Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Harry Potter Memories

In case you haven't yet read "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," relax. There are no spoilers here. I respect the readers' right and pleasure to unravel the story for themselves, so I'll give away nothing of the story itself.

I will say this, though: "Deathly Hallows" brings the series to a satisfying close, with many of the outstanding plot elements from the previous six books neatly wrapped up. It's one last, delightful romp through the Potterverse; it's also a retrospective, if you will, of the characters that anyone who's read the series have come to know if not love; and finally, a chance to say goodbye to them with some dignity.

How long ago was it when I picked up my first Harry Potter book? It was sometime between 1999 and 2000, I think, just when it was starting to gain notice among the critics but before the fever broke. I got "The Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets" from a bookshop in Hong Kong because they were not yet available in any of the local shops. I remember reading through the first book on a flight to Jakarta and the second in the hotel. "Prisoner of Azkaban" followed not long after, of course.

Was I hooked? To a certain extent, but not to the point of becoming a real Pottermaniac. Overall, Harry Potter wasn't bad, but for someone who's into juvenile fiction, there have been several other outstanding predecessors. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, for example, and the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander. For sheer British cheek, no one can beat Roald Dahl. But it was clear from the beginning that J.K. Rowling was weaving a much larger tale, and like any good story, you want to know How It Ends.

Some friends foreswore Harry Potter altogether, citing its negative influences of witchcraft and wizardry. That, I'll never quite understand, though. Fairy tales have always involved witches of some sort (some good and some evil) However, the underlying structure which holds a fairy tale together is not the elements of the fantastic but the elements of virtue. The otherworldly background, I think, only serves to highlight the universality of virtues like love, courage, hope, and sacrifice.

By the time "Goblet of Fire" came out, though, I did find myself a little weary. No longer just a thin volume like its predecessors, "Goblet of Fire" seemed more of the same, offering only the return of You-Know-Who as a major event. I could say the same of "Order of the Phoenix" and "Half-Blood Prince." It did seem that J.K. Rowling was already resorting to gimmickry of a lethal lottery -- "who's going to die this time around?"

When "Deathly Hallows" finally came around, though, I finally had a change of heart. Rumors of Harry Potter's demise, fueled by Rowling herself, were a major factor, but really, I was less interested in that in the revelations to long-standing questions and the fates of the other characters as well. As I said, it's one last goodbye to characters that have occupied a bit of my imagination over the past seven years.

So I turned the pages, not too slowly because I wanted to see how it all played out; but not too quickly, either, because I knew this would be the very last time I would be reading a Harry Potter book. Each moment had to be savored carefully.

So there they are: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Hagrid, the Weasley clan, Dumbledore, Hogwarts, and yes, even Severus Snape himself. They play in that stage of my mind one last time. Finally, the story comes to a close, the curtains fall, the lights dim. And then it's time to say goodbye.

So goodbye, Harry Potter (and J.K. Rowling). And thanks for the memories.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Eight things you probably didn't know about me

Tagged by Chuck so a response is in order.

Well, what don't you know? For the past four years my life has been up on the web for all to see. But as if that wasn't embarrassing enough, here are eight more factoids....

1. I was a breech baby. I came out butt-end first.

2. I ran with a bunch of shoe-shine street kids until I went to school. I even had a shoeshine box.

3. I couldn't read until I was seven years old.

4. When I was eight or nine, I fell head first from the top bunk of a double decker bed. (The night before, we were watching "Battle of Midway." I reckon I must have dreamt I was a fighter pilot and I had to bail out.) I didn't know till my parents woke me.

5. First favorite TV show: "Beep! Beep! The Road Runner."

6. First sci-fi book bought: "Nor Crystal Tears" by Alan Dean Foster.

7. I didn't want to be an engineer. I wanted to be a journalist.

8. All-time favorite rock band: Survivor.

Friday, July 27, 2007

1,000th post celebration

It looks like I'm just nine posts shy of a thousand on this blog. Well, eight, if you count this post.

When I do hit that milestone, I want to mark it properly so I'm inviting folks out there to a small 1,000th post celebration.

I'll hold it at Spro Coffee Shop, along (Gen. Luna St., Davao City) on August 3, 2007 (Friday) at 7:30PM. Nothing fancy, just pizza and conversation and some games. If you'd like to come, put your name in the comments (no anonymous, please!)

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Twenty years ago, some genius with a welding machine cobbled together some GI pipes and flat bars and a bench and a wheel into a sidecar. Said genius bolted the sidecar onto a bicycle and -- voila! -- the trisikad was born. That's the story as it goes here in Davao anyway.

Twenty years later, that protogenical trisikad has spawned into hundreds of other clones in the city, along with other mutant variants like the trisiboat, which is a trisikad with a modified pumpboat motor.

A trisikad looks thus: the bicycle is typically an old BMX, with its small wheels not the most efficient, but probably cheaper than most. Attached to the bike is the sidecar, a flat platform with a bicycle wheel. On the platform is a thinly cushioned bench that seats two. A gigantic lawn umbrella, attached between bike and sidecar, protects driver and passengers from the heat of the sun.

Providing motive power for the trisikad is the trisikad driver, invariably a wiry sunburnt male in sando and tsinelas. The avarage age of the driver is in the mid-20's but the variance is spread wide: as young as the teens to as old as the fifties. These fellows live hard lives and you can see it.

The trisikads ply the corner routes of Davao City usually near subdivisions and schools. They are regulated by the local barangays and have their own associations. Beyond that, there's not much else. If you're injured while riding, good luck filing a claim of any sort. Chances are, the fellow will just scratch his head.

Trisikads are a constant source of irritation for motorists. They're slow, they're ungainly, and with their converted lawn umbrellas, they take up a lot of space. They're a hazard, too, as motorists have no choice but to cut into the other lane to pass them, often in the face of oncoming traffic. Yes, just like the pedicabs of Dumaguete, only much worse.

Regardless of the dangers they pose, it looks like the trisikad will be here to stay. From the economic perspective, there's no shortage of customers who'd rather ride than walk the distance. For all the measly farthings that such an occupation brings, well, it seems some people think it's worth it.

The trisikads are so numerous and well-entrenched that it's probably political suicide to pass any ordinances against them. Such is the trouble once an unregulated homegrown industry like this takes root.

Prevention, as they say, is better than a cure. Cebu took this route way back when, and specifically forbade trisikads for the road hazards that they were. Nip it in the bud early enough, before it becomes some underproductive ersatz livelihood and it never grows into a problem that you'll have to deal with later on.


