collected stories bit

My name is Marta Randall. I am a writer, editor, and teacher, working mostly in the field of science fiction and fantasy.

Like most writers, I have always been a storyteller and can’t remember a time when stories didn’t bubble around in my head, stories about everything from what was going on around me to daring exploits in exciting surroundings, fraught with danger and adventure — I wasn’t going to be the one stuck at home baking cookies, I was going to be the one balancing on the raft in the lashing seas, gripping the mast with one hand while the other held on to the cookies somebody else had baked.

I hope you like the stories that, over the years, have bubbled out of my head and onto the page.

Conversational Farming

The backside of the conversational farmhouse

Back in the early 1970s my father and brother decided to get back to the land, and Dad bought a 10‑acre spread in a small valley near Watsonville, California. The acres were mostly up‑and‑down. The farm was mired in the process of not becoming: in the last century it had not become a truck farm, not become an orchard, and most recently had not become a hog farm. The farm‑house started life in the mid- or late-1800s as a one‑room shack. At some later time later a room had been tacked to one side and another along the back, so the building resembled a frustrated letter L. Eventually a bathroom was added to one end and a kitchen to the other, but these weren’t improvements as much as they were accretions. Dirt crept up from the loose floorboards and god‑knows‑what sifted in from the roof; frogs inhabited the bathtub drain and lizards lived under the toilet seat. When I went down to visit, usually about twice a month, it amazed me that the place was still standing.

My dad, Dick, worked ten‑hour days teaching at the local continuation school and a night school ESL program to bring home the mortgage money, while my brother Rick and his friends spent their days sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee and engaging in what I came to call “conversational farming.” They planned to put in a windmill, either in the valley where there was water but no wind, or at the top of a hill where there was plenty of wind and not a drop of water. I remember a short‑lived plan to hook a generator up to the septic tank in the hopes of producing electricity from methane, because somebody remembered seeing plans for such a device in a Whole Earth Catalog which they would get their hands on any day now. They decided to buy a plow horse and were very excited until they realized that they couldn’t afford to buy feed and they couldn’t graze the horse because the only grazing land was already scheduled to be a vegetable farm, which was going to go in any day now as soon as they figured out how to plow it which they couldn’t do because they couldn’t afford to rent a tractor and they couldn’t afford to feed a horse, but boy, when that vegetable garden went in they were going to sell organic vegetables down in Santa Cruz and make a bundle. I think the only thing these all‑talk‑and‑no‑walk back‑to‑the‑soil hippies succeeded in planting was a small dope garden up the hill amid the scrub oaks and dying apricot trees, until the deer discovered it and ate it down to the ground. Since deer apparently don’t get high, that was wasted too.

The conversational farmers did help Dad put in a small kitchen garden and construct a chicken house, and somebody bought three ducklings, the big white domestic kind. Two were slated to be pets and so were named Admiral Sir Elmore Duck and Gladys, his wife. The third was named Dinner, just so that nobody would mistake his eventual fate.

The chickens were a miscellaneous lot. I remember a couple of White Leghorns, and an Araucana which laid blue‑green eggs, and some scruffy brownish‑reddish hens, and a single rooster. The chickens were allowed to run around loose until the local foxes ate too many of them. Dad built a fenced chicken yard which worked well until a coyote came in over the top, so Dad put in a chicken‑wire roof and brought in more chickens.

I went down to visit one weekend when my son, the third Richard in the family, was about eight. Sunday morning, the conversational farmers suggested that I gather eggs for breakfast. I agreed. As I was on my way out, my father pointed out a stick leaning up against the chicken yard fence, and said it might be a good idea if I took it into the chicken yard with me. I’m a city girl, born and bred, and raised on books like Little House on the Prairie in which innocent and helpless young girls happily gather eggs from the farm’s chickens. I suspected nothing, even when the stick turned out to be more of a cudgel. I picked it up in my left hand and let myself into the yard. I locked the wire fence gate behind me and turned, already stepping toward the nesting boxes in the chicken house.


Chickens, it seems, fly, especially when city girls come onto their property looking to steal their eggs. I turned to find the flock flying up and down, yelling and shrieking and darting at my face. I edged toward the hen house, protecting my face with my right arm. They kept a clear circle around me which I maintained with threatening waggles of the cudgel as I reached into a nest with my right hand and groped around. It was nasty in there. I thought I felt an egg, so I took my eyes from the mob for a moment – sure enough, a speckled brown egg. I picked it up and turned to find an infuriated chicken screeching and flying straight at my face.

