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EPISODE 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play (live from the Pocahontas County Opera House)

"...to a Flame" the stage playThe Mothman of West Virginia is reported to be a winged creature, the size of a man, but with glowing red eyes. There have been a few plays written about this creature. This is one of them.

Presenting the stage adaptation of Eric Fritzius’s short story “…to a Flame” as recorded during its performance during the Opera House PlayFest, at the Pocahontas County Opera House, in Marlinton, W.Va., in 2016.

The adaptation stars John C. Davis as Jeff, Dwayne Kennison as Virgil Hawks, and the author himself as Rik Winston.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play

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EPISODE 04: “Old Country” a Live Radio Adaptation REDUX

Old Country

Episode 04 of the REDUX version of the Consternation of Monsters Podcast features a recording of a live radio adaptation of the short story “Old Country” as found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters.

On a day in 1983, Martin Riscili receives the most important phone call of his life.  His late father’s mobster “associate,” Jimmy Jambalaya, has just phoned to alert Martin to his imminent death by Jimmy’s own hand.  His house is watched.  His phone line is dead.  Jimmy’s on his way.  And the only thing Martin can think of that might yet save his life is his grandmothers’ quilt.

If only he could remember where he put it.

A story of crime and punishment and contractual terms with forces beyond our understanding.

This is a live radio-style adaptation was recorded live on October 12, 2015, at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg, W Va.   It stars Sarah Elkins as Melissa, Shane Miller as Martin, the author himself as Tino and The Warrior, and a special appearance by Dr. AC as Jimmy Jambalaya.

DOWNLOAD: Episode 04: “Old Country” a live radio adaptation REDUX

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Limited Editions Opened

My most recent Consternation of Monsters podcast features an excerpt from my short story “Limited Edition.”  And by excerpt, I mean about half of it.

Though it is the longest story to be found in A Consternation of Monsters, it is also probably one that was one of the quickest for me to develop because the core idea for it arrived in my head close to fully formed.  Though I hinted at this recently in my interview with J.D. Byrne, there’s a little more to tell about the story.

For a while in the early oughts, I was a part of an email writing and critique group consisting of several writer friends of mine from college.  And because it began in the year 2000, and we all loved David Fincher movies, we were obliged to call ourselves Write Club. (And subsequently make the joke “First rule about Write Club is… well, you know,” let’s say 480 times.)  For a handful of years there, we took turns issuing monthly writing challenges to one another, with solid, umovable deadlines that often became less solid as they approached.  But eventually the deadline would fall and fall solidly and we were honor bound to turn something in for the others to critique.  Early drafts of a few of the stories in Consternation were spawned by this method, including “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” “Nigh,” “Old Country,” and, of course, “Limited Edition.”  In fact, I give credit to the very Write Club member who dreamed up the prompt that brought “Limited Edition” into being as part of the dedication to Consternation.  “…to Joe Evans, my ideal reader, who also gave me the line about the fork.”

The “line about the fork” was a simple one.  It was Joe’s turn to issue a writing prompt to the rest of us and his was this:  we were to write a story that must include the phrase “Something told him that in all the world, there was no other fork quite like this one.”  

As a writer, I’ve had a handful of what I call Blues Brothers moments in which I–much like Jake Blues in the church at the beginning of The Blues Brothers–receive, seemingly from on high, a direct transmission of knowledge propelling me on a mission from God and/or from my subconscious.  These are magical moments in which a mosaic of images and information seem to fall into place in my head and my visualization and imagination centers go into overdrive as they struggle to process the info dump they’ve just received.  In the moment, I feel almost pinned in place by the celestial beam from above.

An instant after I read Joe’s line about the fork, one of those Blues Brothers moments happened to me.  I was pinned in place in my office chair and suddenly knew exactly what the fork in his sentence meant, the implied-yet-still-loose-enough-to-maneuver-in backstory of not only it but similar and related objects, how this fork would come into the story, who would possess it, who would want it, and a the most logical and fun setting in which such a story would occur.  I also knew which pre-existing character of mine would also be appearing in it, due to the fact that her known occupation–as seen in “The Wise Ones”–synced up nicely with the subject-matter.  I even knew why she would be there.  Those were the basic beats that fell into my head and those beats never changed throughout the writing process.  (I take such gifts from my subconscious quite seriously and try not to deviate from their structures, lest I do damage to plot points put into motion of which I may not yet be entirely aware.  I’m a firm believer that my brain is smarter than I am and that it’s often watching out for me when I’m not paying attention.)