Responding to an obnoxious, er, "expat" in one of the Internet forums:

Nothing personal? That's easy for you to say. You weren't on the receiving end of such vicious barbs. But I can assure you that to me it really was very, very personal.

So you're an expat? Good for you. I suppose that next you're going to brush this episode off as a manifestation of your Western frankness. But let me tell you, in any language or hemisphere, the aspersions you've so carelessly cast were just plain rude.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Simpsons avatar

Well, it seems that everyone and their uncle are getting a Simpsons avatar, so here's mine. Best I could do given the limited palette.

I wasn't so sure whether to go for the beefy body or the beer-belly buster. I opted for the somewhat sexier look.

I think the penguin t-shirt clinches it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Gavel

What was once a mighty oak
  spreading its arms in welcoming shelter
    now whittled down to the human shape
      a hammer, a small and indelicate thing

The hammer, gripped in crooked hand
  Strikes a block cut from sycamore
    In the air hangs echoes
      cracks like rifle reports

What was once a mighty oak
  Alive with sparrows' trill
    Now demands a churchly silence

  And our voices now are still.

Setting and Plot in "Flood in Tarlac"

Take-home exam for Engl 105, Part 3.

Discuss how the elements of setting and plot work harmoniously in the characterization in "The Flood in Tarlac."

"Flood" follows Dr. Jose Caridad on that fateful day that his entire family is killed in an unexpected assault during a flood. The focus is primarily on Dr. Caridad, an average middle-class fellow, and on his reactions and motivations to various events leading up to the tragedy.

The passages which describe Dr. Caridad's house firmly establish his standing in society. It's situated in a subdivision, Fortune Village; it's a two-story affair, gated, lined with bougainvilleas, and it has its own private (albeit anemic) security guard. There's a family pet, too, a German shepherd. As the story progresses, we see additional details: wrought iron chairs, wicker settees, air conditioning, individual rooms for the children, maid's quarters, a suitably large dining room... Clearly the doctor is of the upper middle class, and one with middle class concerns.

The house reflects Dr. Caridad in a way that is also meant to symbolize him. The house is big, lived-in, roomy, comfortable, and welcoming to friends, just as Dr. Caridad is warm (when he wants to be) and generally content with his family life (despite irritations common to most families); but it is also fenced and gated, and therefore aloof to the concerns of the world at large. The latter characteristics give the illusion of security, both for the man and the house, one that is soon to be shattered by unwelcome visitors.

If there is a general correlation between the house and its owner, the motivations of Dr. Caridad as he goes through the day round out the details of his character. In this manner, both setting and plot complement each other in portraying the protagonist.

The first part of the story has Dr. Caridad meeting with the farmers. He doesn't really want to. Already, it's an intrusion into his Sunday privacy. His primary motivation at this point is to get rid of the visitors, revealing his aloofness.

The second part of the story has Dr. Caridad dealing with his family. There are nettles here and there -- the status-conscious wife, the shallow children -- but for the most part, Dr. Caridad tolerates and buries himself in this familiar hubbub. This is Dr. Caridad's comfort. He is nominal king of his domain.

The last part of the story is the flood and the assault. The house is unable, after all, to withstand the onslaught of the flood, in much the same way as Dr. Caridad is unable to protect his family. What ensues is panic, followed by a desperate action. Dr. Caridad ultimately survives, just as the house is left standing; but everything of value within the house has been swept away, just as Dr. Caridad, too, may be no more than just a shell of the man that he once was.

Literary elements in "The Reprieve"

Take-home exam for Engl 105, Part 2.

In "The Reprieve", what prominent literary element and/or device works to effect an excellent characterization?

"Reprieve" is a quiet little piece that follows the protagonist, Leo, from the pit of his self-pity to the realization that, well, despite all he's been through, he's lucky to be alive. Nothing much really happens by way of action: in the real time of the story, Leo is just waiting for his wife Edna to come back from an emergency call.

The motion of the story instead comes from the workings of Leo's mind. The narrative goes deep into Leo's thoughts and recollections. The author situates us in Leo's head as we see everything through his perspective.

At key points in the story, we enter the stream of his consciousness. Thus, we find out how he feels about himself, his wife, and his son. For example:

"How swiftly the boy had vaulted the fence between boyhood and manhood. Leo knew he should be grateful for that had hoped for it, in fact.... But now the transformation came so soon after his stroke, he couldn't help but think his illness was the pole the boy had used to vault the fence."

These lines reveal the tension that a father feels, on the one hand the fulfillment of a paternal hope, and on the other, the fear of irrelevance.

"His wish to argue was quenched by his almost childish excitement that driving gave him. He had been in the backseat far too long, he thought."

These lines indicate someone maniacally cherishing release from long-suppressed frustration. This is someone who used to be in control and was held back too long.

Such a level of characterization can only be possible by going deep under the skin of the character.

Leo's long internal monologues serve as transition points for the story. The story is divided into four parts: now (Leo waking up, wife leaving for the emergency), recent past (his reckless drive), a more distant past (the stroke), and back to the present (another incipient stroke, narrowly averted.) These parts are written more conventionally. Leo is still firmly in the frame, but the narrative camera is held back a little to show the events that happened to Leo. The internal monologues then serve as reflections for Leo as he looks back on what transpired.

But the question arises: why wasn't the story written in the first person? After all, we are following everything from his perspective. The answer, I believe, stems from the cold objectivity that omniscient view can provide. By choosing the first person, we would have been buried too deep in the character, no longer able to view the significance or relationship of the unfolding events.

By shifting ever so subtly between his recollection of the events and Leo's internal editorial, the author enables these components to reinforce each other and so achieve a richer characterization for the story.

Use of language in "Visitation of the Gods"

Take-home exam for Engl 105, part 1.

Show how the use of language helps in the development of the theme of "The Visitation of the Gods."

"Visitation" is an examination of the state of Philippine public school education, and by extension, Philippine society. It shows a system built more on relationships than on competence. This portrayal occurs on two levels. On the more panoramic scale is the festive unfolding of events of the visit itself. In more detail, serving to dramatize the tension, is the brewing conflict between the idealistic Miss Noel and the boorish Mr. Sawit. Like a camera shifting focus from background to subject, the author manages to alternate seamlessly between the two.

When the focus is on the background, the language of the story pulls back to take on the characteristic of reportage. The author moves from detail to detail, painting picturesque portraits of the preparations, the anticipation, the arrival, and the party. On these scenes, the account is more objective as it focuses less on the characters and more on the events.

