bullet loaded into a revolver and aimed at the whole country.  Period.

 

 

My Accidental, No Good, Epic Tour of Seattle, or my beef with the Washington State Department of Transportation

I don’t think I am natively stupid, but there are days when I just can’t do anything right.  Of course, today I may be able to plead the case that I was in the grip of forces beyond my control.

I had a dental appointment this afternoon after work.  Sadly, the clinic I go to is way, way down south on the other side of Seattle, which usually necessitates me breasting afternoon traffic on I-5.  This often makes a trip that would take about twenty minutes without obstructions into a journey of close to an hour.  Despite the traffic, however, I made my appointment on time.

When I was done (another hole drilled in my head, as if I needed more), I went to a nearby Starbucks and got a venti coffee, wanting to make sure I didn’t drowse off while driving home.  I’ve done that occasionally on the interstate, which is always scary, to say the least.

Unfortunately, it had barely registered in my rather preoccupied brain that today, this very day, was the day that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in a burst of criminal negligence, decided it would shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a major artery in the Seattle transportation system.  The stated reason was that the boring of a highway tunnel underneath the Seattle waterfront might endanger the Viaduct, and WSDOT didn’t want to run the risk of having commuters on the Viaduct if it collapsed– an obvious moment of nervous nelly overreach, in my opinion.  I mean, sinkholes happen all the time anyway.  In any case, the result was to reduce the carrying capacity of Seattle’s already over-taxed road net and to make bad traffic far, far worse.

The upshot was that when I tried to get on I-5 headed north, I immediately ran into trouble. My first mistake was to not get at once into the correct lane to reach the northbound on-ramp. I then found that, in a profoundly Darwinian moment, no one already in the lane would allow me to cut in (“Yeah, sucks to be you, fella!”).  Meanwhile people headed for the southbound ramp were honking at me and screaming imprecations as they dodged around me.  In the name of self-preservation (not to mention a sense of profound embarrassment), I had no choice but to take the southbound ramp.

The positive aspect of this was that I was now moving at sixty miles an hour down I-5. The negative side was that I was headed toward Tacoma, not Seattle.

However, I formulated a cunning plan on the fly.  I went about two miles and exited off the freeway south of Boeing Field.  I cut over to East Marginal Way and headed north.  This artery, although no freeway, was wide open, and I felt pleased with myself.  I knew the downside was that I would have to wind my way through downtown Seattle, but I figured even that was better than fighting my way north on I-5, which by now resembled the world’s longest used car lot.

After three or so miles I cut over to First Avenue South, thinking that it would be the best detour around the Viaduct closure.  In moments, however, I realized that I had miscalculated, on the level of Hitler invading the Soviet Union— because tonight was a Mariners home game night, and First Avenue South goes right by Safeco Field.

Holy frack….

There is probably no metric comprehensible to the human mind to measure the degree of suckitude I now faced.  Mariners fans number in the millions, and every one of them over the age of fifteen insists on driving to the ballpark, which means that traffic around Safeco typically resembles something out of The Road Warrior.  I couldn’t turn east, as that would put me up against the clogged I-5, and going west might land me on Harbor Island, or worse, West Seattle.  I had no choice but to man-up and fight my way through the chaos.

(An aside– what is it about baseball, anyway?  A bunch of overpaid guys in uniforms hitting balls with sticks?  How did this become our national sport?  I have never been able to understand the attraction, unless it has something to do with the hot-dogs and beer…)

I finally battled through the terror and the gangs of rabid baseballites looking for parking and made it to downtown Seattle.  You know things are bad when going up First Avenue in downtown Seattle is an improvement in your driving experience.

I got through the heart of the city, passing the Seattle Art Museum and Pike Place Market, without further incident, and made it to Belltown.  At this point I had two options– go up and over Queen Anne Hill, or take Denny Way– both of which were possible routes to Highway 99 (or Aurora Avenue), aside from I-5 the only other major arterial leading north that I could access.  I decided to take Denny Way, so I went up Warren Place and turned right on to that street.

And stopped.

Five minutes later, I moved ten feet.

Another three minutes, and I moved another three feet.

