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stuffed

stuffed

every once in a while, stu got the feeling that he wasn’t long for the world. his feathers ruffled in an odd way after a chill went down his spine, but it only lasted for a moment, then it was gone.

the thought didn’t last long, though, as his job was more important than thoughts on his own mortality. he may not have been the most good looking or the best at evoking jubilant reactions, but he tried his best to spread gratitude as best he could.

stu was relatively new to the scene. when he met with the others at the solstices, he could tell that they’d been around a while. they had enduring a lot of humanity, and stu’s job was to bring out humanity’s thankful side. not all of the others sought that, or even had much contact with humanity, for that matter.

now that the end of the year was looming, it was extra work for stu. he knew that thanksgiving was his time to shine, his peak performance of the year. he wasn’t sure how exactly he spread thankfulness, since he hadn’t been in this position very long, but he knew he was key. so stu kept on doing what stu did best: being stu.

he headed outside the day before thanksgiving, strutting down his front porch and ruffling a bit to let the chilly air perk him up. he stared at the dead grey sky before thinking it was a great day to alive. almost immediately, he noticed two squirrels and a chipmunk fighting over some remaining corn cobs that were in a nearby garden. stu strolled over and immediately the animals stopped fighting and divided up the food for their winter stores. this was pretty common for stu; all he needed to do was be in the presence of disagreement and it dissipated.

stu walked a lot every day, finding strife and spreading gratitude. he considered himself to be a great peacemaker.

but this day before the big day, he was feeling especially good about his work. he covered a lot of ground and spread a lot of cheer, fairness, and justice among a lot of creatures.

it was dark when he finally made his way home that evening. he frowned when he saw the lights in his small home were on, but pushed open the front without a second thought.

there was a woman standing in the corner fussing over a box with a light over it. she turned her head as stu cleared his throat, and he saw it was the hedgewitch…what was her name?

“stu, you’ve made it home. you were out longer than the others,” she said, walking toward him slowly. he peered around her and saw a large egg sitting in the box, cracks along the surface. mariah. that was her name. she was nice to him at the solstices and other get togethers. nicer than the others, except maybe the yeti. but stu thought that had to do with the yeti being a yeti.

“you’ve done great,” she said, smiling, coming closer. well, she was right about that. stu felt really good about the day he’d had. it was especially nice coming from her. she had a sad look on her face as she reached out to give him a hug. stu opened up for the hug.

“i’m really sorry about this stu,” and he heard the sound of a blade coming out of the side of her boot, but he was already in her vice grip, and struggling was useless.

“shhh, it’ll be over soon. thanksgiving needs a sacrifice.”

the egg cracked open.

so comes the snow

so comes the snow

biggie rubbed his eyes to get the sleep out of them. no matter what, every year he woke up around the same time: after the harvest but before the solstice. a voice spoke to him in his dreams, telling him it was time to wake, but when he woke, he never remembered who it was or what exactly it said. all he knew was that he was ravenous.

he stretched his long arms overhead and stretched. 6 months of hibernating in this cave had done nothing for the joints; even though he was relatively young, he was still thousands of years old, and no activity doesn’t do anything for anyone. biggie rooted through his small pile of dried fruits and nuts that he’d set in the corner for this very moment, and scarfed down every last bit of food he found. time to find water.

he squinted as he made his way out of the cave. it was bright, even though the sun was low in the sky and shrouded by cloud cover and the thick pines of the land he lived in. he looked around at the familiar surroundings, taking in the bare branches, the browning grass, and rattling leaves on shrubs and small, scrubby trees that framed the entrance to his home. the grey clouds were heavy in the sky, as they always were when he made his first appearance after his long sleep.

biggie stared down at himself and shook out his arms, then ran his fingers through his shaggy white fur, cleaning himself of the detritus he’d picked up while rolling around in his sleep. after five minutes of grooming, he was ready to get to the water and set out on his journey.

stretching out his legs felt good, and his thick-soled feet were impervious to the little stones and sticks that were underfoot on his way. as he walked, small creatures sniffed the air, examining the frost he left behind in his footprints, then hopping away (most likely to store up some more food – and quickly).

