February 14, 2013 § 2 Comments
About a year ago, James Brown (aka Seti Net) asked me to write a short story to post on his website www.seti.net. This story is a tie-in to my novel, THE HALO REVELATIONS. I’m reproducing it here as an early anniversary celebration of the publication of the book. I hope you enjoy.
The Dragon Crown
J. S. Colley
…a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.
Matilda left her brother under the protection of the willow. Even though she was cold, she had taken off her shawl and tucked it around his shoulders. They hadn’t eaten since last evening meal, just before the Knights of the Dark Dragon came thundering into the village astride their painted warhorses.
Not far from the willow, she spotted a cluster of wild radishes and bent to pull them from the ground. They would be bitter, but better than no food at all. An almost-healed pox on her forearm reminded her of the horror they had left behind.
“Go,” her mother had said. “Take Jack and leave the village. You have survived the pestilence. It is God’s will.”
Her mother closed her eyes from exhaustion, but motioned her daughter to come closer. Matilda saw her own terrified reflection in her mother’s eyes when she opened them again.
“Take your father’s crown and go to the Far End. It is your only hope.”
At first Matilda didn’t understand what she meant, but then realized her mother was talking about the place spoken of in the legend of her great-uncle. He had traveled to the Far End—the place of the dragon—and was gone for many years. When he returned, her uncle carried with him a strange crown. He claimed it gave him great wisdom and, with it, he led the people of his small village into a time of prosperity. The other lords were jealous, for the dark dragons of their legend had left them nothing, and they were forever trying to capture her uncle’s prize for their own. After her uncle died, her father inherited the crown and became Lord, but now he had died from the Black Death, and those who coveted the crown had come to try and lay claim to it once again.
Matilda looked upon the crown as a family curse rather than a blessing and wished to never see it again, but she had done as her mother instructed and taken it, hands shaking, out of its hiding place. But would she have courage enough to venture to the Far End? She knew not. At that moment, she only felt an urge to take her brother and herself far from the village and the pounding hoofs of the horses and their evil riders.
Back beneath the willow, she watched as her brother ate the last of the radishes and, when he was finished, they crossed the shallow river.
Ahead lay the Far End. Here Be Dragons. That’s what was written on the maps Matilda had seen.
“Do we really have to go there, sister?” Jack asked.
“What other option is left to us? Would you rather go back to those men? Or the disease that took our family?”
They went silent for a moment.
“Do you believe the stories of our great-uncle?” Jack finally asked.
She looked ahead and did not answer him. Instead, she adjusted the strap of the heavy sack hanging from her shoulder.
“Let’s go. I would rather face this monster, benevolent or not, in full daylight than in shadow.”
The forest fell away to low shrubs and then short grasses as they neared the site. Matilda’s heart pounded as she caught a glimpse of the great beast through the foliage. It shimmered in the late morning sun.
“It must be sleeping,” Jack said.
At that moment, an oddly dressed knight came around the head of the beast. His strange armor glowed in the sunlight, like the scales of the dragon behind him.
“Who is he?”
“The man who lives inside the dragon,” Matilda said in a whisper. “So he really exists.” Her chest felt hollow when she looked upon him.
“Why must we face the dragon, Matty?” Jack whined, as he turned his back to both the dragon and the knight, and sat with arms hugging his bent knees.
“Mother said it was our only hope.”
“Hope of what? To be eaten? Or, worse, feel the dragon’s hot breath?”
“Has Mother ever told us wrong, brother? She would never put us in harm’s way.”
Matilda saw that talk of their mother had brought a tear to his eye.
“Best get it over with.”
Her heart pounded in her chest as she moved to show herself to the two strange beings—one large, brooding, and foreign, the other strangely familiar but terrifying nonetheless.
The knight turned toward the sudden noise, went down on one knee and shot a bolt of lightning from his wrist. It threw up dirt a few yards from where Matilda stood and it fell in clumps at her feet. She squealed in spite of herself and stepped back. She could hear Jack crying softly.
But then a strange sensation came over her, as if someone was watching her from inside her own body, and she was suddenly no longer afraid. She took the sack from her shoulder and, watching the knight, pulled the crown from the bottom and held it high for him to see. The knight did not move, but stayed near the sleeping dragon.
Place it on your head, something told her, and so she did.
Matilda fell back. She felt her brother’s hand on her shoulder, preventing her from stumbling to the ground.
“What is it, Matty?” Jack asked.
But she could not answer him, for what she was witnessing took her breath away.
