Reprint Day for First Sergeant Xelos Nesteroy

My story “First Sergeant Xelos Nesteroy’s Christmas List, care of Admiral Almay, Seventh Fleet, Interstellar Navy” is available now in the Dread Space 2 anthology.

Dread Space 2 is an anthology of dark military science fiction stories. Within these pages are soldiers doing their best to stay alive against otherworldly odds and unimaginable terrors. Twenty-two dark flash fiction stories from Wendy Nikel, Robert Bagnall, Liam Hogan, Dawn Vogel, Jonathan Ficke & many others! [editor note: Including ME!]

Why, yes, I do enjoy giving tiny stories enormous titles.

New Story Day: Self From Self

Illustration by Jacey

I have a new flash piece out at Nature Futures, “Self From Self.” It should be available for free until mid-April 2023. You may be able to download the pdf from Nature even after it goes behind the paywall.

This is another very personal story. It reflects the years of my early adulthood playing World of Warcraft, my sometimes fraught relationship with my parents, and my own personal journey through parenthood. It’s a story of loneliness and worry, but also of friendship. It also includes a few of my favorite lines.

Missiles carved trails through the smoke that fogged the valley. Hot brass fell like summer hail. … For 15 glorious seconds, mechs — friendly and enemy alike — shed limbs like dandelions shed seeds, until nothing moved in the valley but the parachutes of the surviving enemy pilots.

Self From Self – Me

The opening of this came easily. The ending took a fair bit of revision to excavate. The title took days of searching until I finally broke out the Shakespeare search engine and went hunting. I’m not sure how I found the passage from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, but it seemed like it fit.

And why not death, rather than living torment?
To die is to be banished from myself,
And Silvia is myself. Banished from her
Is self from self: a deadly banishment.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona – Shakespeare

A Late Winter Catch-up

February in England is a month of gloom, of clouds, of a damp chill that settles into the marrow of your bones that no amount of tea will dispel. Add to that the commercialized celebration of the birth of a saint, who–admit it–you couldn’t even tell me the century he was born in, and it really rubs me the wrong way. This year I jokingly suggested that the children should make dinner for their parents for Valentine’s Day. It was not a serious suggestion. To my surprise, they agreed.

The full spread of Valentine’s Day dinner. Can you see the garlic?

The cooking started around 3:00, and the adults were banished from the kitchen. Around 5:00 there was a last-minute trip to Waitrose. Around 7:00 I was getting hungry. Somewhere around 7:45, we were summoned to dinner. Rose petals covered the table. The plates were arranged with heart-shaped piles of spaghetti and heart-shaped meatballs. Chocolate-dipped strawberries waited for dessert. There was even a tray of freshly baked garlic bread. 

The heart-shaped spaghetti

I tried the first bite. Two things were immediately apparent. 1) the pasta and meatballs were stone cold. 2) the sauce and meatballs were LADEN with garlic. I turned to the older child and said, “do you understand the difference between a clove of garlic and a bulb of garlic?’ Reader, she did not. The younger child piped up with, “I thought that was A LOT of garlic to chop.” Indeed, it was—something like three entire bulbs of it. The meatballs, I’m pretty sure, were 50% garlic by volume. 

I ate everything on my plate. I even went back for more meatballs and was pleasantly surprised that the ones on the stove were still warm. It was an eminently teachable moment, plus I can confirm that our house was entirely preserved from vampires for the day. 

Dumplings from our day out in central London in January

Apart from cooking, we have been up to our usual activities. The elder child is trying to go to as many concerts as she can fit into her social calendar, prepping for the SAT, pondering which continent she wants to live on for college, and generally being a teenager. She had a birthday in February, and we took her and some of her friends out for Korean BBQ. Due to train issues, we couldn’t go to New Malden, so we ended up at a place in Clapham. It was fine. A touch disappointing, to be honest. The girls all had a nice time, though. 

