Native Gods

“There is nothing left to win.”

“No, Rodrick. There is always something left to win.”

The town of Lambest nestled in the valley below was bustling tonight. Its citizens ate, slept, and made love fitfully beneath the light of their ever-torches.

“It’s not right,” Pluvius said, tugging at the tip of the beard which rested on his belly in time with each stressed syllable.

“Of course it isn’t right!”

“It’s never right.”

Rodrick shook his head. “Just say it, Pluve.”

“It’s not enough that they aren’t considered slaves. To be told you are free and to know you are free are two different things.”

Rodrick hesitated. “Pluvius. You can’t stop it.”

Silence.

“You know what they’ll do,” Pluvius said. “You know what they always do.”

“Pluve, why? These creatures, they’re barely sentient. They aren’t slaves anymore. Isn’t that enough?”

“No.”

“All right. So tell me. Tell me what we’re going to do.”

“We’re going to arm them.”

“You’re insane!”

“With knowledge, Rodrick. What do you think will happen?” Pluvius put a finger to the sky. “What’s going to happen when they come back?”

Rodrick shrugged.

“They’ll kill them. Or worse, re-enslave them. Is that what you want?”

“That isn’t what happens, Pluve. At worst, they’ll be relocated to another planet. That’s the way it always goes.”

“Yeah, relocated to the last planet that we pre-pillaged. We force our leftovers on them. Is this what we’re doomed to do? Again and again? Is that what we’re meant for? Walking over another race just for the supposed benefit of our own?”

“C’mon, Pluve. It’s not like they even know how to harness the planet’s resources.”

Pluvius smiled. “Not yet, my friend. Not yet.”

Rodrick’s eyes widened. “You can’t be serious. We’ll be burned alive.”

“That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

“Pluvius, I’m begging you. They’re barely sentient. Chattel.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Rod.” Pluvius smiled his best and most devilish grin. The uncertainty spreading over his friend’s face only made the grin widen. “We’re going to give them a fighting chance.”

Shapeshifting into two-legged lifeforms twice the size of the natives, Pluvius and Rodrick had no trouble convincing the locals they were gods. Then they went to work.

Teaching the primitive beings the secrets of tapping into their planet’s core was not an easy one. It took several lifetime’s worth of indigenous lifeforms just to finish creating the harvesting equipment. The refining equipment took twice as long. Rodrick eloped with one of the natives a few generations before the process was finished. A generation later, his wife surely departed, Rodrick did not return.

Pluvius found himself teaching the natives how to fashion not the weapons of war, not the tools of the conqueror, but good and useful things. The secrets of the ever-torch he imparted, and the earth-travelling disc, the hat of crystal rainbows, and stone oxen that would pull their plows every day and neither tire nor sweat.

Pluvius ruled them with a kindly heart and a firm fist. Crime faded into myth as the citizens thrived under their new god, and they created paradise with their new-found technology. Pluvius smiled each day as he awoke and he smiled himself into sleep each night.

To his surprise, and with the aid of the planet’s essence, they constructed new and original wonders. They made walking statues of alabaster as tall as twenty natives, equipped with spears like steeples that pierced the hearts of forest creatures again and again, until they returned with a kabob so full it could feed an army, had ever known armies. They made fountains of cackling essence that sparkled up to meet the stars, and they fashioned discs that could break the atmosphere, that they might meet the stars themselves one day, should the desire or need arise.

It was another two generations before the Intergalactic Conglomerate reappeared. Their last rock depleted, they had finally returned to claim the treasure they believed had remained buried.

Rodrick was at their side. He did not look into the face of his former friend as Pluvius was shackled. The natives were confused, and many were angry, but Pluvius told them in their scattered, chittering tongue not to be afraid as he was led away to the colonization craft.

“You’ve taught the mice how to reach out and touch the sky, Pluvius,” the Lord of Space and Time said in an amused tone. “And how do you respond to the charges against you?”

Pluvius smiled his best and most devilish grin. “I did it. I did it, didn’t I? Taught the little bastards everything. Your precious new planet is quite used, yes, nearly used up, I’m afraid. Now, will you let them be? Will you return to the stars and simply let them be?”

The Lord of Space and Time was quiet for a moment, then replied, “I’m afraid that is an impossibility, Pluvius. You never taught them how to kill. How do you expect them to survive? They will move to another planet once this one is drained, and they will die in the process.”

“I thought not, my Lord. No, I thought not. You will kill them, won’t you? You have to kill them. You can’t let the poor bastards live now, can you? Yes, have blood on your hands soon, will you? Will you?” Pluvius burst into laughter, a long and joyous laugh, the first laugh he’d had  in many, many generations.

