Museum Review: The National WWI Museum

I knew about the place because another grad student had been part of the team working on the creation of the museum and assembling information and planning the museum. However, I’d never been there. So, things happened to work out that this past week I was able to go visit the Liberty Memorial and National WWI Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. As with most things in that part of KC-MO, getting there was not easy due to twisty roads and construction in progress. Between three maps and two navigators, the parking area was found.

Under the entry to the museum proper, WWI Museum. All photos by author.

You walk down under the main 1920s Liberty Memorial and Hall of Honor to enter the museum. There you find the atrium, some special exhibits, the ticket counter, restrooms, café, and a coat check/customer service counter. The restrooms are wonderful, I should add. Go before you enter the main museum, because there are no facilities inside the display area.

The guidebooks recommend allowing two or two and a half hours. I’d budget three or four, but I’m a military history nerd without small children or bored adults in tow.

The museum assumes that you are an American, and that you don’t have much military history background or knowledge about the world in 1914. As a result, I found myself biting my tongue several times during the introductory film, and later on as I read display information. It’s not incorrect, just . . . either traditional (“Germany started it!!”) or a little too bare-bones. Which means it is probably a bit of an overload for the casual visitor if he or she reads everything. I learned stuff, and it’s a great museum, but I’m not the target audience, pun intended.

The museum starts with 1914, and focuses on the Western Front. That makes sense, since it is aimed at Americans, and there were not many (if any) large groups of Yanks on the Eastern, African, or Middle Eastern fronts. The trench dioramas are not as memorable as the one in the Imperial War Museum, but they are good at showing what an ideal trench should have looked like.

Below is how a trench should have been drained, if the men could find rocks, if the water table wasn’t so high that the trenches flooded to men’s knees, if shells didn’t damage the trench, if . . .

Once you get through a series of very good displays about the different weapons and forces in the war, everyday life for the soldiers and war workers, and refugees, and some of the non-Western Front fighting, you are at the half-way point. There are some interactive displays that are currently on stand-by, but they look as if they would be excellent once everything is back up and running. Small side-rooms and displays allow visitors to see film clips and hear interviews, poetry, and letters from the time.

At the half-way point, a second film describes how the US got into the war. The theater is dark and shadowy, and not until the end of the film do you realize what is lurking below the seats. (I skipped the film, and caught photos of the battlefield by the light of the movie.)

I confess, I was running out of time when going through the US side, and didn’t give it the attention it deserved. That’s the problem when you Read All the Things!!! in any given museum (except the Leopold in Vienna. Sorry, that type of Modern Art does not appeal.) Some of the interpretations left me tongue-bitten once more, but I’m a professional historian, and not the target market for the museum. Later, after looking at who works as consultants and curators for the museum, some things became clearer.

Some things had not changed since, oh, the 1500s?

Bone saws, forceps, clamps and straps to cut off blood flow during the cutting . . .

However, some things were quite new indeed.

Those are all probably at least two minute exposures. Something that is not needed today, and probably not recommended, either.

The book store has a good selection specialist books, but very few general overview histories of WWI. Given the size of the shop, I can understand why, but having Keegan’s WWI history or a few other things like that would probably go over well with patrons. The reproductions of war posters, tee-shirts, and other things are quite good and well priced.

I highly recommend the museum. My complaints are those of a specialist, someone who spent several years doing deep research into the conflict and the events leading up to it in Europe, and so I’m going to whine about things normal people don’t notice and wouldn’t worry about. It’s not as visceral as are parts of the Imperial War Museum, which is probably good for younger patrons. Nor is it as in-depth as the Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, but since the US was only in WWI for a year and a half, well, that too fits the situation. It is a good museum, with excellent displays and presentations, and well worth the cost. Military, veterans, and others can get discounts.


Role Models

Besides my parents and a few other adults, I’m not sure who my role models were when I was growing up. Han Solo, perhaps? Then I locked onto military history, and while there was not one single individual I declared, “I want to be like that person,” I found a lot of values and ideas I tried to live up to. Ditto in certain fiction, because I was in a place where I needed inspiration along the lines of, “If she can survive that stuff, then I can get through High School.” If William Slim could reorganize and rebuild an army and then start fighting back, I could survive High School. And so on. Reading about Marie Curie and other women in medicine and science was interesting, and I remember all the big news about Sally Ride, but the fact that they were women wasn’t so important to me.

