Saturday, April 3, 2010


(Photo by by TJ Dixon & James Nelson)

There are moments when I love you as I ever did
As if all the changes drop away and we stand
In the same room again, surprise overrun
By joy. I cross to you and kiss your face
We pull each other in. This is more
Than memory or longing, this is true
This is what I tell children is true

Love exists outside our spark and thrum
It is not bound by time, it has no mass
And yet it floods the reaches
Let it come

© Maggie Jochild
written 28 January 2005, 4:45 a.m.

[Old English Ēostre (also Ēastre) and Old High German Ôstarâ are the names of an ancient goddess whose month and rituals were hijacked and deliberately supplanted by the Christian festival of Easter.]


Friday, April 2, 2010


To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Maar slid down the rain-soaked slope beyond the kissing gate on the soles of her otos, but then noticed Qala emerging from the wood at the other end of the pasture, pulling a basket-laden wain. She didn't want to feel coerced into helping with Saya's chores. She made a sharp left, leaving the path to soak her kalsongers to the knees in late summer growth, angling her own route to Herne's bridge. She didn't wave at Qala and sped up when she thought she heard kids bleating after her.

Pyosz has her goats thinking they're part of this above-it-all family she thought savagely. At least until she slits their throat.

She strode by the woodworking shed so fast that neither Nk nor Frahe noticed her. She was headed for the jumble of boulders over the southern cove where Pava still kept her sailboat moored, but when she saw Tu emerging from the smokehouse, on what would be an intercept course, Maar ducked into the greenhouse and plunged between rows of crocus plants toward the other end.

Once there, she discovered Pank sitting on a bench rasping a flat bar of metal. Nearby stood a ladder underneath an opening in the ceiling where a glass venilation pane had been removed and leaned against Pank's bench. Pank glanced at her and said "Hey. This louver is already starting to rust shut, the solar self-vent isn't working right." With every pass of her rasp, orange flakes of oxide drifted onto the stone floor, beside the circle of moisture from rain coming through the roof gap.

Maar didn't reply. She went to a corner barrel and perched on it, pulling her knees up to her forehead and resting her face against her damp kalsonger knees. She could hear the sound of rain on glass, punctuated by Pank's rhythmic rasping. Her own breathing was very loud for a while, until her pulse slowed. The air smelled of loam, fish emulsion, and spice. After several minutes, a mister came on somewhere to her right. She heard a buzz saw start and stop randomly, and somewhere Tu cursed at an animal, probably a pig. But Pank left her to find peace.

Another several minutes passed, and Pank grunted as she bent to retrieve the window. Maar heard the squirt of an oil can and then the sound of a bolt being turned by pliers. When Pank stood, Maar raised her head and watched Pank begin to climb the ladder with the window awkwardly clamped under one arm. Maar slid from her barrel and said "Let me help, I'll hand that up to you."

As Pank began reattaching the louver arms to their brackets over her head, Maar held the ladder and said "You partnered into this bunch."

"Yep" said Pank, her eyes on what she was doing.

"Did they bother you sometimes?"

" and Tu were mostly on our own. Seeing kin was an occasional treat, not daily sup. I need those other pliers, the locking ones, will you hand 'em up here?"

A minute later, Pank requested the oil can as well. She added "You stayed at the Genist's in Skene, right?"

"Yeah." Maar fell silent again. I've dragged Thleen into this clan, I don't want her growing up thinking her opinion matters more than the rest of Skene, she'll take to it too gladly Maar thought.

Pank shifted on the ladder to attach the other side of the pane. She said "I never understood why my sibemma Veida was so loyal to Yerush, but the rest of 'em turned out to be good folk. Most of the time." She farted softly and a smell of brussel sprouts drifted down to Maar.

Five minutes later, Pank said "Will you step over and push that manual button on the vent panel, see if this is working?" When she was satisfied with its function, she came slowly down the ladder and looked at Maar's face for the first time. "I'll tell you what I told Frahe a long while ago: You're not just your sweetheart's secret room she can retreat to when she's riled about her bossy elders. You are your own territory and they have to all respect that. Don't let 'em carrot and stick you into silent belonging. Now, I put a tenderloin with prunes in for lunch, you want to join us?"

"No. But thanks." Maar recrossed the bridge, pushing Killer back from the gate, and headed for the springs. Despite her clothes being wet and wrinkled, she folded them neatly atop her otos before sliding into hot yield with a sigh.

After Maar bolted from the Manage, Pyosz had gone to the privy to throw up again. She was in the kitchen, sipping tummy tea and nibbling toast, when Qala came back carrying a bushel of green apples. Qala said "I saw Maar hotfooting it to Herne, there a problem?"

"I don't know" said Pyosz crossly. "We had a fight."

"What about?"

"I don't know" said Pyosz, her voice raising. She left for upstairs carrying her mug of tea. Qala muttered "Pardon me for caring" and began clamping the apple peeler to the counter.

Qala loved the simple functionality of the apple peeler, the weighted curved blade which adroitly separated skin from fruit as she cranked. She liked to peel first, then plunge the globe down onto the attached corer. After one apple was done, she remembered the need to prevent browning. There were no lemons in the house. She decided this batch was going to become pies and apple butter, then, and could afford to go into a bath of vinegar water first. She hummed to herself in rhythm to the crank, an old song of Yoj's few people recalled any more.

She was halfway through the basket when Pyosz came back to the kitchen. "Has Maar been here? Or called?" she asked miserably.

"Nope. That blue bowl I've set aside for pies, if you want to make them this afternoon" said Qala, starting another round of cranking.

"I threw up again" said Pyosz.

"Is it worse than usual?"

Pyosz nodded, making fresh tea. "But maybe it's just upset."

Qala opened the coldbox and pulled out a bowl of leftover rice. Eggs were still on the counter, Pyosz would only use them at room temperature for baking. Qala added brown rice syrup to red bean paste, finely grated two carrots into it, and added handfuls of cooked rice to the mix before starting to shape them into balls. She made two trays of riceballs, rolling them in brewer's yeast before setting them in the aga to crust over. While they heated, she made an omelet from butter and yolks only, folding it onto a plate in less than a minute.

Pyosz said "I still feel puke-ish."

"You always keep down my omelets" reminded Qala. Pyosz took a few bites and accepted a hot rice ball. Qala set the rest on the counter to cool. Thleen ate as many as she was allowed to each day, and Qala's addition of grated vegetables made her feel fine about Thleen's gorging. She remembered being hungry the way Thleen was.

"She's mad at my emma" said Pyosz, with no explanation but Qala knew what she meant.


"She thinks emma is about to hurt people. I guess including Thleen" said Pyosz, sliding off the stool to get another riceball. Qala looked at her sharply to ask "Is Prl about to hurt Thleen?"

Pyosz sighed. "There's stuff I can't tell you yet, but no. I think who really hurt Thleen are her own emmas. But Maar is shit-plugged about something else, and she stomped out of here without confiding in me."

