Thursday, December 31, 2020

Epilogue

This is chapter 57 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK


Thursday Afternoon, December 31, 2020, Seattle

Sean had been building a fireplace in the backyard. He pried up flagstones from the path that led to Jo’s apartment and stacked them in a crude semi-circle against the massive boulder that defined the property line. A light rain had been falling off and on all day making it sloppy work but the cool temperature was a good match for his hard labor.

In the days after the Christmas night disasters, Sean was numb. He had burned through the stages of grief in mere minutes after the earthquake and tsunami. Shock was followed by acceptance, bypassing denial, anger, bargaining, guilt and depression. Strangely, however, he was still functional. He managed the necessities: identifying the bodies of Mary and Jo and arranging their funerals, dealing with legal details concerning his son Villí’s drowning in Reykjavík, and dealing with lawyers for the family’s LLC. He had one small window of hope—Mareka’s body had not yet been found—but the discovery of her slippers in the muck at the bottom of the pit where Mary had died effectively ended that. The days seemed to be on repeat—dealing with these affairs in the morning and then just sitting, phone off, looking out onto the patio where Mareka had held her ‘flying lessons’ with the crows. The crows hadn’t returned, he thought that they were aware of her absence. He had also wondered if they had been trying to warn them in the square, just before the earthquake.

Sean was laying the last of the stones when he heard a woman’s voice:

“Hey Sean.”

“Molly,” Sean said, without turning his head. A statement of fact, rather that a greeting. Molly Berenson had been Sean’s lover during the ‘Billygate’ affair, when Sean was working for Mary. Molly had left Sean because of the duress she experienced during that investigation. She had gone into insurance and had great success and had also dealt extensively with Jo, supplying the Carroll-Robinson family LLC’s insurance needs.

“Is this a good time?” asked Molly.

“Yes. I’m glad to see you,” said Sean, putting down the last bit of stonework and looking at Molly, “I’m just finishing up here.”

“What are you making, besides a muddy mess?”

Sean was silent for a minute and then spoke: “A clean break with the past.”

“You want to talk?” said Molly, “I could come back later if it’s too much, or if it’s too soon.”

“It’s OK, I can use a friendly face,” said Sean, ”Let’s go into the garage where it isn’t so damp. I’ve got a ventilation system there, and a heater, we can talk without masks.”

They went into the garage, the space where Jo had conducted her home school with Mareka and the neighborhood children. The walls still held drawings by the children. Molly noticed a large pile of broken stretcher bars by the door—some with scraps of canvas attached—and a pile of unframed canvases next to them, canvases that had been roughly cut from their frames. On one of the desks lay several notebooks, letters, and a pile of drawings.

“This is the artwork and ephemera from my grandmother,” said Sean, “The past. Fuel for that fireplace I built.”

“Oh, no,” said Molly, “Are you really going to burn everything?”

“The way I see it,” began Sean, “Either I destroy this stuff, or it will destroy me. You and I, when we first got together, we had none of this baggage. I’m not being sentimental about that time, but even though we were both working too much we had something good between us, something that we had built. Then my family ghosts appeared: Billy, my father, the witchcraft that came from my grandmother. It infected Mary first and then my son Vilhjalmur, then Mareka. It was exciting, thrilling even, but not human. And it all came through me, but I didn’t stand up to it, I just let it and its consequences sweep over everything.”

“How will burning all this help? Won’t Emily’s legacy live on despite of its destruction?”

“I’ve thought about that. There is something that exists in the world, call it magic, or spirit, or whatever you want. It is real, and it is embodied in these objects. With them gone, so goes the magic. There will be pictures of the paintings in books, yes, but a reproduction is just a reflection—without a physical existence they are merely footnotes to a short-lived art movement. These books and spells will lose their power as well; I’ve already told Hilmar in Iceland to shutdown the spells app.“

“And then what?” asked Molly, “You have to do something with your life.”

“I’ll deal with that the way I’m dealing with my life now—a day at a time. I’m in a position to help a lot of people—nuts-and-bolts kind of help—not failed charms and incantations.”

“But Mary affected a lot of people in positive ways.”

“And where is she now? In a makeshift morgue, summarily dumped by a capricious god,” said Sean, biting his lip to keep it from quivering, “I’m sorry. Now I’m going too far.”

“Sean, it was just one of those things,” said Molly, “A fluke.”

“No, Mary’s death was no fluke, not coupled with the deaths of Villí and Jo and Mareka. I got the message, loud and clear. When the loves of my life are taken away, when this empty house is what I’ve got for a life, well, I guess it’s time to try something else. Even if what I do here today is the wrong thing, it can’t be any worse that what happened on Christmas. It started with me and continues through me. I bring death to all that I touch. I am the corrupted seed, the root of all this evil.”

There was an awkward pause.

“I hope that you’re making the right choice, Sean.” said Molly.

“The rain has let up, let’s do this thing,” said Sean.

