Archive for April 18th, 2011

Hecate on Toast

I sat in on one of Inez’s creative writing classes this afternoon. The class began with a ten-minute free-writing exercise, and Inez gave everyone in the class except me the choice of two writing prompts based on story titles of mine (“Moonlight on the Carpet” and “Teaching the Pig to Sing”). Most of the students chose “Moonlight on the Carpet” and most of those who chose to read them out loud produced creepy stories very much like my own of that title. Most of those who chose “Teaching the Pig to Sing” had a story that involved a literal pig, unlike my own.

I also participated, but rather than give me my own titles Inez gave me a choice of two of hers: “Easy A” or “Hecate on Toast.” Here’s what I wrote:

Hecate on Toast

Hecate was on my toast again.

“Why does a Greek god keep appearing on my toast?” I asked her.

The face imprinted on the bread turned to me, dark and light swirls moving impossibly across the warm and crumbly surface. “It is a message from the Fates,” she said. Her voice was warm and buttery, as you’d expect.

“Yes, but what message?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged, one perfectly-turned shoulder coming briefly into view above the lower crust. “I’m just the messenger. You know how the Fates are.”

“Sadly, yes.” I looked out over the quad, at the smoking hole from last week’s dragon strike. The Fates had decreed that one too, and the administration was still trying to get bids on the repairs. “I wish they’d be a little less capricious, is all I’m saying.”

“It’s in their nature.”

“Yeah, like the scorpion who stung the frog while crossing the river. But the scorpion died! Sometimes obeying your nature is not the best thing to do.”

“He could have waited until he got to the other shore before stinging the frog. Then he would have obeyed his nature and still gotten across the river alive.”

Was this snarky comment a message from the Fates as well? Could it apply to my life in some way? I popped open the calendar on my phone and checked the coming week. I had two exorcisms to perform, a protective spell to cast, and I’d booked out all of Wednesday to freshen up the wards on the girls’ dorm. None of these seemed amenable to obeying, or not obeying, my nature.

Just then a whang echoed across the room. Startled, I looked up to see an albatross — a mighty seabird bigger than a turkey with a ten-foot wingspan, staggering on the windowsill and shaking its beaky head in stunned confusion. “Who put that there?” it said.

A talking albatross was surely another sign from the Fates. I opened the window and let the stunned albatross flop onto the carpet below. “The window? It’s been there for years. Surely there’s some reason — some deep, significant reason closely connected to your ineffable, most secret nature — that you happened to run into it just now?”

“Well… it could have something to do with the fact that I’m an ensorceled sailor.”

I stared, as stunned as any window-smacked albatross. “Leon?”

The albatross stared back. “Oswald?”

“What are the odds!” I cried, and embraced my long-lost brother. His feathers were greasy and he smelled of fish. “Where have you been these past seven years?”

“Oh, you know… hanging out on the waves, snatching fish, ogling the lady albatrosses… the usual. You?”

“I’m in maintenance now.” I gestured out the window. “Every spell on this campus needs constant upkeep, and I’m the guy.”

“Shouldn’t there be a spell to keep low-flying birds from smacking into your classroom windows?”

“Yeah,” said Hecate from the toast. Her voice, still buttery, had gone cold. “Shouldn’t there be?”

Suddenly I realized what had been nagging me for weeks — ever since Hecate had appeared on my toast for the first time. I’d neglected an entire class of protective spell. It was, perhaps, in my nature to do so. What else might be happening because of that?

Just then the skies split open and one of the Fates descended into the quad, its four pairs of wings raising a tremendous wind. “Package for Oswald,” it said, and handed me a lightning-girt parcel.

This wasn’t going to be good.

But you can see it from here

So here I am at Buena Vista University (which, by the way, they pronounce “byoona” rather than “bwayna”… apparently this has something to do with the Spanish-American War) in Storm Lake, Iowa. BVU is small and in the middle of nowhere but very well endowed; the campus is saturated with wifi and every student gets a laptop and, this year, an iPad as well. Walking past students’ screens at breakfast, I see: Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, Microsoft Word, Facebook. The school also makes up for its location with an extensive travel program. Most students travel somewhere like New York each year, and my host Inez is going to Korea. And, of course, they paid to bring me out here to speak.

Nonetheless, it is the middle of Iowa. The coffee I got this morning was so pale and weak I literally thought I’d gotten tea by accident. I mean, if there were text on the bottom of the cup you would have had no difficulty reading it. Inez took me out for Mexican last night; it was actually quite good, but as we were preparing to leave the gal at the next table asked me what I’d had. “Arroz con pollo,” I said. She blinked and asked me what that was in English.

The school mascot is the beaver, which apparently most of the visiting lecturers find hilarious. As I’m from Oregon, the Beaver State, it’s not funny but it is a bit distracting.

I got a lot of writing done on the plane yesterday: 1684 words for the day, total of 5363. Just the siege and aftermath to go. Unfortunately, the editor asked for 3000-5000 words, so once I’m done I’ll have some cutting to do. More writing this morning, as I don’t have any obligations today until lunchtime.

And that’s the news from Storm Lake, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the students are jesus christ, was I ever that young?