Welcome book lover, you are among friends
The entrance at Foyle’s

The younger child is building the greatest farm Stardew Valley has ever seen, complaining about school, and generally being a teenager. I’ve been trying to convince her to pursue a career in data science. She’s skeptical. We’ll see how things go over the next few years of school. 

We took a family trip to the Barbican Theatre in December to watch the stage production of My Neighbour Totoro. It was delightful.

Carissa managed a quick trip back to the States to see family for a week. While she was there, the girls and I went into central London for a daddy/daughter day. We hit up a couple of bookstores, a lovely Chinese restaurant, and some convenience stores in Chinatown. The younger child likes to collect unusual beverage cans (aka rubbish), so she was excited about the opportunities in Chinatown. I let her get a half-dozen new drinks from two different shops, and we went on our way. After hiking all over central, we walked back to Waterloo and caught the train home. I looked across at the child and informed her that I was thirsty and she was going to have to pay the Dad tax and sacrifice one of her drinks. She didn’t love the idea, but she went along and pointed to a random can. I cracked it open, took a sip, and announced that something was wrong with the drink. The child tried it, scrunched her nose, and said, “does that contain alcohol?” Indeed, it did! Unbeknownst to me, I was drinking a can of makgeolli, a Korean rice wine. I was expecting a peach soda, but instead, I had what was basically a peach malt beer. The can even listed that it was 4% alcohol, but only in the fine print. I drank it because I was thirsty, and we all learned a valuable lesson: the dudes running the convenience stores in Chinatown will sell to anyone, apparently including a 13-year-old. 

It looks like a soft drink. It is not.

I have been working, writing, traveling a bit, and occasionally running, though I have to admit that my motivation to run in the cold, the dark, and the rain is at an all-time low. Work travels have taken me to Madrid and to Leeds in the last few weeks. While I had Spanish food in both cities (there’s a very decent tapas place in Leeds, believe it or not), I enjoyed the sun in Madrid a touch more than the clouds in Leeds. It was nice to see the office in Madrid for the first time and spend a couple of days with my colleagues there. 

A shot of Big Ben early on a Sunday morning. I ran the London Winter 10k earlier in February.

We have birthdays coming in March and April, so there will surely be more adventures as the weather turns warmer and the days get longer. I’ve been writing this post while cooking another batch of the Dishoom Chicken Ruby, and the food is nearly finished. Take care, friends. Be safe. 

Aela watching Fezzi hide under a cushion in her (technically his, but she uses it the most) bed
Fezzi is a sneaky ninja, and you will never find him until it’s too late

The Casual Soccer Fan’s Guide to Premier League Football Clubs

A view of Tottenham Hotspur Football Stadium from the south stand
Tottenham’s palace of football

When I was a young warthog, in the ancient days following the 2010 World Cup, I emerged from the tournament with a conviction to start watching soccer again. At the time, that meant the odd televised MLS match or Saturday mornings with the English Premier League. I was quickly entranced by the skill and pace of the Premier League. The lack of commercial breaks certainly helped. Since then I’ve continued following football, moved to England, and been to (nearly) every professional football ground in London. If you’ve just finished watching the 2022 World Cup and you’re looking for a league or a club to follow, let me introduce you to the Premier League.

First up: you know about relegation, right? The bottom three clubs from the Premier League get relegated to the next division down (charmingly called the Championship) while the best three clubs from the Championship are promoted to the Premier League (technically the best two clubs with the third coming up as the winner of a playoff between teams in third through sixth). While there’s certainly good football played in the Championship, it’s the money that’s the big difference. Premier League clubs make 10x the television revenue (or more) than clubs in the Championship, which can be life-changing for a smaller club that joins the top division, or devastating for a Premier League club that is relegated and suddenly loses most of its revenue.