Later, I also had someone serve as a horrible warning as far as how not to treat coworkers and associates. He was an anti-role-model of sorts.

None of my role models looked like me. None were nerdy, overweight girls growing up in the Midwest or High Plains. Perhaps Lessa of Pern and Talia from Valdemar might have been close. William Slim certainly wasn’t, neither was Admiral Chester Nimitz, nor “Pappy” Boyington. Nor Erwin Rommel, not all the submarine commanders whose books I devoured. But there was something about what they did, and their approach to the world, that made sense and that made me want to behave like them, even though my circumstances were very different from theirs. The fact that they were military men, or fictional characters, didn’t matter to me. It wasn’t important that I have a role model who looked like me. Since my Mom was in a science field, I knew that girls could grow up to do science, or anything else.

I was thinking about this as I read a new military biography of Prinz Eugene von Savoy. His private life was . . . private, much to the frustration of later historians and writers. He didn’t have any flamboyant affairs. His wife was not well known (too well, in the end) in the royal court like John Churchill the Duke of Marlborough’s, in part because Eugene never married. He might have had a mistress, or he might have looked at his mother’s adventures in the court of Louis XIV and have decided that power and military campaigns ranked far higher on his list of interests than did physical intimacy*. No one knows. However, since his enemies accused him of, to use today’s term, being gay, he has been lauded and praised as “the first great gay general since Alexander the Great or Richard the Lionheart.” Except Richard has been dropped because he was an icky crusader. Funny, no one claims that Tilley, the great general for the Habsburgs during the Thirty Years War, was gay even though HE never married.

The argument seems to be that “because this historical figure never married, and was accused of being [whatever], therefore he/she/it is the role model needed today by young people who might be [whatever].” Role models are people who accomplished a great deal, not people who accomplished a great deal and look just like or act just like [characteristic]. At least in my world. If kids are told “Oh, no one like you can be a pilot,” well, the adult is to blame unless there is a solid, physical reason for the denial. For example, anyone who still tells girls, “No, you can’t fly the plane, but you can be a flight attendant if you want!” should be thumped with a wing spar, or landing gear leg.

I grew up in the benighted years of the patriarchy, and Reganonomics, and it didn’t matter that I was a girl. I’ve had people turn me down for a job because I’m too small (valid in one case, not so in another), and in one case because they couldn’t take the legal risk of hiring another women after a Spectacular Horrible Warning soured the chances for a whole lot of people. [No, I was not informed officially, but tell-a-pilot and the flightline grapevine are very effective. I wasn’t surprised, just peeved at the Horrible Warning.] Girls, poor kids, kids who don’t look like their heroes, it doesn’t matter – kids need role models who can inspire and encourage, who show how to do it. That’s what society needs to be teaching and showing.

*The more I read about his childhood, the more convinced I become that Eugene von Savoy preferred power, wealth, and military success to marriage. Once he made a name for himself, his mother trying to match him up with various noble women in order to advance her own position probably just iced the cake.

Saturday Snippet: Nikolai Gets the News

Nikolai, one of the Hunters, is trying not to worry about the injured Arthur. Then his Hunting Partner calls . . . [Contains spoiler for Preternaturally Familiar]

“How was the concert?” Lerae asked once they’d both finished.

He nodded. “It went well. I don’t think Meistro Fowler is going to program that many major works together again. We went until ten-thirty both nights, even trimming some of the usual announcements.”

She winced. “No. So you got home around eleven-fifteen?”

“One. A Hunt in Riverside park delayed me.” Should he speak of the Hunter born? Yes, she needed to know. “We were ambushed, and the Hunter born was gravely injured.” He looked at the empty plate before him. “I called him to aid, should he be close, since Florian is at his father’s farm. I did not know that the Hunter born had set aside his blade. He was unarmed save for his boot-knife when two abyssal creatures jumped him. One bit him, may have clipped the femoral artery.” She’d know exactly what that meant.

