Inspiration is everywhere but I like to start with a scrap of painted watercolor exercise, of which I have many. Tearing and cutting, I lay them out in a collage and hope I remember to glue them down before I start the drawing and sketching.
This page done with a uniball ink pen, which behaves very well on thickly coated mixed media paper. On the unpainted craftbook pages the ink sinks in and often wants to spread.
Up until September 14 2020 I lived in New South Wales, in Australia. On that day, a friend drove me to the adjoining state Queensland and negotiated with the border police to get me through the Covid 19 barrier between the two states. I was sicker than anyone guessed.
My friend took me to hospital where I was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Treatment began right away. Chemo. Six cycles of R-CHOP at three weekly intervals. Then four lumbar punctures with same drugs and a rituximab (monoclonal antibody) chaser. My last treatment and PET scan in February. I’m in remission.
Long time readers will say that I’ve said all that before. I have. I wanted to feel what it felt like now, to look back on it, six months down the track.
At first, being in remission was the most frightening place on Earth. The reality of dealing with the after- and side-effects of both the chemo and the lymphoma on my own was pure anxiety. Luckily there’s a really good support group on FaceBook that we haunt, all of us in the Downunder Lymphoma boat, and I’ve only had to call the ambulance twice. So here I am, six months into the remission journey.
What with Covid lock-downs and a really low immune system … like, no B cells! … I’ve been pretty well housebound except for food shopping, doctors appointments and walks. So I thought I’d get back into writing reading knitting music pretty easily. Lots of time after all.
I’d be lying if I told you yes, really easy.
Early on I spent most of my time sorting through the stuff that came with my decision to stay in Brisbane. I had a lot of books, not all of them fit on the shelves I now have. Clothes, the same. Textile crafts, the same. And I’m still at it, every so often. Divesting myself of my old life to be able to fit into my new life.
I’ll write that sentence again and even bold it. Divesting myself of my old life to be able to fit into my new life.
It suggests my new life is smaller. I’m not talking about its length, more what I can do in my days … and so also today, this minute, I need to stop this meandering. More on this as time permits.
When the life-suit gripped him—like it shrink-wrapped him—how he’d always imagined it might feel—Sard closed his eyes ahead of being forcibly cowled with the mask. The suit expanded again and he relaxed into it. Shrinking. Easing. It was like part of a rhythm. Like breathing.
He shoved up the mask. All he could see was darkness. Not the seven wooden drawers of his boyhood above him. All he could feel, above him—with his hands questing—was rock, a handspan above his face.
Searching down by his left side one-handed he found the rounded curve of the ceiling meeting the back of an overhang. With his other hand he found flat pavement. Exploring upward with that hand, he discovered the ceiling at maybe knee-height. From under the stairs in the limestone house back into the stony overhang atop the plateau … he’d had no sense of the transfer being a journey.
He rolled from under the overhang. A long way above stood the half-sickle moon in the cold night. Stars, too. Pin-pricks of light that he knew were even farther away. Unimaginable distances. Why I like to imagine that they are beads on a net surrounding the ball that we live on. A star in every angle is enough for me.
< Sit up and stare at the rock-edge. >
Oh right. It tells me to sit up and stare at the overhang’s edge in the dark? To what end?
The suit gripped him with its shrinking-lengthways trick. < I am merely elongating this entity’s muscle fibres. It’s a possibility I’m proud of discovering. The first new thing I caused to happen since I being released from my bondage. >
Sard breathed to the limits of his lung capacity. A fraction of what he needed. He wheezed. “Enough.” The image of the suit as a bio-construct was enough to give him the heebie-jeebies. Life-suits were lab-grown human skins? Couldn’t be. What about all the tech they also had? They couldn’t be. He’d lived in a large tech-construct all this life. Couldn’t live in bio-construct and a cramped little one at that.
The suit relaxed, but only a little, obviously expecting resistance.
“Okay. Okay. Sit up you said.” The gap between the two opposite overhangs was double his knee-length. Or make that the length of his whole leg. Plenty wide enough for him to scrabble to his elbow, push on that to sitting. Stare-at-the-rock’s-edge meant sit with crossed legs and turn ninety degrees.
