Monday, July 13, 2015

Very Old Video Game Review: Earthbound

I think that Super Smash Bros., the classic Nintendo 64 fighter from 1999, was one of the most brilliant releases that Nintendo ever made.  Not because of its own merits (which are many), but for the way it effectively transformed Nintendo's relationship with its fan base.  For me personally, it marked an awareness that there was more to the company's catalog than my own experience had revealed, and sparked an intense interest in lost classics and future developments in the company's franchises.

When I first played Smash Bros., it was full of surprises.  Most observers would have been familiar with the likes of Mario and Donkey Kong, and the rest of the cast was hardly obscure to many gamers.  But this game was my first introduction to the characters of Samus Aran and Captain Falcon, the stars of the Metroid and F-Zero franchises, respectively.  Perhaps the deepest cut of all was a weird-looking kid named Ness, who packed his own baseball bat and had a "third jump" move that was frankly baffling.  I don't think he was ever the favorite character for any of my friends, but he did prompt a lot of curious questions about just what sort of game this little goofball with the psycho-kinetic powers came from.

Sixteen years later, I've finally finished my first play-through of Earthbound, a 1994 role-playing game for the Super Nintendo.  And what sort of game is Earthbound after all?  Perhaps the platonic ideal of the "cult classic" in video games, it defies conventions of genre at every turn, putting its faith in weirdness and good humor to bring to life an odd little tale about four kids and an alien invasion.  It's a JRPG with a decidedly Nintendo bent, emphasizing fun over conventionality.

Chosen hero Ness and his three companions travel from town to town to visit mystical landmarks and gain the power to stop an invader known as Giygas, whose malevolent psychic influence has turned the relatively peaceful country of Eagleland into a very dangerous place.  Ramblin' Evil Mushrooms roam the fields, brainwashed cultists are painting the world blue, and a runaway capitalist squeezes the metropolis of Fourside.  Some kid named Pokey is giving pretty much everybody a headache.  A gloomy little town is besieged by zombies, and malicious works of modern art terrorizes a city's nightmares.  But despite these troubles, Eagleland is vibrant and (mostly) cheerful.  There's good food to eat, a happening music scene, and at least some of the aliens you meet (like the bizarre creatures collectively known as Mr. Saturn) aren't bent on the world's destruction.

In the realm of gameplay, Earthbound makes some significant departures from the norm for RPGs of its era.  Battles are turn-based, but damage from attacks proceeds at a steady rate while the action continues: this allows quick fingered players to heal a character who has received a mortal blow before they are knocked out of action.  This makes battles more interesting and dynamic, though not less difficult (there are plenty of frustrating sequences).  Players are not forced to grind enemies for currency, as Ness can use his ATM card to make withdrawals from a generous fund continually resupplied by his father.  While other classic RPGs often treat towns and villages like way stations on the way to the more interesting dungeons and temples, in Earthbound the exploration of towns is paramount and the vast majority of the action takes place in urban and suburban areas.

This shift in settings makes Earthbound much more people-oriented than traditional, high-fantasy role playing games, and the people of Eagleland are a delightful bunch.  They are at turns silly, serious, and often a little more self-aware than you might expect, and it's well worth talking to everyone you meet for more than just plot-advancing information.  One of the most endearing aspects of Earthbound is how consistently funny it is, and not in the accidental, bad translation "Engrish" sort of way that characterizes the glorious messiness of other games of that era.  Earthbound's English script is actually quite fluent and natural: the humor comes from its satirical perspective on RPG tropes and its recognition of its own silliness.  There is something very refreshing about a game that tries to be funny, and actually succeeds.  Call it a Nintendo specialty. 

Noted for its simple, colorful, and childlike graphical style, Earthbound actually has a fairly complex visual approach.  A psychedelic undercurrent runs through everything, most obviously in the undulating backgrounds of every battle screen, and in the party's not-infrequent sojourns to alternate dimensions and realms of the mind.  Nothing is quite what it looks like on the surface, and there is real depth in this two-dimensional world that can't be accounted for by its deliberately flat appearance.