They began hauling out the ‘fuel.’ Sean collected with the stretcher bars first and arranged them in a lattice to provide a base to allow air to reach the fire from below. Then they brought out the artwork on paper, the canvases, Emily’s letters and, finally, capped it with the books of spells. Sean doused the pile with lighter fluid and set it ablaze. The two of them watched in silence as the pyre became fire. In minutes it was reduced to ashes. After the residue had smoldered a bit Sean spoke:

“Molly, I want you to know that I never held what happened between us against you. You got a raw deal, if I had been more decisive, if I had stood up for myself, I could have saved you a world of trouble.”

“You did the best you could, you went far beyond what any normal person would have done.” There was another pause before Molly continued: “I was happy when you and Mary got together, and I was thrilled that you two had a child together.”

“I let you down.”

“Sean, it’s all right, listen to me,” said Molly, “I know that you are suffering, more than I can comprehend. But remember this: I never stopped loving you. You aren’t alone. You are loved.”

“Thank you… I won’t forget.”

“I’ve got to go now, Sean, Mom’s pretty much house-bound now and she gets upset when I’m not there at right at dinnertime. Are you sure you’re going to be all right?”

“I’m hanging in there,” Sean said, managing a wan smile, “Say hi to your mother from me. She was always supportive of us.”

Sean let Molly out the garage front door.

“Call me… anytime… I mean it,” Molly said as she got into her car.

Sean returned to the backyard. He sat down at the patio table and closed his eyes, putting his head in his hands. He was still numb; the exorcism of Emily’s ghost hadn’t changed his mental state. He sat this way for several minutes, it was easier with eyes closed, he didn’t want to look at the place where his daughter had been cavorting with the crows a week ago.

A peck on his hand broke Sean’s reverie. He opened his eyes.

“Æ, auks.”

A magnificent crow was perched on the table, not more than a foot away, looking Sean right in the eyes.

“Æ, auks,” said the bird, extending a claw. A ring made of braided thread with a red bead woven into it dangled from it.

Sean put out his hand and the bird dropped the ring onto his palm.

“Æ, auks,” repeated the crow. Sean understood what the bird was trying to say.

Hey, Pops, yourself, Kiddo… ” said Sean.

The bird nodded and, after looking at Sean one more time, flew off.

“You take care of yourself… Kiddo,” Sean shouted to the crow.

The precipitation began again, this time in earnest.

Sean remained seated,  raindrops washing his tears away.


                                                  The End

By Professor Batty




Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Orphan Guitars

I managed to make it to almost 16 months before doing another guitar post (when I swore that I would never do another) but that was a whole different world back then. I’ve found that I have a lot of home-time that needs to be filled; what better way than with a couple of rehab projects?

Like seeing a piteous puppy or a forlorn kitten, I get an emotional response when I’m exposed to an orphan guitar. And if one wasn’t attractive enough, I picked up twins!

Pictured above is a guitar from a lot of unfinished factory rejects that had been abandoned  and sold to Guitar Fetish, the appropriately named online e-tailer. I was intrigued by these particular offerings for they were different than the usual Stratocaster and Les Paul clones. Someone had actually designed these things, they weren’t just copies of an existing style. The headstock, with its mahogany veneers and a brass inlay, was definitely unique:
The fret markers are absolutely original. The PRS-style rounded body with a center binding was different as well:


After further research, I discovered that they are LÂG Imperators, a French brand not often seen in the U.S. They were evidently abandoned sometime in the manufacturing process, probably for the overly thick finish on the necks. Now that my novel is finished (final installment tomorrow!) these siblings are my main winter project. I may even post updates about my attempts to revive them.

Here is one of them cleaned up and strung up, with some “wooden” pick-ups on it:

Will they be Fabulous, Frankensteins, or Firewood? Time will tell.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Monday, December 28, 2020

Reaction Videos

One of the biggest internet trends of the last couple of years is the rise of “reaction videos”, where YouTube presenters react to musical performances of famous songs and the singers who perform them. The quality of these varies wildly but the best of them are illuminating.

One of the better “reactors” is Beth Roars, a voice teacher from Scotland, who combines her expertise (which is considerable) with an honest display of her emotional reactions to great performances. Here is the one of Bobby Hatfield’s stunning live performance of Unchained Melody, one of the greatest pop songs of all time (it charted three times in three different decades!):



Watch it again—only looking at her hands!

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Friday, December 25, 2020

Happy Happy Birthday

This is chapter 56 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday Evening, December 25, 2020, Seattle

Sean, Mary and Mareka were in their car, going to Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle for the holiday light show. Christmas day had been low-key but pleasant, in a marked contrast to what the year had been so far. Mareka had been thrilled with her gift (“A real cape!”) as well as with the ruby slippers that Jo had given her. Mareka’s Christmas wish was to share tater tots with the backyard crows and raccoons. She promised to only ‘chat’ with them and not to engage in any more ‘flying lessons.’ Mary had braided the scraps of thread scavenged from the old cape into matching ‘magic rings’ for her and Mareka, braiding a tiny red bead in each as a gemstone. “A little birthday magic we can share, to bind us together forever,” she told her daughter.

“Hey pops! Where’s Jo?” said Mareka, “Wasn’t she coming with us?”

