January 5, 2013

A Hunter's Faith

A Hunter’s Faith
A short story by Tyler Milson

They picked her up in a rundown village, several leagues out of the city. She had tangled hair and eyes that spoke of the tangled webs she must have woven. She was not frail, nor was she whole but if the stories were to be believed she came from an area drowning in poverty, only seeing crumbs of bread and strips of horse meat for food. Not enough to feed anyone let alone a girl.
            Of the village, the soldiers said not a word. But Mikail Sodonys knew that it was now a hollowed, ruined place.
            The plague. That’s how it always went. First bumps and boils would manifest that, when plucked and pinched, would ooze pus and bleed. There was a fever that accompanied the bumps, quickly followed by the coughing up of blood and manifestation of coarse rashes on the skin. Most victims died within two to seven days. The sickle of sickness was what the poets called it, implying its use by the Grim Reaper as a tool of death just as sure and swift as the stroke of his blade through a neck. Mikail didn’t agree with that. Death came quickly but seemed torturously slow for those infected. He knew; he had seen enough of the plague for a lifetime. It was unholy, he knew, and he also knew what most often came with plagues: witches.
            That’s how they knew she was a witch. Visually, she fit the description well enough with her tattered hair, dark robes, and ordinary features. Girls and grown women that seemed unremarkable seemed to make the best witches. Maybe they became witches for that very same reason. Mikail would never know. Outside of appearance, they knew this girl was a witch simply because she seemed in perfect health, the sole survivor of a village trampled by the Black Death.
            To be safe, though, they kept her in a caged wagon, well away from any soldiers to avoid the possibility of contracting the disease. And that was how she was brought to Sodonys.
            A soldier, fully armored like the others save for the red cloak on his back that designated him as the leader approached the facility. Mikail strode forward to receive him.
            “Father-“ he began.
            “I’ll have none of that,” Sodonys cut in. “I’m not a Father nor am I anyone’s father.”
            “Then how shall I address you…my – my…lord?”
            “Lord will suffice,” Mikail replied. He continued, “To whom do I have the honor of addressing?”
            The soldier stiffened and straightened his back, clearly not used to formality Mikail supposed. “If it please my lord, I am Ser Harold Pennymance, 4th battalion of the Outriders.”
            The Outriders, Mikail mused. Glorified thugs sent out to clean the streets. The perfect men to send into a plague; no men that were like to be missed.
            “Well then, Ser, would you like to tell me how you came upon this one?” Mikail said, gesturing towards the girl in the cage.
            “Yes my lord. We had reports of reports of plague in Carlpool around two weeks back. Now, begging my lord’s pardon, we may be Outriders but we’re not stupid. We decided to wait before investigating as it were.” Mikail smiled at that. “We got there about five days ago - weather was rainy, mud everywhere. Looked more like a caved in rabbit hole than a village. We went through and we searched every house one by one like we always do. We thought we were done and finally came upon this one in the last house we searched.” Sodonoys broke in, “And let me guess, she was shivering in the corner, scared but not starved like the rest? Did that seem strange to you?”
            “Strange…” Pennymance frowned as if the thought caused him pain. “Yes, my lord, strange indeed. It wasn’t our first ride, though, and it wasn’t our first witch - our second ever, actually.”
            “Did you question her? Did you ask her what she had been eating and why she thought only she was spared by the Black Death?”
            “We did, my lord,” he hesitated. “She said that God had saved her and that she had his protection.” Mikail Sodonys laughed at that, a witch trying to use the holiest of cloths as a shield against heresy. “That doesn’t surprise me, Ser, please continue.”
            “When we claimed she was a witch she grew silent and hasn’t spoken a word since,” he said, finishing the tale.
            “That is curious,” Mikail admitted. Usually witches would beg and scream at anyone who would listen, protesting their guilt. “Still, I am glad that you have brought her to me and that this Inquisition will be different than previous ones. I was beginning to get bored.”
            The soldier nodded his understanding. “We’ll be off now, my lord. We pray that your work goes well.”
            “Prayer will not be necessary, Ser,” Mikail Sodonys said. “My work always goes well because it is never the work of God. For, I am not a priest but a witch-hunter.”