“Can’t you see it?” she finally asked.
“This,” she said, and spread her arms wide.
“I see only the dragon, the knight, and the forest.”
What kind of dark magic is this? Suddenly she was frightened, and she snatched the crown from her head.
“What did you see?” her brother pleaded.
Matilda remained silent but held her eyes on the knight for a long moment, until the same calmness she had felt before came over her once again, and then said, “We have nothing left here, Jack. Our village is destroyed and our beloved parents are dead.” She did not say it to sadden him, only to make him see the truth.
Matilda watched the knight reach his arm out to them, beckoning.
“Shall we go on a grand adventure just like our great-uncle? What say you?”
“Will we see elephants?” He wiped his nose with his sleeve.
Matilda knew he had always wanted to see those strange animals.
“Elephants and creatures you have never even heard of, my dear brother.”
Just then, the silver dragon awoke and the ground beneath their feet rumbled.
Jack clung to his sister’s skirt. “I’m afraid.”
“There is nothing to fear.”
“Will we live inside the dragon, too?” He frowned in the way so familiar to her.
“Yes.” She smiled.
She pulled Jack’s hand from her skirt and together they walked toward the awakened dragon and the shining knight, with his arm still outstretched, and Matilda no longer thought of the crown as a curse.
June 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
Note: I’ve been thinking about, and tinkering with, a novel about my paternal 5th great-grandfather, Richard “Fightin’ Dick” Colley, who was well-known around my birthplace. It is claimed he was the first white (non Indian) settler in what is now Dickenson County, Virginia. He was a hot-tempered Irishman (or Welsh?), who reportedly fought a bear on a bet — and won.
During my research, and much to my surprise, I found that the story of his son, James Colley, intrigued me more. Mainly because he had my 3rd great-grandfather out of wedlock with a woman named Delilah Ramey. He married someone else, yet continue a relationship with Delilah over many years and had at least two children with her. I often wondered why he hadn’t just married the woman! Some local genealogists claim he had the affair with her sister, Anis Ramey, but my research shows the sister would have been far too young (even though they married young back then), and my 3rd great-grandfather listed Delilah as his mother on his own marriage license. The following excerpt features Jim soon after being shot in the shoulder by a rival of his father’s over fence posts.
Also note that I’ve applied a style of writing where quotation marks are not used for dialogue. This is something I’m tinkering with as well, as it is a style I enjoy reading. As well as many others, Cormac McCarthy used it when writing The Road. And while I am no McCarthy — by a long shot — I guess it’s okay to follow his lead.
Jim Is Shot
He heard the rasping, the keening of women, smelled the sharp tang of fresh-cut pine that jolted him to consciousness. He’d been dreaming: Lila, down by the river, black hair glistening, cotton dress clinging to her breasts as she rose from the water
—Tell them to stop that sawing! Get a bucket. Remove those bindings and have that arm hang over the side. Let the wound bleed out for a while.
—But he’s lost so much already, Pastor Smith…I can barely feel his breath.
—I seen this work before, Crissa. Would I tell you wrong? If that putrid blood travels to his heart, he’ll be dead sooner rather than later. Trust in me, sayeth the Lord. But, in the meantime, do as I say…and make some more of that yellow dock tea. Get him to drink it when he’s able. And water. Have him drink that good spring water of your’n. And tell them boys to stop that infernal racket! He ain’t dead yet.
A year ago, Lila had come by wagon, east over the Pine Mountains from Kentucky. Her father at the reins, her mother nowhere and never talked of. Her sister, just as beautiful as Lila, but not Lila. He’d seen them dancing by the campfire, their father playing the fiddle. Lithe figures caught between the dark and the light. There was talk they were gypsies. Ramey, but maybe Romanians. Magic and mystery and spells. Their wagon full of potions and things wrapped in tight packets.
He moved. His arm constricted in pain, lips grimaced in a soundless moan.
He’d gone down to the beet patch. Someone had moved the fence posts again and Pa had told him to go move them back. Rustling. Movement at the tree line. He stood tall, honed his eyes. Jon Harding, musket to shoulder. Felt the ball thud into muscle and crack bone. Pa had been fightin’ mad when he’d found him, but Ma’s anger would be cold as mountain ice.
Hands on him now, moving, jostling. Pain, red and hot. Blood traveled down his arm in a rivulet, like a river on an old map, tickling the hairs on his forearm, plink plink plink-ing on the bottom of the wooden bucket. Buzz of deer flies like the roar of a waterfall.