The Clubs:

Arsenal

Fun facts: London-based Arsenal moved from Woolwich in the southeastern part of the city to north London in 1913, to the intense frustration of the existing clubs in the region. After a backroom deal saw Arsenal promoted to the new First Division (despite only finishing fifth in the old Second Division) at the expense of neighboring Tottenham Hotspur, a 100+ year rivalry was fully cemented. Arsenal saw a leap in popularity in the early 2000s with their French coach Arsene Wenger bringing an attacking style of football that caught the eye, proved immensely successful, and captured the imaginations of the kind of people who think a knock-off handbag with a continental designer’s name on it means you’re posh.

Cheer for Arsenal if: you think Benedict Arnold was a good lad and you like a bit of peace and quiet at your football matches

Aston Villa

Fun Facts: Villa is based in the midlands (the hollowed-out former industrial region of England that’s basically English Ohio) city of Birmingham (basically Cleveland). Argentina’s penalty shootout hero and all-around madman, Emi Martinez, is Villa’s keeper, so while the football may be stodgy, the penalties will be entertaining.

Cheer for Villa if: you’re from Birmingham. 

Bournemouth

Fun facts: The beach in Bournemouth has sand, which is not true of most beaches in this country. Bournemouth, as a football club, are almost certainly playing in a division too difficult for them, which means they’ll end up relegated, but only after beating your favorite club. That relegation will likely be confirmed with a few games to spare, which will be convenient because the players will be able to nip out early for the nearby beaches. (jk jk. They’ll be off to Marbella and Mallorca.)

Cheer for Bournemouth if: you follow the Championship and have a way to watch Bournemouth in it next season

Brentford

Fun facts: Despite being founded in 1889, Brentford Football Club are named after me. The club’s owner is a childhood Brentford supporter who bought the club after making a moderate-sized fortune in the gambling industry. He brought his data analysis background to the club and has helped them achieve promotion from League One to the Championship and from the Championship to the Premier League. The club have found their recent success by being cleverer than most of the clubs around them. Unfortunately, after gambling and analytics carried them to success, they are about to lose their star striker, Ivan Toney, for a year+ due to… gambling on football. (Bit of a double-standard, innit?) 

Cheer for Brentford if: you play Football Manager or FIFA Career mode and you want to support the real-life moneyball team of the Premier League and aren’t secretly worried about them being relegated after they lose Toney

Brighton

Fun facts: Remember how in the Brentford section I mentioned that their owner made his money in gambling? He got his start in the industry by working for Brighton’s owner, and their parting of ways left a certain amount of bad blood between them. The city of Brighton is on the south coast, but the pebble beaches are categorically inferior to those at Bournemouth. As a football club, Brighton are unobjectionable. Canny ownership, a good manager, good football. Basically Brentford, but harder for me to personally reach. 

Cheer for Brighton if: you want an underdog who plays good football and is probably safe from relegation

Chelsea

Fun facts: Chelsea aren’t even based in the village of Chelsea; they’re in Fulham but couldn’t use the name because Fulham FC got there first. Previously owned by a Russian oligarch, Chelsea blazed the trail for the sportswashing we just saw at the World Cup. Their owner used the wealth of the Russian people to buy some of the best players in the world and win multiple Premier League and Champions League titles. To make it worse, the club have America’s best player, Cristian Pulisic, on the books, but have been criminally underutilizing him and are likely to sell him in the summer. 

Cheer for Chelsea if: you like kicking puppies

Crystal Palace

Fun facts: Crystal Palace are based in the south London village of Crystal Palace, which is named after a structure originally erected in Hyde Park (further north) for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The cast iron and glass edifice was moved in 1854 where it stood until it burned to the ground in 1936. The football club’s mascot is an eagle, and for a while, a local wildlife foundation would bring a living bald eagle to matches and let it fly around the stadium pre-match. Sadly, that ended in 2020 when the eagle had a heart attack and passed. 2020 was a rough year, okay.