The soundtrack is also a treasure, noted for its frequent allusions to classic rock and jazz pieces as well as its own startling originality.  Nothing else in the Nintendo canon really sounds like it - composers Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka take the ear to some very strange places.  The creative concord between music, graphics, and story is a big reason for Earthbound's timeless appeal: the whole is more than the sum of even its most exceptional parts.

Earthbound bears obvious similarities in tone and setting to Pokemon, another Nintendo-developed RPG that achieved unprecedented and phenomenal success while Earthbound lingered long in obscurity.  Why is this so?  Pokemon's obsessive collection element is a big part of its success, obviously.  It's also less aggressively weird, focusing more on its gotta-catch-'em-all ethos than on the odd details of its world.  There's certainly nothing in Earthbound with the sheer marketing potential of Pikachu and the scores of other pocket monsters in that game.  But anyone who's logged the hours training in the Pokemon gyms of Kanto will recognize a familiar spirit in Earthbound.  It might never have been a mega-hit, but under better circumstances it might have gotten more of the recognition it deserves.

Two decades after its original release, Earthbound is as much a delightful throwback as it is progressive and experimental.  Even those of us who missed it the first time around can't help but be caught up in the whimsy and nostalgia, and Earthbound actively cultivates those feelings.  It's not easy to look forward and backward at the same time: that's what makes this a classic.

One last note: in a saddening coincidence, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata died of cancer this weekend, a fact which I learned shortly after putting down my controller from this adventure.  Mr. Iwata was a producer and programmer for Earthbound, to say nothing of his numerous other contributions to Nintendo's art and legacy.  People like him made Nintendo the beloved institution it is today, and he will be missed. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Poetry Jam #20

Good Lord, there's twenty of them now.  And what do I have to show for it?

Well, I have a body of poems, some of which I can be really proud of on a technical level, and all of which form a sort of emotional autobiography for me.  The story of my adult life is in my poems, and if they're not quite good enough to light the world on fire (or if I'm just too timid to promote them), then at least they'll always be mine.

This entry contains some of my most brazenly erotic poems, which were written while I tried to come to terms with the end of my relationship.   I've exercised some editorial discretion in including which of the many heart-sick yearnings I've included here, as not everything I scribbled down when I was feeling desperately lonely was either aesthetically sound or in good taste.  But there is definitely lust, double entendre, and other erotic trappings aplenty. 

The poems in this post all date from January to March of 2015.  I'm rather fond of them, even though the subject matter tends to make my heart hurt.  But that's just how it goes.  As usual, I will comment them to death at the end.

False Choice

Will you be my Cinderella,
wear these shoes I’ve made for her?
Crystal glass, so I can see you
head to toe as I prefer,
stunning heels to keep you standing
in the spot I'd have you stay –
and sparkling shards to slice your toes off
should you try to slip away.

No more sitting in a pumpkin
coach in hiding from your peers,
and certainly no midnight rushing
out, to waste advancing years
by serving thankless relatives, your
feet in filthy rags and thongs.
Try the slipper, Cinderella,
see if I have pegged you wrong.

Dorothy's Text

A telegraph, they used to call this page;
why use a single syllable when three
evoke the present era's empty rage?
An instant text by Western Union, free
of inconvenient waiting, less of pain -
a last resort, perhaps a feeble choice
to make, a refuge from this awful strain
when I can't bear to look you in the voice.
But how to tell you anything of worth,
when seeing you across the telephone
would strike me dead and stick me in the Earth,
where I would bear this open wound alone?
I owe this much, to you I give my vow:
I cannot speak, but you must hear me now.

Memories of Touch

Now my heart is beating on your breasts,
and I can feel it shaking them, the way
they shudder softly, and my heart requests
another vision of your lingerie
(the skin it shows and what it can’t conceal),
another taste of spirits on my tongue
(with all the trouble spirits may reveal).
There is no secret whence my joy is sprung:
we came together, and I’ll never leave
to chase another, never leave your bed
if you would give me such a sweet reprieve
from life, from quiet death, from lonely dread.
The touch of you rejuvenates my heart
with loyal beats, so steady from the start.

one two three four

One is getting started right,
beginning with a gentle glow
that spreads like warm desire through
the vessels of a sacred bough.

Two is how I missed you so:
at stunning speeds we flew
together, as we were endowed
with passions fierce and light.