"No telling what all happened in Skene" said Qala. "Give her some room. You want another omelet?"

"No, this is working" said Pyosz. "How long were you and Lawa together before you stopped having blow-ups?"

Qala laughed at her. "Who said we stopped? They're just in slow motion now, but we can still really piss each other off."

Pyosz looked happy to learn this. "Like what?"

"Well, every time she pulls out that silver pick and starts digging between her teeth while we're still at the table eating, I want to scream" said Qala. "It's disgusting. And she wears her sokken two days in a row, turning them inside out for the second day, despite the fact that she's got a week's worth of clean pairs in her drawer. Unless I take them from her otos after she's asleep and go stuff them down under wet stuff in the hamper. All those Motu Fling sibs have a streak of crudity they think is just fine. The only reason Halling has any polish is because Xaya and then Bux worked on her for years."

Pyosz was now giggling. "Can I tell you a secret? I think kickball is boring and stupid." Qala whistled in mock horror. Pyosz stood to wash her dishes and begin sifting flour for pie dough. She said "Yoj's baby crib is in the barn, out of the rain. I'm going to rub it with lemon oil and let it air out before we put it in our bedroom."

"Your emma and all her sibs took naps in that crib" said Qala. "You, too, when we could stand to set you down. Where in your room are you going to put it?"

"I thought in the southeast corner, where no direct sunlight hits" said Pyosz. "We need a sturdy table with a lip and storage below for changing."

"Don't go buying things like that, folks are already looking around for what they can give you" said Qala. "I'm going to teach Thleen how to crochet by making little sokken for her sibu."

They heard the front door open and Pyosz walked hopefully to look through the great hall, but it was Thleen and Lawa. "Only one ryba but it's a huge one!" announced Thleen. "Are those riceballs for now?"

"Wash your hands first" said Qala. Lawa lay the cleaned fish on the counter and said "I could poach this in a ginger broth with noodles, it would feed us all for lunch that way."

"Add zucchini to it, we're drowning in zukes right now" said Qala. "Who caught it?"

"We both did" said Lawa loyally. Thleen still smelled slightly of entrails but was gobbling riceballs with wet hands. She said "I slept the whole way here, I don't need a nap before tonight."

"Well, then, it's good weather to forage for mushrooms in the woods after lunch" said Lawa.

"Can Ziri come?" asked Thleen.

"We need to invite her sibus, too, so see if you can find someone here at the Manage to play with them while we three go off alone" said Lawa. Thleen turned to Pyosz hopefully and was about to spray her with rice from a full mouth when Qala said "Koben and Meamea can sail The Saya while I string beans and shell nuts on the porch." Pyosz mouthed "Thank you" at Qala. Thleen impulsively hugged Qala and said "I really missed you. Don't tell, but you two are my favorite habibis."

Qala's face melted and she stopped cranking to hug Thleen back. Lawa said "Having you around is a little like getting to see Qala as a child. I didn't have a chance to be her friend then, you know."

Pyosz said to Thleen "I'll call Kacang for you. Go out and pull a leek, salad greens, and two zucchinis for lunch."

"Four zucchinis" amended Qala. "And cut some tarragon. Thleen, take the basket with you."

At Qala's insistence, they didn't wait lunch. Maar walked in the front door before they were quite through eating, wearing only her otos and a wet shati which barely covered her buttocks. Thleen exploded into giggles. Maar gave them a wan smile as she kicked off her otos and headed upstairs. Thleen was prevented from following her. Maar returned in her robe made, as most robes were, from patchwork of worn old blankets. She thanked Qala for the plate of food handed her and said to Pyosz "Can we talk after I eat?"

"Yes" said Pyosz shortly, standing to pull pies from the aga. Lawa and Thleen cleared the table while Qala sat with Maar, sipping a glass of cold mint tea in companionable silence.

Pyosz was kneading bread when Maar carried in her empty plate, so she started a load of laundry and scrubbed the tub until Pyosz said "Okay" and headed upstairs without her. Pyosz was sitting in the velvet chair when Maar came into the bedroom. Maar sat against the headboard, retying her robe discreetly.

"Well?" said Pyosz.

"I got capsized. Thax -- one of my sibs in that book -- we almost became lovers" said Maar. Pyosz sucked in her breath. Thax always asks to dance with her when they're at the same dance she thought, her jealousy flaring. Until she took in Maar's face.

"I love and trust your emma, and still my reaction was anger toward her for telling me what I didn't ever want to know" said Maar quietly. "I'm worried about her now. But I'm also worried for us all."

"You mean us her family?" asked Pyosz, leaving the chair to sit beside Maar.

Maar laughed sardonically. "Who on Skene is not her family?" Cousins all she thought as her smile faded. "This information will alter not just how current families are defined, sending some unknown number of us reeling -- " and even as she said it, she thought Although Prl may well have calculated the percentage of sib on sib near-misses out there -- "It's going to reshape our definition from now on. It's the second swing of the culture-shattering blow she took with your conception. Resignation may not be enough to protect her, but we're all going to be reacting as if to a threat. A threat to how we have formed our most important connections."

"Reality is not a threat" said Pyosz.

"That doesn't mean it won't feel that way to a lot of people" said Maar, feeling testiness resurge inside. "Part of Halling's reshaping of the Lofthall was to insist on public knowledge about the extent of leviathan hostility, and that caused massive upset. There's still denial about it. And this is much more personal. Think about it, Pyosz: What if when your emma was a child, they had all found out Halling was their half-sib and Ng was some version of an emma? How would their relationships have changed? Would they have felt the same way about Yoj, for example?"

"I've thought about all that, Maar. But the alternative to disclosure is worse" said Pyosz.

"You...your family always seems ready to give Skene a shove in what they think is the right direction" said Maar.

Pyosz leaned away from her. "And what do you do when Dekkan ties down a load lopsided, wait for her and the folks who get a ton of wood dropped on them to learn things at their own pace?"

"Leadership comes in many forms" said Maar. "I need you to see my point of view, too, Pyosz. Because it's what I want Thleen to share, and what I mean to hand on to my children." She felt like her voice sounded strange but she crossed her arms over her chest and looked away.

Pyosz thought of a dozen retorts. She looked at the tangle of golden leg hair on Maar's calves and decided she didn't want to extend this fight. "Well" she said "what do you think emma should be doing differently?"

"She needs to consult with more than just us and Nioma. She should run it by someone who might know how to challenge her" said Maar.

Pyosz said "Who, the Dullard?"

"I was thinking Yoj. Or Qala" said Maar. "I think it's significant that she hasn't included them before now. And don't repeat that 'I'm protecting them' line, that's not enough explanation. If you don't feel up to insisting she talk it over with them, I'll tell her."