-Bearshaman

The Burger King Over by Popeye’s in Suisun (First-Person Fooding in Solano)

For three weeks in a row I visited the Burger King in Suisun after I got out of class. Before that I had been frequenting the nearby Popeye’s for my post-night-class stomach fulfillment, but—as any fried chicken fan is likely to concede—Popeye’s has a real problem.

Fresh Popeye’s—spicy, not mild—is some of the best damn fried chicken you will ever come across. It’s flaky, flavorful, and the chicken is of a different world of quality than the crap the KFCs around here put out.

But Popeye’s isn’t perfect. No, I’m not referring to their overtly racist commercials, the fact that they condescendingly welcome you to the drive-thru with a “Welcome back to Popeye’s, may I take your order?” or even the MSG-laden mystery that is “The Cajun Sparkle.”

So what could my problem possibly be? Simply put, those two-for-a-buck-and-change drumsticks and thighs aren’t worth wasting the jaw effort over when they aren’t fresh. And the food techs over at Popeye’s don’t seem to care how damn long that chicken is left under the heat lamp. Eating at Popeye’s is a complete gamble: you could win and eat delicious fresh floured chicken, or lose and gnaw at some miserable rubbery bits for half-an-hour.

I had grown sick and tired of the Popeye’s lottery after a spectacularly bad set of Tuesday specials, so I decided to give the ole BK a go.

Now, what could have possibly possessed me to actually want to try Burger King again? This I do not know. It was getting late, and I think most of my other options in the area were closed down. Maybe I was feeling a piece of my youth burn back up to life again after being told by my writing mentor that I needed to “take more risks.”  Take more risks? Like what? Unprotected sex with strangers? Cosplaying Frogger and running across traffic on Peabody? Or even…even…

Eating at Burger King? I was already wondering if I had made the correct choice as I pulled into the very empty drive-thru. The soulless minion on the other end of the menu speaker at no point said the words “welcome back,” which was a good start. I panicked instead of asking for extra time, the way I always do. Don’t want to waste his time. Don’t want to be that guy, the one the order-taker rolls his eyes over as his manager snickers her commiseration before returning her attention to the heavy metal tray she’s scrubbing with some diluted antiseptic she can’t pronounce.

I ordered the Texas Whopper. Oh shit, Cherry Coke Zero? Better order one of those too. Oh man. Even if the food was garbage, something I was pretty much counting on, I would at least have a Cherry Coke Zero to comfort myself with.

He gave me the total and I pulled up to the second window. (He didn’t tell me to pull up to a specific window, but the first was blocked with boxes visibly stacked up against the window’s side.)

And there, at the second window, he was waiting.

He wasn’t your normal Burger McFlippant, Esq.

See, fast food, like most minimum wage drudgery around here, tends to wear your soul down. It’s a very gradual erosion, more of a chafing at the parts that make you you than anything else. It happens to everyone in any line of work where they’re expected to do more inane bullshit than they should have to for less money than they deserve—all in no time flat. You start the job a genuine human being, but eventually the caustic environment, the coworkers, the unrealistic expectations, and the unholy stress of it all gets to you. The numbers which translate your blood pressure into human values go up while the numbers translating your value to the corporation on your check stay the same or even start to go down—optimization, they calls it, trimming the fat, they say, restructuring the ole company, m’boi.

And so we see a scab begin to form over the soul. The scab wraps up the wound and prevents further damage. Robotification sets in. Beep boop. You begin to unconsciously slip into a comfortable rhythm at work, and while at first you are proud of this, it eventually begins to terrify you. The customers streaming in and out change their faces around, but they can’t fool you—they’re the exact same consumption-based beings that came in earlier. Then the faces of the coworkers change, but they’re still the same automatons that greeted you yesterday.

And before you know it, you’re the one who’s worked there the longest, and you look in the mirror, and you see the tiredness there, and you wonder at how the asymmetrical wrinkles that start on the work shirt you’re wearing today—which you just picked up off the floor and threw on at twenty-till—extend up past the collar and continue on all the way up to your receding hairline.

But this guy was different. Big, soft eyes like that skunk from Bambi. He didn’t want to say too much to me, or even riposte my friendly speech attempts when I tried to make the experience less miserable for the either of us. Perhaps a recent immigrant to the ole US of A? A man long-shamed by a stuttering problem his parents couldn’t fix at the best speech centers in the area? Mental illness a likely possibility. He didn’t make eye contact or even say three words to me on that first visit. I was instantly interested in his backstory, which I began to create in my head. Already he was becoming a character in the pages of the not-so-great American novel of my memory.

