One For the Road

As penance for being a day late (and we won’t even discuss dollars short), I’m posting a new story from the annals of the Black Dog. If I ever get around to doing a revised edition, I’ll add this one.

One For the Road

Casey was looking a little down in the mouth when she started her shift. Granted, it’s not always obvious when a banshee is feeling down. They tend to be a bit morbid in the best of times, but with Casey there was always a hint of joy hanging around her.

Not tonight.

Most folk wouldn’t notice, but then I’m not most folk. Name’s Bitsy, by the way. I’m a wisp. You know, those faintly glowing blue lights that sometimes lead travelers astray? Yeah, that’s rubbish. Mostly we’re out and about on our own business, and if someone is silly enough to follow a strange light in the woods? As I see things, they get what they deserve. I was at the Black Dog that evening, even though wisps can’t drink. Where would we put it? I go there for the company and conversation, and Casey is one of my favorite people.

Anyway, she was looking gloomy, even for a banshee, and especially for a part-time mixologist named Casey. It took a little convincing to get her to open up, but eventually she spilled.

“There was a death In the American branch of the O’Tooles,” she said. “I’m their banshee, so I had to be there. Obligations.”

“If I didn’t understand the relationship of a banshee to the family they’re attached to, I’d almost think you were reluctant.”

Casey shrugged. “I always care,” she said. “In a way, the O’Tooles really are my family. But humans are mayflies, you know? None of them live longer than the blink of a cat’s eye, by comparison. But this old guy…well, he lasted longer than most.”

I was having a suspicion. “Did you…meet him?”

 “Sometimes I’d attend the wakes. It’s not against the rules, strictly speaking, and usually no one notices me, but he had the Sight. He knew what I was. We had a drink together. Just a drink. Writer’s Tears. Turned out that was his favorite. He was young then.”

“I gather this happened more than once?”

She shrugged again. “As I said, he lived a long time for a human. We attended a lot of wakes. Always the same drink. If the wake didn’t have it, he brought it himself. I…I liked him. He wasn’t afraid of me. I don’t think he was afraid of anything, even death, except maybe not living the way he chose, on his own terms. But then it was his time. I went to the wake. His own wake and they didn’t have his favorite spirit.”

Casey frowned, then rummaged behind the bar, finally producing a dusty bottle. “Haven’t opened this since the leanan sidhe was here last.” She poured a shot, placed it on the bar. “Sometimes humans find this place, so if you can, Liam O’Toole, this is for you.”

Casey put the bottle away. When she turned back, the tumbler was empty. She glared at me. “Did you?”

“You know I can’t.”

She blinked. “Oh, right.”

She smiled then. “One for the road.”

©2021 Richard Parks

Regarding Tolkien, But Not Really

This is a new story set in the Black Dog Pub. It’s not in the collection for temporal reasons. Namely it wasn’t written when I released the book.

My name’s Casey. I’m the bartender here at the Black Dog pub…well, one of them. Neegan’s the other. I’m a banshee. Neegan…actually, I’m not sure what Neegan is. Tall, good-looking guy. Maybe I’ll ask him one of these days, but I digress.

The subject came up when I was talking to Tim the Clurachaun. You might notice him if you stumble into the Black Dog. Short guy, even for a fae. Wears a red vest. Like their drink, clurachauns, so he’s often here. Oh, and a word of advice—never make a bar bet with a clurachaun. Trust me on this.

Anyway, one evening Tim was on his usual stool muttering into his beer. Or maybe he was scrying, you never know. Finally he puts his chin on the bar and stares into the golden brew.

“’All that is gold does not glitter,’” he says, and I couldn’t help myself.

“’Not all those who wander are lost.’ You read Tolkien?”

“Not a bad storyteller, for a human,” Tim says, “though he had elves all wrong. They’re about as ethereal and wise as a kick in the arse.”

“What about the Seelie Court?”

Tim grunted. “I was referring to the Seelie Court. The Unseelie Court is worse, if more fun.”

Most fae are at least casually associated with one Court or the other. As a banshee I’m usually lumped in with the Unseelie bunch. Not sure why. Foretelling death is a useful service, and it’s not as if I actually kill anybody. Now, if you were talking about my Scottish cousins the baobhan-sith, you’d have a case. Those girls have a taste for blood. Good dancers, though.

Tim drained his beer, ordered another. “Speaking of Tolkien, I don’t envy humans at all…and I very much envy them.”

“At the same time?” I said, wiping a glass. “Not possible.”

Tim nodded, looking morose. “I know. Probably why it keeps happening.”

“How do you not envy them?”

“They have the lifespans of mayflies, by comparison. Most of them go through that short life in a fog, seldom with any sort of a clue what’s really happening around them.”

“And how do you very much envy them?”

He sighed. “They make stuff up.”

I frowned. “Really? That’s it?”

“Casey, darlin’, when we tell a story, it’s something that actually happened, if exaggerated. When they tell a story, they take a kernel of truth and blow it up into an entire myth! Nothing bends reality like a good myth, and they are myth machines!  Like Yeats and the Leannan Sidhe, or that Tolkien fellow. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of his high and mighty elves that don’t exist shows up here one day. The fact that you and I are having this conversation right now might be due to one of them making stuff up.”

“Scary thought.”

Tim does get into the foolishness when he’s into his cups. Still, next chance I get I will ask Neegan what the heck he is.

Just in case.

©2021 Richard Parks

Let’s Take This Show on the Road

“Where Strange Drinks and Even Stranger Clients Meet.”