I panicked. Without thinking, I threw the cudgel into my right hand, forgetting that this hand already held a nice, warm, brown speckled egg. It broke, dripping raw scrambled egg around the stick, over my fingers, and onto the floor of the house. The chickens stopped attacking me and started fighting over who got to eat the broken egg. It was appalling. Even more appalling was the sound I now heard from outside the pen. I looked up to see three generations of Richards rolling on the ground laughing at me, but by the time I got the pen door open and went after them they were long gone.

In time, the conversational farmers hired a dowser to find water in the valley. He came, he dowsed, he found an old cess pit, and he departed with half the farm’s stash in lieu of payment. An attempt was made to charm the neighbors into loaning the conversational farmers a tractor, but the neighbors (thick‑necked farm types all) weren’t interested in having anything to do with the commie‑pinko dope‑smokin’ free‑love semi‑naked hippies who had invaded their little valley. I think they were most upset by the resident would‑be Earth Mother, a chubby girl named Mayflower who dressed in fluttering rags and liked to dance naked under the full moon, to encourage growth in the crops that somehow were never planted. I didn’t care for her myself, nor did Dad, but she was the girlfriend of the only mechanic in the group and if they ever did get the money together to buy that windmill or tractor or generator or whatever they were going to need him, so Mayflower happily danced naked in the weeds while the conversational farmers stared, the neighbors peeped, and Dad revised lesson plans.

The seasons passed, the garden failed and flourished and failed again, the ducks grew up and grew fat, and the day came for Dinner to turn into his name. The other conversational farmers became sudden vegetarians and my dad was at work, so my brother picked up the cleaver and went outside. He caught Dinner (who thought he was a pet like the others, and would come up to you looking for food), stretched the duck’s neck over a tree stump, and – couldn’t do it.

You must understand that my brother is a very short man and has never come to terms with that. So far he had been able to blame the farm’s problems on others, who filled a long list that he would review periodically, re‑ordering it depending on who he currently found most offensive or who had most recently witnessed his failures. Reprieving Dinner was a non‑starter because he would have to explain why Dinner still graced the yard instead of the table, and he couldn’t blame anyone for his lack of nerve except himself. He had said he was going to kill the duck and by damn he was going to do it. So he went back inside, took up the shotgun, went to the yard, and blew the poor damned duck’s head off.


Dinner did what fowl tend to do in such circumstances: he ran around the yard with the remains of his head held on by a bit of skin and flopping against his neck, spouting blood like a fire hydrant. My brother went into the bushes and lost his lunch. After a while Dinner stopped running and pumping and fell down into the dirt, and a bit later my brother went over and prodded him. When Dinner didn’t move, he picked the duck up by one foot, carried it inside, and threw it onto the kitchen table. Plaster dust sifted over it like flour. Rick went back into the bushes and lost his breakfast. My brother was sitting on the stoop when Dad got home. He jerked his head toward the door and said, “I killed the duck.” Then he went into the bushes and lost his midnight snack.

My dad was also a short man, but he had come to terms with that years previously and was content with himself. He grew up in California’s wide Central Valley during the Great Depression, where he helped supplement the family dinner table with hunting and helped butcher the occasional pig or calf with which my grandfather was paid for his carpentry. So Dad had no problem gutting, plucking, and dressing the duck, and cooked it up in a wine reduction with new potatoes on the side. Dad said it was one of the best ducks he had ever tasted. My brother said it tasted like shit. The conversational farmers, forsaking their morning vegetarianism, dug in anyway.

Eventually Dad got tired of supporting the conversational farmers and required them to be productive so they moved away, taking with them dreams of windmills on hills and generators over piles of shit, and horses that never happened and fabulous vegetable gardens that produced just enough food for the gophers. Dad met the woman who became my step‑mother, who made him give up his long hair and earring, dressed him in pearl‑buttoned Western shirts and Tony Lama boots, and moved him into town. I don’t think my dad had ever been happier. Dad rented the farm out to a series of bleary‑eyed slackers who did nothing to keep the place going except to dig a cesspit when the old septic tank filled up, and nail flattened tin cans over the leaks in the roof. The old farmhouse rotted so thoroughly that the window sills would fall off all by themselves.

When Dad and my step‑mom decided to build their dream house on the farm, they thought to get rid of the old place by offering it to the local fire department, who could practice their technique while burning the place to the ground. The fire chief came by one day, took a look, and refused – the place wasn’t even good enough for burning and he wouldn’t risk his crew in it.

