Archive for January, 2011

The Alien in the Mundane

The conditions in Tysons around 4:00 last Wednesday.

Last week it snowed in the DC area.

This, in and of itself, is not an unusual occurrence, and compared to last year the quantity of snow was nothing, just a few inches.  However the nature of the snow (wet and heavy) and the timing of the snow (hitting around 3pm on a workday) made all the difference in the world between last week’s event and 2010’s “Snowpocalypse”.  Heavy wet snow brings down branches and power lines as it sticks to everything and anything.  And mid-afternoon snow means working out exactly when to leave work and how long it’ll take to get home.  There are a lot of horror stories out there about commutes, but since this is my blog, I’m going to tell mine.

I left about 3:35 from Tysons Corner.  This was, perhaps, the worst possible time to leave.  A little earlier and I would have beat most people out the door.  A little later and I probably would have given up and had a leisurely dinner with some coworkers, which probably would have been a better idea in the long run.  As it was, it took me over an hour to finally establish myself on the Beltway, I didn’t get off the Beltway at Little River Turnpike until 7, and didn’t get home (after leaving my car legally parked, not abandoned I stress, at the start of the subdivision) until 7:35.  To find that the power was out.  And would remain out until 11:35 on Friday night.

The drive home included not just slow traffic, but snow falling almost faster than my wipers could move it, and flashes of light that lit up the sky.  I’m not sure which flashes were thundersnow and which flashes were transformers blowing.  I’ve been told the blue or green ones were the latter, and there were plenty of both.  I’ve never seen the sky glow those colors before, at least not outside of a fireworks show.

The next day, I went to work.  Largely I was lured in by the promise of the cafeteria being open, hot food sounding so good after a dinner of Pop Tarts the night before.  As I drove home, I was on largely the same roads that just 24 hours before had been such madness.  By now they were plowed, most of the abandoned cars were gone, and normalcy was returning to Tysons.  It wasn’t until then, with the panic of the previous commute well behind me, that I could really appreciate how quickly the mundane can be taken away.

And how it all comes back to plot crafting.

Shoving the alien into the mundane is a long standing trope of film and literature.  It’s really where most of the movie Cloverfield comes from, a couple of people who have to go places they’ve been a hundred times, but with the new reality of a massive creature destroying them and the military counter response.  This is obviously an extreme.  It can take so little to get us out of our routines and for the world around us to be so very different as a result.  Driving north on a road you’ve only ever driven south on before.  Seeing a place for the first time in the snow.  Discovering that the Metro system has been taken over by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Plot can come from any number of changes made to the routine of an every day person and how he or she reacts to the differences.

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Apparently that’s what my Fortnightcaps must now be called.  Thanks a lot, Pastis.
Pearls Before Swine

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Fortnightcap: Long Way Home

Long Way Home

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

Tracking the parts down. That was the challenge. Professor Fitzsimmons had sourced so many of them without documenting origins or purposes. For seventeen years I could only follow the money trail, going through his credit card records and requisition orders. So often this left me with odd metals, minerals I’d never heard of, assemblies that were little more than fanciful black boxes. I could only guess at some of their functions, working from notes that ranged from formalized files and patent applications to the back of stained napkins.

Through it all, one thing has kept me going. The letter delivered by the bewildered courier, little more than a yellowed scrap that his company had in its possession for two and a half centuries.

It’s above my work bench, and reads simply “stuck in 1784.”

The machine worked. The note was the evidence of that. But something had gone wrong, something had broken and the professor couldn’t get home again. No one believes me. I show them the note, they call it a forgery. Time travel is a fiction. I’ve been told this more times than I’d care to count. Every cliche has been thrown at me. All I need is that letter.

The scrap of letter came along with documentation telling me the day, but not the time, it had been delivered to their central Boston office. Seventeen years of work, what would one day of waiting around be? With the machine complete, I stepped inside, and stepped out again in the late 18th century. The machine was in perfect shape, there was no reason it wouldn’t be ready to go for another trip.

So I found the firm.

And I waited.

Just after two in the afternoon there was a man who looked exactly as I’d remembered. For me it had been seventeen years, for him it hadn’t been even that many days. I let him enter the firm to drop off his letter, no need to create paradoxes after all. When he came out again, I approached him, arms wide.

“Professor Fitzsimmons!”

His face fell, looking back at the firm.

“Yes, they delivered the letter! I’m here to save you.”

I pulled out the scrap that had kept me going, and handed it to him. He panicked, turning it one way then another in his hands. “Where’s the rest of it? Where’s the rest of it?”

“This is all I got.”

He crumpled the paper, threw it to the ground in disgust. “There was more. You weren’t supposed to come.”

“You said you were trapped.”

“I am. And now you are too. Time travel. Look, there’s a past already in existence that you can travel back to. But the future. The future is amorphous, it doesn’t exist, so you can’t travel to it.”

“But,” I tried to work this out. “We’re not going to the future. Only back to the present.”

“This is the present now!”

“So how do we get back to 2011?”

“There’s only one way: wait. We can only take the long way home.”

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Steam Works

Coming soon from Hydra Publications: Steam Works, a steampunk anthology.  Coming soon in that anthology: Rustler a short story by DL Thurston.  Hey!  Wait!  That’s me!



