Open Thread: Leaves Turn


According to my yard, as evidenced in the above picture, it's Fall.

(Those who pay attention to planets and orbits noticed the onset of Autumn on this side of the equator almost a month ago.)

-

We have special open threads set aside for discussing various movies and shows, said discussions including plain text spoilers.  This is the current only one:
   ● Game of Thrones

-

Friday Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us here, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Film Corner: Aliens

Aliens

Next up is ALIENS, which is probably my favorite; I used to watch it during panic attacks in order to calm down. Of course we instantly open with MORE slow pans over dust-ridden consoles, because Ripley wasn't picked up where and when she'd hoped and instead took the long way through the solar system. She's alive and that means the salvagers don't get to claim the ship as salvage and I just remember being *so relieved* that they didn't just kill her for a payday.

A visitor: Jones and a man in a suit. "I work for the Company but I'm actually an okay guy." Ripley eyes him warily. No one has told her that she was out there for 57 years, so Burke ends up having to break the news. I did genuinely feel bad for him for that much. They should've had a doctor tell her! Prior to the Company inquest, Burke informs Ripley that her daughter died at age 66. All they have of her is a grainy photo. Ripley sobs. My heart.

No one at the inquest believes Ripley which is honestly not as sinister as I think audiences tend to take it; she's either witnessed something right out of a horror movie OR she's mentally ill and possibly murdered her entire crew. They don't prosecute her or try to hold her responsible for the cargo; she's basically dumped into a second class citizen status where she can get low-class work but nothing prestigious. Lots of class politics here again.

She demands to know why they don't investigate the planet, but it's already populated by terraformers and they're fine. How many? "Maybe 60 or 70 families." Ripley pales. On DEATH PLANET, a beleaguered man is asked whether a salvage team's claim will be honored if they find something at a grid reference he sent them out to. He says he doesn't even know *why* they were sent out there, but sure whatever fine.

The sheer fucking TERROR when the mom rips open the vehicle door, the winds howl in, she grabs the radio in a panic, and Newt sees the facehugger on her father and begins SCREAMING.

Burke arrives at Ripley's apartment with Colonial Marine Gorman in tow. It's later suggested that Gorman is neurodivergent in some way and not considered up to snuff by the brass; I do wonder if Burke hand-selected him in the hopes that his own...actions would not be discovered. Burke tries to pressure Ripley into coming along as a consultant; she tells him to fuck off, but the nightmares don't stop. She promises to go IF the plan is to "destroy them. Not to study, not to bring back. But to wipe them out."

Ripley wakes up in her underwear with a number of marines. A lesser movie would've had her ogled by one or more of the men in an attempt to establish them as jackasses; this one does not. They're still jackasses, of course; they talk smack to the girl marines and about girl colonists and are just generally childish and unprepared for what is coming. Ripley watches all this with big eyes and tries to hope that everything will be okay.

Ripley is alarmed when one of the crew members turns out to be an android. He tells her it is impossible for him to harm her, but she orders him to stay away from her. Ripley tries to brief the marines but no one is interested in listening to her (except the one quiet, cute boy). Everyone else is laughing, talking, and playing. They're given punishing prep assignments and everyone groans.

I like this a lot from a filmmaking standpoint because the audience feels Ripley's unease. Are these people confident because they got this thing in the bag, or are they confident because they have no idea how bad shit is about to get? She doesn't know and neither do we. A horror movie that lets you share in the protagonist's dread as they worry about the future is a neat trick to pull off and not easy.

In extremely good foreshadowing, Ripley asks if she can help out and volunteers to drive the loader machine. "I have a Class 2 rating." The cute boy grins. It's nice seeing Ripley acknowledged as sexy and powerful for her machine competence. We cut to gun porn as Vasquez is sexy and powerful in similar yet very different ways.

It's addressed more in the book, but I do like how Vasquez and Drake have a very clear buddy vibe with each other and aren't lovers; it would have been easy to go that route, but instead they're really good friends and I like that.

Gorman, the lieutenant, looks pale as they drop to the planet. Ripley asks how many times he's done this before and this is only his second. The plane drops off the marines and dusts back off to park at a safe distance. (If they had only stayed airborne forever the movie would've gone very differently, lolsob.)

