Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Keepers of the Light

 Submitted for Project #10 "The Wuthering"
Off the New England coast near Minot's Ledge

Many a passing ship was wrecked.

A lighthouse was erected there to warn

Of the deadly force of a Northeastern storm.

In April, 1851, up the coast there came

The tremendous fury of a hurricane.

The tiny lighthouse was battered and bashed

As huge waves all around it crashed.

Antoine and Wilson wrote to say

The lighthouse swayed two feet each way.

They feared they wouldn't survive the night--

Still, the keepers kept the light.

Kept it burning so ships were warned

Of the deadly force of the Northeastern storm.

Suddenly iron pilings began to break.

The house itself the ocean would take.

Frantically the lighthouse bell rang

But the violent storm swallowed its clang.

That night two men stood alone

Against the awesome force of a New England storm.

Then the keepers and the light slipped into the sea

And disappeared for eternity.

They that go down to the sea in ships
Look to the Light that the Keepers keep lit.


For the full story of Minot's Ledge Light click here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Great Confederacy

Submitted for Project #8 "The When that Wasn't", this is an alternate history piece.

The beach is strewn with bodies and ships burn in the harbor. A boy, no more than thirteen, disturbed by what he has seen, walks away from the battle alongside his father. He has been courageous this day and knows the man is proud. Still, he is bothered by what he has done and the question burns within him. As they walk alone down the wooded path away from the bloody beach he finally asks. “Why? Why do we kill them?”

“We didn't always. There was a time, long, long ago, when we welcomed them.”

“We did?” The boy wrinkles his brow.

The tall man gives him a sidelong glance. “Don't you pay attention at the Nikommosachmiawene?”

The boy looks to the ground, embarrased. “It's so long; by the end I forget the beginning.”

Smiling, his father agrees “It is long. The history of our people goes way back.” He pauses, then continues. “Over four thousand night suns have come and gone since that time. When they first came, they were few in number and knew not the ways of survival. The great sachem Ousamequin, whom they called Massasoit, took pity upon them and was like a father to them. He gave them food to eat and space upon which to live and he showed them how to plant food. Many powaws warned that more would come and they would take all the space from the Wampanoag and make him to obey their laws and practice their religion. They urged Ousamequin to destroy them before they became many and powerful—before it was too late. But the great sachem said the white men knew much science that the Indian did not; that they raised cattle and grew fruit. And he said there was plenty of space for all to share.”

The boy looks around. “It seems to me there is enough.”

“There should have been, except that the English always wanted more. It is true that they often paid a fair price for the land, but not always. They would charge a large sum of money as a penalty for some wrongdoing, and when the Indian could not pay they took his land instead. They would let their livestock run wild over the Indian's fields until he gave up trying to plant in them. And sometimes they used violence to take what they wanted.

“But still Ousamequin kept the peace and when he died his son, Wamsutta, wanted to show that he too intended to keep the tradition of friendliness between the white man and the Indian. He asked for English names for himself and his younger brother, Pometacom. He was given the name Alexander. Pometacom they called Philip.

“But the white men did not trust Wamsutta and often accused him of dealing with the Narragansett in plans to attack English settlements. Finally they forced him at gunpoint to go and face their charges. Under their care he died, the English said from disease, but our people believed he was poisoned.

“Even so, Pometacom pledged to keep the peace with the white man. But the English would not trust him either. They accused him of conspiring with the French and the Dutch. They accused him of conspiring with the Narragansett. They made him sign a treaty and took his guns away, sending him back to his people without them.

“A very bad thing happened when a man whom the English called John Sassamon was found dead under the ice at Assawompsett Pond. He had been a member of Pometacom's council until he tried to trick the sachem in a land deal and was sent away. Three Indians were accused of killing him: Tobias, his son Wampapaquan, and Mattachunnamo. There was no proof but an English court sentenced them to hang. Thus it was proven that the Wampanoag could not trust English justice.

“The real trouble broke out when some Wampanoags decided to raid the village of Swansea and one of them was killed by a boy with a gun. When asked why he had killed the Indian, he replied that it did not matter. He saw nothing wrong in what he had done. The next day nine white people were killed in retribution and the Great War had begun.”

They walk in silence for a short while, the man recalling the story he has heard told so many times, the boy pondering the bodies at the beach.