I had quite stupidly forgotten that, while Denny Way leads to Highway 99, it is also an alternate route toward Capitol Hill and and out of downtown, and at that moment was jammed with people desperately attempting, like me, to bypass the even worse jammed freeway.  I would have started gnawing the steering wheel in frustration, except that it might have dislodged my new dental work.

At this moment, my bladder began to send signals to my brain regarding a certain impending necessity.  My decision to down a venti coffee at the beginning of my odyssey was beginning to appear less wise than I originally thought.  After some cogitation, I took the half-quart steel water-bottle I had with me in the car and emptied it out the window.  Just in case.

In half an hour I moved probably less than half a mile.  In the process I waved at the statue of Chief Seattle in Tilikum Place.  Images of Chief Seattle always strike me as sorrowful.  His tribe’s home would be unrecognizable to him now, and we don’t even get his name right, which properly should be something like Si’ahl.  We gringos are sadly notorious for mangling Native American words.

I finally passed under the Monorail and got to a side street on which I could make a left turn.  A quick  turn back west brought me to Fifth Avenue North, down which I streaked at a whopping twenty-five miles an hour, right past the Seattle Center and the Space Needle.

This street took me up the eastern side of Queen Anne Hill, which I know less well than the area surrounding Queen Anne Avenue itself, which is further west.  I turned left up a street, intending to cut over to the avenue.  Unfortunately, the route I picked was Ward Street, apparently one of those numerous Seattle thoroughfares that is a relic of the Nineteenth Century.  Even in horse-and-buggy days it would probably have been too narrow; it has a sheer drop-off on its left side.  In addition, nowadays some very expensive cars are parked on the curb to the right.  I spent a few tense minutes avoiding both the yawning abyss and scraping up somebody’s Mercedes.

I finally reached Queen Anne Avenue and turned north.  I sailed along the Avenue, dropped down the northern side of the hill, curved through some side streets and finally reached Highway 99/Aurora Avenue.  It was flowing freely– or about as freely as Highway 99 ever flows.  Any Seattle resident will tell you that it is unusual, to say the least, for someone to enter this roadway with a joyous shout of liberation, but that’s what I did.  I was so happy that I actually started waving at the resident hookers, until I remembered that the gesture might be misconstrued.

I went north at forty-five miles an hour, which was technically illegal but heady, past Woodland Park Zoo and Green Lake.  My joy was marred, however, by the warnings from my bladder, which had gone from Defcon Three to Defcon One.  I was now in serious danger of having an accident I had not had since the fifth grade, when my teacher told me, no, I had to wait until recess.  Even so, I still did not want to use my water-bottle, so I gritted my teeth and tried not to think about bodies of water.  I have to admit, though, that I screamed when the driver of the Honda Odyssey in the lane next to me decided that this was the proper moment to employ the windshield washer spray on his back window.

I finally, finally reached North 145th Street and turned west.  I was now very close to home, but I was also very close to that certain accident.  I roared up 145th, turned on to my street, and probably damaged my shocks screeching into my driveway.  Unfortunately, my wife was in the doorway when I came in at breakneck speed, and doubtless there will be an accounting for that later, but I made it just in time.  A journey of over two hours and much terror and confusion had come to a relieved (in more than one sense of the word) end.

This was my accidental, no good, epic tour of Seattle.  In the end I guess I have no one to blame but myself.  The moral appears to be that I need to pull my head out of whatever dark fundament it may be in and pay attention to mundane things like road closures.  I need to take that much responsibility.

Still, there’s just one more thing I need to get off my chest– here’s to you, WSDOT.

Yep, I’m unreasonable.  But I feel better.

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction– Five Days

I have occasionally participated in a weekly flash-fiction challenge in the Writer’s Discussion Group community on Google-Plus, sponsored by one of the community’s moderators, Amy Knepper.  It’s usually based on a picture or an image (I don’t have permission to post the image here, so if you want to see this week’s you will need to go to the site).  I haven’t usually cross-connected the flash-fiction I’ve done on Google-Plus to my WordPress blog, but this week’s challenge kinda tickled me and I thought I’d share it here.