"No" said Pyosz slowly. "No, I can see the sense of it. I wanted to talk with her about the directory anyhow, I'll do it." She lay down on her half of the bed, letting her shati ride up over her middle, and reached for the lotion Frank had made her to rub into her belly skin against stretch marks. As she began slow strokes, she said "Explain more of what you mean about your viewpoint and what you want to hand on to OUR children."

Maar watched her for a minute. "I know levvin' well what you are doing."

Pyosz giggled. "I know what I'm doing too. That wet shati was completely see-through, you know."

"I have a point. I'm making a stand" said Maar.

"I picked you because you make stands" said Pyosz. "You know what, I take it back, you should be the one to talk to emma, go for it."

Maar shifted, and her robe gapped open. She didn't adjust it. She said "I didn't finish going through my list of sibs."

Pyosz stopped applying lotion. "Oh. Well, it's in my drawer here..."

"But at least we know for sure none of them are you, right?" said Maar with a grin, tugging her belt all the way loose. Pyosz handed her the lotion bottle and put her arms behind her head.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, April 1, 2010


My recall of the Copeland Place, lower story and upper; click on any image to enlarge

During my high school years in the early 1970s, there were a couple of local spots in extremely rural Montague County, Texas which we believed to be haunted. One was a railroad trestle near Ringgold Cemetery that we called Lulabelle's bridge, which had a story involving a teenaged girl named Lulabelle and an escaped axe murderer with a hook instead of one hand. (Some things never change.)

The other locale was the Old Copeland Place. If you drove somewhat out of the way, you could approach it via back dirt roads that led over a creek with a rickety, tree-choked bridge: Hitting that bridge at high speed could bring screams from your passengers, especially if they were riding in the back of a pick-up truck, and help set the stage for stopping at the old farmstead.

You had to open a pasture gate to get there, trespassing we did as a matter of course. Nobody farmed in Montague County any more, it was all subsistence ranching and an occasional oil lease, so former farmhouses and log cabins were scattered here and there in the mostly empty blackjack and pin oak stippled countryside. People generally lived only in the few tiny to small towns that remained or on the edge of an unsupervised tract of ranchland, usually in a trailer. Except for the connectors between towns, most roads were dirt, not even gravel, and the majority of dense scrubby thickets bordering grazing land had never been cut down by human hand.

The Old Copeland Place had been abandoned for decades. It had originally been a more solidly built house than most of the left-behind structures from the era around 1900 when Montague County held a larger population than it does today. It had clapboard sides, now faded to slintering grey, and remnants of gingerbread at the eaves of its front porch. This place had never been a partial dugout or log cabin built by the first white settlers to the region, who had thought in terms of defense and gladly sacrificed windows for earthern backwalls. Nor was it a converted dog-run, common to the influx who arrived after the Civil War. This was a structure built as a real house.

Montague County had not been reliably settled by whites until the 1870s. Prior to that, it was successfully claimed by Comanche and Kiowa as part of their raiding territory. Within sight of the Copeland Place was Queen's Peak, the highest point for miles around. It had been named for a schoolteacher who one of the foolhardy first arrivals in the 1850s.

The story goes that the handful who dared settle here clustered around the peak's elevation because Comanche raiding parties would hopefully be seen approaching, and the local school was built near the southern crest. During one schoolday around 1858, a band of Comanches was spotted coming at a gallop. The schoolteacher, named either Queen or Victoria, made sure every child had run home to safety with older children or was put on horseback in twos and three to get away. By the time her students had escaped, it was too late for her and she was killed. The peak was renamed in her honor.  (A map showing Montague County Historical markers, including Queen's Peak, can be found here.)