Cheer for Crystal Palace if: you’ve ever lived in Croydon

Everton

Fun facts: Carissa’s cousin married an Irishman, and he’s a massive Everton supporter. That poor man. Everton are a middling Premier League club who have long been overshadowed by Stanley Park neighbors Liverpool FC. I’d feel bad for them, but I’d probably get punched in the teeth for saying it.

Cheer for Everton if: you’re willing to suffer

Fulham

Fun facts: Fulham are in southwest London in the village of Fulham, which wouldn’t be notable, except Chelsea FC are just down the way and their owner backed the club with a billion pounds of blood money, and Fulham’s owner built a statue of–checks notes–Michael Jackson out front. On the plus side, Fulham have historically given us Yanks a place to ply our trade, and their current squad includes Missouri native and US National Team central defender Tim Ream plus surprisingly-good-for-a-Yank leftback Antonee Robinson. 

Cheer for Fulham if: you don’t mind bouncing between the Premier League and the Championship, you want to support good-but-not-amazing Yanks, and you fancy a trip to one of the nicest parts of London to watch your football 

Leeds

Fun facts: The English have a phrase: “doing a Leeds” to describe gross financial mismanagement, poor squad building, successive relegations, and the near-destruction of a once-proud football club. After a decade in the lower leagues, Leeds returned to the Championship and managed to hire another Argentinian madman–Marcelo Bielsa–who helped them back to the Premier League. These days they’re managed by American Jesse Marsch and sport a midfield including Americans Tyler Adams and Brendan Aaronson. I don’t have the multi-generational knowledge of English football that the locals do, but Leeds were historically one of the universally-hated clubs in the country, though that seems to have mellowed after their near-destruction.

Cheer for Leeds if: you want to support the largest concentration of Americans in the Premier League 

Leicester City

Fun facts: Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016 and it was such a surprise that not even a screenwriter could have written the script and had it be believable. Several of the players from that title-winning side promptly left the club, but ownership has done a good job of spending the money and solidified them as a top-half (but still mid-table) side. If you want a wild story that encapsulates modern England, read the Wagatha Christie saga sometime; one of the main characters is married to a Leicester City player.

Cheer for Leicester: if you want to be 7 years late in cheering for the underdog, but also don’t want the stress of annual relegation battles

Liverpool

Fun facts: Liverpool are a historic powerhouse of English football, but had a rough time out of the spotlight through the 90s and 2000s. They returned in the teens after their American owners (who also own the Red Sox) quietly embraced analytics and had the money to buy Very Good players, including Mohammed “Mo” Salah. A study in 2019 found that Mo’s presence in the Champions League-winning Liverpool side contributed to an 18.9% reduction in Islamophobia in the Liverpool area. Liverpool’s 2020 Premier League win was their first in nearly 30 years and cemented their place as one of the top English teams of the last decade. 

Cheer for Liverpool if: you want to jump on a massive bandwagon, but don’t want to support Manchester City

Manchester City

Fun facts: The club were massively overshadowed by Manchester United for most of their existence until Abu Dhabi decided that the Chelsea sportswashing experiment could be done bigger and better and conclusively proved that money can buy championships.  

Cheer for Manchester City if: you want to win at any cost and don’t mind blood on your hands

Manchester United

Fun facts: Manchester United were THE team of the 90s and early 00s until the (American) Glazer family purchased the club in a leveraged buy-out and drove it into the ground with poor management and a decade+ of wealth extraction. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny (as an outsider). Bloody Americans, amirite. (More like “bloody capitalism,” tbf.)

Cheer for Manchester United if: you care about The Brand more than actual success on the pitch. 

Newcastle

Fun facts: I was at the pub a couple of months ago with some local friends. One of the guys there was “Geordie Bryan.” (A Geordie is someone from Newcastle.) He was wearing a black and white Newcastle top. One of the other guys said, “Bryan, show the Yank your badge,” and Geordie Bryan lifted his top to show me the Newcastle badge tattooed on his left tit exactly where the badge was on his shirt. Geordie Bryan is the Ur-Geordie. Possibly the Ur-Englishman. In other news, the Saudis bought the club last year to see if they can pull off another sportswashing “miracle.”