Horror, it seems, can lurk anywhere…..

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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Five Days

Day One:

I’ve sealed myself in.  I had no choice.  The chaos outside has become too great.  I nailed my door shut and piled furniture against it.  Otherwise THEY will break in, and it will all be over.

I have supplies to last me several days.  Hopefully the chaos will be over by then.  Judging by the horrifying sounds coming from outside, it surely cannot last long.

I try to focus on my work.  Perhaps it’s pointless, now, but it’s the only thing keeping me sane– a bit of normality in a world gone insane.

Day Two:

There was moaning outside my door last night– evidently someone in severe pain.  A sound of tremendous suffering–   it tore my heart.  I almost opened the door to rescue whoever it was, but I stopped myself just in time.  Perhaps it was a trick– THEY are ruthless, and will stop at nothing to keep me from completing my work.  I steeled myself and ignored the moaning.  I think I was right to do so, because soon after, before dawn, the chaos resumed.

Day Three:

It’s worse than ever.  Surely no one can survive the madness out there.  It sounds as if all the furies of Hell have been unleashed and have ridden down on us upon a whirlwind.

In the morning I heard THEM.  They were just outside the door, pounding on it, whispering, shrieking– “Jimmy…come out…we want to see you, Jimmy…come to us….”

I put a pillow over my head and strove to ignore them.  I’m safe in here, as long as I stay resolute.  As long as I don’t open the door.  I just have to keep the door closed.

Day Four:

This morning THEY resorted to a new tactic– they drilled holes in my door, letting in the watery, smoke-filled light from outside.  The appearance of each hole was accompanied by maniacal laughter.  I would have thought even so simple a technical feat would have been beyond THEM in their current state.   THEY proved me wrong.

I retaliated by spraying pepper spray into each hole.  This brought shrieks of agony, but gales of fresh hysterical laughter as well.  THEY are too far gone to care, I suppose.

Day Five:

It is over.  At noon the cacophony outside my door became too much.  I think my mind came unhinged at last.  Suddenly I had to end it, one way or the other.

I pushed away the book case and the furniture.  I ripped away the boards.  I shoved it all aside and pulled open the door.  The scene that confronted me was as bad as I had imagined, or worse.

Beer cans littered the living room floor.  Ashtrays were filled to overflowing with cigarette butts.  Boxes of half-eaten and mostly stale pizza covered the tables.  The room stank of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and pizza sauce.

My housemates lay scattered all about.  Hollis and Young slouched in easy chairs, watching a basketball game on the plasma TV, its volume cranked to the max.  It had to be, because Gary and Wesley were in the adjoining family room with Limp Bizkit blasting away.  Terry looked passed out on the coach, and on the divan Cheryl and Bruce were approximately the same position in which I had last seen them five days before, all twisted together and lip-locked.

“Goddamn it!” I shouted.  “I am trying to write a master’s thesis here!”

Billy, standing in his underwear in the middle of the room and wearing his dual beer-can hat, blinked at me.  “Dude, chill,” he said.  “Spring break’s almost over.”

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 27th 2016– A Vessel for Dreams

A flash fiction for the March 27th Sunday Photo Fiction challenge—  200 words based on this image–

149-03-march-27th-2016

More than usual, this is clearly an excerpt from a larger story.  On the positive side, it’s a concept for a larger story that sprang into existence the moment I saw this picture, so the challenge is certainly helping my creativity.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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I came around the corner and stopped.  I stared. “It’s a bus.”

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Steven said.  “I got it cheap.”

“It’s a bus.”

“Don’t fixate on externalities, John,” Steven said.  He threw an arm around my shoulder.  “Think of this as the vessel into which we can pour our dreams.”

I removed his arm.  “You’re crazier than I thought.”

“No, just willing to see the possibilities,” Steven said.  “We can do this.  I’ve got the concept, you’re the nuts and bolts man, Cecelia is getting our fuel….”

“If she doesn’t get arrested,” I muttered.

“You are so negative,” Steven said.  “Look at it this way– we need to be inconspicuous, or we’ll get shut down.”

“Inconspicuous?  How the hell is a red, double-decker bus inconspicuous?!”