There's a lot of silent hallways and nothing movie and it's incredibly tense and when they do find something moving it's a hamster. Gorman calls the area secure ("It's not secure!" Ripley protests) and says they're coming in. Outside in the rain, Ripley hesitates. "You okay?" asks cute boy Hicks. She's not but she goes in anyway. So much of Aliens (and Alien, to a certain extent, but lesser) is about foreseeing that something VERY BAD is going to happen and Ripley knows this but she's powerless to prevent it because of the men in charge who refuse to listen to her.

A smol child appears. Ripley holds her into submission: "It's going to be okay!" I like the recurring themes of Ripley as a mother and protector, and of Ripley projecting herself onto weaker creatures because she shares their fear. Newt joins the horror genre tradition of little girls saying terrifying things. "These people are soldiers." / "It won't make any difference."

The marines locate the colonists' GPS trackers (essentially) and they're all in a single location that now looks... really weird. It's noteworthy that the Alien scene where Ripley found and euthanized Captain Dallas was added later (for the Director's Cut) and that rather changes *this* scene, because whether it did/didn't happen affects whether all this looks and feels familiar to Ripley. That said, I find it plausible that Ripley says she "doesn't know" what this place is / why it looks the way it does, because these changes are significantly more extensive than what the first alien did to the Nostromo.

Ripley points out that the weapons the team is using risk rupturing the cooling system and then a nuclear explosion happens, no biggie. Instead of pulling the team back to reconsider, Gorman just tells them not to fire on anything. This is probably the second big mistake (with the first being "going in the facility when it wasn't properly cleared to begin with") because they should've pulled back and sent in maybe one scout (or, better, a camera on a little roomba). Gorman doesn't listen to Ripley until Burke says she's right, which has a whole dissertation of gender experiences in it.

As things start getting scary, Ripley tells Newt to go sit up front away from the cameras. The marines find a live colonist, cocooned to the wall, and she begs them to kill her before dying from a chestburster. There's a terrifying moment of quiet and then... beeping. "Multiple signals -- readings in front and behind!"

Aliens start grabbing marines and Gorman panics when this doesn't behave like a simulation. The communications cut and Ripley screams "Do something!" before running up to take the wheel of the armored car they're in. She actually straps Newt in first, which I love. They're about to die, but SEAT BELTS. Ripley protects, first and foremost.

It's a small detail, but I love that Hicks either notices or guesses that it's Ripley driving the car. He tells her when everyone is inside and to haul ass, then helps calm her when they're clear and the axle is shot. Everyone assesses the damage and there's a noticeable shift in the marines' willingness to listen to (now-calm) Ripley.

They argue nerve gas and whether it'll affect the aliens and Ripley does her (excellent! wonderful!) "I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit" quote. Burke freaks out and starts talking about the dollar value of the colony. (The marines are all instantly hard and/or wet because I mean, honestly, it's SUCH a great line.) Ripley tells Burke that Hicks is in charge now, since it's a military operation. Hicks tells the plane to come pick them up so they can "take off, nuke the site from orbit". The echo of Ripley's words is so good because he's clearly giving her credit rather than stealing.

Unfortunately, there are aliens *in* the plane because they weren't smart enough to not land nearby the infested colony. "We better get back coz it'll be dark soon and they mostly come at night. Mostly."

Ripley has the marines pull down maps of the complex so they can seal themselves off and can only be reached from a few number of corridors. (This will blow up in their face later when they forget about the ceiling ducts, which feels unfair. Like, Ripley specifically asks for floorplans including subbasements and whatnot; you'd think "overhead access panels" would be included in that!)

While the marines secure their area, Ripley insists that Newt take a nap because it's been a hell of a day. Newt continues her adorable creepy act: "My mommy always said there were no monsters, no real ones, but there are."

Ripley visits Bishop in the lab and they talk about the alien biology. She orders him to destroy the specimens when he's done, but he says Burke wants to take them back. Ripley (foolishly) confronts Burke in private and tells him SHE knows he sent the colonists to the ship. She promises to nail him to the wall, then (foolishly) goes off to sleep with Newt without telling anyone what she knows. I forgive this act of foolishness because it just wouldn't occur to Ripley to *murder* someone to cover up a secret like this.

