Archive for short stories

Saffron and Brimstone [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2015 by xi'an

I cannot really remember how I came across this book, when selecting Amazon (free) books to collect from Andrew on my last trip to New York… (Thanks to ‘Og readers!) Presumably the name popped out of a list of recommended books. The cover was intriguing enough to stop by and to spot that the author was Elizabeth Hand, whose horror/fantasy trilogy I had liked very much in the late 80’s… So I ordered the book and brought it back from New York. Only to realise that this was an altogether different Elizabeth Hand, whose book Available Dark I had read a little while ago. And did not like so much. However, since the book is a collection of short and less short stories, I gave it a try.

As it happens, this Saffron and Brimstone truly is a great collection of short stories, fantastic in a completely different frame than those of the fantasy books I usually review here. It is a fantastic that borders reality, sometimes hardly fantastic, but with a constant feeling of something being not fully natural, not completely normal. The subtitle of “strange stories” is quite pertinent, as the feeling of strangeness hits the reader (or this reader) almost instantaneously from the beginning of each story. I enjoyed all of the eight stories for different reasons, from a reminiscence of an “Alfred Hitchcock presents” short story called the Cocoon that terrified me [as a pre-teen] when I read it late at night!, to variations around Greek myths that brings them beautifully into the modern era. And always with a central female character who brings another degree of strangeness and surreality to the tale.  I do not think it matters the least that those novels are or are not fantasy or fantastic. They are simply gems of contemporary literature. Superb. (Which makes the rather unexceptional Available Dark the more inexplicable!)

thumbleweed news [short story poll]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2013 by xi'an

Although I alas received only three submissions (#a, #b, and #c), following my call for thumb-related short stories, I may as well go and have a poll (for two weeks) as to which one was most appreciated by ‘Og’s readers… (I just noticed you cannot put links within the poll answers, most annoyingly!)

thumbleweed news [short story #c]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on October 1, 2013 by xi'an

Following the previous thumbleweed news, here is a third short story, called #c for the time being. There are a few days left for those who want to contribute to this series!

X woke up with a terrible hang over. Thinking of last night performance, he was proud himself. He is an equilibrist and has been lucky enough to perform at the biggest collaborative circus show in France. He has never seen so many talented and attractive people performing together and this is what he has been dreaming about. 

X was about to get a cup of water and noticed that his right thumb was gone and, wrapped. ‘This must be a horrible dream.’ he thought. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. He tried to remember what happened but all he could remember were some brief moments. After the show, there was a big party to celebrate the last performance. He had a great time till Tim started a fight again. Tim (a lion tamer) was always jealous of X’s talent. Tim got aggressive and threatened X with his lions. ‘His lion took my thumb?’ X got so furious at Tim then, he remembered the moment with Bella. Bella has been working on a hand disappearing magic. Yes, he was drunken enough to volunteer himself for her working magic. She brought an axe to pretend cut his hand. ‘So… my thumb got cut for real?’ He should’ve took Jimmy’s advice, ‘Never volunteer yourself to working magic.’ Last night Jimmy was too busy impressing Liz who was very popular and snobby. X was keen on Liz’s friend, Cloe, secretively. One moment, all of them were sitting at the same table and Liz whispered X that Cloe fascinated a snake show very much. Luckily (?) a group of Indian magicians was sitting at the next table. Yes, he remembered reaching out himself to those snakes for one simple purpose. 

‘My thumb must be beaten and poisoned?’ 

He got confused with these slices of memory and none of them gave him clear reason why he lost his thumb. He got out of his room and found Jimmy and Kev. 

Both looked at X worried. “How are you feeling? We were so afraid that we might lose you. You’ve been in a bed for four days.” Jimmy said. The most surprising question was asked by Kev, “So, what happened, X? How did you end up in the 5th district?” When a milkman found X next morning in the 5th district, his thumb was brutally smashed and even his bone. When he was brought to a surgeon, there was no other option except cutting his thumb. They talked to everyone and tried to find any clue. No one seems to know exactly what happened that night rather most of them couldn’t remember. 