Finally, the man resumes the telling. “The English thought they could trap Pometacom on the peninsula, but with the help of Weetamoe he was slipped across the Titicut River and escaped from Pocasset Swamp to Nipmuc territory. The Indians who were left behind and captured, mostly women and children, were sold into slavery.

“Pometacom was almost caught again when Oneco, son of Uncas, and the treacherous Mohegans sided with the English and tracked him down at Nipsachuck. After a fierce battle, Pometacom escaped along the Blackstone River and went north to Menameset. Weetamoe went south to Narragansett country to join with Ninigret and the Niantic people.

“Pometacom was able to enlist the help of the Nipmuc and soon the white man's settlements of Brookfield, Lancaster, and Springfield came under attack.

“Sometimes the English themselves helped Pometacom gain the support of other Indian tribes. They attacked the peaceful Norwottock and Agawam people, which brought them into the war. An act of cruelty turned the Abanaki sachem, Squando, against them. His wife and infant child had been travelling down the Saco River when their canoe was capsized on purpose by some English who wanted to see if the baby would swim. His wife tried frantically but was unable to save the child.

“Some Indians converted to the English faith and lived in settlements within their communities. But the English did not trust these "Christian Indians" anymore than they trusted the others. In Marlborough, one such group was rounded up and when a squaw with her baby started to run away, her brother and husband tried to catch her and all four were shot by the English; even the child was killed. The rest were tied together by their necks and marched off to Boston.

“But the biggest mistake the English made was to attack the Narragansett. They wanted Ninigret and Canonchet to give up some of Weetamoe's people who had gone seeking refuge. Finally, they sent a thousand soldiers into the Great Swamp to force the Narragansett to comply.

“Had it not been for a traitor called "Peter" they would have never found the village of the Narragansett. Had the work on the fort been completed, they would never have taken it. As it turned out over 600 Indians were killed as the English set fire to the wigwams trapping and burning old men, women and children.

“The Great Swamp Fight was a turning point. Pometacom was in the Mahican village of Schaghticoke on the Hoosic River trying to convince the Mohawks, leaders of the mighty Iriquois Confederacy, to join him in his fight against the English. But the Mohawks were bitter enemies of the Algonquin and they were planning to kill Pometacom when word reached them of the massacre in the Great Swamp. The incident helped them realize that the English were the enemy of all Indians.

“So it was that Pometacom was able to unite the Algonquin tribes, Wampanoag, Narraganset, Massachusett, and Pawtucket; the Iroquios tribes, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayga, and Seneca; the Abenaki tribes, Pennacook, Pigwacket, Sokoki, Penobscot, Casco, Sheepscot, Passamaquoddy, and Androscoggin; and the Nipmuc tribes, Nashaway, Nonatook, Quaboag, Quinsigamond, Nipnet, and Pegan; along with others, into the Great Confederacy.

“With this powerful force he was able to attack and destroy English settlements from Rhode Island to Maine. First he burned the frontier outposts like Groton and Mendon. Then he gradually moved on to the larger towns like Marlborough, Sudbury, Concord, and Andover, pushing the white man closer and closer to the seacoast. Finally big towns like Providence, Hartford, and Boston came under attack, the people besieged until famine and disease eventually claimed them.

“All along the coast the white man was banished from this land. And still the ships come from across the sea. When Providence was burning, the great white man, Roger Williams, told Canonchet, "Massachusetts can raise thousands of men at this moment, and if you kill them, the King of England will supply their place as fast as they fall." Canonchet replied, "Well, let them come. We are ready for them."”

The man reflects for a moment. “And still they come. And still we are ready for them.”

The boy walks on in silence. Ships burn in the harbor.


Leach, Douglas Edward. Flintlock and Tomahawk:New England in King Philip's War. 1958. Reprint: Parnassus Imprints, 1992.

Schultz, Eric B. & Michael J. Tougias King Philip's War:The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict. Woodstock, VT.: The Countryman Press, 1999.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Memory Preservation Project

Submitted for Project #6: "Oz Never Gave Nothing to the Tin Man"

“My goodness! What happened? Let me help you up. Here, step into my office and have a seat.”

“I'm really not sure what happened.”

“Well, I see you've met one of our products.”

“One of your products?”

“Yes, indeed. Here at the Robotics Institue we create robots of all kinds. If I'm not mistaken, you're here about our memory preservation project.”