“Hey Kiddo! She’s on a Bumble… ” said Sean, “… Some new dating service.” “If it doesn’t work out she said she would meet us in the square,” said Mary, “And if it does work out, well, ooh, la-la!”

Mareka frowned after hearing Mary’s remark. The idea of Jo having a boyfriend was disturbing to the child, especially in light of the attack by Jo’s ex a couple of weeks earlier. Mareka had always been possessive of Jo and was at that stage of childhood where she was trying to make sense of the the male-female dynamic. Mary, meanwhile, was thinking about the conversation she had with Jo that afternoon. Jo had summed up her frustrations with the dating scene and men in general: “It’s all Sean’s fault, I mean nobody I’ve met measures up to him. He’s such a… a… nice guy!” Mary laughed then, knowing exactly what Jo meant. “Nice guys finish last,” said Mary, teasingly, and they both laughed. “That’s way too much information,” said Jo, and then, turning mock-serious, said “Sean would never say anything like that.”

Sean drove the car into the Sinking Ship parking ramp, found a spot, and they all got out. Soon the threesome found themselves in the light-festooned Pioneer Square under the famous pergola. Mary was keeping an eye on Mareka, who seemed as interested in twirling her cape as she was in the lights. The rain, which had been a constant most of the day, had let up and the radar indicated a gap in the showers for the next couple of hours. The exhibits were spread out over several blocks and it took them nearly an hour to see them all. They returned to the pergola where they saw Jo waiting, alone.

“No luck?” said Mary to Jo.

“He was a capital N nerd—a Star Wars Fan—but only the earlier films, excepting Jar-Jar-Binks,” Jo said, “And even worse, he’s a blogger!”

“Saints preserve us,” Mary said with a laugh, “Deliver us from e-Vile!”

“I’m probably the subject of a post already!” Turning to Mareka, Jo said: “Wow! Your outfit looks great!“

“Thank you,” said Mareka, twirling and bowing to Jo, “I feel so pretty!” With that comment she clicked the heels of her ruby slippers together three times and said, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Sean found himself overcome with emotion. This was his family, a real family, something that he couldn’t have even begun to imagine ten years ago when he was an itinerant bachelor coder, bouncing from job to job, city to city, and bed to bed. He had been through a lot with these three, and he realized that this was the first time in his life that he felt unalloyed joy. No conspiracy theorists, Russian agents or political intrigues threatened them now. It was a good time for the big reveal. He looked at Mary expectantly and she nodded back.

“As we are all gathered here, in this beautiful square, on this special day, Mary and I have a special announcement,“ said Sean, whose speech was followed by a few caws emanating from the trees in the square, “It looks as if some of Mareka’s friends are also here for the announcement.” Sean took Mary’s hand and looked at her.

“You tell them,” said Mary.

“Mary and I are expecting a child, due sometime in early July,“ said Sean, “Mareka, you will be a big sister.”

“Ah, ah, ah,“ said the girl, speechless.

“Caw, Caw, Caw,” echoed the crows.



Three thousand miles away, in Reykjavík, Villí was in his bed in the still of the night. The wind had died down and it was a clear night, through his window Villí could see faint glimmers of aurora. He was thinking about the day’s events, especially seeing his pabbi and systir on FaceTime, which was OK—not as good as being with them—but he hoped that they would be able to spend next Christmas together. While Christmas in Reykjavík had been somewhat subdued, he did get some new clothes so he hadn’t been eaten by the Yule Cat. He heard the clock in the living room strike three, and then the silent night returned. A scratching sound at the window made him sit up.

Outside, perched on the sill, sat an enormous raven that was peering in and looking directly at the boy. Villí got up and went to the window. The bird was softly burbling. At first it seemed to Villí to be nonsense syllables, but after a few seconds Villí began to understand it: “Koma, koma, koma… ”



Looking up, Sean and the women could see that the eaves of the pergola, as well as the surrounding trees, were filling with crows. Their cawing became louder and continuous. Mareka, electrified by the birds, began to wave her arms under her cape. Breaking away from the others, she ran over to an open area in the square and began to dance in a strange, jerky fashion—putting on a show for the birds who responded in kind—fluttering and bobbing in sync with Mareka. After a minute of this Mary walked over to the girl and touched her shoulder.

At that moment the ground shuddered and then began to violently oscillate. Everyone in the square was thrown to ground as the power went out. In the darkness a cacophony of bird cries, fluttering wings, sirens and thumps of brickwork falling from the surrounding buildings echoed between the buildings. Great groaning and creaking sounds emerged from beneath them.

Sean got to his feet and took out his phone and set it to the flashlight mode. The pavement where Mareka and Mary had stood now featured a gaping hole. There was no sign of either mother or daughter. Another quake, even greater this time, dashed Sean to the ground again and his phone slipped out of his grasp and smashed to pieces on the pavement.

Then came the roar of rushing water. Sean was swept off his feet and thrown against an upright of the pagoda. As the water rose around him, Sean instinctively began climbing, stopping when he reached the structure’s rafters.



