Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

That’s a picture of me thinking, Oh no, is this story even working? Ah!

Here is another installation of Snell. I’d love to hear some feedback from you guys—is it all making sense? Do you like it? Are the characters consistent? Do you like it? Do you like it?

Ha.

Also, I dreamed last night—again—that I was signed up for Marine Biology next semester. This is the second time I’ve had that dream, and I woke up more stressed out than I do when I dream about getting devoured by hot pink velociraptors. Marine Biology? Really? Why brain, why?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On my first day of work at Boys Ranch of the Appalachians, I discovered that for basically my entire life, the books have been lying to me.

In my time, I have read quite a lot of these. Books, I mean. If I had five dollars for every book I had ever read, then Mom would have never even needed to write Hans the Great and we would be living in a palace in Rome being fed grapes by godlike Italian men and none of this would have ever even happened. For the sake of my education, Mom had even hired a team of metaphorical Clydesdales to drag me clawing and scratching and biting through some of the classics, an experience I had yet to fully recover from.

I had read fantasy books with covers sporting mostly naked women carrying swords in the middle of a forest and science fiction books displaying mostly naked women carrying laserguns in the middle of a spaceship. I’d read historical fiction, historical nonfiction, steampunk, cyberpunk, realistic fiction, realistic nonfiction, nonrealistic ish-fiction—you get the picture. I simply loved to read.

But for all the smörgåsbord of literary delicacies that I had sampled, I had noticed something which, in my new life in the bustling metropolis of Meat Camp, was glaringly and inexcusably misrepresented in almost every case.

Horsemanship.

Don’t get me wrong. I like horses. They can’t talk. They don’t make me act in awkward and blazingly home-schooler ways. They don’t care if you look like the unholy offspring of Sasquatch and Frankenstein’s monster because you just rolled out of bed. Their noses are really soft, and they mostly do what you tell them to. Unless they’re a stallion and there’s a hot mare around, but I won’t even get into that.

But being a stable boy—let me just tell you, there is absolutely nothing you can glorify about that, no matter what the books say about it being peaceful and simple and earthy and satisfying. It’s all crap, both the lying books and the stinking job. If you can find something poetic and laudable about shoveling horse crap, standing in horse crap, smelling like horse crap, or anything else about horse crap, send me an email, and I’ll give you a prize. Because that’s what being a stable boy is about. Lots and lots and lots of horse crap, with a little straw thrown in to, you know, stick to the horse crap that’s sticking to you.

And also being bitten by Tolon, that blasted four-legged terrorist. It was all I could do not the get out the mane shears and lop off the two enormous baubles hanging between his legs and hang them on one of the trees outside like Christmas ornaments, just to piss him off.

So in case you haven’t figured this out yet, I was in an absolutely diabolical mood by lunch. If looks could have killed, Boys Ranch of the Appalachians would have been turned into a nuclear waste field.

I was sitting on a bench underneath a Bradford pear—I hated Bradford pears—eating a turkey and salami sandwich—I hated turkey and salami—and drinking strawberry lemonade—I hated strawberry lemonade—glowering down at an ant crawling across my lap and trying to fry it with my laser vision of Bad Mood Extreme Addition when someone sat down next to me. I was surprised, in the way that a polar bear might have been surprised if a five-year-old with cerebral palsy came up and petted it.

“Hi!” said the person brightly.

I looked up. A girl, maybe two or three years younger than me, was smiling broadly at me. So broadly, in fact, that her eyes almost vanished into her cheeks. She had dark, olive skin and a sheet of glossy black hair that fell almost to her waist.

“Uh,” I said. “Hi.”

She was sitting on her hands and staring at me unashamedly.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Snell.”