it was a quick jaunt to the river, and biggie knelt down and dipped his head to the water, slurping what he knew was a reasonable amount before his stomach would revolt. then he leaned back and surveyed the area. the wind blew in from the north, just enough to bring a chill, and there was moisture in the air. several birds were lined up on skinny branches, ruffling their feathers and watching him with their bright eyes. rodents of all sizes started gathering around, peering from behind tree trunks and sitting up on rocks. despite the rumors, biggie was very gentle and attracted creatures of all sorts. that’s why he tended to stay away from humans; they wouldn’t want to let him go.

he grumbled, clearing his throat a bit before speaking after a six-month rest on his vocal cords.

“it’s about that time, isn’t it?” he addressed all the creatures, and then they burst out in chitters and squeaks and grumblings of their own. biggie nodded.

he placed his palm on the river, and it turned to ice, cracking as it adjusted to the flow of the water. then as his palms turned upward, the sky let loose a cloud of white flakes. he had 6 months, then the voice would call to him again: time to sleep.

but not yet. he stood and started walking through the new snow, tiny creatures following in his wake.

the hedgewitch

the hedgewitch

all the fields and gardens had been harvested, the food stored in root cellars or preserved so that they would survive the winter. earlier that week, the people had brought the livestock in from the high summer pastures, herding the animals as they ambled down from the hills and into the fenced off land closer to their homes. that morning, groups of men all over the countryside had  corralled some of the livestock and slaughtered them for the lean months ahead.

the hedgewitch sat cross-legged on the dirt floor in her sparse cabin where she spent the spring, summer, and autumn months. after tonight, she would head north.

second only to solstice, tonight was imperative in keeping the seasons aligned. and unlike solstice, where she was sure someone could do her job, tonight she was the intermediary and the only intermediary.

the sun was almost below the horizon, the days growing shorter more quickly. it was halfway between the equinox and solstice, and tonight was her big night.

after another five minutes of meditating, she opened her eyes just as someone knocked at the door.

“mariah, we’re ready!”

mariah took stock of her surroundings – shelves loaded with hearty fruits and vegetables, braided onions and garlic hanging from the beams. while she was gone, the people in her village used her cabin as a storeroom. her eyes settled on her workbench, and she rolled forward to come to her feet and open the door. her neighbor’s daughter stood there, and she bounded inside to watch while mariah grabbed what she needed: the silver knife into her boot for sure; peppermints in a pocket, absolutely. then she grabbed a few apples and nuts, sage. matches. she smiled at the girl who watched. “let’s go.”

the bonfires were already lit, and she saw several of her villagers already had put on masks and different clothes, some as their dead loved ones, some as the real monsters that tonight might bring. their guises did nothing to help anything, but mariah never said anything because she enjoyed watching them. tables had been brought out around the fire, loaded with beloved family heirlooms, special meals, and assortments of just-harvested crops and livestock.

tonight, at the halfway point, the hedge lowered  between the living and otherworld. people all over the country were ready to greet their loved ones who’d passed on, bribing them here with their favorite foods and items.

mariah, on the other hand, was ready to greet the other creatures that skulked along the hedge. no one else could see these creatures except the hedgewitch, but the she knew that if they weren’t held back, the yearly harvests and livestock could be wiped out. it had been many centuries since that had happened, unlike the year she didn’t make the winter solstice. losing the yearly foodstores was many times worse.

she strolled the perimeter, scanning the edges of the woods, the pastures, for any signs of the werewolves or firebreathers. one year she had had to hold off fomarians before they brought chaos to the living world. like every year, torches were lit to light the path for loved ones and keep the evil at bay. gourds had been emptied and carved with candles lit inside in hopes to ward off the creatures; just like the costumes did nothing, mariah let this one slide as well because she liked seeing what new carvings people came up with.

she also knew that this night the Other could travel easily, as well as the vampires. just thinking about the Other had mariah digging in her pocket for a peppermint; she popped it in her mouth. she rarely saw a vampire in these parts, but after her last encounter with the Other, she wasn’t taking any chances.