Villí had dressed and surreptitiously made his way out of the apartment. He was now walking along the path that ran along the ocean from Suðurstönd to Bakkvör. Following the raven, who had now been joined by numerous comrades, the mesmerized boy followed the birds to a rocky point overlooking Faxafloí. The ocean was turbulent. The treachery of ravens suddenly arose and began flying in a cluster around the boy.

Villí never saw the ‘sneaker wave’ that hit him.



By the time the water finally receded from Pioneer Square, floodlights from emergency vehicles had begun illuminating the scene. Sean worked his way down from the rafters of the pergola  and was stunned by the extent of the destruction. There were bodies strewn about, some still moving, others were just still. He began to look for Mary and his daughter and Jo, shouting their names. As he neared the chasm in the center of the square Sean was restrained by a policeman.

“There’s an emergency management center on Yesler and 5th,” said the cop, pointing up the street, “Check-in with them and let them know who you are looking for,”

“But I’ve got to find my daughter and my wife, and our friend.”

“You must leave here, NOW! There is 200-year-old underground city under the square that has been damaged by the earthquake and flooded by the tsunami. It’s all rotten and may collapse at any time.”

A falling facade from one of the buildings that adjoined the square was an exclamation point to the cop’s remarks, persuading Sean to heed its advice. He began to walk up Yesler, when he reached Prefontaine Place he stopped and looked back. Down in the square and over to the waterfront there were signs of destruction everywhere.

But the only thing Sean could see was his future crumbling.



Next Chapter:Epilogue

By Professor Batty




Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Music of Failure

This a re-post from FITK, December 24th, 2010
I saw a star fall from the sky,
And the people of Uruk stood around and admired it.
And I was zealous and tried to carry it away,
But I was too weak and I failed.
What does it mean?
I have not dreamed like this before…

~The Gilgamesh Epic
The calendar has always been somewhat arbitrary in its composition: the twelve months don’t fit a year nearly as neatly as thirteen would. The months and days of the week are named after a variety of gods and emperors, but the cosmological basis of the solstices and the equinoxes cannot be denied. Christmas day landing between the winter solstice and New Years day is not a coincidence.

Sometimes I think that Christmas activities are a way to avoid year-end ruminations. If the year has not gone so well, why not let loose a little? And if it has been a very good year, why not celebrate it? Any excuse for a party. If the party goes on long enough you just might miss that 3 a.m. wake-up call from your conscience: all those things that you’ve been trying to ignore throughout the year which keep bubbling up into your fitful dreams until you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night. Things such as:
Those ten pounds you want to lose.
The car needs repairs.
The war and the economy.
How your circle of friends is fracturing.
The “Big R” (retirement.)
Christmas get togethers.
More snow.
Those ten pounds (again!)
How this year wasn’t as good as the last.
And next year may not be any better than this year.
Or, more simply stated:
The general entropy of your life’s arc.

Just try getting back to sleep.

The title of this post is based on an essay of the same name by Bill Holm. In it, Bill examines the lives of various people he grew up with in his small town, people who never made much of a mark on the greater world, people who could be considered failures in some sense, but whose lives played out to a different tune, “… the melody that counterpoints everything but is never heard… ”

The music of failure. Lives spent in the failure of living them. But Bill’s message was not one of despair. For our lives have a meaning even if the meaning is beyond our understanding: “Yet in every artery of my body, and in yours too, that music of failure plays–continually. It sounds like Bach to me, and you must make up your mind what it sounds like to you.”

I will continue to wrestle with my minor demons of the night and continue trying to pick up the fallen stars of my writing and “art” as I continue to play my own music of failure. And when I do start feeling a little down about my efforts I find these lyrics from Pascal Pinon to be a great consolation:
All the books I’ve never read
All the words and phrases I’ve never said
Is life as good as it’s going to get?

The music playing loud in my ears
I am trying to evaporate all my fears
It’s not getting any good until that clears.

Today is the one day I have left
In a whole new adventure and a whole new step
That I’m taking to another direction.

I wonder what it will be like
I am kind of excited, still terrified
I’m standing at a new beginning…

The future may be looking bright
I’m still convincing myself for what is right
But time has never been on my side…

Things I may not understand
Are slightly getting out of hand
I don’t know anything, anything at all…

Seems that I’m about to make
An overwhelming huge mistake
With everyone disagreeing…

But seeing things a positive way
Is making me feel like it’s OK
So I’m gonna enjoy the day…


~ Jófríður Ákadóttir, New Beginning

And so now, on this Christmas Eve, I offer my best wishes and good cheer to all who have struggled with tribulations in their lives, and with the serpents of self-doubt.

May each of you have a new beginning every day.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 5 




Wednesday, December 23, 2020

O Christmas Tree


This is the year of the minimalist Christmas tree at Flippist World Headquarters. Constructed out of scraps and recycled decorations, with an Icelandic Rune thrown in for good luck. And it is pine!

There will be a special FITK re-run here tomorrow and the penultimate chapter of The Inheritance will be posted on Christmas Day.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Monday, December 21, 2020

Adventures in the Green Van — V

Eight and a Half Weeks
As the winter of 1976 wore on, the owner of the green van was still in Portugal so the vehicle of destiny remained under my command.