A few minutes later I was driving off,  a very warm and very expensive bag of burgers and fries on my passenger-side seat. I put my hand underneath the bag and reveled in the bursts of heat coming off of the unnecessarily warm food. I love unnecessarily warm food. Then I drove over to my buddy’s place and dug in.

Shockingly, it was the best Burger King of my life. The fries—allegedly “medium-sized,” but by what king’s measurements, pray tell—were better than the ole reliable fare McDonald’s pumps out, and very fresh. The frying oil probably wasn’t even two weeks old. The Whopper itself had a singular, lonely onion ring on it, and some jalapenos or something. Apparently, that makes it Texan. Yee-howdy. It was surprisingly tasty.

And the soda? Some of the best fountain swill I’ve ever had, no joke. Far superior to bottled Cherry Coke Zero, which has that strange plastic artificiality to it which hardly makes it suitable for good old-fashioned and excessive patriotic consumption.

My friend was also shocked by the results. Both of us had been previously burned by the extremely diverse interpretations of the word “quality” employed by each BK store. After the meal, my buddy and I vigorously discussed the merits of the mightily-fallen Chicken Tendercrisp sandwich. Wait, was it even on the menu anymore? All I’d seen advertised was the charred oblong patty-chunk of mechanically processed scrapings known as “The Original Chicken Sandwich.”

Truly, the world will be at a loss if indeed the Tendercrisp has gone the way of the dodo. When first introduced, this magnificent sandwich harkened back to the crumbier, breadier days of Chick Fil-A. Of course, neither of us had experienced a good, quality Tendercrisp in some time. The chicken was always overcooked or undercooked or maybe they just changed the recipe? Well, perhaps the loss will not be so profound.

When I returned the next week, my experience was roughly the same. However, this time, the young man of thoroughly indeterminate age—like some twenty-something wielder of both spatula and philosopher’s stone—was more talkative, much to my delight.

Under his breath he muttered the word “sheisty” no less than six times as he handed me my Cherry Coke Zero and tossed over my bag of food. He pointed to my drink and said, “Cherry Coke Zero.” I thanked him profusely and drove off, elated as I began to ruminate over the nature of his mumblings.

Who was being sheisty to him? Were they cutting his hours? Was he working overtime? Missing his family back in Liechtenstein? His story ballooned in my mind, and I filled in every blank with a Mad-Lib-like glee as I drove over to my pal’s house. I wasn’t sure of much, but one thing I did know—as the warm bag filled with muted, trademarked smells assured me—was that I would be seeing him next week.

Only, I didn’t. He wasn’t at the drive-thru window that third week. It was some girl—a professional burger slinger, too—and probably the manager. Had the company had too many complaints about his anti-social behavior? I grew despondent the moment I heard a female voice greet me, and as she took my card at the second window I sincerely began to hope that the food would not suck butt again the way Burger King typically does. Slowly, it began to dawn on me that I had begun to connect his presence with the decency of the Burger King I had been consuming. He was my good luck charm for thoroughly edible BK, and I’d lost him. Hopefully they hadn’t fired him.

Burger-Pro: Lady Edition mock-sheepishly informed me that the promotional 99-cent sauced slab of sawdust I had ordered was going to need a little extra time to cook, and that I would need to pull around to the other side of the restaurant and park. I agreed in proprietous fashion and pulled around to the side of the store—where I saw, through the window, the hero of our fable wiping down the day’s dine-in tables.

I longed to wave at him or shout my undying devotion to his tight-lipped acerbic brand of customer service, but I settled on a silent prayer of thanks to any gods who cared to listen as he picked up a rag and threw it across the store at the futuristic rocket-shaped drink dispenser.

He proceeded to unleash a string of harsh-looking words under his breath as he grabbed a broom. His practiced, methodical strokes across the floor revealed more of his character than his words ever would.

Eventually somebody placed a bag in his hand and pointed over at the weird guy in the even weirder economy Toyota outside. He picked up the bag, stomped through the door, and walked over to my car.

He handed me the bag. I told him thank you. He kind of nodded.

Then I went over to my friend’s and ate it and got some of the worst food poisoning of my life.

Fuck you, Burger King.

-Bearshaman

Slice a Hawaiian

“Hey kid, the fuck do you think you’re going? Yeah, you. The one pointing to himself and looking around all like, ‘He can’t possibly be talking about me, can he?’ Yeah. Where the hell you going, walking by me with a piping hot pan of, uh–”

“Canadian-bacon-pineapple pizza, sir.”