After that, X, Jimmy and Kev traveled around countryside and performed together. After a year and half, that night seemed to be almost forgotten till one morning X read a small article. It was about the new invention of a punch press machine and there was a photo of an inventor, Cloe, smiling beautifully. One of feature caught his eyes, ‘Warning : The maximum pressure is enough to crush human hand.‘

thumbleweed [local] news

Posted in Kids, Mountains, University life with tags , , , , , , on September 15, 2013 by xi'an

Most likely one of the last thumbleweed posts. This one just to mention the marginalia that I have now gone back to the climbing gym, along with my daughter, and that we both managed to climb (apparently) without any injury. Obviously, we have both lost our earlier climbing abilities and are down by about three (French) grades but I am very glad we could and can make it, looking forward to improving our climbing skills back to earlier standards… Or whatever level I can reasonably reach with enough training. (And remember the deadline for submitting the short stories by the end of the month!)

thumbleweed news [short story #b]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on August 3, 2013 by xi'an

Following the previous thumbleweed news, here is a second short story, called… #b for the time being, that sounds more on a realistic plane than #a:

The din was deafening, literally deafening. One hundred and ten kids, drunk on sun, sea and the urge to enjoy a last and final day of freedom together before returning to their respective families after this too short summer camp. As it happened, the dining hall was a large barn with high ceiling, white walls and thin roofs, storing heat and noise like no other place in those hot summer days. The shouts and conversations were rising like so many waves, only to break against the next shouts and conversations. But this did not prevent the kids from eating whatever fell in their plate. Or in their neighbours’! They had cleaned dry the bones of the mackerels I had spent the whole afternoon gutting and cleaning after a fisherman showed up with a basket of leftovers from the morning market. And there was not a single slice remaining from the potatoes I had peeled and cut over the morning. I had already refilled the bread baskets once  and now they wanted more, to get with the salad bowls I had just dropped on the tables…

Getting back to the camp kitchen was a relief from both the heat and the noise. Its heavy stone walls were protection enough and the oven were cold as we had cooked the mackerels on grills outside. More cleaning to do later, though. The poor lighting due to narrow and dusty windows helped in this feeling of relative coolness. I dropped my baskets on a table and looked around: fortunately there was enough bread left in the scullery and I took several loaves next to the manual bread slicer. I had grown expert over the past weeks at working the slicer with high efficiency, pushing the break with one hand while quickly pumping the handle and the blade with the other. This was my only recipe at the moment to prevent a riot in the dinner hall! Anyway, I did not want to see any one and especially no kid near this machine. 

I had already filled two baskets and I looked at the third one as the loaf was steadily disappearing under the blade. I was actually much closed to its end than I thought and pushed my thumb through the gap with the rest of the loaf. It all happened so quickly that in the heat of the moment I first fail to notice anything was wrong. Only when the bread slices came out crimson did I realise I had cut myself. I nonetheless had to look at my hand to see the bleeding stump and understand my thumb was gone. I could see it lying there in the crumb collector under the machine, not much distinguishable from a bread piece in the uncertain light. The cut had been sharp and instantaneous, thanks to the weight of the blade, so sharp that I was not in pain but just stunned and shocked, unable to move or speak or act in any coherent way, staring at this impossible transformation of my hand. However, my body defences quickly took over and I soon fainted on the kitchen cool floor. Before the pain really hit.

When I woke up, staring at the wooden ceiling and its cobwebs, I tried to resist the unavoidable reality, to block sound and feeling and mind away in a world where nothing had happened, in another plane where the floor and the thumb were far below me, in another structure with no pain but only the sounds of the waves breaking on the rocks outside the house and of the gulls calling one another in the evening light. I could not stay there long enough and came back to my floor to realise the main cook had wrapped the stump in a clean white cloth, then put ice cubes around. I could not see the thumb any longer. The kitchen was still quiet and cool, with the cook holding my head against her knees with her other hand. Someone had clearly gone to call emergency for an ambulance came to take me to the hospital a few minutes later. I left the camp unobserved by the kids: the din from the hall had not abated a bit.

To this day, a basket of bread slices never fail to wake in me the memory of this hot and intense noise that reverberated from the hall roofs. Never the memory of a bread slicer, surprisingly…