she lit some sage and let it smolder as she walked, setting the stage. she hoped that some families would see their loved ones, but she never expected any to. it was a rare occurrence.

at midnight, the hedge would thin. time slipped quickly, and suddenly it was time. her villagers still danced around the bonfires and chatted with each other across the bounty piled on the tables. but mariah found a quiet corner near a bonfire and sat on the ground, still holding her smoking sage. she pulled out the apples and nuts from her pocket and tossed them on the ground in front of her, along  with a peppermint for good measure. she took a deep breath, stared into the fire, and closed her eyes so she could look for the hedge.

at first it was hazy, like always, but soon the sky cleared and the stars were bright points in the sky. even though there was no moon, the land in front of her was lit up like it was a full moon, and she easily saw the hedge, where darkness smoothed into black and nothingness. she heard rustling and the creatures’ noises and howls from afar, but she knew that a lot of it was just grandstanding. generally, just her presence at the hedge on the otherplain kept everyone on their own side.

she was about halfway through the night when something at one end of the hedge caught her eye, and she slowly made her way over to the white mist that was spreading onto the living side. before she could do anything, she had to know what she was working with. werewolves responded to something entirely differently than firebreathers, and they both were a lot less work than the fomarians. but she’d never seen anything ooze between the hedge in a mist before.

as she got closer, the mist started to take shape and suddenly there was a very large skeleton of a horse in front of her, steam coming out of its mouth, frothing and stomping and generally making a fuss. then it paused and started wailing at mariah. mariah wracked her brain for what this could be. was it some sort of banshee? there was no way it could be a firebreather, and it was definitely a horse, not a wolf. it was too transparent to be a fomarian.

the horse started wailing and keening, taking slow steps away from the hedge, closer to the living world. mariah knew that if it got past her, it would wend its way to the living and wreak as much havoc as possible. once one got out, the others grew a little bolder.

her knife wouldn’t work on the horse, so that was out. she patted her pockets. her sage was in there, so she pulled it out and wafted it in the direction of the horse. the horse kept wailing. mariah spit her peppermint out at it, hoping it may be of the same stuff as the Other, but no suck luck.

as she dug in her pockets, she stopped suddenly and listened to the noise the horse was making. she noticed a rhythm, a lilt. it dawned on her: the horse was keening one of the songs the elves sang. mariah frowned and looked at the horse. it was an odd place for mari lwyd to be, but not entirely impossible…

mariah folded her hands in front of her and stared at mari, or one of mari’s projections. after a few seconds, she heard where the song was headed, and she joined in, humming where she didn’t know the words (the elves tended to load the song with elf profanities, so mariah really didn’t know a lot of the words). as she picked out the words, mari lwyd slowed down, and the two sang a strange duet at the edge of the hedge, heading back to the otherworld. slowly, mariah led mari to the hedge, and mari lwyd bent a knee, almost bowing, and dissipated into the darkness, and wisps of ghost slowly sucked back to the other side.

the rest of the night was calm.

mariah nodded to consciousness at dawn, her eyes blurry at first but then focusing on the embers of the bonfire. someone had put a large blanket over her in the night, and as mariah moved it aside to sit up, snow fell off and to the ground in front of her. people were huddled under furs and blankets around the remains of the fires, waiting out the night. others were standing at the tables, eating the food that they had set out the night before. the sky was a dark grey, and light snow fell to the ground, sticking here and there where it could. mariah squinted at the sky. winter was coming.

it was time for the hedgewitch to head north.

