You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Survival Minimalist-

Jackson Quill was not an ambitious man. He wasn't a strong thinker. He was just a guy who tried his best to get by. He hadn't been one of those who planned and put things aside and got ready for the collapse of society. Survivalists were inherently paranoid, resourceful, and willing to work hard preparing for what might well not happen.

It happened, and it caught Jackson a bit short. Indeed, he had made only one preparation for the apocalypse, and had not even exercised that option. Not yet.

The first weeks weren't hard. Scavenging the stores for what he needed, keeping on the move, maintaining a low profile as he moved out from the town to more rural surroundings. He had an idea where he would go. He was aware of one of those extreme survivalists out there, living alone and probably snickering in his sleeve about being right.

A lot of people died those first weeks. The haves, as in those who had guns, were killing off scavengers and each other. Jackson figured the ones that thought bigger than "have lot's of guns" would be the eventual winners. They would eventually become the leaders of feudal colonies. The few who had cultivated anachronistic skills would find themselves valuable craftsmen. The rest would be surfs, peons, even slaves.

Jackson had another plan. His one provision. He was almost there, and would put his plan into action. It was pretty much a one shot option. He would succeed, or he would die. It seemed fair to him.

His target was ahead, a carefully built compound held by a retired gentleman with some funds and a hobby of preparing for the end of civilization. Jackson move to the edge of the clearing around the compound and found himself a suitable stick.

To the stick he attached a large white handkerchief, which he immediately began waving as he stood and stepped out from the cover of the brush. He tried to look dumb, desperate and innocent. Two of those were close to the mark, so it wasn't a big stretch.

"Come forward and talk." he heard from a high point ahead. A glint at the corner of one building indicated a likely location of his hoped-for benefactor, looking through a rifle scope. Jackson tried to be unafraid, but the prospect of a high velocity round passing through his head made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

He moved forward, hands in the air, and waited.

"What do you want?" came the voice from the building. Jackson assessed the perimeter fence ahead, noting that it was serviceable for defense of the small compound. The high point on the building was not bad, but covering the whole compound with only one gunman was not possible.

"I want to serve you." said Jackson. "You need hands to help. You can't be watching for invaders and do the work necessary around your place all at the same time. I am tired of running and hiding. I want to serve you."

There was silence for a time. "Come forward to the gate." Jackson sighed in relief. This might just work.

He waited several minutes in front of the formidable gate. Iron and heavy wood, not impervious to explosives but still formidable in most foreseeable scenarios. The gate slowly opened. A voice from within called out, "Come in."

Jackson stepped through. His benefactor stood a couple of yards away, a large caliber hand gun trained on Jackson. It was steady in the man's hand, and Jackson figured he practiced quite a bit with the deadly thing.

"Turn around and bar the gate." the man said. Jackson did so, noting that they were in a sally port. Behind the man was the inner gate, a large affair in which a smaller door was hung. Having barred the gate, Jackson stood where he was with his benefactor at his back. He held his hands high and sought a quiet frame of mind. It was hard to find.

He could hear the man approach and felt the one hand carefully begin patting him down. He checked carefully, wrists and arms and legs and ankles. He patted every pocket, checked the tops of shoes and socks, and gave his crotch a nudge or two with his one hand. Jackson noted that the other hand probably held the gun close to his kidney. The gun did not touch him, which raised Jackson's estimate of this man a bit.

Not knowing just where the gun might be prevented Jackson from confidently spinning and blocking the weapon as he might fight for control of the deadly thing. Not that Jackson even considered that idea. Such a move would be dangerous and require some combat skill. Still, the man knew better than to touch him with the weapon during the search.

"Not even a pocket knife." the man said. "I guess you are safe enough. Let's go inside and discuss our situation."

When the man stepped around in front of Jackson he had already holstered the weapon. "Put your hands down, and follow me." The man stepped toward the door in the inner gate, pulling a ring of keys from a pocket and sorting through them. He was just reaching for the lock when the shot rang out. He probably didn't hear it, since most of his head was now painted on the inner gate.

Jackson kept the two-shot derringer pointed at the man as he collapsed in front of the inner gate. Leaning forward he put the second round through the man's heart, even though the level of damage to his head was probably sufficient to insure he was already dead. Jackson scooped up the man's handgun and the keys, and opened the inner gate.

The rifle he had expected was leaning against the wall just inside. Jackson locked up the gate, leaving the body where it lay. He figured it would serve as an object lesson when petitioners came to seek service in his compound. He picked up the rifle and hung it by the sling over his shoulder.

His compound. Minimalist survival-ism seemed to be working. He had planted that little .44 derringer behind his belt buckle a long time ago, figuring to simply take the wealth of some more enterprising survivalist if the need should arrive. Need had arrived, opportunity presented itself, and now he was indeed wealthy.

Jackson kept his handgun ready, just in case. He had followed this guy and several other locals on the Internet, watching them share and develop plans to create safe compounds against the eventual fall of modern society. Jackson knew that this guy was alone and a loner, and so there was probably nobody else here. Still, he proceeded with caution.

As he explored his new home Jackson reviewed the recent events. He wanted to get to a vantage point, soon, after learning his way around. He had to watch for invaders, and potential servants to help run his little kingdom.

