Table of Contents
Birthday Present: VE03
Claudius: VE01 (Vocabulary – Episode 01)
End of Table
Table of Contents
Birthday Present: VE03
Claudius: VE01 (Vocabulary – Episode 01)
End of Table
I have published my debut novel “Enlightenment”, the fruit of years of hard work, on completelynovel.com, a self-publishing platform for indie authors.
The first 15 pages are available for preview here.
The entire story has around 104,000 words.
I am counting on the book to turn things around for me. See how it goes.
No More Free Lunch
Last night my landlord informed me of a big rent rise (over 16%), effective next month. Coupled with the depressing truth that most, if not all, of my “current” tutees will be attending boarding schools overseas in the coming academic year (starting September), this bad news was really hard for me to swallow. I have no choice but to seriously consider moving to elsewhere — somewhere less expensive — again.
On the average it takes me three to five days to compose, edit, and apply the finishing touch to a typical 1200-word essay that I publish here every month. And I have been doing so for over three years — dating back to my old blog (if you know where it is). Other than showing off my superb creativity and practical writing skills, these essays, the fruits of my painstaking efforts, do not bring me any tangible returns.
I wonder if I were to charge my blog visitors, how many of them would be willing to pay?
Answer: Not a single soul. Sad but true, I know.
Consequently, I have to make a tough decision. The coming essay, to be published here on the First of September, will be the last.
Make no mistake. I will keep writing creative essays — at least I will try to finish all the remaining episodes in the Vocabulary Series (VExx) — but it is extremely unlikely that they will be published here. Even if they are, they will not be publicly viewable.
Therefore, if you visit my blog once a month JUST to enjoy some FREE leisure reading, you need not come back after September. Otherwise, you may still see, from time to time, some latest news about me here.
The noun “fruition” refers to something that is made tangible or real, or simply “realization”.
[Please refer to my previous essay VE17 for part three of this story.]
After an uncountable number of trials, Beacon, utterly perplexed, finally accumulated enough energy to open his eyes. When his brain got the originally-blurred image of the surroundings focused, he realized that he was in a single-bed hospital ward. His dream girl, Wiesława Neumann, was sleeping on the couch next to his bed.
Beacon: Wiesława, are you awake?
Beacon’s low voice was like an electric shock penetrating Neumann’s brain. Instantly Neumann woke up — in a dubious manner.
Neumann: Beacon, you are awake! This is unbelievable! I thought that you might never wake up.
Beacon: How long have I been in a coma?
Neumann: Almost a week. Today is December 31st, the New Year’s Eve.
Beacon: Was I seriously injured? Right now I just feel a little bit of headache; otherwise I do not feel any pain.
Neumann: Your car was torn apart by the garbage truck — literally. You got thrown out of the car and hit a tree trunk head-on. I … I am so sorry ….
Neumann burst into tears and could not carry on ….
Beacon: Sorry for what? The traffic accident was not your fault.
Neumann: I should not have allowed you to come to my place under such appalling weather conditions. I almost got you killed. It was my fault.
Beacon: Wiesława, you should not have blamed yourself. I am an adult; I am responsible for the consequences of my own actions. I was so eager to come to your place then. And I ignored every single safety rule. The accident was caused by my ignorance and negligence. It was my fault.
Neumann: Do not be so hard on yourself.
Beacon: Did anyone else get hurt?
Neumann: The truck driver suffered some minor cuts and bruises. Other than the two of you, there was no-one on the road at the time of the accident.
Beacon: Mother nature, thank you so much.
Neumann: The doctors said you hardly had a scratch but suffered a serious concussion. That was why you lost your consciousness for so many days.
Beacon: I was hit by a truck sideways but did not get a single scratch. Was that incredible?
Neumann: Maybe you were blessed and thus protected. But there was one piece of bad news.
Beacon: What was it?
Neumann: One of your cats, Mizar, passed away, probably on the night of the accident, your parents told me.
Beacon: Oh no! Mizar is dead. He … he must have traded his life for mine. Gosh, I owed him ….
Neumann: I am terribly sorry for your loss.
Beacon: How about my parents? Are they alright?
Neumann: Do not worry. Your parents are okay. Speaking of them, they have visited you every single day since they returned from vacation. They were here about two hours ago.
Beacon: And you have been here the entire time since the accident. Right?
Neumann: Yes. I … I felt guilty.
Beacon: I am so sorry that our first date turned out this way.
Neumann: It was part of our shared destiny, I guess.
Beacon: Wiesława, if my life was a drama, would you like to be its prima donna?
Neumann: I would love to, Beacon.