Lerae’s eyes went wide, and she covered her mouth with her hand. “Lady of Night have mercy.”

“Amen. I—” His breath caught, and he forced feeling aside once more. “I did not know. He Hunted unarmed, and then ordered me to cleanse the three beasts instead of aiding him. I should have seen that he carried no weapons, but I was too intent on the Hunt. His blood is on my hands.”

He heard her chair scrape back, and she embraced his shoulders. She offered no words of false comfort, thanks be. He took one of her hands and kissed it. “Thank you.” She released him and took his plate to the sink along with hers. He stood, brushed his teeth, and then went out to check on the plants and see if the storm had made more of a mess than usual. The neighbor’s tree preferred to dump hail-tattered leaves and small branches into their yard, not the proper one. Niko had asked Mistress Talyssa to check, and she’d seen no spells or signs that the Elementals were harassing him more than usual. He shrugged once again and cleaned the front yard. The back could wait. He needed to finish that poster design, and he’d not gotten any work done on it Friday or yesterday.

His phone rang just before five that evening. He blinked screen-tired eyes and answered it. It was his Hunting partner, Florian Bauer. Niko stared out the small window by his computer set-up, letting his eyes rest. “Anno. How are you?”

“Tired of finding leaks in my father’s barn. And sheds. And henhouse.” Florian snorted. “Rebuilding the buildings would be easier.”

Niko snorted in turn. “Has Marius’ barn leaned any farther?”

“I’m not asking.” The other Hunter paused. “The Hunter born.”

“Has he—?” The words came as a whisper.

An endless-seeming silence, then, “Not yet. But Cimbrissa and the others fear that he will. The bite was both poison and unclean. Already signs of infection have begun, and he runs a high fever.” Florian took a long breath. “The blood from the beast that bit him has been saved for his feast.”

Nikolai closed his eyes. “His blood is on me. I called him to aid, and did not ask why he carried neither long-blade nor shotgun.”

“Ach, Scheisse,” came the hiss. “What saw you?”

The memories came easily, as clear as if he lived them again. He recited the tale, ending with “Ladislu told me to come home, not to go to the home farm.”

A long indrawn breath, as if the next sound would be one of the oh-so-legato Lady chants from worship. “Ladislu was wise. The senior Hunter— I lack words. Constanche said that he went rigid, all color fading as he saw the Hunter born, eyes dilating. His wife and sister guided him away, and the priestess joined them. About what they spoke Constanche did not say.”

No, he would not know. “Truth, brother, I dread attending worship.”

“I will stand with you,” came the assurance, as fast as thought. “You could not know if the Hunter born spoke not of setting aside his blade.” He heard papers shifting, then the soft thud of something falling to the floor. “I’m at work, finishing inventory early. Tomorrow, some of us will gather to ask the Lady’s grace on those who need it. Eleven, full dark.”

“I will be there. Thank you. How bad is the new software?”

“Recall my complaint that I thought FarmFile hated me? It treated me with great consideration and love compared to this ill-begotten excuse for a database. My sister-by-marriage wonders if it was designed by an abyssal being condemned to work as a coder for some terrible sin.” A hint of laughter shaded Florian’s morose words. “I find many reasons to agree with her suspicion.”

 Niko had to smile despite everything. “Would you like to trade and merge graphics files into ArtAdPro 3.0? It is supposed to have been beta-tested. They lied.”

A retching, moaning sort of sound came over the phone, and Niko bared his teeth with unholy glee. “Ah, no, thank you. What little remains of my sanity begs to be excused, and my father swore on his blade that his sons would not touch graphics lay-out programs. At least, I hope he did.”

Roasting meat scent wafted into the room. Nikolai sniffed and stood. “I believe that my lady wife desires my presence at the supper table.”

“Save me a plate, please, if there’s enough. Father wants me to come into Riverton to collect the checks from the rent box.”

