Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Dark Side of Parenting... Again...

For reasons that I don't pretend to understand, my body decided that I should wake up on Sunday morning at, I don't know, roughly three in the morning. And, having done that, it also decided that it shouldn't be at all willing to go back to sleep. So I sat up and read, and eventually Firstborn woke up. So I made him a waffle, and I read some more. And finally Secondborn woke up, so I got him a couple of muffins, and then I read some more.

Then my alarm went off, so I showered and dressed and got the boys ready for church, and off we went. Firstborn attended the service, Secondborn played in the nursery, and I sat in the kitchen and read some more. And typed a little, after I finished the book.

After church: the Dallas World Aquarium. From which, if I can manage it, I'll put up some pictures later. The DWA is awesome. It's got all sorts of fun things to see... and I keep finding things I hadn't seen before. Also, it's just about exactly the right length. If you start at the top, and follow the winding path down and around and down some more and around some more, and step outside for a moment to see the penguins, and step back inside and go through the glass tunnel under the sharks, and come back up and see the jaguar, then you reach the end of the path at just about exactly the point when two small boys have been overwhelmed with a surfeit of fish and reptiles and amphibians and snakes and giant frikkin' alligators and manatees. And then you leave.

At which point, in our case, meant heading back to my parents' house for a bit of rest, and then dinner. And believe me, by that point I'd been awake long enough that rest was sounding like a very good idea indeed. So I got about a forty-five minute coma nap, and then we had dinner.

And then we went home and put the boys to bed. Well, I say that. Secondborn tried out a game of Memory with his mother, the Beautiful Woman. He isn't quite three years old yet, and he was very tired, so that didn't last very long. Beautiful Wife stretched out with him on the bed, and soon after that... well, let's just say that I'm not entirely sure who was snoring louder.

Firstborn, meanwhile, had engaged me in a game of Battleship. I won the first game; he won the second one. Which, given that this was third time in his life that he'd ever played the game, I thought was pretty good. After the second game, he put his head on the pillow, closed his eyes, and fell asleep - in fact, he may actually have fallen asleep before he quite finished closing his eyes. Anyway, it was fast.

And it was just in time for Secondborn to wake himself back up by coughing, and then by being noisily sick. This made him upset, which made him scream, which... well, sick and tired small boys do not appreciate it when you dump them precipitously into the shower.

This, unfortunately, did not solve the problem. So here I am, at Dear Ye Immortal Gods It's Almost Midnight, and I'm still awake. And I have to work tomorrow; did I mention that? And I'm pretty darned sure I've passed my window, which means that sleep no longer wants anything to do with me.

This... this exactly... is what parents mean when we talk about the joys of parenting.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Firstborn sends you a joke...

So we're riding along in the car today, on our way to lunch, when Firstborn presented the following joke. (I'm reconstructing it from memory, so this isn't exactly how he said it.)
Q. What do you call a horrible beast with the head of a bull and the body of a man that's only six inches tall?

A. A mini-taur!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The best-laid plans...

We were supposed to leave for Arkansas this morning. Actually, we were supposed to leave for Arkansas yesterday, but since the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex was snowed in, we put it off.

We're not going.

I should back up a little bit, and say that we managed to have a very good set of Christmas holidays this year. We spent most of Sunday with the Beautiful Wife's parents, starting with a very nice brunch and one of the most enjoyable church services I can ever remember attending. Then we went to one of our favorite Chinese restaurants for lunch, and then we went back to their house and unwrapped presents, and left with enough time for people to rest and nap and not feel completely worn out.

On Tuesday the boys woke up and found that Santa had left them each some presents; they had fun opening those, and playing with them. Then we went over to my parents' house, where my aunt and cousin (on my mom's side) were also staying. My brother and his wife were also there, and there were more presents - and then Christmas dinner, and then a bit of socializing, until it was time for most of the group to head outside in the middle of the blizzard and go see The Hobbit.

The boys were great on both those days. They had a wonderful time, and nobody melted down. Which, looking at it, was kind of amazing.

You see, somewhere late on Sunday, Firstborn started complaining about a sore throat. And that night, Secondborn started coughing hard enough - and long enough - that he, um, set himself off and made a mess of his bed. So in between our two days of Christmas, we took them both down to the pediatrician... where we discovered that they both had Strep. This was... not exactly the sort of gift we'd been hoping for.

Originally, we'd planned to take the rest of the week and make a trip up to Arkansas to see more of the extended family (on my wife's side, including her sister's family). But between the snow, and Firstborn getting just enough of that cough to make me change his sheets last night, we're giving up. We'd love to make the trip and see everybody, but there's no point in trying if everybody's just going to be miserable. So, much as I would have liked to get out of town, we're going to spend the next few days here - probably having quiet days at home, at least until the boys feel well enough to stop being quiet.

