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Moving to DreamWidth
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Here is my new account: https://fodschwazzle.dreamwidth.org/

I'll be moving here completely after all of my journals carry over.

Eulogy for a Tree
Sandy hole

The morning before our option vote, a culmination of many years of work, a nightmare brought me back.

I dreamt that I was five again, the night a tree’s branches erupted through the floor of our bedroom in the middle of the night. I remember that I was pushed upward before the tile caved in through an expanding thicket of leaves. My mother and father tried to grab me before I fell down three stories through a snarl of pipes, maple limbs, and other apartments, but they were on the other side of the foliage. We were living on the sixth floor of an apartment and a man had died in his sleep on the fourth floor.

It was amazing that everyone survived that night--I could still remember the sound of twigs scratching at the ceiling until the growing stopped before it could penetrate the next floor.

My mother had told me before that night about how people changed on death. I knew that because we were poor, we had to live in taller buildings while others could be closer to the ground for their own safety. I knew that the maple trees that would sometimes interrupt the middle of the road were once people. I knew that hospitals were sprawling single-story networks with immediate access to the outside, regardless of the room, but I never really appreciated why until I was about to be crushed against the ceiling of my home by a tangling mass of once human limbs.

When I woke up, sweat curling around my chin, I felt chilled by the sunlight coming through the window. Somehow I understood, even then, that it would be my last day knowing your husband.


Outside the gate and a floor down, a mob hissed at our window. They had been there all week and had grown in number and aggression. “Protect the Change,” a sign read, featuring a real picture of a severed human maple’s stump with the prohibition sign on it in red. It was one of the kinder slogans. Another said “Murder for Money” and had a picture of Doris Geats next to her cut stump, linking her case with our Option Coalition even though that happened five years before us. Worse still, one sign read “Cut Him Down” with a human maple’s growth rings replaced by an image of the head of my boss, Paulson Branner.

“They’re not moving,” Paul muttered, startling me as I peered out through the blinds.

“Of course they’re not! They know we’re getting a vote. Did you see what happened with Jean last night? They almost changed him!” I argued.

“Killed him, you mean. Can you make sure that he’s taken care of? Like, does his family have enough money to pay for the medical bills? I’ll write a letter to send home to him later.”

“Write the letter tomorrow. I don’t want to see you changed.” Paul started to shake his head, grinning slightly like he did the first day we had a protest. “You could leave through the emergency escape on the side. We could turn on the lights on out front and distract them long enough to let you go.”

“You’re going to go first. Do exactly what you’ve said you would do for me--it’s a good idea, but it’ll only work once, and you’ll have to move quickly after you get out. I’m going to stay and watch the results of the option vote.”

“Those people outside aren’t like the protestors anymore, Paul. They hurt our own! They’re killers now!”

Paul looked at me, sighed, and sat on the corner of his desk. “You’re using their words, Abby. We’ve worked hard to make sure that people have an option in changing or dying. I want to know, right here at the desk I’ve worked at for eight years, whether we’ve made a reality out of being able to choose how our remains are used.”

Trees are sacred! People are sacred! Branner must go! Some idiot had gotten a microphone hooked up to speakers and was using it to have the crowd shout and drown out all other sounds.

I was watching them out the window when Paul tapped on my shoulder. When I turned to look at him, his eyes were narrowed. “I’ve scheduled all doors in the building to be automatically locked in ten minutes. If you don’t leave, you’re stuck here. No one is going to hurt me once that happens, but I’m not leaving until the vote is over. The police will keep an eye on the outside and put it down the moment someone tries to get over the fence.”

“What will you do if I stay?” I asked.

“I’ll fire you,” Paul said with a grimace.

“Wouldn’t want that. You wouldn’t know what to do with a yes vote if you fired me. It’s not over when we win the right to an option--we’ve got to implement it.”

“I know. I’m working on it.”