His men had brought her into the large facility, gave her bread and water, but chained her hands and feet to a table and chair welded into the floor of a small, dark, and dank room, one of several used for Inquisitions.
            Mikail Sodonys, ready to begin his Inquisition after only a few hours of preparation strode in, closed the door and rekindled the overhead lamp above. Still, the room seemed bleak even when lit, light sucked into the black stone used in its construction. The girl winced at the sudden illumination and could not look up for some time, no doubt waiting for her eyes to adjust. Sodonys waited until she finally made eye contact with him before speaking.
            “Do you know where you are, child?” he asked in a soft tone.
            “N-no,” she mumbled, stuttering perhaps in fear. Her voice sounded dry and hoarse.
            “This is Castle Berwick, though I will admit it is more manor than castle,” he supplied. After a moment he asked, “Do you know why you are here?”
            Her head rose at the question and she looked him dead in the eyes. “You think I am a witch,” she replied.
            Mikail laughed. “That, my dear, remains to be seen. This is an Inquisition. Think of it like an interview to see whether you are a witch or not and I as your expert interviewer.”
            “Is that important to you?” she asked.
            “Is what important?” Mikail asked, confused by her question.
            “To be seen as an expert?” she asked with a grin.
            Mikail Sodonys did not dignify her with a response but did pause a moment in consideration. “You are an intelligent girl it seems, to ask such questions. Where did you learn, child?”
            “I am no child, Father, but a woman of sixteen, fully bloomed,” she replied.
            “And I am no Father – no priest, my dear,” he replied in a cool tone that masked his mounting frustration.
            This time she laughed which surprised Sodonys. “Then what are you? I’ve never heard of an Inquisition where it’s no priest questioning you.”
            “I am a witch-hunter.”
            “So does that mean I’m a witch?” she asked in an innocent tone.
            “Are you?” he replied, leaning forward to study her more closely.
            She leaned forward as well until they were roughly a hand’s width apart. He could see straight into her deep green eyes and saw no trace of fear there. How unusual, indeed. “No,” she replied flatly. As firm a denial as any, Mikail supposed. This one will be tough to crack.

A few days later and the Inquisition had not gone any smoother. The girl had been completely uncooperative and hadn’t even supplied her name. This was going nowhere, and fast. That bothered Mikail as he had prided himself on the swiftness in which he elicited confessions from witches and had them answer for their crimes. They might have been the church’s laws but they were still laws and he would see them upheld even though he was not pious.
            It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God, it was more like he believed in God in his own personal, private way. Mikail Sodonys didn’t believe that men had to congregate in man-made buildings to hear the word of God. He didn’t believe that any mortal man could speak God’s word but it wouldn’t do to declare that. Doing so would result in excommunication which was tantamount to death in these dark times. He would admit that some men were tools of God but could never speak with His voice. Mikail believed that a man could believe, not that a man should believe what others do because it was the standard.
            No, he was different. He was special. He had to be. Otherwise he was nobody.
            With determination on his mind, he entered the small cell to begin the third day of Inquisition. Maybe starting more simply and displaying compassion would work better than his typical, stern approach.
            He produced a key from his pocket and undid the shackles on her hands. When he did, he could see that her wrists were raw and bloody, no doubt from where she had tried to slip them through her bonds. She looked up at him, confused.
            “I’m not a cruel man,” he informed her in answer to her unspoken question. “Could you please tell me your name?”
            She paused, probably unsure of whether to respond or not. Finally, she spoke, “Georgina.”
            “Georgina, well met, I am Mikail Sodonys,” he answered, making sure to keep his tone courteous and respectful. It was not typically to introduce oneself by name in an Inquisition. But this is not a typical Inquisition, he thought. “This might seem improper for an Inquisition, but I have to inform you that if you do not give me at least some information I will be forced to declare that you are a witch.”
            She winced at that, as if the words struck a blow to her that she did not expect. “Forced to declare that I am a witch…” she mimed in an incredulous tone. “As if it’s even a possibility that you’ll declare me innocent,” she continued following her statement with a horrified, disturbing laugh.
            “You have to believe me that if I find you are not a witch then you are not a witch,” Mikhail said.
            “I have to believe you?” she asked. “I have to believe that an Inquisition is any other excuse than to roast me on a spit!” she said sarcastically.
            “Let me lay the facts before you, Georgina: you were found, the sole survivor in a village completely ruined by plague and famine. Yet there you were when the Outriders found you, hale and whole. How do you explain that? Hm? How do you explain that away when by all rights you should have been stick-thin or dead with rest?”
            “Dead with the rest?” she screamed. “You mean dead like my mother and whoring father? Dead like my little sister? My aunt was in the village, she’s dead too, not you would care, you bastard!”
            Mikail was taken aback by her comments. He had not suspected such outbursts as responses.
            “Do you think I’m stupid?” she asked him but didn’t wait for an answer before continuing. “I know how Inquisitions end; they end in blood and fire, or if I’m lucky I can drown. Oh, sure I’m supposed to magically float up if I’m innocent or be spared from the hot touch of the flames’ whips.” She paused for a second, considering something. “Tell me, Mr. Sodonys, are you a man of God?”
            “I believe in him if that’s what you mean,” he replied.
            “I’m not. How could I be, especially as a woman?” she asked. “You do housework for a living and you’re beat if you’re insolent. When you flower your father bends you over and takes you himself while your mother – a woman too – sits helplessly in the next room. You’re sold to someone when you’re old enough or there’s something they want in exchange for you. If you’re the sole survivor of a massacre or a plague then you’re a witch and you’ll die for it without a chance to prove your innocence. That is the God you believe in, Sodonys. That’s the God your clergy loves so much!”
            He stood up quickly and slapped her hard. Her head jerked sideways and her arms rose to cover the mark it had left on her. “That’s enough!” he roared. “You will not speak ill of God or those he chooses to serve him.”
            “No,” she said. “How could I ever speak ill of my most holy executioner?”

