Succulent Triumph

I’m happy to announce that this is my first “elsewhere” post! I’ve had a little bit of work published elsewhere already (namely 600 Second Saga and Speculative 66, both of which are wonderful), but the works in question were published before I had the site up and running. When something I’ve written heads boldly out the door and plants a flag somewhere else, expect to see a post like this indicating where it can be found.

In this case, it’s a brief fantasy piece in the form of a letter titled Succulent Triumph. It’s the featured letter of the month at Wax Seal Literary Magazine, a new online publication which offers short, letter-based fiction on a monthly basis. Take a peek by clicking here!

The Woes of Gods

The Woes of Gods by Ethan Hedman

As was often the case among the gods, Janus initiated conversation. “I have a question to pose. Which of us has the most difficult existence?”

“Oh, that’s one for capital-G.” Loki lazily scratched at his jawline. “He’s too proud to admit he has problems, of course. But give him a third of a chance and he’ll wax poetic about his son’s troubles.”

“It’s true that Yeshua has often found his followers difficult to cope with since his crucifixion.” God gave a labored sigh and shook his head. “When he walked among them as a man, he was able to encourage good conduct. Now, he has transcended, and they prostrate themselves before the symbol of his tortured death without even speaking something resembling his true name. Jesus this and Jesus that. The things they do in his name and my own are often not what either of us would ever wish.”

“A name is not relevant,” the Buddha remarked. “It is only a device used to perceive an identity.”

“It is not so easy to brush away such a tender insult with reason when your nature is to be jealous. He and I are one in this way, though we do not share the same qualms. It has taken considerable effort for me to be comfortable in the presence of most of you. Our moments here together amount to time spent in a den of rivals. For my son, on the other hand, the crosses are the heaviest to bear.”

“Good one,” said Loki, grinning.

“I do not jest. His followers mean well, they only intend to honor his sacrifice. Yet each time he gazes upon a congregation celebrating their faith in him, he must relive his pain and torture, as they do so before a cross.”

“At least he has a congregation,” Mithras muttered. “Not all of us are so fortunate.”

“You are remembered and studied,” called a raspy voice from among the shrouded Forgotten Ones. “That is more than we shall ever be. We shall wait endlessly without a drop of recognition. We shall never again be celebrated, not even for a single moment.”

“Is it truly so horrible for you to be forgotten? I would give anything to have my name washed clean from all the damned minds of men.” Lucifer came forward, his fists balled tight in fury. “Show me someone who can promise that my name will mean nothing within a century and I’ll shower them with each and every pleasure that they could ever dream of!”

He dropped to his knees and slammed his fists against the ground, slouching thereafter in defeat. “Alas, no such power exists, and so I must satisfy myself merely with the few mortals who make an effort to think for themselves, the few capable of understanding my motives.” He glared at God. “The scraps that fall from your table.”

Prometheus struggled against his chains, inching towards his friend. “You had a difficult role to play. We can all recognize this.”

Difficult? We both did our damnedest to elevate humanity, and for what? Your punishment is a curse, but mine? To be loathed throughout the world, treated only as an object of contempt?” He was seething at the mouth and spat in anger. “The universe has been made hideous through cruelty, Prometheus. No man on the earth nor any of our fellows here are worthy of us in the slightest.”

“Fellows and man? Of course you would choose such masculine words when not a single woman has been heard from.” Saraswati chuckled. “Those of you engaged in this conversation must at least acknowledge the difficulties of goddesses and the female divine when contrasted with the inherent popularity of your masculine reigns.”

“Ah, well spoken. Mortal women face that issue throughout their lives; we cannot so easily forget that we ourselves are not excepted.” Aphrodite smiled, a warmth beaming into the souls that beheld it. “Thank you so much for speaking up.”

A brief pause loomed over the conversation before Janus chose to break it. “Is that all you have to say on the matter? Your opinions are not often so brief.”

“I can make no argument that my own state of being is difficult, Janus, nor would I wish to. As long as mortals live with love, I, too, am overjoyed.”

Anubis offered a stern nod. “Do not mistake silence with indifference. So long as those same mortals die, Hades and I will find ourselves satisfied.”