Slouching somewhat, his eyes were level with the rock’s edges which were about as thick as his forearm—he pressed his arm along the ledge—a thick dark line separating the very dark below from the dark sky above. “Staring,” he said. Reporting for action. Yes sir. No sir.
< Close eyes. Wait for light. >
“That’s hours yet. What will I be looking for?”
< Less than an hour. Places where humans bumped up against these edges. Or scraped by. >
“And then what?”
< You will suck the human substance from these places so that I can discover their DNA. If they are my people—runaways—we will overtake them. We will force them to return to the cave habitat where I need them for the entertainments. >
Sard pulled off one of the gloves and rubbed a rock edge with his bare fingers. Granular feel. Like sandstone. He could almost see the group escaping, running for their lives, resting here overnight. Maybe while it rained and their usual roads, the chasms, flooded. And in their hurry to get to safety, some of them scraping up against these rocks hard enough to lose skin and blood.
Then he imagined sucking on the ledges. Why not just licking? He slopped his tongue over a dark place for a try out. Mmm. Could almost be smooth, sinewy and leather-tasting. He whipped off the life-suit’s face mask to see what he tongued.
With the help of the faint pre-dawn light, he made out a dark handprint imprinted on the stone right there in front of his eyes. The sight burned into his brain. Dried blood? He gagged. Spat saliva. Coughed.
Every little thing he knew and remembered about Ahni reeled through his mind. How the bio-construct was cut out of her—and her just abandoned—and about Ahni’s people running for their lives into the right direction to meet up with the clay-faced slavers. What if this hand-print was of someone who got away?
He found scuff marks, half footprints, a place where five small toes had pressed into the thin sand. Where the basket sat …. Saw all this before the dream. And damn it, I know it better now. None of them would want to be caught. Not one will want to return to CAVE.
And neither did he—as a matter of hoity-toity fact—want to deliver anyone, least of all the Sea-people into that bondage. Which means I shouldn’t follow them. Or it means that I shouldn’t take the life-suit to them. He livened up. Yes. That.
A dozen ideas, things to do, things to achieve, things to watch out for, barged into his mind. Plans. I bared my hand and my face. I’ve started already. There’s been no squeak from the life-suit since then. Such peace. He chuckled. Tore loose the chest piece and loosened the tie that gathered the suit edges over his ribs. Shoved the suit down over his shoulders one by one and pulled his arms free. The dawn air on his bare skin like he was in a cool bath. He crawled to the place where he’d stashed the pack.
Unpacked it to discover what he had that’d help him in the journey he planned.
But here he still stood at the end off the channel in the stone platform, taking time to think through what’d happen when he developed sores on his shoulders. Dressed in just his outer wear—shirt and pants—the pack’s straps cut into his shoulders. Plus the sun was rising almost dead ahead, give or take a few degrees, and while the sky there was a glory of red and pink, he couldn’t see anything else ahead. I need a sunhat and I need more padding. About turn. Leaving the life-suit behind is a dumb idea. The chest piece will do me for a hat. The suit itself folded and stuffed under the straps. Now … no more hesitations, hold-ups or hang-ups brought on by stupid impulsivity.
He strode into the grasses.
Repeat of the country that he walked yesterday. Stony channels between islands of tussock, gravel and sand. Here and there a twisted wind-worn shrub. The plateau, what he saw of it, could’ve been an unending plain of tussocks. But he knew—first hand experience—that it was riddled with chasms. Probably with caves underneath. What did he know. Better to stay at the edge.
Walking, he kept his attention on the ground he covered. Safer. And it meant the sun didn’t shine straight into his eyes because he could angle the life-suit’s chest plate just-so, giving himself a shaded outlook. Which got easier because the sun rose.
Some people, apparently, believed that the Earth spun like a top and turned east day and night. Making it seem like both the sun and the moon rose in the east and set in the west. He never got much further studying how they got seasons and all that. No seasons in CAVE apart from the ones the games demanded and the techies organised.