(Cover of Texas the Empire State, land speculator tract published by Houston and Texas Central Railway in 1911)
After the Civil War, federal soldiers combined with Texas Rangers to push white land theft westward from Cooke County through the Cross Timbers into West Texas. Desperate for income -- cattle drives and oil had not yet brought any affluence to Texas -- the state set aside enormous tracts of marginally arable land and advertised it for sale at rock-bottom prices throughout the devastated South. Land developers and railway companies issued elaborate propaganda to bring immigrants to Texas.
This is when the bulk of my ancestors arrived, believing (erroneously) Montague County would offer cotton farming comparable to the blackland prairie everyone had heard about, farming which could be done by single families without slaves or large tracts of land. The county population was 890 in 1870 but went to 11,257 by 1880. After a generation or two, the children of these folks would move on westward or north into Oklahoma.
So the Copeland Place looked to have been built maybe during the 1890s, before a decline was on the horizon. It was large for the times, two good-sized rooms up and down on either side of a narrow, steep staircase built into the wall like a closet. At each horizontal end were sandstone fireplaces which would have heated all four rooms. A covered porch stretched across the front of the bottom story, and in the middle of the back was a fifth room built of stone floors and walls, the kitchen. Perhaps it was part of the original construction, perhaps it was added later, but it was clearly always meant to be a kitchen: It was of a material to repel fire, it had running water and crossdraft-catching windows, it was commodious enough for tables and farm activity, and it backed onto the garden and barn area. You went through the kitchen to access the privy out beyond the farmyard.
By the mid 1970s, most other early untended structures in Montague County were in advanced stages of collapse, the cabins and dugouts literally melting back into the ground. The Copeland Place could still be entered, even the upstairs, and despite missing doors, windows, and any wall covering, it gave a hint of what its personality once must have been.
The upstairs rooms had slanting eaves running the length of the house, and one of them -- the western side -- had large trees filling all windows save at the front, so the room was always in spooky shadow. Additionally, ascending the claustrophobic staircase was frightening on its own, so when we went to the Copeland Place after dark, going upstairs to the "haunted bedroom" was the high point of the tour.
Except in Montague County, the older folks pronounced haunt as haint, just as panthers were called painters. So it was the hainted bedroom.
During the winter break of my freshman year of college in Denton, 70 miles away, I was visiting home, along with my lover Astrid and our 3-year-old daughter. Also in town was my ex from high school, Sami, and her lover (two years ahead of me in another college); and a friend of Sami's whom I knew, a cheerful chubby dryke named Betsy Kowalski. One night Sami and I decided to take our visitors out to the Copeland Place. Also joining the expedition were our little brothers Bill and Dwayne, both freshman in the local high school, and a sophomore named Janis. We piled into cars and took the bridge route, as usual.
Unlike most trips out there, no alcohol was involved this time because our little brothers would have snitched on us. We went through the ground floor, making ghosty sounds, until my daughter began crying and we had to go back outside to comfort her. Sami then issued a dare: Each of us who wasn't chicken had to go up the dark stairway alone, come to the front window in the darkest room upstairs and wave at us to prove s/he'd done it before returning to the yard.
The younger teenagers looked green at the idea. Astrid said flat out she wasn't going to do it. Sami swore and said "Hell, it's no biggie", striding into the house. A minute later she called us cowards from the upstairs window, then rejoined us, laughing. She said "That fucking stairwell door shut while I was upstairs, it's at a tilt, and I had to come back down in pitch black,"
Everybody looked at each other, not willing to be next. Finally I said I would go. I pushed the stairwell door all the way back against the wall and headed up with a little moonlight to show the creaky treads. At the top, I heard a slam and looked back to see the door was shut again. I told myself it had shifted from my weight on the wooden stairs, the whole house was loose at its bones, and continued on into the haint room.
Which was so dark, the shadows looked like they pulsated. I peered into the corner, sure I was being watched. I heard somebody call my name from outside, and that nudged me from my terrified inspection of the inky room. I went to the window and actually looked at how far down the ground was, wondering if I could just slid over the sill and jump down rather than face the stairs again. Finally I backed out of the room and scurried down the stairs, praying nobody thought it would be funny to come hold that bottom door shut.
I must have looked as rattled as I was, because nobody else wanted to take the dare. Sami, who was a bully, began taunting her little brother about his fear. Finally he was goaded into the house, but returned right away, asking me if I had left the stairwell door shut.
"No, I had it shoved open" I said. Betsy said we could figure out why it was closing itself, it was simple physics, and all of us except Astrid and my daughter went into the house -- Astrid got into the VW to keep the kid warm and calm. We took a flashlight to look over the door. After inspection of its sorry condition, the two boys pried up a massive piece of sandstone from the shattered kitchen floor. It took both of them to carry it back, and they dropped it in front of the recalcitrant door with a crash, pinning it back to the wall.
"That fucker won't shut again" said Sami. Her girlfriend suggested we all go upstairs together, en masse, to wave from the window and look around with the flashlight. Betsy immediately agreed, and the younger kids looked relieved. Janis insisted on carrying the flashlight because she didn't trust us, and we got into a kind of conga line, led by Sami, then her girlfriend, then Betsy, then Janis, then me, then Bill, then Dwayne who still looked so scared he could barely move.
We shuffled, laughing, onto the stairs. Right before Sami reached the top, but once we were all in the stairwell -- I had looked back at Dwayne to see if he was actually going to follow us in, and he was pressed against my little brother, a couple of steps up from the bottom -- three things happened almost simultaneously: The door at the bottom slammed shut, the flashlight went out, and Betsy gave a bloodcurdling scream.
We turned and stumbled down, piling on top of each other because Dwayne was shouting the door wouldn't open and beating against it. Betsy had continued shrieking, and I could hear Janis sobbing behind me. Suddenly the door swung open easily and we scrambled into the bottom room. The big block of sandstone was over a foot away, with no scrape marks on the floor, and abruptly the flashlight came back on. Sami took the light away from Janis and shone it on Betsy, yelling "What's wrong?"
When we looked at Betsy, she had a long jagged cut down one cheek. She said something had hit her face on the stairs just as everything went dark. We exited the house immediately, finding Astrid entertaining the kid in the car. She swore she hadn't been inside, wouldn't have taken our frightened child back in or left her alone, and besides that obvious truth, she was not strong enough to have lifted the sandstone rock.
We got in the cars and left. Back at Sami's house, as her girlfriend tended to Betsy's cheek, we tried to come up with an explanation for what had just happened. An owl in the upstairs room, maybe, lashing out at invasion of its territory. The flashlight going off by coincidence or Janis's frightened hand jabbing the button without her knowing it. But nothing explained the door shutting by itself, the massive rock moving away without a mark.
We decided to put the word out that the haint in the Copeland Place was for real and not benign, and to urge everyone to stay away. I was deadly earnest in my agreement, and I never returned to the place. Betsy Kowalski never returned for a visit, either.
A few years later, I told my mother about it and she informed me we were related to the Copelands. Martha Copeland had been an Armstrong before she married Tom Copeland; her father Ike was brother to my great-great-grandfather David Armstrong, and her mother Martha Wiles was a second cousin to my great-great-grandmother Margaret Ritchie. They had all grown up together in Arkansas and caught a covered wagon to Montague County as part of a multi-family migration.
When I recently again remembered that night at the Copeland Place, I began digging to see, if it was haunted, whether it would be possible for me to put a name to whoever's spirit had remained in the house. I had to do this without benefit of actual deed records, none of which are online and are too expensive for me to have researched by another.
Using censuses, land grant maps, and genealogical records, I explored two hypotheses: Tom and Martha Copeland were the only inhabitants of that farmhouse before its abandonment, or it had been occupied by others before/since their tenure.
The design of the house was one strong clue as to the time it was built, making it definitely post 1870 and probably post 1880. Tom Copeland was still a child when his parents, C.C. and Georgia (Chandler) Copeland, moved from Smith County, Texas to Montague County in the mid 1870's. They would not have built this house then. Nor would they have needed its roominess -- they only had six children, and at least two of those died before growing up.
Tom and Martha Copeland married in Stoneburg in 1892 when they were 23 and 22 respectively. They began having babies right away. Over the next 18 years, Martha gave birth to 13 children (including two sets of twins), seven girls and six boys. The Copeland Place is tailor-made for a large farm family of the era. The downstairs bedroom would have held Tom, Martha, the latest baby and maybe an older toddler. One of the large upstairs rooms would have been for daughters and one for sons. Perhaps it was constructed by them in or around 1892.

Still, it's unusual for a young couple of that time to have had the money to build a large new house. Maybe it was handed on to them by Martha's parents or Tom's grandparents. On investigating, I established that Martha's parents, Ike and Martha Armstrong, lived nearby but not on that land and had settled their land before 1890. They did not leave for Oklahoma until after 1910. Probably not ever their place, then.

Isaac Huntley and Martha Adeline Wiles Armstrong, taken circa 1890s in Montague Co., TX, possibly outside the Copeland Place

Interestingly, however, in looking at family photographs I found one of Ike and Martha Armstrong taken outside a house which looks almost identical to what I remember of the Copeland Place. They appear to be in their 50s, which would make it the 1890s. Maybe they were visiting the Copelands when the photo was taken, or maybe their house was very similar.

I considered whether farmhouse could have originally belonged to the Chandlers, Tom Copeland’s maternal grandparents, who lived in that precinct of Stoneburg on the 1880 census. William Bailey Overton and Elizabeth (Paden) Chandler moved to Montague County from Fannin County in 1875, buying “2302.5 acres about 10 miles northwest of the town Montague on Belknap Creek.” This land description could include the Copeland place or certainly is nearby. However, the house doesn't fit an 1875 construction. Further, the Chandlers died in 1896 and 1901 respectively, and there were other grown children to inherit, so it seems unlikely to me their original farm would have been handed on in 1892 to a newly married grandson.

Back to Tom's parents, though, who lost two sons to early death and I can find no record of two more Copeland boys as adults, they may have been left with only Tom and a sister to carry on the Copeland farm. C.C. Copeland, Tom's father, died in 1885. It makes sense to me that when Tom marries a girl from next door and wants to farm the family land, his widowed mother (and perhaps her family, the more prosperous Chandlers) would have given him acreage and a loan to build a new, commodious place, in hopes of the grandchildren to come. If so, Tom and Martha certainly fulfilled their end of the bargain.