 

other odd holiday stories

silent night

silent night

the lady normally held court at the pole, but once a year – during the busiest time – she left her station for a night. 
people thought she was just a figure, a counterpart. most thought her most important role was to make sure the man in red (partner in business, life, love) ate. (her best business venture had been when she hired the cook. she hated cooking and everyone agreed that her food was bland. she never understood how she had been tasked with that to begin with.) she was much better at keeping the books and overseeing the network of seers. and by the 20th, her work was mostly done.
so once a year, she left the pole, the work, the hectic scene, to embrace the dark. 
it was always cold the night before the light ritual, and she always took the head reindeer. the past couple years it was blitz. after the herd had been destroyed by the vampire, she had a hard time coming to terms with the new crew, but she thought this year she could fully trust blitz. 
the lady slipped through the heavy front doors, spilling a beam of yellow-gold light onto the white snow, and hurried down the stone steps to the outbuildings where she knew blitz was waiting. 
her long leather skirts swished as she quickly opened the door to the herd’s housing, and blitz was there. they stepped into the night, where the lady rummaged in her pocket for the chocolate nut balls she shoved in there, pushing aside the peppermints and silver dagger she carried with her these days. the vampires were rampant this year for some reason, and after the episode mariah had with the other, she wasn’t taking any chances. 
fittingly, the sky was cloudy, shrouding them from the stars and moon that might provide some light. blitz’s hooves were silent in the snow, occasionally catching purchase on a stone. while blitz didn’t talk, she did understand what the lady was saying, and her eyes always seemed to convey whatever it was she wanted the lady to know. the lady, used to being behind the scenes, was ok with little conversation. 
tonight they walked in complete silence. 
tonight they walked far.
but it was never enough time to prepare. 
blitz snorted puffy white breaths and stopped mid-stride. the lady felt it too. he was here. 
the wind briefly whipped around her, and suddenly he showed himself. arawn, master of underworld, sleep, the night god. it was so cold that the lady had to blink hard to keep tears from leaking down her cheeks and freezing. she put her mittened hand over her mouth and caught her breath. 
“maire.”
of the three people who knew her name, he was the only one who ever said it out loud. she breathed and let him in. 
*****
after, blitz knelt beside her lady and patiently waited until she rested her hand on her back and pulled herself to standing. together they walked back, slowly, carefully. the lady’s hand never left blitz’s  back until they reached the tall doors of the house at the pole. even now, in the dark, early hours of the morning, the lights were still ablaze and everyone hard at work. no one knew the lady left this night every year.
the lady stroked blitz’s nose and smiled a satisfied smile. she knew blitz wouldn’t tell a soul. it was a necessary darkness, the start of the ritual to bring back the light.