Now, it’s one thing to say that a story fell into your head and another thing to write it.  There are all sorts of details about the story that I was not given in my Blues Brother’s Moment download, which I would have to either imagine or, as turned out to be the case, heavily research.  My setting for the story, granted to me by my noggin, was a tour stop for the American version of the Antiques Roadshow–the public television show in which antiques appraisers offer commentary and assign value to items brought in by the general public.  It was a show I liked, though not one I was in the habit of regularly watching at the time being as how I didn’t get PBS.  However, I adored the BBC America broadcasts of the original UK version, so I was familiar with the basic format.  Fortunately, there’s quite a bit of information about the show and its mechanics to be found online.  Quite a bit.   I was able to learn how it was shot, how the tour worked, who the appraisers were, who the hosts have been, who the executive producers are, how the antiques that made it onto camera were chosen, how many items actually made it to camera in a given stop, how the antiques were categorized for review, and, most amusingly, which practically worthless antiques repeatedly turn up in the mitts of folks who hope and fervently believe they are about to become fabulously wealthy.  (At the time of my research, it seemed to be the one that turns up in the opening paragraphs of the story.)  In fact, there was so much information about the show that I decided I didn’t really need all that much, beyond a few key pieces to help establish the tone of the setting, and the sort of locations the show is usually filmed within.

I also had to research my basic subject: the fork.  We take forks for granted because in the U.S. we’ve never experienced a time when they were not in our lives on a daily basis.  And it was the ubiquitous nature of the fork that suggested further plot avenues to take, given the nature of the fork in question.  (Which, I’m a little embarrassed to say, does not actually make an appearance in the podcast excerpt.  You’ll have to buy the book to learn what’s up with it.)  I had to know how and when the fork actually came into common use as an eating utensil–because it struck me as logical that human beings basically just used their hands to feed themselves for most of our existence.  Still, the fork is such a universally useful tool that it also had to be a very very old one.  And it is.  So much so that I could find no origin point for it, though the historical record gave me a date range in which they came into more common use at the dinner table–which was around the same time that the dinner table also came into popular use.  The research also yielded some fun little factoids, such as the amount of suspicion heaped upon the table fork for many years after its introduction, due to its very existence being an afront to God himself by daring to improve upon the hands he had already given us.

My main character of the story, antiques appraiser C. Phillips Hovelan, walked into it mostly formed.  He wasn’t a direct part of the Blues Brothers Moment, but his presence was suggested and his personality felt right.  He isn’t based on anyone in particular, though he does remind me of a particularly acerbic college professor I once had.  I’ve certainly never seen any appraisers on Antiques Roadshow who were such outright assholes as Phil in the story.  He just seemed like the sort of character archetype who would fit the situation, and one who would be a nice foil to the other main character, my old friend Miss Zeddie.

Until I wrote “Limited Edition,” Miss Zeddie was exclusively known as either Madam Z or Omega–names revealed in other stories found in Consternation and elsewhere.  The trouble is, my fellow Write Clubbers were all also co-creators in a collective fictional universe we developed over a period of years during college to serve as the setting for various role-playing game adventures.  A core of three of us, Joe Evans, Sujay Shaunak, and Marcus Hammack, actually ran the RPG adventures as game-masters and each of them were in charge of their own corner of the universe.  I was not a game-master, but I love to world-build and set about creating extensive databases and timelines for the characters and concepts we encountered during our games.  Eventually, Sujay and I spun things off into prose stories to help fill in some gaps in our storytelling that weren’t so easy to accomplish in the games themselves.

Madam Z had first appears as a non-player character in a couple of our games.  She was a wise and mysterious old woman who served to guide us during an adventure or two.  And she’d been created (as I detail in my recent interview) by Marcus Hammack–who I also thank in the dedication.  I was enchanted with her from the start, thinking Marcus had these grand plans for her, and imagining what her backstory might be.  Only later did I learn that he had basically come up with her on the spot, had no grand plans for her at all, nor any notion of what her backstory might be.  As disappointing as this was, it was to my gain, because after Marcus graduated and left town I kind of inherited her for use in my prose stories.