Cheer for Newcastle if: you’re from Newcastle OR you want a healthy dollop of fossil-fuel-driven global warming with your inevitable on-the-pitch success

Nottingham Forest

Fun facts: Carissa and I saw them play an FA Cup match at Arsenal a couple of years ago. Their mascot, a cartoonish Sheriff of Nottingham, took the lead in a pre-match penalty shootout against Goonersaurus and still managed to lose. That’s how you know he’s English. Their owner is a Greek shipping magnate who totally wasn’t match-fixing or drug trafficking, I promise, guys.

Cheer for Nottingham Forest if: you totally didn’t threaten to murder that referee and the FA totally ignored it and let you buy a football club, anyway

Southampton

Fun facts: Southampton are another south coast city with a moderately successful football club. They’ve historically had a great academy (for youth player development) and been a club who have recruited well, turned decent players into good players, and sold them on to larger clubs for a profit. If I lived in Southampton, I’d be a satisfied season ticket holder. I do not, however, live anywhere near Southampton, so whatever.

Cheer for Southampton if: you want to see your favorite players get sold to one of the top 6 clubs for tens of millions of pounds

Tottenham Hotspur

Fun facts: After that 2010 World Cup, I spent a season watching the Premier League before choosing a club to follow more closely. At the time, I didn’t want to cheer for the English Yankees (Manchester United) or the Obviously Funded by Blood Money Club (Chelsea), but I did want to follow a team who played exciting football and would keep me entertained without feeling guilty about their off-pitch activities. It really came down to a choice between fierce rivals Arsenal and Tottenham. At the time, Tottenham had Luca Modric and Gareth Bale, who were both young, massively talented players. They both quickly forced their way out of the club to join Real Madrid and win multiple La Liga and Champions League trophies. Spurs re-invested the money poorly and limped on until Harry Kane emerged from their academy and powered them to a title challenge where the club somehow came third in a two-horse race in the season when Leicester City won the league. The last twelve years have been objectively good years for the club as they’ve established themselves firmly in the top 6 places of the Premier League, have played in European cup competitions year after year, built a magnificent stadium, and generally punched well above their (financial) weight class. And still won nothing.

Cheer for Tottenham if: you don’t mind being the bridesmaid and never the bride, don’t want to support a sportswashing empire, but still want a puncher’s chance of winning something every season (and yet always fall short)

West Ham

Fun facts: the Hammers play in east London in the Olympic Stadium that hosted the 2012 Olympics. It is the worst football ground I’ve ever been to, mostly because of the huge track that runs around the pitch and separates the fans from the action. The West Ham supporters think that Tottenham are their rivals, and the Tottenham supporters mostly forget that West Ham exists.

Cheer for West Ham if: your dad and granddad would be bitterly disappointed if you didn’t

Wolves

Fun facts: In Football Manager the club have a philosophy–based on real life–that you should sign Portuguese players. I’m not sure the exact relationship between the owners and the player agents that drives this, but there’s something fishy going on here. You might expect someone to investigate, but that would assume that FIFA weren’t making money on the whole enterprise somehow. I don’t actually have anything against Wolves, but I don’t think the good times can last.

Cheer for Wolves if: you’re from Wolverhampton (or Portugal) and want to see roleplayers for the Portuguese national team ply their trade. 

Conclusion

If you don’t have any prior allegiances, watch the rest of this season and pick a club to follow who catches your eye (and hopefully aren’t built on an empire of human rights abuses). The above list will give you a tongue-in-cheek idea about each club, but there’s also a germ of truth in most of the descriptions.

Or, and bear with me here, you can follow Spurs and learn the true meaning of pathos, the essence of human frailty, where you have the talent, you have the opportunity, but you reach for success only to fail at the last moment, falling on your own sword over and over again.

Sounds a lot like my marathon experience, actually.