On the other hand, that objectivity on these scenes is not complete. The narrative takes on a sardonic cast with its use of playful exaggerated metaphors, e.g., "longhandled brooms ravishing homes of peaceful spiders", "classroom walls unperturbably blank", "lorded over by a stuffed Bontoc eagle." The story is replete with such figures. In many ways these metaphors point back to the theme -- of lecherous inspectors ravishing teachers, of blank students suddenly called to rehearsed performances, of spiritually empty figures in authority. These details, so effectively hidden in the background, reveal the author's sentiments in the story.

Another impish touch are the liberal and seemingly trivial parenthetical asides, always meant to add a dash of humor or color. As the story introduces the teachers, the names are always followed by their assigned subjects, a detail which would be immediately recognizable by anyone familiar with the system. This lighthearted approach belies the seriousness of the subject, and in so doing condemns the situation with its sarcasm.

The narrative takes on a more personal hue when its camera is focused on Miss Noel. The author sometimes slips into the workings of Ms. Noel's mind and does so sympathetically, heightening the reader's identification with the protagonist. ("Miss Noel...thought utterly unbecoming and disgusting the manner in which the principal's wife...", "Is this what she had been wasting her years on?")

Most of the characterization of Miss Noel, though, is effected through the description of her actions and her dialogue. As she vainly searches for Mr. Ampil, we see her to be a woman of compassion. As she fences verbally with Mr. Sawit, we see her to be a woman of integrity and competence.

The scenes with Miss Noel are portrayed more conventionally, again another stark contrast with the manic hullabaloo of the visitation. This is intentional, I think: in a stage full of buffoons, Ms. Noel is the only serious character, the only one the reader can really identify with. And so when the heroic Miss Noel finally dances close to despair, we, too, have some idea of its depths.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The people I grew up with

These are the people who helped raise me while I was growing up in the small pharmacy in Davao City in the 1970's.

Ninang Naida was my mother's friend and classmate who became our store pharmacist. She's still with us up to now.

Norma was another of my Mom's classmates. She worked with us for a while before starting her own drug store.

Ninong Nick was a salesman for Warner and a good friend of the family. He married Ninang Naida a long while back (with some matchmaking on my father's part.) He was my best friend when I was growing up.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Windows 7

As anyone who follows technology news knows, the next version of Windows will be called, well, Windows 7. To me that immediately raised the specter of the seven deadly sins. Unfortunately (or fortunately), someone from Slashdot already beat me to the punch:

Gluttony: It will probably require at least 32 GB of RAM.
Envy: They keep copying other peoples ideas.
Sloth: Too lazy to fix bugs, so they release new operating systems instead.
Lust: It's hard to beat all those porn trojans.
Greed: Well, it's M$ after all.
Wrath: That's how you feel after 5 minutes of using it.
Pride: And after all that they'll still pretend it's the best OS ever...

Thanks, Qaz!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"We have your wife and kids...."

As a footnote to Fr. Bossi's release, we have the following background story from the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

On Saturday, the 33rd day of Bossi’s captivity in Mindanao, government agents abducted the family of the kidnap group’s leader in a tit-for-tat gambit, a source privy to the negotiations for the priest’s release disclosed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The kidnap leader’s family included his wife and three children, all in their early teens, said the source.

The source said serious negotiations started on Saturday when the kidnappers made their demand for a ransom of P50 million.

“Wag na lang. Magtago na lang kayo (Forget it. Just go and hide) because we have your family,” the government negotiators told the kidnappers, according to the source.

The kidnap leader was taken aback by the statement and that was when he started “to soften up,” the source said.

In jungle, strong always win.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Between Burgos and Bossi

Freed today after 40 days in the jungles of Lanao del Sur was missionary Fr. Giancarlo Bossi. While this is cause for relief and rejoicing, still missing after 82 days is farmer-activist Jonas Burgos.

Neither Burgos nor Bossi have been the only victims of abduction in the strong republic that is the Philippines, but they have certainly been the most prominent faces in recent memory. They represent the twin forces between which ordinary Mindanaoans are caught in today.

Fr. Bossi was taken on June 10 near his parish church in Payao. While it immediately raised the specter of Islamic separatists, the real reasons probably fell well below the religious divide. A human rights official I spoke with not long surmised that it could have simply been a losing candidate out to recover his electoral expenses.

If it took a long time to secure Fr. Bossi's release, it's because of the hierarchy and web of complicity among MILF leaders and their interplay with the military and local government. Who really took Fr. Bossi? Up to now, no one really knows.

Most likely, when Fr. Bossi became too hot to handle, he was transferred from the fringe operatives to the MILF mainstream (if it can be called that) for use as a political pawn. In the meantime, you have the typical deeds of misdirection: The Abu Sayyaff took him. No, a lost command did. He's in Basilan. He's in Sulu. He's...oh, wait, here he is!

In the face of all this, we have the utter helplessness of the military and local government. The MILF is so intricately woven into the fabric of Muslim Mindanao as to be indistinguishable from legitimate authority. The MILF is not so much a secessionist movement -- I doubt they have the economic or industrial capability -- as it is a shadow government. In many areas of Muslim Mindanao, the MILF is the government.

Not until the grisly beheadings of ten marines is the military finally mobilizing in force in the area. Now that Bossi has been released will they be stronger in their resolve? Or will it simply peter out as a concession to the local 'authorities' for this 'favor'?

As a precursor to the mobilization, the military now favors peace talks with the CPP-NDF and the NPA. Only right, after all, since they can practically face only one enemy at a time. Is this vacillation the hallmark of a strong republic? It seems, rather, that attention has been focused on the Communists simply because they were the weaker enemy.

It's this link that bears on Jonas Burgos' abduction. From the beginning, the finger has always been on the Intelligence Services as the perpetrators, despite continued denials and disavowals by the military hierarchy (note the similarities in action with the MILF hierarchy).

There were hints and rumors that Jonas Burgos was the recipient of vital intelligence information (as to their nature we don't know) and only today did the military leadership let drop that Burgos was a member of the NPA.

Is this sufficient justification for abduction? In the military mind, it apparently is, Human Security Act or not. For all this talk of writs of habeas corpus and amparo and the sovereignty of the constitution, Jonas Burgos has yet to surface. Heaven help the next person branded rightly or wrongly as a Communist!

This is where we ordinary citizens are caught between. On the one hand, the military; and on the other, a shadow government. Both can act with impunity because neither of them has any shadow of accountability.