Three is a surprise for you,
a marathon for me: allow
your breath to catch, I think we might
have unexpected miles to go.

Four is setting records now,
and I cannot explain tonight’s
explosive love, but it may flow
like holy water, blessed dew.

Wedding Guests

If you'd wear green again,
I know I'd smile.
Green on you is like a furnace,
nothing could resist your sex appeal
when you are wearing green,
and nothing green could burn
like I could burn
when you are wearing green.

Even naked
and locked together in the water,
my shoulders sting in the summer sun,
and the sky is blue, the sun is white
and you'll be wearing green tomorrow,
I can see it.
I have seen it,
I can see you, inches
from my face, against the wall
and weightless,

I can see you wearing green
without an effort,
an enveloping light.
I can see you wear it
like it's nothing,
feel the water boil with the fire
when you're wearing green again,
feel the warmth
inside you, in the swimming pool:
I swim in this embrace.

A Chronicle of the Origins of the Great Quake

With a decade,
I could chronicle an hour
of this joy,
the sweet association
of our bodies
and our quaking hearts.

Would anybody read this book?
And could it shake them from their seats
with every wave
that rippled through the city?

Just a page,
a fraction of a second -
I swear if I have done my job,
the shock will move them all to tears.

I swear to you,
I swear I'll make them weep
like I have wept,
in memory of what
had stood before the fault line slipped,
a love that sank beneath the sand dunes.

You Were So Good to Me

It glowed like an aurora,
and you wore it well.
You walked, and you would shimmer:
every footstep fell
so slyly, like a secret
you would burst to tell.

And when you told!  I tumbled
off the balcony,
I flailed, but you wouldn't
let me fall.  To be
so blessed is like an endless
kiss of agony.

My Star, My Sky

Perhaps it's just the sky -
I got too used to seeing it in black,
and black became a comfort to me.
Even with the stars
to dress the night in ancient dignity,
the night would overpower all
displays of glinting beauty.
It came to me when I was out today:
how could I forget the sky
was such a vital blue?
It almost stings, the way this daylight rain
is sprinkled dryly in my eyes.
The sun may burn my face
the way the stars may heat their distant worlds -
my hair could simply burst in flames
beneath the parting clouds,
and I will always love the constellations,
but I remember life again.
Perhaps it's just the sky,
but I remember pain and joy together
paint the colors of the dawn.

I Know It When I See It

If every time were like tonight,
the two of us so damned attracted
we'd be crashing through the dark,
[the present line has been redacted].

Breathing in your scented hair,
the gliding motion reenacted
with the rhythm in our hips
[the present line has been redacted].

We'd need to get the details right,
so careful not to be distracted
by the way my fingers tease
[the present line has been redacted].

When you're purring, so content
your vicious claws have been retracted,
I will put you on your toes
with sweet surprises in [redacted].

Panic at the Grocery Store

I would know those shoulders anywhere,
they have a certain shape and color;
but maybe this is better,
if you never turn your head around.

You go about your shopping, casual,
and glance to check your list for purchase,
while I make the decision
not to call attention to my face.

Maybe, in a better circumstance,
I might have raised my voice to call you,
to capture your attention
for three minutes of awkward catching up.

Another wasted opportunity
I reckon, either way it goes:
if I come across too friendly,
or miss any chance to make my point.

Anyway, I had to chicken out,
for you were coming, I was going;
but maybe, if I'd turned
a second sooner, I wouldn't have regrets.

Tea Fancy

I will not assume a smile means
you want my number, or you long to feel
my hands around your waist, or that your jeans
were picked with me in mind, my heart to steal -
I know you're on the clock, you'd like to go,
and in the end I'm only passing through
your tea shop for a moment.  If I may throw
this out, I'm glad to share this smile with you:
it isn't every day you'll find such pleasure
from a glow across a radiant face
at perfect points, and I like the way you measure
tea with such affection, natural grace.
On days like these it isn't hard to slip,
so I believe you've earned an extra tip.