“Actually, yes. Yes I am.”

“You never checked in with the receptionist.”

“No. She was busy and I was late, so I thought I'd just come on up.”

“Ah, she would have given you a visitor's badge which the IG-12 would have recognised. You would have saved yourself the encounter with the stun gun.”

“I'm glad it was only set to stun.”

“Oh, my, we couldn't equip the unit with anything capable of deadly force. It doesn't know good guys from bad guys, so to speak.”

“So that was the IG-12, huh?”

“Yes, the Intelligent Guard series number twelve.”

“You say it's intelligent?”

“Yes, meaning that it can learn, not just function and perform menial tasks. For instance, now that it has seen me bring you into my office it will not tag you again. You're a friendly face in its memory bank now.”

“Well, thank God for that.”

“No, thank us for that. You can well imagine that it takes a lot of work to create an intelligent being. Most of the time, when a unit does something that seems unintelligent the cause can be traced back to human error.”


“Oh, yes. We had a scientist here once who decided, when he quit, to steal some information. He broke into the lab and was confronted by a unit on guard duty, an IG-10 I believe. He should have been captured, but he proceeded directly to a chess table. The unit took up a position opposite him and moved its first piece. The man then moved two pieces at the same time, creating an illegal formation on the board. We found the unit in the same position in the morning, still pondering its next move, unable to proceed because it couldn't understand the board configuration. The human error in this case was our neglecting to ensure that a unit on guard duty did not switch roles to that of "chess player".”

“I see.”

“Here at the Robotics Institute, we believe that the sooner we can eliminate the human error factor, the better. For example, let me demonstrate some of the problems we've had in our consumer division with the Intelligent Task Master series of robotic units. We sent an ITM-3 to the grocery store with a list of items. We instructed it to get 2 pounds of potatoes. It put them on the scale and continued switching potatoes in and out until it had exactly 2 pounds. We told it that we wanted 2 pounds of ground beef. Again, it failed to understand that 1.98 or 2.03 pounds would have been sufficient to satisfy our request. And it didn't know how to get half a cup of rice, because rice isn't sold that way. These are all examples of human error, not lack of intelligence. We were able to adjust the programming such that all these problems were solved. There was much celebration when the unit successfully traversed the grocery store and returned with all the correct items.”

“So you've fixed all of its problems?”

“Not exactly. We sent the unit back again with a new list and it skipped all the items that were duplicates from the first one. It "knew" that it had already gotten milk, for example, and didn't understand that we wanted more milk. Someone suggested that we give it an algorithm by which it could compare a household inventory with grocery store items. But human error intervened again—the unit compared every single item in the grocery store to the inventory we had given it for the household and proceeded to buy up the entire store. Again, this was not due to a lack of intelligence. We had given it the wrong instructions.”

“And were you able to fix those problems as well?”

“Yes, but there are countless others. It's quite a job to test every little task that an ITM may be required to do. Humans are generally unaware of the little things that they do when they accomplish a task, the common sense sort of things, those things that are so automatic that they don't seem to require any thought at all, so that's where the programming usually falls short.”

“Yes, of course.”

“But you're here about becoming a memory preservation client, is that correct?”

“Yes, that's right.”

“One of our most exciting projects, indeed. We're in direct competition with the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.”

“Aren't those the people who freeze heads?”

“No, that's a misconception. First of all they don't freeze anything, they use a process called vitrification which prevents the formation of tissue-damaging ice. Secondly, they're preserving the brain, not the head, but there is currently no way to safely remove the brain from the skull, so to prevent damaging the organ they leave it inside the head. Their big problem, though, is that the technology does not yet exist to discover whether a reversibly vitrified brain would actually function. They have had success with kidneys, but a kidney is nowhere near as complex an organ as a brain. What we're doing at the Robotics Institute is preserving memories, a much less invasive technique. We can download your memories right now without harming you in the least. What's more, we can upload your memories to a machine, one of our Intelligent Memory Preservation units. On power up, the IMP will think it's you—and essentially it will be.”

“That's interesting.”

“Indeed. And what's more, our clients can have a new download created any time they want one. We suggest at least once a year. When one of our clients dies, we upload his or her latest memories into an IMP unit, thereby bringing them back into the world.”

“But I—the person would be a robot.”