Beacon gently placed his hand on Neumann’s face. Neumann smiled and then closed her eyes.
Without hesitation, Beacon kissed Neumann on her lips.
That appeared to be the perfect fruition of the secretly-hidden romantic context of the scorching eternal flame in Beacon’s heart.
Finally Beacon could open a new chapter of his life with his long-sought soul-mate in the impending new year.
But then … Beacon had some strange feelings; he felt like kissing a fur!
Beacon abruptly woke up. He found himself kissing the tender fur at the back of a red cat. It was Mizar; the Garden Ranger was still alive, thanks to mother nature.
Upon further inspection, Beacon realized that he was lying on the couch with all of his little tigers. Fire in the warm-keeping oven was burning steadily, and there were a few spare firewood logs beside the oven — as usual.
Beacon, still holding the tablet in his hand, knew that he must have fallen asleep after reading those enormously-boring essays written by his arrogant pen-pal who always liked to show off his pathetically-minimal creativity. Everything that happened earlier was just a random mix of two substrates: a nightmare and a sweet dream.
Even though Beacon was a bit disappointed, he must admit that those lullaby-like essays had evoked an astonishing and soul-stirring effect on him: the fire in his lonely heart was burning more vigorously than ever. What he liked most about those writings was the author’s spellbound ability to develop an integrated fiction using just the bits and pieces of a couple of his online posts. To him, such an exquisite talent in creative writing was simply beyond comprehension. Privately, he felt divinely-blessed to have such a charming acquaintance.
Beacon decided to return a favor to his online pen-pal. He planned to use his newly-bought tablet, which possessed high-definition video-recording capabilities, to capture his fantastic dance moves, and then proudly show his devoted pen-friend the “exotic” video!
After setting up all the technical gadgets, Beacon got changed. He was now wearing some eye-catching brightly-colored costume of native Africans. But right before the actual recording, he noticed that he had got a new email message entitled “Long Time No See”. And most astoundingly it was sent from Wiesława Neumann, his dream girl, who had got every feminine characteristic appealing to him most.
At first Beacon was in delirium, but soon he regained his equanimity. He had still got an agonizing memory of the haunting proverb: “Felicity brings calamity.”
So, Beacon took a deep breath. But his heart was still beating at twice the normal rate.
“Should I open the message right away? Should I wait a couple of days? Should I just ignore it? Should I ….”
Beacon was in a self-inflicted dilemma.
Then the gifted Garden Ranger that seemed to have read the perplexing mind of his master deftly jumped onto Beacon’s arms and accidentally clicked open the fantasy-provoking electronic mail.
P.S. I hereby wish my devoted online pen-pal, Mr Beacon, a prosperous new year — in which he is definitely going to find the dream girl for his lifelong journey! 😉
The noun “felicity” refers to a state of extreme happiness, or a source of blissfulness.
[Please refer to my previous essay VE16 for part two of this story.]
Mizar: No more hesitation, Master. It is now or never!
Beacon: But … it is getting late. I should give her a call tomorrow.
Mizar: No time is a good time. Trust me: Christmas Eve is the perfect moment to jump-start a relationship!
Beacon: Okay! Right now I am going to give it a shot — the one and only shot!
Mizar: Fantastic. I wish you the best of luck. Goodbye, Master.
Beacon: Wait … wait a second ….
The entire body of Mizar glowed golden yellow, again. Beacon had to temporarily close his eyes to deny the potent irradiation.
Seconds later, everything returned to normal. Mizar, intact, was sleeping on the floor right in front of the warm-keeping oven, as he usually did.
Knowing that Gabriel, the messenger sent by mother nature, had left, Beacon realized that he had to do it on his own and had to do it right away! The love fire in his lonely heart was burning more ferociously than ever; he now had only one thing in mind: Show his dream girl the secretly-hidden romantic context of that eternal flame!
Beacon took a deep breath. Then he picked up the phone and made the most important call in his life ….
Beacon: Hello, may I speak to Wiesława Neumann please?
Neumann: Speaking. Who is this?
Beacon: This is Beacon. Remember me?
Neumann: Of course. You are the IT guy that developed our Personnel Database Information System almost a decade ago. And I remember seeing you a couple of times in our Youth Center for system upgrades over the past few years. Right?
Beacon: Yes, I am glad that you do remember me.
Neumann: So, what is up?
Beacon: Sorry for my intruding question. But … do you have any plans for the coming Christmas holidays?
Neumann: No. Nor do I have any plans for tonight, the Christmas Eve. Actually I am home alone right now.
Beacon: Really? Where are your family members?