(1910 census record for Tom and Martha Copeland near Stoneburg in Montague County, Texas)

Having determined to my satisfaction that Tom and Martha Copeland's family were the original inhabitants of the farmhouse, I began looking to see who might have died there and thus be considered a possible identity for the "haint".

Here are their 13 children:
  • Hiel Ernest Copeland 1893 – 1982
  • Ethel I Copeland 1895 – 1986
  • Dora Esther Copeland 1896 – 1918
  • Isaac Hubert Copeland 1897 – 1990
  • Georgia Iva Copeland 1899 – 1995
  • Georgie T Copeland 1899 – by 1910
  • Elsie Copeland 1900 – 1976
  • Jewell Copeland 1902 – 1981
  • Harmon Arthur Thomas Copeland 1904 – 1994
  • Floyd Houston Copeland 1905 – 1987
  • Velma Copeland 1908 – 1987
  • Vera Copeland 1908 – 1976
  • Louvil Ray Copeland 1911 – 1980

Two children died while likely still living at home and possibly in the farmhouse, Dora (age 22) and Georgie, a twin to Georgia who survived (before age 10). Tom and Martha moved away from the farm by 1930 and died during the 1940s. Unless someone else occupied the place after 1930, the only two people I can verify as probably having died within its walls, then, are Dora Copeland as a young woman and Georgie Copeland as a boy.

If the house still stands, curious ghosthunters can use this information to investigate who remains under its roof.

I said earlier that I never returned to the Copeland Place. I was in the vicinity once, however, when another inexplicable and disturbing event occurred.

I was visiting my father in Denton one weekend during the mid 1990s and had decided to drive to Montague County in hopes of finding the lost graves of Stafford family members. Their land had also been between Stoneburg and Montague, north of the Belknap Hills and south of Belcherville, but I knew they had not been buried in either of the cemeteries serving Stoneburg and Montague. Looking at a topo map from 1905, near the times of their deaths, I could locate several small, now abandoned graveyards which might hold headstones. I set out late morning and reached central Montague County by early afternoon.

I thought my best bets were around the former Long Branch and Rock Springs communities, but I'd heard there was a small cemetery in between the two -- just east of the Copeland land, in fact. I headed west from Montague, immediately leaving paved roads for dirt. I planned to flag down anyone I saw and ask them if they knew about pastures with old graves in them; when I'd lived there, we all knew of such places, family plots left behind by the exodus after World War I. I wasn't worried about getting lost. I had my topo and most of it was familiar to me anyhow, in an unconscious memory sort of way.

I drove for over an hour with no luck at all. At one point I passed a man walking across a field, too far to hail from the road and with no gate nearby to enter through the fence. He didn't look my way, which was odd. In such a rural place, passersby are worth staring at.

I can't say exactly where I was when I came over a rise and saw a farmhouse in a hollow below, with barn and a plowed field adjacent. A man was in the field, dressed in very old-fashioned style overalls, the kind my father wore in childhood photographs. The farmhouse looked vaguely the same style as the Copeland Place, except it had a vivid coat of white paint on it with red trim around the windows. There was an old-style Farmall near the barn, but no car. I realized the brightness of the buildings and tractor were in odd contrast to the sense of haziness I felt in the air, as if dust was suspended in sunlight, only it was a silver cast I was looking through, not golden.

Once again, the man did not look my way. I saw motion behind the house, and a woman emerged with a woven basket of wet laundry to hang on a line. I was startled by her clothing, a dress down to her ankles and a bonnet that I hadn't seen anyone wear since my grandmother had died. I had to turn then, with the road heading away from the farm, but I kept mulling over what I had seen. The light everywhere I went continued to be silvery, lovely yet not what I remembered from living there.

I kept thinking I was going to hit the two-lane blacktop between Stoneburg and Montague. I have a good sense of directionality, and despite no longer pinpointing my location on the map, I could tell I was entering the Belknap Hills by the terrain around me. Which meant I must have crossed the county road somehow without noticing it. I kept driving, trying to angle east again yet gradually getting deeper into the Hildreth, which is genuine wilderness.

An hour passed before I found my way back to a paved road. It headed south and I was sure it must lead to Bowie, but it looked strange, narrower than I remembered and the old dark style of asphalt I recalled from the 50s, a true blacktop. I sat there at the intersection for a few minutes, looking at the map and trying to decide where else I might venture on my quest.

It was then I realized I had not passed another vehicle in at least two hours, maybe three. Which is not impossible in a place as rural as Montague County, but I suddenly got scared. This road was the only route between Bowie, the main center of commerce, and Montague, the county seat. I watched for ten minutes and no car came along. Now in a panic, I put my Honda in gear and started for Bowie at a high speed.

Ten minutes later, my desperation now at fever pitch because I still had not seen another human or vehicle, I came over a small rise and the light suddenly altered, becoming clear late afternoon sunlight. On my left was a cluster of butane tanks, making me realize I hadn't seen any of these, or oil wells, during my wanderings through an oil and gas producing terrain. Coming toward me was a Ford pick-up that wasn't brand new but less than a decade old. The driver waved at me as I passed, as everyone here always did.

I stopped at the first pay phone I saw, outside a grocery, and called my little brother. I was shaking hard and my palms were slick with sweat. I told Bill about the last few hours, hesitatingly at first and he kept laughing at me. But then he heard how I was close to being in shock, and he stopped laughing. He said "They tried to snatch you, Sis. The old folks, they almost got you." He told me to buy a Co-cola and come on home, he'd make me ribs and poot roots. I said okay; then, feeling a little foolish, I told him the exact route I'd be driving back and how long it should take me. He chuckled again and said "Nothing to worry about now, you're fine."

And I was.



(Combined X-Ray and Optical Images of the Crab Nebula)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Monday, March 29, 2010


To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


After spending the night at the Genist's Manage, Prl and Thleen had hot milk while Maar bathed quickly. They walked through morning rain to the abbas' Manage, where oatcakes with orange sauce and thick bacon was ready. Maar noticed that Yoj seemed tense but Halling was calmly resolute. After the meal, Halling stood and put on the gilet which completed her dress uniform. Yoj adjusted braid on Halling's shoulders and said softly "You know what you have to do."

"Got it" said Halling. Prl's face was bright with interest, but Maar wasn't sure if Prl actually knew what that exchange meant until Prl said "Cousins all". Prl added "I'll be back for lunch, what are you two going to do?" This was aimed at Yoj and Thleen.

Yoj replied "We are going to take close-up photos of every member of the lineage painted on our living room wall here by Bux. Thleen will run the camera and I'll take notes." Thleen looked excited. "When we're done, we'll go print them out and stop by the fish docks, any requests?"