“They won’t be expecting it.”

I stopped.  “Okay, you got me there.  But will it be strong enough?”

“Yeah, with our gear in it!” Steven said.  “With our equipment we can take this baby anywhere.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said, but I sighed.  “All right.  I volunteered for this insanity, so I guess I can’t complain.”

“Great!” Steven said.  “You won’t regret this, John– building the world’s first starship is worth it.”

 

 

Democracy– untidy and beautiful

I took part in the Washington State Democratic caucuses today.  It was a special day in more than one way– not only are the stakes in this election extremely high, but it was the first caucus in which my daughter was able to participate.  This simultaneously made me extremely proud and reminded me of my age.  Just a little while ago my daughter was far, far more interested in crayons and her dolls than politics…

Our district caucus was held at one of our local high schools.  We arrived early, but not early enough– the school parking lot was jammed, and street parking was quickly filling up.  I dropped my wife and daughter off, and then had to find parking seven blocks away.  This made my hike back to the high school a bit of a chore, as I am nursing a sprained knee (and a possible meniscus tear– medical assessment in progress).

But I wasn’t going to miss this caucus.

The caucus was wall-to-wall with people– quite probably the largest number of people I have ever seen at a caucus in this state.  People congregated by precinct, and the subsequent discussion was passionate, but generally respectful.  In the end Bernie Sanders took three-quarters of our precinct vote, Hilary Clinton one quarter, which, at the moment, roughly matches the proportion of the vote state-wide.

It was good, face-to-face grass-roots democracy, and nobody called anybody names, and nobody got into a fistfight.  It gives me hope, seeing so many people engaged and looking for change.

Because, frankly, in this country we need hope, and we need change.  There is a real sense that our essential democracy is slipping away.  Working people are getting profoundly shafted, and our republic is in danger of becoming a plutocratic oligarchy.  I am convinced that if certain people from the other party become president (by which I mean all of them, but some more than others) the danger to the country will move from chronic to acute.  We need a political revolution in this country to restore our democracy, and to point the US toward a future that includes everyone.

The problem is that there are a lot of people whose dreams for this country are quite different, far, far too many of whom are threatened by the changes the country is going through, and who are looking for scapegoats for their sense of dislocation.  Certain politicians are pandering to that fear and paranoia and dislocation, offering up empty promises of ‘restored greatness’.  Others are ideologues spouting doctrines that are seriously disconnected from verifiable reality, such as denying global warming in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.  And all of this is wrapped up in a political polarization that is destroying our sense of all being Americans together.

So I’m hopeful, and I’m worried.  It’s seven-plus months to the general election, which is very long time in American politics, and will be even more so in this election, which has been off-the-wall whacked-out and off the charts.  All we can do is buckle up, hang on and keep working toward what we believe is right, while remembering that while one election is not going to automatically make everything better, that one election could also put us in serious danger.

At minimum, I can do two things for my country at the moment– pray and vote.  To my mind, that’s a pretty powerful combination.

Later.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 20th 2016– The Door Between Worlds

A Sunday Photo Flash Fiction challenge– 200 words based on this image–

148-03-march-20th-2016

Haven’t done one of these in a while, so this is probably meh.  Plus, I couldn’t quite squeeze the story into the 200 word limit. Sorry.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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Clarke shoved the garage door open.  Dust motes danced in sunbeams.  A bare concrete floor, a wooden bench on one side, a bricked-up back door.  “What’s this about?” I asked.

“It has to do with the gravity wave activity we’ve been picking up,” Clarke said.

I wondered how, but said nothing.  I was just glad Clarke and I were on speaking terms again.  Radical changes in physics as we knew it and personal conflicts were a bad mix.

“Look again, Peter,” Clarke said.

I stepped into the garage.  I saw nothing, until I peered down at the floor.  A dark discoloration– not an oil stain, but a perfect circle.  It seemed to shimmer.

“What is it?” I said.

“A physicist of your caliber should be able to figure it out,” Clarke said from behind me.

I shook my head.  “Sorry.  I need a clue.”

“Okay.”  Clarke’s tone changed.  “Carol belongs to me.”