Lesson learned on names

Over in Unleaded I talked about my inspiration for A Warning, but last night I was given a little lesson learned: when you’re making up names, it doesn’t hurt to quickly Google them.  Ya know, just in case they’re a relatively famous singer whose name you just weren’t aware of.  That is, mind you, an oddly specific example.  While names are certainly not unique to individuals (there’s a reason I use “DL” as there are far too many David Thurstons in the world…and even then someone beat me to DLThurston on Twitter, hence the underscore there) it can be distracting for a reader to come across a famous name being used for a character that is not intended to be that famous person.

Live and learn.

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Fortnightcap: A Warning…

A Warning to CIG Users

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

Local area police are issuing a warning to users of cochlear implanted GPS devices, commonly called CIGs, after a recent mutilation and subsequent home robbery in the Tysons area.  Leonard Cohen was assaulted by three unknown men on Tuesday night while walking alone through a parking garage back to his car.  The assailants, two armed with baseball bats and the third with a scalpel, knocked Mr. Cohen to the ground and beat him unconscious before conducting amateur surgery on his right ear.  Their target: his CIG, an older model that still used a small external antenna.

“It was such an old model, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to steal it,” Mr. Cohen said from his hospital bed at Tysons General.  “I’d been meaning to buy an upgrade for a year now, I just never got around to it.”

It turns out that it wasn’t so much the device the thieves were after as the information on the device.  When Mr. Cohen’s wife Jessica received the news that her husband had been assaulted she rushed to the hospital.  Shortly thereafter she got a call from her home alarm service that there had been a break-in and police were being summoned.  “I could go back home, or I could be with Leonard, there wasn’t really an option.  At the time it all just seemed like the worst possible timing.”

The timing was not coincidental, however.  Police arrived in time to interrupt the home invasion, and were able to apprehend one of three subjects.  Under examination, the suspect admitted that they had used the “go home” function of the device to lead them to the Cohen residence, then waited in the bushes across the street. When Mrs. Cohen left for the hospital, they took their chance to strike.  This matches other reports nationwide of individuals being assaulted for their older model CIGs and having their houses burgled on the same day.  Police suspect thieves are targeting the older CIG models as the external antenna makes them more obvious than newer, entirely internal models.  They recommend that users of these models consider an upgrade, or at least change their “home” location to the entrance of their subdivision, a nearby grocery store, or even the closest police station.

Mr. Cohen will require a derma regeneration of his ear, but is expected to make a complete recovery.  The other two suspects are still at large.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction.  All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here.  And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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The Problem with Lighters

In movies lighters produce six inch flames that illuminate a ten foot radius.  The flame is resistant to running, and can survive the lighter being thrown.  And I’m always lucky if I can get one to stay lit long enough to ignite newspaper when I’m trying to start a fire.


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Nick Hornby, with music

I’ve been trying to figure out the right way to spin this.  Nick Hornby’s thoughts on just how prolific Dickens was, or commenting on the signal to noise ratio of the modern publishing machine.  In the end, I decided that I just like it, damnit, and it’s my blog so I get to share what I want.  So here’s Nick Hornby along with Ben Folds and Pomplamoose (the duet from the Hyundai Christmas commercials).

Coming Tuesday the first of my Fortnightcaps, titled “A Warning…” Exciting, I know.

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Fuck Censorship

Words.  Words are an interesting things.  They’re combinations of letters and related sounds (or sounds and their related letters) that have been given, in many cases, largely arbitrary meaning behind them.  Anyone who has sat and repeated a word over and over until it’s lost meaning knows the odd sensation of suddenly realizing just how arbitrary the connection between words and meanings can be.  Is there any specific reason that the letters c-o-w and their related sounds should refer to a grass munching delicious quadruped?  Or that r-o-s-e should refer to fancy sweet smelling flowers.  Shakespeare understood this.

And there are some words that have more incendiary meanings.  String the letters f-u-c-k together and the result is one of the most versatile words in the english language, and also one considered the most vulgar.  And when you string the letters n-i-g-g-e-r together, well, things can get a little more hairy.  The word has been given an undeniably ugly meaning, and has a very profound history within American race relationships.

Some would argue, with a certain validity, that the word has superseded fuck, or even cunt, to become the most vulgar word in the English language.

But the word exists.  It has its history.  And there are times and places when it should exist.  And one of those times and places is in the novel Huckleberry Finn.  However, there’s a new push to censor the word nigger out of Huck Finn (as well as the word injun, which is getting less press).  I could not be more against the move.  It’s not because I like the word, but because I like English literature.  And because I like the idea that thoughts might not be censored.

Do not misunderstand, while there are people looking to defend this move with the idea that it puts the book into more students hands, it is a move of absolute cowardice.  It is a move that does nothing but emphasize the power of the word as a word to hate, as it puts it in a special place as the word that gets censored out of our literature.  When I went to high school, I read on assignment Huck Finn.  I also read several novels as assigned that included the word fuck.  If the existence of the word nigger is taking the book out of the hands of students, the solution is not through an act of censorship, it’s through an examination of what we let school children read and why.  At what point does the potential discomfort of a subject invalidates it as a subject that should be taught in schools?

Ignoring words doesn’t make them not exist.  Talking about language, talking about how the history of the word and race relations in the United States are shown through the use of the word, that makes it valid as a word within context and as a teaching tool.

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