John Grabski’s Sugar to Rust

If you haven’t read John Grabski’s short and flash fiction you’re in for a treat.

His voice is pure, straightforward, and filled with magic combinations of words that will stop you and keep you reading at the same time.  And reading his stories, you’ll wonder why no one has ever written about the things he writes about.  If you have a couple of hours, check out his website GRABSKI.  It’s filled with stories that will keep you reading and looking for more.  
His work has appeared in Boston Accents, Change-Seven Magazine, The Tishman Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Unbroken Journal, Eclectica Literary Mag, Animal Literary Mag, The Harpoon Review, Ash & Bones, Crack the Spine, Rope & Wire, Frontier Tales, Cyclamens & Swords, Foliate Oak Literary Mag, Rocky Mountain Revivaland a host of others. He holds an MBA with distinction from the University of Liverpool and is an alum of Harvard Business School. 

You can find his published work at GRABSKIworks.com or reach him on twitter @GrabskiJohn when he’s not writing or riding his horse​.
Sugar to Rust
(First Published in Jan 2017 edition of The Harpoon Review)
Winter. You are eighty-four:
I call you a bastard but long after your gentle side had disappeared, owing to two decades of vodka. Now you sit, surrounded by pillows and stare through the only window that matters. That single pane that faces the bird feeder, empty and swinging alone. It’s the only sign of life in this long forsaken place. This pine board box where you spent your childhood—your beloved sugar shack.
A mirror hangs, smudged and crooked, on the adjacent wall and reflects your shrunken face—your beard, tangled and gray. On the floor lies this week’s USA Today. Its curled pages marred with burns—a yellow, ashen hue. The day is empty. No news worth reading and the birds have come and gone. In a surly voice you instruct me to cancel the subscription. There won’t be unpaid bills when your day comes.
   
Autumn, a decade before:
You smile from your wheelchair but only when you feel there is no other choice. At your granddaughter’s wedding, you ask the groom between shots of whisky, “What kind of man starts a family with a part time job?” You worked two shifts and weekends to boot and that was before you had married—hauling booze from Long Island to New Bedford, under straw in a cabbage truck.
Six months prior, sometime in May, Dorothy, your wife of fifty-four years collapses at breakfast without warning—her death, followed by your brother and son. After her funeral, two months pass before you utter a word. When you call for a meeting over dinner, your children breathe a sigh of relief—a sign that you’re coming around. But it’s only to declare your decision to sell the house, and your intentions to move to the sugar shack just out of town. You close with instructions for a weekly delivery of bologna, cigarettes and booze. When you finish, you depart without saying goodbye.
Autumn, the year you turn sixty-four:
Halloween, 1960, the year the doctor took your leg. “Have you read Moby Dick?” you ask. You stare out the hospital window and watch children in costumes skip down the street. A tear wanders down your cheek. “My babies, my babies, my world,” you say.
Summer. You are fifty-four:
It is early evening in June and there is a party in the house that you bought for your aging Mother. You are surrounded by sons, daughters, grandchildren and sisters. With coffee in hand, you interrupt with your usual toast. “Look to each other, my beautiful children. Be true and kind and gentle. And when hardships come, and they inevitably will, when waves are cresting the bow, rise up and declare together, I am the whale, I am Ishmael, and this is my sea.”
Fall. You are forty-six:
You work two jobs and bring fish home from the cannery on Fridays. You promise Dorothy that a raise is around the bend. She smiles, and says it was never about money. A loving home is all she needs. You bite your lip and nod. For love you supply in abundance, expecting nothing but her smile in return.
Winter. You are thirty-nine:
Christmas Eve you insist upon the role of Santa. Just before midnight, you dance in the snow and shake bells beneath the children’s windows. You lob snow balls that land with a thump on the roof—no doubt Donner and Blitzen. Afterwards you wolf down a tray of cookies, have a nightcap and go to bed. But not before spending time on your knees, giving thanks for your blessings and the day ahead.
October. You are twenty-nine:
The last leaves of autumn float down from the trees as you return home from the cannery astride a beat up 1200cc Indian motorcycle. The low rumble of the engine brings Dorothy to the porch and when you tell her the price she pelts you with a dozen potatoes. A volley of banter ensues and you are ashamed but lost for the reason why. It was the first time you’d ever bought a gift for yourself.
After dinner in silence, with your eyes aglow, you unbutton your shirt. Dorothy casts a confounded look. On your chest, above your heart, you uncover a tattoo. The word, ‘DOT’ beneath the arc of a rising sun. Dorothy smiles and shakes her head. It marks the end of the only cross words that you’ll ever have between you.
Spring. You are twenty:
You twitch and there is a pit in your stomach but you summon the courage to lift her veil. There is the scent of hyacinths as you kiss her hand, and then her lips. You honeymoon at the Seaport Hotel a mile down the road, and spend the next two days making plans for a home, your first Thanksgiving and names of children to come.
Summer. You are nineteen:
You arrive at the beach six hours early. You gather driftwood and dried leaves to build a fire to steam clams that you dug from the sand the morning before. You reach to feel for the silver band that pricks your thigh through the pocket of your dungarees. When Dorothy arrives, you slip off your shoes and walk to the edge of the sea, hand in hand. The froth encircles your ankles in rhythm with the ebbing tide. With the sun behind you, you ask her to marry.
You cannot blame her for the moment it takes to decide. She, a young woman of eighteen, bears the weight of your dubious ways: the untoward liquor runs, the unintended scuffle with neighbors on the fourth of July, and the time you took the ill-witted swipe at your father. But you raise your chin, bright with promise—confident any bad days in life were long since left behind you.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

The post A Plague of Giants appeared first on Elitist Book Reviews.

The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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