As Tarzan says: "In jungle, strong always win." Welcome to the strong republic.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pi poems

Over in creative writing class, I came up with a pi poem. I don't know if anyone has thought of this before: essentially, a poem versified according to the digits of pi. And, of course, it has to be about a circle or sphere of some sort (and don't forget the metaphorical structure!) Here's my first attempt:

I travelled
the wide, wide world
as far as I could
Just when I thought I reached journey's end
I found
--to my wide eyed surprise!--
was back where I began

Other pi-related poems I found involved words whose letter lengths corresponded to pi:

  • Paul the Mathematician's Pi Poems

  • Lorreen's poem about pie

  • A reworking of The Raven (encoding 740 digits!)

  • or rhyming the numbers:

  • Steve Bergen's pi poem

  • or simply about pi itself:

  • A poem by Jesse Campbell, 3rd grade

  • Liz's pi poems
  • Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Notes on Poetry

    Dr. Edith Tiempo's "Six Poetry Formats and the Transforming Image: A Monograph on Free Verse" is a dissection of the nature of poetry especially in light of the free verse so prevalent among today's young writers. I was privileged to hear this in draft from Mom Edith herself during last year's summer workshop.

    Here are some notes I cribbed from the book. Of course, it's best to get the book itself for the full explanations and illustrative examples. (At P200, there is no reason not to get it.)

    How can we tell if it is really poetry?
    * subtlety
    * indirection
    * fresh insights
    * literary instruments

    Characteristics of poetry
    * indirect, structure in metaphor
    * articulated in metaphor
    * manifested as image
    * "casting the material in metaphor or image...dramatic, suggestive image"
    * "without the structuring of metaphor, there is no poetry"

    Metaphor enhances
    * goes beyond the bare presentation of literal statement
    * allows and facilitates the reader's right to make his own creative response

    How does poetry work?
    * through the image or situation that is charged with symbolic meaning
    * in the singularly heightened way it uses its own internal literary instruments

    External limits
    * length and formation of lines
    * meter
    * rhyme
    * rhythm
    * euphonic diction patterns
    * juxtaposition
    * typographical idiosyncracies

    Internal limits
    * tone
    * nuances
    * understatement
    * ambiguity
    * suggestiveness
    * indirection
    * thematic tension
    * contrast
    * ellipses
    * fresh stratagems and insights
    * inventive reproductive use of words
    * internal rhyme and alliteration
    * symbolic details

    Music-related attributes
    * rhythm
    * metrical beat
    * rhyme
    * euphony
    * alliteration
    * onomatopoeia
    * repetition
    * assonance
    * dissonance
    * other sound effects

    * minimalist lines
    * long lines
    * stanzas
    * interludes

    The Six Poetry Formats
    I. Without the use of conventional external limits of rhyme, meter, and other traditional features like regular stanza patterns, special imagery, and diction; emphasis on internal limits and metaphorical framework -> free verse

    II. Free verse, with or without internal limits, without metaphoric structure -> prose

    III. Regular rhyme and meter, with internal limits, with metaphoric structure -> poetry well crafted

    IV. Using rhyme and meter, with or without internal limits, without metaphoric structure -> prose

    V. With rhyme and meter, with metaphoric structure, inadequate use of internal limits -> poetry of neat but uninventive craftsmanship

    VI. Free verse, in metaphoric structure, with rhymed lines or other traditional features, with or without meter, with internal limits, the lines extressed as prose-like statements

    "...and the work is play for mortal stakes..."
    --Robert Frost

    Half an Angel

    Another poem thumping on my mind lately, finally taking form.

    Only half an angel
      Wings gray in grit and grime
    Been to heaven seldom
      Ground below most the time
    Gawking green at full brethren
      Who grace the sky with ease

    Now and then God please
      Gives a mighty gust:
    Spread wings, take flight
      Sun on my feathers
    Reflects, not white, but
      the whole iridescence of light

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Talecrafting Analysis

    Following Sean's analysis of his Talecraft storytelling process, here's my own take based on The Tesseract.

    A quick introduction to those not familiar with Talecraft: Talecraft is a card-based storytelling game developed by Davao-born artist and developer Ria Lu. The fat deck consists of Genre, Archetype, and Key cards. The mechanics are simple: pick some cards at random and tell a story using the elements you turn up.

    I first encountered the game at ToyCon 2007 at SM Megamall. Though I did badly on my first try (and will probably continue to do so -- live performance is not my strong suit), I thought the game had promise and so decided to sell it in Davao and Dumaguete. (Yes, you may contact me if you want to buy a set. It's P350 per deck, same price as in Manila.)

    The Talecraft contest site threw us a doozy of a curve ball. Essentially: write a SciFi short story involving a Dandy and a Haunted Hero with Diamond, a Grandfather Clock, Blindness, Blood, Tomb as elements and Escape as a plotline.

    The difficulty is reconciling the Dandy and Grandfather Clock into a science fiction story. These are not the typical elements for the genre (unless you're a Doctor Who fan -- which I am, by the way.) But this is where the value of semi-random nature of the Talecraft game comes to the fore: it forces you to mix elements which you might not otherwise think of using.

    My immediate instinct was to associate the Dandy and the Diamond. The image fits quite nicely. The Dandy is typically vain and shallow; thus, a Diamond would be a good object of his covetousness. And between the Dandy and the Haunted Hero, I actually thought the Dandy would be a much more interesting character.

    Next: how to turn this into a science fiction story? Taking my cue from Doctor Who, I turned the Diamond into a plot device, specifically, an alien plot device. Cheating? Maybe. In any case, with these the Dandy and the alien Diamond, I already had the first two paragraphs of my story:

    Even afterwards, when he had plenty of time to contemplate the matter, Desmond's thoughts always flew back to the diamond. Yes, the diamond, calling out to him with its irresistible siren song, its every sparkle a seduction of the senses, and its very touch exciting him to pure ecstasy.

    That the diamond was of alien origin, there was no doubt. By the scientists' estimations, it was immeasurably old. These were the quaint oddities that had first piqued his curiosity that day he attended the function at they Singh-Meyer Space Institute. Little did he know that it would become his deadly obsession.

    By the second paragraph, I already had some inkling of the conflict between the Dandy and the Haunted Hero in the form already present in the story. The Haunted Hero unwittingly brought the Diamond back to earth, and the Dandy would covet it. But how to up the ante for the hero? Well, have the Dandy strike through the Haunted Hero's wife.