I do feel like they forget the "acid for blood" thing when the robot guns are slaughtering the aliens by the dozens in Hallway B or whatever it is. Getting in that way (acid opening a new pathway) seems more realistic than "whoops we forgot the air conditioning ducts". Oh, and in other news: the colony is about to go thermonuclear and someone needs to go patch into the extra ship and pilot it down manually. Bishop volunteers to crawl through a claustrophobic duct and pilot the ship down on remote. (AGH, I get claustrophobic just watching him crawl nope nope nope nope nope.)

Vasquez really does not get enough credit for being strong under the strain. She's the only marine, besides Hicks, who doesn't crack.

Ripley wakes up, startled by a noise, only to realize there's a live facehugger in their room. No one is watching the camera (Burke turned it off) and the glass is noise-proof. This marvelous bitch first tries to break the glass, then sets the fire alarm off with her lighter--and that's something you can't do now that they've practically banned smoking in movies.

NO SORRY THERE ARE TWO FACEHUGGERS IN THERE. And one of them has its tail around Ripley's throat. It takes THREE marines to peel the damn thing off Ripley, and Hicks and Vasquez do a really cool game of skeet shoot where he's like "OVER THERE" and she's all "YEAH" and he throws and she shoots. God fucking bless Ripley for gasping "IT WAS BURKE" for her first words because fuck that little bastard. (Fun fact: the actor's mom *cheered* in theaters when he died. He did a great job in that role.)

ANYWAY, aliens come in through the ceiling which (as previously noted) feels somewhat unfair. Burke dies dishonorably. Vasquez and Gorman die with honor. Newt falls down a duct. Ripley gets Hicks (wounded) back to the ship, then suits up with ALL THE GUNS so she can go get Newt. After LOTS OF FIRE, Ripley comes back up with Newt and there's that heart-pounding moment where the ship is gone and it looks like the android betrayed her. The queen is coming up, all is lost, and then there it is!

Ahh, it's so good and such a good subversion of expectations after the first one and the whole "crew expendable" order. ...which is why it is such an incredible kick in the chest when Bishop is suddenly dismembered by the Alien Queen, like, holy shit.

Ripley does the power loader thing which is so very very good and then everyone gets tucked into bed and they all live happily ever after until Alien 3 and the failure to re-sign the original cast. We'll start Alien 3 tonight but I might need to bed soon. I actually liked Alien 3 at the time and was surprised to find out afterwards that the fanbase generally did not.

Open Thread: Web of Light


I mean, technically it's a web of silk that just has light bouncing off of it, but I think the wording I used is preferable.

-

We have special open threads set aside for discussing various movies and shows, said discussions including plain text spoilers.  This is the current only one:
   ● Game of Thrones

-

Friday Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us here, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Film Corner: Alien

Alien

I think I'm gonna do an Alien marathon, not unlike my LOTR one. I gotta do something while I'm stuck in bed, or I get cranky.

So the first thing you need to know about me is that I didn't see any of the Alien movies until adulthood, because my childhood Christian cult thought movies were gateway drugs to Satanism. So all the cool old-school tech seemed like a really neat retro look when I finally saw these movies. Just saying. The slow-pan "nothing happens for ten minutes while you look at pretty space pictures, AND YOU'LL SAY NOTHING AND LIKE IT" film techniques didn't maybe age quite as well as the retro tech.

Ooh, 1979 theatrical or 2003 director cut? I think we'll do 2003. Ridley Scott tells us he didn't change much for this version and I am only just noticing how similar his name is to Ripley.

We get a lot of slow pans around the ship, which is lovely and retro, then we see everyone sleeping in their underwear. Kane wakes up slowly while I think about how vulnerable the entire configuration makes me feel. I'm extremely comfortable with nudity as long as I'm awake; if I'm asleep, I want a bathrobe or something. I don't know why. I just do.

Everyone eats food after waking up and two of the workers (a Black man and a white man who seems neurodivergent) point out they get paid less than everyone. The captain receives a "for your eyes only" message from the ship, Mother. Meanwhile, everyone files onto the bridge. "Where's earth?" one woman asks. "It's not our system," Ripley notes.