Nikolai rolled his eyes, then his head and neck and stretched his shoulders. “I will try. Do you want the creamed spinach or the—”

“Stop, you vicious bastard. May your firstborn play nothing save the Beatles and Top-Forty love ballads.” No true anger colored Florian’s words.

Niko made a rude gesture in the general direction of Florian’s place of employment. “I’ll take that as a vote for the mashed turnips. Defender be with you.”

“Lady bless.”

Niko slid his phone into the charger, backed everything up yet again, then went to the kitchen. Lerae smiled. “Just in time. The meat needs to be sliced.”

He smiled in turn, then kissed her on the cheek as she stirred vegetables. “Florian will be in town this evening. He asked for a plate, to assuage his misery at doing inventory with new software. Even his sister-by-marriage says it’s junk.”

“And you said?”

“I asked if he wished to trade tasks with me, then offered him creamed spinach or mashed turnips.” Florian couldn’t eat dark leafy greens without becoming ill, and detested “mushed food” as he put it.

Lerae gave him a tired look as he studied the roast, then found the proper knife and a sturdy meat fork. “He needs a wife,” she observed yet again, then added a sprinkle of a spice blend to the peas and sweet corn. “Odile says that Annatina has been trying to catch his eye, but he has been as blind thus far.”

The meat shifted, and Nikolai turned his full attention to cutting the meat without causing a terrible mess or slicing himself. Only when he’d carved half the roast did he say, “I do not believe that he will notice her. Marius spoke once of a private vow made by his twin, but it was not my business.”

“No.” She nodded firmly, then stirred the green and yellow mixture once more before turning off the fire. “Will you be playing for the patriotic concert this year?”

He set two slices of meat onto a plate. “Not unless Ari has a problem between now and the third. And then only if they ask very nicely. It’s Beatles-heavy.” He did not care for that body of work, any of it, no matter how well arranged.

“I understand. Dr. McWhorter has invited those of us not working that evening or night to his home that evening to watch the down-stream fireworks. Spouses are welcome.” She added vegetables to the plate, then carried it to the table. A basket of bread already waited, along with a cold potato salad that she’d made on Friday.

He thought about it as he washed the knife and put it back in the holder. “I’ll know after tomorrow night. There’s a special gathering.”

Bless her, she caught his meaning without needing more. “We don’t have to confirm until Thursday.”

Florian knocked, then opened the door a little before nine that night. “Greetings and the Great God’s blessing be on the house,” he called as he came in.

“Be welcome in the name of the Great God and His Lady,” Lerae replied. She’d been the one to suggest granting Florian both hearth and pot right, just as Nikolai still had with Florian’s brother and parents.

“My thanks for the welcome,” Florian replied. He handed her a large plastic bag full of  buns and cookies. “Mother has been trying some of Sharrie’s family recipes. Not the ones that begin with ‘boil until dead’,” he assured her.

She chuckled. “I’d be more worried about the food turning invisible on my plate.” They used simple white dishes most of the time. “Cauliflower, mashed potatoes, and baked chicken in white sauce do not appeal.”

“You forgot the half-dissolved jiggly fish, and I agree, as does Sharrie. Marius is slowly converting her to using something besides two grains of ground pepper and one flake of thyme in the entire batch of tomato sauce.” Marius’ wife’s preference for bland food had become something of a family joke, one she took in good grace and even agreed with at times.

Lerae disappeared into the kitchen. The sound of dishes and food wrap soon followed. The Hunters looked at each other. At last Florian leaned forward and gripped Nikolai’s shoulder. “No change,” he said, voice low. “That might be good, or at least less bad.”

“Thank you. Has anyone spoke of how the creatures reached the park?”

“Not yet.” Florian lowered his hand and glanced toward the door, then met his eyes again. “Nor why the beasts were there. Have you heard of any covens working that night?”

Nikolai thought hard, trying to recall. “No, that is, Midsummer yes, but not so soon after. Perhaps the solo warlock of Garridon’s acquaintance, or one of the sorcery workers? They do share space with the covens.”

“Hmm.” Florian looked thoughtful. “There’s another sorcerer known to Art who might be sufficiently strong to attract such attention. I know not if he shares space.”