krampennacht

krampennacht

silver bullets clinked against each other as mariah searched her pockets for a piece of peppermint. her throat was hurting after yesterday, a long day out in the cold prepping the deer for the trip. too much happened at this time of year. there was the annual light-bringing, then she needed to make sure the deer were ready for the trip. 
but first there was the first visit. 
sure, the man in red had his part under control, but the other, well…he was a different matter. he didn’t seem to think there was a line. red got the good; he got the bad. but he wanted both and someone needed to remind him every year. 
turns out that in addition to deer herder, mariah was deemed lead communicator at the pole. the elves were too busy, red was prepping, and the lady was too busy maintaining the massive database. thank gods they got that cook a while back; no one was eating, and red had an image to uphold.
sighing, mariah sucked on her peppermint, donned her snow gear, and headed out to talk to the other. he made her uncomfortable and was hard to get to, but he listened to her for some reason. 
whistling softly, she headed out into the woods toward where she thought he lived. he moved every year, but there were signs throughout the year – mostly dead plantlife and lack of songbirds – that let her know where he shacked up for the warmer months. (not that it got that much warmer here, but the other liked it cold.)
it wasn’t long before she got to the upheaval in the earth where a small opening indicated a cave. he generally didn’t stray too far from the man in red. they worked together, despite what the other thought. 
she crouched down and looked at the small crevice that led into his lair, scrunching her nose. it smelled of dirt and rot. she dropped the small pack she brought onto the ground outside the entrance, pulled a flare from one of its outer pockets, and stuck it into the ground. she’d learned early on to set one so she could easily find her way out. she grabbed another flare and got on her belly to crawl inside cave. 
this one was tight for a few feet, then opened up so she could at least stand on her feet and crouch. then the descent began.
every year it was the same, and mariah began to dread the conversation she’d have to have. but the man in red counted on her, and so did thousands of the littles who were too good to be taken by the other. so she picked up her pace. the sooner she got there, the sooner she could leave. if only the other were as easy to deal with as vampire deer.
soon, too soon, the floor evened out and there was his door – a golden-handled, wooden monstrosity that had carvings of wood switches hashed over it. she had no idea how he transported these between his different dwellings. 
mariah knocked twice, once, three times, then grabbed the handle. it glowed briefly, warming her hand. she dropped her flare and pulled the door open. 
he sat low on the ground on a wooden stump, his cloven and human feet stretched out, a small fire in the middle of the room. he never talked, just stared at her with his tongue hanging out, glistening. 
she found that if she walked with confidence and got her part over with, he generally didn’t object.
“you know why i’m here. tonight is the night, and the man in red has sent me to make sure you’re on the same page.” she wished she had another peppermint. her throat was still hoarse.
“tonight you and he will go visit the littles. he’s got the really good ones, the somewhat good ones, and the okay ones. you get the bad ones. and you know which ones they are; you should’ve gotten a list from the lady the other day.” how the lady sent this list, mariah didn’t know. she was just glad she didn’t have to haul that with her during her visit. 
“the man wants to remind you, again, that you just. get. the. bad. ones. no others.” mariah dug around in her pocket searching for a peppermint. the other still stared at her. his cloven foot jiggled slightly but that was the only movement from him. “and you can use your switches, put them in your bag, and hang them from the tall tree, but you CANNOT eat them. we’ve been over this.” he used to eat the bad ones on the solstice, but the committee had put a stop to that when they realized that it was interfering with the ritual. 
“then the next morning, you let them go. that should scare them. any repeat offenders, you can hold two nights.” ah! she found her peppermint. she popped it into her mouth. sweet relief. 
“do we have an understanding?”
the other stared, blinked slowly, and then nodded once. mariah nodded. 
“then we’ll see you tonight. sundown sharp – the man in red will be ready. and don’t forget your list.” 
the other nodded again. then again and again, much too quickly for a beast like him to be able to do, and mariah stepped back in alarm. she had never seen this before. she glanced behind her for the door, then back toward the fire, and he was right in front of her. she could smell his rotted breath, see the strands of fur on his face, the saliva on his tongue. she scrunched her nose and did the only thing she could think of – she spat her peppermint out of her mouth directly onto his slimy tongue. 
he screamed and jumped back. his tongue seemed to be smoking. mariah widened her eyes, then took her chance. she leaped backward to the door, got out, and slammed the door shut. her flare was still there, so she grabbed it and ran. she didn’t think he would follow. 
the trip out seemed much quicker, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the matching flare sparking at the narrow exit. she crawled out of the cave and stood up, brushing dirt and leaves off before putting her pack on and heading back to the pole. she took the knife from her boot and held it, just in case. 
this would need to be reported to the man. and she needed to add peppermints to her list of essentials. 
prior
and prior

harvest

harvest

and suddenly it’s fall.
the dust from the combines cutting their way through the corn fields is so thick on the rural roads, it’s like fog. it smells of dried grass, starch, and autumn. the valleys are heavy with the corn dust, with the lights of the giant tractors blinking in the dark like UFOs. the time is ripe for harvesting, and farmers make the most of the time, hauling corn from the fields into the early hours of the mornings.
because the first hard frost came late (last night), the leaves are browner than normal, even though the conditions throughout the summer were perfect for a spectacular fall foliage showing (lots of rain). spots of yellow, orange, and red poke through the drabness here and there, and they help shout out the season.
the roadside stands boasting pumpkins for $3 are picked over, the only pumpkins left being the oddly shaped and not-quite orange. gardens are cleared out of usable vegetables, with the only exceptions being hardy veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, leeks, onions, carrots, and the like. the defeated tomatoes that were so boastful during july and august are now nothing but darkened, wasted stalks with any leftover fruits littering the ground: squashed, deflated, wrinkled, and decaying.
IMG_1176
the summer’s been well for hay, and the corn stalks have been rolled into bales. the entire growing season has been great: seeds went in early, the rain was relatively steady, and september was warm into october. the minnesota harvest is set to be a record-breaking one
ready for winter.

