Short Fiction: Old Fashioned

Cover image for K. A. Cook's "Old Fashioned". Cover has a vector image cartoony style picture of a bedroom with rough-made furniture--bed, stool, chest of drawers, a shelf. Magical items like bone amulets, glowing mushrooms and spell bottles are hanging from or sitting on the shelf. The title and author credit are written in red handwritten type.Amelia March is tired of suitors breaking into her house after dark to express their undying love. Sure, it might be the fashion, but whatever happened to getting to know someone first? Why won’t they listen to her when she says she isn’t interested? And what does it mean that her cousin Kit thinks there’s a word for her approach to romantic relationships?

Old Fashioned is a story about finding words and the importance of fake cobwebs in the windows.

This is another rewrite of mine, since the original version was written long before I knew that aromanticism was a thing. It was meant to be a slightly snarky take on romance tropes, but it was actually an awkward mess of a story about a character who should have been aro-spec written by an unknowingly aro author. Besides, rewriting Old Fashioned meant that I could properly fit it into the Kit March canon.

Rewriting this also spawned another Amelia story I’ll be editing and formatting, where Kit ends up on her doorstep after returning from the Greensward with a brand new foot, a sword of some significant provenance, a girl called Osprey as his companion and a plan to get revenge on the elves by teaching magic to autistic students. So I don’t think anyone will mind too much about these tangential forays…

Readers should note that this takes place forty years before [The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March] and twenty-six years before [Certain Eldritch Artefacts].

I also posted this on my Tumblr [@eldritchesoterica] for the #AggressivelyArospectacular event hosted by [@aggressivelyarospec], in case you prefer reading in a web browser or just want to check out more aromantic creativity.

The original version of the story, where Amelia isn’t intentionally autistic and aromantic (and Kit isn’t present), can be found in [Crooked Words]. The new and expanded version can be found at the links below:

Vendors: [Smashwords]

Formats: [PDF] | [EPUB] | [MOBI]

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Interlude – Resonance

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Interlude – Resonance: Kit lives by the rule of the crow and the rule of story, but neither, despite a life of guardianship, quite prepare him for the fate suggested by a coil of worn, brown leather.

Chapter count: 6, 100 words.

Content advisory: The fine art of making myriad references that come with partial or no explanation. An elfish king referring to a disabled, autistic, black, trans man as a “pet”, which is meant to say a great deal about the Greensward and its privilege. (It’s hinted here, but it doesn’t go unchallenged in the story.) References to Mitzie’s death, to Efe’s death, to the Lord’s death, to Darius’s slow approach to suicide, to the backdrop of the problem of violence/vengeance versus pacifism. Amelia very much calling March out on his manipulative bullshit, be it how he orates, how he misrepresents situations and how he uses the people around him.

Note the first: I’ve got a rotator cuff injury caused by computer mouse use that is spending months stopping me from doing just about anything computer-use-wise but type. On the positive side, I drafted a few chapters, but on the negative side, I’m incredibly slow at editing, formatting and posting. You know how slow I usually am because chronic pain? I’m operating on about thirty percent of that capacity. It’s incredibly frustrating and I’m nowhere close to healed.

Note the second: As a person once working in a warehouse, a person with splints on both hands, a person known by more than a hundred people as “Kim the WorkCover employee”, I would have sold my soul for the chance to hide my injury/disability. When you’re seen as nothing more than the splints, when your disability becomes the only thing the people around you ask you about, when you feel the other aspects of your person (including the abilities and interests for which you were once known) slipping away in the minds of those around you … you either hide it, if you can, or engage in defiant cripple-punk as a raised middle-finger to abled society. I say this because I think one of March’s secrets may seem absurd to an abled viewpoint, the hiding pointless—or too-easily viewed as an act of shame. It isn’t. Being defined by your visible disability by those around you, instead of being defined by your other attributes, is one of the many cruelties of ableism. And while the College is better on acceptance on other fronts, as someone who endures a shocking amount of unthinking ableism for my physical disabilities by well-meaning-but-ignorant people in autistic and mental illness spaces, I can’t believe that March wouldn’t be defined this way. Darius’s chapters, as he starts to navigate students, show just how much he deals with this kind of ableism … because ableism is so pervasive even disability doesn’t negate it.