New Story Day! The Regolith Eaters

Another new story?!?

I know, right! That’s three in basically a month. There are times of famine, and there are times of feasting, and apparently, this is a time of feasting. Which is a metaphor entirely appropriate for this story.

The Regolith Eaters is online at Martian Magazine. This is a fun horrific little story that I tried in a few forms until I decided to try my hand at a drabble* (for about the third time ever) and it just fell into place.

Am I bothered by repeating the word “leg” near the end? Yes! Can I change it now? No! Am I still proud of this little story? Also yes!

Fun fact: I stole the title of the story from a card in the board game Terraforming Mars. The story itself is vaguely inspired by the game since it is, technically, about terraforming Mars.

*a drabble is a story that is exactly 100 words

New Story Day! Three Resurrections and the Warm, Embracing Earth

My story “Three Resurrections and the Warm, Embracing Earth” is out today in the wonderful British magazine Shoreline of Infinity. This one isn’t a gimmick. It’s a raw, painful story about separation and sacrifice, told from the point of view of a woman called to war by a necromancer and forced to fight battle after battle through death after death, all while haunted by a creeping realization that she’s left something important behind.

New Story Day!

Gratuitous Aela photo. (Cheering for the USA during the World Cup)

You all know that I love a good gimmick story, and I cooked up a wild one this time. My story “First Sergeant Xelos Nesteroy’s Christmas List, care of Admiral Almay, Seventh Fleet, Interstellar Navy” is live today at The Dread Machine. It’s a Christmas list from a prisoner of war, addressed to the admiral who let him be captured. It’s inspired by Starship Troopers and Children of Time, but it’s a Brent story, so it Goes Places. Also, it’s a Brent story, so it’s only about 3 pages.

Santorini; Or: The Great Octopus Hunt

View from the crater in Fira

Around a decade ago I found myself in Astoria, Queens sitting across a dinner table from my pal Carey, who was trying to convince me to try the grilled octopus he had just ordered. “Trust me,” he said. “I was skeptical, too.” Or something like that. I’m using some dramatic license here. I was definitely skeptical, though. Octopus? Like, the grabby bastards that pulled wooden ships to their wat’ry doom? No, that was kraken, he explained. I, a Missouri rube, was not as enlightened as Carey, a recent Missouri to New York transplant. The octopus arrived. A pink and white tube of meat, charred and half-covered in blackened suckers, lay on the plate amid a swirl of olive oil dashed with oregano. It didn’t look appetizing, but my culinary philosophy was “I’ll try anything once.” Carey cut himself a chunk, popped it in his mouth, and moaned slightly.

My first bite was more tentative. A little piece, with no suckers. It practically melted on my tongue. The flavor came through as something like chicken, with hints of char from the grill and a bit of seasoning from the olive oil and oregano. The texture, though, was what really elevated it. Firm, yet buttery with enough tooth that you knew it was meat, but so tender that it couldn’t possibly be meat. “Try a bite with the suckers,” Carey said. “They’re the best part.” I did. They crunched a little, adding even more texture to an already mind-blowing mouthfeel. He was right. They were, in fact, the best part.

Reader, I’ve been chasing that high ever since. The chase has stretched from New York to Florida, from London to Lisbon, from Italy to–most recently–Greece. I’m not saying I planned a family vacation around my hunt for the world’s best octopus, but I’m not saying it wasn’t on my mind, either.

Carissa, doing her best to emulate a Greek goddess

Planning for this started in May. I had a milestone birthday in October, and it was the same week the kids were out of school for their midterm break. With Covid interrupting travel for the last two years, I wanted to do something special. My first thought was Portugal, but I’ve been there a number of times for work, and I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t already been.

A few years ago I was sitting in a bar in Reno talking to one of the sales guys at work, and he mentioned how the most amazing place he had ever been was Santorini. This was a guy who basically lived on the road and had been successful enough in his career to be able to go anywhere he wanted. That comment lodged itself in my brain. In May, when I was looking at destinations, Santorini came to mind. With the busy season in Santorini being in the summer, there were plenty of hotel rooms and flights in late October. I checked with Carissa–who was convinced the moment she saw the photos–and booked the trip.

