“Mr. Templar” by Jason Sizemore – Selection 13 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Seven♠ of Spades

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for “dark/sci-fi/horror stories from various sources.

The Author: Jason Sizemore https://jason-sizemore.com I’ve featured a couple of his stories before in prior iterations of Deal Me In, notably “Yellow Warblers” and “The Sleeping Quartet”

The Selection: “Mr. Templar,” which I own as part of the author’s collection, “Irredeemable”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Mr. Templar

“In eight centuries, Mr. Templar had never fully grasped the true desolate nature of the Earth. However, riding at high speeds two hundred meters in the air, seeing the same grey, dusty landscapes hour after hour, he began to appreciate the total annihilation of the humans’ nuclear bombs.”

First things first, The title character, Mr. Templar, is an Android. There are no humans left on Earth at the time of this story. And the androids that are left are running out of fuel. They roam a desolate landscape several hundred years after humanity has fled the nuclear wasteland of an uninhabitable world they created.

Mr. Templar’s search for fuel leads him to meet another android, who he calls Mr. Ruby (Ruby can’t remember his own name as his memory has been compromised by “data flies” – the reigning pest in this post-apocalyptic world). Ruby has picked up a signal from orbit and believes it to mean that their human “masters” are returning. How will they react? Wishing to reunite with the humans, together they head off to search for jet packs when Mr. Ruby shares that he knows where are cache of them are stored – in a bunker two hundred feet beneath Cape Canaveral.

What struck me about this story was that, in the absence of human stewardship of Earth, the technological life that now remains begins to exhibit some very human characteristics. Those that remain are embroiled in bitter competition for dwindling resources. Sound familiar? It’s every man – er, Android- for himself in this world. The remaining “life” forms also deteriorate into their own form of racism too: When Mr. Templar first encounters Mr. Ruby, he scoffs, “Only robots speak the old language. You must be a worthless robot.”

A good story, on a ♪personal note♪, the abandoned androids reminded me of an old Star Trek (The Original Series) episode (titled “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”) where Kirk and the gang encounter a certain Dr. Corby, off on a remote planet making androids with the help of “Ruk” (portrayed by Ted Cassady of “The Addams Family” fame!). Ruk, too, was an Android who was left behind by his creators…

“Yes. The Old Ones… The ones who built us!”

“Yellow Warblers” by Jason Sizemore

For week 30 of Deal Me In 2015, I drew the nine of spades, which I had assigned to the Story, “Yellow Warblers” from Jason Sizemore’s collection “Irredeemable.” Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about, may be found here. If the name sounds familiar, maybe it’s because I posted about another story (“Sleeping Quartet“) by this author a couple months back.

Yellow Warblers”

He’d lived long enough to know the way of the spirits, to listen when they shouted across the heavens to warn the other side of danger.”

When I picked a couple stories from this collection for Deal Me In, I confess I based my selection on titles only, and, as an amateur birdwatcher for twenty years, this title appealed to me. I also knew the collection included stories that “are dark, powerful and unsettling,” so I was curious as the title’s meaning. I’m not sure I ever found out, which is okay.

Few conquests in the history of humanity have been absolute or “complete.” There are always pockets of resistance or remote areas that maybe the conquerors “just don’t care enough about” to fully bring under their rule. Think about the Kurds in modern day Iraq, or how hard Afghanistan has been to manage for its sundry invaders/conquerors. Maybe this phenomenon would hold true in the case of an extra-terrestrial conquest as well. Such appears to be the case in this story. It starts peacefully enough with a commonplace scene of rustic Appalachia. An old man, Jeremiah, is sitting on a church pew praying. Outside a Kentucky Warbler sings “joyfully.” But maybe not all is right. A visitor has arrived…

“The alien moved with a grace befitting its slender build and smooth, alabaster skin. The old man had seen one of these before. A Shadow , they’d called it. It had been… what… twenty-three years since last he’d seen one? But there it was, no mistaking. Those large almond eyes in an oval, slightly humanoid face.”

As you might guess, the way the peaceful Jeremiah wants to welcome the visitor is more than slightly different from that of his neighbors.

I found the following interesting observation in one online review of the “Irredeemable” collection. It rang true to me, and is especially apropos to this particular story, which actually included the line, “Xeno-what?” in its dialogue. 🙂

Appalachian cultural history shows a tendency toward xenophobia.’” People from outside this region will know the opposite is true as well: aliens (literal or figurative) to this region tend to fear it, and the stories in Irredeemable both capitalize on and castigate that fear.”

This story may be read on line here

Have you read any good short stories set in Appalachia? Care to recommend any? 🙂

(above: the yellow warbler I know from my birdwatching (I see these all the time); below: a Kentucky Warbler from the story – I almost never spot one around these parts…)

“The Sleeping Quartet” by Jason Sizemore

“A Thousand Little Deaths”

Jack Taylor’s wife tells him that hearing him struggle with sleep apnea night after night is “like listening to you die a thousand little deaths.” It is this statement that leads Jack – one of probably millions who fear going to see doctors – to schedule an appointment at a sleep clinic. How bad could that be? The reader will soon find out.

White_deck_3_of_spadesI read this story for week 19 read of “Deal Me In.” I own it as part of the author’s dark collection “Irredeemable,” which I have been looking forward to exploring. When it came time to come up with my list of stories for my annual Deal Me In short story reading project (explained here), I added a couple tales from it to get my feet wet – this story and another, “Yellow Warblers”; how scary could that one be, right? If “The Sleeping Quartet” is representative, I’ll be in for a treat when that one comes around later in the year.

Jack’s visit to the clinic starts out in a fairly ordinary way. In the waiting room with three other patients, he spends his time checking out the others (we’ve all done that, yes?), noting their peculiarities and physical features with disgust. Things take a turn for the worse when they’re led to the “lab” by a nurse that tells them they’ll have to pose any of their questions to the lab technician. When this same lab technician later responds to their queries dismissively, “Sorry, any questions you had should have been addressed by the nurse,” you begin to suspect this “clinic” isn’t what it appears to be on the surface.

Is what follows (probably the longest night of Jack’s life) only an extended nightmare, or do the events we read of really take place? Maybe some of them were real and some not? One physical manifestation is explained away the next morning when he is released, making you wonder further. I think this decision is purposefully left to the reader, and I like that. My favorite feature of this story is that it plays upon a fear many of us have – that of surrendering control to others. Something hard enough to do in normal circumstances but even harder when in your most vulnerable state – sleeping.

If you’re interested, this book is available at Amazon. The kindle version (the format I own) is currently only $3.99 http://www.amazon.com/Irredeemable-Jason-Sizemore/dp/1937929590

So, how did you sleep last night? A staple of Comedian Stephen Wright’s (below – remember him?) act used to be when he would say “Someone asked me, ’Did you sleep good?’ I said ’No. I made a few mistakes.’” 🙂