Because my fellow Write Clubbers would recognize her immediately, though, if I called her Madam Z, I decided she needed a secret identity for the story–one which would definitely hint at her true identity for them, but maybe not on first appearance.  I called her Miss Zeddie.  They could figure out it was her, of course, but maybe not at first, just as readers of Consternation might not know at first that she’s the same old woman from another story.

Z’s true backstory will be revealed at another time and in another story.  (I only gave Joe Evans a glimpse at her earliest origins this past summer when I slipped him a 100 word short story the very title of which is a spoiler.  It had been a secret I’ve held for over two decades now.  I figured I owed him.)  Knowing Z’s backstory, knowing her major goals in her apparently very long life, I knew exactly what she would do if placed into this new story, given the other factors.  In fact, I saw her having a much deeper role in the mechanics of the story itself.  And, given the personality quirks of my main character, Hovelan, I knew how poorly the two of them would get on, which suggested other side stories to the main one, most of which is what the podcast excerpt covers.

As I researched and began writing, I found I had two stories that intertwined–the story of Hovelan and Zeddie, their bitter rivalry, their seeming ultimate showdown, and then the rematch over much higher stakes than either is entirely aware of; and the story of the fork.

And while there are three other important characters who appear in the story, two of which appear in the podcast excerpt, one of whom also makes an appearance elsewhere in Consternation.  But I will leave the matter there for now.  Everything you need to know is in the story itself and to write about any of them will run into spoiler territory.  Just know that there are other stories featuring most of these characters, some of which have actually been written.

As for Write Club, that was something that just kind of stopped.  I think we may have all collectively missed a deadline and were too embarrassed to acknowledge it.  And, after all, there’s that whole first rule of Writer Club thing.  (#481)  We’ve actually talked about re-starting it over the years and occasionally one of us will tell another that it’s their turn to give a prompt.  I expect we will sooner or later.  It’s not a bad idea.  I managed to get a handful of stories I’m proud of from the process, not to mention the sage advice on ways to improve them.  With my upcoming collections in various stages of completion, perhaps it’s time to head back down into the warehouse basement with the boys and chalk up our hands for more bare-knuckle writing.  (Maybe we’ll pick a better name next time.)

Interview

Author J.D. Byrne was kind enough to invite me to conduct an email interview with me for his blog.

We cover many subjects, including audiobooks, mechanics of genre stories versus non-genre (or mundane) stories, and the as yet unchronicled subject of the origin of the story in this week’s podcast, “Limited Edition,” as hinted at in the dedication of A Consternation of Monsters.

You can find it at his website, JDByrne.net and at the link below.

https://jdbyrne.net/2017/04/25/author-interview-eric-fritzius/

EPISODE 03: “Limited Edition”

The Consternation of Monsters Podcast returns with a story of bitter rivalries, stolen opportunities, forgery, and the angel of death, set in the cut throat world of public television antiques appraisal–a world in which one of the most powerful objects is a fork.

This podcast is an excerpt of the audiobook adaptation of the short story “Limited Edition” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 03: “Limited Edition”

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The Prue Saga

A pup named Prue

While in the bedroom dressing one day a couple weeks ago, I happened to look out the window and spotted a dog run past, into the back yard.  This would not be abnormal, as we do have three dogs.  However, it was not one of ours.  The dog I saw was very hound-dogish, probably around 50 pounds, black, white, and brown.  It sniffed around, had a squat, and trotted off into the brush at the edge of the yard.

“Huh,” I said, figuring it was a dog from the neighborhood–one I’d not seen before.

Our actual dogs, who had been lazing on their dog pillows the whole time, suddenly came alive at my “huh,” somehow sensing the intruder or that I’d seen something of interest, and began barking the sort of vicious, ferocious barks that only come from the throats of dogs separated from their enemies by a pane or two of glass.  The other dog suitably cowed (or at least now absent from sight), they settled down again, secure in the knowledge that they’d demonstrated enough ferocity that their jobs as defenders of the realm were safe.

The next day, I saw the dog again, this time lurking in the front yard.  Our dogs didn’t notice and soon it wandered off and down the trail at the edge of our yard.  I didn’t think too much about it.  I wondered briefly if it was an escapee from the humane society, which is down the hill and across a couple of fields from us.  But I didn’t wonder this too long.