It had been an entire three weeks and Mikail Sodonys could find no proof that Georgina was a witch. She would not admit to witchcraft or heresy despite his most fervent attempts and remained contemptuous to say the least. He wasn’t sure which she had contempt for more: him or God Himself. But regardless, it seemed that she was destined for the pyre.
            And what if I’m wrong, he thought to himself. What if she really is innocent and I send her into the flames? He had never been wrong before and no other Inquisition had taken so long nor had taken its toll on him like this one had. In her defiance, Georgina poked at the very core of his internal beliefs and his own personal belief in God. He would never admit it to her but he wondered if some of what she said was right about the God he had trusted in for so long. What if He didn’t care? Why would he condemn young women such as Georgina to such terrible fates? But at the end of the day, that was the way of the world and who was he to change it?
            Finally, the day had come and he had the Berwick workers remove Georgina and clean her up. Afterwards, he gave her a hot meal himself and a plain but comely gown to change into. That night he let her sleep in a bed in the guest chamber of the manor. The next day, he had her chained in a carriage and sent to town.
            Later that afternoon he arrived in the Berwick town square to a throng of villagers ready and eager to see a witch burning. Under extreme pressure from the clergy, he was forced to declare that Georgina was a witch, with no firm evidence to the contrary. Stories were told about Sodonys and people gathered to see the fruit of his longest Inquisition yet, even a few clergy members themselves were there to greet him on the wooden stage.
            “Master Sodonys,” said one of them who rose up to meet him. He wore a simple brown robe with an emblazoned gold cross on the chest area and sported no hair save for his eyebrows. His eyes looked cold and dead compared to Georgina’s green and lively ones. “We are pleased that you have reached a decision after such a long and difficult Inquisition and would offer you God’s prayers and embraces in comfort.”
            “Thank you, Father. I will be glad to have them. This has been a trying month for me.”
            “We are glad to see it over and to aid you through it.” More like make sure I burn her, Mikail thought. Of late there were those that questioned his will due to this latest Inquisition running so long. Let them supervise, they will not be disappointed.
            Finally, Mikail Sodonys took the stage and raised his arms, calling for quiet in a crowd that wanted anything but silence. It took some time but they calmed and let him speak. He raised his voice so he could be heard far back.
            “Good people of Berwick,” he called out. “This has been my longest and most trying Inquisition ever. You know me has a witch-hunter. A crude name but apt, given to the most talented of Inquisition performers. I thank you for it!” The crowd cheered in response. He let them quiet again before continuing in a more formal tone. “I, Mikail Sodonys, in my twenty-third Inquisition, have found this woman, Georgina of Carpool, to be guilty of heresy and witchcraft, having used her unholy black arts to deliver pox and plague upon the good people of Carpool, including her very own family.” The crowd cheered even louder and went silent quickly, eager for the proceedings to continue. “For such a crime most foul, the sentence is to be burned upon a fire. May the flames cleanse her soul as we send her to heaven!”
After that, the crowd was uncontrollable and no more words were necessary. He took a solemn stance and gave a subtle nod to the executioners with their torches. The girl on the pyre was gagged, though it seemed to Mikail that she was trying to scream. With haste, her executioners flung their torches at the base of the small wooden tower, setting it ablaze. Mikail, not being able to watch any further left the stage and ducked away into an alley. No one seemed to notice.
Behind him, the cheers were incessant and black smoke was rising. He knew by now that villagers would be flinging stones at her but she was probably already dead by this point. With a heavy heart, he continued through the alley, turned the corner, and found his isolated carriage. He took out his key and opened the back of it.
Georgina was sitting there just as he had left her, bound and gagged. He removed he gag putting his finger to his lip to beckon silence. She nodded and he set about removing her bonds.
“Who is on the pyre?” she asked him after a short time.
“A witch brought in two days ago,” he replied.
“Is she?” Georgina asked.
“She confessed in Inquisition. She is a witch.” She nodded and he helped her down from the carriage.
He paused a moment and then said, “I thought a lot about what you had told me. I can see now that your only crime was being born a low class village girl. I don’t know the wiles and whims of God but I can see that he meant for me to spare you and perhaps, in so doing, to find my own salvation for those who I may have wrongly convicted of heresy. You must forgive me, Georgina, I was wrong.”
She closed her eyes and bowed her head. He bowed his head too, wanting to share the moment.
Suddenly, in her hands materialized a dagger. She quickly turned it in one hand and stabbed him in the stomach. He felt his world turn to pain and a wash of red as she twisted the blade within him. He could feel his blood pouring out and it was warm and cold at once. What an odd sensation¸ he thought, strangely calm.
“You were not wrong, Mikail,” she said, caressing his face as he fell to his knees. “The only sin you committed was not believing in yourself – not believing in what you are.”
Then she turned and began to walk away from the village and the horrific scene playing out behind them. I was wrong, he thought. But I was the best. How could I have been so wrong? He watched her walk away, slowly faded into the distance and then his world turned black.