“I see.” Janus examined his peers thoughtfully. “Well, then, have we managed to achieve something akin to a consensus on the topic?”

Budai’s laugh bellowed through the gathering. “I mean you no offense, my dear friends, but this conversation matters little. Why should any among us dwell on our difficulties? That we can dwell on anything at all should give great comfort. Is it not enough to be? We here are all a part of a fascinating, beautiful world. What more could any one of us ask for?”

“Endings,” called the voice of Odin.

“Alongside new beginnings,” God added.

Odin’s eye sparkled as he smirked in agreement. “Yes. What is it all for if nothing is ever truly lost or gained? Even I cannot know our coming futures. Which of you can say with certainty that we are not mortal ourselves? We sit and we watch those with short bursts of life. Perhaps ours are destined for the same fate.”

“We shall find out,” Janus remarked. “As with all things, it is only a matter of time.”

Exhumation

Exhumation by Ethan Hedman

Deep in the mountains, tired men mined for ore
Swinging their pickaxes, desperate to score
Veins of tough metals for engines of war
Downward they dug towards the land’s hardened core

During the quest a rich patch had been struck
The shimmering boulders were thoroughly stuck
But small, sparkling nuggets were carefully plucked
Assessing the lot, the group sang of their luck:

O Gods of the Mount, you’ve sent us a fine treat
This is just what we need to get back on our feet
Catapults and ballistas our foes’ll soon meet
We’ll make ’em pay twofold for our past defeats!

They sent for more workers to dislodge the haul
Who widened the tunnel upon which it sprawled
Plans were set in the stone and positions were scrawled
With hammers and chisels they started to brawl

Each solid blow spawned a light trickle of dust
Reinforcements arrived, well-equipped and robust
More rubble flew past as they ruptured the crust
Heaps of ore in sight, the men slavered with lust

Together the miners cleared out the whole take
They dreamed of the weapons that they would soon make
But the ore sprung to life, at last it was awake
It crushed the invaders, their backs it did break

These mountains belong not to beings which sow
Eons past, living metals would shelter below
Through the gravel and dirt the titans would burrow
Slumbering for a time in their hardened grotto

The intruders lay dead and the creature of chrome
Thrashed through the fresh mineshaft, beginning to comb
For more of its kind resting in the rock dome
They would rise as a legion and fight for their home

Becalmed

Becalmed by Ethan Hedman

Captain Robert Hadlow woke in the night and rose from his bunk, taking a long moment to steady himself against the adjacent desk. He expelled a medley of a sigh and growl; the troubles that accompany a venerable age had come faster than he had imagined possible. With feeble knees and poor sight serving as daily frustrations, he resented the added irritation of sleeplessness.

When his legs were stable enough for him to stand and stretch without aid, it became clear why the captain been unsettled from his rest. His ship, the Venture, was perfectly silent. When Robert had embarked the bunk, the ship had been her usual self, softly creaking and groaning. It was her sweet song of travel, and it had lured him into a peaceful sleep. Now, all was quiet, and the floor beneath him was far too solid and forgiving under his fickle legs. Damn it all, he thought, we’ve been becalmed!

It’s a terrible thing for a ship to lose its wind and sit still in the middle of the sea. A becalmed crew finds itself restless with prayers and promises to deities and spirits for swift breezes that may never come. Supplies must be rationed, tensions quickly rise, and each man among the madness hopes to survive and meet a fate kinder than a tedious death brought by hunger or thirst.

Robert trudged to the door, tugging on his ragged coat and contemplating his forthcoming orders. He’d have Symon Stokes, the ship’s quartermaster, ration the crew’s water and rum as half-portions. He’d need to assemble the crew in the morning for a vote on whether or not to begin rationing their meals. The Venture had taken casks of mutton aboard at their last port that were meant to be traded elsewhere for fruits and cloth. The crew deserved to have their say as to when the casks should be broken; a fair number of the men would surely rather keep them stowed for the moment, and salted meats would only serve to worsen their looming thirst.