I wished him good night and then checked every door on the way out just to make sure the building didn’t have the digital lock disabled like it normally would be. Having even two people in a building with the lock on is a serious code violation, so we would normally leave it alone.

It was dark, so I managed to get out through the tree escape reasonably well and coded out at the gate before the mob noticed me. I was in my car and driving away when a brick glanced off of my rear door. By the time I had reached home, the Congress still had not voted on our plan. Too many men were dragging it out by talking about the importance of divine will as manifested by roots--the usual drawling monologue we were accustomed to getting but this time done by our nation’s leaders.

Turning the light on in my driveway, I looked at the gouge caused by the brick. I figured I would sleep poorly knowing that someone who had meant to change me with it was still waiting outside the gate at the Option Coalition, waiting to inflict divine will at any moment.


I dedicated my life to not having to relive the night my family nearly died when I was five. I helped design networked wristwatches that could perform survival reporting for cheap so that almost everyone could have some choice in how much damage their changing inflicted upon their family or house or other families--habitation care, done traditionally in a scenic, open space, would no longer need to be a choice available to only those with constant health exams and doting family members.

I never expected how much resistance I would get. I starting receiving death threats at age 24, two weeks after I announced a prototype. Just moving a body away from a place where its skin could start rooting and sprouting was considered to be a breach of a holy prerogative. I guessed that most of the concerns came from people who could live in single story houses, where rebuilding around a tree was a feasible option. Most probably had never seen it happen--how jarringly brisk a human could transform into his or her own kind of building-shredding maple tree.

Paul Branner saw me on the news after they interviewed me about the death threats and helped fund my research until we sold the idea to our government for distribution. It was then that he approached me with the idea that people should be able to choose whether their own tree continues to stand after they change and how that lumber is used. Only then did I really appreciate how traditional I was in my own thinking. I was appalled by the idea for half a year before he managed to talk me into it.

Couldn’t discern why he was so dedicated to the option idea, though. He was not very communicative about himself and his background. All I really knew about him was that he was inexorably devoted to the people he worked with and the values he held. He was the best boss I ever had.


It was hard to tell how he had died. Half of the facility was burnt to a crisp, but it hadn’t reached him before emergency water systems shut down the flame and the fire department had arrived. His watch, which was stranded high amongst his branches with much of the rest of his soaked clothes, stated that his change happened at just after midnight, which police officers noted was about twenty minutes after several individuals broke free and crossed the gate, and about five minutes after the fire started. The door locks were disarmed, but it was impossible to tell when that happened.

When they were willing to let me survey the items retrieved from the scene, they gave me a letter he had written to me that night. Part of it was a substantial check he cut for Jean Lawson, who was physically attacked by the protesters the night before Paul died.

I hope you will spare me from reciting it out loud for you. It was a lot of legalese, mostly. Paul knew that his death was imminent and wrote out a will pre-empting the martyrdom that he knew it would bring. When they received word that the firm backing the option proposal had lost its leader in the middle of the night due to violence, the congressional vote swayed hard in our favor--and Paul became the first adopter of the right to choose what to do with his own remains.

I want you to know that even though Paul was never more than a colleague for me, his passion for what he did edified my mind and spirit and helped me do what I needed to do. His reasoning surpassed my understanding until I read his will and came to find your treeless marker on this hill overlooking the ocean.

He wanted me to say all of this because I was the person who knew him best after you perished. He never believed in a purely afterlife-through-growth concept because he lost you to a fire before you had a chance to grow into your own human maple. He rebuked the linear thinking of everyone around him because you were always around him, a silt carried by the air. On the chance that you can hear these words as you are, I want you to know that I will carry on his legacy for him as he moves forward to be with you.

He hopes that as I burn the ashes of his lumber here, that he has a chance to mingle with your ash in the breeze, or find you at the bottom of the sea, or become fertile ground for a new tree together.

As he transitions from the face supporting all of my goals to the coarse vertical ridges of this bark I now toss into the fire, may you know him again as a fine dust on whatever wind you now inhabit. May he find you wherever you roam and may you find respite together.