December 18, 2012


You want to scream but screaming would just let them know
You want to talk but talking would only make a bigger show
Well, the curtain’s coming up and in water you’re falling down
You can try to dance on top but they’ll clap when you drown

You can try to hold it all inside but it gets out eventually
You can try to push it all out but pressure builds gradually
Well, now you feel like you’re driving in the night while blind
You want to find the shoulder but you want to lose your mind

You might have a good idea but they’ll never cooperate
You might have a disease but no one you know will operate
Well, between you and me it’s better to be sorry than angry
You might not find a way to start but in the end you’ll agree

December 14, 2012

A Christmas Update

I thought I would try a more personal approach for this blog post. I want to give an update on my piano progress so far and maybe a few of my aspirations for the new year.

First up, piano. Let me provide the full background story for those who don't know. At this point I've been playing since roughly the middle of June. I started with a private teacher who was recommended to me by a friend. It was a good introduction and I liked the laid back nature of it all. Eventually, however, she was too flaky for me and unable to keep an appointment so I had to get rid of her. I have not regretted that decision.

Starting off was difficult. I had no experience save for a little bit in high school music class. Basically, I was starting from scratch. I didn't know what any of the keys were, knew nothing about sheet music or reading it, I didn't know how to hit the keys properly, nothing. I progressed slowly but surely. Then I put in more and more time and got better and better. I introduced the left hand into my playing and found that it was ridiculously hard for me at first. So I practiced and practiced and it got easier.