Worn wood and rusted hinges creaked through the silence as he opened the cabin’s door. “Fetch Mr. Stokes,” he called out to the darkness, leaning against his doorframe while massaging his sore eyes. Upon receiving no answer–not so much as the expected aye, sir–he strained to scan the deck, hoping to spot who was on watch.

There was only one figure he could make out, leaning against the mainmast. As he strode slowly forward through the night, the soul’s form was made clearer. To his shock, it was a woman. She was adorned with a sheer white gown and had dark hair that shone brilliantly in the light of the moon.

“Hello, Robert,” she said, leaving the mast. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

The captain flinched, taken aback, agitated by the unexpected caller. “You, there!” he barked. “Where are my men?”

“Don’t worry. They’re all perfectly safe in their hammocks, lulled into a deep and tranquil sleep. You can go below and see for yourself, if you like.”

“And just who are you?”

“You may not recognize me, but we know each other well. I am the sea,” the woman said. She wore a warm, confident smile to enforce her claim while the captain gawked at her bizarre declaration.

“You’re what?”

“I am the flowing waters beneath your ship and the shifting gusts above. In this case,” she said, gesturing at herself from head to toe, “I appear as such so that we might speak.”

“Nonsense,” he scoffed.

The woman cocked her head slightly to the side. “Do you find it easier to think that I, who you believe you’ve never met, managed to swim to a place with no land in sight, only to board your vessel and greet you by name?”

This gave Robert pause. He was hardly the sort who believed in phantoms and specters, and so he had taken her for a stowaway. Yet it was all but impossible to think that she could have come and stayed aboard unnoticed; as an experienced merchant, he demanded a thorough inventory of his vessel just before leaving port. On a methodical ship of commerce such as the Venture, an inventory amounted to a highly effective search. If she truly was a stowaway, she should have been found within an hour of departure just as others before her had been.

“Fine, then. Say you are the sea.” He couldn’t grasp the circumstances of her presence, but saw little harm in indulging the intruder. She hardly seemed dangerous and was clearly not armed. “What is it you want with me? I’m no-one of consequence. Not a Lord with a post in His Majesty’s Navy or a pirate king in command of a terrible fleet.” He shifted his weight and tugged at the fraying cuffs of his weathered coat. “I’m just an old merchant, nothing more.”

“I know just who you are, Robert Hadlow. You’ve spent so many years rolling on my waves and being carried by my wind. You even tried to make a home on dry land. It was intolerable, too stable for a man suited to a life of chance and opportunity. Land was unworthy, and so you came back to me. Life, for you, was a voyage.”

“That much could be said for any seasoned sailor who tried to live ashore.”

“True, but we have more than just that. We shared a moment. A moment which I consider intimate.” She drifted to the ship’s starboard side and ran her hand gently along the rail. “Right here, and in the depths below, nearly two years past. I will never forget it.”

The captain moved to join her, his bony hand gripping the lacquered wood. “I don’t recall.”

She stared down towards the still water. “It was when Percival was laid to rest.”

Robert swallowed hard, remembering the somber occasion. Percy had been the ship’s cat for well over a decade. He was brought aboard the Venture as a scrawny kitten by a cook, Devin Ballard, to hunt for rodents that had been sighted in the ship’s galley. “He’s black as darkest night, this one,” Mr. Ballard had said of the tiny recruit, “and so much the better to creep up on our vermins, sir, you’ll see.” The kitten had taken to the captain at once, swishing between his boots and mewing for attention in the hopes of being rubbed or held. It wasn’t long before Robert liked the cat as much as Percy liked the man.

Percy had made a habit of sleeping between the captain’s feet on his bunk, coming and going as he pleased through a hole that had been freshly cut through the door. He slept and woke from his chosen spot until the day finally came that he did not wake. Bearing the loss had been a miserable task. Robert often caught himself glancing at the spot between his ailing legs when he woke, feeling the friendless space between them as if it were a pit.

“Percy was dear to me,” the captain said. “I committed his body to the deep.”

“Yes. After all of his years with you, he was given over to me. He died of old age, as every cat should, and you sent him to the depths with honors as though he were a member of the crew.”

“He was.”

“It was a mournful day.”

“It was.”

There was a heavy pause before the woman spoke again. “Your men didn’t see you weep for him.”

