Sunday, December 26, 2021

A Seasons new year.

I promised y'all a twofer for holiday ficlets this year, didn't I? 

Last week I posted the Pipe Woman's Legacy and Elemental Keys mashup. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

I said I'd do one for Seasons of the Fool this week. It turns out that I did a ficlet for Seasons last year. I went back and re-read it -- and despaired, kind of. It was so hopeful. We we banking so much on the vaccines letting us return to our normal lives -- or I was, at least. But here we are, with variants come and gone (the original virus and beta) and one virulent variant (delta) now being supplanted by an even scarier one. 

I don't know that I can muster as much hope as I did last year. But I'm going to take a crack at it, because I promised I would. Here we go.

Julia looked out the window of Dave's summer house in Michiana -- or rather, hers and Dave's since their marriage. It was New Year's Eve, but she wasn't feeling very festive. She had hoped for snow, but there wasn't any -- just some icy patches along the side of the road. The woods looked wan, devoid of their customary winter blanket.

Her grandparents' cottage -- the house where she'd grown up -- was dark. She and Dave had agreed that it made better sense to gather in the larger house this year. The whole family would be here tonight. They needed more space to spread out. 

Well, everybody would be here except for Randi. Her college suitemate had tested positive at the end of finals week, so Randi was spending most of her winter break quarantined at home in Chicago. Rich was fine, but his high school would be doing remote learning again starting next week. Little Raylee was still going to school for now. At least she was finally vaccinated. When she got her first shot, Julia had been the one to cry -- with relief.

Ed Starek had refused to get the shot; the virus claimed him in September. Now his house was up for sale.

The only lights she could see were in Ms. Elsie and Ms. Thea's windows. She glanced down at the two COVID test kits she held.

Dave came up behind her and put his arms around her. "I thought you were leaving," he said.

She leaned back against him. "I was." She weighed the test kits in her hand. "Do you think they'll do it?"

He chuckled. "That's the fourth time you've asked me. Just go. You won't know 'til you've asked them."

"I know." She sighed. "Let me get my coat."

Down the street she trudged, test kits in her pocket and mask firmly in place. She knocked on the door. "Just a minute," Ms. Thea called, the door muffling her voice. After a moment, the latch clicked and the door opened. "Julia," Ms. Thea said, her eyes smiling above her mask. "It's so nice to see you."

"I've missed you both so much," Julia blurted, her own eyes filling with tears.

"There, there, dear. Come in." Ms. Thea opened the door wider. 

"Are you sure?" she said, even she stepped inside.

"If you don't stay long, it's fine. They're saying fifteen minutes now, aren't they?" Ms. Thea gave her a hug and shut the door. "Else, look who's here."

"Oh, Julia," said Ms. Elsie, emerging from the kitchen. She donned a mask in a hurry and enveloped Julia in a hug.

Julia cried into her shoulder for a moment as Ms. Thea patted her back. Then she stepped away. "Well, about that fifteen minutes. Dave and I wondered whether you'd like to come over tonight for a little while. It'll be just the family. Randi's quarantining at home, but Rich and Raylee are here. And Tim and Jen are coming."

"Oh," Ms. Thea said, looking at Ms. Elsie.

"The only thing is that you'd need to do this first," Julia said, fumbling in her pocket for the test kits. She held them out. "I'm sorry. But we're having everyone do it."

The ladies smiled. "Put those back in your pocket," Ms. Elsie said. "We've already tested ourselves so we could go to the senior center tonight. They're moving up the clock so we can toast the New Year at eight!" 

"But I'd rather be with you and your family," Ms. Thea confided. 

"So would I," Ms. Elsie said. "It'll be a lot more fun than drinking sparkling cider with a bunch of old people."

Julia laughed. "I'm so glad you're coming."

Ms. Elsie said, "The cards were right, weren't they, Thea?"

Ms. Thea nodded. "Yes, indeed. The Tower is still falling, but the Wheel of Fortune is ever turning. We'll just have to be careful."

