Show me your ID

Immortality.

It’s been chased after by so many.  Cortez hunted through the swamps – excuse me – the wetlands of Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth.  And remember the woman who bathed regularly in blood (not her own) to preserve her youth?  The Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed.  Convicted of killing 80 virgins, and was thought to have murdered more.  And for what reason?  Immortality.  Ironically, she died at 54.

In fantasy writing, there are so many creatures that tend towards living forever.  Vampires, elves, dragons – those are the more common ones.  Interestingly, no one ever attributes a ceaseless life to werewolves.

Imagine, if you will, that there is a sub-segment of the world’s population that does live a much longer lifespan.  It doesn’t have to be immortality, per se, just anything longer than 150 years or so.  Now imagine that one of these people lives in your town.  If you live in a small to moderately sized city, it probably wouldn’t take the residents of said town to notice that the person in question still looks 25, despite teaching at the high school since 1953.  Even if that person is a near-total shut in, someday someone’s going to notice that there’s a person in town who’s 130 years old.  At some point, an official agency will probably investigate.  And, one of two things will happen.

One, it will be assumed that the person who appears to be 25 years old is, in fact, 25 years old and running a scam.  The immortal person will then be cooling their long-lived heels in a place where the term life-without-parole would take on a whole new meaning.

Two, Willard Scott or the Guinness Book of World Records will come knocking, looking for the oldest documented person in the nation.  Just imagine that 25 year old face, captured on film in a moment of stunned shock, depicted on a Smuckers jar during the Today show.

It would have been relatively easy, 50 years ago, to pick up and disappear to a different part of the country, then reinvent yourself as someone new.  Every couple or three decades, the immortal picks a city at random from the Atlas, packs up the belongings, and heads out.

These days, everything is a lot harder.  Ever been arrested?  Fingerprints on file.  DNA is being collected and filed.  For an immortal, it must be difficult in the modern era.  The immortal one moves to a new town and decides to buy a house.  Great.  Can you get a mortgage if you were born before the Constitution?  Even if you pay cash, there’s the tax paperwork, legal filings, and various other sundries requiring a valid ID.

What’s an immortal to do?  As time passes, it’ll become increasingly difficult to restart life with a new ID, unless you’re part of the government.  Perhaps immortals could band together and moonlight for the government in exchange for relocation help.  Vampires undertaking missions for the CIA.  Elves used for survivalist training.  Shapeshifters going undercover.

I’m imagining a story where the evil scientist is detailing his master plan, and the parakeet in the corner is a shapeshifter in disguise, writing it all down using a pen crafted to look like a seed and the newspaper from the bottom of its cage.  Polly want a cracker?  No, but those blueprints would be nice.

Do you think we’ll get to a point where identification is so secure, that the idea of an immortal hiding amongst us will seem campy and implausible?  And if so, how long until we get there?

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Dragons and Treasure

We all have a traditional image of dragons in our heads, fostered by countless cartoons, children’s books, movies, and fables.  The dragon:  monstrously large, scaled, with wings, fangs, and an ability to breathe fire.  And, they sleep on a pile of golden treasure.  For me, that iconic image comes from The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins, cloaked by the One Ring, enters the lair of Smaug.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion:  dragons treat golden spoils as if they were a Posturpedic bed.

Kinda begs the question – what do they use as a blanket then?

Or toilet paper?  Yipes.

Two adventurers slay the dread dragon and begin sifting through the loot.

Adventurer 1:  Wow, look at this chalice!

Adventurer 2:  Amazing!  But, um… does gold usually look rusted?  (Holds nose.)  And smell that bad?

But, I digress.

So, let’s imagine, if you will, dragons in today’s culture.  What’s a dragon going to sleep on in the present?  I mean, gold’s not the easiest to come by, and it’s pretty heavy for the volume it occupies.  It wouldn’t take much to come crashing through the floor of an upper level apartment.  What’s a modern day dragon to use instead?  Dollar bills?  Have you ever smelled a wad of used cash?  That greasy sour smell can’t be easy on the nostrils, especially when those same nares have a tendency to blow fireballs when sneezing.  The danger of fire is also there for stock certificates and bonds.

Well, paper is definitely out.

Maybe coins would be the answer.  The more well to do dragons could sleep on gold double eagle dollars.  Down trodden dragons might have to resort to pennies.  Though that might be hard to explain to the odd princess who’s abducted for a visit.

Gnomes

I figure gnomes are a good places to start.  You know, a small subject.

Okay, I’ll admit, that was a bad pun.  It was the gnome’s idea.

Reading through contemporary fantasy – or urban fantasy, whichever you prefer to call the genre – a lot of monsters of myth and / or legend are being pulled into the light of the modern era.  Vampires and werewolves seem to be garnering the lion’s share of the attention.  I suppose this is because both of these supernatural creatures look like a normal human 95% of the time.  I would imagine that it’s easier to believe that the guy in the car next to you howls at the moon once a month, than that a two foot tall man is living in your flower bed.

So, what do gnomes even look like?  The few books I’ve read that feature gnomes all, predictably, describe them as short.  But that’s where the similarities end, I find.  One particular series I read long ago had gnomes play a prominent part.  They were like diminutive warriors, set to fight tooth and nails, wielding… well… nails as weapons.  They were described as small, fierce, and bright yellow.  Now, I don’t know about others out there, but when I think of someone as being yellow in color, the first thing that pops into my mind is jaundice.  You know, jaundice – when bilirubin builds up in your system because your liver can’t process it for excretion anymore.  It happens in liver failure.  It’s a little freaky when you see it; it starts with the white part of the eyes turning yellow.

Anyway, the way that one series described gnomes, they were all rather cranky, jaundiced, and short.

The other way I’ve seen gnomes portrayed the most lately is through commercials.  Garden gnomes seem to be making a resurgence.  Everywhere I go these days, I see another garden gnome.  Bright, cheery, with a hat that must have been starched six ways to Sunday to get it to stick upright like that.  Either that, or gnomes are the original coneheads, I’m not sure.

Anyway, garden gnomes.  They’re everywhere, and they seem to be associated with traveling.  One is the spokesman for a travel booking website.  Others have been kidnapped from their gardens to be whisked around the globe on adventures by college students, who then take pictures of their hostages at various locations, only to return the gnome later with their own scrapbook.  You don’t see people trying this with vampires!

For a gnome to work in a typical urban fantasy book, I can see them either living out their lives in a hidden community, or – in this day and age – working in the technology industry.  Companies aren’t outsourcing tech calls to India, they’re outsourcing them to gnomes.  Or, they’re behind the scenes, making sure everything is running smoothly.  Internet down in your area?  The gnomes are working on it.

Or maybe, just maybe, the gnomes interbred with regular humans long ago.  They still exist, they’re just all six feet tall.

How would you envision gnomes fitting in to modern society?