Over the next couple of days, I saw the dog a few more times.  Sometimes our dogs saw it as well.  Sometimes not.  My general policy, on the rare occasions we have such visitors, is not to feed them lest they stay and become dog #4.  Soon, though, the wife began to notice it too and she has no such policy.  It was getting cold out, she said, and it would need food to keep warm in the night.  Fine.  We put out a bowl and it was empty within an hour or two.

Last Sunday, the wife called me over to look at something on her phone.  It was a picture of the dog we’d been seeing, as posted on one of the local Facebook yard sale sites.  The author of the post was a lady named Amy who works for the nearby humane society.  We contacted her and it turns out the dog was indeed, as I’d wondered, an escapee from the HS.  This dog, whose name is Prue, was a young female pup that had been adopted by a family elsewhere and had been scheduled for delivery before her untimely escape from one of the volunteers who help walk the dogs.  They’d apparently chased her all around the woods near our house until they’d reached the trail behind our house, which led them to our house where they found themselves staring down the barrel of our dogs.  Our dogs have shock collars and stay in the yard, but the pursuers of Prue did not know that, so they said, “Today, my jurisdiction ends here,” and went back to the barn.  (I learned this from them a couple days later.)  Amy said that Prue was part of a litter of puppies of the treeing walker breed of coon hounds.  The other pups had acclimated to humans.  Prue ran from them on sight.  She apparently did pretty well with other dogs, but was super timid when it came to people.

We let Amy know that Prue was a regular around our house.  The following day, she had a great big live trap delivered and set up just off of the trail.  They put some breakfast biscuits and canned food in it and we hoped for the best.

In late afternoon, we saw Prue creeping through the brush behind the house.  I decided I was going to try and make friends with her, and went down to sit on the back steps of the house, armed with an open can of stinky wet food and a spoon.  She saw me and fled like the devil was chasing her.  What I later learned was that the wife could see Prue’s escape from inside the house.  The dog ran around to the front yard and made for the trail.  But she paused, near the fence behind which was the live trap, and sniffed at the air before trying to find a way through the fence to get at what she was smelling.  Then, naturally, our dogs got wind that something was up and began barking their fool heads off, startling Prue and sending her skittering into the trees, not to be seen again.

It got cold that night.  We hated the thought of the poor dog outside, let alone possibly stuck in the live trap where the winds could just whip through her.  We checked the trap at bedtime and then the wife set an alarm for 2 am to go check again.  The only thing in the trap at that hour, though, was a cat.  It wasn’t one of our cats, but it was apparently just as pissy as the wife let it out.  She then had difficulty setting the trap again in only the light from her phone, so she propped the door open with a stick and hoped the dog would somehow trip it going in.  It did not.

The next morning, I reset the trap and put some new canned food within it to replace what the cat had eaten.  In the afternoon, Amy texted to suggest we move the trap closer to the house.  I was all for this, and suggested the boardwalk on the far side of the garage, out of eyesight of the dogs, but not from the laundry room window.  We could check the trap without leaving the house.

There was a minor blizzard Tuesday night.  We had a few inches of snow and lots of wind.  Temps were in the teens.  There was no sign of Prue.  The wife made a concoction of ham and microwaved wet dog food and put it on top of the cage, hoping the smell would bring Prue in.  We saw no sign of her, though, and soon the bowl was frozen solid.

“She’s found herself a place to hole up,” I suggested.  There are, after all, any number of places to do that in this neighborhood–the crawlspace beneath one of our outbuildings the most logical to us.  We still hated the thought of the dog shivering outside in the weather.

I was relieved the next morning to spot Prue in the yard–nowhere near the trap.  And she stayed away from it, even after I’d rewarmed the dogfood/ham concoction and even climbed inside the cage to put it at the back, behind the trip mechanism.  It occurred to me while I was in there that if I tripped it I’d be trapped in the cage, in the cold and might not be able to get turned around to let myself out.  This did not happen.

Days passed and different treats were left in the cage to entice the stubbornly absent, though still living dog.  We’d see her around, but if she saw one of us she was gone in a flash.  The only dog to be caught in the cage was our dog, Sadie, who couldn’t resist going in for a weenie.

“Well, at least we know the trap works,” I texted to Amy the next day.