I’ll also add that March himself, the perpetrator of so much unthinking ableism (and hypocrisy), is still as guilty of this as anyone else. The College isn’t meant to be an example of a wondrous world of acceptance as much as a metaphor for the experiences of the multiply disabled … where we find acceptance and community and meet access needs on one axis but suffer the pain of ableism in spaces that should be better on another. I don’t know what a space that is entirely non-ableist looks like, and I can’t imagine it. I just know that I think of a space with sound-proofing, access to subtitles, soft fabrics and plenty of food choices, among other access needs I have, and suffer the pain of everyone thinking I can just pick up a pen and paper whilst I never think about the problem of stairs. And I suspect most disabled people are more like me, in forgetting about the access needs of someone else, than we are ever willing to admit.

His best talents are those of being less than real.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Flight

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Flight: The obligation a rescuer has to a ward gives Darius a sense of purpose and the added benefit of avoiding Amelia, but finding Tes means negotiations with the belt and Tes hirself…

Chapter count: 10 890 words

Content advisory: Ongoing depiction of depression, restricted eating and hallucination. Depiction of cutting that is both blood magic and self-harm, given that it’s Darius. A few moments of executive dysfunction and the belt prompting as a result, although not in a demanding way. Self-harm and violence directed onto a horse and Tes because of meltdown; discussion of violence, overwhelm and meltdown. The anxiety and self-doubt over communication when that ability to communicate, through disability, is impaired.

Note the first: It’s hard trying to run a daily-updating blog and write at the same time. (I haven’t touched my other writing projects for months.) I am thrilled beyond measure that people trust me with their questions, but it leaves me few spoons left with which to write and redraft and redraft and edit. (And my pain has been severe, of course. Not to mention the insomnia.) I suppose we’re going to updating once every two months, as much as I’d like to have it otherwise. It might help to tell you that the next section is written, drafted and only in need of editing. It won’t help to tell you that we’re not even at the middle and I’ve reached 100 000 words two chapter drafts from now.

Note the second: Because I’m still very much trying to figure out how to be a disabled blogger on a busy blog and write occasionally, I haven’t yet figured out how to do anything that isn’t Tumblr. I’m pretty much posting here and running back to queuing stim toy posts. If you want to talk to me about anything, message me or mention me in a post as @eldritchesoterica on Tumblr: I’m more like to see that and respond in a reasonable time frame. Y’know, within a few days (probably) as opposed to never.

Note the third: Speaking as someone with executive dysfunction, it amazes me how in a situation I know exactly what I must do and can do it, but when it comes to everything less urgent, well, everything is harder. I really wanted to write a heroic protagonist who can step into beckoning hell like a bad-arse but struggles when it comes to the steps between “getting out of bed” and “leaving the room”.

Note the fourth: There’s this deep sense of shame connected with that, when I am excessively distressed, angry or frustrated (I know now the word is “meltdown”) I am not in control of my body and less able to effectively verbally communicate. I hit things and scream and swear. (As a kid when upset, I bit other people, and my parents talked at length about their extreme embarrassment and shame, not about why biting someone was the only language I had.) I know that this is Not How People Behave. I actively fear being like this and the judgement it brings, which is why I avoid situations that trigger this degree of feeling. People don’t know just how thin my veneer of control really is, how hard-earnt it is and how deeply rooted it is in self-hatred, fear and my parents’ shame of me. So, I wanted to write an autistic character who gets physically aggressive in meltdown, who self-harms, who hurts others, who loses all language but that of aggression, who experiences all those things I’ve been taught to never be. A character who speaks aloud those moments I’ve been taught to cut out of the story I tell about myself.

Don’t be less. Be here.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Skin

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Skin: Darius survives the gnomes and contemplates the stories told in scars. Amelia tries to make a well-trodden point. March waves a spoon. What do their words matter to Darius, though, when all he hears is the choking, insufferable envelopment of safety?

Chapter count: 10 500 words

Content advisory: Ongoing depiction of depression, grief, suicidal ideation, self-hate and hallucination. The belt being … well, the belt. The ableism in hating one’s self for not appreciating one’s formerly less-disabled body (see below). The word “broken” used frequently, and with a score of edges at that, by a multiply disabled man to describe himself. A little more description of the violence wrecked on Efe Kadri. Discussions on self-care edging around the fine line between blood magic and self-harm. The impact of hearing the word “suicide” voiced aloud. References to suicidal ideation. Amelia and March at loggerheads. Amelia’s spoon revenge is meant to be a nasty and horrible act wielded at an obsessive autistic, even though neurotypicals may not understand why this is so cruel.