"One thing is sure," he mumbled as he continued his exploration. "Anyone I let in gets strip searched. I can't be the only one with this idea."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bitter Green, revisited-

It was several years ago I learned the tale I am about to tell. The song, "Bitter Green," comes to mind whenever I think on what I learned that day. This is a true tale, a tale gleaned from one of my many journeys in distant lands. I am in the habit of occasionally making my way to a land far away, and taking a walking tour of the rural lands there abouts.

On this day I happened into a little country tavern in the late afternoon. Time for some refreshment, but enough day left for my strong legs to cover some more miles before finding a bed. This was an old land, a land that remembers the times when men made their way from place to place on their own two legs. Villages and taverns and hostels abound in that land, and it is one of my favorites for walking tours.

Besides the barkeeper there was but one man in the place. He had been in his cups for a bit, I could tell, and I thought he might be open to talking. I liked to learn something of the lands through which I traveled. I purchased two pints of whatever he was drinking, carried them to the table, and asked if I might sit down. He eyed me with an obvious distrust of strangers, not uncommon in rural lands. He eyed the pint I offered with considerable warmth, however, and welcomed us to join him.

His previous pints and the one I added didn't open him up much. I learned something about the local apple industry. Growing apples and making apple related products is apparently just a way to stay mere inches above abject poverty. I was about finished with my own refreshment and contemplating departure when another local gentleman entered the tavern.

As he entered he walked slowly by an old coat hanging on a peg on the wall. I had noticed this coat when I came in. It was heavy, dark blue in color, and of an old military cut. The man passed a hand along one sleeve, then stepped up to the bar and ordered a pint. He stood at the bar, sipping contemplatively at his brew and glancing occasionally at the old coat.

My reticent rural friend sat in his usual silence, watching me glancing at the coat and the man at the bar. I turned to him and drew a breath to speak. He waved me to silence. "I will tell you about it, later." he said in a low voice, and took a pull from his pint. I remained silent, and did the same with my own pint.

Soon the man at the bar finished his pint. He turned to the old coat, took it down and put it on. As he turned toward the door he noticed me and my silent host. He nodded to the man with whom I was sitting, gave me a puzzled look, and exited the tavern.

My host drained his glass and said, "Follow me." I finished my own pint quickly and followed. He turned to the left as we exited the tavern, no question as to which direction to travel. The man in the old coat was far ahead, walking toward the edge of the small town and the orchards in the distance. Apple orchards.

I attempted a few questions directed at my companion. He waved them off, and continued to walk in silence. His eyes were on the other man. I could not read the emotion there. His feelings seemed to be complex and jumbled. I continued to walk by his side, growing more and more intrigued by the mystery of the coat.

As we rounded the corner I saw a young woman sitting on a stone fence. She was staring down the lane, gazing off into the distance. The man in the coat drew along side her and said something. My host halted, and so did I. The young woman jumped up and embraced the man in the coat as if he were long missing and only now returned. He kissed her, gently, and taking her on his arm walked her down a path into one of the orchards.

My host gazed at them as they walked, watching until they vanished into the trees. He then sighed, and turned to me. He glanced around, making sure we were alone.

"I must tell someone." he said, as much to himself as to me. "You are a stranger, and soon gone. I shall tell you. The coat is shared among several of us farmers and merchants here abouts. Along with the coat we share a small cottage, it's contents and the responsibilities associated."

He sighed again. "We also share the young lady." he whispered. In a louder voice he continued. "She was to marry a rich man from a neighboring community. He had pledge his troth, and then been called away to some military duty. She last saw him in a coat like ours. The news of his death overwhelmed her, and broke her mind. Day and night she sat where you saw her sitting, awaiting his return."

"Several of us recognized her madness, and came up with a plan to aid her. Her health was suffering, and she did not respond to the attempts of the women folk to care for her. She was wasting away. I don't recall who came up with the old coat, but one of the men donned the garment and approached her where she sat. She responded warmly, and he took advantage of the situation."

I was appalled. It must have showed on my face. The man shrugged and appeared to have a sense of guilt. Well he should, to my way of thinking.

"Aye, he took advantage of her." he went on. "The sense of guilt was heavy, and he shared it with a friend. So arose the plan we continue with today. He brought in other men. Men who loved their wives, but found the spark of old passion had grown cold. Men who could appreciate the opportunity."

"Yes, we took advantage of her and her madness. We also provided her with a cottage, and food, and clothing. She wants for nothing. None of us could have afforded this, alone. Together we can provide for her in her disabling madness, as none of us could have done alone. The shared cost goes unnoticed by our wives and their friends."

"Your wives do not know?" I asked.

"They do and they do not, if you take my meaning." he replied.

"This arrangement troubles you, or you would not have felt compelled to share it." I  said. "Even with a stranger. Why continue to take advantage? Why not simply take care of her, as a charity?"

"It occurs to each of us, from time to time." he replied. His gaze was again directed through the trees. I presumed the cottage was in that direction. "But you know not what it is like. My wife has been loving and devoted, and I cherish her. Still, never has she displayed the passion that I find in those arms of madness. It is not a thing easy to give up. I don't know that I can."

I looked at him, first in judgement, then in pity. I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the human heart, and the things it drives humans to do. I, too, stared through the trees toward the infamous cottage of stolen love, madness and assumed responsibility. Complex, indeed.

I clasped the man on the shoulder for a moment, then turned from him and continued on my journey through the country. I did not look back as I walked away, but I have looked back often at the memory of that time.

Especially whenever I hear the song, "Bitter Green."