The Bear Returns

In collaboration with DALL.E

Martin leant against an arch, lit up, and inhaled, a move he’d learned from Fred Astaire, though nobody could match Fred’s elegance. Amazing the video game designers preferred that vile and outrageously caffeinated, cherry-flavoured “energy drink” over a smoke. Young people these days, no style whatsoever. Doctor Balthus’s gentle nagging about cigarettes “maintaining a cycle of addiction” played in the background, as he sketched out the ogre boss’s theme music. 

He’d settled on a bombastic military style: Holst meets gangsta rap, when a bear strolled out of the Franciscan garden and stopped to ponder a tourist map. The sizeable beast wore a handsome, yet redundant, brown coat and a classic homburg hat, befitting the weather. The bear he’d met in Finland favoured much snappier attire. Still, fully clothed, bipedal bears were rare. Could this be his old acquaintance? 

A gust of wind rattled leaves across the courtyard and rifled the pages of the bear’s map. He glanced up, then straight into Martin’s eyes. A flash of recognition, and he waved, erasing all doubt. Here was the bear, his bear! Martin joined him, and the bear shook his hand, his paw shake still firm but not unbearable. They exchanged pleasantries. Up close, a grizzled muzzle attested to the passage of years. To be fair, Martin looked older too—occasionally, when exhausted or stressed. Desiring a comfortable conversation, they took a table at a nearby café, a cosy place with cheery red walls hung with the work of local artists. A vase holding a holly sprig sat on the table, the berries matching the walls. 

The bear ordered coffee and a brioche. Martin ordered the same, just to be polite. Rather late in the day for coffee, and the game designer’s lunch had been generous. He asked after the bear’s wife, only to learn she’d passed away. But they’d enjoyed many years together. After escaping Finland, they’d trekked back into Russia, keeping a low profile because the Politburo was eliminating those who’d campaigned for ursine rights. They followed the artic forest into China, where his wife had family. There, they’d opened a modest but high-quality restaurant. Then bile poachers had targeted their village.

“Bile poachers?”

“Dah, local humans think bear bile make wonderful medicine . Maybe true, but I keep bile for myself.”

The bile-poaching story continued, but Martin couldn’t ignore a growing sense of the surreal. After all, most would consider conversing with a bear extraordinary. And this bear was a Ruskie, though his nationality wasn’t supposed to matter now that the wall had fallen. Doctor Balthus encouraged him to notice singular circumstances, because taking the peculiar in stride had repeatedly led him down rabbit holes. And some of those rabbit holes had nearly killed him, case in point, his last exchange with this bear. And yet, none of the café’s other patrons, whether chatting, sipping coffee, or bent over a newspaper, appeared taken aback by his woodland companion.

He cleared his throat and prepared oblique inquiries. “Do you have many human acquaintances?”

“Of course. I am cosmopolitan bear.”

“Oddly, you’re the only bear I’ve ever spoken to.”

“Well. You funny man, ping in and out.” The bear clapped his paws and added, “Pouf.”

“Ping? Pouf?”

“Yes. One moment here, next moment gone. Hard to make friends when you don’t stay in place.”

“I could say the same of you. Do you recall our Finnish adventure? One minute we’re discussing a clever prison break, the next, you’re naked—except for the fur—growling maniacally and lunging for my jugular vein. I was terrified and couldn’t understand your dramatic mood shift.”

The bear chuckled as he stirred yet another spoonful of sugar into his coffee; Russian bears must enjoy their sweets. “I remember different. You return to cage and open door like promise. But escape plan is crazy. I wear tutu, ride unicycle, and pretend to be circus bear. I say to you, ‘Medvedslav Bazarevich is no play-actor, but thank you.’ Then, I run.”

“That wasn’t me! I never take a unicycle on tour.” Those spinning spokes pinch fingers, not to mention the grease…and the balancing.