Captain gathers everyone back in the mess hall and tells them they're only halfway home. They were woken to investigate a nearby beacon of unknown origin. If they refuse, they don't get paid. Capitalism. The beacon is coming from a planet that has decent gravity and whatnot. They decide to land, but the landing is rough and they take some damage.

Ripley goes down to the repair area to talk to the workers. They banter at her in a way she doesn't love and she tells them to "fuck off". Captain, Kane, and Lambert go exploring for the beacon. Kane tells Lambert to quit griping. "I like griping," she says, earning my eternal love and devotion.

The alien craft is *gorgeous* on the director's cut.

We see the dead alien with the collapsed hole in its chest. It's so much bigger than the humans beside it, which is alarming in its own way. Humanoid-ish, but giant. And dead.

Back at the ship, Ripley is troubled; the beacon has been partially deciphered and looks like a warning instead of an SOS. She wants to go after the away team but Ash says it's pointless; she won't reach them in time to change whatever happens.

"There's a layer of mist just covering the eggs which reacts when broken." OK, Kane does not get enough credit for being too genre-unsavvy to live. Dude. Like, yes, scientific curiosity but on the other hand you could just NOT touch the reactive mist-covered eggs.

Captain returns to the ship and tells Ripley to open the doors. "We're clean, let us in." Ripley points out that she can't let in Kane if he has an ALIEN LIFEFORM attached to his face--the entire ship could be infected. This movie should be called "people refuse to listen to Ripley."

Ash, the medical officer, overrides Ripley's command and lets everyone in against company regulation and policy. Kane is rushed to the medical bay. Lambert slaps Ripley and the Captain yells at her. The other crew members point out that she has a point and the order was illegal. Captain orders the alien cut off Kane, but it instantly bleeds acid that threatens to cut through the ship hull. It's interesting that it's the underpaid, marginalized workers who are on Ripley's side about the monster. They don't have any illusions about being loved by or taken care of by the Company.

Ripley confronts Ash about the fact that she was the ranking officer on-board the ship and he disregarded her orders. Ash is dismissively "my bad". The alien disappears from Kane's face and apparently dies. Ripley doesn't want to keep the corpse but Ash says it has to go back. The captain says to take off and did the remaining repairs.

Kane starts choking during a meal. It's interesting that Ash, medical officier, is the only one neither surprised nor reacting. Everyone else is trying to help him; Ash just sits and watches. Ash doesn't get involved until Parker grabs a knife; then Ash is there yelling "don't touch it!" Every time Ash talks, he just *drips* with contempt for Ripley.

I find it noteworthy that it's the marginalized crew members (the under-paid + Ripley) who are risking their lives hunting the monster. The neurodivergent crew mate is taken. Lambert alone considers that he might still be alive. Now everyone is trying to herd the creature to an airlock.

The captain is taken. Lambert has an emotional breakdown (understandable). Ash is uncooperative. Ripley says she'll get what she needs from Mother, information-wise, since she's the captain now. Ripley digs into the computer and finds an order for the science officer's eyes only. The order says that the crew is expendable in service to getting the alien back for the company. This is the start of the series' thematic arc concerning Company vs. innocent lives.

Weyland-Yutani is so steeped in capitalism at this point in the future that they have put a dollar value on their crew, compared it to the dollar value of the alien, and the alien wins. "There is an explanation you know," Ash says, appearing at her elbow. Ripley pushes him away, struggles with a bout of tears, and storms out to warn the others. Ash traps her.

Ash tries to kill Ripley and she's saved by Lambert and Parker. The optics of being saved from a sexual violence-esque scene by a woman and a Black man are noteworthy. The white men have been a neurodivergent victim, an ineffective buffoon of a captain whose desire to be obeyed above all else endangered his crew, and a violent villain. Something to remember when dudes are like "I like Alien so I'm not a misogynist". I firmly believe that the guys brigading, like, Ghostbusters and Fury Road would HATE Alien if it weren't for the nostalgia factor and the fact that they probably haven't seen it in 20 years (if at all).

@McNutcase. Don't forget the guy who was too curious for anyone's good, because he thought nothing would actually harm him!

Whoops, yes, and Kane. Too genre-unsavvy to survive.

Ripley and the others prep the ship to explode but she remembers that Jones, the cat, is still onboard. She goes searching for it. I am sympathetic to the contrast between Ripley and the corporation--SHE cares about innocent life, even as THEY do not--but also, RIPLEY.