"That's the ticket," Ms. Elsie agreed. "We'll see you tonight, Julia."

Lynne Cantwell 2021

These moments of careful blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Solstice sunrise; and Jerry's story concludes (for now).

'Tis the season for gifts, and I have two for you today. 

Gift #1: The final book (for now) in the Atherton Vampire series is out. 

The Atherton Vampire III: Midnight Creeps is just 99 cents until January 6th. And if you've been waiting for the whole trilogy before starting to read, well, all three books are priced at 99 cents apiece. Enjoy!

Gift #2: The winter solstice ficlet has become a hearth/myth tradition. (A ficlet, if you're just joining us, is a very short story of between 750 and 1,000 words.)

My head's been full of vampires for most of this year, and vampires don't really lend themselves to winter sunrises and hot chocolate. Plus Callie and Jerry's story has just barely gotten to Halloween. It seems a little premature to give them a winter ficlet this year.

So a couple of days ago, I asked folks on Facebook which series I should set this year's ficlet in. There were several votes for the Pipe Woman Chronicles and zero for The Elemental Keys. Surprisingly, the write-in vote for Seasons of the Fool was strong. 

So here's what I'm going to do: This year, y'all will get a twofer -- the Pipe Woman Chronicles (with a couple of special guests) today, and Seasons next Sunday. Happy holidays!

"This was a brilliant idea, little brother," I groused. We stood, in the dark, just inside the entrance to Newgrange, the Neolithic chamber tomb. It was two days before the winter solstice. And I could tell a thick cloud cover would obscure the sunrise.

"C'mon, Sage," said my husband Rafe. Our daughter Kerry slept in his arms, her head pillowed on his shoulder. "Cut the guy some slack."

I glared at him. "But we came here for nothing," I said. "First Webb drags us all the way to Ireland with this cockamamie story about getting in ahead of the crowds. Then he gets me to talk Cerridwen into arranging the admittance for us – which I did. And it's going to be too cloudy to see!" I glanced at my niece, Sora, staring at me with huge eyes. She held Webb's forefinger with one hand and her mother Hilary's forefinger with the other. Their son George slept in a sling on Hilary's chest. Both kids shared their mother’s Asian features and their father’s dark brown curls.

"Don't be a jerk, Sage," Webb said. "Maybe it'll clear up."

I raised my eyebrows in a passable imitation of Mom's skeptical look.

"Let's just go inside," Hilary said. "The kids are getting cold." So in we tramped, Rafe leading the way down the narrow passage with the flashlight on his phone.

Webb halted for a moment and pointed up. "See there, Sora?" he said. "The sun's gonna come in through that box above the doorway and light up this whole hallway, all the way to the back wall."

"If the clouds miraculously part," I said.

"Oh, ye of little faith," Webb chided. Sometimes I hate that know-it-all confidence of his.

As we approached the back of the tomb, Hilary slowed. "Is someone else here?"

I could hear it, too – voices, whispering in one of the side tombs. "Hello?" I called. 

The voices ceased. Then two heads poked out from the doorway to the side tomb. "Oh," the woman said faintly. She was tiny – short and willowy – and wore her ginger hair in a ponytail. Her face looked familiar somehow.

The man was also short, but stocky, with brown hair and a bushy beard. He stepped into the main chamber, blocking our way. "You’re trespassing," he declared. "By whose authority are you here?"

"Cerridwen's," I said. "The goddess Cerridwen gave us leave to come."

He guffawed. "Cerridwen? She’s not even Irish!" 

"She’s Celtic," I argued. “That's close enough."

"It's not," the man said. "Begone."

Rafe's forehead furrowed. "Who the hell are you to kick us out?"

Webb moved next to my husband and touched his arm. "That's Collum Barth," my brother said in an undertone. "And that's Raney Meadows with him." 

"That's why you looked so familiar!" I said. These two were Elementals. They and two companions had saved the Earth – and turned the world Technicolor in the process. Kerry had been enchanted. "We all loved the movie about your adventures."

"Yes, well, who the hell are you to have gotten Cerridwen's leave to be here?" Collum demanded.

