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Requiem in Amber

Requiem in Amber

Walk to the grey city at the edge of the long-dry sea, past the corpses of ancient architecture.

Go to the center where it all ended, the gothic hall where that otherworldly bomb landed, obliterating everyone, leaving everything.

Sit anywhere you like—you’re the only audience today. Maybe ever.

Listen to the orchestra playing in their bubble of time, like music trapped in amber. They endlessly loop the 122 minutes before the bomb, unaware of the dead world outside. Odd how that happened.

Close your eyes.


If you fall asleep, you can hear it all again in two hours.

Stalled Starts

As of this moment, I have 99 files in my Drafts folder for the Green-Walled Tower, stretching from 2012 to the present. Sometimes I get an idea and start writing but then stop because I haven’t figured out where it’s going to go or I run out of time or I realize it’s stupid. Sometimes it’s only a sentence or two and now I’ve forgotten what the story was supposed to be about. Here are some of my stalled stories that I’ve given up on doing anything with. If you want to suggest a story for any of them, let me know (or write it yourself; maybe I’ll post it 😊).

Stalled Starts

“Remember when parasols were just for girls?”

Jack scratched his butt, balancing the umbrella with the other hand. “Ha! I’m not getting skin cancer just to prove my manliness.

The Pies are Alive

“Look, I know how this sounds,” I said. “It’s the sort of thing even Flat Earthers roll their eyes at, but it’s true. The pies are alive.”

“Uh huh. So that’s why you smashed up the pastry shop, is it? To kill all the evil pies?” The cops looked less than impressed.

I knew I should have stopped but I couldn’t help myself. “They’re not all evil

Meditation with Dummies

Walking, By Me

Chateau de Sable

I was just putting the last of the dishes away when I realized that my son Harry, six years old the week before, had been too quiet too long.

I walked over to his playroom and looked in. It was its usual disarray of toys but in the middle of the room sat a superb Lego creation, a castle that could have been featured in Legoland, perfect in every minute detail. Harry was nowhere to be seen. I walked over and that was when I saw the crumpled

Glass Cones

We didn’t know until we went in person, but there are ghosts on Mars, screaming, relentless demons that burrow into men’s minds, devouring thoughts and hopes and feelings. All that protects us is the energy cones at the center of every settlement and on every vehicle.

That’s what they told us, at least.

Alex never knew how big the city really was until the night she drove around its sodden, dark underbelly, searching for one homeless man.

Cannoli I Have Eaten

If you don’t know what a cannoli is, look it up. I’ve only eaten three in my life, so I’m no expert. It’s a kind of dessert and they’re sweet (unlike most desserts, right?) Still, I think of think of them as bittersweet and here’s why.

I had my first cannoli (or cannolo, if you want to get technical) when I was thirteen. It was summer and I was going to play baseball with my friend Martine. He

Dirty Grey Robe

By the Rules

Filip was a man of rules. He lived by rules (except when he didn’t, but those were Exceptions, and he didn’t count those).

Rule 1: make a list every day. Every day when Filip got up, he made a list of things to do. It was not a constructive

Icy Streets

The streets today were like an ice rink. Actually, they were an ice rink. I saw children skating through traffic, dodging out-of-control taxis and desperately trying to get to their extra-curricular activities on time. I even saw a girl do a perfect double axel at a cross-walk, although this is the country of Kim Yun-Ah, and Koreans don’t do anything—even cross the road—without doing it very, very well.

Bonus: This is a completed piece that I did back in 2013 but never got around to posting it since it didn’t seem to be worth it.

An Ode to Minimalism

Oh Minimalism!

What else can I say?

Happy New Year everyone!

Miracle Cherries, Level 2

Back on November 9, 2020, I wrote a story called The Era of Miracle Cherries. I had just written it as a one-off story, even though it ended on a cliffhanger of sorts. However, I got requests to write the rest of the story, so here is the second part: Miracle Cherries, Level 2.

Adapted from “Cherries” by amandabhslater, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I stood on a platform in the middle of the room, one of the most expensive human guinea pigs in the history of the world. I was alone, except for the hundreds of people watching from behind bomb-proof glass, and the tens of millions watching online.

In front of me, on a stainless-steel tray lay one of the first Level 2 miracle cherries, purchased from super domain miracles891$$ for 150 million dollars for a box of ten. It was hard to believe that this dark pink orb had cost my company $15 million. And now I had been chosen to test it.