    Starting the story by way of retrospection was a method I picked up from "The Flood in Tarlac." Nevertheless, I found it apt. The reader would know that, yes, the Dandy had survived but would still leave enough room for suspense. In my mind, I already knew what the ending would be -- that the Diamond would also be the Dandy's Tomb.

    In order to flesh out the character of the Dandy some more, I decided to add a few more touches. This came in answer to a few other questions: What brought him in first contact with the Diamond? A swanky function at a space institute. Is this the place a dandy would go? Probably not. So why would he go? At the insistence of his lover, Nigel!

    Aha! the bisexual sybaritic touch would just the thing to round out the Dandy's character.

    He recalled that he had not even wanted to go. Nigel, being one of Institute's investment angels, had insisted on his company for the exhibit's premier. "I'm delighted you'll turn another billion, Nigel, love," he had said, "but must I tag along? Scientists and explorers, phooey! I'll simply be bored to tears."

    Along the way, I had to introduce a few minor characters. Nigel was a necessary addition, and turning him into a venture capitalist was just the thing to develop the background. Initially, there was no Rajiv Singh, but he had to come into the picture because there was no way Hank Meyer could run the company. Meyer, the Haunted Hero, was meant to be bold but socially inept; and for that reason, he needed a smooth CEO.

    I was through a third of the story when I realized I had not actually incorporated the Grandfather Clock. Could I introduce it later in the story? Not without unbalancing the story with an obviously minor detail pulled out from the hat. So I decided to introduce it early, in so doing introducing the Blood element as well.

    With the revision, the opening now read:

    Like an eternal monument, the ancient grandfather clock stood unmoving, its hands forever fixed at a half past one. The brass pendulum hung a few degrees off apogee, but neither rose nor fell. Remnants of the glass window, smeared with blood, were as jagged teeth of the broken case. From one of the jutting splinters a fresh crimson dollop threatened to fall, yet clung stubbornly to the wood.

    That didn't segue so well into the previous opening, so I decided to make the further revision:

    Desmond regarded the unmoving scene, bemused by the irony. Time was all he had now. Well, time and his own sardonic self. Nothing more to do, then, but dwell on the sins that had brought him thus.

    Even now, Desmond's thoughts flew back to the diamond. Yes, the diamond, that which called out to him with its irresistible siren song, seducing him with its window to infinity.

    With this addition, it became more logical to use the Grandfather Clock as a story marker. And that's what it does, throughout the three parts of the story. Now we open with the Grandfather Clock in its final static state; midway through the story is the Grandfather Clock still operational; and near the end is the Grandfather Clock destroyed but still in real time. The Grandfather Clock served to symbolize the frozen-time element in the story, too.

    Along the way, the nature of the Diamond changed somewhat. Now I already knew that the Diamond would be a fourth-dimensional construct of some kind (hence the title, though I did not explain). Somewhere the idea of psionics also came into the picture. At first, it was just going to be an imaging device, but that seemed insufficient to get investors excited, so I turned it into a mysterious energy source.

    The portrayal also changed. From a sparkling temptation, I turned the Diamond into a dark obsession. This was a difficult transition to make as I had to rewrite several paragraphs, but it was a warranted effort because I wanted the Diamond to be as alien and mysterious as possible.

    Hence, the final version:

    Inside was the diamond, but it was a fact perceived rather than seen. One felt it when one was not looking at it directly. And though one could not see it, one knew it came in the shape of a diamond.

    The skips in time were necessary to the mechanism of the story. I know I left out a lot ot detail, but I felt they could be safely omitted. In fact, I thought they would heighten the tension. Besides, it was all in keeping with the retrospective structure of the story.

    And Rosalie? Poor Rosalie, just a plot device, not a hint of dialogue, and in the end, a fresh corpse by the Grandfather Clock. Again, it was in keeping with the nature of Desmond the Dandy -- cruel, opportunistic and uncaring -- to portray her as such: just an object to be used.

    Everything else just fell into place. The original Escape plotline was meant to show the Dandy's escape from the Haunted Hero. Escape into where? Into an eternal Tomb! I had conveniently forgotten about Blindness, but then it worked well enough as the anti-hero's obsession. Only when I finished the story did I realize that the Dandy was a Haunted Hero as well!

    "The Tesseract" is by no means a perfect story. I've resigned myself to the fact that the short story is not my strong suit. With a lot more polish, I'm hoping I can squeak it past some sleepy editor. But as illustrations go, it shows how Talecraft can inspire an unconventional tale.

    Socrates in a Dark Alley

    A poem that's been percolating in my mind recently, finally filtered down to paper in a make-up writing class last Saturday. Some editing still in order.

    Beware this ancient agent of wisdom
      At the prime of his faculties
        Ere he was brought low by his drink

    Beware the searching lantern eyes
      Ever on the lookout
        For the honest men of Greece

    Beware the sharp silver tongue
      Which cuts with the confounding power of truth
        Implacable corruptor of Athens' fair-haired youth!

    To him, all ground is fertile
      Nowhere sacred, nowhere safe
        Be it market, forum, palace, or temple

    Beware those wiry hands
      That reach out and grab
        For victims of his method

    Then with the force of a knife
      He wrenches an answer to the existential question:
        "Your money or your life?"

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Embrace Your Geekness Day

    Today is Embrace Your Geekness Day. At least that's what an email from my SciFi Philippines mailing list says. According to the web site:

    Embrace Your Geekness Day is a great day to be a Geek. Or, to know a Geek.

    A geek is an individual who is highly intelligent (brainy) and technically oriented. They are most often associated with the computer, and computer systems world. A geek is usually formal, studious and into his technical world, often to the exclusion of all else. A geek is closely related to a "Nerd". A nerd however, may or may not possess technical expertise.

    Some people view the term "Geek" with a negative connotation. Are they jealous of your knowledge and skills, perhaps? We certainly think so.

    Enjoy Embrace Your Geekness Day to the fullest. Spend plenty of time with your computer. Talk computer lingo and jargon. If you are a geek, stand tall and proud. Isn't it great to be so brilliant and gifted!?

    And, apparently, it's a copyrighted holiday by a company called Wellcat.

    As for me, every day is Geekness Day!

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007


    It's a stark contrast from the sartorially casual academic setting in Dumaguete but, yes, undergraduate students of Ateneo de Davao University -- both male and female -- are required to wear school uniforms.

    For the women, it's a long white dress with blousy sleeves, ending just the below the knee as a moderate A-line skirt. As a final touch is a small blue ribbon and a little just below the neck. This is a classic design, worn by female students of Ateneo, for as long as I can remember. Many years ago, the university held a vote among students to determine whether the uniform should go in favor of civilian attire. Surprisingly, the majority opted to keep it.