Lambert gets herself and Parker killed and honestly the less said about that, the better. There were some icky...things said and implied about that scene which I don't feel a desire to dwell on, but it's one reason this film isn't my favorite of the series. (I have a lot of discomfort re: Lambert and the way she's portrayed, which is one reason why I can't get as excited as I'd like to when folks speculate on whether the character is trans. But ymmv!)

Ripley locates the alien's nest and finds her crew mates cocooned there. Captain begs her to kill him and she understands and complies. Another running theme of the series: death can be a release from worser things. There's FIRE and SWEAT and PANTING but Ripley and the cat get to the escape pod with seconds to spare.

Ripley strips down to her underwear but oh no there is an alien on the escape pod with her. She suits up and blasts it out of the airlock while singing lullabies to it, in a manner that will be revisited in many ways in Alien: Resurrection. (Yes, I have seen all your clever jokes about the Alien series being only 1-2 movies long. You may not wish to follow this thread!)

That was Alien. A lot of suspense which holds up well only if you specifically like that sort of thing, I think; I remember the first time I watched it being a little frustrated at the pretty scenes that just expected you to be patient while panning over scenery happened.

Open Thread: Wrinkles


The computer I'm using right now doesn't have much in the way of image editing ability, which is annoying because this image would be sharp as sharp can be (well . . . significantly sharper) if I'd been able to use a different down-scaling algorithm.

(Also I would have liked a to have somewhat finer control over the balance of color, light, and shadow.  It's direct sunlight on a crumply indoor surface, the camera could have used some help when it comes to making it look like it actually looked.)

Regardless: Wrinkles.  The sort of wrinkles that might be produced if your toddler niece were sleeping on an adult sized bed.  Actually, I think the wrinkles were there before I put her on the bed, but still . . . (I don't actually know the answer to, "But still what?")

*double checks the day of the week*

This is not late.  (I'd prefer to have posted it 12 hours ago, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not actually late.)  That's *checks* three weeks in a row.  Woo!

-

We have special open threads set aside for discussing various movies and shows, said discussions including plain text spoilers.  These are the current ones:
   ● Game of Thrones
   ● Avengers: Endgame
   ● Captain Marvel

-

Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

October Newsletter (2019)

I wanted this newsletter to go up on the first of the month, but my back has gone completely out on three different days this week: one day it was so bad they sent me home from work because I just... couldn't stand up straight. At all. So that's been a thing I've been dealing with and I'm sorry for the tardiness.

I've also been grappling with some personal revelations that I'm not quite sure what to do with; I feel like I need to get them out and down so they stop being scary and start being made real. So here we go.

When I began the Earthside series, I envisioned a multi-book series much like the Xanth series that meant so much to me as a child. Book after book with no end in sight, with a sprawling magical world and new protagonists cropping up from the supporting casts of previous books. I plotted. I planned. I have planning notes for books with Mina as the protagonist, with Elric, with Lavender, with Joel, with Jing, with Reese. I love them all, these characters, and love the world I made for them.

I was also planning to get these out the door quickly, ideally one book a year alongside other smaller projects. I didn't think anything of ending Survival Rout on a bit of a cliffhanger because the next book was going to come out a year later, pick up directly on its heels, and be about apprehending the dangling villain before he can hurt Aniyah again. I had a chapter-by-chapter outline, I knew exactly what happened each step of the way, how long could it take to write a book? I'd written several at that point, after all!

Then I started No Man of Woman Born as a side-project. My husband at the time asked what was taking all my creative energies and causing me to type frantically away at the keyboard day and night and, excited, I told him. His response to my working on a "trans book, by a trans author, for trans readers" was not... super positive. On the days I set for working on Earthside, I found it difficult to write romance when my own relationship was not doing... super well. I stared at the pages and realized it just wasn't coming, and so I set Earthside to the side for a time.

After my divorce, the association of the draft with my husband only increased and I've spent the better part of a year trying to cajole, bribe, force, and hector myself into writing a book that I just can't seem to write at the moment. I know the words. I know what needs to go on the page. But my fingers just can't seem to do the thing. It's the most vexing thing I've ever experienced.