Neumann: I am the only child. And my parents are on vacation to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Beacon: What a double-coincidence!
Neumann: You are the only child in your family, and your parents are on vacation too?
Neumann: Then I guess you are also home alone.
Neumann: What a triple-coincidence!
Beacon: You have got a sense of humor!
Neumann: I will wholeheartedly take your remark as a compliment.
Beacon: Well, since we are both members of the “Home Alone Club”, may I dare to suggest that we spend some time together?
Neumann: Yes. I would love to. How about tomorrow morning at the City Hall? We can certainly enjoy the festive atmosphere there.
Beacon: Hmm …. I cannot wait any longer. How about right now?
Neumann: You are so funny. Well, the weather outside looks dreadful, and it is getting late.
Beacon: It does not matter at all. I can drive to your place within 15 minutes.
Neumann: Come to my place in 15 minutes? How did you know my residential address?
Beacon: Hmm … I must admit that I acquired your address, which is, of course, confidential information, … kind of … illegally ….
Neumann: Through our Personnel Database Information System, right?
Beacon: You are smart. I am terribly sorry.
Neumann: Then I guess you have been having a crush on me for quite some time. Right?
Neumann: Let me tell you something, something that I have never told anyone before.
Beacon: What is it?
Neumann: It is a story about a teenage girl having a crush on a young man. It was one fine holiday in early Autumn back in 1995. The weather was so perfect that a teenage girl and her classmates decided to go biking together in the countryside. They did so many fun activities: chatting, chasing, scene-visiting, photographing, and so forth. They had a really, really great time. But the most unforgettable memory of the bike trip was the shining image of a slender young man, without mustache, posing, in a cool manner, on a huge rock. The girl had to confess that he was a genuinely-handsome hunt! He looked pretty like the lead male character of the music video of an extremely-popular ballad back in the early 1990s. Even though she had only a glimpse at him, her heart almost stopped at that split second. She believed that such an “exotic” experience was — what people called — love at first sight.
Beacon: I do not want to jump to any conclusion here. But my intuition suggested that you were the teenage girl and I was the young man in the aforementioned story. Correct?
Neumann: Affirmative. You are brilliant. You know, I recognized you right away when you first came to our Youth Center on the system project about a decade ago, despite the presence of your sexually-appealing mustache and the noticably-different build. Again, my heart almost stopped. But I felt too embarrassed to take the initiative to break the ice with my dream man in the work place. Thus I just said a routine “hello” when our center supervisor introduced you to the colleagues.
Beacon: I am your dream man. Well, I am truly flattered.
Neumann: Maybe we are meant to be together; perhaps we are star-crossed lovers.
Beacon: Is that a line from a poem? You are so romantic.
Neumann: Thank you for your kind remarks.
Beacon: Wiesława, could I come to your place — I mean — right now?
Neumann: 100% yes! Be careful and drive safely.
Beacon: See you in 15 minutes!
Neumann: See you.
Beacon, in seventh heaven, embarked a short voyage to his love nest. Seat belts, red lights, and safety rules were all behind him. Under such scaring weather conditions, the traffic was understandably-light. His chariot sped through two-thirds of the journey in less than 5 minutes. He could almost see the destination with his naked eyes. But then ….
Bang! A garbage truck, out of thin air, violently hit Beacon’s car sideways at a crossroad. Everything blacked out; it was a complete silence.
Precisely at the instant the truck hit Beacon’s car, Mizar, comfortably lying on the floor before the warm-keeping oven, suddenly suffered a heart attack and died right away.
Proverbs are usually true: “Felicity brings calamity.”
[To be continued.]
The adjective “feminine”, an antonym of “masculine”, means “characteristic of a mature woman”.
[Please refer to my previous essay VE15 for part one of this story.]
Mizar: Master, I just started learning Latin; I am a beginner.
Beacon: Mizar, you are not only multilingual but also hilarious!
Mizar: I will wholeheartedly take your remark as a compliment.
Beacon: You are now officially the main character of the story!
Mizar: What story?
Beacon: The story about a cat capable of speaking human languages.
Mizar: I got it. Master, you are hilarious, too!
Beacon: Let us get to the point. Who are you exactly? I do not think you are simply the Latin-speaking version of Mizar!
Mizar: Would you like to make a wild guess?
Beacon: Would you like to answer my question right away?
Mizar: You seem a little tense. Sit back and relax.
Beacon: Answer my question now.
Mizar: Okay. Please keep an open mind.
Beacon: Of course. Go ahead.
Mizar: According to an age-old myth in your culture, pets — in special and rare occasions — are believed to speak human languages. Have you heard of it?