Because I had the van I had been recruited to help a friend move his lady-friend to a new apartment. It would be an easy move, he said, she didn’t have a ton of stuff and it was only a couple of blocks between her old place and the new one. On a bright and frosty Saturday morning in February I picked up him up and we drove over to the old place. It was on a second floor (boo!) but she was well organized and everything was packed and ready to go (yay!) I was taking down my first box when, on a landing leading up to the apartment, I looked down and saw the most beautiful woman in the world (instantly forgetting about the one I had met the previous week).

It was love at first sight.

We struck it off and, after the move was finished, while were eating pizza in the new apartment, we talked. And talked. For hours. The next day she came over to my place and we took things to another level.

Eight and a half weeks later we got married.

We still are.

And it was all because of the green van!

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Friday, December 18, 2020

Threads

This is chapter 55 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK


Friday Afternoon, December 18, 2020, Seattle

“Changing the subject for a minute… have you thought about what we discussed the other day…  about the crows?” said Mary.

“Um… uh-huh,” said Mareka, ”How it is wrong to become another animal?”

“Not that it’s wrong, but it’s just that animals have their own lives to lead, lives that are not necessarily the best way for a seven-year-old girl to live. And those corvids are definitely tricksters.”

“I am almost eight, you know, it’s almost my birthday,” Mareka said, “And I can fly, a little bit, anyway.”

“It isn’t the flying that bothers me, it’s the landing part,” Mary laughed, “And I do remember your birth date. Very well.”

Mary and Mareka were in the kitchen where they had been talking about Christmas plans, plans which included the December 25th celebration of Mareka’s birth. Mary thought back on the birth of her daughter: earthquakes, volcanoes and a supernova had been an interesting way to announce her to the world. Now, however, all that Mary was hoping for was a little peace on earth for her family. It had been a rough year—for the whole world— and it was especially so for Mary, Sean and Jo. Mareka, on the other hand, seemed unfazed by the events around her, her accumulation of weird powers and even her killing of Jo’s psychotic ex-husband.

Although Mareka seemed fine, Mary was concerned about the girl’s dalliances with the crows. Mareka had taken to wearing her ‘flying cape’ all of the time and Mary didn’t want it becoming an object of an obsession. The cape was, in reality, only a piece of fabric to which Mareka had added safety pins in order to attach a neck strap. Un-hemmed, it was also starting to fray at the edges. Mary found herself picking up stray threads from around the house all week and was saving them for an irrational reason: “Maybe there is some magic in these,” she had thought. Mary had also gone out an purchased a fancy hand-made cape from the Monster store on Market Street—real velvet with white trim—as a Christmas present for Mareka in the hope that it would break the spell of the tattered rag that Mareka wore constantly.



In his basement office, Sean Carroll was on the computer reviewing some of the proposals for the cover of the new book of his grandmother Emily’s drawings when he received a notification from his Icelandic son Villí on Gmail:
Hæ,hæ, Pabbi, can you Facetime now?
Sean replied in the affirmative and made the connection.

“Hæ, Villí, what’s new?“

“Oh Pabbi, I’m so worried about Mareka. I dream she is flying with ravens, they are flying over rocky ground with bones all over it.”

“Villí, I know that she has been talking to the crows, those birds are like the Icelandic ravens you know them, but she is OK, I think it something that she will grow out of. She has been through a lot. I know that you two are very close. Mary is talking to her about the crows right now.”

“Pabbi?”

“Yá?”

“Pabbi, do you know what my Christmas wish is?”

“Tell me.”

“My wish is that you and Mareka and Mary and Jo would be here for Christmas.”

“Ah, so do I, Villí, so do I. Next year, if we are allowed, for sure.”



Back in the kitchen, Mary and Mareka had been joined by Jo.

“What plots are you two hatching?” asked Jo.

Ma-mah thinks I should spend less time with the crows,” said Mareka, “And I reminded her that my birthday is coming up.”

“What do you want for Christmas, er, your birthday?” said Jo, “I guess they are the same?”

“I don’t know,” said Mareka, “I just want us all to be happy.”

“I think I know of something that would make you happy,” said Mary. She was thinking not only of the cape, but also the fact that she was pregnant, a secret that she and Sean had been keeping from their daughter in the hope that it would be better to reveal it during a happy occasion. Mareka had been a Christmas baby and her new sibling might be a Fourth of July one. “Uncle Sam!” Mary thought, “Sam, a good name for a boy or a girl.

“Do you guys have anything planned?” asked Jo.

“There is a Christmas Lights show on in Pioneer Square,” said Mary, “It’s one of the few that didn’t get cancelled because of Covid. It‘s all out in the open, over several blocks, with the usual social distancing. I thought that might be something we could do together Christmas evening, and it would get us out of the house.”



Later that night, Sean and Mary were talking as they were getting ready for bed.