We’ve wasted all this wheat,
                and now one of us is burdened
with a sterile list of stanzas
                as stiff as an old loaf.
And right now, I would rather
                be writing fresh croissants,
or perhaps another helping
                of high-end cakes,
than try so hard to turn
                this tasteless mound of dough
into something more savory,
                soft enough for reading.
You’ve left me here with less
                to lead with than before,
barely enough to bring
                a baker to his feet,
and melancholy should make
                 for more than a broken
cradle of crumbs
                across the oven.
But sweets are for the satisfied,
                and sweethearts keep them:
frankly, if I had found
                a favored recipe
I think I would have thrown it out,
                thankless and unpublished.

Shark Eyes

"Shark Eyes,"
you used to call me that
when I was hungry,
and yes, I took it well.

Brown eyes
rimmed around the black:
I never noticed,
I was too distracted by

your eyes
(and all the rest of you),
warm and wet
like the world ocean's curve.

"Shark Eyes"
sounded predatory -
but depredation
wasn't my intention.

Brown eyes
reflected in my own
arouse a sweet,
primeval appetite, my

"Shark Eyes"
slicing through the water,
always circling,
desperate not to drown.


She was Goddess,
and no one could agree
how big around her thighs were,
how wide apart her teeth
or visible her stretch marks,
whether she'd had work done
or whether she could shave her upper lip
if she wanted,
or even if in all
the generations
anyone had ever
even seen her
with their waking eyes -
but everyone agreed
that she was perfect.


If I could sing, I wouldn't stop
for anybody -

at least as long as I was singing,
I could breathe.

To hit the notes I need, I wouldn't
have a choice -

my chest would have to open wide
enough to hold

that precious air between my lungs,
enrich my blood.

I wouldn't mind the burning throat
or sleepless nights,

if I were sure I wouldn't choke
from lack of effort,

staring at the ceiling, counting
silent steps.

All that drama about my loneliness aside, False Choice actually has nothing to do with my situation.  It came about from a feminist article I was reading on Tumblr, though I can't say I remember exactly what it was about.  It's very much about the patriarchy, and the twisted deal it offers women for a place in society.  The "prince" of the poem is, naturally, an enormous creep.

Dorothy's Text is more about my feelings, but it was also inspired heavily by something I saw on Tumblr: an old telegram from the forties.  The language in that telegram was very affecting to me.  It's a sonnet, a form I went to surprisingly often at this time.

Memories of Touch, one two three four, and Wedding Guests are all sexual poems, and these ones specifically commemorate specific erotic memories from my relationship.  At the time I felt it was important to hold onto those moments by writing them down.  Memories is another sonnet, and perhaps they all should have been, given their nature.  But on the other hand, I think their actual forms are suitable, Wedding Guests being one of my favorite free-verse attempts.  There's no need to describe the memories they stand for in full, I think they speak for themselves.

A Chronicle of the Origins of the Great Quake is about loss and defiance in the face of despair.  It was originally a "catalog" instead, but "chronicle" is a much better sounding word for this sort of thing.

You Were So Good to Me is another favorite, with some kind of weird rhyme thing going on.  I suppose it's also erotic, in its way, though it's not about sex but rather beauty.  I really like the visual element of this one.

I wrote My Star, My Sky in a moment of clarity, sort of.  I was trying to deal with my burgeoning depression in my own way, put an optimistic spin on things.  Believe me, "putting an optimistic spin on things" is not a cure for depression.  But in its own way, it helps.

Working in a law office, I saw a lot of redaction.  And since I was still preoccupied with sex, it was probably inevitable that I'd write something as silly as I Know It When I See It.  This one is not based on any particular memory of mine, just generic sexy actions with an implied naughty part concealed by obnoxious censorship.  I don't know why, but I get a kick out of the fact that the stanzas only rhyme because of the "censorship".  I am easily amused.

I visited Eugene at the end of February, mainly to see my friends and celebrate my birthday.  The next two poems came out of that trip.  Panic at the Grocery Store was written in response to a sighting of one of my ex's friends.  Going up to her and saying hello seemed like a bad idea, so I decided to leave instead.  Tea Fancy was written sort of as a response to a friend of mine, who was teasing me after I happened to mention seeing a cute girl behind the counter at a tea shop.  It's another sonnet in a kind of conversational tone, and it turned out cuter than I expected.

A Pâtissier makes pastries, you see.  And pastries, they are a metaphor  This poem is in alliterative meter, as I am occasionally tempted to try, and I think this one works out well.  Maybe the whole thing is a little misbegotten, though.