    For the men, it's khaki pants with a light blue short sleeved barong. This, I learned, was a more recent innovation, only put into place two years ago. One wonders at the imposition, but I suppose it was intended both for security -- to identify the students -- and for elegance.

    If it was the latter, then I would count it as an experiment with a dismal result. Though the women sometimes do injury to their virginal raiment by pairing it with heavily painted faces, the men -- or should I say boys? -- seem to have mastered the art of turning their wear into an insult.

    Most times, it's the faux bishounen look that many youths today prefer to affect. Bishounen means "beautiful", but the unkempt male bouffants framing fat, pimply faces is certainly anything but. On other days, they hide these hideous 'dos in equally hideous 'rasta caps. Paired with their light blue barongs, they merely look like goons.

    But the real atrocities are, well, just so far out. Last week there was this young man, the back and the sides of his head clean shaven, yet the long unshorn locks on top were bunned up stiffly with heavy gel. He looked like he was balancing a huge siopao on his head. Oh, let's not forget: in light blue short-sleeved barong.

    And just yesterday, too, was a budding transvestite, finely-conditioned hair tinted light brown and draping across his shoulders. Parang nagpa-salon, as they say. His face was made up, highlights, shadows, lipstick and all. And lest we forget: in a light blue short-sleeved barong.


    All this big city avant garde fashion really makes me yearn for the simplicity of Dumaguete couture. Sure, it may be t-shirts and jeans or walking shorts on the men; and sure, the it may t-shirts and tight pedals on the women; and sure, it may all be of an inbred type as everyone does their shopping at Super Lee Plaza; but at least there's some congruity in all that. (And really, nothing -- in my opinion -- beats the classy youthful hipness of Foundation University's subdued golf shirts.)

    Now, if only the teachers wouldn't dress so much like the students.

    In the Remaining Space

    For my creative writing class. The professor didn't like it, though.

    On a pristine page, a poem was written
      In truth, half-a-poem, just the beginning
    For though the words were apt and the lines tight
      And the metaphors deep and beguiling
    For though it wore mood and meter and rhyme
      Its author clearly groped for an ending

    Desperate for words, with nothing more to write
      The author a terrible blankness faced
    Thus the hand, unable to continue
      Ripped the page from its rings with thoughtless haste
    And curled the leaf into a little ball

    (In the remaining space, what might still have been written?
     a friend's telephone number?
      a corny love letter?
       a marriage proposal rehearsed?
        a flight schedule?
         a hotel's address?
          a man's shoe size?
           a doctor's appointment?
            a child's doodle?
             a treasure map?
              a school assignment?

    Or even, perhaps, the start of another poem

    Alas, the hand that wrote
      is no longer there)

      The world cries out: what a waste! what a waste!

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    Dear Ana

    Dear Ana:

    This letter is long overdue, and as with many things in life, it comes too late. But I sometimes like to believe that the universe does not exist in linear time, so I hope that somehow somewhere somewhen you are reading this message.

    We never got really close, and I suppose that comes from my stiff, staid, and proper exterior persona. But there's no question that I will always remember you. This very blog contains a small reminder of you: see that photo on the right, the one that I've been using for my canonical shot since that summer of the writer's workshop? You took it. Of all my portrait shots, this is the one I like best.

    I remember our first conversation. You were the one who started it, remember? I barged in on breakfast at El Oriente. With what ease you struck up that acquaintance! It was as if we were old friends meeting again after a long while.

    I'm sorry we both missed Krip's lunch treat that Wednesday afternoon. Knowing of your field in child therapy, I shanghaied you to Analou Suan's Great Physician Rehabilitation Center. We were both very hungry then. But you carried on like a real trouper, unfazed by the unexpected dozens of parents there to listen to your talk.

    I never quite told you how impressed I was with your technique on management of speech disabilities. The essence was communication, you said, not speech. See? I remember. Unsentimental me almost came close to tears as I saw the fathers in that session asking questions about their children (but of course, I didn't let on.) I remember.

    And remember how we headed off for a late lunch to Sans Rival. We both had spaghetti, I think (on that I'm a little fuzzy, I'm sorry.) And then back again to the workshop with Mom Edith.

    You were always one for mischief. One of the last emails I remember getting from you recounted dinner at Mom Edith's Montemar residence:

    When I said hello to her during the dinner at her place, she couldn't remember me. Told her: "Mom, of course you remember me. You said I had the loveliest poems you've ever read." Mom was tickled and actually laughed out loud.

    And that was so very, very Ana.

    That's how I want to remember you, Ana: cheerful, mischievous, zesty, unflappable, adventurous, and sexy. (Yes, "sexy." But I never did say, did I?)

    The universe is curved, the scientists say. Perhaps that's a clue to non-linearity and non-causality. (And that is a very Dom thing to say -- though we both know I really have no idea what I'm talking about.) We can only hope, I suppose, that even though I'm only writing this now, well, that somehow, you know.



    How I lost my Wii

    I've lost my Wii. This is how it happened.

    Dad was in Davao for the weekend. We were in the master bedroom, where the Wii and the big TV was. I was booting up the console for a quick game. "So, Pop," I said, "would you like to have a go?" Already, Wii Sports was coming up on screen.

    "No," he said without much interest. Games were never really his thing.

    "Are you sure?" I persisted. And he merely grunted.

    I shrugged, then brought up the tennis game. I motioned a toss with my Wii-mote and whacked the virtual ball. The satisfying sound of the tennis ball's pop filled the room.

    Now, tennis has been my Dad's favorite sport though it's been a while since he played. At the pop, he was instantly out of bed, looking at the game I was playing.

    "So," I asked again, "do you want to have a go?"

    I was still on the second serve. Dad stood up. I wrapped the Wii-mote strap around his wrist, showed him which buttons to push and all. And off he went.

    I left the room momentarily. When I came back, Dad was whacking away excitedly. He was playing a best-of-five set. He was so caught up in the game he was moving across the room, closer and closer to the screen, with every return of the ball.

    "Mirror! Mirror! Watch out for the mirror!" I cried.

    "Oh, oops," he said, taking a few steps back. And on and on he played.

    "Do you want to take it with you back to Dumaguete?" I asked after he had finished.

    "Oh, no! no, not at all," Dad said. "I don't have time to play."

    Now, with my Dad, there are two different kinds of No. A no that really means no, and a no that means "well, yes, if you convince me hard enough."

    As it turned out, he really didn't need much convincing.