The bear, who’s given name was far too long, sipped his coffee, then settled his cup into its saucer. “Maybe I meet different you while you meet different me.”

“As in parallel universes? I don’t recall a portal, transporter, or rip in space-time. One would notice such things, wouldn’t one?”

“Funny guy. How ‘bout you check universe now? Does city look like Prague?”

The bear gestured with his substantial snout to the café’s window. Outside cars queued. Nothing unusual about red lights or heavy traffic. A woman walked past with a parrot perched on her arm. Nothing unusual about pets…but…this parrot wore spectacles and clutched a miniature book in one claw!

In collaboration with DALL.E

The bird wanted explaining. Couldn’t blame drugs anymore; his chemical romance had ended years ago. A hallucination, perhaps? He still required psychotherapy, all these years on, but seemed he was a tough case. Regardless, Doctor Balthus never used the word psychotic when describing his symptoms. Maybe alternate universe was the best excuse for that ridiculous parrot.

“Well, now that you mention…” He turned toward the bear. 

But the bear had vanished. In his place, a moustachioed gent with outrageous eyebrows perused an outdoorsy magazine. A round, brown fur hat, complete with ear flaps, hung over a corner of his chairback.

Oh, god. No!

“That hat…it’s not bear fur; is it?”

How High We Go in the Dark, a Review

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s collection of interlocking stories spanning centuries, explores plague and how we deal with loss. The characters are diverse and intricately linked and the plot is wildly imaginative. How does one relate talking pigs, to funerary skyscrapers, to euthanasia theme parks, to melting permafrost? Read and find out. Be aware How High We Go in the Dark has very dark moments (including the loss of children) but a strand of hope runs through out. Highly recommended.

Splinter Town! A Review.

(Or, so this kind of cross-genre illustrates why we need indie authors)

Splinter Town, an autonomous island nation off the coast of Wales, must fend off an English incursion! Will the ingenuity of the town’s people, their spies, and the efforts of a rogue assassin be enough to to preserve the town’s independence? And what evil propels the corrupt prime minister and his allies?
This genre defying book is a fun read. Highly atmospheric with rust and brine aplenty, and full of unexpected twists and turns, this novel is a complete story set in a highly alternate 1920s. Those of you who enjoyed The Hammond Conjecture will also enjoy Splinter Town.

And now there’s more! Peter Maloy continues the Splinter Town saga in Splinter Town Fall. The Splintertonians are negotiating a new treaty with England, but England’s up to no good again, and the town and its secret operatives are put in great peril. But unbeknownst to the good people of Splinter Town, they’ve made friends in the oddest of places. Meanwhile, Splinter Town’s airship crew explores the American continent, hoping to find a new population of their aquatic allies.

Splinter Town Fall
continues this deeply imaginative series and kept me on the edge of my seat! I’m still worried about Splinter Town, its citizens, and operatives. Fortunately, as the cliffhanger suggests, more’s to come.

Remnant Population, a Review

In Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population, a colony’s corporate overlords order all residents off the planet. But elderly Ofelia, who has had quite enough of being bossed around, chooses to remain, a remnant population of one. Or so she believes, until she hears new of new colonists and an unexpected indigenous population. Ofelia, overlooked an devalued by her culture, turns out to be exactly the person the situation needs for an amicable resolution. This novel is perfect for those tired of typical heroines. Excellent first contact/anthropological sci-fi! And a terrific portrayal of an older woman settled into her time of life, no condescension, no cuteness.

The Journeyman – A fantasy/horror adventure.

Three people board a doomed bus: a wayward teen, a disabled vet, and an autistic child. But their problems don’t end after a snowy crash ends their lives.

A brutal despot rules purgatory. Instead of helping souls move on, he drains souls and harvests their energy. Purgatory has devolved into a nightmarish decrepit America rife with bandits and the insane.

Will a trio of unlikely heroes and their bizarre found family overcome the odds and save eternity? This richly imagined contemporary fantasy/horror adventure works as an adult or young adult fiction. Recommended!