“Ah, yes–the Hawaiian. The hell don’t you just call it a Hawaiian pizza? Who the fuck orders a ‘canadian-bacon-pineapple’ pizza?”

“We already have a specialty pizza called The Hawaiian, sir.”

“You do? And let me guess–it’s got red onions and American bacon and some sweet-and-sour shit on it, and costs five bucks more than a real, honest Hawaiian.”

“Pretty much.”

“For fucking shame–uh–hey, where’s your nametag?”

“They haven’t given me one yet. I’m new. Name’s Shane.”

“Well, Shane. That’s some fucking bullshit. What kind of incompetent fuck doesn’t give nametags to his employees? He think you’re all just faceless drones or what?
“It’s a ‘she’, sir.”

“Oooooh, my bad. Hey, uh, between you and me–she hot?”

“She’s standing right over there behind the register. You tell me.”

“Wuh-hoah! Yikes. That’s a big negatory.”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get back to serving–“

“Okay, so serve me. There you were, walking right past me, holding a pan of Hawaiian–the real stuff–and you didn’t even stop to ask if I wanted a slice. I’m hurt, Shane.”

“But your plate’s full.”

“So? You think I’m gonna stop once I finish this plate or something? Just stack a slice on top that pepperoni-olive-sausage and you can go on your merry way.”

“Can’t, sir. It’s against–“

“No. No more of this ‘sir’ shit, Shane. I ain’t that fucking old. I ain’t gonna keel over mid-meal, grasping at the air with one hand and clutching at my heart or my throat with the other. Sir, ha! Name’s Johnny.”

“Well, Johnny–“

“Johnny Law.”

“Well, Johnny Law, as I was saying, it’s against company policy to give a customer a new slice if their plate’s full.”

“Hey Shane, this an all-you-can-eat joint, or what?”

“Tuesdays and Thursdays from five-to-eight, yes.”

“Holy shit, Shane. You pop a gear or something? You almost sounded human there.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I have to go–“

“No, don’t gimme that, Shane. You stacked a goddamn pepperoni pyramid for that girl at the table over by the jukebox. Don’t gimme that horseshit.”

“Sir–“
“Johnny! Johnny goddamn Law!”

“Johnny, she’s an employee on break. And I didn’t give her those slices. She grabbed them.”

“Playing favorites for the ladies, eh? Wanna hold on while I go to Tijuana and grow some rusty tits right quick? That what I gotta do to get a fucking slice a Hawaiian ’round here?”

“Tell you what, Johnny.”

“Listening.”

“You eat a piece–one of those six on your plate–and I’ll give you a slice of canadian-bacon-pineapple.”

“Okay, fair’s fair. Lemme just cut this piece here–”

“I’ve never seen a spoon used for that before. You know, there’s a fork and knife over there next to your plate, sir.”

“Your point, kiddo? Knives are the tools of serial killers and forks are for people who can’t find their way around a goddamn spoon.”

“Huh.”

“Spoon’s a versatile tool. You can’t eat soup with a fork or a knife, but you can eat a salad with a spoon.”

“What about sporks?”

“Don’t gimme no goddamn lip. This ain’t fucking Taco Bell.”

“Okay, sir. Here’s your slice.”

“I ain’t finished this slice yet!”

“The pizza’s getting cold. I don’t want to disappoint other customers who love candian-bacon–“

“Christ alive, Shane. Don’t you fucking dare. You say that awkward shit one more time and I swear I will fucking show you why you don’t want to see me pick up a goddamn knife.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Fuck you, kiddo. Say it. It’s a delicioso motherfucking Hawaiian pizza you’re carrying. Say it or so help me, with Brando as my witness I will make your ribcage an offer it can’t refuse.”

“Okay, Johnny.”

“Yeah? What’s the pizza, Shane?”

“Canadian-bacon-pineapple.”

———————————————

Wrote this for a contest which spontaneously decided not to exist one day after I wrote a piece specifically for it which used the phrase “I’ve never seen a spoon used for that before” as per contest requirements. Ah well, I still dig it. Maybe they meant November of next year for the deadline?

-Bearshaman

Some Rambling on Writing

Chatterdank7

You know that whole thing about writing every day and how everybody should do it?

I’m not sure I really agree with that. I mean, I’m sure it works for some people.

But I tend to think it’s more like muscle training: occasionally, you have to give it a rest. If you don’t, your muscles don’t recover properly and your progress doesn’t properly get saved.

Not to say that I wouldn’t love to be able to write something I could fall in love with every day of my life.