On Thursday, at Amy’s suggestion, I moved the cage down to the far back corner of our yard.  Clearly, we reasoned, it wasn’t doing any good near the house, and we couldn’t let our dogs free in the yard without watching them every minute to keep them from getting trapped and eating all the bait.  We had to put it somewhere outside of their collar range.  (Or at least the collar range of Maya and Moose, as Sadie doesn’t usually wear her collar, since she knows her boundaries and stays within them.  Usually.)  I thought that maybe if I put the trap just out of the yard, in the brush I’d seen Prue lurking in a few times, she might care to investigate it.

Prue did not care to.  A possum, however, did.  He did not think the trap was awesome, and hissed at us, refusing to stop climbing the bars and escape when the door was left open for him.  He also ate all the wieners.

On Saturday, Amy came by herself, armed with a bag of WalMart chicken tenders.  She said she thought that this was the day we’d finally catch Prue.  And, late in the afternoon, it seemed we were about to.

A Prue sighting from within the house

I’d let our dogs out to potty in the front yard and had strolled around to see if Prue might be in the trap.  She was not, but Maya picked up the scent of the chicken and went over to sniff the air at the border of her collar.  Then, her face darted to the side and she bolted around the back of the house.  The other two dogs were still around front, so I knew she must have seen Prue.  I dashed back around front and herded Sadiemoose into the house.  Sure enough, I could see Prue in the back yard through the windows.  And Maya was there too.  And they appeared to be… playing.  Prue was still skittish, but she actually seemed to be having fun.  She would creep up to Maya (who, being a St. Bernard, was twice her size) and lean close to sniff at her.  Then Maya would lunge playfully and Prue would bolt a few feet away before starting it all again.  I ran to get the wife and we came and watched them–trying to find new vantage points along the back side of the house as the dogs romped and played closer and closer to the location of the trap.

Then we saw Prue stop and sniff the air, then move away, following the scent, moving down to the trap itself, leaving Maya to jump around at the edge of her boundary.  Prue sniffed at the chicken through the back side of the cage.  Then moved along its length and closer to the open door.  Then, just when we thought she was going to step inside…  she bolted away and back toward the front yard and was gone again.

“Noooooo!” I screamed as quietly as I could.

We moved all around the inside of the house, trying to get a view on where Prue had fled, knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist going back.  We had to lock Sadie and Moose in the bedroom and close the curtains on them, because they woudln’t shut up.

Soon enough, Prue did return to the hill above the trap and then was back at the trap itself, and to its door.  As we watched, we saw her step into the trap itself and take another couple of tentative creeps forward.  And then she bolted and was gone again, this time running fully across the front yard and disappearing down the trail on the complete opposite side of the house from the cage.

The wife began smiling.

“What?” I said.

“Nothing.”

“No.  What?”

“Well, you know… if she likes Maya so much, and is already hanging around the house… maybe it’s a sign that she’s really our 4th dog?”

“Uh uhhh!” I said.  “This dog is strictly visiting.  And as soon as she’s caught she’s getting shipped out to her new home, very far away.”

I wrote Amy a text, telling her that we almost had Prue, but that the dog was too smart for us.  We did note that she at least had fun playing with Maya.  Amy said it sounded cute and that she was still optimistic.

Prue goes home

Eight minutes later, Amy texted me a picture of Prue with the note: “Look who came home!!!!”  I don’t know if it was playing with Maya or what, but Prue apparently decided that being on her own was for the birds and it was time to go back to her pack.  She had turned up outside of the humane society and followed one of the dogs there right into the building.

I told Maya what a good dog she was.  Maybe she had nothing to do with Prue’s return to home base, but I like to think that playing with Maya made Prue miss her buddies back at the Humane Society and that she decided being out on her own was for the birds.  The fact that she ran immediately back would seem to maybe support this.

We never went down to spring the trap.  It was still baited, so we half expected to find another possum in there.  I joked that if we caught a skunk then I was leaving that to the humane society to release.

Instead, we caught Sadie again.

Yep, the siren call of day old chicken tenders was too much for her, and she was found trapped in the cage Sunday morning, after we let her out to potty.  We left her in there for 20 minutes or so, since the weather was nice.  She lay down and chilled out, but was super happy when her “pa” came to rescue her.