"Webb Curtis," said my brother, reaching out to shake Collum's hand. "My wife Hilary." She nodded and smiled. "My brother-in-law Rafe Orloff. And that's my sister Sage." He gave them a lopsided grin. "I guess we're all kind of in the same business."

Raney's mouth dropped open. She elbowed Collum. "Don't be a jerk. You know who these people are, right?"

"Yeah, but Da said we'd be the only ones here," said Collum. He turned to us. "Sorry."

"It's fine," I said. "It's not like it matters. None of us are going to see anything – it's too cloudy."

My niece sidled up to Raney. "I'm Sora," she said with a bright smile. "I'm four."

Raney grinned down at her. "Hi, Sora. Do you know Barney's theme song?"

"You two can sing anything you want, as long as it's not Baby Shark," I said.

"I can make the sun come out," Sora told Raney. "We just have to have a party!"

Kerry raised her sleepy head from Rafe's shoulder. "That's not how it works," she said.

"Yes, it is!" Sora insisted. She tugged on Kerry’s foot. "Come on!" 

"All right." Kerry squirmed until Rafe put her down. Together the girls raced back to the tomb entrance and began to sing.

Webb turned an inquiring gaze on Hilary. "It's my fault," she admitted. "I told them a legend the other day about Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess. The gods tricked Her into leaving Her cave by throwing a party."

I looked at Rafe. "It's roughly analogous," he said. 

"It'll never work," Collum scoffed. "A Shinto goddess in Ireland?"

"We've seen weirder things," I said, and led the way to where the kids were now yelling at the top of their lungs. By the grace of the gods, they were not singing Baby Shark, so I joined in. One by one, the others did the same.

A golden glow descended from the sky and landed before us, resolving into the form of Amaterasu. She wore a flowing white kimono and a radiant smile. "Who calls Me to this rainy land?" She asked.

The little girls clapped. "We want to see the sun inside!" Sora cried. She pointed to the roof box. "You have to shine in there so we can see!"

"Very well," the goddess said. She raised both hands and directed a stream of light through the roof box. The little girls cheered again and pelted inside. "Mommy!" Sora yelled. "Come see! It's beautiful!"

Hilary bowed to the goddess. "Thank You."

"It was the least I could do for the child," She said. "She will be a bright spot when it's needed most."

Webb and Hilary stared at each other. "Here we go again," he said with a laugh. 

The glowing chamber was just as impressive as Webb had said it would be. I hate it when he's right.

Screenshot of 2020 winter solstice sunrise at Newgrange

Once again this year, Ireland's Office of Public Works will sponsor a live webcast of the winter solstice sunrise at Newgrange. They'll do it for three straight mornings, starting tonight US time (it's at 8:45am Monday the 20th UTC, which is 3:45am Eastern time, 2:45am Central, 1:45am Mountain, and 12:45am Pacific -- so yeah, overnight tonight for those of us in the US). Details at the link. The hour is early for the US and it may be cloudy all three days -- but when it works, it's glorious.

These moments of bright blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

An RIP kind of weekend.

losw | Deposit Photos
Today I heard that Anne Rice had passed away due to complications from a stroke. Rice was the mistress of big, glitzy vampire novels in the 1970s and '80s. I read Interview with the Vampire when it first came out and loved it. (There's a chapter in the second Atherton Vampire novel called, "Interview with the Atherton Vampire." I bet you can guess where I got that title from.) I went on to read many of her other books, including several with the vampire Lestat as the main character. I admit that I kind of went off her work when she had a vampire -- I think it was Lestat -- suck the menstrual blood from a used tampon. But her work added much to the modern-day vampire mythos. As somebody who has been writing her own vampire books, I appreciate everything she has contributed to the genre.