And when I try to work on other projects--Narnia posts, patreon fic, trans stories, anything--a little voice in my head screams "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE WRITING THE OTHER THING" and that means nothing gets on the paper at all.

I've been blaming a lot of this on... well, everything. 2019 political stress. Work stress. Divorce stress. New medication stress. Back pain. But. BUT. Writing drabbles for my DM this last month at her command made me realize... I like writing. I miss writing. I just don't miss feeling like a failure every time I sit down at the keyboard because I'm "supposed" to be writing something else. That part isn't helping me.

So with that in mind, I am going to make an announcement: I am putting my Earthside project on hiatus until future notice. I really hate doing this and I particularly hate doing so when I left Book 2 on a cliffhanger book; if I could go back in time and change that, I would. I can tell you that [the rest of this paragraph has spoilers for Survival Rout] even though Aniyah does not remember Timothy, he does not re-kidnap her. Mina (who you may remember from Poison Kiss) discovers that he's been working for the True Fae and she goes on a city-wide hunt to capture him before he can hurt anyone else.

I hope that someday I can pick up Earthside again. Hell, even while writing all this out I feel a spark of "ooooh, I miss that". Maybe I just need to find the right writing group or "critique cheerleader" to send my drafts so they can bang the table and go "more!" (I work best when I'm writing "for" someone, as seen with my DM drabbles.) If anyone wants to volunteer for that in the comments, god bless you. But any work I do on Earthside will be "extra" in addition to the projects I've been neglecting. I want to make those my "official" focus, at least for a little while.

With that in mind, what are my goals for the year?

I want to write another Narnia post. I miss those.

I want to write a sequel to No Man of Woman Born. I...I don't need more projects, I know. But every reader who wrote me saying they needed these fairy tale stories, it... it touched me every time. I'm not sure what this sequel will be about, as I think I'm done with the prophecy angle for awhile; I'm kinda thinking I might do a collection of (some of) the "Disney Princess" fairy tales, but with transness. I want that.

I want to share more of my D&D stuff with you. I really don't know if there's any interest in this or if you're all just humoring me, but I put together some handouts for my Curse of Strahd players and I'll be damned if I won't show them to someone. So here we are.

Moving on:

October Stuff: 

- I did a live-watch of the Alien series and I hope you enjoy those as they go up. I really love the franchise, despite its occasional misstep.

- D&D handouts for Curse of Strahd!

- I plan to continue my Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney live-play on YouTube.

Reminder! It's a new month, which means new paper books for the $25 patrons and new bookmarks for the $5 patrons! If I don't have your address, send me a message on the internal system or email me at AnaMardoll at gmail dot com. I love sending ya'll things!

An index to the deconstructions on my blog is here.

My YouTube channel is here. The Phoenix Wright videos are here.

Do you like "Tumblr Threads" which collect funny tumblr posts? I have one here!

My Twitter account @DivorceKittens with stories and pictures is here.

I know this newsletter was a long one and not necessarily everything you'd want to hear. Thank you so much for being here with me. I love you all.

Writings: Alberta


They were in Lucy's room, sitting on the edge of her bed and looking at a picture on the opposite wall. It was the only picture in the house that they liked. Aunt Alberta didn't like it at all (that was why it was put away in a little back room upstairs), but she couldn't get rid of it because it had been a wedding present from someone she did not want to offend. --Voyage of the Dawn Treader

---

Alberta is at a party with her sister Helen, and their boyfriends Harold Scrubb and John Pevensie. Their host is a Professor who teacher John at college; Alberta has never attended any classes with him as the lecturer, but she's not fond of his way of talking down to her and calling the girls "my dear". During the party, Alberta nips off to tuck her coat into a wardrobe upstairs--it seems a bit of a walk just to set her jacket aside, but the Professor had asked her to take her coat there. Something in the way he asked made her suspicious, as though there were a prank she wasn't aware of going on in the background, but she went anyway.

She's forced to reach to the very back of the wardrobe to find an empty hanger, and then suddenly she is tripping and sprawling forward onto snow. Alberta looks around her in alarm but there is no way to get back out of wherever she is; no door in the air behind her. She is going mad, or has hit her head, or... something she previously thought was impossible has become impossibly present. Magic? She'd never believed in the stuff before, not even as a child, but the memory of Kirke's smirking smile nags at her. *He* knew this would happen. She doesn't know how he could have known such a thing, but he did. She's certain.