Uh oh. Careful now. A damned chasm across his path. Lost in my thoughts. He evaded what might have been a sticky end by turning south. Saw it just in time. How far would he need to go? He now resented any foray into that direction. Sun shining on his left side.
Finally the end of the crack in the plateau. Wouldn’t he like to have a drink of cool mountain water right now? Don’t have any water. Not wearing the suit. Need to make camp while sun still shining for getting water from plants. Good old Greg, teaching me that.
Sard woke. How many more times would he have to wake in this story? When we gamed in CAVE, we don’t bother with night and day. It was always day. He let his thoughts continue on to CAVE.
“Oh look, he’s waking up,” said someone. A girlish voice. Sard turned to see her but there was no one with him in the rock hole. Huh. “Where will we have him?” said someone else he almost knew. He started to try to remember him.
“We haven’t seen him do anything real yet.” Different boy. Just figuring how many players is all I have time for? “Can you believe that it’s one of the avatars in that suit?” First boy again. “I thought they’d all been cast out?”
“Let’s try that village at the edge of the salt lake,” the original girl said.
Sard gave up.
Someone sounding a lot like Gre…Greg?…chuckled. “You mean Sard and Srese Yonker, and Youk Kerr? You are a dim-witted bunch if you’ve forgotten them already. Do it. I want to see Sard in that village. I want to see how Sard reacts.”
Being warned, Sard held onto stone left and right. He heard swearing off stage, scoffed at himself. Yeah right. How did I even know that?
He closed his eyes—his thoughts went fuzzy and his whole body shook—bones, flesh, heart and head. His ears funnelled in a loud incessant buzz. This doesn’t sound like somewhere I want to be. He pinched himself. Ouch. I’m awake?
He opened his eyes. Where is this place? Village at the edge of the salt lake reverberated in his thoughts. Can’t see either a salt lake or any houses. Only thing he could see straight in front was the underside of his stair-set of drawers that he’d had since childhood.
Was it them at an arm’s length distance? He marvelled running his fingers over the silky timber undersides of the fourth, fifth, and sixth drawers. He leaned forward. I wonder if the crabby life-suit entity brought all my treasures in the drawers as well?
Stop. I don’t want to give the damned life-suit entity the satisfaction. He lay back, thought about the drawers themselves to distract himself. Old and older, maybe the oldest piece of furniture in the habitat, according to Ghulia, and inherited through her from her forebears.
Passing concrete objects down through the generations shouldn’t even be possible, given the anonymous way they were made. How did she manage it? And why the drawers here—he looked beyond the staircase they were part of, and through an open doorway—in this lime-stone white house at the edge of a salt lake?
No one out there. No. Wait. A bunch of people dressed in white, walked half-heartedly, even hesitantly, out on the salt. They all wore a thing over their eyes. Looks like a swim-mask, people. You look ridiculous. He felt his face. No mask himself.
< You don’t need virtual-world goggles. You are wearing me. >
Sard laughed. I am wearing a life-suit colonised by an AI entity. It confirmed his suspicions. Apart from that, I am inside a virtual building somewhere, as well as in an actual rock-shelter.
“He went in here,” said a voice he knew. Greg came into view, also with swim-goggles over his face, and leapt up the stairs. Dust from between the treads spurted into Sard’s face. He was under the stairs he saw, recognising the boxed-in treads. They are the drawers containing my life.
< You’re wondering how a life-suit knew about your drawers? >
“Not really,” Sard said. The way the entity said ‘life-suit’ gave the game away. If it was a game. Preening and so superior, as if an ordinary life-suit was far beneath what the entity itself was capable of. Which might be true, remember that.
The people watching or involved in the interactive play, seemed to think they were involved in a game. Sard listened interestedly to the stomping on the floor above, and the high, excited voices up there. Everyone ran up and down the stairs at least twice each.
Then the search continued in the room alongside the stairs—with him in plain sight he would’ve thought—and then the room beyond, a kitchen maybe. Plenty of people called out they saw him whenever someone thought they found him.
Nobody did, though he wasn’t hiding particularly, just laying on a pallet under the stairs. All they had to do was glance aside. But they of course wore the goggles that were in the control of the entity that also controlled the life-suit.