And then a couple of days ago, I learned that Michael Nesmith, one of the Monkees, died of heart failure. I've mentioned a few times here on the blog that the Monkees were my favorite group when I was a kid. For a long time, it was embarrassing to admit -- but then something weird happened: somehow, when no one was looking, the group gained respect. Nobody cared anymore that they'd been called the Prefab 4; fans simply appreciated their music, and they way they'd stood up to the producers of their TV show and their records and demanded that they be allowed to be an actual band. It was Mike who put his fist through a wall in frustration over the way Don Kirschner treated them, and who galvanized his fellow Monkees to write and perform their own songs. And it was Mike who went on to win the first-ever Video of the Year Grammy. He also was executive producer for Repo Man and several other movies.

Mike mostly stayed away from the various Monkees reunion tours, but in recent years he seemed to have become reconciled to, and even develop a fondness for, that part of his past. Just a few weeks ago, he and Micky Dolenz completed a tour billed as "The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show" -- a tour that had been delayed by Mike's quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 2018 and then by COVID. I've read a few interviews of Mike's friends over the past few days. They say the tour did him a lot of good -- that he died knowing the fans loved him. 

In 2016, after Davy died but while Peter was still alive, the Monkees put out a well-received album of new material called Good Times! "Me and Magdalena" -- with Mike singing lead and Micky singing harmony --- is one of my favorite songs from the album. Enjoy.


These moments of bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The news story that just keeps getting sketchier.

WikimediaImages | Pixabay

I've seen plenty of news stories go from farce to tragedy over the years, but it's unusual for one to go from tragedy to farce.

I'm talking about the Crumbley family of Oxford, MI -- James, Jennifer, and their 15-year-old son Ethan. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about Ethan being charged with murder, attempted murder, and terrorism causing death in connection with the shooting deaths of four of his classmates, and the wounding of five other students and a teacher, at Oxford High School on Tuesday. School shootings happen with distressing frequency in the United States, but this one stands out because the authorities are holding Ethan's parents accountable for giving him the gun in the first place. It's clear from social media posts that his parents bought the weapon -- a .9mm Sig Sauer handgun -- for him as an early Christmas present. Ethan calls it "my new beauty" in one post. And they did this even though Ethan was having trouble in school -- drawing a graphic image of a gunshot victim and searching for ammunition on his cell phone in class. (After the ammo search, his mother texted him and said she wasn't mad at him -- he just needed to learn not to get caught.)

On Tuesday morning, Ethan's parents were called to the school and were told to get him into counseling within 48 hours -- but they didn't take him home from school. Later that same day, the boy committed the shooting.

His mother texted him, "Don't do it," after he already had.

All of this is a tragedy -- no doubt about it. But here's where it turns to farce. Because the the Oakland County prosecutor decided to charge the parents with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for not keeping the gun away from their son -- and instead of showing up to their arraignment, they ran, even as their attorneys claimed they would turn themselves in. James and Jennifer pulled $4,000 out of an ATM and holed up in a Detroit warehouse that belongs to an acquaintance. Authorities suspect the couple planned to cross into Canada (yes, that's right -- leaving their son behind in jail). Someone nearby saw Jennifer and the cops closed in. The couple finally made it to their arraignment -- yesterday, after they'd been taken into custody. Reports indicate Jennifer Crumbley sobbed as she entered her plea.

But wait -- there's more. The Crumbleys used to live in Florida, where James Crumbley had a son and daughter from previous relationships. An ex-girlfriend told reporters that Jennifer is "a monster" and James is "a piece of shit." According to this ex-girlfriend, Michelle Cobb, James was making a six-figure income, but she had a hard time getting him to pay child support for the son he had with her. 

So from all reports, the Crumbleys are quite the family. All three of them are now being held in jail, in isolation from the general jail population and from each other. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told reporters yesterday all three were sullen -- and none had shown remorse. If convicted, Ethan could face life in prison; his parents, 15 years in prison each.

I don't know whether this says more about modern-day America or about this particular dysfunctional family. What I do know is 28 people have been killed in shootings on school grounds in the United States this year, and 86 more were injured. I know for sure that anyone calling for help as loudly as Ethan Crumbley was should never be given access to a gun. That's the real tragedy.


These moments of tragic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!