The History of Soul 2065, A Review

Not your typical family saga…

This gorgeous set of interlocking stories follows the souls of two families as they navigate the 20th and 21st centuries.

Each story is the literary equivalent of a gem and collectively tell a tale with elements of magical realism, fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction. The stories celebrate humanity and cover entire arc of life, from cradle to grave, and beyond.

Deeply emotional and beautifully written. Highly recommended.

Birds and the Vagaries of Reality; It’s All Just Too Complicated.

An Out-take from Sounds out of Time

Martin Davis, defrocked rock star, sat clutching his coffee cup. The warm porcelain soothed his perpetually cold fingertips, a curse on these frigid Nordic countries. Out the window, jagged peaks were hard etched into a blazing blue sky. The sanitarium’s garden was far too green. The lake’s indigo was far too indigo. Nature screeched with too much colour and harsh line, far too much for his shattered nerves. How he suffered.

He sipped the coffee. Caffeine might take the edge off his black mood and the relentless cravings, but wouldn’t it be better if he could transform caffeine into cocaine molecule by molecule? Shouldn’t be too much to ask. After all, Pam had come by bird attracting superpowers out of the blue and for absolutely no reason. Somebody of his stature, or former stature, deserved one small chemical superpower.

Somebody plopped down on the lounge chair opposite. So rude. The facility had several small lounge areas. Why must this toadstool intrude? The bloke crossed one institutional powder-blue jumpsuit-clad leg over the other. According to the clinic director, Dr Bauthman, the unisex outfits equalised all inmates. But as far as he was concerned, the jumpsuits only made everybody look like extras in a sci-fi film. And this bloke in front of him belonged in sick-bay or the brig.

Yes, with one eye squinted, the other eye open wide as if terrified, but terrified only on one side of his body, this bloke was undoubtedly one of the mental cases.
Even the jumpsuits couldn’t disguise the fact that two classes of inmate occupied this sanatorium: addicts and mental cases. The addicts were his set: higher class, more interesting, and suffering agonies he could relate to. Whereas the mental cases were…strange, talking nonsense, moving oddly, or staring off into space. But the unrealistic director felt both populations should mix and mingle. His eyes began to roll as he considered the doctor’s do-goodism. But bloody hell! Half way through the roll, he’d made the worst mistake one could make. He’d made eye contact with a madman.

The nutter shook his close-cropped head and wagged a finger. “Listen, man. Birds aren’t real.”

They weren’t? No, wait. Of course birds weren’t…were real. This statement confirmed his impression that the man was a mental case. As extra proof, he sounded American. Most Americans, even the sane ones, were completely crazy. Diets, religions, and conspiracy theories abounded across the pond; he knew. He’d just spent a year living in California, an epicentre of crazy. Of course, the English were mad as well, but British insanity was more genteel, often involving offbeat and obsessive hobbies such as niche gardening, bug collecting, or train spotting.

Just then, a plump grey bird fluttered by the window, alighted on a branch, and surveyed them with a beady eye, a dove of some kind, appearing gentle and possibly tame.

“See! Watching us. Just like I said,” Martin’s unwanted companion whispered. Then he covered his face with his hand and scurried off, darting looks behind himself, and ducking from doorway to chair to doorway as if pretending to be James Bond under fire.

***

A few days later, he was hard at work at his new job: folding. Doctor Bauhaus had stationed him in the laundry, thinking that the relative isolation would shield incredibly famous, handsome, and glamorous Martin Davis from unwanted attention. Although Martin almost always simultaneously wanted and didn’t want attention, he agreed with the doctor’s decision. His nerves were shattered, no, bullet riddled, no, eviscerated, and he needed peace and quiet. Besides, right now, he couldn’t trust himself around others. He’d already been snappish and otherwise not very rock-and-roll to a few fellow inmates.