“Oh, wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I have a weird name, too! My name is Risso. Oh—not that your name is weird in a bad way, but I’ve never heard of anyone named Snell before, and I’ve never heard of anyone named Risso, either. But Risso is sort of weird in a weird way, if you know what I mean. My mom named me that. She wanted to called me Rizzo, like, after the Muppet. But my dad put his foot down so she changed it to Risso because he said no daughter of his was going to be named after a rat, even a cute one. Then he left right after I was born but by then the name stuck.” Suddenly she frowned, her eyes getting enormous. “Oh. I’m doing that thing. Where I talk too much.”

I wondered if the unholy stench of the horse manure had actually caused me to hallucinate.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I, uh, don’t talk too much. So you’re making up for both of us.”

Her smile returned immediately, and her eyes disappeared again. I’d never seen anyone who wasn’t Asian do that.

“I like you, Snell,” she said. “I think we’re going to be friends. I work here, too, you know.” She looked critically at my poo-spattered jeans. “But, um, not in the stables. Thankfully.” She laughed. “Because no offense, but you reek.”

Maybe I should have taken offense at this, but I didn’t. I guess the offense done to my nose by the stables was all the insult that the rest of me could take for one day. I grinned, too.

Strangely, Risso’s ability to talk the hind legs off a horse—or hopefully, in the case of Tolon, the testicles—actually made me talk more, rather than less. Before long, I found myself telling her all about the move, Bob, and Mom’s purchase of The House.

Again, her eyes grew round when I mentioned The House.

“I can’t believe someone has finally bought that old thing! It’s going to make all the stupid teenagers in Boone sad that they can’t come and camp in there and break the windows and smoke pot in the back yard.”

Hmph. That explained the small plot of rather questionable plants in the very back corner of the garden.

“But that is so exciting! There’s always been a sort of… mystique about that place. I like that word—mystique. No one has lived there for over forty years, and before that it was just this ancient old crabby woman that no one liked and who never came out. Apparently she died there and had lain in there for, like, a month, rotting in the summer heat before they found her.”

“Oh,” I said bleakly. I decided not to ask her in which room the crotchety old hag had decayed, not wanting to start having nightmares about a figure with strips of flesh hanging off her standing over my bed.

She chattered on about two boys at her school that she missed dreadfully because they were off working at a summer camp in Texas. They were also identical twins, which complicated her feelings even more. Almost accidentally, I told her about my encounter the previous day with Dimitri, and how I was supposed to meet him for a party at his house that nice.

Again, the round eyes. I was beginning to notice a pattern.

“Oh, but this is so exciting! I’m going too! Dimitri is, like, my best friend for forever.” Then maybe she noticed something in my face, something I hadn’t even meant to show or even consciously thought. “Don’t worry though, Snell, he’s like an absolute brother to me.”

She winked.

So it happened that that night, after I scraped off the horse manure and tried desperately to scrub the stench out of my hair for nearly half an hour, Risso and I rode together to Dimitri’s house in her “ghetto jeep,” which she named thus due to its cacophonically broken muffler.

I’m not sure if “cacophonically” is a word, but if it’s not, just call me Shakespeare. Cacophonically could be the new bedroom.

Anyways. Dimitri lived in Boone, the bigger town about twenty minutes south of Meat Camp. Over the heinous sound of Risso’s engine, she blasted 90s music as loud as the rather substantial speaker system could go. I tried not to goggle as she belted out “Oops!…I Did It Again” and Shania Twain like the salvation of the universe depended on her pure volume.

“Sing, Snell!” she shouted above the wind, and the engine, and the music, her hair blowing like the branches of a palm tree in Hurricane Camille. “Sing!”

I just grinned sheepishly. Maybe this was one of those things you learned in public school—how to sing really loudly with someone you’d barely even met and not give the first sign of a darn.

We parked outside of a lovely little apartment complex. I slid out, looking uneasily at the number 16. No backyard gardens to obliterate here.

Risso marched around the side of the ghetto jeep and placed her hands on my shoulders, looking intensely into my eyes. I liked Risso, but the concentration in those eyes almost made me take a step back. Then she smiled broadly and said, “You’ll do just fine.” Then she flounced towards the door marked with the big red 16.