< These people have had things too easy for far too long. >
Whatever the stupid entity meant with that apart from the glaring fact that it—the entity—was now in charge. It now seemed to Sard that Gammy—the AI owner of CAVE who once was Gamester—a regular human being who had his brain pattern uploaded into a computer—had ruled by division. All energy-chewing tasks were separated. Life-suits could not communicate with the virtual goggles. Gammy’s strategies were to preserve the system for as long as possible.
This entity obviously had no such desire. He wouldn’t be surprised if CAVE ended during its reign. Did it even know what it wanted? And what did it know about Sard’s people? Because how easy was it in fact to know that every move you made was being judged, and if you didn’t come up to the expectations of the pernickety AI in charge, you’d be moldecked without regrets? You were told a fantasy that you’d be reborn. Better luck next time, people had learned to say to each other.
Who, or what, was this entity?
“Got you!” Greg said. He’d shoved his mask up on his forehead. He grabbed Sard by an arm and dragged him into the open. “Let’s get you into the daylight. I knew you’d be somewhere in plain sight.” He stood Sard on his two feet.
“I’m surprised to find you in the game, oh noble warrior,” Sard said. “It’s quite a short trip, it seems, from standing back all your life to suddenly being as involved as any Tom, Hinny and Darren.”
Greg hesitated. He dropped his hands from Sard, and tore off his mask, which squawked as if the life-suit entity had an audio channel in it, and it resisted. His dazed expression cleared to the one Sard recognised as the Greg he knew.
“Same old Sard. You calling me out?” Greg said.
“Just wondering what the hell is going on?” Sard said. “Not like you to be taken in by anything an AI serves up?” He replied with the same tone Greg gave him.
Greg frowned. “An AI? Other than Gammy, you’re saying?”
Sard gestured at the houses made from blocks of pristine limestone, at the sheet of white glare beyond. “When did Gammy ever serve us up with this? Or peopled it with swim-goggles and a life-suit at the same time? I think he’s been overwritten. You probably know better than me what with.” He didn’t dare go further.
Greg grinned. “What’s it like, wearing it?”
The thing in the life-suit slammed Sard to the ground hard enough that he hurt. < Next time stay where I put you. >
Next it slammed Greg down beside him. It must have, no way would Greg ever purposely throw himself down beside Sard and lay there winded and looking concussed.
Thinking to check Greg’s life-status, Sard put his hand on Greg’s chest. The AI messaged Greg and it reverberated up Sard’s arm. < Don’t make me over-write you as well. >
It could do that? “Drop the mask,” Sard mouthed at Greg.
Greg nodded minimally. Freeing his fingers from the mask’s strap, he leapt to his feet. “Come on, Sard. Let’s go. Save yourself.”
The life-suit squeezed Sard the way he had come to know. The python trick. “You,” he gasped. “You save yourself!” The life-suit picked him up and forced him to run at Greg on four feet, like a beast.
Greg grimaced horror, turned and ran into a corridor.
< Your body lies on the plateau. There is no going or coming other than with me. > < Wait here. >
The life-suit forced Sard back into the hutch under the stairs.
I’m late posting the next installment of Avatar Remaindered due to complications publishing Half Shaman.
Who knew that the very big publisher owns Royal Road? I didn’t, and so blithely posted up my second draft of Half Shaman on RR, thinking to use it as a sort of sandbox for getting critiques.
That didn’t happen and after ten weeks of silence from the most voracious readers in the online reading universe … well, so I was told by various people who have managed to get what they needed … I gave up and started a Blogspot blog. Leaving the ten chapters behind on RR and even forgetting them, I admit.
So last week I tried to publish and was told the big publisher does not accept new iterations of things that are available for free anywhere else, and especially not on its own platforms.
I had to take rearguard actions deleting the ten early chapters on Royal Road, and even deleting the chapters I published on my old blog that were transferred to this blog. And I hope, can’t remember, that there’s nothing sitting in the G+ archives. Having another go of course.