Both Hunters shrugged. “I would rather herd cats than keep track of magic workers,” Niko said. “No, I’d rather herd musicians past a free buffet than deal with magic workers.”

Knowing chuckles greeted his words. Lerae appeared in his peripheral vision. She carried an almost overloaded plate of meat, vegetables, and pasta salad. “Here.” She winked at Florian. “I needed to clean out the salads in the back of the fridge.”

Florian drooped with the drama of a swooning melodrama maiden, then straightened up and inclined toward Lerae. “Thank you, oh wonderful paragon of womanhood and generosity. You are a model of hospitality and decorum, despite having chosen a musician as mate.” Florian studied the heaped platter. “Oh, roast? I love you.” He made calf-eyes at Lerae. She made a kissy-face back at him as her husband rolled his eyes.

“Ahem!” Niko mock glowered at both of them.

“In a brotherly fashion, I assure you.” Florian sobered. “For the meal and shelter, my thanks. May the Great God bless this place both graciously and well.”

“May the Lady and Her Defender be with you this night and in the nights to come,” Niko replied. Lerae patted Florian on the shoulder, then got the door for him, since his hands were full. Once she closed the door, Nikolai asked, “Will the meat make it to his car?”

She giggled. “Probably not.” She put one arm around his waist. “News?”

He hung his head. “The Hunter born is likely dying. The bite carried both venom and germs, and he lost a great deal of blood.”

Lerae held him close, providing all the comfort she could. Her tears dampened his shoulder. It helped.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved


Thanksgiving dates to 1620-21, and the harvest festival celebrated by the Plymouth Separatists and their Indian neighbors after both groups managed to survive a rough year. The Separatists were not the rigid, stereotypical “Puritans” that most people associate with New England. Those folks arrived later. The first group were more mellow in their understanding of religion and tolerance, and the group included Strangers as well as “Saints.” Miles Standish, for example, was a Stranger, who worked as hard as anyone and helped nurse and protect anyone who fell in the disease outbreak that winter. Giving thanks for the harvest and the One who provided it was natural, and an English as well as Indian tradition.

“Harvest Home” is not longer something most people in the US, Canada, or elsewhere do unless you are part of a farming community or follow a certain cultural tradition. If you are in a city, you probably don’t farm, so it doesn’t apply. “Harvest Home” was the bringing in of the last sheaves of grain or sacks/baskets of root crops. It led to a community celebration, or at the very least to the land owner treating his workers to a good meal and good beer/ale. The work wasn’t over, not at all, but the time-critical harvest was done and the grain and other things had been brought safely home. “All is safely gathered in/ Ere the winter storms begin.”

Today, Harvest Home means grain is in the bin or at the elevator, the root crops are gathered, and the combine or digger can be put away for a while. No more working from can’t see until “so tired I’m hallucinating” in order to save what can be saved. Farm wives no longer have to shuttle meals out to workers at all hours of the day and night while taking care of the kids and running into town for parts and supplies if needed. There’s time to breathe, to rest, to prepare for cleaning equipment ahead of winter, to take inventory of the harvest and the crop year.

Today, in the US, we give thanks for food and shelter, for health and well-being, and for the opportunity to give thanks. Some of us are with family of blood, or family of choice, or are working so that others can have a little time away. Giving thanks reminds us that we are not the center of the universe (unless you are a cat, in which case I congratulate you on your good taste in blog reading). Other people make the good things in life possible for the rest of us – farmers, power-company employees, physicians and EMTs, soldiers and sailors and airmen, the folks working at the grocery store . . . Whether you believe in a higher power or not, stopping to give thanks is a good way to keep a proper sense of proportion about the world.

I hope you have something to give thanks for, and that today is a good day for you and yours, wherever you are.

In the Air or In the Water?

We’ve been having a lot of fast, intense weather changes here at RedQuarters. Nothing as exciting as Buffalo “See You After the June Thaw” New York, but going from the 70s to the 20s to the 50s to the 20s F for high temperatures. Combine this with the start of the Thanksgiving-Hanukkah-Finals-Christmas rush, and sanity seems to be a passing mood, not a permanent status.