“Not just a robot, an intelligent machine, capable of learning new things just like you and I, but with the additional benefit of having all of the client's previous knowledge intact. What a head start over programming from scratch!”

“So what do I do?”

“Well, there's paperwork of course, legal stuff mostly. We don't want anybody to ever say we've stolen their identity. And there's a form that gives us permission to upload your memories while your alive, for testing purposes only. Then we can begin downloading as early as today.”


“As soon as the paperwork is signed.”

“And have you successfully done this before?”

“Oh, yes. Of course we're still working out some of the glitches. We discovered that we have to do some additional programming before we power up the unit. On our first test the IMP-1 wouldn't stop screaming. You see, it thought it was our client but it didn't know what had happened to its body, so it basically panicked.”

“So what did you do?”

“We added some "memories" of our own so it would know what was going on and be able to deal with the situation rationally.”

“Did it know it was dead?”

“Well, it thought that it had been near death, but saved, given both a new body and another chance at life.”

“And did it have all of its previous memories?”

“It seemed to, but we're still checking; It's a long and complicated process.”

“Where is it now?”

“It's still being worked on. Are you ready to get started?”


“We're going to hook you up to a machine now, that will download all of your memories. You will probably fall asleep; if so don't worry about it, everything will be fine.”
“How are you feeling?”

“What happened?”

“The operation was a success. You've got a brand new body and a second chance at living your life.”

“You said this would be harmless—Hey! Wait a minute! Look at me! I'm the robot! Where's the real me? I want to see my other body.”

“I'm afraid that's not possible.”

“What? Why not?”

“There's been an accident. An automobile accident; right after you left our building. We are not in possession of your body.”

“But how can that be?”

“Things like that happen. You never know when it's your time. You're just lucky we did a download before you left that day. And that you signed those forms, otherwise we wouldn't be authorized to bring you back.”

“Bring me back? You mean I'm—”

“You've got another chance. Your new body will seem clumsy at first but you'll get used to it, and we'll be here to help every step of the way.”

“This can't be. This can't be. I can't be—AAAAAAAHHHHHH!”

“Oh, my, where's your power switch? Why do they all go mad?


Thursday, November 18, 2010


Submitted for Project #4 "It's About Time"

The twins are having a wonderful time reminiscing.

“Remember old Lord Biddle?”

“We had him seeing double!”

“The doctors thought alcohol did it to him.”

“So does he probably! Ha ha ha!”

They're eleven. At least they were in 1750 when the nanny killed them. Oh, it's true that they were little hellions always playing pranks on her and sometimes getting her into trouble. But she didn't have to kill them. She poisoned their food! I know because I watched her do it. I was peeking into the kitchen to see how cooking was done. I was fourteen and everyone said I was too young to learn how to cook, so I would sneak peeks so I could learn by watching. But Ms. Flaherty was using ingredients that did not belong in people's food. Foolishly, I confronted her.

“What do you think you're doing?”

“You! Where did you come from?”

In a rage, she grabbed me by the throat and would not let go. I could not breathe and felt myself getting weaker. My legs felt wobbly and I could no longer stand up. Suddenly I was floating around the ceiling. I watched her pick my body up off the floor and carry it to her room. She stuffed it into the corner behind the bed.

That afternoon I watched in horror as the boys ate their lunch. Ms. Flaherty had a sly smile upon her lips and blood upon her hands. She had already killed me and was about to do the same to the twins.

The stuff worked fast! By two o'clock the boys were very, very sick. I went back and forth between their rooms but I didn't know how to let them know that I was there. By three it was over.

The nanny came to get them. She carried them to the staircase under which there was a secret chamber. The boys used to like to hide in there and one day they scared her half to death when she came down the stairs and they jumped up, seemingly out of nowhere. They laughed and made her promise not to tell anyone about their secret spot. Now she would never tell. She returned to her room and brought down my body. She stuffed it into that same little compartment with the twins.

Sometime later I found the two boys wandering around the house, frightened out of their wits. It was as if they didn't realize they were dead. I guess it's different if you see it happen. We all watched that night as police came to the house and Ms. Flaherty cried and cried. She said we went out to play and she couldn't find us at lunchtime. She suspected we were playing games and didn't bother to look for us until suppertime. She said she was afraid and didn't want our parents to come home and find police so she didn't call them. What an actress she was! I remember wishing I could suddenly appear in the crowd and point an accusing finger at her and show everyone the staircase. But I didn't know how to make myself visible then.

