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I’m continuing to rewrite trigger fiction stories and post them here because I don’t know what else to do with them. This one hasn’t changed much, but it was one of my favorites from the early-going of trigger fiction.


Marco awkwardly sat down across the table from his brother. They hadn’t spoken in three years, and before arriving he wasn’t sure his brother would even show up, but here they were. He set the bottle on the table between the two of them before nervously adjusting the sleeves of the shirt that poked out from beneath his sweater.

This was a date that had been set for some time. Their father had left them little when he died, but for one remarkable thing: a bottle of 1947 Château Cheval Blanc. It is one of the rarest and most valuable wines in the world, praised by many as the greatest wine ever bottled.

Since he’d left it to both of them, they’d decided that on the ten year anniversary of their father’s death, they would get together and share the bottle, just the two of them. They picked a restaurant they hoped would survive the ten years, even picked a time.

Much had happened since then. That was before the betrayals and infidelities, before the words that couldn’t be taken back, before the screaming match the finally resulted in Freddie storming out the door and out of Marco’s life for the last three years.

There had been no contact. Not a single phone call or email, no birthday cards or messages through a friend. It had been complete silence.

So, Marco didn’t know whether or not to expect Freddie to show. Marco had the bottle of wine, and while he warred with himself for the last few months, he had decided to honor the memory of their father and keep the date they’d made ten years earlier.

When Marco arrived, Freddie was already there, seated at what had been their regular table. As Marco sat down across from Freddie, he was surprised. He’d expected that upon seeing his brother the anger of past hurts would flare up again, but instead he felt only sadness. He didn’t realize how much he’d missed Freddie’s face until this moment. He blinked back tears before Freddie might notice the moisture and nodded to his brother.

There were a few moments of awkward silence, neither being sure what to say after all this time. Freddie’s face was unreadable, Marco couldn’t tell if his brother’s was feeling hatred or remorse, or something else altogether.

Marco called the waiter over to uncork their bottle, and they waited in silence for the wine to breathe. Time passed slowly, and each stared awkwardly at the table, their silverware, other diners, anywhere but at each other. It was agony. They ordered food and ate in silence, waiting for the wine to be ready, not wanting to rush the bottle while also wishing to be anywhere else in the world.

“Well, shall we?” As Marco spoke, his voice cracked from so long in silence.

Freddie just nodded.

Marco poured them each a glass, slid one across the table to Freddie and took his own.

Freddie raised his glass, “To Papa.”

It took Marco a moment before he could respond, it was the first he’d heard Freddie’s voice in so long and he felt the sadness return. “To Papa.”

Marco sipped the wine. His eyelids closed as his eyes rolled back into his head involuntarily. Nothing could have prepared him for the overwhelming beauty he was tasting. It was otherworldly. Full and strong and smooth, lacking any hint of acid or harshness. It tasted divine, miraculous. He took another sip, drawing in more this time.

So many flavors sang in harmony on Marco’s tongue. Chocolate and caramel, earth and leather, pepper and… was that mint? It was overwhelming. Marco looked across the table, Freddie seemed to be experiencing much the same thing. He returned Marco’s stare, their eyes met for the first time before Freddie looked down at his glass. Yet, before their brief gaze broke Marco was sure he saw a smirk on Freddie’s face. Not just any smirk, that trademark Freddie smirk that always meant he was trying to keep from laughing. It was the face he wore when he was trying and failing miserably to keep a straight face while lying.

Freddie held his glass up to the light, stared for a moment, and then turned his face back to Marco. “Holy shit, man.” He smiled for a moment, then both men burst into laughter. They laughed until they cried, and when they finally stopped each man knew that not all of the tears were from the laughter. There were nuances of other feelings in that moment, relief and intimacy and love and thankfulness. Some of the anger stayed on the tongue as well, but tempered as it was by all these other flavors it took on a new character.

Marco took another long taste of the wine. He was amazed how varied the flavor of wine can be, full of so many things. A moment and a vintage are alike in that each has the ability to take on flavor from its surroundings, from its aging, from its care, and still each has the power to surprise.

Marco marveled at how this strange process of death and fermentation and rest can create flavors of spice and sweetness, fruit and candy and chocolate, can draw in the nuance of the earth and the sunshine that nurtured the grapes, and can give off a taste of beauty and redemption, salvation and reconciliation.

He took the bottle, and poured them each another glass.

The end

fragile things. [books.]