After some quick research, there were three things I wanted to do, for sure. Take a boat tour of the island’s beaches, hike down the island’s spine from Fira to Oia (ee-UH), and continue The Great Octopus Hunt.

If you look at a map of Santorini, you’ll see that it’s a crescent-shaped island with more islands in the middle and another off on the west side.

A map of the island of Santorini. Screenshot from Google Maps.
From Google Maps. Click for more details. We stayed in Fira, which is where the map says “Thera”

Originally Santorini was one large, circular volcanic island and home to a village on the southern edge near where the map shows Akrotiri. That lasted until about 1700 BC when the volcano erupted. Much of the island ended up submerged and what was left ended up covered in lava, ash, and mud. The village was inundated with mud, and the island’s physical shape was forever changed.

Sometimes the cliffs just collapse

Our first full day included breakfast at the hotel on the patio outside our suite. When I booked the rooms, I didn’t realize how nice the breakfast would be. That was a delightful surprise. We wandered Fira, the island’s capital and largest village, for a bit, then caught our bus to Vlychada on the island’s southern shore. The boat tour took us west past Red Beach, White Beach, the black cliffs, and the island’s caldera. Red Beach is a product of the iron the volcano ejected. White Beach–only reachable by boat–is named after the white cliffs overlooking it and is actually a black pebbly beach with shockingly clear waters.

The water is especially clear due to the larger sediment

The black cliffs (I’m struggling to find the actual name) are another product of the volcano and include a bunch of linked caves only reachable by divers. I was hoping we would have time to hike on the caldera, but the tour only included a swim in the volcano-warmed waters near it. The scenery wasn’t as impressive as the beaches, but it was interesting to swim in such sulfur-rich water. Well, I thought so until I realized that my damp swimming shorts were stinking up the closet two days later and I had to give them a thorough rinsing.

The author, swimming in the sulfurous caldera waters

The real pinnacle of the sailing was the sunset. We had already seen one sunset from the crater’s rim at the hotel, but seeing it from the water was even better.

The famous Santorini sunset as seen from the water

The second full day was the hiking day. I led the girls out of Fira, through the neighboring villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli, and out to Skaros Rock. The stairs down to the rock ended at the ruins of a fortress that fell into disuse after a series of earthquakes in the 1800s. We wanted to climb out to the top of the rock, but the path up to it involved more actual climbing than we were prepared to do. (Two of our party thought hiking in their Air Force Ones was a good idea.) After Skaros we climbed back up to Imerovigli and continued along the trail toward Oia. A few different churches clung to the hills, their white walls and blue domes little oases amid the dusty rocks and withered grape vines. It wasn’t hot, but it was definitely warm, and the anti-hiking whining crescendoed a kilometer short of Oia.

That’s Oia in the far distance. We hiked the crater’s rim around to the right and into the village

Fortunately, we made it to Oia without anyone dying of dehydration or sunstroke, and a bit of ice cream helped revive morale. We wandered through the warren of alleys that is Oia–I may have led the party astray with a poorly chosen turn–and made our way down another long flight of steps to Ammoudi Bay and a little taverna right on the waterfront. 

Oia, as seen from the steps down to Ammoudi Bay

The Great Octopus Hunt resumed at Dimitris Taverna with a local beer, a half liter of local white wine, and an order of grilled octopus. My expectations were tempered. Not only do I still have a high bar to clear from Taverna Kyclades in Astoria, but I’ve also had A LOT of mediocre octopus over the years. Did you know that people willingly make boiled octopus? And that they serve it cold? I learned that the hard way. A few times. Dimitris, though. Dimitris delivered.