It turns out that it's not very hard to do at all. The boys do it all the time.

“Remember the time that housekeeper came outside to retrieve the laundry?”

“And we were playing catch in the yard?”

“With our heads?”

“She turned as white as the sheets on the line. Ha ha!”

“I never saw anyone run so fast! Ha ha ha!”

“Everyone kept telling her it was only the sheets in the wind!”

“But all she could do was point and babble! Ha ha!”

By the time I learned how to appear to the living, it was too late. Our parents were long gone from this place. Of course, we couldn't go anywhere, our bodies are here, so here we must stay as well. After a while I realized that if we were discovered and given a proper burial, well, let's just say I don't think the boys would go to Heaven. It seemed better to leave things alone and let them go on having their fun haunting people. Myself, I don't go for that sort of thing. I don't find it very amusing. In fact I've only haunted someone once; not counting the nanny, of course.

You didn't think Ms. Flaherty got away with it, did you? After the police were gone and everyone had given up looking for us, she decided to leave town. But my brothers spooked her horse. It seems funny to put it that way, now that I'm telling it. Anyway, she was thrown. Everyone thought that she was killed by hitting her head on a rock, but she wasn't. That was my job.

But I digress. This story is about my problem. There's a boy. His name is Josh and he just moved in with his family. They laugh about the "ghost stories" and say they're not afraid, so naturally the twins are looking forward to haunting them. And they can get very creative when they put their evil little minds to it. They once scared a young soldier so badly that he could never go near a horse again. They had him believing he had come face to face with the Devil himself. Another time they talked a gardner into killing himself. They found out he had left a pregnant girl many years ago and they convinced him that they were the ghosts of his dead children. In despair, he hung himself in the barn. And it's unspeakable how they toyed with poor Lord Biddle. He finally suffered a heart attack because of them.

So that's why I'm worried. I don't want them to scare Josh's family off—or worse. I've told them in no uncertain terms that I won't tolerate them haunting those people, which sets them off in peals of laughter. They've threatened to crawl into Josh's bed and let him wake up between the two of them. I've no idea what else they're cooking up.

Which is why I have to somehow lead Josh to the chamber in the staircase. But I'm not going to enjoy doing this. It will mean an end to the three of us and, like I said, I don't think the boys are going to Heaven. Actually I'm not so sure about myself either. I also don't like the idea of Josh seeing the terrible mess that he will discover there. Or of him seeing me like that. Josh is fifteen and beautiful. I like to think my fourteen-year-old self was at least pretty—but now…

So this is what love is. To protect Josh from those two, I will haunt him first. Tonight. I will awaken him from sleep with a gentle kiss and a whisper in his ear. I'm sure he'll follow me; if he doesn't I'll let him see a faint glimpse of me as I disappear around a corner. I'll lead him to the staircase and let him see me go through the wall there. If he's not awake enough to investigate, I'll push the hidden door open for him. Hopefully, I don't frighten him into fits, but it's a chance I have to take. Once our bones are discovered and properly cared for, the twins and I will be on our own. Of course, I'll never see Josh again after that…

Hush, now. Everyone's asleep. It's time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

End of Days

Submitted for Project #2 "The Deities of Mythology"

Hera:What has happened?
Zeus:The world has come to an end.
Poseidon:But I have yet to swallow it with the sea!
Athena:Man still roams the Earth. How can it be?
Zeus:We are finished; our power is gone.
Call in the satyr, the centaur, and the unicorn.
Call the nymph from out of the sea.
It's time for us to leave.
Bring all immortal creatures, even Cerberus.
Men no longer believe in us.
Hera:But where will we go?
Zeus:That I do not know.
Apollo:Who will drive the sun to change night and day?
Zeus:The horses of the chariot know the way.
Ares:But surely there are yet battles to fight and heroes to kill.
Zeus:You have taught Man only too well that skill.
Hades:Who will watch over the souls of the damned?
Zeus:Our reign is over; it's out of our hands.
Aphrodite:But who will show Man love and beauty?
Zeus:No one. he refuses to see.
Hermes:Who will save Man from himself?
Zeus:Alas, only Time will tell.
It's no longer our place.
This is our End of Days.