Not Getting to Carnegie Hall
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I write songs sometimes. I do this slightly less frequently than I write stories, and I do both with a fledgling sense of good form. In both cases, I have only been creating for the last two years. I accept that I am a novice and firmly believe that I can improve if I set aside time to do so.

I fantasize that one day I could have my songs played in a concert. I would probably start crying pridefully the moment the conductor raised the baton. Music has always been the first medium of expression to hit me in the soft, squishy chambers of my heart, and hearing a tuba bellow out a harmony line, no matter how critical I’d been of it while writing, would melt me completely. Accepting that I can occasionally plug notes onto sheet music and actually like what I'm hearing enough to listen to it hundreds of times fills me with joy.

Except this one. This one I wrote just because I had to unclog something in my brain before I could move on to other things. This is a godawful song. Don’t listen to it.

If I had to conceptualize what this song is about, I would guess that it’s probably a coronation song for a king that is also a bigoted pig. I giggled incessantly while creating it.


I played my trumpet throughout middle school and high school--improvising solos during jazz band performances probably gave me the most capability to write a song largely by ear without really grasping chord structure or whether the instruments I gave parts for a song would even be physically capable of playing it if they tried.

I have another, stronger influence, however, that I have not disclosed while writing for this competition even though nearly all of my early pieces were derived from it. I love video games. I was born only four years after the Nintendo was released, and the blippy-blip sounds and pixelated worlds of that 8-bit system and the 16-bit Super Nintendo that followed formed the axis around which my childhood turned. I moved constantly, so characters from video games were often more consistent than friends.

My songs are also derived from games. I grew up worshipping Nobuo Uematsu, the creator of music from the Final Fantasy series. I will not claim that my songs sound like his, but when I make something that I think sounds decent, it’s Uematsu’s work that frames what sounds decent to me in the first place.

And now, a confession: every story I’ve written with the tag “Deathless” as part of LJ Idol, starting back in Season 9, was written as a part of a sandbox-style game world I eventually hope to create. Writing into that template helped me start with short stories when I had no other experience doing so--it felt safer to create for something that already had a big picture, especially when none of the stories reveal the whole shape of that world.

no title

Deathless is an artificial world created for the last remnants of the human race following an apocalyptic event, which also ended the capability of death in all organic forms. Rather than dying when significant trauma is incurred, life bounces back a little stranger than it was before. It’s like when Mario stomps on a Goomba in Super Mario--will the same creature be there the next time and move the same way just to receive the same fate? Many of story concepts of the Deathless world are twists on commonalities gamers essentially expect in what they play.

For example, the sun itself never moves in the stories, just like how certain areas of games are designed to have the same fixed lighting effect perpetually. In Deathless, whoever relocated the few survivors to this world also gave them a fake sun. People utterly lost the capability of determining time by the angle or absence of the sun, so they’ve created other methods.

The point of mentioning this is that Deathless has hit a kind of phase two. I am now writing songs for areas or moments from that world.

This song, which I originally titled “Frazzle” because I just name songs after whatever initially comes to mind, is based on a moment from this story:
From Ashes

The moment occurs right after the last story break, when Lillian uses what powers she has gained to raid Vaust’s retention facility for the women of the town. The game idea would be that the player character would be able to assist in this event as well, working together with Lillian to become an unstoppable natural force and liberate Vaust’s women from sexual oppression and manual labor.


A place that nearly has a song for it is Coburntown. Three stories happen in or around Coburntown--it’s a place that has spurned knowledge whereas Vaust has spurned creation. Each town in the world has some essential virtue lacking and a shrine that needs to be cleansed in order to mend the respective town. These two pieces best reflect that problem for Coburntown in particular.
Death's Demesne

The song I’m working on is unfinished. The start is way too rough for my liking--I was trying to do something other than a succession of adding new instruments in every four measures until a whole piece emerged, but it feels too abrupt right now. The melody line has been stuck in my head for the last three weeks intermittently, and it doesn’t adequately convey the danger that willful ignorance represents, especially when Coburntown’s elected leaders encourage it openly. As one the two largest cities in the world, there is a bustle and almost a marching pace to the song that seems to work, so I could fold in a bridge that changes the tune to reveal or imply more of what is going on under the surface.