And to my greatest surprise—you know, the kind of surprise when you’ve been expecting your parents to give you a new shirt for your birthday and instead you get a Maserati—I did. Just fine, that is.

Dimitri opened the door right as Risso was raising her fist to give what undoubtedly would have been a resounding knock, grinning so widely that I thought his face might split in two. He immediately pulled Risso into an enormous bear hug. I prepared myself to feel awkwardly out of the loop, but then he pulled me into one, too.

“You made it!” he said happily. “And I was hoping you two would become friends tonight and, as usual, Risso, you’ve beat me to it.”

Risso bowed deep and then punched him lightly on the arm. “Of course! Any time.”

He ushered us inside, and for a moment the street lights illuminated his eyes, and again I was struck by the infinite kindness there in those ocean-deep eyes, swimming there like fish in a sea current. Something inside of me loosened and relaxed—later I rather thought it was the abnormal tendon that had been constricting whatever organ gives people the ability to be smooth and normal—and I stepped through the door.

“My parents are out tonight, gone to Asheville for the weekend,” he said. “So we’ve got the place to ourselves.”

“Hooray!” shouted Risso, and she immediately leapt onto the loveseat and began leaping up and down, chanting, “No parents! No parents!” at the top of her lungs.

Dimitri looked at me and shook his head, laughing.

“Is she always like this?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, usually worse,” he answered. “She’s on her best behavior because you’re new.”

We grinned at each other, then quickly looked back at Risso. The tips of his ears, I noticed, had turned a pale shade of pink.

Risso quickly bored of couch-jumping, though no before she had come close to destroying a lamp that Dimitri seized deftly when one of her wildly flailing limbs threatened to send it into orbit. She then ran—going fast, always, seemed to be her primary mode of transportation—into the kitchenette and pulled down three packages of chewy chocolate chip cookies. Then we launched into a rather ferocious game of charades, which according to Risso’s rules always had to depict dying in some terrifically gruesome manner. Points were, of course, awarded according to how gruesome our ideas turned out.

Dimitri fell behind almost immediately in the points, or at least he would have if we’d really been keeping score. It was like that kindness bubbling up out of his eyes came from a place so deeply ingrained in him that it prevented him from even imagining anything truly horrendous. The best he came up with was a witch burning. His depiction of it, however, left Risso and I rolling on the floor in laughter fit to fracture our ribs.

Risso and I, on the other hand, went for each other’s throats like wolverines with toothaches. She started out with being ripped to shreds by Tasmanian devils while having the lower half of her body slowly disintegrated from an expanding pool of battery acid. Inspired by Dimitri’s rather pitiable attempts, I savagely followed up with being trampled by horses after escaping from a witch burning and having my scalp ripped off by a particularly vindictive horse who decided to take a bite of my hair. (Which was perhaps a touch inspired by Tolon as well.)

By the end of the game, we had all collapsed in a heap, tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard. I felt so at home with them you would have never thought that I had only just blasted in from outer space (also known as Alabama) and landed in the middle of a friendship that was over a decade old. Our companionship felt seamless, something I had never experienced with anyone outside of Mom, and this was even different than that, newer, fresher, a taste of wind blowing up from a deep valley of pine trees.

After we had progressed to the inevitable point in charades where everyone starts picking subjects that are completely incomprehensible, Risso bounded up and pulled out the drawer under the television and started flipping through movies. She pulled one up and held it out like a trophy.

“The Notebook!” she shouted, eyes disappearing into her cheeks.

Dimitri and I both gave her such identical looks of horror that she immediately shoved it back in the drawer.

“Okay, I guess not,” she muttered, and I thought I caught her saying something like “too soon” under her breath. Suddenly, the room felt too hot.

Eventually she settled on some old John Wayne movie that Dimitri said belonged to his dad, who was obsessed with John Wayne. Apparently Risso was too, because she started giving us all the background to this particularly film, including the names of all the obscure actors and actresses and what other equally obscure 60s movies they had played in and—well, lots of other stuff. I wasn’t really paying attention, because Risso had chosen the only armchair in the living room, leaving the loveseat to Dimitri and me.