His eyes opened a sliver, gazing out the window toward the rise, past his brothers squatting by the unfinished coffin, a saw dangling between bent knees. Deep inside the canopy of trees, a white dress glowed like a soft candle flame. He watched as it moved up the mountain, beckoning him.
He had stalked her for a month, but it was she who spoke first.
—You been watching me.
Her voice exotic. Not an accent, but something like it. She was looking out at the river, her back to him.
He walked out from behind the tree.
—Then why don’t you say something? She turned her head. —Cat got your tongue?
He thumbed the loops in his britches. —Wouldn’t rightly know what to say.
—Same as you’d say to anybody else. ‘Hello, how do you do,’ might work.
She turned to face him, fully.
His heart like a leaping frog, but he grinned and bowed low. —Hello. How do you do this fine afternoon?
They’d spent the afternoon talking and swimming. It became their place. Just beyond a bend in the river, where the water ran slow and deep.
He closed his eyes.
Dreams and reality merged. The only certainty, pain.
How many days?
Sunlight came up behind the mountain. It filtered through the trees. Long shafts of yellow haze. He looked for the white dress, but if Lila was there, she was trapped behind bars of gold.
He was in his parents’ bed, close to the fireplace and the window that let in cool breezes in the heat of summer. A curtain on a pole suspended from the rafters separated the small space from the rest of the house. Around the edge, he watched his mother stoke the fire. She stood and turned.
—You’re better, she said.
—How long? His throat was dry.
—A week, yesterday.
A week? It could have been a night, or a year, for all he could remember.
Her mouth firm. —With his dogs. Where else?
He turned to look out the window. A rough board rested on top of the graying coffin. His brothers had done a fine job, but he wouldn’t be needing it any time soon.
October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
I thought I would try something different…and scary. These poems were written in one go, no censoring, no editing. I thought I’d post them as is. I hope you enjoy.
Wearing every decision
Inside this skin
Around these bones
Beneath this skull
Every decision weighted,
Practical and pragmatic
The right thing to do
Wearing this skin
Feeling these bones
Next to my heart
Ode to the Artist
It called to me
I did not go
The green grass of home
I pushed back
The many-colored thoughts
And tried to erase
The blackness of what is behind
Until I let go
When you find yourself
You must go
To places only dreamed
And break away
The tight restraints
The Chance To Be
Through the window
On the cool night air
Comes drifting visions
Of what should have been
Choices once fertile
Now lay barren
In the womb
That can never be
The past grips tight
Binds like shrunken sinew
The vanishing point
When looking back
More distance than the future
Time, Oh! Time
Where have you gone?
Taken with you
The chance to be
Who I could
My lover comes to me in the night
Slipping softly under cool sheets
His hand gentle under my head
My lover comes to me in the night
Pushing his body softly against my back
His arms tight around my waist
My lover comes to me in the night
Cupping my breast through my gown
And whispers softly in my ear
My lover comes to me in the night
And pulls my head to his chest
His soft breath on my shoulder
September 14, 2013 § 10 Comments
Some of my friends on social media are Christian, some Atheists, some Muslim, some Buddhist, and others Wiccan, but, no matter what your beliefs, having rituals—traditions—at a time of death is helpful. Recently, a favorite uncle passed away. He was prepared. He’d been suffering for a long time, bedridden, and was ready to go. But it didn’t make his death any easier to accept. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral, and I missed out on that important, and healing, time of grieving.
My family has lived amid the mountains near the Kentucky/Virginia border for eight generations. Most of the family still resides only a few minutes east of the Breaks Interstate Park. There are roads, ridges, and towns named after my relatives. And there are many family cemeteries: Colley, Anderson, Edwards, Counts, and Sutherland, just to name a few. I qualify to inhabit any one of them, but the one I’ll probably be buried in is the Anderson Cemetery, where my uncle was buried.
The cemetery is part of my grandparents’ old homestead. It sits on top of Edwards Ridge, at the end of Morgan Anderson (my maternal great-grandfather) Lane. I remember playing there as a child, scared to walk past the tall yews that created a symbolic boundary between field and cemetery. When I finally became brave enough to cross over that imaginary line, what struck me was how many children were buried there. And, what struck me even further, as I looked out over the headstones, was realizing all those people were related to me. There is no greater sense of belonging, or kinship.