We got some snow on Monday, just enough that everyone blinked and said, “Oh, that’s snow,” and went on with life. On Friday, we had cold and grey skies, and everyone went bonkers. Well, not everyone, just 90% of the people on the road. Or so it seemed. Perhaps it was the reopening of a large swath of a major through-street. Perhaps it was the “Friday before Thanksgiving.” Perhaps it was “pretend we’re all cats with the zoomies.” Whatever it was, the morning commute turned from “intermittently not dull” to “a touch interesting.” And that was nothing compared with the folks who came to work half an hour or so later. Apparently, in that thirty minute interval, there were wrecks, fire truck call-outs (activating stop-lights that normally don’t come into use), people changing lanes for no apparent reason and without bothering to tell anyone, people in the left turn lane turning right (!), and other moments of vehicular excitement.

By the time I left work, it was “I’m going to drive too fast, or too slow, for no apparent reason, or do both at random moments because feel like it.” Then a young person in a yellow sports car with target fixation tried to remove my bumper as I attempted to exit the coffee drive-through.

Athena T. Cat kept talking at everyone, then ignoring me, then tracking me down when I needed to work, then ignoring me when I had a free moment. Cats.

Oh, and I got to see something new at the gym. You now apparently do a big lift, push your hoodie hood back, get off the bench, change weights, return to the bench and carefully arrange the hoodie hood just so, then do another lift. The edge of the hood must be three inches back from the top of your forehead, no more or less. Or so it seemed. I must have missed the memo, because I don’t own a hoodie. Nor do I quite understand wearing a long-sleeve hooded sweatshirt with the hood up in a warm gym while doing intense exercise. But I tend to collapse when I overheat, so I try to avoid wearing warm clothes indoors when I’m going to lift and/or do cardio.

Since I drink the water and wasn’t inspired to act crazy, I guess it was in the air.

Guess Who?

Let’s see: Goth, waistcoat with watch-chain, boots, slightly grey widow’s-peak, and Hunting knife. Hmmmmm . . .

He’s a custom design from TerriDragons, a small shop that sells hand-made pop-culture and custom dragons in different sizes. She also has stationary and jewelry, among other items. This is the second dragon I’ve gotten, and both are very high quality. (The other is Tuomas from Nightwish).

I have a little tradition of getting myself a dragon of some kind when I finish a series. He seemed appropriate.

Something Sweet

So, I’m writing a series of short stories/ fairy tales, that are quiet, soft, and happy. Here’s part of the first one, “The Little House on Kitten Paws.” The end of the excerpt is not the end of the story.

Es war einmal a young girl named Gretchen. She lived with her mother and father in a snug wooden house at the edge of the village, where the fields and forest blended one into another. A painting of flowers and vines decorated the side of the bright white house. Other houses boasted paintings of animals, or geometric designs, also in bright colors. Like the other village houses, a good vegetable and herb garden grew behind the house, away from the path through the village.

Gretchen’s father owned a team of horses, Hansi and Stein, and a fine wagon that carried wood and grain and other things for people in the village. He’d come from “away,” perhaps as far as two towns distance. Gretchen’s mother had ten generations in the village burying ground. Gretchen took after her mother—plain of face but skilled with her hands, and blessed with moon-colored hair that shimmered white-blonde. She spun wool, making both fine thread and sturdy yard for the weavers. She knitted and embroidered. The family’s garden prospered despite being so close to the cool forest, but not so well that the other village women envied them.

Gretchen went into the forest with her mother and other women to gather berries, nuts, and herbs. Her mother knew more about the plants of the woods than did other women, as had her mother. They picked nettle tops and dock leaves, blackberries and tart gooseberries, purple-hued foxglove for making calming teas, chamomile, and other things. Some of the women knew mushroom lore, and trimmed the large, tan, flat mushrooms that grew like little shelves from some trees. Everyone knew that puff-balls from the pasture carried the goodness of the sun. Gretchen and her mother traded their wild herbs for mushrooms and garden herbs.