“How did your talk go with Mareka?” said Sean, “About the crows.” “I dunno,” said Mary, “She seems receptive, but she’s intrigued by them and they are clever animals—not beyond playing a human for a fool. I’m more worried about what could happen if she actually did shape-shift and join them. She might have special powers but she isn’t invulnerable even if she can do magic.”

“She doesn’t feel like she’s under pressure, from us, or from the crows?”

“She’s still upbeat, she’s still the same kid, not yet a corvid,” said Mary, “We talked about seeing some Christmas lights on her birthday.”

“Are there some that haven’t been cancelled?”

”The Lusio show in Pioneer Square are still on, lots of room to social distance,” replied Mary, “They’re a group of artists who are trying to make a difference in that part of town and can use our support. Some of the displays are pretty trippy, I think Mareka will like them. We can go in the early evening and be really back home by eight or so.”

“That sounds good,” said Sean, ”Something to get us out of the house.”

“I thought that might be a good time to tell Mareka about the baby, too.”

“That sounds like a plan.”



Next Chapter: Happy Happy Birthday

By Professor Batty




Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Adventures in the Green Van — IV

The Beautiful Woman
The owner of the green van was in the habit of taking extended trips on the Iberian peninsula.

In the winter of ’76 he had me take care of the van while he was away on one such sojourn. It was also at this time when, in rural Dalbo, Minnesota, a musician of my acquaintance invited me up to spend a weekend with him and his wife. I was single at the time, so I was very pleased when his wife’s sister (also single) and her friends came up. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. All of us went outside and shoveled the snow off the pond and had a little skating party. It was glorious. After dinner the beautiful woman and her friends went back to the cities. I stayed on.

My friend had a new multi-track tape recorder and was looking for some technical advice. After a few hours of nerding out on recording techniques his wife left us and went to bed. A bottle of Southern Comfort appeared. I’m usually not much on spirits but on this particular night I did succumb to its treacly temptation. We stayed up late talking until the booze was gone, and then talked some more. The next day some of our friends came up and we did some more socializing. I drove home that night, alone.  It was not to be my final adventure in the green van At the time I didn’t know it, and maybe my friend didn’t either, but this weekend was sort of an audition; within a year I’d be working with him and his band.

I never saw the beautiful girl again, although years later I did find her demurely hiding in the corner of a picture I had shot months before I met her.

By Professor Batty


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Monday, December 14, 2020

Hygge with Auður

Although the I Heart Reykjavík website is suspended, its author, Auður Ösp, continues in her efforts to promote Iceland and spread its culture. This year she sponsored an on-line “Icelandic Christmas Hygge”, an informal video cast from her home in Reykjavík. She spent over an hour and a half with us (along with her husband Hrarrar) on Google Meet.

In the video Auður describes Icelandic Christmas traditions, the cultural events, foods (including the disgusting ones), and family activities. She really warms up in her presentation, by the end her charm really comes through. Aside from an occasional technical glitch, the whole thing went well and raised the equivalent of over 4300 USD for an Icelandic Aid Society!

Kudos to Auður for this fine gesture, here is a link to site. Although you can’t watch the video without a password, if you scroll down there are links to features on topics she discusses. Email me for the password, it will be up for a couple of weeks.

By Professor Batty


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Friday, December 11, 2020

Spelling Lessons

This is chapter 54 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Friday Morning, December 11, 2020, Seattle

“She’s at it again, ” said Sean, looking out the kitchen window, “Those crows are more than a little creepy.”

In the back yard Mareka was cavorting with a flock of the birds. She had fashioned a cape from a scrap of black velveteen cloth and was fluttering back and forth. Sean returned to the table where he had been talking with Mary and Jo, going over some of the details of their family business.

“She could be into worse things,” said Mary, “TikTok… or K-pop… or… tax law.”

“Speaking of the unspeakable,” interjected Jo, “It’s fair to assume that the tax breaks will change next year. It might be in your best interests to defer any new income streams next year.”

“The vesting of my Amasales stock will be… ” Mary’s reply was interrupted by a new eruption of cawing from the crows in the back yard, “What on earth is going on out here?”

They all got up and went over to the patio door. Outside, Mareka was gliding across the yard, apparently a few inches above the ground, with her cape trailing behind her. Sean reached for the door handle in order to go out but Mary grasped his arm.

“Let the girl be,” Mary whispered, ”Don’t break the spell.”

Mareka landed with a bump in the middle of the yard. She began bobbing her head as she slowly flapped her ‘wings’ as if she were dancing. The crows, who had been perching on the surrounding trees and yard fixtures, flew down and arranged themselves in a circle around the flailing child. At the same time, a half-dozen raccoons emerged from the undergrowth that adjoined the creek in the back of the lot. The adults in the kitchen stared at this strange tableaux. The raccoons began to parade in a line around Mareka. The crow started to flap their wings in sync with Mareka’s movements.



Friday Afternoon, Reykjavík, December 11, 2020.