Although I was born there, we moved away when I was young but we visited every year, usually August, before school started and after the harvest. We always went home with glass jars of beans, apples, blackberries, beets (my love of beets reaches back to when I helped my grandmother can batches of them using a big tub over an open fire in the backyard), and other goodies. Uncle Bruce would always make sure he took us to “The Breaks” when we came to visit. It is a stunningly beautiful place. The vistas lift the viewer up and out of the ordinary. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, it is a sacred space where you can find yourself again and again. (Who needs cathedrals?)
My uncle would also catch the horses as they grazed in the field and saddle them so we could spend an afternoon riding. Family was important to him so, when we went for our rides, he’d point out the old house and stables where our great-great-grandparents had lived, or where this-or-that had happened, and tell us a little about our past. He’d take us by his “granny’s” (my great-grandmother) and made sure we visited with her. Keep in mind, he was only sixteen at the time. He was wise beyond his years.
Growing up in the north, I could never reconcile the misconceptions and the disparaging jokes lobbed at the people of Appalachia. My family was nothing like what I saw on Saturday Night Live skits. Yes, many were poor, but not all. There were coal miners, but there were also judges, doctors, congressmen, businessmen, and teachers. But, more than that, they were (and are) good, honest, intelligent, and caring people. I couldn’t be prouder of who, and where, I’m from.
As I said, just as my family’s roots grow deep in the Appalachian soil, so do their traditions. When someone is on their deathbed, the family usually gathers ‘round and tells stories and sings songs. Things have changed over the years and, instead of being at home, my uncle was in hospice, but his family managed to be there and I’m sure there was still storytelling and singing—a warm and loving sendoff for my uncle. I’m told he was able to articulate his wishes for the funeral: where his “spot” would be in the cemetery, who he’d like to speak, who he’d like to sing and what song.
Here’s his choice of song. I think it’s appropriate, no matter if you’re Christian, Atheist…or whatever. Listening to it, I was able to mourn in private. I wish I could have been there to be part of a family tradition, no matter how sad. There couldn’t be anything more important than celebrating family—in life or in death.
I love and miss you, Uncle Bruce. Now, Go Rest High On That Mountain.
February 1, 2013 § 3 Comments
A discussion was started on my Facebook page about a couple of movies: Looper and Beasts of the Southern Wild—two very different movies. Feeling my remarks would be too long to leave in a comment on Facebook, I decided to write a blog post instead.
This is a book DISCUSSION, not a review, so expect SPOILERS.
I’m going divide this up into two posts for easier reading.
And, sorry for the long-windedness of the post, and sorry for all the different tangents—but, as the song lyrics go: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
I’ll start with Looper:
The premise of the movie is this: In the future, a mob-like gang uses illegal time travel to kill their “hits” and rid themselves of the bodies—all bodies can be tracked in the future but sending them back in time wipes out all traces. Eventually, something goes wrong, as things do, and the loopers—those hired to kill the unfortunate people—are forced to kill their future selves. Closing the loop, so to speak.
Here’s what I liked about the movie: The actor who played the young Bruce Willis did a great job recreating Willis’ mannerisms. That impressed me. Also, I like Bruce Willis and Emily What’s-her-name (the English actress, she does a marvelous American accent). I like the overall premises of the movie, but the science part of it…well, it isn’t very scientific.
So, here’s the parts I didn’t like so much:
Don’t get me wrong, I CAN and DO and WILLINGLY suspend my disbelief. It’s part of the enjoyment of a book, movie, play…whatever. If you don’t have to suspend your disbelief a little when partaking in a work of fiction, then why bother. But this movie just had too many moments of disbelief, and I went into suspension overload. I won’t go into lots of detail (there are way too many examples) but just know this had to do with the “rules” of time travel. The idea that a future-self wouldn’t remember the history of the present-self (the writer did try to interjected a work-around for this, probably knowing what a big plot hole it was) is just beyond my comprehension.
Here’s what really irks me, I think. The current popular thing for moviemakers and writers is to give their audience a (seemingly) complex and bizarre plot—a mind-blowing intrigue where the audience is never quite sure what’s happening. Take Inception as an example, the audience is left wondering which scenes are real and which are dreams. This example happened to work well, perhaps because the writers had a firm grasp of the plot beforehand. THEY knew what was what, even if we were never quite sure.