The crisp hand towel held the scent of tumbled dry cleanliness, a sunshiny, bleachy smell that suggested all was right with the world. And he was an excellent folder; his creases always sharp, his folds uniform, and his stacks even. Maybe he wasn’t as quick as the others, but the task wasn’t about quantity, was it? No. The task was about perfection and soothing his nerves. And yes, sometimes he considered snorting the towels’ fine white cotton loops, but only on a bad day.

“Like I was telling you, it’s not birds. It’s B.I.R.D. Bio-electronic individual reconnaissance device.”

What? Oh. God. The bird-fixated nutter was here, in his laundry, folding at the table near the door! As expected, he was a poor folder. Uneven layers, bent corners, branched folds abounded in his done pile. Disastrous. Martin stepped over to serve as an example and provide some aid.

“I considered your hypothesis.” Years tuned to Open University were still paying off with words like “hypothesis.” “But what about the poops? Must be real to poop, mustn’t one.”

The bloke glanced around the room, as if expecting eavesdroppers, and whispered, “Tracking devices.”

Martin flapped open a towel for refolding. “Tracking devices?”

“Shh! Keep your voice down. Microelectronic radio-emitters embedded in a gel-like substrate. Why do you think eighty-five per cent of bird poop falls on cars and other vehicles? Think about it, man. They want to know where we go.”

“Perhaps, but how would you explain the mulberry tree?” He demonstrated his signature move, a crisp half-fold, then a tri-fold flip with the thumbs. Press the lower half to his belly then fold down, and voilà.

“What’cha mean?”

“The tree isn’t even on my Mum’s property. It leans over from Mrs Fitzhugh’s next door. Mrs Fitzhugh, by the way, sells shoes in town, hence she’s a person of no interest to the government and doesn’t even own a car. But flocks of birds land and eat those berries, squawking and flapping like real birds. Then they perch on the wire that runs to our house and shit purple all over Mum’s car.” Well, when he’d been living at home and had forgotten to pull the car into the garage, which was often because of the spider… “A real junker that car, and believe me, Mum is also of no interest to the government. Why track a suburban library assistant, I ask you? Consider with a clear head; most people aren’t that interesting. Are they? Most people’s worst crime is pinching the odd secretarial supply from the office. Following everybody via bird poop to track a few boxes of paperclips could never be worth the expense.”

Martin looked up, expecting a rebuttal, but the man had disappeared.

***

During his afternoon session with Dr Bathhouse, Martin stated his case in support of “real birds”. The doctor stroked his moustache, possibly covering up a smile. Not that Martin blamed the stout little subcontinental. The situation was entirely ridiculous.

“You were generous to carefully consider Mr Peterson’s theories.”

Still clinging to the idea Martin Davis was a good person, was he? Truth be told, Martin Davis was a gullible, thick witted rotter, a fact that’d been proved time and again.

“Well, Peterson was somewhat convincing, given his grasp of advanced technology. You don’t suppose he’s from another time?”

The doctor chuckled. “No, Mr Peterson is from this time, an era in which many struggle with critical thinking and rational thought. But Mr Peterson’s delusions have been especially persistent. I don’t recommend trying to argue him out of his theories.”

***

The next morning, Martin strolled the sanitarium’s extensive grounds hoping to clear his head of last night’s Technicolor monstrosity of a dream. Dr Baumner promised the dreams would pass, once he’d thoroughly detoxed. “Soon.” When exactly was soon? Not bloody soon enough.

He paused under a tree which was shedding little white things, petals or seeds. He bent and scooped up a handful. Oh, God. Suddenly, a heap of cocaine lay before him, and he was carefully carving it into lines with his monogrammed silver razor blade, the subtle scritch of razor across mirror. Gradually, he tamed the powder into perfectly straight parallel lines of ecstasy. Then the rolling of a C-note, a delicate snort, a numbing tang on his palate. He could almost feel the rush.

But, no. He was on his knees in a carpet of plant bits outside a dry-out clinic. Reality could be so cruel.