    So Dad is on his way back to Dumaguete now, and the Wii console is snuggled safely (I hope) in his backpack. I've shown my sister how to hook it up, and by tonight, I hope they'll be enjoying a few rounds of virtual tennis.

    And that, my friends, is how I lost my Wii.

    (But I got myself a Nintendo DS....)

    The Tesseract

    Short story for a Talecraft contest, completed but very unpolished.

    Like an eternal monument, the ancient grandfather clock stood unmoving, its hands forever fixed at a half past one. The brass pendulum hung a few degrees off apogee, but neither rose nor fell. Remnants of the glass window, smeared with blood, were as jagged teeth of the broken case. From one of the jutting splinters a fresh crimson dollop threatened to fall, yet clung stubbornly to the wood.

    Desmond regarded the unmoving scene, bemused by the irony. Time was all he had now. Well, time and his own sardonic self. Nothing more to do, then, but dwell on the sins that had brought him thus.

    Even now, Desmond's thoughts flew back to the diamond. Yes, the diamond, that which called out to him with its irresistible siren song, seducing him with its window to infinity.

    That the diamond was of alien origin, there was no doubt. By the scientists' estimations, it was immeasurably old. These were the quaint oddities that had piqued his curiosity that night he attended the function at the Singh-Meyer Space Institute. Little did he know that it would become his deadly obsession.

    He recalled that he had not even wanted to go. Nigel, being one of Institute's investment angels, had insisted on his company for the exhibit's premier. "I'm delighted you'll turn another billion, Nigel, love," he had said, "but must I tag along? Scientists and explorers, phooey! I'll simply be bored to tears."

    In the end, Desmond found himself at the Institute that evening. It had been just his thing, too, an affair with coattails and fancy dress. That night belonged less to the scientists and explorers than to the venture capitalists who had funded Meyer's Europa expedition. His head was simply swimming with possibilities!

    Desmond kept up his charming demeanor, though he groaned inwardly, when the time inevitably came for Hank Meyer's presentation. The guests filed into the auditorium, the lights dimmed, and the spotlight fell on the gigantic figure at the podium.

    The great space conqueror! sneered Desmond to himself. While Meyer had led the expedition to Site 21 at Europa, he looked every bit uncomfortable up on the stage. But he was the man of the hour. That was the only reason he and not Singh was doing the presentation tonight.

    Meyer was soon lost in his team's account of the Site 21 expedition, much to the chagrin of Desmond and the rest of the non-technical audience. Desmond rolled his eyes as Meyer droned on about landings and quarries and excavators and carbon dating.

    Just when Desmond was about to nod off at the rolling monotone, Meyer came to the point that everyone had been waiting for.
    "As you know, the reason Site 21 has been of great interest to us is because of the unusual Hawking radiation emanating from the area. Simply put: there was a mass anomaly that clearly did not belong to the Europan landscape," Meyer droned.

    "And for some time we have been receiving curious non-random signals on the lower band carrier frequencies that simply cannot be attributed to background space radiation. In other words, ladies and gentlemen: the strong possibility that there may be intelligence behind these signals.

    "This is what we found."

    The screen transitioned to show, embedded in the rock face, a metallic rectangular plate with indecipherable hieroglyphics. There was a collective gasp from the audience, Desmond included. Meyer flashed more pictures: octagonal canisters, recessed discs, lattice networks, and finally, what looked to be machines with mazes of tubes running through them.

    An eager hand shot up from the audience, and impatiently, its owner's voice followed suit: "Have you determined any usable technology from these artifacts?"

    "We're still in the early stages," Meyer cautioned, "and, of course, there's still much that we don't understand."

    "This is the find of the millennium, man!" said another voice, Nigel's. "Show us something for our money!" The room erupted in an uproar of assent. "Yes, show us!"

    Meyer scanned the room, eyes wide with bewilderment. Excited investors had risen from their seats, forgetting all decorum (but not Desmond, who watched the entire proceeding with detached bemusement.) Rajiv Singh finally came to Meyer's rescue.

    "If you please, ladies and gentlemen," Singh intoned pleasantly but irresistibly, "Hank will have something to be showing you soon enough. Hank?" Singh signalled to someone offstage, and two attendants rolled in a tall cylinder.

    Meyer looked darkly at the unflappable Singh, and then finally relented.

    "We're studying the artifacts in their original environment," Meyer said. "Except for this one."

    He pressed a button. The cylinder split lengthwise. A spotlight illuminated the display, probing its contents, but it seemed to suck in all the light. Not for a while did everyone finally realize that the case was open, and even then the darkness within persisted.

    Inside was the diamond, but it was a fact perceived rather than seen. One felt it when one was not looking at it directly. And though one could not see it, one knew it came in the shape of a diamond.

    No, not a diamond, Desmond thought, rising finally from his seat. The Diamond. Its blackness captivated him. A pleasant buzz hummed in his ears. He felt a tear roll down his cheek.

    "Do you hear that?" Desmond whispered to Nigel. He did not take his eyes off the diamond.

    "Hear what?" Nigel said. Desmond ignored him.

    "This is Specimen Alpha," Meyer said. "We found it in one of the inner chambers of Site 21. It was encased in rock. The only reason we found it was because it was the source of the non-random signal. The encasing rock itself was carbon-dated three point four million years."

    "But what does it do?" someone demanded.

    "We're not one hundred percent sure," Meyer said, "but it seems to be the central power generator of the Site 21 complex. It magnifies applied force in an exponential vector. So far we've produced 3.2 gigawatts in a controlled laboratory environment. That's as high as our instrumentation goes."

    A buzz of excitement filled the room. Desmond was annoyed. It interfered with the song playing in his head.

    "Can we touch it?" Desmond asked above the murmurs.

    "No!" Meyer said emphatically, startling the entire room.

    "Touch it and it shows you...images. Of what, we don't actually know. It's a jumble, really. It's so...alien....

    "We...I...lost two people to this. It doesn't have that great an effect on most people. But to folks ranking high on the Sheldrake psionic scale, it's particularly strong," Meyer said. His voice was quaking. "Those two of my crew are still in a coma."

    A visibly irritated Rajiv Singh wrested the podium from Meyer and restored order with assurances of the proper safeguards, the potential of unlimited energy, and most importantly, a guarantee of wealth. That put the audience back at ease, and soon Meyer's outburst was forgotten.

    The gathering retired for cocktails. Desmond watched achingly as the attendants closed the cylinder and rolled it away. But the song still played in his ears. For his ears alone, he thought proudly.