 

Release the Saidaukar!

 

 

EPISODE 02 REDUX: “The Ones that Aren’t Crows”

The Seward Whale Strike Tragedy, they called icrowst. Twenty-five people dead. The worst accident in Alaska’s tourism history since Will Rogers’ plane went down in ‘35.  Only one man left alive knows the truth of what really happened — the man everyone agrees caused the tragedy to start with.  And if there’s one thing he’s sure of, the thing they hit that day was no whale.

Presented here is his testimony, as transcribed for an interview with Paranorm Violations Magazine.

This podcast adapts the short story “The Ones that Aren’t Crows” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook of the collection.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 02: “The Ones that Aren’t Crows”

 

SHOW NOTES

Sophie’s Escape Room

Last Friday, our friend Belinda Anderson called to see if I and “the kids” wanted to go on a walk with her down at the fish hatchery in White Sulphur Springs.  By “the kids” she meant of course the only offspring my wife and I have dared to produce, our three dogs, Sadie, Moose and Maya.  I thought it was an outstanding idea, as the past two days had been nice, with temperatures in the 60s for the first time since November.  I was also eager to get a look at the fish hatchery, to see how it was rebounding from the devastating flooding in the area last June.

Trouble was, I had a Sophie’s choice to make when it came to “the kids” because I had three dogs and only two leashes.

We actually own three leashes, but the third retractable leash was in the wife’s car, at work, and I couldn’t find so much as a cloth leash in the house.  Even if I’d had all three leashes, though, the task of taking our three dogs on a walk with only two human beings present is not one I ever relish.  I always wind up having to walk at least two of them, passing Moosie off to Belinda since he’s only 45 pounds of brown obedient dog to deal with.  I then have to walk Sadie and Maya, who are 80ish pounds each, don’t really like each other much, and have a tendency to run in opposite directions when they’re not making a braid with Moose’s leash.  But, hey, I only had the two leashes, I reasoned, so that meant I had to leave one dog at the house.  And since Sadie and Moose have seniority, Maya was have to be the one to get left behind.  Not that this makes the job of leaving her any easier.  If you leave Maya outside with her shock collar on (her “purty collar”) she just howls and jumps on the car with her huge St. Bernard feet and claws, trying to get in with the others.  And if you leave her in the house, she’ll just park herself in the stairwell window and leap on the glass there, potentially tearing down the blinds, while simultaneously rolling huge doggie tears that will break the heart of any dog parents backing out of the driveway, facing her.

Instead, I left her in our bedroom and closed the door.  I figured probably have a nap on our bed, maybe do her nails, and really get in some “me” time while we were gone for an hour or so.  Then I’d give her extra treats when I got home, take her for a walk down the trail and all would be forgiven.  Thusly planned, Sadie, Moose and I left for our walk at the fish hatchery.

An hour or so later we returned to find Maya waiting in the yard.

Er.

This wasn’t good.

Maya being out of the house meant one of three things: A) the wife had come home early, and had let Maya out (not likely, as her car was not in the driveway); B) an intruder had broken in and let Maya out; or C) Maya had somehow managed to escape the locked house on her own.  I wasn’t sure which of these options I liked the least.

We know from experience that Maya can get into the house if the doors are unlocked because she knows how to operate the exterior handles of both the back and front doors (one of which normally requires an opposable thumb).  However, those doors were both locked, not to mention she’d been left in a closed bedroom the door knob of which she has yet to master.  Given her weight, though, I was immediately afraid that she might have managed to break the glass of our floor-length bedroom windows, which are practically door-sized themselves.  She had no blood on her, though, so if she broke out she did it cleanly.  This would require investigation.

Slowly I unlocked and opened the front door.  No intruders killed me.  The back door, I saw, was closed and locked and the bedroom door was still in place and closed.  I opened it to find that indeed she had gone through a window, just without breaking the glass.  What she appears to have done was chosen the one window in the room that is covered by a screen, clawed through that screen and used her weight to force open the window on its track.  She could have tried any of the other screenless windows, but, no, she had to go through the one with the screen.  The window has two latches, but only the top one was closed.  It gave to her force without actually breaking, though.  Once it was open enough to squeeze out, she was free.  Only later did we discover that she’d also peed all over Sadie’s dog bed, which was directly in front of her escape window.