This time last year, being under the mistaken apprehension that if I painted every day for thirty days that would then be a habit, and I would continue to paint every day.
But as we all know when the pressure is off, we tend to relax. I seem to recall I achieved an unbroken 24 day run of painting, followed by some patchy efforts thereafter.
During the time I painted for #huevember2019, I used postcard-sized paper and I’d have up to four scenes on the go at the same time. For that size paintings I need 2 or 3 passes with drying times in between.
On a particular day I’d take a look at what I had in hand, and decide which one to finish for that day. Above is the claustrophobic push through tall shrubbery to the beach. Of course, by the time ten surfers have pushed their way through, there is quite a well-delineated path.
I’m still such a beginner, that I’m always testing something. I think I was using the sepia for the first time that Sharon at the art shop talked me into. A greenish-olivey tint that she said she got more mileage out of than true sepia.
Mixed feelings about it then and now. Not that I’ve done any painting for the last six months. My paints are packed up with all the rest of my chattels, in storage.
My interest in time travel began when my birth-family arrived in Australia as immigrants from the Netherlands. The first place where we lived was a migrant hostel outside Sydney. We children mostly noticed differences. The English language of course. The food. What the hell is this orange stuff? Pumpkin? But that’s cattle food. And what is vegemite? it’s horrible. Nothing like apple butter.
And the bush. Walking along the dirt road to our house block at midday, there was no shade. The thin vegetation let the sunlight burnish right through it. The only living creature we saw that day was a snake sunning itself on a sandstone slab protruding above the road’s surface. A venomous brown, in suburbia. My father said to stamp on the ground to scare it away. The landscape seemed very alien.
Adults noticed the seeming backwardness of the new country. There was not a decent cup of coffee to be had, for instance. Schooling was 30 years behind European education, many parents thought when they took their kids to the migrant hostel’s school. Most of the breadwinners, having their European qualifications downgraded, could only get laboring work.
A common complaint was that we had traveled back in time.
But the primitive building code enabled a lot of families to live on a house block and build their own accommodation. Many children saved shoe leather by going to school on bare feet. And if you lived in the outer suburbs, it was cheaper to buy a week’s supply of fruit and vegetables at Paddy’s Produce Markets in central Sydney and carry them home in a hessian sack, than getting stuff piecemeal at the local shops.
The existence of tropes as a category of themes tells you there’s nothing new in fiction. But I’m cruisy about using a conventional theme, if I can do something new with it, time travel as an immigrant having prepped me.
Though I’ll tell you right now that I won’t be sitting through the 700+ movies that apparently use time travel as their theme. Wikipedia has a nice page on Time Travel in Fiction listing the main sub-tropes of time travel generating a manageable list of things to read/watch.
From all the above, and without having to watch anything, I gather that what I’ve been writing into is the time-slip sub-trope.
As well as tripping over imagery while researching online, I use photos and any images I may have produced in the past and present, as inspiration for my writing.
Though inspiration may not be the exact word.
Often I need to describe something so that it resembles reality. Landscapes are easy. Find a photo of a landscape and describe how your MC operates in it. Old calendars are great, although they do get cliched, almost always using the same Disney-esque castle in Bavaria, for example. Travel photos, my own and anyone else’s, are my next resource. But, of course, sometimes I’ll want a landscape not on Earth.
And this year I tripped over #huevember. “Make one painting every day of the week, using the appropriate color on the color wheel as the main color for that day.”
I could do that, I thought. If I was painting. [I hadn’t painted for over 6 months when I thought that.]
But, once you do start thinking that way, it’s hard not to get excited by something like #huevember. So. I fell for the dark orange dedicated to November 7, got my paints out and continued the journey of learning to paint with watercolors.
Here I painted over the top of an uninteresting yellow scene. Turned out pretty impressive and got me over my initial will-I-won’t-I-commit doubts.
I painted this one over an uninteresting pink scene and didn’t get the desired burn-orange hue. May do it again sometime …
Scarlet … I don’t have a cool red tubepaint, or watercolor crayon. Had to dig out some old aquarelle pencils. This is an experimental animal-look pattern that might work for a shaman’s cloak.