He shoved me.  I stumbled into the circle.

I fell, and fell, and fell.  Wind that was not wind rushed past me.  Tortured vacuum screamed in my ears.  I stretched, pulled ever downward.

I hit the ground.  There was grass beneath me, all around me.

I looked up.  The garage was gone.  I was in open country, grass in every direction, and hills in the distance.

Above those hills, three moons stood in the sky.  None of them were the Moon.

“Oh, God,” I said.

Three upcoming movies that have my attention

Now that we’re past the hysteria and hoopla around Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I thought I would share some thoughts on three upcoming movies that have grabbed my attention.  In no particular order–

Suicide Squad

Okay, I am at least interested–

Harley Quinn and Deadshot and the Joker (in what may be an even more freakish interpretation, by Jared Leto, than Heath Ledger’s) all in one film– and with Batman (Ben Affleck), too.  It looks like a full house of crazies.

Of course, it is entirely possible that for me Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury are affecting my emotional reaction to this trailer.  You could put Bohemian Rhapsody on a video of a dripping faucet and I’d watch it.

Interestingly, the Comic-con trailer for this same movie has a completely different feel, taking a much more serious and dramatic– maybe even tragic– tone.  The producers might want to figure out their marketing approach to this product.  Remember what happened to John Carter.  Just saying.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

If this film maintains the serious tone of Man of Steel, it will hit the ground– or the screen– with an excellent head-start, as far as I’m concerned.  That approach was one of the best things about Man of Steel, lifting me up and over some irritating flaws in the story logic.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Justice League, but the trio of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman is intrinsically interesting.  I will be interested in seeing how the film handles the initial conflict between Superman and Batman (rather a traditional element in their respective origin stories) and how their friendship then grows to form the League’s foundation.  And, I have to admit, Wonder Woman’s reveal in this trailer is pretty fun.

Captain America: Civil War

Of these three movies, this is the one I am the most jazzed about.  I have become a serious fan of Captain America as portrayed by Chris Evans in Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers movies.  The whole series of interconnected films that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a creative stroke of genius, in my biased opinion, the brainchild of fans in positions of power, such as Kevin Feige (and now DC is playing serious catch-up with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad).  It is a great storytelling gimmick and should pay dividends for Marvel and Disney for years to come, even if the quality of the individual films varies (Age of Ultron, for example).

I was never a great fan of Captain America in the comics (for years I was obsessed with the X-Men), but Chris Evans’ portrayal of Cap as a decent regular guy who acquires extraordinary powers and then must cope with being displaced in time is one of the best and most consistent character arcs in the whole MCU.  As long as Evans plays the role I will be watching with interest.

On the flip-side, there are upcoming movies that are not particularly on my must-see list–

X-Men: Apocalypse– Despite my deep and long-lasting affection for the X-Men, I’ve found the last several movies disappointing, despite the presence of great actors like Jennifer Lawrence.  After Days of Future Past apparently rebooted the series I have some hope, but I’m going to approach Apocalypse with caution.

Deadpool– hmm…no.  Not a fan, despite the presence of certain X-Men.  Sorry. (Oh, and the trailer’s kinda gory, fyi).

Warcraft– really uncertain about this one, and rather severely disappointed by the look of the trailer.  The live action and the CGI characters do not look as if they were matched up very well. I’ve been waiting for a World of Warcraft movie, and now that it’s here it looks…kinda lame, actually.  Dang.

Gods of Egypt– please.  Overwrought CGI and some sort of battle of the gods that looks like a cheap video-game. No, thank you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows– oh, hell no.

 

 

 

 

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: TEN MORE TITLES – Ring of Bullets

A response to Chuck Wendig’s most recent flash fiction challenge, to write a story to fit one of the following randomly generated titles–

The Incubus’ Tale

The Manor Above

The Dancer And The Shattered Shell

The Hero Will Not Be Automatic

Ring of Bullets

The Music Box of Manhattan

These Damned Insects

Tiger, Burning

A Cold Opportunity Without The Kingdom

The Apocalypse Ticket

I picked Ring of Bullets, but fudged the 1000 word limit Chuck requested.  I am shameless.