But here’s an example of one that didn’t work—the TV series Lost. The writers even ADMITTED they didn’t have any idea where the plot was going. Seat-of-the-pants writers might not find this disturbing—those souls who can write with no idea where the words will take them—but I’m not one of them. I, at least, have to have an idea what the overall theme of my work is. I usually have to know the ending, even if I don’t know how I’m going to get there. In the case of Lost, if you have a plane crash on a strange island and the survivors start to hear horrifying scary monster sounds coming from the forest, wouldn’t you, as a writer, have an idea what that monster was? Apparently, this wasn’t a consideration for the screenwriters of this series. They’d figure it out as they went along. Fiddlesticks, I say. I stopped watching midway through the first season.
Basically, I didn’t enjoy Looper because the writer didn’t work hard enough to enabling me to suspend my disbelief. It felt insulting. It’s as if the writer said, “I’ve got this idea: a man in the present is forced to kill his future self” and there wasn’t a plot hole big enough for him to stop and think twice.
Then there was the child killing. The reason the loopers have to kill their future selves is because a madman, the “Rainmaker” (I think that was the name) has taken over the syndicate and, for his own diabolical reasons, wants to eliminate all the loopers. The future-self character (Bruce Wills) evades being killed by his present-self and discovers the Rainmaker is a young boy in the present. (Are you following me?) He (Willis) has a series of numbers that lead him to three potential kids. He doesn’t have time to determine which one is the real Rainmaker, so he has to kill all three. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.
And now I’ll get a little political. Let me state that I don’t own a gun. I do enjoy skeet shooting and my family has a long history with guns. My grandfather and uncle were sheriffs, so there was always a holster hanging on the hat rack when I went to visit. And, believe me, if we would have touched it, my grandmother would have beaten us silly with a broom! There was a gun rack on the wall of the living room. But, my grandparents lived in a rural area and used the guns to hunt for food. I once watched my grandfather shot a copperhead dangling from tree—right in the path of the open-roofed Jeep I was sitting in. Could he have done something else? Maybe he could have gotten a long tree limb and tried to scoop it out of the way, but since the car shed was next to the tree, I think he probably made the right choice. But I digress…
I will keep my point simple: I believe the laws we have regarding guns need to be more strictly enforced. I don’t believe any citizen needs a gun that shoots hundreds of rounds per minute. Yet, I don’t believe gun control is the ONLY answer to our “shooter” problem—the idea that (mostly) young, mentally unstable (mostly) boys have turned so violent. I believe we need better mental health care. I believe we need to stop letting pharmaceutical companies sell mental health medicines that haven’t been fully tested and can cause more problems than they help. I believe we need a shift in our society—which isn’t something you can legislate. And I believe, just as I put responsibility on gun makers/sellers/owners, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, social workers, and family members, that Hollywood needs to stop putting so much emphasis on guns in movies—on blood and guts and gore, just for the sake of blood and guts and gore.
Do I approve of censorship? No. It isn’t all Hollywood’s responsibility. We, the consumer, need to stop giving them the incentive by buying their products. If they build it, and we don’t come, they will build something else. Parents need to PARENT! We have become a nation desensitized to violence just for the sake of violence. In the movies and on TV, we watch peoples heads being blown off and don’t bat an eye. In real life, when kids beat and kick a kid when he’s down, and he dies and they are shocked by it, where do you think they got the idea that such actions weren’t deadly? In the movies, the good guy always takes a licking but keeps on ticking—and sometimes even the bad guy.
It’s a very complicated issue. But I find it’s ironic the same industry putting out ads for strict gun control has so many guns in their films. And, if guns are banned in the future, how will they justify (or have us suspend our disbelief) having guns so omnipresent in their films? If they do, then it proves they don’t believe their own talking points—that gun control will get guns out of the hands of bad people.
Looper brought the hypocrisy of Hollywood to the forefront. If the Newtown tragedy was really a “game changer,” if it really was as horrific to them as they claim in their ads, if it really is “time” to do something meaningful, then they would do THEIR part—however large or small—to help lessen the occurrences. Why put out a movie with guns, guts, and gore, AND child killing, and so soon after this tragedy? Can’t they/we do better?
Yeah, I’m probably overreacting a little (or a lot)—but isn’t that the point? Hollywood ads regarding this issue intimate we all NEED to overreact—and rightly so.
Yes, to gun control legislation. Yes, to Hollywood putting up, or shutting up.
(P.S. I usually don’t get political. And, this, to me, isn’t political, just a personal opinion/reaction.)
January 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
This is a good movie for six-year-olds or older, and someone who is sick and needs something to do. There are funny parts—like the part where the wimpy kid fakes like he’s drowning and a big, old guy gives him CPR instead of the cute girl. There are other really funny parts, too.
It was worth checking out from the library.
Review by Joey (First Grader)