I don’t know how to do that. Here is what I have so far, rough and misshapen though it is.

The pictured creature is my cat, Basil, who is now a long cat of about twenty pounds. I posted his kitten picture to the song because there was a time when music did not upset him so much that he needed to bury his face in my armpit just to block it out. Also, I used a picture of my cat because I don't have graphics or gameplay footage to show. Phase Three and Four are a long way off.


If Deathless only turns out to be a springboard for other concepts, it’s a success because it let me start creating in a way that made me feel safe, with support from folks such as this LJ Idol community who lavish praise on even fledgling efforts from new writers.

I don’t need to produce work to see it performed by Yo-Yo Ma or published for a massive audience. For now, right now, this is enough of a stage.

Executive Session
Sandy hole

A lot of folks like to make judgments. Someone told me that 90% of what we know about a person happens at first glance, without speaking. I’m no saint, but that always seemed to me a cop-out, an excuse for poor behavior.

We’ve heard and talked a lot of fuss about the MacDonalds’ front yard. I know what you folks are thinking. It’s a mess. You’re not wrong. There are Lego pieces strewn all over the dead grass, they’ve got a broken chain dangling from a tree over a water-filled tire swing, and part of their front railing is rotted and falling down where one of their boys crashed into it while playing catch. They’ve got one of those inflatable snowmen deflated on their lawn like he’s lurking until next winter, which is unconvincing since he was never inflated this winter.

I realize that I’m new to the Board, but shouldn’t we send a fee or a notice at least before taking further action? It’s not like we can really know a book by its front. We don’t know for sure what is going on in their house just by walking past their driveway. Let’s not be rash by acting on assumptions.

Honestly, the ones with carefully shaved grass, especially when no trimmings are left behind, and walkways that always get shoveled within a couple of minutes of a blizzard come across as belonging to folks who perhaps care a little too much. Margaret, your porch swing makes a familiar squeak and has a floral pattern on the seat that looks like anyone’s adorable grandma could own it. Gerry, your petunias are immaculate, and your snapdragons are so impossibly perfect that their little petals nearly make me cry every time I walk past with my dogs. Richard, your doormat actually says “Welcome!” and your doorbell literally makes a ding-dong sound. If any homes merit suspicion, you folks sure look like you’ve got something to hide.

No, I’m joking. Of course I’m joking. I know it doesn’t usually look like I’m joking when I am. My wife always tells me to smile more.

In seriousness, aren’t we overlooking something? Yes, I know we’re not permitted to discuss it. I read the bylaws and my own contract, but it does seem a double standard that we’d be willing to discuss calling DHS and foreclosing on the MacDonalds while ignoring the nondescript white house at 224 Murray Street.

No, I’m not joking now. This is serious. I don’t even like walking my dogs past it because as soon as we get to the mouth of the driveway, I hear the distant cry of an baby. When I turn my head to look, I always see a lone, cobblestone road carving a twisted path up a dark mountain through cracks of lightning and torrential downpour, winding up to a summit wreathed in flame, where sits a colossal, celestial infant with gleaming eyes and a contemptuous scowl, and it speaks in guttural chords beneath the register of men, “Woe unto thee if thou wouldst obstruct My Succor!” before the image fades, and I find myself huddled in the fetal position, weeping on the sidewalk.

I’m not sure that’s a shared experience--just making an observation about one of our neighbors. I mean, I get it if the Board doesn’t decide to make an action item for 224 Murray Street. It just seems like, you know, the elephant in the room. It's not like it happens every time I walk my dogs past, just once every couple of weeks.