"Sakana. Or lobster if you can barter for it" said Halling, pulling on her mustard burzaka. Maar followed suit and they headed down the lane at Halling's pace. Before they reached the lane's junction with the mercantile district, Halling looped her arm through Maar's, leaning on her, and said through gusting breaths "Tlunu told us it took four pilots to carry heavy crates to the Genist's last night. What did Pyosz send Prl?"

Maar didn't like dissembling with family but her loyalty to Prl was Pyosz-ingrained. "Something Prl had printed in Koldok" she answered. Halling looked at her sideways, perfectly aware of the implications of Prl seeking a printer outside Skene. She opted not to push Maar further on that front. Instead she asked "You can be direct with me: You honestly all right with me and Yoj joining your household?"

"I honestly am" said Maar, relieved at the shift. "For my sake, for Thleen, for Pyosz, and for your sib and oldest friend -- it's a boon in every direction."

A few paces on, Halling said "We had to change Yerush's diapers at the end. And it would have come to that with my own emma."

"I'm comfortable with diapers, plan to have a decade of them at least" said Maar in a light tone.

"Baby shit is different" continued Halling.

"We know what we're doing" replied Maar. "It isn't just me and Pyosz, cousins are settling in and by the time we need more help, we'll have children eager to learn. It's how generations overlap, and I'm grateful to have a family where I am part of the pattern." She wanted to ask Halling what "Cousins all" meant, this was the perfect time, but she could not quite go there.

At the Lofthall, they sat on the outside bench so Halling could completely catch her breath and enter with composure. When they did come into the main hall, they found a couple of tables from the canteen had been appropriated and pushed together for the meeting. Halling sat at the first chair she reached, sitting down with a muffled groan. This happened to be at the end of the table. The Ethicist, interpreting it as a statement of position, walked to the other end of the long expanse and took the chair there.

As Maar observed, a shuffle for placement began. Danaan and Rark, moving in tandem, swiftly assumed the seats on either side of Halling, flanking her and facing each other. Mill, shut out from being next to her emma, grinned as she settled lightly into the chair beside Danaan and turned to speak with her in a familiar way. This reminder of longstanding Lofthall intimacy seemed to disconcert the other Sheng Zhangs, who began assuming seats at the other end of the table. Maar slid in beside Rark, who turned to wink at her briefly.

With unavoidable Skene ritual, the meeting began with everyone at the table introducing themselves, despite the difficulty of finding a true stranger even between Pya and Skene. Halling began the go-around by virtue of age, if not length of service. Maar surreptitiously made certain her gilet was adjusted and her scarf in a crisp knot before it was her turn for self-identification:

"I am Maar na Adnes + Dru, born to Chloddia, now living in Owl Manage on Saya Island, Pya, head sinner for Pya Lofthall, partner to Pyosz na Prl, acting emma to Thleen and expecting another child this year." And not yet 21 she thought to herself. She was gratified to see a few of the Skene officials look at her with new interest: Not just another pilot.

As the introductions continued, Maar leaned back in her chair and with the faces of Halling, Danaan and Mill simultaneously in her view, she was suddenly struck by how very alike they were: narrow, long, with high cheekbones, Pyosz's epicanthal folds, glossy dark skin and hair with identical nap. It was as if she was looking at the same face shown at 15 year intervals. She knew the reason behind it, but she was still rattled, and turned to scan the others around the table, wondering how conscious they were of reacting to several generations of an imprint: This is what a Lofthall Sheng Zhang looks like.

But not forever she thought to herself. Not in Pya.

Before introductions were done, Abbo arrived late and with wet hair from a recent shower. She had to take a seat between two assistant Sheng Zhangs and looked irritated about it. A few minutes later, Abbo's self-identification was so brief that Maar felt an old wave of empathy for her. She gave her a grin and saw Abbo's shoulders relax a little.

An agenda was passed around by Rark, but before objections could begin from various factions as to wording and order of its contents, Halling raised her long, elegant hand and said "I've got something I'd like to say, if you'll grant me leave." Maar felt a frisson on the back of her neck, and her glance at both Mill and Danann showed surprise on their faces.

"Our motto here in our sibaste is that 'We feed Skene". And we do, but let's be honest, we do much more than that. Economies in Skene and Pya flow through the Lofthall. We are able to have centralized schools, medical care, emergency services, and even exile because of the Lofthall. It's an open secret how much influence the Lofthall has over the well-being of Skene. We don't acknowledge it because we have a passed-on legacy of fearing the Lofthall, from the time of The Troubles. We fear its power and conceal that fear by pretending it is held in check, in balance, by other Sheng Zhangs and by an annual vote."

Maar felt like everyone in the room was holding their breath, wating for Halling to stroll into outright heresy.

"I came to my Sheng Zhang tenure by way of sacrifice and a hard shove to reassert some basic Skene values. But I also had partnered into a powerful family, and our power and influence has continued. Second generations have assumed control of our Lofthalls, and while the new Sheng Zhangs are strong-minded individuals who often disagree with me and with each other, I know many people out there see us as a single clan. There is no balance to be found in that perception." Halling's voice was rueful in its bluntness. Mill seemed to be on the edge of her chair.

"However, I don't think a remedy is up to us, my family, or even that a remedy is necessarily called for. I live with the Archivist, and for more than 60 years her stories about Skene history have been what I go to sleep by at night and what flows across the dinner table." Halling's black eyes twinkled. "From what she says, a few families have always been at the center of Skene's matrix of power. Not the same families from generation to generation, the lineages have changed, but the presence of interrelated, like-thinking folks assuming most roles of leadership has always been a fact on Skene. Yoj says it's because we began with such tiny, desperate numbers and swiftly all became cousins. She says the dangers of such a system are counterweighted by Skene obstinance and a culture of humility. Apparently there's a word for our kind of government: Oligarchy." Halling pronounced the foreign term carefully, and Maar saw others mouthing it themselves.

"What we are witnessing now is the emergence of what amounts to a second oligarchy, one based in Pya. Yoj says on the original planet, this kind of a power struggle often led to war." War was a word Skene children learned in school but was as alien a fact as space travel or planets with only one moon. "But despite the sickening waste of resource and life with their commonplace wars, they at least had enough land and population to bounce back from them. We don't. Since the beginning, conflict threatens our survival. It isn't just shitting in our own lettuce patch, it's more directly suicidal than that."

Halling stopped to take a slow sip of tea. She shifted the weight on her haunches and continued. "We all know this and are not suicidal, not in this room. We believe that is so. But self-destruction can begin under other guises and not appear as a riptide until it us too late. And parleying access to resources between Skene and Pya that does not reach first and last for balance is a form of self-destruction. You know what I'm talking about. You all do." She looked slowly around the table.