To everyone’s surprise, the old place didn’t want to go. It had been built of clear‑heart virgin redwood which over the years had become one with the nails, except those around the window sills, and it took contractors close to a month to pull the place down. Then my step‑mom took the place in hand, as she had taken my dad in hand.

Things that take a long time becoming leave ghosts.  The remnants of the old hog pens are long gone, as are the rotted apricot trees and most of the poison oak. In their place a cozy white house graces the valley floor, surrounded by porches which, in turn, are surrounded by my step‑mom’s flower beds and the fruit trees she and Dad planted. It has become a home, and I like visiting. Sometimes, after the folks have gone to bed, I spend an hour in a rocker on the porch, sipping a little Irish whiskey and looking out over the valley. Sometimes, especially when the moon is full, I can almost see a chubby, naked Earth Mother dancing through the flower beds, and if I listen with care I hear the sound of windowsills falling off, all by themselves.



The Tribunal for Mandatory Homicide

This is something I’ve been playing with for a number of years now, but it may be almost ready for prime time. Hope you enjoy it.

As you undoubtedly know, homicide is a state offense unless it is committed on Federal lands, so we will only discuss the states here. Someday, we hope, the law will become enlightened enough to extend the legal theory of Mandatory Homicide to the Federal government.

Depending on the state, the law recognizes various types of homicide: first, second, third degree; voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, and so forth.

The issue is that there are some individuals who, while having committed no absolute crime, are nonetheless so disruptive and annoying to their fellows, and downright inimical to the peaceful conduct of a just society, that they must be brought to justice. However, we abide by the Rule of Law, and this new legal theory must not outrage that Rule. Therefor it is obvious that the workings of Mandatory Homicide must be carefully crafted to preserve the rights of all concerned. They are.

Requesting the Writ. When dealing with regular homicide, our society is pretty much kill-now pay-later. This will not work for Mandatory Homicide, which must strive to protect all involved. Therefore, if Complainant feels aggrieved enough, Complainant must appear before a Tribunal, with his or her paperwork in order, to request a Writ for Mandatory Homicide. The three judges will review the paperwork and hear testimony, confer amongst themselves, then issue a preliminary verdict.

The Preliminary Verdict. This verdict could be that the offenses are not serious enough to warrant a court appearance, and the Complaint is denied. The Complainant is free to try again, but subsequent complaints must be persuasive or the Complainant can be judged to be a Litigious Complainant and no further complaints will be heard for a period of time, the length of which is at the judges’ discretion.

However, if the verdict is that the Complaint is valid, the Tribunal will issue a formal Writ for Mandatory Homicide, to be served by an officer of the court on the Defendant. The Writ will list a specific time and date for the hearing; should the defendant not appear, an automatic verdict is legal sanction to “Go For It” (described hereinbelow). This should guarantee that the proceedings are taken seriously.

The Hearing. No lawyers are allowed at the hearing. At that hearing, the Complainant states the case for issuing the Writ for Mandatory Homicide and can present evidence and/or testimony. The Defendant is then allowed to testify as to why he or she should not be killed, and may also present evidence and testimony. Both sides are then allowed closing statements, and the Tribunal retires to confer.

The Verdict and Administration of Justice. The judges can return one of three possible verdicts. In the first, they declare that the Defendant may be an objectionable asshat but not so much as to warrant further punishment. The Defendant is seriously warned and allowed to leave.

The second verdict is that the Defendant is indeed a reprehensible, lily-livered, low-down excuse for a human, a veritable snake who gives snakes in general a bad name, an abomination in the eyes of society and a stench in the nostrils of the Lord. The Complainant and Defendant are escorted in to a courtyard where a firearm is presented to Complainant and he or she is formally charged to “Go for it.” Complainant gets enough ammunition to carry out the sentence.

But there are always cases where the Defendant is indeed adjudged to be a reprehensible, lily-livered, etc., but not sufficiently so to merit death. In this case Complainant and Defendant are escorted to a courtyard, where Complainant is issued a firearm and ammunition, and told to “Wing ‘em.”

It is believed that such a legal avenue, with its protections of the parties and its requirement for a sober and knowledgeable tribunal of practiced judges, would vastly expand our society’s emphasis on civil discourse and care of one’s neighbors. The Legislature is urged to give this proposal the attention it deserves.