Excerpt: Call Me Stan

“Call Me Stan is a ludicrous epic and a tender-hearted romp—an easy-reading humanist adventure that feels as if Monty Python rewrote Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.” (Sean Michaels, author of The Wagers and Giller Prize winner Us Conductors.)

Published by Guernica Editions, Call Me Stan is the story of a man endlessly struggling to adjust as the world keeps changing around him.  When King Priam’s pregnant daughter was fleeing the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there–one cross over. Stan has been a Hittite warrior, a Roman legionnaire, a mercenary for the caravans of the Silk Road and a Great War German grunt. He’s been a toymaker in a time of plague, a reluctant rebel in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, and an information peddler in the cabarets of post-war Berlin. Stan doesn’t die, and he doesn’t know why. In this humorous and unique novel, readers will find a touching exploration of what it is to outlive everyone you love. Or almost everyone. 

“I don’t think we’re ending up with all the tin we mine,” I said to Tror.
 “How do you mean?”
 “I mean that for the amount of ore coming out of this mountain, we should have more finished bronze. Not a lot, maybe. But more.”
 “What do you mean ‘finished’? Axes? Ingots?”
 “How can it go missing?” He held one hand toward the cliff face and the other toward the smelting hut. “It goes from there to there.”
 “But no one keeps track. When we hammer out the ore we pile it where we can. When we move it to the smelting hut we pile it differently. When we break it up for smelting, the smaller pieces to into different piles again.”
 “So what do we do?”
 “We need to keep better track of how much there is at each stage. Then if some goes missing, we’ll know where, and when, and who could’ve taken it.”
 “So first we need a way to measure the amounts. Then we need someone who can remember them. Do we have anyone we can trust with that?”
 “I have a more reliable way.” 
 I’d had the woodworkers make a shallow box which I’d filled with clay. Tror sniffed. “That looks like one of Woden’s drawing toys.”
 “It is, kind of. But this one is for writing.” I had to use the Hatti word. The concept didn’t exist in Thracian.
 “What does that mean?”
 “I’ll show you.” I’d trimmed a reed into a stylus. “Give me some numbers of things.”
 “What kinds of things?”
 “Anything. Boots. Chickens. The more the better. Make the numbers as mixed up as you can.”
 “You mean like, ‘six pairs of boots, twenty-one cups of beans’, that kind of thing?”
 “Exactly.” I noted both in Hatti cuneiform. “More. As many as you like.”
 “Um. Four hundred and eleven arrowheads.”
 “Good.” Into the clay they went.
 “Fifty-eight mares.”
 “Keep going.”
 We ended up with a list of twenty things, no two the same quantity. 
 “All right,” I said, tucking my stylus behind my ear. “Let me read that back.” 
 By the end of the list Tror’s eyes were practically bugging out of his head.
 “These marks tell you everything I said?”
 “But . . . but how can they do that?”
 “A lot of men can do this where I come from. We learn it so we can keep track of things. Like we can do with the ore, now. I can teach you, if you like.”
 “No!” He took a step back. “This is a strange power. I don’t like it. It’s beyond my understanding.” It occurred to me that if Tror got creeped out by everything beyond his understanding, he’d never crawl out from under his blanket. “I understand things, Ishtanu. Things I can hold, or throw, or crush. But marks that mean things?” He shook his head with a shudder, as if the very idea of abstract representation might already have infected him through his eyes.
 Which it kind of had, as it turned out.
 A pleasant realization spread through me. Tror was scared. For him the written word was a kind of magic, a power he didn’t understand and couldn’t control. And, more importantly, didn’t want to. Because he’d grown up singing tales that told him strange powers always came with a horrible cost. He looked at me warily. “But if you’re okay using them . . .”
 I restrained a chuckle. There it was. Tror was fine with taking the benefit of this strange power, as long as the cost fell to someone else.

We started tracking our ore. We did it transparently, so everyone at every stage of the process knew it was happening. And although ore production stayed about the same, bronze production went up.
 Tror was delighted. “Your odd marks have power, Ishtanu.”
 “You sure you don’t want to learn them yourself?”
 I might have suggested he drink his own urine. “No, I’ll leave them to you.” I knew he wouldn’t have changed his mind. I just liked winding him up. 

“Make me a war hammer,” Tror said a few days later.
 “What’s wrong with your axe?”
 “It’s too clean. It slices.” Like slicing was a defect in an axe. “I want a weapon that crushes.” He smiled to himself. “In fact that’ll be its name. Crusher.” He glared at me. “Make it.”
 I made a model hammerhead out of wax. It would be a one-off, so I wouldn’t need a re-usable mould. When I showed him the model, he frowned. “Too small.” I’d scaled it up from the largest war hammer I’d seen. The palm of my hand barely covered it. But if Tror wanted something bigger, then fine.
 I made another model, half again as long. “Still too small.” He drew a rough rectangle in the dirt with his finger. “This big.” It was the size of my forearm. It was preposterous. I didn’t know if it was possible to cast something that big.
 “That’ll take enough bronze to make five hundred arrowheads. Or a dozen axes. It’ll be too heavy to lift.”
 “Never mind how much bronze it takes. We have plenty. And let me worry about lifting it.”

This time he was satisfied with the model.
 “Right. I’ll cast the mould.” I started toward the path to the clay pits.
 Oh gods, what now? I turned back.
 “You know those marks you make? The ones that mean things?”
 “Put some on the hammer. Its name. Crusher. And words of power. Calling down the aid of the gods. That sort of thing. All over it.”
 Tror had found the magic of the written word too hard to resist.
 “Will do.”
 By the time I gave the model to the potters it was covered in cuneiform. Across the top I’d put “Crusher,” as I’d said I would. The rest I don’t remember exactly, but instead of invoking the gods I’d decided to have some fun. After all, I was the only one who knew what any of it meant. So it was mostly stuff like “If you think I’m a huge tool, you should meet the guy who wields me.” That sort of thing.
 Tror loved it.
 “And this one?”
 “A traditional invocation to the Hatti storm gods.” If I remember it right, it was actually an unflattering description of Tror’s backside.
 “This will do nicely. Have the clay workers make the mould.”
 If archeologists ever recover that hammer from the bottom of the North Sea, they’re going to go batshit over those inscriptions.
James M. Fisher

James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began The Miramichi Reader (TMR) in 2015, realizing that there was a real need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio as well as other media sites. James works as a Medical Radiation Technologist and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.

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