I was angry, sure, but mostly at the screen being torn.  Her escape was otherwise pretty impressive and definitely sent a message that she doesn’t want to be left behind.

When we were about to climb into bed that night, we discovered yet another doggie protest action, one which did not feel good to discover in sock feet: the dog bed directly beneath the window through which Maya had escaped was soaked through with what we can only assume is dog pee.  At least, there were no empty 32 oz cups of water handy.  And it was Sadie’s bed, Maya’s usual arch nemesis.   She probably decided that if Sadie got to go somewhere, at least she wouldn’t have a dry bed to sleep in later.  Either that or Maya just really had to go and didn’t quite make it until her escape could be enacted.

The job of replacing the screen has got us in a screen replacement project for the five or so screens our various doggie residents have destroyed over the years.  They’re such a pain in the ass to replace, though, that after we did the one Maya tore up, we decided to make it a one-screen-per-day kind of project.  Or maybe one a week.

Awful lot of honkies in here.

Things are about to get racial.

For Christmas this year, my wife got me something I’ve been wanting to have for the past few months or so: an Ancestry.com DNA kit.  Now the true reason I wanted one to begin with probably has more to do with a short story idea I had last May than any actual research into my own genetic background.  But, like many of us, I’ve always been curious about what that background might entail.

The first time I voiced my desire to get a DNA kit to her, though, was probably while watching the TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s series Outlander.  It’s a show set in Scotland and all the dudes on the show look cool in their kilts.  I’ve always wanted to wear a kilt, but wouldn’t dare do so unless I actually had Scottish heritage myself.  Otherwise, it would be like that time I bought a Rasta hat in college, only to be asked by a real Rastafarian if I was a believer or just wearing it for the fashion–which was my first clue that I was appropriating another group’s culture and that this might not be cool with folks from that culture.  So if I was going to go around appropriating cultures, I wanted to at least have my genetic ducks in a row.  During Outlander, I announced I was going to get an Ancestry DNA kit, and if I was anything greater than, say, 10 percent of a Scot I would be purchasing a kilt and tartan which I would then wear exclusively, at least until winter.

Unfortunately, I already knew that I was probably not all that Scottish to begin with.  From everything I’ve been told, I come from Franco-German stock, with ancestors originating in Alsace Lorraine back when it was part of Germany. But then again, I reasoned, that’s only on my grandpa Fritzius’s side.  I know nothing about my dad’s mother’s people, the Blaylocks, nor anything about the genetic history of my mother’s people, the Dunnams and the Huttos. There were also the rumors of Native American blood somewhere back on my Grandma Blaylock’s side–rumors which she always seemed cagey about, and which my dad believed must be true since Grandma was so cagey.  Dad also suspected that we might have some Jewish ancestry woven in there somewhere, which considering our alleged European origins was not beyond the realm of possibility.  My grandparents’ vehement denial of that possibility only served to make the rumor seem stronger.

The wife ordered my DNA kit, which arrived just in time for Christmas.  And when we returned home from Christmas holidays, I busted it open and took my DNA test–or, rather, I supplied the sample of my DNA for the Ancestry folks to test.  This involved spitting into a little plastic tube, pouring in some spit fixer and shakin’ it all up.  (In order to get a good DNA sample, I had to refrain from consuming anything but water for an hour or so–lest I turn up as genetically descended from a Dorito.)  I put the whole thing in their postage paid package, filled out my info online, and sent it off.  Immediately, I began dreaming of the exotic lands my people may have come from.  I didn’t actively start shopping for kilts, or anything, but I could always dream.  I was looking forward to receiving my results, all spelled out, with no actual research required on my part.  After all, I spent a goodly number of years working in a public library in which I devoted more than a little bit of time ridiculing the Genealogy People–those folks who either frequented our establishment looking for local records that would lead them to their ancestors, or who used our computers to sign in to their Ancestry.com accounts to do the leg work–who were, to a person, completely unafraid of going on at length to the library staff about the mind-numbingly boring details of all of their research, forcing us to occasionally gnaw off a leg to escape.  And, y’know, God love `em for having a hobby and being passionate about something in life, but I will NOT become one of those people.

Weeks crept by.