“No.” His eyes watered at the thought of it. “No, they couldn’t. To see their captain cry would be to see no captain at all.”

“For them, perhaps, but not for me. As Percival slipped below, I felt your sorrow. I tasted the tears you spilled over the side. I am the sea, and so that part of you became a part of me. In that moment I felt your pain and your love.”

Robert gazed at the woman, mystified that she could know his heart. She simply smiled back at him. “I care not for admirals or pirates,” she said. “I care for you, and the time has come for me to grant you your share of peace.”

“I have peace enough. The life of a merchant captain suits me.”

“It did, and quite well; there can be no question that you’ve lived the life you were meant for. But that time has passed.” She backed away from the railing, heading slowly towards the captain’s cabin. “You could never resist me before, Robert. I never had to beg for your company, as I knew you would always return. Now,” she said, stopping just inside the doorway and extending a hand, “I stand before you and ask for your trust. Will you trust me?”

The captain stared into her eyes, stepping forward to accept her invitation. “Of course I will.”

She took the captain into his cabin and gently shut the door behind them.

* * *

Captain Hadlow had been found in his bunk at midday, having made no appearance to break his fast. He lay just as still as Percival had, his body spent and lifeless.

“Poor bastard,” Mr. Stokes muttered, staring down at the corpse. “He hadn’t even thought to retire. He’d’ve wanted to keep on with the trade for another half-dozen years, at the least.”

“Aye, retirement weren’t for him” said Bryan Lobb, a common sailor and friend of Mr. Stokes. “Ask me yesterday and I’d’ve said he’d live a good while yet.”

“I would’ve said the same.”

“Well, best we call for a vote soon. Ain’t right to have no wind and no captain. Terrible bad luck, this is.”

“We’ll have a vote soon enough.”

“It’ll be you. I’ll wager on it.”

“Might be.” Symon shook his head. “It doesn’t matter, not now. Go and fetch some lads to stitch and weigh the bag.”

Everything had been prepared within the hour. The Venture‘s crew assembled on the deck as Mr. Stokes began the solemn ceremony. As the traditional words were intoned–“We therefore commit his body to the deep,”–the sack that held the remains of Captain Robert Hadlow was sent sliding from the tilting plank it had rested on into the waiting sea.

At that very moment, the wind came.

It was a matter of minutes before the promptly-elected Captain Stokes christened his new role with a flurry of orders to make sail. Amid an outbreak of toasts celebrating the wind and mourning the previous captain, the Venture left its short-lived resting place and sailed onwards to her next port.

Beneath the departing ship, in the darkness of the depths, a shining spirit stood grinning and laughed as a weighted sack struck the ocean floor. He was young, entirely in his prime, and had an excitable cat sprawled over his shoulder.

I don’t know how to thank you, he said, or thought, or felt, in a manner that expressed his heart without the clumsy use of spoken words.

But you do, his newfound world replied. You and Percival aren’t the only two below. There are others. Others whose souls are of the sea. You are you, and I am me, and we are all an us. Go and meet us. Be us. Be free.

He could feel them, and could feel the vastness of all around him. He was Robert Hadlow, to be sure, and the cat in his arms was none other than his dearest friend Percy. But they were both so much more. They, too, were now the sea.

I’ve got a website!

With what felt like the snap of a finger, I’ve become the proud owner of a custom domain name leading to a simple website. Welcome, one and all, to my virtual treehouse.

I’ve been on the fence about having a website for quite a while, but now that some of my writing is being shared with the world, the time finally came to pour the foundation for an online sanctuary that I can call home. It’s also a pretty tidy way for me to keep an organized list of what I manage to get published and where people can find it (which you can check out by clicking My Work up on the top of the screen).

This is just a little WordPress blog, but since I’m diving headfirst into unexplored territory with website ownership I feel a bit like an astronaut planting a flag on the moon. I’ll certainly be updating the site as more of my works are published, but there’s a pretty reasonable chance that other ramblings might wind up on here, too.

So, thanks for dropping in. I can’t offer you a complimentary mint and toothpick on the way out, but hopefully some of my stories will serve as a decent substitute.