Writing Practice and Reflections, April 1 2020

Another day, another bit more writing. My raw output was better today, but I’m not necessarily any happier with the results than I usually am. Certainly I think the quality’s a little better than yesterday’s, but I was pretty exhausted by the time I got around to writing so that’s not exactly a giant surprise.

Five parts, per usual, between three pieces. Two are contemporary fic, one is a weird sci-fi piece that I just felt like doing. No connections to previous stories.

Image 1: Hills bearing a massive HOLLYWOOD sign.

Ralph could honestly say that when he’d become an actor, the money and fame hadn’t been part of his decision making. It came with the territory, if you were good enough, but he’d be the first to point out that you can be spectacularly good at anything and get rich and famous.

Whether or not that was correct didn’t bother him. He had one passion, and that was getting into his characters and living their lives out on stage or in front of a camera.

Sometimes that was harder than others. He’d learned the hard way in one of his early slumps that once you had prestige and clout you couldn’t just run with the amateurs again. It diminished you, made people think that you couldn’t find a real gig.

Not that he cared or drew any distinction. Bigger gigs just wound up being the ones that would challenge him more, and there was something about slipping into someone else’s life that drew him in like a moth to flame.

But now, as he knew his career was coming to an end, he was worried. The gray hairs and wrinkles didn’t hurt him much. He wasn’t obsessed with youth or immortality, and growing up had just been a process of growing into new personae.

But over the years he thought of everything he’d passed up. Months traveling away from home, hours upon hours pouring his soul into scripts and wardrobes and performances that would be consolidated down to three hours on a stage or fewer on a screen. He’d felt an ironic sense of success the first time that one of his performances had been seen for longer by audiences than he’d spent practicing for the role, living in the skin of whoever he was supposed to represent.

Now, the masks had run out, and he didn’t have anything underneath.

Image 2: A man in the mountains, standing by a clear lake with a ring of stones in its center. A mountain in the background is reflected in the lake.

Clarity reflected itself manifold in the fractal spirals on the surface of the water. i stood and watched, every micron within me attuning to the world, waiting for the sign.

The hall of stars unfolded in front of me and I took the steps forward into infinite signal, each movement effortless as it carried me thousands of miles across the skies to the homes of the heroes and the gods.

I wondered, I waited, I ventured, I vanished, I ushered, I usurped.

This is the fate of the one who is called to go out and into.

The process was complete and I detached the machine from my head. I could smell metal, hewn into pieces, poured out and crimson. I tried to piece together the scene as best I could, looking for an explanation.

Before I could finish, something stirred. I raised my defenses, some atavism pulling my fingers toward a weapon on my waist that would’ve existed if I existed.

Projection is a funny business, the blending of your world and another world. Not all of us can do it, even after years and years of training. You know going in that you have two choices: succeed, or become a caretaker for those who do better than you and watch their bodies as their minds depart to travel the galaxy.

Image 3: Many-bloomed flowers, viewed from below so that the sky is in the background.

The creature was some sort of analog, too many genes spliced together by some amateur with no regard for its quality of life. It blossomed into flower, crept like a cat, stared at where I would have been in the darkness even though I wasn’t really there.

There’s something interesting about animals that we don’t have. They perceive differently than us, though not in such a different way as you might think.

For them, they aren’t as concerned with resolution. They see something weird, like the wake a ghost leaves when passing, and they notice it.

Humans? We need to understand. Pattern analysis drives both of us, but we put a lot of effort into determining the fitness of our patterns.

I waved the flowercat away, trying to get it to move on. Assuming it had its parent creature’s timidity and curiosity, it wouldn’t have raised any questions to have it sniffing thin air, especially with the carnage I’d stepped into. But I was certain someone was watching, because you didn’t need to send one of us all the way out for reconnaissance if you could get in and out unnoticed.

The beast didn’t respond, but it didn’t try to trace me either, as I changed my frames of reference and folded the room around me. I couldn’t quite get a handle on the time; the skipping became too great because of distance and the observer. It was either now, the founding of the colony, or the time before even that.

Image 4: A picture of clouds, taken from above.

I spun the world anew to watch from above the clouds, trying to take everything in. I passed through every last measure, observing, feeling, pulling at the bonds of the polymer and alloy that made up the habitat. The event, described to me as “dramatic unexplained disassembly” by the client, didn’t make sense.

Taking down electronic surveillance is trivial for the right people. There’s a broad attack surface, and these corporate colonies seem too happy to run knock-off pirated software and lowest bidder hardware.

I tried to reassemble the victims as well as I could; I wasn’t really there, and the fundamental essence of people is carried in their completion rather than their parts. But some element of it still remained, and I tried to scrabble out as much understanding as I could of what had transpired.

The damage to the colony had been severe enough that you could narrow your list of subjects to a very small number if you only counted the living. My client had already ruled out the survivors, though I noted that it wasn’t necessarily up to the right faculties to hold a good interrogation.

In a bit, I’d have to make myself corporeal and do footwork. For the moment, I contented myself to observe.

Image 5: A person sitting at a table, smartphone in hand. The person is out of frame, but their hand is not.

She was alone at the table, as she often was. The salt and pepper shakers served their ornamental function, and she idly browsed her phone.

These mornings were always rough. Like the calm before a storm that never came, they would stretch on and on for weeks and months.

Adrift. That’s how she’d described it to someone once. Adrift and being sucked into the undertow at the same time.

So she checked the news, smiled half-heartedly at a few images of cats, and went back to her coffee.

The ennui got to her the worst. It was like nothing existed that was worth bothering with.

No, that wasn’t quite it. There were things worth bothering with for other people. It was just her, her alone, in all the universe who had nothing worth doing, nowhere to go, nobody to please.

In the right light, it was liberating, but it shook her to her core. Freedom was only as good as the person putting it to use, and she couldn’t find a use for herself.

The coffee went down slowly, maybe fifteen minutes for the mug. On a good day, it would’ve been down in three gulps, then she’d have been out the front door. Someone on the television said something neither she nor he actually believed, but both of them listened to so that the time would pass.

Ultimately, one of the things I find very valuable in these quick-writes is the fact that I’m not trying to turn these into successful published pieces.

I like some of the imagery and tone in this second piece, but it’s so unusual I don’t know it has a giant place in the market. It’s self-indulgent, you could say.

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