Was that time? Is my time up? Thank you.

Sandy hole

Robbie knew that he was stuck after he said yes.

By the time he was escorted into a room with three other varsity players and forced to lie prone on a cement basement floor with his pants and underwear at his knees, it was far too late to go back. After one wearing rubber gloves like Robbie’s dad used to clean dishes shoved a needle into Robbie’s right butt cheek and then poured whiskey over the puncture, choosing to do football cleanly was almost a triviality. If he stuck with the plan, nothing would be more humiliating than this--they only used his butt for the shot for the first time to make Robbie prove that he was committed.

No more hours and months at the school gym for gains that couldn’t be measured. More time to keep up grades and more time to have friends if you’re not always needing to lift just to stay competitive--arguments like these were icing, though, because Robbie craved power and the appearance of innate talent. Robbie wanted to be a “natural” and knew that he could only achieve it by doing something unnatural.


I asked the specter which one of the seven magic bullets would send my spirit to hell, and he laughed and said, “The seventh one!”

If I’d listened to my soul then, I would have known that it was always incremental. Now that I hold the seventh in my hand, I know that I could fire my gun anywhere in the world, and the bullet would carve the air and break clouds just to pass through a keyhole and puncture my lover’s heart. It doesn’t even need to be the magic bullet anymore--anything fired from my gun will do it.

It was simple enough the first time. There was a dragon and a hand in marriage for the one that slew it. I already loved Agna from afar, but maybe I didn’t love her enough to show my brave face once I met the dragon on a mountain top outside of town. I had a magic bullet in my gun, and the beast still pinned me against a stone with its clawed hand and cackled as its talons closed in on my shoulders and torso. I don’t remember pulling the trigger on the gun that was pressed across my chest, but the beast took a shot to the side of its face and tumbled to a ledge beneath me. The deafness and the smoke rising from my barrel informed me that I had been the one to shoot even though the trajectory of the bullet was impossible.

No one else was around to claim the kill.

I soon realized that I was damned from the beginning. I’m no murderer, but after her father reneged on the deal and told me that I could not have what was mine because I was low-born, I thought of him while shooting a hart for the weekly hunt. I killed the hart and found no trace of the bullet because it had left the forest entirely. Funeral processions were already begun for the old man by the time I returned home, finding Agna weeping over his body as it entered the pyre.

I hope someone can learn from this letter. I went on to kill four more people: her mother, my own father, a man who also loved her and dared to keep looking at her even after we were betrothed, and a judge that started to question the order of these events. My own habits and beliefs damned me before I ever accepted that deal with the spirit for these bullets. I think I deserve everything, and that’s why I’ll be left with nothing. I act on impulse, and that’s why my gun will fire a seventh time no matter what I do to circumvent that fate.

The only thing I can do to provide any relief from this fate whatsoever is to push the barrel of the gun against my own head now and coerce it into claiming me too. Maybe it will decide then that my life is enough. Maybe this was really the purpose of the seventh bullet since the start.


Past college days and athleticism itself, Robbie tried to drop it. He had managed, through great effort, to reduce his usage. He felt frail and sickly whenever he tried to reduce, losing track of days spent lying on the floor of his bathroom just to have easy access to a toilet.

Robbie always looked at the injections as a solitary curse, started in secret and finished in secret. He often realized that he was still trying to prove a kind of strength by not speaking to a physician about any of his problems. Even the man who gave him the injections knew that he was losing a client and encouraged him to see a doctor.

Regardless, Robbie would stand over his trash can with the last injection in his supply clutched in his hand and unable to let go. Or some nights he would toss it in and take it all the way to the dumpster before ripping open the bag again and pulling it out, hands trembling and breath faltering with the weight of his dependency.

Rejoining Idol
Sandy hole
I also want to be shorter and deadlier, so I am rejoining Idol at this juncture. Piece for current prompt is underway.

I'm In
Sandy hole

I'm so in. Lemme at this Idol thing again.


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