Another big factor in my experience is inspiration. If you don’t experience life, you can’t write about it. You can’t glean the glimmers if you never stumble upon them.

Not to mention there’s that whole being able to achieve a proper flow state thing. The key to unlocking a flow state at will seems to be squirreling itself into new hiding places around my brain each time I think I’ve got a firm grip on it.

In other news, I’m reading Redshirts right now and it’s hella good. My first Scalzi book.

Anyhow, done rambling.

Have a continually and increasingly groovy day!

-Bearshaman

Truespeed Press

Truespeed Press Logo

Just finished up an anthology for my Wednesday night class. Ended up doing all the heavy lifting/editing/formatting/everything, so I decided to make a logo to stick on the back of the book.

And I think it’s pretty neat. Makes me want to finally start my own lit mag.

So, yeah. Might do that this summer, time depending and such.

In other news, I will definitely be adding a sub-site dedicated strictly to gaming, so keep an eye out for Bearshaman Gaming to arrive any day now. It will largely be reviews and reflections on classic video games and classic gaming with lots of lame humor and will also very likely contain unhealthy amounts of nostalgia.

I need a damn nap. Not just a nap–a damn one.

Anyhow, have a continually and increasingly groovy day!

-Bearshaman

Alternate Bio 8

Brook is a student in college by day and an unwitting angel of the homeless by night. Although she remembers her action as dreams, it is in fact she who is the legendary Whispered One, providing what small comforts she can to the homeless across America beneath her preferred cloak of darkness. The vagrants that rise in the morning with fluffed-up pillows under their heads where only cold concrete was when they drifted off murmur small prayers of thanks to her upon waking.

And woe be unto the bored sociopath teen who seeks to harm her charges–for not all angels are always cherubic.

-Bearshaman

Suisun Valley Review 2015 Release Reading Emcee Opening Monologue

A Sermon on the Importance of Creating Things

Hello.

Art. Visual art. The written word.

Creativity.

Someone might hear these words all their life and not once find that they conjure up: images of Cordelia, with its thing for pleasant breezes; or West Texas street in Fairfield, begging to be eaten up and down and across its mom-and-pop food joints; or the hills and adjacent lagoon in Vacaville, all locked up under that unforgiving heat; or the way the sea itself finds an almost-domestication against the waterfronts of Suisun and Vallejo.

Most people hear the word creativity and they probably think of Berkeley, Davis, San Francisco, Saramento, Portland, or some other major city and art hub. And who could blame them? Those places are well-known for a reason.

But, judging by this room today, I’d say we’re giving people reason to think a little closer.

If you’re here, that means one of a few things: you create things, you want to create things, or your English teacher made attendance mandatory.

Whatever the reason, we hope you enjoy the events of the next hour or so, as we celebrate the written word and visual art today, with the release of this (book).

Thirty-two issues. SVR is old—officially older than three-quarters of its editors.

And that is a beautiful problem to have, isn’t it?

See, SVR is not a required class. It’s optional. Sure, it counts towards an English degree, should you want it to, but it’s not English 1 or anything.

The continuing existence of SVR today—as well as Solano’s English program, its creative writing program, its visual arts programs, theater, music, and Club Floetry—is fervent testimony that creativity is far from dead at Solano.

And that’s a good thing.

Because the world has always been a terrifying place. Wars, famine, natural disasters, slavery, and especially hatred have always had their unwelcome places at humanity’s table:

and for some reason, they still do.

The mixed blessing that is the incorporation of the internet into every aspect of our reality has only lengthened the distance that has always existed between humans.

But the way this world is might be the single most important reason that everyone must continue to create.

For it is through creation that we as humans continually discover not only who we are, but who others are, and maybe even glean a little insight as to what the hell is up with this crazy world we live in.

There is comfort in creation. Sure, it’s a masochistic kind of comfort, but it still counts. Putting the right words in the right order, or the feeling of friction you get when you slide a burnt piece of wood across a blank eighteen by twenty-four page—things like that are magic.

And that makes you a wizard.

But seriously, the urge to create is a beautiful burden. Don’t resist it.

And it doesn’t matter what your job title is. You are not defined by your job.

You are defined by who you really are and what you make.

You could align yourself with an ancient legacy of warmongers, pain-for-profit capitalists, and politicians.

Or, you could choose to create, and align yourself with the legacy of Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Picasso, The Brontes, Wolf, Chekhov, Chandler, Cheever, Carver. Duvall. Schmitz.

It is your responsibility now to put a smile on the face of the cynical archaeologist who will one day unearth your remains. You can restore their faith in humanity.

Thank you.

-Bearshaman