My ex used to call me Shark Eyes when I used to look at her in that certain way.  I always got a thrill out of that, and I wanted to write something pretty about the phrase.  I think this is kind of pretty.

Eidolon is a body-positivity poem, basically.  Not really related to my situation: I think I just read something about the shaming women go through regarding their bodies, and I wanted to write something nice for them.  Apparently, I wrote this one and Shark Eyes on the same day.

Lastly, Gasp is related to an idea from a poem in my last poetry post, Iron.  In form it's a little interesting, but not particularly so.  Still, I find this to be among the most heartbreaking in this whole set.  There were times when I really had to force myself to breathe.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Now it's starting to look like the WFJ of old!  You know, the one that produced literary content sometimes.  Not only that, but I even managed to update all the inventory pages.  Not that it was hard, but you lazy.  I'll do my level best to keep them updated as new content appears.

A word now on The Secret Egg, yesterday's first new short story post in like...eighty years?  Seems that long.  It's also the first one that I've broken into parts for a long time, I think since I did The Wolf of Albright.  I could check, obviously.  But I won't.

I got the idea and started working on The Secret Egg in early 2014, while I was living in South Korea.  Not having my own computer during that time, and being otherwise busy wrangling children and dealing with grown-ups, I did not work on it very much.  Up to the other day I had only written about two thirds of what exists of the story as of now.  Life got in the way, including the mighty depressive spell I entered into.  But when I started blogging on here again last month, getting to work on The Secret Egg was a high priority.  This story is very meaningful to me, even as it is still undergoing evolution.

I am not sure how many parts the story will consist of, but right now I anticipate four, with the option of going to five.  In an attempt to be realistic, I will try to release a new installment once a month, and thereby be done with the project in relatively short order, without burning myself out or neglecting my other responsibilities.

Now, some notes on myself.  I remain depressed, no need to go over all the reasons why.  But today I feel good, and I'll tell you why.  I am starting to feel some of the effects of exercize, as my daily running has yielded new insights about the capabilities of my body.  I feel stronger and fitter than I did a few weeks ago.  Most importantly, running around the trail has offered me a few moments of peace that I found difficult to create through seated meditation.  Focusing on the state of my body, analyzing and controlling my breath, and being entirely in the present moment, are so much easier when the body is in motion over a long distance and the lungs have to work hard. 

There are other promising developments in my life.  For example, I have begun taking an anti-depressant: Sertraline, a generic Zoloft.  The little blue pills scared the crap out of me when I first brought them home a week ago, but I've been taking them for a week now and have not experienced any major side effects.  I understand it will take a few more weeks before I begin to feel any significant mood improvement.  Right now, the fact that they haven't robbed me of my sex drive or sent my other bodily functions haywire has made me warm up to the pills quite a bit.

But as I said, I am still depressed.  I still have problems with motivation, and I am often troubled by invasive thoughts that make me sad, and some that make me very frightened and distressed.  But today is a good day.  I'm working on it. 

Part of coming to terms with all that is making peace with the idea that nobody cares about my blogging activities but me.  Nobody!  On a bad day, that seems like a dreadful loneliness, that not one word I've written has moved anyone one way or another.  Even on Tumblr, I hardly get any kind of reader response for my poetry or other original posts.  But right now, it feels liberating.  I can say whatever I want, write what pleases me, and be entirely for myself.  This blog is my space, and anyone can come and look at it if they like, but it's not for them.  I don't even have to be any good!  I'd like to be good, but I don't have to be.

Some of you may object "David, I totally read you blog.  I even like what you do sometimes".  And that's really sweet of you.  But for the sake of my sanity, it's easier to think of your numbers as 0, even as I acknowledge what support I do get.  

So that's the state of myself these days.  Doing OK.  Hopefully, doing better later.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Secret Egg - Part One

When Jenna asked Trey to help sort through her grandfather's belongings, he had not complained.  His usual affectation of chivalry, coupled with a professed enthusiasm at the prospect of exploring a basement of private antiques, made the idea seem positively romantic.  Jenna appreciated his efforts to spice the mundane with flavor.  On a really good day, she could even call them endearing.  But more than anything, she appreciated when he wasn't complaining.