Originally, no one knew that there were even levels to these things. Miracle cherries, as people had dubbed them, had appeared for sale online about a year ago for $150/box of ten. Once people figured out that they could do most anything, from curing all disease to letting you fly or go invisible, the sales went through the roof. The world was still being made and remade daily by the impact they have had.

Then the woman calling herself Rachel had appeared on all the TVs in the world at once, speaking in the local language. She had been the one selling the miracle cherries and now she had decided to rule the world. She also revealed that there were three levels of miracle cherries. We had all be taking Level 1. Level 2 miracle cherries had gone on sale yesterday and as far as I knew, I would be the first to try one.

Since I was about to eat a $15 million confection, I had to wait for the go-ahead. No one had any idea what they could even do. If Level 1 made you a super hero, would Level 2 make you a god? If so, then why were there ten in a package and what on earth could Level 3 be? Everyone assumed that the result would be good, but they were not taking any chances.

“You are cleared to ingest,” a voice over the speaker said. It was the company president, trying to sound like space command, presumably to impress the online viewers. I reached out and picked up the miracle cherry.

“It feels just like a Level 1,” I said. They wanted everything documented. I smelled it. “No smell.” We knew this already but still they had insisted I do it. Actually the only difference between this and the Level 1 miracle cherries was that this was darker pink.

I put it in my mouth and bit down. It tasted just like a Level 1 and for a moment, I felt a pang of disappointment. Maybe this was all a hoax.

The watchers behind the glass were silent, anxious. All of them had made themselves invulnerable before this, but who knew if that would be effective against Level 2?

“It tastes—” I began.

The room around me disappeared. For a second, the only sensation I had was the taste of the miracle cherry in my mouth. Then I found myself in a small red room with the woman named Rachel sitting in a chair not far away. She had the same short hair and glasses as she did when she appeared on TV.

“So you took a Level 2,” she said, standing up. “You are the first one, I’m impressed.”

“My company bought a box,” I said. “I volunteered to try the first one and was chosen.”

“Oh, I know,” she said, dismissively. “I know exactly what happened. You only have 43 minutes before you go back, so let me give you the tour.”

She tapped two fingers together and a lumpy mirrored sphere appeared in front of us, the size of a basketball. I saw my own distorted reflection in its surface.

“This is your universe,” Rachel said. “A projection of it, at least. We have millions of universes at various stages of development.”

“Why is it shiny?” I asked, not quite able to absorb what she was saying.

“It’s completely separated from this world,” Rachel said. “No energy from this world can penetrate it, so it is all reflected back.”

“I am outside the universe.” I wanted to make sure I understood what she was saying.

“Here, you take the chair,” Rachel said kindly. She led me over to the chair and waited for me to sit. “Yes, you are outside your universe for a minute. Or actually 43 minutes. There is a lot to explain, but basically a company creates these universes and then leases sectors with intelligent life off to someone who uses it for research or extraction.”

“Extraction? You mean like minerals?” I asked.

Rachel made a derisive sound. “Please,” she said. “We don’t need minerals. “That would be like you ordering a new computer just to get the cardboard box it came in. No, they extract things like ideas, music, art, stories. The important things. It hasn’t affected your world at all, don’t worry. Most of the time the results are crude and uninteresting. But every now and then something unique will turn up. It’s like diamond mining.”

 “And that’s what you’re doing?”

“No, I’m part of a research team,” Rachel said. “We want to see how a civilization would react to sudden supernatural powers and an ultra-powerful outside invading force. Me, in other words.”

“Now,” she continued. “You only have a few more minutes before you go back. I have some other things that are vital to tell you before then. You will not remember any of this when you return, but if you ever come back here, we can pick up where we left off.”

“It cost 15 million dollars for this time,” I said. “Do you think my company will waste that again on me?”

Rachel shrugged. “They’ve already spent the money. There are nine more of the Level 2 miracle cherries and someone might as well eat them. It might be you.”

“Can you at least tell me what Level 3 is?” I asked. “I don’t see what it matters if I won’t remember it anyway. It’s going to drive me crazy getting this far and not knowing.”

She smiled again and shook her head. “No, it won’t.”

*         *         *

. . . sweet,” I said. I realized the miracle cherry was no longer in my mouth. Most of the people behind the glass had disappeared, but the ones that were still there jumped up and pointed to me, yelling in surprise.

Apparently, I had disappeared and reappeared 43 minutes later, although to me no time had passed.