She moves slowly forward into the strange and inhospitable winter world before her. The land is silent and she's just beginning to think she's alone in this place--and starting to worry about how she will survive the severe cold for any length of time--when a sleigh pulls up and a strange woman bids her with ill-disguised anger to sit beside her. Not wishing to offend this imposing and dangerous personage, Alberta obediently sits on the sleigh bench with her as instructed. She's a little worried about how she will get back to the spot where she came in, but that's a problem for the future; she can't go much longer without warmth.

The Queen (for that is what she tells Alberta she is) turns gregarious during their ride, plying Alberta with dozens of questions that she fires off at a rapid clip, hiding her impatience under a veneer of sweet syrup that makes Alberta's teeth ache to hear--she is reminded of strained family gatherings at Christmastime, and distant aunts who demand hugs and smell like verbena and old lilac. Alberta answers the questions with wary tact, telling as little as she can about her sister and their two boyfriends. Several times she assures the queen that, yes, there are four of them. Her father isn't named Adam and her mother isn't named Eve, but she goes along with this without contradiction, sensing that the woman would be dangerous to cross.

When the Queen serves hot chocolate for them to drink, Alberta waits until she looks away before dumping the contents of her cup into the snow. She won't eat anything in this strange world until the alternative is dire. Who knows but that food here might be poison to her!

Once the food is gone, the Queen becomes more at ease, lazily issuing orders to Alberta with the easy command of one who is accustomed to being obeyed. She instructs the girl to "return right away" with the other three "Sons of Adam and Daughter of Eve", but to not tell them anything about the woman or her world. Alberta nodded her head a great deal and made noises of agreement, not because she wanted to ever see this blighted winter waste again but because she hoped this meant the woman had the power to return her home. When the sleigh stops by the edge of the forest again, Alberta scrambles off into the trees, hoping against hope that she can find her way back through that cursed wardrobe.

By some miracle, a door in the air awaits her in the depths of the woods, sitting smack in the middle of her path as though waiting for her return. She is just stepping through the shimmering apparition when a large fox hisses at her from a nearby bush. "Don't trust the Queen! She's starving us with eternal winter!" Alberta turns her head to him, mouth already opening to ask what he means, but her foot carries her forward and in the next moment she is tumbling out of the wardrobe and onto the floor of Kirke's ostentatiously large house.

Alberta sits awhile on the floor of the cold room which now seems so very warm in comparison to the world she fled. When Helen comes upstairs to ask what has taken her sister away from the party for so long, Alberta lies and says she needed a moment away from the men downstairs. Dreamy as Helen has always been, there are limits to her credulity; Alberta harbors no doubt that a magical world of snow would test her limits. As for the others, Harold was born without an imagination and John possesses a cruel penchant for teasing. And that damned Professor had already made several insulting jokes over dinner about "hysterical" feminists and the "madness" of being for equal treatment between the sexes. Alberta could half-believe he played this trick on her knowing no one would believe her and would think she'd lost her mind.

Well, she wasn't going to play his game. She wouldn't say a word.

Yet... the experience ate at her. Somewhere there were people who were starving because of tyranny. She couldn't help them, but she recognize their plight was not unusual in her own world. Alberta had already been drawn to feminism but now she felt called to further activism. Food scarcity was something she could try to fix--and she'd damn well fix it in her own world before gallivanting off in search of other worlds.

It was a few years later when Professor Kirke gave her that damned painting. She'd had to invite him to the wedding; Harold loved the man because John loved him. Whatever Harold's other virtues were, he'd sadly never shrugged off the vice of believing whatever John believed--at least whenever John was around to tell him. Alberta could see why her sister loved the charismatic Pevensie boy, but she couldn't help but wish he didn't have quite so much sway over her own husband. When the Professor gave them the framed picture, Harold declared then and there that he loved it and wouldn't part with it for the world. Alberta hadn't liked the way Kirke looked at her for her reaction--there was something predatory in the smirking gleam of his smile, and possibly a seed of doubt? or a question he could not voice?--but she gave him the vacuous grin that she'd perfected for her tyrant of a father, and a stalemate had ensued.