This piece is set in the same universe as my Divine Lotus series of novels, just further south and later in time.

Note: this piece depicts combat and military violence, so be warned.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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Ring of Bullets

“Hold them!,” Haass screamed.  “Hold the bastards!”

His order barely cut above the din of firing and the howls of the Temishi.  The enemy swordsmen surged against the barricade, screaming in bloodlust, or in agony as a Union bullet found them.  The troopers behind the barricade of logs and barrels fired directly into enemy faces, or stabbed with bayonets.  As Haass watched one, then two of the soldiers fell, taking sword-thrusts, even as other soldiers shot the men who stabbed them.

“Captain!  Captain!”  It was Subaltern Skal.  The youth practically tumbled down the hill toward Haass.  “The Temishi are over the south wall!  They’ve broken into the lower barracks!”

Haass stared at him for one instant.  Then he grabbed the whistle on its lanyard, put it to his lips, and blew three sharp blasts.  “Fall back!” he shouted.  “Fall back to the hold-fast!”

The men obeyed, raggedly, in twos and threes.  They had go backward, fighting as they went.  Those who turned their backs to the Temishi were cut down at once.  The barbarians, shrieking, came over the barricade in a living wave.  Haass fired once, twice with his revolver, dropping tattooed swordsmen as they clambered over the logs.  Then he went back, with his men, up the hill.

Five or six troopers coalesced around him and Skal, and together they laid down enough fire to hold off the Temishi as they retreated.  The soldiers furiously worked the bolts of their rifles, firing, loading, firing.  Haass empty his revolver, hastily reloaded with a speed-loader from his ammo pouch, and shot a charging Temishi in the face.

They went up the hill, and now the eastern barricade they had quit was smothered in Temishi.  The watchtower on the east side of the cantonment, Haass now saw, was ablaze.  One of the troopers beside him took a steel-tipped arrow through his chest.  He crumpled slowly to the hillside, as if reluctant to admit he was dead.

They went back, and reached the lower door of the hold-fast.  “Get in!” Haass cried.  The soldiers piled in through the portal.  Haass fired again and again, holding back the Temishi, then flung himself inside.  Someone slammed the heavy door shut, and bars dropped into place.

Haass picked himself up.  The lower floor of the hold-fast was a wide room, stone-floored, with firing apertures around its perimeter.  Weak sunshine shone through the northern slits, as the sun approached noon.  A stone staircase led up to the roof.

Fifteen or twenty troopers gasped and cursed in the lower room.  Some were wounded.  Haass said, “Cover the firing loops!  Keep the bastards away from the walls.”

Men moved to obey.  Haass forced his legs to move, and he ascended the stairs.

He came out on the roof, and the sound of the Temishi horde rang in his ears.  He kept low, taking cover behind the crenellated top-wall, and peeking out as he reloaded his pistol.

From here he could see the whole breadth of the pass, from the northern hill to the southern.  The knoll on which the hold-fast stood was lodged right in the mouth of the pass– to the west, across the shallow, frigid river whose name he could not remember, the country opened up into what passed for fertile lands in this cold, southern extremity.

Not only was the watch-tower burning, but also the northern and southern blockhouses, flanking the knoll.  Haass gritted his teeth; they had not had the time to build a wall to enclose the hold-fast, the tower and the blockhouses.  They had been told the Temishi were five or six days march away, on the other side of the mountains, and that there was time.  Instead the Temishi had appeared suddenly, not an hour before.

Now the barbarians surged about the hill in their thousands.  The lower barracks, the cookhouse and the ammunition hut were all burning, too, the ammo store crackling continuously with exploding ammunition.  Temishi danced around the the fires, celebrating the destruction.  The only signs of the bulk of Haass’ command were bodies in khaki lying scattered around the post.  Here and there Temishi hacked at the corpses, out of spite, or to collect trophies.

At the moment, the Temishi were keeping back from the hold-fast, finishing the destruction of the rest of the post.  As Haass watched, other groups of Temishi peeled away from the post, toward the river, with its bridge the Unionists had been unable to destroy.  Haass grimaced; the Temishi would be on the division’s rear areas in half a day.