They ran every test on me they could think of but they turned up nothing. A few billionaires and other companies bought the Level 2 cherries, but the results they released were always the same. I don’t know what happened to the other nine cherries that my company had bought, but they didn’t give them to me.

Interest in Level 2 dropped off. The ability to skip 43 minutes into the future seemed a pretty poor reward for $15 million, especially when you could breathe underwater or fly for a mere fifteen dollars. Most people regarded it as a hoax.

The strange thing was that I began to have dreams about Rachel. Sure, she had had cameos in my dreams before. Being the titular ruler of the world, she tended to make the news. But no one had ever seen her in real life and these dreams were vivid beyond anything I had ever experienced. It took a few days before I realized that these dreams might have something to do with the Level 2 cherry I had taken. The company would not entertain the idea of my taking another of the cherries. That left only one place left where I could get answers.

I had to go to Rachel’s tower in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

To be concluded next week on December 21, 2020.

The Wandering Canadians
Courtesy of @NancyfromCanada (Twitter)

I sat by the fire in my backyard last night, watching the flames dance and writhe, throwing up sparks into the cool early-fall air. The only sounds were the popping of the wood as it burned and the muted city sounds of cars several blocks away. Above me, Cygnus glowed amid a purple-black expanse.

A chorus of honking began to grow—birds, not cars luckily. A second later, a B-2 bomber-sized V of Canada geese appeared directly above me, the lead goose eclipsing Cygnus almost perfectly. They were flying so low that the firelight made their pale underbellies glow faintly. Their dark wings cut long angles of black out of the sky. In a few seconds, they had disappeared over the house, heading for the lake.

I wonder if they know they’re going the wrong way, I thought. It’s fall and they are flying north. Well, that’s 2020 for you. Maybe they were just trying to get back to Canada as fast as possible.

The real reason

A Girl Named Grace

The Green-Walled Chapel

Girl Named Grace

I know a girl named Grace
She drops by just when I need her
I don’t deserve her but she doesn’t care
She brings me treats from far away
Favorite foods I’ve never known

I know a girl named Grace
She found me standing by the road
Lost and hopeless
She brought me home, coaxed me to health
And gave me hope again

I know a girl named Grace
Who joys in the sunshine and the rains
And my feeble attempts to give back
She drops by just when I need her
And God love her for it

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Starring in the Very Special Olympics

I will admit, I was in kind of a weird mood when I wrote this. But it makes me laugh, so I make no apologies.

It was like a nightmare, standing before crowds of drunken fans, naked, but for a Speedo. How had he gotten here?

The gun fired. Six people dived, followed by six wet slaps.

The water was Jello.

The crowd whooped. They’d known.

He pulled himself along, wallowing like an epileptic badger. Some got in his mouth: Tropical Fusion flavor, damn them.

He woke with a start in the locker room. It was a dream.

“Harrison, there you are!” the coach said from the door. “You got your 10-meter maple syrup dive in five minutes. Come on!”

He pinched himself.

No luck.


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I Walked with Jesus

A piece of Bible fan fiction that I posted on my other blog, the Green-Walled Chapel.

The Green-Walled Chapel

I debated where to put this post, either on my fiction blog or my Christianity/religion blog since it kind of goes on either. When I read the Bible, I’m struck by the interesting details it decides to put in, or leave out. For instance, Exodus tells us the names of three Israelite midwives, but not the name of the Pharaoh. There are a lot of stories hinted at behind the text. This is a piece of speculative fiction that guesses at what might have taken place behind the scenes of one of the most famous events of the Bible.


I Walked with Jesus

I was shaken awake to the worst day of my life. The room was still dark and for a moment, I wasn’t sure where I was. Then I remembered I was in Matthias’s house, and it was he that was shaking me.

“Cleopas, get up. They’ve…

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We Swiped Right on Monstr

I’m extremely late in posting this story, but better late than never. I actually wrote it last week, but I was in Seattle for a conference and didn’t get a chance to post it.

FF187 J Hardy Carroll

copyright J Hardy Carroll

“You’re a werewolf?” she asks.

“A wereman, actually.”

“So every month you turn into a . . . man?”

“A different kind of man. An accountant actually.” I blush. “Just a frenzy of budgets and data sheets.”

She looks pensive. “That’s cool. You could do contract work, do a month’s work in three days and rent an office on a per-day basis to save money.”

“Okay.” This is getting serious for a first date. “What about you? Your profile said you’re a succubus, right?”