Over time I've built myself up. By September I was playing Desperado by The Eagles. When I first started, I did NOT think I would be able to do something like that so quickly (keep in mind that I had to miss a lot of lessons with my first teacher so I might have even came further than that). Success is contagious. I've gone beyond that and I have a mantra wherein I try to challenge myself every time I pick a new piece. If it's not challenging for me in some way then it's a step in the wrong direction. That's how you get better, I decided, hard work and having the masochism to never play anything that's easy for you.

It's been really difficult to juggle piano with the MBA, what little curling I've done this season, and work with three firms. But I find that you make time for the things and the people who are most important to you. Sometimes things have to take to the back burner for a while but I've managed to juggle as well as any circus performer might have.

Which brings me to my next point: I'm pretty much done with juggling. My busiest term is behind me. Next year I've got three classes and one I'm already in. By all rights, it won't be as time consuming as this past term was. This is great. It means I'll have more time for the other things that matter in my life that I've been neglecting somewhat. I can improve even more and faster in piano, actually practice for curling again, give 100% to anything that school deals me, and maybe even try to reclaim a little bit of a social life.

I'm pretty excited for this holiday season and this next term. We always go through life saying that someday I'll do this or that you just want a little bit more time. Well, now I have time. I have already started doing the things that I always said I wanted to do but never felt I had the chance to until now. On a side note, doing all those things has enriched my life and have resulted in so many changes in myself that I almost feel like a completely different person than I was about a year and a half ago. All the petty things I was worried about then seem trite when compared to, not worries that I have about things now, but more like ambitions that I want to carry out and won't be stopped in doing so. I aim to carry out all my ambitions and prove myself even more than I have already. If they give me an inch, I'll take a foot.

November 29, 2012

On focus and self-confidence

I've examined a lot of different types of people: athletes, successful business people, you name it. They tend to share one thing in common and that is self-confidence that borders on belief.

The following is not going to be an academic paper. I've read my fair share of mental toughness books and have had a large amount of exposure to what needs to mentally done in order to perform well in a given activity. What I'm more interested in is providing a slightly opinionated summary of some of those things based on that research data and some empirical observations.

People who lack confidence tend to lack focus. It's probably because they lack confidence. I'm sure everyone has felt some type of confidence in their life before where you were doing something exceptionally well and knew that you would continue that over the course of the activity. Do you sometimes wish that you could re-capture that focus and apply it all the time? Well, I do too. The fact of the matter is that being self-confident is extremely important but you're never going to feel that way 100% of the time. Everyone is going to have those moments of weakness. Your job in staying self-confident in general is to attempt to time those moments so that they occur at non-critical times.

You shouldn't be thinking about some important thing in your life in the middle of a test or a sporting event; you should be focused on the task at hand and nothing else. So much of what we do is based in the mind. That's one of the reasons why people tend not to excel in activities if they have something big going on in their lives that they might be worried about. You've got to deal with that stuff first before you can expect to perform.

I always found that a nice technique was to imagine how bad failure in a given area would affect you on a scale of 1 to 10 and then compare yourself to starving children in the world or something like that and ask yourself if you've really got it so bad. Chances are, you don't. If you do, you've got my sympathies, believe me. But it's just a nice way of putting things into perspective and lessening that innate ego that we all have. Nope, unfortunately we're not the center of the universe but maybe we can be a little happier in it if we can apply ourselves the way we would like to.

People have a lot going on in their lives and sometimes you've got to make difficult choices as to what you would like to focus on for the short-term. I have some personal experience with this and it sucks. It requires some type of active sacrifice. I firmly believe that if you're focusing on more than a few things at a given time you'll start to perform poorly in all of them. I should know because I've done exactly that and have noted the resources.

It's hard to live in the moment and let that take over your mind. When you're writing a test, nothing else matters. When you're about to take a shot in that basketball game, nothing else matters.

We're scatterbrained by default. It's hard to fight that nature but it does tend to interfere with performance.

People (like me) will tell you to do certain things in certain ways and they might even be right. But, I'd like to point out that some days it rains and there's just nothing you can do about. The key is not to focus on things that are not in your control sphere. But there's an important disclaimer to that: not to blame things outside of your control when it's really your fault. That usually happens when ego comes in and that's one fine line to walk because loads of self-confidence is basically like inviting ego to the party. I believe that if you're aware of ego, you should be able to keep it at bay though you will slip up there from time to time as well.