The elusive S-Tier grilled octopus

I’m not going to say it was better than Taverna Kyclades, but I will say that they are both S-Tier. We ended up ordering a giant seafood platter that included more octopus, but the second order was a bit tough and overcooked. It was still better than the boiled appetizers I’ve had at other places, but only B-Tier at best. 

The octopus on the platter was meh, but the rest of it was divine

We had three full days in Santorini, and I didn’t have concrete plans for day 3. The options were to catch the bus to Akrotiri and see the ruins, book a boat to take us to the caldera for a hike on the active part of the volcano, or tour a winery. All three were supposed to be reasonably fun activities, but Carissa and I are both history buffs (and the girls refused to go hiking again). We went down to Akrotiri and wandered the ruins. In retrospect, I probably should have booked a guide, but it was plenty impressive to see the village and read the plaques describing the excavations. The building itself was fascinating, too. It had wonderful natural light and was pleasantly cool inside. All with minimal energy usage. 

The mudflow from the volcano protected the site for 2500+ years. These are the vases the excavation team uncovered from among the many dwellings and storage buildings

We watched the sunset at the hotel again, then wandered Fira to find dinner. I had a few places in mind, but they were a bit too low-scale for our tastes that evening, and my nicer option was already closed for the season. After a bit of recalibration, we found a place on the edge of the cliff and settled in for another round of The Great Octopus Hunt. As ever, I assumed the worst. We ordered another big seafood platter, and the octopus was actually pretty decent. Not quite to the heights of the first taste in Greece, but better than the second batch. We’ll call it A-Tier. (If you’re wondering how S-Tier is better than A-Tier, just roll with it. You clearly don’t spend enough time on the internet; that’s probably for the best.)

The octopus was A-Tier, the fish was also A-Tier, but the squid was rubber

It wouldn’t be a family vacation if everything went to plan. We had a minor wobble Sunday evening. The plan was to take the train to Gatwick, stay at a hotel by the airport, and fly out early Monday morning. We made it as far as Clapham Junction where we learned that there were no trains leaving Victoria, therefore our path to Gatwick was blocked. We solved that problem by paying for an Uber to take us to the hotel. The real wobble came in Greece on the way home. We were flying Ryanair to Milan and EasyJet from Milan to London. I was able to check in online for the EasyJet flight with no issues. When I tried to check in for Ryanair, it gave me an error on the youngest child’s birthday. After trying two browsers and the airline’s app, I figured I’d just go to the airport a little early and get a boarding pass printed. LITTLE DID I KNOW that Ryanair charges 55 EUROS PER PERSON for in-person check-in. I tried to explain that I would have done it online but their system was giving me errors with no clues on how to solve them, but the clerk manifestly did not care. The message was to pay up or find another airline. I grudgingly paid because what else was I going to do? There was some follow-on drama with the staff that I don’t want to get into here, but we were ultimately able to get out of Greece on schedule and get home on schedule, if unnecessarily poorer. It was absolutely extortion, and it will be a good, long while before I give Ryanair another cent. 

Setting aside Ryanair being shambolic, we had a lovely trip. The boat tour was phenomenal. The company was wonderful. The Great Octopus Hunt was a resounding success. The hunt, however, will continue. Much like life itself, The Great Octopus Hunt is about the journey more than it is the destination. May your own journies be as fulfilling and delicious.

The tables at Dimitris were right on the edge of the pier with a perfect view of the harbor and beyond

Publication News: The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide to 21st Century Attire

My short story “The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide to 21st Century Attire” is out in the POST ROE Alternatives: Fighting Back anthology. Like much of my work, this is a story with a grim undertone. Also like much of my work, it has a good gimmick. In this case, it’s written as if it’s a guide to style with perfectly sensible advice for suits, shirts, shoes, and ties, but there’s a thread of story woven into it, and it turns into a look at what it’s like to live in a country where the police think they’re the military and that civilians are their enemies. Modern America, in other words.

Most of my friends will likely enjoy this story. Most of my family probably won’t.

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