Vilhjálmur Stefán, Sean’s Icelandic son, was on a field trip along the shore of Hrólfsskáli bay for a science class project. He liked being outdoors. He found his virtual classes uninteresting. The class were checking the tide pools and recording the various flora and fauna they found there. He was checking out a pool that was surprisingly deep; his one-meter-long specimen net didn’t touch bottom. As he looked up from the pool his eyes were met by the stare from a raven that had landed on a boulder near him. The great bird hopped over to a rock next to the tide pool and began to stare down into it. Villí looked back into the pool. In its inky depths a vision of his half-sister Mareka began to take shape.

She was dressed in a black shawl that resembled wings and as he watched Mareka the shawl became feathers and she began to morphing into a crow. The bird/Mareka began to flutter her wings and flew off, just as the raven with Villí croaked and flew off. Villí felt a great sense of dread.



Friday Morning, Seattle, December 11, 2020.

As Mary, Sean, Jo, the crows and the raccoons watched, Mareka’s fluttering increased and she began to lift off from the ground until she was six feet feet above the grass.

“That’s far enough,” said Mary to Sean and Jo and she opened the door, “Come down, little bird,” she called.

Mareka turned her head and looked down at her mother.

“CRAWCK, CRAWCK,” Mareka said before falling to the ground. With a noisy blend of caws and the sound of flapping wings, the crows flew up and out of the yard while the raccoons scurried back to the creek. Mary, Sean and Jo went over to Mareka, lying in the grass, “I flew, I flew,” she said, “Did you see me?”

“We all saw you; it was beautiful,” said Mary, “But don’t leave us yet, little bird, we need to talk about this.”



Friday Afternoon, Reykjavík, December 11, 2020.

“How was your field trip?” asked Þora, Villí’s mother, as he walked in the door to their apartment, “What did you discover?”

Villí was usually a cheerful child, but Þora sensed that he seemed troubled.

“I saw a raven today, at the shore, and… ” Villí paused.

“Like the ravens you saw the other night?” said Þora, “Hilmar told me about their visit.”

“He looked at me, and then he looked into a tide pool,” said Villí, “And I saw Mareka in the water.”

Þora was aware of the special bond that Villí and Mareka had with each other and she had talked about it at length with Mary, Sean and Hilmar. She give Villí her undivided attention as she asked the next question:

“This was a vision of Mareka, like your other visions, yes?” said Þora, “What was Mareka doing?”

“Yá, a vision yes, ” said Villí, “She was turning into a bird, into a raven. It frightened me.”

“We will talk to her on FaceTime tomorrow, remember what you saw, I’m sure that it means something, you’ll find out what it was when you see her.”



Next Chapter: Threads

By Professor Batty




Wednesday, December 09, 2020

My Last Cigar

Tom, Tim and Dan, The Great Northern Depot, Minneapolis, January, 1976

It was a weird thing to do.

45 years ago there was precious little passenger train service in Minnesota. A year earlier, service between Minneapolis and Duluth had been restored and by the winter of 1976 stops in Cambridge and Sandstone had been added. Five of us intrepid young souls seized the opportunity and made a week-end visit to one of the guys in the band who was then living in a basement in rural Dalbo, Minnesota, not far from Cambridge. I had never been on a train in my life, so for me it was a new adventure.

As we waited in the station we were all trying to act nonchalant, like Cary Grant in North By Northwest, but we were half his age and one tenth as cool. One of the guys, Rich, worked in a tobacco shop and had brought cigars. Some of the guys took him up on his offer, including me. I had smoked for a brief period in high school, I thought I might want to relive those halcyon years.

A big mistake. I got thoroughly nauseated, in just the same way I did when I was younger. I managed to make it to Cambridge without throwing up and for the rest of the weekend I avoided tobacco products. When we got there the town was deserted:
We had to walk a mile to a generic motel on the edge of town. We got a room for the night and smoked dope and watched Carol Burnette on the color TV:
The next day we went out into the country. I shot a bunch of pictures of snow drifts (!?) and somehow I got back home. I would soon return to Dalbo, in the green van, but that is a story for next week.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Monday, December 07, 2020

Rupture

An Ari Thór thriller by Ragnar Jónasson

Minotaur Books 2019
Translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates

This title slipped past me last year. Ragnar had actually written it earlier (2012) than some of his previously published titles in English. He is on a roll these days, his serviceable mysteries (this is not a thriller in any sense of the definition) keep on coming with five titles in the Ari Thór series and three of the Hulda stories so far. I’ve reviewed most of them here.

This is a “family and friends” type of mystery, where relationships are not what they seem, even after sixty years. The three main plot threads concern a family history puzzle triggered by an old photograph, a revenge plot for an accidental killing, and the efforts of a television reporter trying to tie members of the current Icelandic parliament to murders related to the revenge. Ari Thór, nominally the protagonist, is stuck in Siglufjörður, a small town on the North coast of Iceland, due to a quarantine caused by the death of a tourist who brought hemorrhagic fever to the area. Ísrún, the reporter, contacts Ari for information on the epidemic and becomes intrigued by Ari’s story of an extended family in the mid-1950s who once lived on a remote farm where one of the women died from poison. Ísrún is also covering a stolen baby story which may be related to a hit-and-run death and a brutal killing three years previously.