One midsummer day, when she was ten years old, Gretchen and her mother went into the forest without the other women and girls. “You are old enough to see the great treasure of the woods,” her mother told her. They left the path to the berry bushes and followed an older, narrow trail into the cool shadows of the deep forest. The underbrush shrank as the trees loomed tall. Birds called, and puddles of sunlight glowed here and there, where the thick leaves permitted it. After a time, they came to a clearing lush with sweet-herbs and grass. The summer sun poured blessings down from above, warming the air. Gretchen heard a cheerful, quiet babble of flowing water. “There,” her mother whispered. “What do you see?”

Gretchen leaned forward, looking at a spot in some tan-gold rocks where light danced on water. “A spring, Mama?”

“Yes.” Her mother led her across the grass and they stepped carefully on two stones in a small creek. “This is a sweet spring. Nothing bad may grow here, and the water is safe, no matter how hard it rains or storms. A saint blessed this spring, and the clearing around it.”

Gretchen stared at the herbs and flowers, and at the clear water. Cresses waved gently in the stream, green and soft, and a little silver fish flashed across the water, then hid once more. “Which saint, Mama?”

“No one knows, it was so long ago, before the village grew. Nothing bad can stay here, Gretchen. Anything that grows is safe,” her mother repeated, pointing to unfamiliar red berries growing among the blades of grass.

“Yes, Mama.”

“Do not speak of this to the others. It is not a secret, but it doesn’t belong to the village.” Her mother gestured to the forest around them. “It belongs to the woods, and the saints. We may come here to visit, but not to stay.”

[SNIP. Things happen, and Gretchen, now 15, leaves home to seek her fortune]

The next morning, before the sun had begun to fade the morning star, Gretchen gathered her warmest things and fled to the forest, trusting her mother’s words. A few birds chirped as she walked with hesitant steps along the narrow path. The darkness hid the big stump and other familiar guides. A heavy “whunf” came from between the trees to her left and she sped her steps as much as she dared in the near-darkness. The trees hid the false dawn and stars. An owl hooted three times, and Gretchen whispered the charm against evil spirits. A few threads of mist—pale wisps like lost spirits—rose between the trees.

Slowly, as the sun drew closer to the unseen edge of the world, Gretchen saw trees and bushes. A faint shimmer of silver coated some of the big leaves. “The dew,” she whispered, and nodded. That was it. The forest smelled as it always had, both full of life and a little cold. Spring’s warmth always came late to the deep woods.

Soon, the trail reached the clearing and the spring. Gretchen set her bundle down at the edge of the sunny verdure, then took a drink from the stream. The water tasted sweet and soothed her stomach. A bit of color in the damp grass caught her eye, and she ate a few of the little white berries. Her hunger eased. “Thank you,” she told the grass and water, then returned to the edge of the clearing. Now what should she do? The warm sun took away the soreness in her shoulders and back. Soft bird chirps and the music of the spring made her sleepy, and she lay down, her head on her bundle. “I’ll just rest a moment.”

Footsteps, soft and steady, woke her. She opened her eyes to find a house sitting in the meadow! Gretchen blinked. No, not sitting, standing. Soft paws like a kitten’s feet grew from each corner of the little building. Cheerful red shutters and golden walls seemed to welcome her. Moss grew here and there on the roof, making fur-like stripes. The house stopped at the spring, then walked back into the grass. It settled down like a cat, front paws curled under as it sat in the sun. Gretchen smiled. It couldn’t hurt her. She stood, stretched, and dared to come a little closer. “Hello?” She said, quietly, one hand out as she would approach a strange cat.

The red-painted door opened, and the little house on kitten feet tipped toward her, making it easier for her to enter. She returned to her bundle, picked it up, and dared to step inside. “Oh!” A cozy sight met her eyes. A good, snug wood stove all clean and white sat beside cupboards of dishes and jars with flour and other things. A small bed tucked into a corner, near two chairs and a table. Spinning things waited under one of the windows, and a snug pantry waited near the cooking area. She looked around, then went back out and asked, “May I stay?”