Later, she'd stashed the painting in their guest bedroom and occasionally allowed herself to look at the thing. It wasn't anything like the magical world she'd visited; that had been a place of snow and ice and black dormant trees whereas this was a blue-green sea with a little purple ship sailing towards the viewer. But something in the glint of the wooden frame reminded her of that cursed wardrobe, and if she stayed in the room for too long she got a chilly shiver that made her pause. Harold wouldn't hear of throwing the thing out, but after Eustace was born she kept the guest room locked up tight.

They'd only had one child, of course. Food conservation and responsible population numbers started at home. She'd taught Eustace from day one the importance of thinking carefully about one's ecological footprint on the earth, about food storage, and about the children in other countries who had less to eat than he did. In order to bring the lessons home to him, she used object lessons--he'd been particularly interested in cataloging which insects were edible and which were not. He liked to catch them in his free time, pin them on cards, and look them up in books. He'd mark each card carefully and keep them as reminders of how much easier it was for him to eat than for some of the other children on earth.

When Harold recommended that Eustace spend a summer with the Pevensies, Alberta hadn't objected. She and Harold could have a second honeymoon, and it was nice to relax now that the war was over. But Eustace came back with funny dinner stories of his cousins and the strange magical country they believed they'd been to while they stayed with Professor Kirke during the Blitz. Alberta felt a lump in the pit of her stomach. She'd asked Eustace, casually, for more details but all he could tell her was that they all seemed keen to go back. Later he recalled that the oldest girl, Susan, had been a little subdued about the adventure. Eustace had taken that to mean that she was the cleverest of the group, to be so disinterested in fantasy.

Alberta was conflicted. She called up her sister and invited the children to come stay with them next holiday. After all, Helen and John had taken such good care of Eustace during his visit. No, she didn't mind that there were four of them. But then Helen had changed the plan by announcing that Peter would be staying with Professor Kirke for the summer while Susan went to America with them. It would be easier on Alberta, she said, only having the two youngest to care for. Alberta had bit her lip, and known there was nothing she could say that wouldn't sound unbelievable. She just had to hope that the older two would be all right.

When Lucy and Edmund arrived, Alberta studied them closely. They seemed healthy and happy, a little obnoxious about the vegetarian dishes placed on the table, but nothing unusual for children who had been raised in a different atmosphere. Eustace didn't seem to like them at all, and Alberta was privately relieved he kept his distance. Too late, she remembered the painting in the closed-up guest room--she'd spent ten years deliberately not thinking about it, trying to avoid the feelings of guilt and despair the memory evoked, only to remember it after her niece was already installed in the room. She could have kicked herself for her carelessness.

When she tried to take it down--"you don't want this garish old thing in your room, do you?"--the girl had strenuously objected, coming close to tears. Alberta's misgivings were as wide as the English channel, but she didn't want to traumatize the girl further without good reason. And of course she didn't know for sure the painting was malignant, just that it had been a gift from a man who may or may not have sent her into a strange magical world without warning or consent. She wished she could *know*.

Maybe it was all a coincidence that the little girl claimed to have found a magical world in Kirke's house. That was what little children did, didn't they? Well, not her Eustace; but other children made up stories, right? Maybe it was a coincidence that the child said she wanted to return to that strange place. Maybe those feelings had nothing to do with the painting she liked, and she merely liked it because of the color. Or... or something. Alberta tried to rationalize the situation to herself, to believe she was over-reacting.

The only sensible thing to do was to leave the painting where Lucy liked it and monitor the situation closely. Eustace wouldn't get caught up in anything; he didn't like Lucy or the picture, for which Alberta was grateful. If the little girl disappeared--the idea seemed mad, but IF--then Alberta would track down the Professor and wring a straight answer out of him before Lucy had a chance to miss dinner. Alberta wasn't going to stand for any more nonsense from him. Not a peep.

---

In Narnia, Jadis watched the direction the young woman walked and grimly decided she would need to install a permanent spy in the region. There had been a community of fauns in the forest once, and she thought she had one in her collection. He would know how to survive in the cold woods, and fauns were notoriously too meek to consider things like rebellion. Yes, a faun would do nicely.