Mizar: Fantastic. The myth says only a tiny proportion of the pet-lovers are allowed to communicate with their lovely angels in their mother tongue. And those chosen individuals have one thing in common: they all possess scintillating intellect.
Beacon: You are implying I have got a cosmos-towering brain.
Beacon: Thank you for your compliment. But the truth is that I am no genius and my brain is just so-so.
Mizar: You need not be so modest.
Beacon: Well, I am simply telling the truth. Could you please stop throwing urban legends like that at me?
Mizar: Fine. Here is the truth. My name is Gabriel. I am a messenger sent by mother nature.
Beacon: A messenger sent by mother nature?
Mizar: Yes. I can show you my digital ID.
Beacon: Very funny. How can I possibly verify your identity? Download your public key from the Internet and then decrypt your message with it?
Mizar: You have the utmost potential to be an outstanding comedian.
Beacon: Thanks. Seriously, are you using the body of Mizar as a vessel or something like that?
Mizar: You are genuinely smart.
Beacon: Please do not hurt my cat.
Mizar: Do not worry. Nothing is going to happen to your cat.
Beacon: Then what are you doing here exactly?
Mizar: I am here to help you tackle the most challenging conundrum in your life.
Beacon: Really? What is it?
Mizar: Seeking your best half.
Beacon: What? You are here to help me find a girlfriend?
Beacon: That means you are a matchmaker.
Mizar: You could say that.
Beacon: I would never have thought of it. Mother nature sent you to set me up on a blind date. This is utterly incredible!
Mizar: That is not entirely correct. It will not be a blind date. You know the girl — very well.
Beacon: Very intriguing. What is her name?
Mizar: Wiesława Neumann. She is your dream girl. Correct?
Beacon: I … do not know … what to say — you just hit the bull’s-eye.
Mizar: Chill, Master. Speaking of your dream girl, I must say she is a real catch. For one thing, she has a beautiful name: Wiesława means “great glory” or “all glory” and Neumann is the family name of your all-time idol, the founder of game theory. Besides, she has got all the feminine characteristics appealing to you most: a broad hip and a pair of sexy legs. Last but not least, her authentic voice sounds almost identical to that of your favorite songstress.
Beacon: Gosh, you just made me blush.
Mizar: I am sorry that I am going to make your cheeks even rosier. You have been having a crush on her since you met her on a freelance project almost a decade ago. You wanted to ask her out on a date but did not know how to break the ice with her. Right?
Beacon: Yes, you are right on every single word you just said. But … how did you know so much … about me?
Mizar: That is classified information, I am afraid.
Beacon: Then … are you going to help me?
Mizar: Certainly. That is why I am here.
Beacon: What should I do?
Mizar: We have been chatting for almost ten minutes in subzero temperatures. I feel a little bit cold. Could we go inside first?
Beacon: Sure. Let me quickly grab some fresh logs. Please go inside.
The almost-extinguished fire in the warm-keeping oven got re-ignited with the refilled wood logs.
Beacon: Should I get you something to eat?
Mizar: A hamburger and some French fries would be great.
Beacon: What? I thought you would want some salmon.
Mizar: I was just kidding. In fact, I do not feel hungry. But I guess Mizar does want some salmon. So, let me get the job done as soon as possible and then leave Mizar alone.
Beacon: That is a good idea.
Mizar: Master, please listen to my love advice very carefully, as it holds the key to drastically change your life — for the better. You need a diminutive bit of courage, and you should not be afraid of making mistakes. Breaking the ice with your dream girl is not an exact science, it is an art. You should temporarily forget everything that you learned in game theory — trying to minimize your maximum losses would not help at all! Instead, you should memorize all those romantic quotes found in many of the creative essays written by your pen-pal, a man of honor, who has been trying his very best to help you with your stagnant love situation; you should attempt to apply them when the right moment comes.
Beacon: That sounds pretty easy. I believe I can handle it.
Mizar: You can, I am sure. Pick up the phone right now and give her a call.
Beacon: Right now? Hmm ….
[To be continued.]
The noun “equanimity” refers to composure under pressure, mental/emotional stability, or simply “cool”.
It was a freezing Christmas Eve. The temperatures in rural areas plummeted to as low as minus 26 degrees Celsius because of a staggering snow storm. Everywhere was covered by a thick stack of uninvited silvery-white snow. In a seemingly-ordinary town that merely housed one thousand or so residents, everything looked still and lifeless.
Yet, there was a vigorous fire burning in the lonely heart of the lead masculine character of this short fiction. And that scorching eternal flame had a secretly-hidden romantic context.