Someone was there with him on the roof– Sergeant Tem.  The older man had blood on his face, but seemed otherwise unhurt.  He peered out.  “Bad enough, ain’t it, Captain.”

“Bad enough,” Haass said, unable to improve on the sergeant’s assessment.

“We should never have come to this forsaken place,” Tem said.

“Not our decision, sergeant,” Haass said.  “We’re soldiers, we go where we’re sent.”  Despite his words, Haass knew resentment– the Union had no business in this land, except the High Chief’s ambition for an empire.  At the moment it seemed a poor excuse to let savages hack good soldiers to pieces.

“We just have to hold them off,” Haass said.  “If our riders got through, the brigade could be here by tomorrow morning.”

An arrow skipped off a crenellation close by.  Haass and Tem crossed to the other side of the roof, looking out toward the river.  The soldiers below now fired at the crowd outside.  Even so, despite the firing, Temishi were cautiously making their way up the slope on all sides.  They’ll rush us soon.

A commotion among the enemy on the river-side of the post; men parted to let a small group of Temishi carrying long spears through.  Two of the spears carried something on their tips, pales lumps.  Their passage elicited much cheering among the Temishi.

The spear-carriers came closer, and Haass saw why the Temishi rejoiced.  “Pons and Dro,” he muttered.  The riders had not made it out.

“So,” Tem said, sounding resigned.  “It’s the ring of bullets, after all.”

The pledge.  “We’re not there, yet, sergeant,” Haass said.  “If we can just….”

There was a roar; the roof shook beneath them, and a cloud of dust and smoke shot up on the other side of the holdfast.  “They’ve blown the wall in!” Tem shouted.  He raced for the stairs, and Haass followed.

In the room below was swirling smoke, screams and rifles going off in the enclosed space.  Temishi poured through a wide gap in the eastern wall.  Troopers shot them, struggled with them hand-to-hand, but there were too many of them.  Now, however, the Temishi did not strike to kill; they seized soldiers with their bare hands and with nooses, looking to capture.

Ring of bullets…ring of bullets– the pledge, that no Union soldier would let another fall into barbarian hands, to be tortured and slowly flayed in Temishi temples.  So, standing midway down the stairs, Haass lifted his pistol and shot Tem in the back of the head.  He shot Skal, as the boy crouched weeping against the far wall.  He fired and fired, and as he did Haass wept, too, for his men, for the waste, for himself.  He would never marry or father children.  He would never again see another sunset, or the forests of his home.

Temishi pushed up the stairs toward him.  Haass put the muzzle of his pistol to his own temple, but the hammer clicked on a spent cartridge.  He flailed with the empty pistol, cracking a skull, laying open a face, but strong hands seized him and bore him down.

Sunday Photo Fiction – January 17th 2016- ICE

Sunday Photo Fiction for January 17th 2016– 200 words of flash fiction based on this image–

139-01-january-17th-2016

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

***************************************

“You have to leave, Grandfather.”

The old man shook his head.  “I would just hold you up.”  His breath steamed thick.

“Nobody’s coming,” Celia said.  “The snow’s too heavy….”

“And you can’t take me,” her grandfather said.  “No, don’t argue with me.  You should go.”

Celia knelt beside her grandfather’s chair.  “I can’t….”

“You must.”  Grandfather smiled.  “Don’t fret.  I’ve done most everything I’ve ever dreamed of.  You need to go and find what future you can. I won’t be able to contribute to this world.  Go.

Tears tracked down her cheeks.  “I’m sorry.”

Her grandfather kissed her on the forehead.  “You have nothing to be sorry for, child.”

Wrapped in layers, Celia stepped outside.  She wiped the tears from her face, to keep them from freezing on her skin.

Her breath hung before her, a freezing fog.  The cars on the street were all frozen solid, welded to the ground by the ice.  She would have to walk out, or die. The houses across the road were all dark.  Beyond them, the wall of ice loomed, massive, implacable.  Celia craned her neck back, trying see its top.  It was lost in the gloom.

She turned and walked south, toward life.

Pray and Write

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