"I have spent eight decades loving Skene, a child of Motu Fling who settled on Riesig. By midwinter, however, I will be living in Pya and I intend to die there." A shocked rustle went around the room. "I intend to remain with a foot in both streams, and I intend that my descendants be raised with that sensibility as well." Halling settled her gaze on Maar for a few seconds. Not Abbo and not Mill, but my line thought Maar. "By the time my unborn great-grandchild is a habibi herself, Pya's population and development will overshadow Skene to the same degree that Riesig overshadows Motu Fling. There are a few things Skene can do, will do, to insure she is not rendered insignificant compared to Pya. But they will fail if balance fails. Someone has to say they will make sure it never heads in that direction. Someone with the power to make it so."

This time Halling looked at Mill, then Danaan, before switching her gaze to Maar. "I am hereby asking the sibaste of the Lofthall to lead in that insistence of balance between our two worlds. To say they will use their influence to make sure all of Skene is fed, in all ways. We can effectively interfere with power plays which do not maintain balance between Skene and Pya. I'm openly requesting that we, here in this room, swear to one another that if contract negotiation overtly tips balance without a clear counterbalance, we will use Lofthall mechanisms to redress the problem. With full public disclosure, of course, and no recourse to aggression. Because we are cousins all."

Halling shifted her weight again, but most of the electrified inhabitants of the room weren't looking at her face any more: They were fixed on Mill and Danaan. Who were not looking at each other, either. Danaan was looking at Rark, and Mill's eyes had remained on her emma.

Maar thought about what she'd read in history, that Halling's first act as Sheng Zhang was to insist she have a second in command who could effectively stop her from wielding too much power. All other Sheng Zhangs had an assistant who could topple them, but the Lofthall had operated without one before then. Qala was elected into the new position, and while she was perceived as linked to Halling almost as family, Maar knew Qala was demonstrably capable of standing up to Halling, likely had done so many times. She thought this intended ballast had been considerably weakened by Danaan and Mill each having their partners as assistant Sheng Zhangs: Rark and Oby would not defy their beloveds beyond a certain point, not publicly. Well, when I'm Sheng Zhang, it will revert back to what Halling meant it to be, because Pyosz won't be shadowing me, she has her own realm.

It was Danaan who broke the silence. She stood, revealing the one way she was most physically distinct from Halling and Mill -- her short stature -- and said carryingly "I so swear. I will feed Skene, and I will remember we are cousins all."

As she looked at Mill, Mill stood, four inches taller. She was not quite smiling as she turned her eyes from Halling, and Maar knew what she was going to say, though almost everyone else was hanging with parted mouths. Mill let the moment build, savoring the gift Halling had just handed her. Maar was committing every impression to memory, for endless repeating later. Mill shrugged easily, in a way Abbo imitated without success, before saying "I swear I will never allow any part of Skene go in want, because we are cousins all."

There was a collective exhalation. Maar knew this was going to cause a tidal wave of public response, of all sorts, and a couple of the lesser factotums in the room looked like they wanted to leave immediately, to cry out the news and perhaps bunker down. She allowed herself brief humor at the fact Mill could not have guessed the phrase by which this declaration would surely come to be known, the noble "Cousins all", had originated with her siba Prl, or else she might have balked at saying it.

Then the Ethicist thanked Halling for "her contribution" and suggested they begin reviewing that day's agenda, asserting a stewardship they all pretended she still had. By the time they broke for lunch, real progress had been made but Halling was painfully stiff. Once in the lane, she leaned on Maar heavily. Mill had circumspectly opted to eat at a cafe with the Sheng Zhang of Verzinnen, instead of with Danaan or her emma.

As Prl carried lobster rolls to the Manage table and Thleen boasted about her photography skills, Maar insisted Halling remove her kalsongers so she could rub liniment into the elder's knees. It wasn't until they had all eaten a few bites before Halling nudged Maar and said "Tell 'em, they're dying to know."

Halling took a 20 minute nap before they returned to the Lofthall. Word of the meeting's developments had not yet reached public ears, Maar thought. However, on the way home at dusk, Mill, Danaan and Rark accompanying them, Maar twice saw people on the street whisper to each other as they passed. She thought about calling out "Hello, cousins!" just to watch the effect, and giggled to herself.

After dinner they called Owl Manage on the speaker radio. This was not as enjoyable for Maar as she had anticipated once she heard Pyosz had been sick for over a day with a fever, what Lawa called the ague. Pyosz swore she was being well looked after, but her listless voice was like acid in Maar's ears. She left for the Genist Manage early, leaving Thleen and Prl behind for a games night. Once in the Genist kitchen, she called Saya again, only to have Qala say regretfully that Pyosz was asleep and shouldn't be disturbed. Maar fell asleep herself atop Pyosz's former bed, still in shati and buksers. Prl covered her with a quilt when she came home, shushing Thleen and taking the child into her own room again.

Maar was awakened a few hours later by Thleen crawling on top of her, sobbing. Maar couldn't figure out where she was or why Pyosz wasn't there until Prl clicked on the overhead light and said "I didn't hear her get up, what's wrong?"

"Maar left me on Chloddia and went back to Pya without me, just like she used to!" shrieked Thleen.

"Oh, sweetie, never, I'll never leave you behind again, I'm so sorry I ever had to" said Maar, coming fully awake with anguish. She rocked Thleen in her lap as Prl made them warm cinnamon milk. They settled back into Pyosz's bed with a goodnight kiss from Prl and were up very early to catch a ride east at the Lofthall. Thleen's anxiety remained until she had been with her Chloddia family for an hour and it became clear everyone was on best behavior. Maar later told Pyosz it was the best visit she'd had with her emmas since moving out; they looked less burdened than she could remember them ever having been. They returned to the Genist Manage in time for bath and bed.

The following afternoon, they carried the Isola Fling cradle to the huolon. Thleen's only tearful goodbye was to Prl, to whom she said "I want you to come live at my end of the top story of Owl Manage with me, will you please find a way?"

"I'll try" said Prl with a grin at Maar that Mill caught and filed away to discuss with Oby.

Once they were in the air, Thleen stopped fidgeting and asked if she could share a seat with Maar. complaining of the cold despite having on her guibba and wool cap. Maar adjusted the harness to cover them both with a blamket over Thleen. Thleen leaned her head in Maar's shoulder, and despite Maar having a raised-voice conversation with Mill, Thleen fell asleep right away. Maar was again swept with guilt at the desolation Thleen must have felt every time Maar left her for Pya.

Pyosz had delivered milk and was waiting at the jichang for their arrival. Maar picked her up on the tarmac and Pyosz wrapped her thighs around Maar's waist as they kissed, embarrassing Mill. Pyosz said she was tired but no longer feverish. When they reached Saya, Thleen raced to the point where Lawa had a pole waiting. Maar carried in their luggage. Pyosz said "What do you need? We have some of Qala's excellent onion soup leftover. Or I'd share a bath with you. Or...sleep." Her eyes danced.

"Tea" said Maar, going to the kitchen. "I'll wait on the bath. Bed with you, for sure. But, if you can wait with me, I want to look inside that book of Prl's. She asked me if I'd read it and I said no, I was waiting for her consent. She said go ahead."