What a stupid, stupid name for a piece of furniture.

Risso immediately snuggled into the armchair and sunk into the movie, leaving me and Dimitri stranded in the corner. He looked at me sort of shyly, his mop of curly hair falling into his eyes so that he had to push it back out of his face.

“You aren’t much of a John Wayne fan,” he said. It wasn’t a question, but from the bored-out-of-my-gizzard look on my face, it didn’t really need to be.

“No,” I said, “but it is light-years better than The Notebook. I don’t know of a worse movie in the history of Hollywood, unless you’re counting those B- and C- and D-rated zombie-vampire-werewolf apocalypse films.”

He chuckled. “Those are definitely preferable to even the previews of that movie.” He looked at me, a bit of puzzlement in his eyes. “I was wondering—do you think we’ve ever met before? You look sort of familiar.”

I shrugged. “Probably not. I’ve lived in the super-city of Charming my entire life and not hardly ever left except for one hellish trip when I was eight to visit my Aunt Fiona in New Jersey.” I paused for a moment. “Aunt Fiona is a cow.”

He laughed, causing Risso to hiss, “Shhh!” across the room at us.

“Tell me about Charming,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow. “There’s not much to tell. It’s too hot in the summer and rains a lot in the winter. The only thing that’s smaller than the town itself is the minds of the people who live there.”

As soon as I’d said the words, I regretted them, wishing I could reel them back in like ugly fish on a line.

“I mean,” I said quickly, “People are just not that… open-minded. If that makes sense.”

Still looking at me—his steady gaze was the tiniest bit unnerving—he nodded slowly. “Tell me about it.” He said this not like, “Oh my gosh, like I know,” but as in, “Go on.”

So I did. I told him about Melissa’s farm and her horses and dogs that I spent my days with, wondering the trails and streambeds in the acreage she owned as well as the large swatches of land that had DO NOT TRESPASS signs posted around the boundaries that I tended to ignore. I told him about Charming Hills Apartment Complex, and the two restaurants and how good they were, and the way everyone thought Mom and I were something like Satan’s ambassadors because I was black and she was white and uninterested in men.

In turn, he told me a little about growing up in Boone. Both of his parents were professors at Appalachian State University and he’d grown up with a never-ending stream of college students coming in and out of their apartment, the down-on-their-luck ones sometimes staying in the guest bedroom for a semester or two before they got back on their feet. They always got back on their feet, he said, because that’s just the kind of people his parents were—the kind that helped people find their sea legs and learn to walk all over again. He told me about going to Watauga County High School, and how half the teachers spent their time gossiping about the students and the other half talked bad about the first half gossiping about the students and how mostly no one ever got taught, unless it was football or baseball.

He asked me where I had gone to high school and what it had been like in Charming.

“Oh, I was a home-schooler,” I said.

“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed.”

“Ha—right.”

From the armchair, Risso hissed at us again.

Whispering, he said, “No, really. You really don’t seem like a home-schooler.”

I realized with a touch of surprise that he hadn’t intended to be sarcastic at all. With time, I realized more than that—Dimitri didn’t have a sarcastic bone in his body, not even one of the really small ones in his fingers or ankles.

“Well,” I said slowly. “At least I’m not like the other Charming home-schoolers. They all thought that one plus one equaled Jesus.”

We eventually lapsed into a comfortable silence, enjoying each other’s presence much more than the cowboys and shoot-outs playing out on the television screen, no matter how nice looking John Wayne had been in his younger years. Once, I caught him smiling at me out of the corner of my eye, and I smiled back, and I did not feel even a hint of a blush hiding under my dark skin. I felt… content. At peace. I didn’t even feel the need to obliterate my feelings under a slew of  internal sarcasm.

That was a new one for me.