Now she blushes. “Not exactly. I just exploit men’s useful abilities.”

“Oh. So you’re . . .”

She nods. “I’m a practibus.”

A Gift for Dad

It’s my dad’s birthday today and I don’t have a present for him. It doesn’t help that I’m currently three time zones away, although even that is better than the fourteen or so when I was in Korea.

It’s not totally my fault though. He’s very hard to buy things for. For one thing, he’s just so darned contented. He doesn’t need anything except his family and peace on earth and he’s already got one of those, and the other one is a little out of my price range.

I remember the first thing I ever bought him. I think it was for his birthday, but it might have been for Father’s Day. I don’t know how old I was, but probably around five. When you’re five, you don’t pick out a present and you definitely don’t buy it. It’s more a situation of your mom saying, “Here, this will be your present to Dad.” But when you’re a kid, from that moment on, it’s YOUR present to give, just as much as if you’d carved it out of the earth yourself.

I gave him a staple remover because Mom said he didn’t have one. It probably cost a dollar, especially considering this was in the 80s sometime. I remember him opening it, and I will always remember what he said, even though it was over 30 years ago. He said, “Do you know, for years I have been taking staples out with my thumbnail?” My little heart swelled with pride at that because I was helping Dad. I had given him something he needed.

staple remover

Pictured: a five-year-old’s idea of a good present

I’m not going to say that was the last good present I ever got him. I made him a glass chessboard once when I was a teenager that I think was pretty spiffy and once I made him a leather sheath for his scout knife. It’s always a bit of a challenge though to find that perfect gift, what the French probably don’t call le cadeau juste.

Don’t think I’m blaming him, however. The fact is, I’ve taken after him quite a bit in this regard. I’m pretty darned contented myself, as exasperated female members of my family might readily attest. But growing up, here’s what the list was, in terms of possible gifts:

  • Ties. At least I think so. I don’t actually remember getting Dad a tie, but I think it was always on the table as an option. At least he wore ties, which is more than I can say about myself, if I can at all avoid it.
  • Mugs. This was a great one because a person can always use mugs, especially if you drink coffee like my dad. Of course, after a while, there’s only so many cups of coffee you can drink simultaneously, and only so many people you can invite over for coffee, so this gift is not a sure thing. (Note: if you find you have too many mugs in your house, pick the ten you use least and put them in the back of a pickup truck and drive around on dirt roads for an hour. Throw away any that are chipped and your family will then have something to give you as a present again.)
  • T-shirts. We tried this, we really did. All through our teenage years we tried to make Dad cool. And he was cool, right up to the point when he invariably gave the T-shirts to one of my sisters, since he said the shirts looked better on them anyway.
  • Books. Not a bad idea, but if he’s anything like me, he could build a house with the books on his To-Read list. One with a breakfast nook that’s all non-fiction.
  • Tools. All guys need tools. This simple adage means that there are always gifts to buy someone. The problem is, beyond the basic tools, tools quickly get very complicated and very specialized. I prefer to get him knives and machetes and things like that, since that’s what I like. I like to give knives as presents to people right up to just before the point where a casual observer takes that person to be a serial killer, and Dad’s nowhere near that point yet.

Every now and then, I get some grand ideas for gifts for people that involve way more time and resources that I have. I would probably start with a drawing and end up five hours later with a plan to make a personalized movie featuring interpretative dance that symbolizes the passing of the seasons in Newfoundland. My planning process is often just a sine wave oscillating between flights of fancy and blunt realism.

interpretive dance - not really

This is unrelated, but it was the first result when I did a Google search for “interpretative dance Newfoundland seasons”

A lot of the problem is money too, because I’d love to buy him a canoe and a trip for two to France or Peru, or both, and maybe a self-shoveling driveway.

But, in lieu of all the things that I either can’t get you or you don’t need, I’ll give you this blog post, Dad, if only because I know no one else got you one and you don’t have one already (this does not include Facebook posts, I will note, since my sister writes devastatingly beautiful and poetic tributes to people on Facebook that always leave me feeling choked up and envious).

I love you Dad and I hope you have a wonderful birthday. Someday, perhaps, we will be in the same time zone and maybe even the same zip code and I can say it in person.


Tao Talk

Taotalk is a forum for the discussion of both the academic and pragmatic aspects of dao and Daoism, with participants expressing themselves on Daoist writings and pragmatics from their unique perspectives. It serves as a community for Daoists, and those interested in Daoism, to gather and talk dao.

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