If you read this blog regularly, then you’ve probably guessed I’m a sucker for an imagination that intrigues me. The reason I can’t get enough of folks like Guillermo del Toro, C.S. Lewis, Susanna Clarke, J.K. Rowling, Alan Moore or Hayao Miyazaki, is because their imaginations are so rich and beautiful. Their ability to dream up new worlds, creatures, and magics don’t provide mere escapism, they actually help us deal with, understand, and engage our world better. In their stories, we can learn to ask better questions. Their curiosity, which manifests in fantastical worlds of wonder and adventure, can stimulate our own curiosity, that is, if we are looking closely. I love so many imaginations, and I am so happy that our ability to share information at this point in history means I can enter into their dreamworlds with the turn of a page or the click of a few computer keys.

Yet, of all the creators whose imaginations stoke my own fires of curiosity and wonder, there is one who stands above the rest. Mr. Neil Gaiman, writer of so very many wonderful things, including The Sandman graphic novels, Coraline, Stardust, American Gods,and MirrorMask.

Gaiman’s work is dark and beautiful, most often a macabre dance between death and redemption, horror and joy, all the time helping the reader discover that these things are never opposites or enemies, but siblings, or even lovers. At times, his work is adults only, while much of his work is actually “children’s literature.” Yet, the themes and questions that seem to fascinate Gaiman remain consistent throughout, and he has a masterful grasp on the reality that, when written well, children’s literature can be as meaningful and formative for adults as for kids. Gaiman understands his craft well, not just using story toward powerful ends, but also writing about story, and how storytelling changes both the storyteller and the hearer/reader in profound and mysterious ways.

If you’ve never read Gaiman, his collection of short stories, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
probably wouldn’t be a bad place to start. I just finished it last week, and at the end of each story or poem, I would be physically unable to put the book down. I simply had to move on to the next offering.

Sherlock Holmes, the Harlequin, teenage alien tourists, some sort of zombie/vampire hybrid, sabertooth tigers, hell, ghost kids, and a world in which fantasy and reality is reversed… this book has it all. Part of me wants to start a book club just to go through this book, to ruminate over all the brilliant moments and hold all the ideas and questions up to the light.

If you are in the mood for some wonderfully dark and imaginative storytelling, then you should most definitely give this book a try.

The end

world war z. [the as yet untitled book posts.]

I just finished World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It was hugely entertaining! Written by Max Brooks, son of legends Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, the work is obviously modeled after Studs Terkel’s The Good War: An Oral History of World War II. The book is a series of “interviews” done by a UN researcher ten years after humanity’s victory in the Zombie War.

Clearly, there is a great risk that the book will be pure genre blood and gore with little or no compelling narrative, or it could become so tongue and cheek that it loses all meaning. Brooks manages to avoid both of those potential pitfalls, creating a really engaging read. It is in turns hilarious and moving and there is real humanity to be found within the gore.

Brooks did some amazing research, and thus his narrative is tight. WWZ works really well as an imaginative exercise in how actual global socioeconomic and political realities would shape a real zombie apocalypse. Brooks also does a great job keeping his zombies consistent. Often, a book like this can grow to have too many moving parts and the zombies would manifest whatever traits needed for the story at a given moment. This happens constantly in film, television and fiction. Brooks seemed to set a clear physiology of his zombies first, did loads of research about various nations, economies and governments of the world, and then imagined what would happen if Z-Day were to arrive.

Each of his interviewees, from scattered locales all over the world, told stories that felt like genuine fragments of the larger story he had created outside of our view. Brooks did the work so well that many reviewers have favorably compared it Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Much of what Brooks did worked as a skewering of bureaucracy, militarism and institutions, showing how each was practically organized to fail at any attempts to prevent letting the zombie outbreak turning into a worldwide apocalypse. The fact that he never left the ground level, always letting the characters truly tell their own stories, was what kept it from feeling like there was an agenda.

If I would make a critique it would be that there were times where characters seemed to lose an individual voice, instead sounding more like Brooks himself. This was especially true in that all of his true heroes shared his disregard for faith of any kind, something that would simply be impossible in the actual religious make-up of the world, thus it comes across as a short-sighted misunderstanding of the reality that not all people of faith are extremist Muslim terrorists and lunatic Pat Robertsons or Glenn Becks. Most likely, as it has been for every single calamity in world history, faith would be a part of the problem and a part of the solution in responding to WWZ. Yet, as I write that, understand that this is a tiny critique of a book which truly was a genuine pleasure to read.