The house trembled a little, and she heard a soft rumbling sort of sound. It purred! Gretchen petted the wooden wall, then returned to the house and put her things in the proper places. She needed wood, though. Gretchen crossed the clearing and gathered wood from the forest, away from the blessed meadow, and brought it back to the house. She lit a small fire in the stove. The rumble grew louder, and she felt the house sway a little, as if the paws made kneaded the ground like a happy cat. The swaying soothed Gretchen’s fears. She slept well that night in the little bed.

Come the next morning, the house had moved to a different place in the woods. Gretchen went out and gathered fruit and some early nuts, as well as herbs. She found fresh water and filled two buckets. Then she swept the little house. It wiggled, as if the broom tickled it. Then she swept the walls outside. The house purred, content.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Release Dates, Author Updates, and An Apology

First, the apology: I said I’d have the next Familiars two-book set available in print this fall. I put it off and put it off, and I apologize. I will try to do better after the new year. I need to go through and fix errors and typos, then send the files off to my cover and formatting person.

If all goes well, I will release the next Familiar Generations book around December 15th. The title is The Hunter in Shadows.

I finished the rough draft of “Lord Adrescu’s Sword” and will release it in late January – early February.

I hope to have some light fairy-tale fantasy stories done by late February, and then the short stories and novella (perhaps) for the next Familiar Generations book. After that it will be the Scottish-inspired novel, Familiar Generations, and perhaps the nomads vs. city-dwellers novel. “Blue Roses” will probably release as a stand alone short story, since it’s not really light and fluffy.

I will be away from the internet next week, so there will be fewer posts, and I might close the comments, just so that people don’t get held in moderation for a long period of time.

“What Is the Meaning of Life?”

My first two answers were “A Monty Python movie” and “42.” Neither of those where what the speaker had in mind, so I kept my trap firmly shut. I can act like a grown-up, on occasion. If there are a sufficiently large number of witnesses.

Then me being me, I ran through three of the catechism answers that I remembered (none of which apply to the church where I currently sing. Of course.) Personally, I’d argue that meaning is personal, not collective. The speaker went along the chosen topic and my mind wandered off into the weeds, then over the river, through the woods, down the primrose path, past the Slough of Despond, and drifted back toward the official topic when the phrase, “What were his last words,” came along.

And again, my mind wandered, this time to Randall Thompson’s “Last Words of David.” David’s last words were a command and testament, in the sense of testifying about something. “He that ruleth over men must be just; ruling in the fear of G-d” That’s the charge, the command. And if the ruler is just? “He shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even as a morning without clouds when the tender grass riseth out of the earth after rain.” The obedient man will be blessed and will prosper. During the middle ages, someone’s last words were very, very important and people gathered to hear them.* Often, final disposition of property happened at that point, and the individual was thought to be closer to the divine, and so might offer a warning or revelation. If the person was dying in public (i.e.executed), then it was anticipated that he or she’d have a speech, sometimes humorous, sometimes dramatic, occasionally a confession “Yes, I was terrible and I deserve this and don’t do what I did.” And of course we have modern jokes about “Here, hold my beer!” or “What could possibly go wro—” and so on.

Death used to be a community matter, too important to happen in solitude, if possible. The meaning of life used to be a community matter as well, although I suspect the majority of people wouldn’t phrase it like that. Having relatives in the church yard meant that you belonged to the place. Going back much farther, having relatives in the chamber tombs and mounds surrounding Stonehenge also meant that you and your people belonged. The ancestors watched as the transition from life to death concluded for the individual, and the community feasted to honor the dead and the living. Life was family continuity, blood-kin or faith-kin, and the meaning of most people’s lives was to ensure that another generation or two had property and a good model to build upon.

What is the meaning of life? What is a good life [insert Conan quote and all it’s myriad variations here]? No idea, but a lot of other people have ideas about it, some I agree with, some I boggle at, some that make me want to take a long shower after I apply automatic weapons fire to the idea.

*No, it was not good for public health when infectious disease was involved. But germ theory hadn’t been invented yet.