And it did not last.  There had been a few treasures at first glance: a wax-sealed scroll of real parchment, a tall vase of delicate crystal, even a brass-handled cavalry sword from the Civil War.  But Jenna's grandfather had not been old enough to fight in the Civil War, of course; all the evidence at hand suggested he'd spent his seventy years on Earth in the accumulation of paper.  Before Trey could finish checking the contents of a single filing drawer, he was hopelessly bored, and taking it out on Jenna.

"We could be literally anywhere else than this old basement."

"I'm sorry, I just need to find a few documents."

He sniffed in the musty air.  "Don't we do enough of that in school?"

Maybe we do, she thought.  Maybe you do.  She did not balk at her mother's suggestion to dig for anything worth keeping for the family, before the county came to dispose of it.  Searching for things of significance was just the sort of thing a historian did, a kind of short-range, personalized archaeology.  It seemed glamorous; or maybe it was just that sort of thinking that got her into boring all-night situations at the library.  She still sort of enjoyed them.

"I just think it would be good to find some vital records," she said, flipping softly through what appeared to be bank statements.  They were more than forty years old, with a name she didn't recognize.  It wouldn't surprise her to learn the bank had been closed since before she was born.  "Maybe some genealogies, a little family history.  Old family lore, something like that."

"What makes you think he's got any lore tucked in here?"  Trey was running his fingers along the planks of a dusty old bookshelf, perhaps the only interesting thing left unexplored.  But the books were all of the old type, nondescript covers with rough textures and nothing to catch the eye by way of intriguing fonts or pictures.  Nothing to interest a guy like Trey.

"Well, nothing I guess."  She would have sulked, if she thought he'd notice.  "But old things can be surprising.  Is there anything interesting on that bookshelf?"

Trey pulled a slim volume from the center of a shelf and read the cover.  "How to Win Friends and Influence People," he groaned pathetically, "a real old man's classic.  My great uncle had this on his shelf when I visited him, years ago.  I always thought the idea behind the title was a little creepy."  He opened the book and scanned a few pages.  "Looks like your grandpa wrote a bunch of notes in the margins."  He squinted.  "I think he wrote them in Latin."  He pronounced that last word as if it were the most mystifying thing he could possibly imagine, and handed the book to Jenna.

"Well you see?  There's something interesting.  I never knew my grandfather spoke Latin."  She did her best to sound fascinated.  It really was interesting, but she knew Trey wouldn't think so without some encouragement.  Peering at the scribbles, though, she had doubts.  The words did resemble Latin words she knew, but she found that, try as she might, she couldn't read any of them.  "Maybe it's some kind of code?  I can't really make out what any of it says."

"I think the old man just has really bad handwriting," he sighed, bored with the mystery already.  "Where do you think he got that sword, anyway?"

"I don't know," she murmured, half-studying her grandfather's peculiar annotations before placing the book in the putative "save" pile.  "Maybe it's an heirloom.  Somebody in his family might have fought in the war."

"Don't you know?  It seems like the sort of thing that would get mentioned, at Christmas or whenever."

"My grandpa never really talked about those kinds of things," she said.  "Not to me, anyway.  I don't think he talked to my mom much, either.  Or like, at all."  Jenna looked down at the sword resting on the old desk, and wondered why she'd never seen it before.  There was nothing special about it, at least not the sort of cliches one expects from famous swords: no gems on the hilt, no family mottos etched skillfully in the steel.  Just brass and blade, but still she found it beautiful.  "Maybe one of my ancestors was a cavalry officer."

Trey looked at the sword as well, his face more passive.  "Do you think they even let black people fight in the Civil War?"

She bristled, not wanting to fight about this, but not wanting to let it go.  "About two hundred thousand of them," she replied, tersely.  "They fought in segregated units.  White people don't like to admit we had a hand in freeing ourselves, but we did."

Trey stepped back, and for all his blushing he never looked more pale.  "Sorry, Jenna.  That's your field, remember?  I'm just a medievalist, I'm no war buff.  The nineteenth century's all yours."