Which might somewhat describe the newsletter, except for the drinks part. You’re on your own there.

Ahem.

Crossed fingers and held breath, I think I have everything together. If not, I’ll be the second to know. Regardless, the image to the left is the cover for the prize I’ve arranged for those signing up for my newsletter, Tales From the Black Dog.

What is The Black Dog, you might ask? I’ll summarize it thusly:

“The Black Dog is an odd little pub, with strange drinks and an even stranger clientele. Sometimes it’s there. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you’ll find it, and sometimes you won’t. Just don’t hit on the bartender or the bouncer, whatever you do. She’s a Banshee and he’s a Redcap. It won’t end well for you.”

The book itself is a collection of eleven flash pieces I wrote mostly for fun about the pub and the mix of humans and non-humans who inhabit the place. Those who have read Little Fire and Fog may recognize some of them. Those who have read much of mine may notice some of my themes and interests come up. Those who haven’t, I think it’s a fair if brief introduction to what I’m about. It also includes the only real Tuckerization I have ever done, though who? Ain’t telling. They know what they did. The individual pieces have appeared only in a very small (maybe 20 people) private FB group. This collection appears nowhere, period (except on your computer if you so choose), and won’t for the foreseeable future. It is my gift to you, and I hope you like it.

There will be a link on the main page, but I put one here also where you can sign up for the Newsletter.

The list asks for your email address (duh), name, and country you’re in. The name is just how you like to be addressed (Grand Moff of the Galaxy? You do you), and the country in case I need to do anything special to comply with EU rules. After that you’ll be given a link to the download page where you can choose the ebook format you prefer and have at it. Couldn’t be simpler. Well, it could, but it’s still pretty simple.

For those who do sign up, let me know how it went. I’m new at this.

Confession Time

I am a writer, so it should go without saying that I’m a reader. Show me a writer who didn’t start as a reader and I’ll show you someone painting by numbers and connecting the dots.

On the other hand, or foot, or whatever—there’s more than one kind of reader. Most true readers start as the voracious sort, and I certainly did. Once I learned that those black ink spots meant something, there was no stopping me. Storybooks, philosophy, cereal boxes, whatever. Put it in front of me and I’d read it. I wouldn’t always understand it, mind, but at the time this hardly mattered.

That’s fairly common among readers. Later, after that initial insane rush, we start to specialize…or drift, depending on your point of view. We start to recognize that certain forms “speak” to us more. It may be a phase, it may be lifelong. I started with books and later moved to an intense affair with comics when I had a bit more discretionary income and could, you know, acquire things that weren’t already in the family library. I came into that about the time Jack Kirby moved to DC and started the New Gods series. But all good and bad things come to an end, and if you’re lucky, new good things appear (and bad, whether  you’re lucky or not) and by college I was back to books. LOTR and The Earthsea (at the time) Trilogy. Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith and those echoes of the pulp era. HPL, REH.

And then…well, my true bent manifested. Turns out I am a butterfly. I go to whatever catches my attention. I am not focused. Some readers make it a point to, say, read the Romantics and ignore everything else until they’re done, then move on. I can’t do that. I go back, I go forward. I read collections and novels by current writers. I go back to things I’ve missed. Bear in mind, this is for pleasure. There’s also writerly research, which is another subject entirely. It can be and often is pleasurable, but that’s not the reason you go there. You need to know about something and try to find out what you don’t know. You go where you think that information is.

Just another way of saying I am haphazard in the extreme. For instance, I’ve managed to read ULYSSES, but not FINNEGAN’S WAKE. I’ve read Eddison’s THE WORM OUROBOROS but not Morris’ THE WELL AT WORLD’S END. You get the idea.

So the confession part. I, a fantasist, have never read George Macdonald. At all. This is something I feel a sharp need to address. So I’ve acquired copies of THE GOLDEN KEY and PHANTASTES.

Which, at the very minimum, will tell me what, if anything I’ve missed. Other than, you know, almost everything.

Getting My Tuckerization On

Do I have to explain Tuckerization? Probably not to this crowd, but I’ll do it anyway. It’s when you put a real person in as a character in one of your stories/books. Popularized by the late Wilson  “Bob” Tucker who made a habit of it. While there are all kinds of legal implications for doing such a thing of your own accord (like revealing a real embarrassment about a real person in terms so thin anyone could figure out who you meant), it’s usually just for fun and with everyone’s cooperation. Charities will even raise money on the chance to be immortalized by being killed horribly in, say, a Stephen King novel.

In all my time making up stories I’ve never felt the need to do one, because that’s not the way I work.  All my characters emerge from whole cloth. And by “whole cloth” I mean they’re amalgams of my own inner landscape plus bits drawn from  everyone I’ve ever met in this life.

That is, until now.

I’ve spoken about the local flash fiction group I belong to. Every week (almost) I have to come up with a piece of flash in addition to whatever else I may be working on. Lots of stand alones, but one or two have turned into new series. One of those is about a pub called “The Black Dog,” a place which is sometimes there and sometimes not, with a rather…different, shall we say, clientele, aside from the normal humans who through fate or good (or bad) luck stumble across it. They’ve been fun to write and I’ll likely turn them into a collection when I have enough. Regardless, our group leader likes them so much she asked to be made into a character in one of the stories. I was so astonished at the idea that someone wanted to be in a story of mine that I agreed.

So next week I’ll be keeping my promise, in a character who literally doesn’t exist in a pub that sometimes exists. Writing is always hard work, but it’s fun, too.

Sometimes I can use that reminder.