Occasionally, Ancestry would send us emails apologizing for taking so long, then teasing us more by offering to let us research surnames on their site so we could get a head start, I guess.  I toyed around with this, trying very hard not to get excited about any of it, lest I catch the Genealogy People bug.  I did note that there were some Dunnams who’d turned up in census data in Scotland, but they were not necessarily ones related to me specifically.  I’d have to do actual research, or get a full Ancestry.com membership to see if someone else had already done the research, before I could know that.  If you thought about it, though, regardless of where the Dunnams, Huttos, Blaylocks, or Fritziuses were known to have lived, I could be party anything, really.  There were a good number of generations and a couple of continents between my grandpa’s Alsace Lorraine ancestors and today, with four contributing genetic donors for each successive soul along the way.  I might be part African, for all I knew–though my wife took particular glee in shooting down that likelihood.  I was hoping for something that at least seemed exotic and distant.  The possibilities were intoxicating.

“Ooh!  Ooooh!” I exclaimed one night, while we were watching an episode of Vikings.

Immediately guessing what I was about to say, the wife shouted “You’re not a Viking!”

“You don’t know!” I replied, hurt.

“Yes, I do,” she said.  “They’re all big, blond and Nordic looking.  You’re short, dark, and stumpy.”

“There were stumpy Vikings, too!” I said.  “I’d be a kick ass stumpy Viking.  You’ve seen all those long boats I made.”

She refused to entertain the idea, nor to fetch me any mead.

The notes from Ancestry not containing my results continued on for weeks.  Then, they sent another note not containing my results, which said they were at long last working on them.  And a week later, they sent another note saying that they’d finished them and would soon be revealing the results to us, but were not actually revealing the results with that particular email.  (I theorize that Ancestry.com employees are descended from assholes, but that’s just me.)

On Monday of this week, I was rudely awakened by my wife at the crack of 7:30.  She’d been reading her iPad in bed, had checked her email, and saw that my genetic results were finally in.  I blearily roused, squinting at the screen where she clicked the link in the email and a pie chart popped up.

Turns out, I’m mostly just a white guy.

About as white as they come, in fact.

My ancestors, it would seem, primarily hale from darkest Great Britain, to the tune of around 40 percent.  (Your average native Great Britainer is around 60 percent, so I’m not too far off.)  Initially I was excited about this, because Scotland is, after all, a part of the UK.  Looking at their colorized map graph, though, the darkest of the tiered color ranges largely excludes Scotland and Wales, which fall in the next lighter shade down (as are the Netherlands and a chunk of France).  I’m 27 percent Irish, which I assume means I’m forever more allowed to have a shot of Jameson with my Guinness when I’m down at the local Irish Pub.  Surprisingly to me, I’m only 13 percent Western European, with Alsace Lorraine smack in the middle of the map there.  I’m also around 9 percent from the Iberian Peninsula, which centers out on Spain and Portugal.  Who knew?  I’ll take it.

Oh, and I was delighted to learn that I’m approximately 6 percent Scandinavian, and two percent Finnish/Western Russian, so all those stumpy-legged Viking long boats I made in the garage may yet come in handy after all.  I’ll sail down the Greenbrier and pillage Alderson, or something.

In the less than 5 percent genetic estimate range, I’m apparently 1 percent Greek and/or Italian, 1 percent Eastern European, and, in point of fact, I do appear to be 1 percent African.  North African, to be general, with a possible origin spread across Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and maybe the edge of Libya thrown in.  That’s how genetics works, right?

What I am apparently not: I’m 0 percent anywhere else in Africa, 0 percent European Jewish, 0 percent Pacific Islander, 0 percent middle Eastern, 0 percent anywhere in South America, and 0 percent Asian (except for 1 percent that they say originates from Caucasus, which I think is where they invented white people, so I guess that gives me bonus honky points).

All in all, I guess I’m happy with my results.  It is odd to think that I’m not nearly as French and German as I had assumed I would be, but I’ll take Great Britain.  Some of my favorite things in the world come from there anyway, from Doctor Who to Neil Gaiman to Douglas Adams and Monty Python.  If that’s my heritage, I guess I’m in good company.  I still would have liked a more specific tie to Scotland, but if that’s to be found I’ll likely have to join up with Ancestry and do some actual research.  And then I’ll be dangerously close to becoming a genealogy person, and will soon be blogging exclusively about it.

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