The writing is good and the different plot lines don’t get confusing. There is a fair amount of Icelandic scenery, both in the north and in Reykjavík. Rupture just didn’t grab me; I think Ragnar’s later Hulda novels are better.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Friday, December 04, 2020

Yearning to Fly

This is chapter 53 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK


Late Friday Afternoon, December 4, 2020, Seattle

“Where’s Mareka?” said Mary, “She can set the table.”

“I think she’s out in the back yard,” said Sean, “Communing with her corvid companions.”

Mary went over to the patio door and saw her daughter performing a strange little dance in front of an informal gathering of crows—some perched on lawn furniture, others in trees–all of them were looking intently at the child. Sean joined Mary at the door.

“It appears to be ‘Dances With Crows’,” said Sean, “I wonder what it is that they see in her?”

“Inter-species communication… ” mused Mary, “I used to do that. It’s been a while… not much since Mareka was born… only one ‘active’ per family, I guess.”

“Do you miss it?”

“I’ll take the joys of motherhood over that any day,” said Mary, “My magical powers are fading,” she added, somewhat wistfully, “We haven’t used the rings since she was born, either.”

Mary was referring to the telepathic rings passed down to them from Sean’s grandmother Emily via Edwin Duddle. Mary and Sean had used them communicate but had discontinued the practice. Mary found that interfered with the mother-child bond; it was too upsetting for both Mary and Mareka. Sean had found that using them was upsetting too.

“Those were a bit much, weren’t they?” said Sean.

A choir of caws accompanied by the fluttering of wings indicated that Mareka’s performance was over. Eyes blazing, she came in to the kitchen.

“How are the crows today?” asked Mary.

“They are well,” said Mareka, tersely.

“That’s a good thing you and the crows have going,” said Mary, “What is it that you are doing with them?”

“I was thanking them for watching over us. I told them that they could go back to their regular roosts, that the danger was over.”

“They are a good group to know,” said Mary, “A good group to have on your side.”

“And they were teaching me how to fly,” said Mareka, blithely.

Mary and Sean looked at each other but didn’t comment. Mareka seemed lost in thought. After a minute of this silent impasse, Sean spoke:

“Hey Kiddo, would you set the table, please?“

“Okee doke, Pops. What’s for dinner?”

“Omelets… with tater tots.”



Friday Evening, December 4, 2020, Reykjavík

In his bedroom, Vilhjálmur Stefán, Sean’s son (with Þora) had gotten out of bed and was looking out the window at the backyard of their apartment complex. A group of ravens had descended on  and were clustering around the edge of a trampoline. It appeared to the boy that they were looking directly at him.

“Guð gefur umbun fyrir hrafninn… ”

Hilmar, Villí’s uncle who lived with him and his mother, had come into the room and joined him at the window.

“God gives rewards for the raven, “ said Hilmar, “They don’t usually like to be this close to humans but the recent snow and cold weather makes them less picky.”

“They are looking at me,” said Vilhjálmur, “I think they know me.”

“That may well be,” said Hilmar, “I will leave you with your friends, but don’t stay up too late, you need sleep to grow.”

With his uncle gone, Villí resumed his vigil. As he studied the birds he began to think of his half-sister Mareka. He got a mental image of her flying down to join the ravens below. Closing his eyes, his vision intensified and in his mind’s eye the vision shifted focus. He saw Mareka standing in a room with a man. There were sounds of birds cawing. Mareka was holding a gun and as the man came nearer, menacing her, the sound of birds cawing became louder. Then there were three sharp reports, gunshots perhaps, and Villí saw the man crumple and Villí’s vision turned red. Villí opened his eyes and saw that the ravens had left. Shaken, Villí returned to his bed and tried to fall asleep.



Late Friday Evening, December 4, 2020, Seattle

Sean and Mary were talking in bed.

“Well, that was an interesting day,” said Sean, “Never a dull moment around that child.”

“I’m thinking that I’d like to try the rings again,” said Mary, “Just to see what would happen.”

“You mean now?” asked Sean, “While we’re naked?”

“Yes,” said Mary. She took out a velvet case from the bedside table, “Especially because we’re naked.”

They slipped the rings on and waited.

“I’ve got nothing,” said Sean, “How about you?”

“Not me, either,” said Mary, “It might take a while… But I can think of something we can do in the meantime.”

“Rings or not, you could always read my mind,” said Sean.

Afterwards, Sean and Mary were cuddling.

“I’m not sure how to say this,” said Sean, “But I did feel like I got something from the rings—not like it used to be—but definitely something beyond love-making.”

“Try English,” said Mary, “And if that doesn’t work, we can try the body language again.”

“It’s like this, and it may seem like wishful thinking on my part,” said Sean, “At the peak, I felt merged with you, not in the obvious way, but then we were joined by another being… ”

“Yes?”

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”



Next chapter: Spelling Lessons

By Professor Batty




Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Marta’s Dance

If the Ákadóttir twins weren’t enough talent for one family, I’ve recently discovered that one of their sisters, Marta, is a fascinating dancer (and somewhat disturbing storyteller):



By Professor Batty


Comments: 1