"Come on, then" said Pyosz, leading the way upstairs as Maar carried her mug. They settled side by side on the bed and Pyosz pulled the green volume from her nightstand. Maar set her mug down to read the first page.

"The time has come for me to exercise one of my duties as Genist of All Skene, namely, public education to ensure reproductive vigor and diversity. I will begin by reminding you of commonly known math regarding our population's fertility.

"Prior to the discovery and settlement of Pya, Skene's replacement rate meant an average of 35 births per year. Currently with Pya's opportunity for expansion, that rate has doubled and is expected to continue increasing.

"Until a decade ago, at least 90% of pregnancies came about via a Genist-selected contribution from an archive of 50 potential egg-sparks. An egg-spark confers half the genetic material carried by each human being on Skene. The other half, of course, is bestowed by our aggies. We are accustomed to kinship flowing from the families into which we are born and loved. Biological reality, however, adds a kinship which derives from our unknown egg-sparks.

"This second half of our kinship reckoning has been the province of Genists to track and distribute. It has, until now, carried no meaning as to our definition of family. However, because means of reproduction have altered and continue to alter in a significant way, it has become imperative that each Skene citizen considering emmadom take into account the entirety of her genetic lineage.

"This is easily discovered by applying to the Genist for your private information. Unfortunately, growing numbers of emmas are not availing themselves of this necessary service. This has negative consequences which I am compelled to disclose for the benefit of all Skene.

"With a current annual birth rate of approxinately 70, and a total of 250-300 individuals appearing within one's sui, the fact arises that a child born today will likely have five to six biological half-sibs within her sui when she arrives at adulthood. The possibility that she will partner and become emmas with a half-sib is remote but has already occurred when the Genist has not been consulted for pregnancy evaluation.

"Reproduction with a half-sib is not advised, both individually and for the long-term survival of Skene.

"Genist law precludes me from divulging anyone's genetic kinship to another without their consent. Thus, unless I am asked for a consultation, I am unable to give badly needed advice to those who might need it.

"However, my concern for Skene and my obligation to same compels me to inform you about this problem. I encourage you to avail yourselves of complete self-knowledge. As a suppement, I am allowed by law to tell each citizen those to whom she is not in a half-sib relationship. This will allow you to avoid choices which can cause future harm.

"Honest ignorance is not shameful and is to be forgiven. Choosing ignorance, however, runs contrary to our undertaking as citizens.

"Thank you for this opportunity to serve you."

Maar read Prl's name and the elaborate Genist seal, looked back up the page at bone-chilling statistics, followed by Prl's ironic "Reproduction with a half-sib is not advised." She found her mouth was dry, and drank down half her cooled tea before turning the page.

It and all the remaining pages was filled with a list of the names of every person on Skene age 16 and older, in alphabetical order. Halfway down that first page was Abbo's name. Preceding her name was a number in brackets which appeared to indicate her placement on the list -- she was the 39th Skener named. Following her name was a lengthy string of integers separated by commas, and at first glance Maar thought it was every number between 1 and 1214. This same string of digits appeared to follow each name on the page.

Maar read the legend at the top, which declared "All those who are NOT half-sibs (or more closely related) to the named citizen, designated by their number on this list." With comprehension, Maar looked at the lines of numbers after Abbo's name and realized there was a single number missing in the sequence, that of 766. She flipped ahead in the book and knew what she'd find before she reached Ngall's name. Mill and Oby had not used a Contribution, then -- both their children were from a successful X-Y pairing.

"Thunder me down" she whispered, looking at Pyosz's solemn face. "She may have technically sidestepped the wording of her oath, but this is going to split open mantle and leave nothing concealed."

"I know" said Pyosz, fear in her voice. Maar breathed in deeply and turned pages until she found her own name. She discovered her hands were trembling. She stared at the digits following Maar, then said "Will you hand me paper and pencil from your nightstand?"

"I...already wrote them down" said Pyosz apologetically. She handed Maar a sheet which had her name followed by seven numbers. Below it were the names of Adon, Su, Thleen, and both her emmas with their respective numbers. I have seven half-sibs thought with a rush of dizziness, before she noticed there were no numbers following Thleen's name. "What -- " she began before it hit her: Prl didn't know who Thleen's Contribution had been because her emmas had bought her conception outside the law.

She closed her eyes against the rage she felt. She was not going to be able to keep this from Thleen, this void in self-knowledge. Most of her anger was reserved for her emmas, but a stream of it attached to Prl as well, who intended to make public Thleen's origins. She opened her eyes again to look for others like Thleen, those whose egg-spark, as Prl had creatively called it, were not known. She was relieved to find several similar individuals as she flipped through the directory.

Then another sickening realization arrived. "Thleen..." she said hoarsely. "If she partners and wants to have children, how will she know -- she and her partner could be -- my levving emmas, they've destroyed her future!"

"No" said Pyosz swiftly. "I thought of that too, but on the last page, emma says there's a test she can run. It's expensive and only Skene has the equipment, but she can compare something from Thleen's blood to whoever she's chosen and rule out sib-ship. I called her about it. We'll do that for Thleen, if and when the need arises."

"But what if she's already in love with whoever it is?" asked Maar bleakly.

"I know" whispered Pyosz. "Still, better to find out before...I haven't had the nerve to go through here and match up numbers to find those who've already had children with a sib."

"It's not fair, those children are going to be shamed for life" said Maar.

"Choosing ignorance is no answer" replied Pyosz, her voice briefly so much like Prl's that Maar felt a jolt of antipathy. Delaying the moment of discovery, she turned to Pyosz's name, which of course also had no numbers following it. She scanned up to find Prl, who had a disturbing 25 numbers following her name. Four of them will be her actual known sibs, that precious family secret will now be out she thought with a mean sense of satisfaction. And Danaan, that link will blow through the Lofthall as well.

She finally picked up the paper in Pyosz's handwriting and began locating her secret family. The first two were quite a bit older than her, women she knew only dimly. The third was a miner on Pya she remembered from dances, someone who also had red hair. But we get that from abba's line, Thleen and I share it she told herself with fierce reassurance. It's from MY aggie, not that other -- whatever.

With energy flowing from fury, she flipped to the next of her half-sib numbers. And was stopped in her tracks.

It was Thax. Her age, born and raised on Pya. a papermaker in Pertama. She and Thax hadn't actually made love but they had come close.

Maar hurled the book across the room, sending katts scrambling. She sat forward, jamming on her otos.

"Maar? Maar, what is it, talk to me?"

"This is a mistake" Maar said through gritted teeth. "People will hate her forever. She has to not do this."

"But I thought you understood -- " began Pyosz, following her off the bed. At the doorway Maar said "I need to be alone. Leave me alone for a while." She thudded downstairs and out the front door, heading for the kissing gate.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.