Peterson stepped from behind the tree. “Conspiracy goes back to J. Edgar himself. He commissioned NASA to design the bioelectrics and radio-frequency eye transmitters. He authorized the mass avicide. Without real birds, entire ecosystems are collapsing, thanks to the CIA. Happy to spell out the tie-in to Watergate, if you need me to.”

Martin ran his hand over the false-coke and silently grieved at the turn his life had taken. Sure, Doc Balustrade recommended against arguing with this lunatic. But damn it, if these tree-droppings couldn’t be cocaine, then bird-droppings couldn’t be radio-transmitters either. Fair was fair.

“Listen. It’s just not true. I know birds. My wife sings to birds, and they like her. They even protect her. So, I’ve seen birds up close. And very recently, a bird died from a gunshot, BAM, right in front of my face. Blood splattered everywhere—real blood, no wires, no gubbins, no knobs. And if the birds were real, the whale must’ve been real too. And it was! I felt the whale’s skin under my fingers. Trust me; it was real. So were the barnacles. Listen, NASA can put a man on the moon, but they can’t make a bioelectric whale with real-feeling skin. No way.”

Silence hung in the air like a group of friends ignoring a fart, the usual reaction to Martin Davis babbling nonsense. He sighed. It was all so exhausting.

Hands in pockets, head hanging, Peterson used the toe of his shoe to scrape a semicircle in the plant snow. “Sorry man. Sounds like you have serious problems. Better talk to the doc about the…um…whale.”

Then a plop sounded close to his left ear. He turned his head seeing a gooey bird dropping sliding down the shoulder of his powder-blue jumpsuit. Above, a big black crow loosed a raucous caw and winged away.

Peterson eyed the whitish goo and shot him a meaningful look. “Better clean that off ASAP.”

***

But was Peterson correct? Decide for yourself at https://birdsarentreal.com/

A Queen Among Crows by M.S. Linsenmayer, A Review

Steampunk-Alternate History-Magical Fantasy and Talking Crows!

1908-Russia: A scrappy intelligence officer from war torn North America hires herself out as a mercenary in the service of Catherine the Great. Both women are “Queens,” descendants of the Gods possessing certain powers. Eryma communes with crows, and her birds provide reconnaissance and protection. Though bashed, battered and covered in tread marks, she plans to help recover a crash-landed asteroid in exchange for eternal youth. But both Catherine’s court and Eryma’s plans are suffused with intrigue. 

A complex series of events ensues laced with historical distortions, magic, monsters, blood, gore, and a steam punk feel. The plot unfolds gradually, and Eryma’s intentions and history are delivered in bits and pieces, leaving room for reveals and plot twists. And the novel excels in characterization, including Eryma who’s battered but tough and resolute with a goofy sense of humor.

“Other women may have had beauty, class and romance; I had wit, experience, and explosives. The latter, in my experience, solves more problems than romance does.”

Grim, hard-living, violent, and lusty Dame July provides a frenemy-romance, and several acts of savagery. And Eryma’s crow community includes both a corvid genius and a comedian. 

     “So, if I am dead, which religion was correct?” I mused aloud.

“Yog-Slaggoth,” Lois stuck her head through the drapes “The Elder tentacled on is coming to dine on us later. Please be properly shaved, greased, and seasoned by five.”

If you’re after diversity, banter, wordplay, action, and strong female characters, A Queen Among Crows is your book. However, please observe the CLIFF HANGER WARNING sign and don’t tumble off at the end of the novel. Stand alone readers may be disappointed. On the bright side, several additional volumes of this series are already out and available.

  1. Genres: LGBTQ+ Science Fiction, Steampunk Fiction, Alternate History, Fantasy.
  2. Humor: Interlaced
  3. Violence: High
  4. Diversity: High
  5. Sex: Closed Door
  6. Warnings: CLIFF HANGER (but series completed)