Note the first: Darius’s self-hating “why didn’t I…” monologue only exists, to such an extent, because of the ableist world in which we live. It’s a construct of ableism. It’s also every part of me that looks back at everything I used to do with my hands, so unthinking, and wonder with grief that isn’t dead after six years why I took it for granted. (Why? Why didn’t I write then when it’s so hard for me to write now?) While it can be argued that, like Darius, I’ve been disabled from birth (autism), I’ve also become disabled in an entirely different direction as an adult (chronic pain) and I know the sheer gut-wrenching grief of having ability unexpectedly stolen from you, especially an ability that ties deeply into the person you were. I know, too, like Darius will realise, what it means to stare into that pain and knowingly do as much of it as you can anyway, because anything else is unthinkable. That can be difficult and dangerous for ourselves and/or the people around us. But to do otherwise is unthinkable.

Note the second: Oh, this chapter. This chapter. Ten drafts. I wish that were in any way hyperbole; I’d like to be exaggerating about the amount of times I’ve tangoed with this wretched thing. If I had more spoons available to me (read: weren’t trying to blog and write with unmanaged chronic pain) it wouldn’t have been such a problem, but since I have a chronic spoon shortage, it was.

Understanding isn’t the same thing as forgiveness, but it is, sometimes, enough.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Consequences

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Note the third: The species of caterpillar Tes calls “spitfire” bears no relation to the actual spitfire sawfly larvae (which aren’t caterpillars) and are very likely some variety of Chlenias moth (I think Chlenias banksiaria, but this has proven difficult to confirm online, despite these caterpillars and moths being exceedingly common in regional western Victoria). Knowing this, these “spitfires” (I was unable to find a colloquial name) are very likely harmless in addition to being incorrectly named. However, locally, I’ve always known them as spitfires and my classmates (I think knowing they were safe, for they cheerfully handled the caterpillars themselves) spoke of how much they’d hurt before tormenting me with them. The actuality, here, is rather irrelevant, although my intent is for Tes to later learn that speaking of a harmless creature as dangerous is another form of bullying.

You’ve the ability to dare a tower and dare magic. Dare this.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Shadows

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Aren’t human lives the shadows of the stories we share?

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Homecoming

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Homecoming: Darius Liviu arrives in Greenstone to take up March’s offer of a teaching job, only for the belt to betray a certain confidence involving the dead Efe Kadri.

Chapter count: 9550 words

Content advisory: Hallucinations, at least in the eye of the protagonist, that play with the line between auditory hallucinations and fantasy genre conventions of the talking dead/spirits. A protagonist who has a less-than-helpful relationship with previous healthcare providers, has undergone physical and emotional trauma and expresses his grief through guilt and numbness and depression. A protagonist who uses the words “crazy” and “madman” to describe himself because, like most of us, he suffers from internalised ableism (and lacks a suitable language). A narrator who experiences a partial seizure: I experienced dissociation/aura writing it. Lastly, Darius’s approach to food from here on in is reluctant and disordered at best even allowing for SPD/autism-related taste, scent and texture repulsion, and his narrative (speaking as someone who experiences just this) after this chapter colours food in a negative light. This could be extremely triggering, in multiple ways, for a great many people.

Note the first: We first meet Darius in Certain Eldritch Artefacts and later in The Adventurer King. Fourteen years of study and adventure have passed since he met the belt in the Great Souk of Rajad, and seven since he met Efe and Aysun Kadri. The belt and Efe (later, Aysun) are fairly important in his life/narrative.

Note the second: I’ve lived the position of having to come back home in failure with the consequent feeling that that I’ve come back home only to be the person I was in that space before I left it. I came home feeling far less than I’d found myself to be, and that’s a peculiar, adult kind of despair. This is a character arc explored more in literature than in genre writing, but since the beauty of this story is exploring different adult character arcs, Darius, however bleak and depressed, lets me play with this narrative (and the truth that this is one of the many lies depression likes to tell us).

Note the third: I can only speak to my own experience, and I’m aware that my experience isn’t universal, but after some time my experiences with hallucinations shifted from “There’s a horde of spiders swarming all over me! PANIC!” to “Man, here’s the spiders nobody else sees again. What are the fuckers going to do this time?” I don’t tend to see this kind of relationship to hallucinations in fiction, so it’s important to me to write a character whose approach is one of awareness and annoyance—to the extent that it’s actually an exercise in tedium, one that wouldn’t be half so problematic most of the time if only other people didn’t notice.

You come through my doors battered and lost and alone, and I watch over you.

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