Beacon, an extremely-shy philosopher, was home alone, as his parents were on vacation to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Despite the subzero temperatures outside, he felt safe, warm, and cozy in his small, yet elegant, house.
The walls and ceilings, made of wood, were smartly covered by two thermal insulation layers on both sides: extruded polystyrene foam and lime plaster. Even though the residence, with virtually no partition walls, was just about 50 square meters in size, it was the perfect citadel for 3 human inhabitants (Beacon and his parents) and 4 lovely, playful, and sometimes naughty, adult cats. Given the smart design, the entire bastion only needed a single wood-fired oven for keeping warm, even during the coldest winter times.
According to Beacon, a modest gentleman, the interiors of the stronghold had nothing special. The truth was the exact opposite — the inside was a first-rate art gallery.
Right behind the front door, on the walls of the corridor, there were four abstract paintings, all hand-drawn by Beacon when he was still a little kid, which were as good as, if not better than, those masterpieces created by Leonardo da Vinci. The best of the four, entitled “Double Bitter”, depicted a resented smile on the characteristic flat face of a child suffering from Down’s syndrome, who apparently had just been administered Iodine solution for protection against disastrous radiation fallout. Even the average audience would be able to decipher the philosophical meaning of this soul-touching art work.
At a quiet corner of the living room, a handmade bamboo cabinet had displays of over a dozen nicely-framed 12-inch photographs of the deceased cats Beacon once raised. Each of these authentic images reminded him of the happiest moments he once spent with the little tigers. The photograph that got center stage, in memoriam of Zeta, was taken the day before her accidental death, which, Beacon believed, was caused by the consumption of certain extremely-poisonous mushrooms found in a nearby mini-forest. Sadly, Zeta was barely one year old.
Just next to the kitchen, there were two processed tree trunks that blended in perfectly with the other interiors of the living room. The bigger one was used as a dining table and the tiny one a bench. Both, found on the nearby hillside, were leftovers of a decade of natural erosion. Beacon picked them up a couple of years ago, had them manually carved and chemically treated. The end-products were these two pieces of ever-lasting, yet environmentally friendly, household furniture.
Beside the main pair of windows in the living room, a brace of eye-catching ceramic sculptures were erected on a flat, rectangular-shaped marble rock. Both were handmade by Beacon’s devoting mother over three decades ago. One of them roughly delineated a mother breast-feeding her baby boy while the other practically symbolized a young boy splitting firewood with an axe. Even a layman should be able to correctly guess what they actually referred to. One word perfectly summarized the underlying theme: LOVE. These age-old, yet lively, figures seemed to indicate that Beacon’s artistic talent was, indeed, inherited from his maternal linkage.
All in all, there might not be any valuable furnishings in Beacon’s fortress. But every Earthling would have to concur that this environmentally-friendly, love-filled residence was definitely something — something that he/she would be longing to see in person. And the main character would have to accept such a compliment wholeheartedly.
Resting on a couch, Beacon, accompanied by 3 of his cats, was doing what he usually did to pass the time: he was reading, on a recently-bought tablet, those sarcastic essays written by the most creative online pen-pal that he had ever known.
The missing cat, Mizar, with the nickname “Garden Ranger”, was patrolling outside, disregarding the life-threatening weather conditions; maybe, in the little tiger’s naive anticipation, nine lives would be more than enough for his adventurous journey.
Happy moments tended to go by unnoticed. Beacon felt a bit cold, as the fire in the warm-keeping oven was almost extinguished. He needed to quickly refill the wood fuel. But it happened that there were no spare firewood logs in the house, which sounded a bit surprising to him as he habitually placed a few spare logs beside the oven every time he did the refill.
Running out of options, Beacon went outside to grab a few fresh logs from the stacked firewood pile. Immediately he saw Mizar lying on the snow beside the doorway. Naturally he got down on his knees to caress the tender fur on the back of the red cat.
“Garden Ranger, what are you doing here? You may freeze to death lying on the snow like that.”
Out of the blue, something extraordinary happened.
The entire body of Mizar glowed golden yellow. Beacon found the irradiation so intense that he had to loosely close his eyes.
“Gosh, what is happening?”
Then something even more extraordinary bombarded Beacon head-on.
Mizar, standing upright, spoke to Beacon in his mother tongue, “Merry Christmas, Master!”
At first Beacon was totally shocked and speechless. But pretty soon the subzero temperatures forced him regain his equanimity. The atheist knew that there had to be a rational explanation for everything.
“What a surprise! Mizar, I did not know you could speak Latin. I always thought you could only meow; it seems that I was plain wrong!”
[To be continued.]