In the end it's everything in moderation and that does apply to focus as well.

November 27, 2012

A Firefly By Moonlight

A firefly by moonlight does but flicker brightly
Its will a flame of red passion burning nightly
When I woke at twilight, it was in my ire
That I saw posts screaming neon – not fire

For the flame is as much the match that strikes
And a firefly is as embers and night are alike
Through smouldering, the heart it does consume
To replace your sun in a grave yet not exhumed

Shine on, fair firefly and fade into the bleak
Night’s cloak like a torn canvas of red leaks
Do not hurry, for time has never been a race
For even warmth can come from night’s embrace

November 15, 2012

Of Love and Stars

You feel like your heart is split in two
Like they’re trying to keep it from you
There’s a part that shines as bright as stars
And a part that still wishes it was yours

I don’t ever want to make you feel uneasy
Like love wouldn’t be enough to please me
But I’ll shoot for the moon and make you mine
Because our star light glows brighter than sunshine

Connect the dots in the sky and our hearts
We’ll paint a pretty Picasso or some better art
We’ll sew it up and throw it back in your chest
But your heart on your sleeve did suit you best

November 1, 2012

It's okay to go against the flow sometimes

I've had a rough week. I realized very quickly and almost shockingly that I am wholly incapable of simultaneously satisfying the needs and wants of a large group of people. Specifically, it's a large group of people with wildly different sets of wants. In business terms, I have failed to satisfy demand.

Let me preface the following by explaining that I've gotten "butchered" on a few reports and the like this week and I'm feeling extremely bitter. I've gotten a few marks back that I completely disagree with on every single fundamental level I have. And it all boils down to one thing: ego.

Not my ego (though that's pretty big too), but the ego of those whom I'm trying to satisfy. Self-absorbed people who think that their way is best and that no one else knows better. You know the kind of people I'm talking about: "It has to be this way. That's just the way that things work."

Here's a newsflash for you: that's not the way the world works.

The main concept here, above marks, above ego, above everything, is the fact that other people LOVE to give unsolicited advice.

It could be anything. For instance, "I think you should take this course." "I don't like the way you write." "You need to go to the gym."

It could be anything but it's all bullshit in the end. Let me explain why.

Most criticisms people have of you stems from some inner insecurity that they're not consciously aware of. Maybe the person telling you to go to the gym does think you're fat, but maybe they were made fun of as a kid and thus have issues with anyone that they perceive to be obese. They've jumped the line. They don't just want to see improvement, they see problems with those that disagree with their points of view. And that's a scary trend that I'm seeing more and more of as my rose-colored glasses are slowly being lifted.

People have their opinions and if you don't conform with the group, you must be wrong. That's what these thought processes have evolved into. Those who disagree are churned by society. Let me give an example of one person with different opinions and who acted differently. Everyone thought he was messed up. It's Albert Einstein.

Einstein was at odds with traditional school systems of his era. He expressed his thoughts that rote learning, a process based upon repetition in order to rapidly recall the meaning of words and phrases had eroded the learning process. In short, he thought one way and everyone else around him thought another way. Conventional society dictates that Einstein must be wrong. Whatever you think of relativity, you'll probably agree that he turned out to be a pretty smart guy though he had a fundamental gripe with the way that things were being taught.

Which brings me to my next point: just because many people do it or think it's right, I don't think that justifies following the pack. Applying this to what I've written above, just because the norm is to think one way, it doesn't mean that you should blindly agree like cattle.

They want things a certain way. They always will. If you're in school, give them what they want. Yes, they're on so much crack, but let them be because it's what makes them happy. Sooner or later they're gonna offer you crack too: "You have to take this. It's the right thing to do and everyone is doing it." But you know what? You don't have to do anything you don't want to and you sure as fuck shouldn't listen to people you think are wrong. Don't always go against the majority, just stick to your guns on things you're passionate about. Tell people giving unsolicited advice of any kind to fuck the hell off and don't take crack even though everyone around you is on it. Vote for freedom of mind.