She let it go, but she still didn't want to.  "I just wish I had more time to look through all of these papers.  There's just so much I don't know about him.  I can't really believe I got this far in life without knowing any basic family history"

"Maybe there's something in this?"  He handed her the scroll, as if to say he really was sorry, not just trying to get out of an uncomfortable situation.  "It might be a statement of ownership or something.  Or maybe a family tree."

She considered the parchment for a moment.  He could be right, she thought; but she also felt uncomfortable breaking the seal.  An odd glyph was pressed into the green wax, an eye-like shape within a six-pointed star.  Something about the symbol seemed to speak out loud, even though she could not recognize it.  Opening it felt like a transgression, trespassing on a memory.  "I was thinking I'd show it to my mother first.  It seems like something we should see together."

Trey laughed.  "You know what they say about curiosity: you can't expect a cat to defy its nature."  Nobody ever said that; Trey was absolutely the worst at these sorts of arguments.  But he wanted to see what was on the parchment, and she didn't want to fight about it.  Gingerly, she pealed the wax off, trying not to deface the glyph.

The scroll unfurled, and they were both surprised to find that it was mostly blank space, but for a few lines, written in thick, grainy ink letters with a determined legibility:

Congratulations, you found the secret egg!
Your destiny awaits.
It is round and beautiful and it is alive. It will not hatch unless you love it.
Please take the secret egg and deposit it in the nearest furnace. What lives within is not of this Earth. 
It can only perish in flames.
Do not attempt to smash the secret egg. It will not work.
Do not attempt to hide the secret egg. In time, you will grow to love it.
Do not forget about the secret egg.
For a minute, she said nothing.  Neither did Trey, who badly looked like he wanted to.  He'd learned enough in the past few minutes to let her have a say first.

"A poem?  I never knew my grandfather wrote poetry."

Trey smiled, awkward and eager to move on.  "I guess there is something to learn in a place like this."

"Yeah, but I didn't find any other poetry in the rest of these papers."  Carefully, she placed the scroll and seal in the crystal vase.  "No other scrolls like this.  I think I'll hold onto it."


Two weeks later, Jenna's apartment had assumed the role of storage space for a fair collection of her grandfather's antiquities, as well as a dozen boxes of documents she judged to be relevant to his estate. Efficiently organized and marked off from her own possessions, it still managed to interfere with her studies.  Cataloging her finds was becoming a full-time job, one she hadn't expected or wanted, yet one she could not comfortably abandon.  She lost sleep over his enigmatic filing system, to say nothing of his bizarre handwriting, but the more she saw of it, the more it dominated her thoughts.

Many things were changing in her life.  She didn't really know it yet, but her relationship with Trey would be over in less than a month.  Her survey of census records in post-war South Carolina was leading her in a different direction than her initial research had suggested.  Intellectually, she acknowledged the work she'd have to put into modifying her thesis.  But in her heart, it barely seemed to matter.

It worried her that she found these old documents so interesting.  Most were forms and statements: useful for tracking an old man's finances, perhaps, but hardly illuminating as to his character.  It had never been a special interest for her, but she found herself restless without her grandfather's papers on her desk.  When she came across any writing in his own inscrutable hand, her heart would pound with excitement, even as she failed to derive any meaning from it.  Messages or doodles, she delighted at the sight of them, as though she were touched by the presence of his mind.  And one evening, while hunting through the papers for spots of spilled ink, she thought again about the Secret Egg.

That, she presumed, was the name of the cryptic writing she'd discovered in the basement.  Poetry was all she could make of it, but she never had an ear for anything that didn't rhyme.  Resting in the vase on her kitchen table, the parchment scroll hadn't been opened since the night Jenna discovered it.  When she thought of its contents, she yearned suddenly to read them again, thinking lightly that they might serve as a Rosetta stone for the rest of the notes the old man had left behind.  That, at least, was one good reason to reach into the vase once more.

Jenna found it difficult to explain why, upon touching the vase's bottom, she had not noticed the egg before. She pulled it out, along with the mysterious poem, and stood bemused by its presence.  It was beautiful and smooth, carved from pale wood - not the sort of thing that hatches, no matter how you feel about it, she might have said.  But she did admire it, as much for its mystery as for the spidery black lines that painted strange symbols all around its surface.  The same glyph that appeared on the wax seal of the parchment appeared on the surface of the egg, noticeable yet not prominent among the other unknown signs.