…and so…

…and so…

it was 85º outside today, while the wind blew and the somewhat-turned leaves on the trees held tenuously to their homes. is it fall? is it summer? when winter blows in, will we know it and be prepared? 
it was a perfect couple of days for nerdcon. jane and i walked down nicollet ave. and marquette more than once to get some food and kill some time. the event itself was a pretty great event in general. friday was better than saturday (less people and the mainstages were much funnier). the breakout sessions we did go to were great and got us both fired up for writing. (when we could get in.)
i have a feeling next year it will be held in a different location; i think the only one i’d be willing to travel to would be denver. but we’ll see what goes. 
i had a couple ideas for some blog posts for kablpomo in november or whenever (depending on when some inspiration strikes). 
i’m also considering nanowrimo for the first time in a few years. the thing about nanowrimo is that once i commit, i’m doing the whole shebang. there’s no 40,000 words. no 20,000 words. it’s all or nothing. 
the thing is, creative nonfiction is the type of writing i prefer over fiction, so topics are a little different. travelogue? more food writing? i’ve already attacked corn syrup. i could do travel writing about the black hills or something. i’m not sure i could eke out 50,000 words on it, but i could try and then end with some fabulous anti-corn propaganda. 
what say you, kablpomo followers?

neglect

neglect

i have really neglected my poor little blog this past year, and especially the past few weeks. after last year, when i blogged every day, this seems like a huge departure, and i’m not quite sure why i haven’t kept up with it. 
but today jane i went to nerdcon:stories, and we attended a couple sessions specifically about writing, which made me super excited about nanowrimo, for one. and also about kablpomo! november is close approaching! so, any ideas for either would be welcome.
more on nerdconlater! (i hope!)

belief

belief

i believe in the sun. i believe in the stars, the moon, the constellations, the dark indigo of twilight. i believe in fireflies. i believe in grass beneath my feet. i believe in sprummer days of excited greens and happy bugs. i believe in trees – small, tall, old, ancient, spruce, oak, maple, plum. i believe in growing things. i believe in a good night’s sleep. i believe in the inherent good in people and their subconscious willingness to do the right thing. i also believe in a healthy dose of skepticism. i believe in questions. i believe in answers. i believe in purring kitty cats who try to get up your nose. i believe in trying my best to live in the now, even though the past and future crowd in. i believe in family and friends. i believe in laughing a lot. i believe in tradition. i believe in trying new things. i believe in an even keel. i believe in rocking the boat. i believe in riding in fast boats on summer lakes. i believe in art. i believe in reading immersion. i believe in earl grey tea.  i believe in the smell of autumn leaves and burning brush. i believe in enveloping yourself in a forest of yellow aspen. i believe in keeping an open mind. i believe in making an effort. i believe in living this life the fullest because it’s what i’ve got right now. 
but after all this? i do believe i have been a disappointment.

getting back in the groove

getting back in the groove

my blogging has really been waning lately, so i’m trying to make a point of blogging daily again for a bit. maybe it’ll work; maybe it won’t. but i kind of miss blogging every day – making a deliberate choice to sit down in front of a keyboard and putting thoughts to screen.
i also have been feeling like a slob lately when it comes to writing, so another reason. with my devil’s syrup book pretty much done (for now, until i get some input from ANYONE who’s willing to read it – i’ll take anyone), it seems writing’s taken a back burner. i’ve been making my way through my reading stack pretty well, but that’s not quite the same.
so back to the blogging board. i really want to take my laptop to SD and blog every day, but i’m not sure that’ll happen for sure. (the blogging part; not the taking the laptop part.)
so, expect to see more regular updates. and if you don’t see them, send me a note and tell me to get my but in gear.
(i was going to correct that but to butt, then realized that the one-T but was more than appropriate as well, so it stays.)
(seriously, download and read my devil’s syrup novella memoir. i want feedback and input on what else i can add in there so it’s NOT novella length!)