The zombie genre can be quite a bit of fun, and this book would be a great introduction for those interested in entering the zombie milieu. It is a remarkably unique sub-genre in which we can explore our fears of the end of the world, can wrestle with the reality that when the world ends it will probably be humanity that pulls down our own curtain, and where we can engage in a hodgepodge of other fun little mental games. I could go on talking about how much I love the zombie genre for a while, so I will end that conversation here… for now.

This book is a fast, engaging read, and I recommend it to all you great folks out there in the internets.

The end

jonathan strange & mr. norrell.

So, one of our semi-regular posts here on Roused to Mediocrity will be centered on books we love. The posts will include books we’ve just read for the first time, or books that we read when we were twelve. The criteria is that they are the sort of book that we simply need to recommend to everyone who will listen.

My assumption is that for my part, fiction will make up the bulk of my recommendations. That is because, as those who know me can attest, for my money there is nothing that beats stories. Stories are sacred and redemptive, they teach us about who we are. When we hold them up to the light we don’t just learn about the characters in the tale, or the author, we learn about ourselves, about what it means to be human. See, there I go rambling about story when this post is about something else entirely!

Thus far, we have yet to come up with a clever moniker for said posts, and we would love the help of you out there in internet land. What should we call these posts?

The first post fits right in with my prediction, but you didn’t really think that I was going to blog about something else after making a claim like the one above, did you? Anyway, on with the post!

Normally, on a day when I finish a book I am quickly on to another. That is never a reflection on the story, or how much I enjoyed said book. Most often I simply can’t wait to sink my teeth into page one of another tale. The most significant exception I can recall was quite recently, after finishing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

After finishing the story’s final page I was so hesitant to leave behind the world of alternate history and characters Clarke had created that I actually spent two days deciding whether or not I would start a new book or simply relive the delightful pages with Strange and Norrell again.

Books simply don’t get better than this. It was wonderfully British, subtle and nuanced, consistently hilarious, in short, it was utterly brilliant. Filled with beauty and wonder, darkness and tragedy, and for all its false history it is filled with people who have the depth, faults and authentic frailty of each of us. I quite honestly wished that when I had finished the 850 pages that there were 1000 more at least.

Clarke’s tone of narration was perfect for making the idea utterly believable that, during the Napoleonic War, London saw the reintroduction of magic into everyday life. The alternate world of the story was just like our own, aside from the fact that everyone was well aware of the existence of magic and faeries (and as a side note, faeries in this story are not miniature girls with wings, they are tall, attractive, wildly dangerous and unpredictable creatures of both genders, for whom magic comes as easily as breathing). Clarke tells a tale which feels at every moment appropriately outlandish while at the same time entirely plausible and commonplace.

I loved all the characters. Each had a depth that wasn’t exaggerated, but felt quiet and real. When someone tells us a story in real life, they rarely go out of their way to point out the emotional complexity of the story’s subjects, that is simply present for those who desire to read between the lines. Such is the case for characters like Jonathan and Arabella Strange, Gilbert Norrell, Childermass, Stephen Black, Lord Wellington, the gentleman with thistle-down hair, and even the absent yet always central character of John Uskglass.

Each character wooed my affection, not in spite of their foibles and weaknesses, but because of them. It was in large part their weakness that made them feel so authentic. They held grudges to the point of absurdity, the two main protagonists were fueled by arrogance and fear as often (or more often) as courage and clarity. They were all terrible at communicating, to their own peril. However, it is never in the absurd Lost sort of bad communication that works as a shorthand (read: lazy) way of keeping the plot a mystery (Kate: Sayeed, what’s wrong?!? Sayeed: We are all going to die if you don’t stand on your head whistle the theme song to Hawaii 5-0. [Characters walk off into the jungle, and, end scene] Viewer: Ah, I see, that is the end of the conversation. Not, “Why, Sayeed?” or “What is going to kill us?” or “Why would that help?” or “Take 5 minutes and tell me the short version of what’s going on.” We’ll just leave it at, OK, that vague, mysterious and nonsensical answer works for me, away we go.)

In Clarke’s book the poor communication happened in the way that we are all often terrible at communicating in real life, when a simple uncomfortable conversation might clear everything up but we avoid the tension and vulnerability, where we are unwilling to face the necessary relinquishing of our pride. It is a world where we let misunderstanding hang in the air because we cannot bring ourselves to make the sacrifices necessary for a needed conversation to take place.

Since reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell I’ve also loved the hell out of Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is a book of short stories, each taking place in the same alternate history as the novel.

I hope it isn’t long before Clarke unleashes her slightly dark and entirely brilliant imagination on the world with a new book.

The end