For a time, the parchment was forgotten; she carried the egg back to her room, lost in wonder as it passed through varying levels of light.  It was large, maybe twice the size of a chicken's egg, but remarkably light.  She found that especially compelling, as it did not seem to be anything but solid.

Could she love such a thing?  Did she?  What was the connection between the egg, and the enigmatic lines of the poem?  In point of fact, Jenna had begun to doubt that the words on the parchment were a poem, though she still could not account for their meaning.  The presence of the egg cast everything into doubt, and dominated her consideration of every aspect of her grandfather: his life, his effects, his entire history, and it was not until she heard the phone ringing that it struck her how very, very bizarre that was.

As the call echoed through the hall, Jenna clutched the egg to her chest, as though someone might try to take it from her.  She did not know why, but she had a sudden impulse to hide the egg, and placed it in a drawer with her seldom-worn winter clothes.  She hurried down the hall to answer her cell phone.  It was her mother on the line.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you and your schoolwork", said Maya to her daughter, "but we haven't talked in so long, I just wanted to make sure you were alright".

"Oh yeah, I'm fine", Jenna replied, glancing down the hall again to catch a glimpse of her dresser drawer.  "I've just been busy, I haven't really thought to call anyone for a couple weeks now".

"Are you eating OK?"

"I'm fine, mama", Jenna sighed.  "I'm sorry I haven't called.  I've been so, so busy, with my paper, and with all of grandpa's things..."

A silence buzzed over the line for a few seconds, before Maya took up the conversation again.  "I probably shouldn't have asked you to go through his things.  Not now, anyway, with your thesis deadline coming up".

"No, it's alright, really..." she started, and felt the wildest impulse to hang up the phone and remove the battery.  But she didn't, because why would she ever do such a thing to her own mother?  "I'm glad you did.  I think I wanted to do this all along, even before you asked me.  I feel like I'm learning so much about him that I never knew before".

Jenna regretted saying it in those terms.  It was not a secret in the family that her grandfather had been estranged from his only daughter: it could never have been, because it was obvious without any words.  Though he dutifully made appearances at Christmas and Thanksgiving (rarely both in the same year) to deliver quaint presents to his grandchild, his visits were defined by quiet and pointed reserve.  Jenna's chief memories of those times were of a small-ish, dire looking man, with greying hair and dark brown skin that over the years seemed to be greying to match.  Yet he had a pair of stunning blue eyes, which never did seem to fade from the bright hue that Jenna saw as a little girl.

Maya did not react poorly, as far as her daughter could tell.  She was too concerned as a mother.  "You know, your father and I will be down in a few weeks to help you out.  I wouldn't want you to get too distracted from something as important as your thesis."

Jenna looked mournfully at the boxes piled by her desk, wondering if she could ever get through them all to her satisfaction in two months, much less two weeks.  "Thanks, mama.  I'm sure I'll have everything finished by then.  But, it will be great to see you guys again!  I can't... I can't wait to show you everything I've found!"

Maya laughed, and sighed.  "I guess there was a reason I asked you to do this after all, dear.  You've got this sort of thing in your blood.  You're a detective!"

Jenna smiled.  "I'm not as cool as all that.  Just some kind of nerd."

"Well, I can't think of anyone more suited to figuring out what was going on in your grandpa's head all those years.  You're a miracle, child".

"I'll do my best.  Hey, mama", Jenna said, glancing back to her room once more, feeling tempted to let her mother in on her strange, secret discovery, "listen, did you ever know that grandpa wrote poetry?"

The reply did not come right away.  When it did, there was a strange quality to it: a cold pain.  Jenna might have failed to understand it, but it came in loud and clear, because it was more or less what she expected: "honey, there is so much I never knew about your grandfather.  So very, very much".

For a moment Jenna's courage failed, but her instincts were strong, and she rallied.  "Would you like me to read you some of it?  It's a little abstract".

"I think that can wait for another time, Jenna".

So it waited.  Jenna went to sleep that night, exhausted from hours of unproductive work, and the last thing she saw before she closed her eyes was the dresser across the room, holding the drawer of winter clothes where the secret egg was hidden.  She was not yet satisfied that it was safe.