    From the corner of his eye, Desmond followed Meyer, saw him brush past two distinguished gentlemen who had questions for him, and make a beeline for a young but plain looking woman. The women patted Meyer's forehead with a handkerchief, and for the first time that night, Desmond finally saw Meyer at ease. Only then did he submit to the inquisition of his investors.

    Desmond licked his lips, brushed back his long locks, and put on his most charming smile as he closed in on the woman, now standing alone. This was going to be easier than he thought.

    The grandfather clock struck the midnight hour. To the cadence of the dulcet tones Desmond followed the arc of the brass pendulum. The clock was very old, dating back to the late 19th century, and it was very expensive. Desmond admired it for its elegant antiquity, just like the many other ornaments in the Meyer estate. He wondered that Meyer was capable of appreciating them at all.

    "She's not here," a low, level voice said from behind him. Desmond stiffened, then caught himself.

    "Mr. Meyer, an unexpected pleasure," Desmond said, flashing Meyer a confident smile. He extended a hand, one that Meyer resolutely ignored.

    "She's not here," Meyer repeated. He was scowling, and his breath carried the smell of whiskey. In his left hand, clutched tight, was his whiskey glass. "Keep away from her, damn you," Meyer hissed.

    "Rosalie and I are in love," Desmond said defiantly. "Surely you must see that."

    Meyer threw his head back and roared with laughter.

    "Love? Let's drop the charade, you insufferable fop," Meyer said. "It's not Rosalie you're after, is it? It's the diamond!"

    Desmond thought to deny it. But for the past six months he had been meticulously laying down the cards, and now they were stacked in his favor. He had bribed, inveigled, influenced, and seduced. There was nothing that poor, straightforward Meyer could do.

    "So..." Desmond said ambivalently, smiling.

    "You fool! You have no idea, no idea at all, what you're playing with." Meyer staggered with rage.

    "I only know that I must," Desmond said, pacing slowly around Meyer to stay out of his reach.

    "It's the music, isn't it? That infernal music."

    "So, you hear it, too?" Desmond was surprised.

    "Just one of the side effects. Prolonged exposure, you see. But I saw you -- I remember you -- that night at the exhibit. Saw the effect it had on you."


    "My God, man! Don't you even care what it could do to you?"

    "What is it, Meyer? Tell me! What is the secret? What is the diamond? Why do I desire it so much? Why does it call me?"

    "It's a stable micro-black hole, that much we knew from early on. But don't you see? It takes tremendous energy to sustain it under stable conditions. We don't know how, but we suspect it's a fourth-dimensional construct projected by a psionic field. It's preposterous but it has to come from within the micro-black hole itself."

    "And the music?"

    "Psychic resonance. I've already made my own inquiries, Desmond. You must be congratulated on your Sheldrake scores."

    "So what happens to me, Meyer, if -- when! -- I possess the diamond?"

    "Do you really want it that badly, Desmond? Perhaps I should just give it to you. But no, no. Psionic imbalance, leading to collapse of the field. Strong possibility. Nearly happened twice with my crew."

    "But I must have it! And I will!"

    Meyer laughed. "I'm not a complete idiot, you know. I've taken my own precautions." Then his face contorted in anger. "But I can't forgive you for taking Rosalie from me."

    Meyer flung the wine glass at Desmond. Desmond ducked, and the glass shattered against the wall.

    Meyer staggered forward. A blow aimed at Desmond flew wild, glanced the grandfather clock, wobbling it on its axis. Desmond sidestepped Meyer with a dancer's grace, and tripped up the bigger man. Meyer howled with rage.

    "You won't get the diamond, Desmond! I promise you that! You can't! I'll kill you first!"

    Desmond bolted out the door, ran for his waiting car. The encounter with Meyer showed him how close his plans had come to unravelling. But no, not all was lost. He had a few more cards left to play. Now he knew he had to play them quickly and masterfully.

    Behind him, he could hear Meyer charging out of the house.

    The grandfather clock's hands read five minutes to half past one. The brass pendulum swung steadily, marking the passing of the seconds. The minute hand moved one tick forward.

    Rosalie Meyer lay on the floor unmoving, her bloodied head having been smashed against the pendulum case. Remnants of the glass window were as jagged teeth. From one of the jutting splinters a fresh crimson dollop fell.

    Desmond stood over Rosalie's body, heart beating wildly. This was another murder to add to his record tonight, that is, if he had succeeded in killing Hank Meyer when he forced Meyer's car off the road. The music in his head followed the tempo.

    He brushed back the sticky lock that had fallen across Rosalie's forehead.

    "Poor girl," he cooed, "I'm sorry it had to end this way. If only you hadn't had a change of heart. But you can take heart that if it hadn't been for me you never really would have lived."

    He bent forward to kiss her.

    Outside, he could hear a car crashing through the estate's gates. He heard the car stop, heard the door flung open angrily. Then an angry bestial roar. Meyer had survived after all.

    With trembling hands he pried the canister loose from Rosalie's grip. A thrill coursed through his entire body. The music had never been as strong as it was now.

    Any moment, Meyer would come crashing through the door. And then it would be all over. He had crossed the point of no return. But it didn't matter. To hold the diamond, to hold the diamond, that was all he wanted.

    He fumbled for the code on the container's side. Six digits, each press taking an eternity to complete. At last, the canister split open. The darkness within beckoned to him.

    The drawing room's doors shuddered once, twice. Another roar from Meyer. The bar splintered, and Meyer came crashing through, uncontrollably consumed with blood lust.

    "Kill yo-oooooou!" Meyer screamed.

    Desmond took no heed. He thrust his hands onto the blackness of the diamond. The music throbbed in his ears, white hot. His face registered pure ecstasy.

    At his touch, the containment field fell. In a flash, the black hole exploded outwards, momentarily filling the room with an unearthly light. The field enveloped Desmond, Meyer, the room as the event horizon expanded, then collapsed again.

    The music came to an abrupt stop. In his hands, he felt...nothing. Nothing at all.

    There was no more music. There was no sound at all. The silence was maddening.

    Where had the music gone?

    He wanted to cry. No tears would fall.

    Only Desmond's consciousness retained its internal movement. He was inside the black hole, all light stood frozen. All time came to a halt.

    At the last moment, his attention had been drawn to that dollop of Rosalie's blood, just about to fall from the splinter from which it hung. In what had been his field of vision was the ancient grandfather clock, standing unmoving, its hands forever fixed at a half past one, the brass pendulum hung a few degrees off apogee, but neither rising nor falling.