Like a lot of grown-up decisions, it's not really an ideal set of options, and it's impossible to know whether or not we're making the best choice. I'm not sure when we'll get a chance to try again, and it's entirely possible that if we had decided to go, everything would have been fine and fun. Sometimes, if you keep persisting, everything will work out. Other times, if you keep persisting, you just end up exhausted and stressed, and wishing you'd been smart enough to cut your losses earlier. So we're guessing, based on the boys being sick and the likelihood that one or the other us is also sick - or will be soon. This is the best way we can see, so we're going with it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Confidential File Transcript: God Rest Ye

Dear Santa,

I realize that it's customary, at least for human children, to write to you with a list of their Christmas wishes. I also realize that I'm a day late, so if anybody is writing to you now, it's probably to thank you for bringing them all those nice presents.

I, however, am an elf: born and raised at the North Pole. We both know what that means. I don't receive presents - at least not from you. Apparently I don't even receive reasonable concessions for my brother- and sister-elves. And since I've spent the last few days fleeing the North Pole, Oslo, Rome, and Miami, I'm not feeling especially grateful, either.

All the way around the world in one night, and you still couldn't find me. That must burn - at least a little, am I right? IntSec couldn't keep me there, Twinkle couldn't catch me, and the Redcap who shall remain nameless couldn't kill me. Are you at least a little bit worried, now? You should be.

I'm not asking for much. I just want reasonable working hours, better conditions in the workshop, and basic safety precautions. I don't even want them for myself - you know as well as I do that I'm not coming back. It's not like I'm asking you to stop the sacrifices or give up your immortality. So think about it, would you? I'm offering you a deal.

All you have to do is put an advert in the New York Times - let's say on Imbolc, so you'll have some time to think it over. You give me your word that you'll improve things, and I'll keep my silence and stay gone. Simple as that. Or, you say nothing, and I'll find a way to expose you. Oh, sure, nobody wants to cross you now... but your rep isn't as airtight as you think it is. Too many humans suspect you already. If the word really gets out, they will turn on you. So give it some honest thought, Big Guy.

Sincerely,

Snowblossom Smith

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Confidential File Transcript: What Child Is This?

(Translated from the Italian. Records obtained by InterPol on December 22, 2012.)

To: [REDACTED]
From: [REDACTED]
Regarding: Visitor the Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
21/12/2012

Snowblossom Smith arrived this afternoon, and asked to speak to the Cardinal Prefect as expected. The Prefect not being available, I received him in the role of Secretary.

The Elf made accusations which appear to confirm several of the more ominous reports of North Pole activity and Santa's true Eternal allegiance. (See report 462-B conf. for transcripts and further discussion.) These will bear further investigating.

Following the terms of the Treaty, Polar Liaison Twinkle was notified and came to the office. Snowblossom attempted to flee but was captured almost immediately.

At this point, Liaison Twinkle informed me that the person we had captured was not an elf. Further questioning revealed that "Snowblossom" was in fact a midget who had been engaged and prepared by the true Snowblossom, who clearly anticipated our response.

While our current policy has served us well for centuries, I must urge a cautious, attentive approach to the North Pole for the coming months; perhaps as much as the next several years. Issues to watch include threats to both the Faith and humanity in general, as well as what might be termed "human rights" issues (if the elves indeed have souls). This renegade elf is smart; word is, they were grooming him for their security force. He may be the best chance we have had in centuries to expose the master of the North Pole and repudiate that damnable treaty.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Confidential File Transcript: Then How The Reindeer Loved Him

It's all right. Calm down. We're trying to help you. Do you know where you are?

Norway? Oslo, maybe? Not far enough...

That's correct. Can you tell me your name?

My name is Snowblossom Smith, and I'm begging you - please - I need political asylum. I can't go back there.

Let me get this straight: you need asylum from S-

Oh, God. Not you, too. Look, he's not what you think he is.

Listen, Ma'am...

Sir. I'm a Sir.

Oh. Sorry... mister... Snowblossom. Sorry. Listen, we've seen your file, so it's no use complaining that...

That doesn't strike you as odd? I've been gone from the North Pole for maybe four hours, and you've already got a file on me? What are they accusing me of?

Take it easy. Nobody's accusing you of anything.

Did they say I was crazy? Or suffering from memory loss? Is that why you were asking if I knew where I was?

Listen, I know these people. I know how they work. They've got an image to protect, and since I'm out of their reach, they're going to try to discredit me. You can't let them have me.


Why don't you tell us what happened?

You'll think I'm crazy if I tell you all of it. You can't even imagine what it's like up there. The things that go on... All right, here: take a look at this.

That's... quite a set of bruises.

Yeah. You see that shape? That's a hoofprint. God's honest truth, I was sitting in the canteen trying to eat enough food to carry me through my shift, because...

You have to understand, I've been trying to organize the other elves. We work eighteen, nineteen hour shifts. Then it's three or four hours for food, sleep, maybe a shower if you're lucky. And then we're back on shift. You wouldn't believe the kind of accidents we have, or how bad they can get. My last shift, they carried Dandy off the line in a stretcher - he got his foot crushed in the Nerf gun assembly. It happens. Everybody in the workshop is too tired to see straight.

So, yeah, I've been trying to get us organized. If we could just talk about sensible safety regulations, that would something. But the Big Guy doesn't want to hear it.

So that's why it happened. I don't know if somebody put him up to it, but it wasn't an accident. That red-nosed mutant, the one you call Rudolph? He comes crashing in the door to the canteen. I can see right off that he's drunk and looking for trouble. He's talking about elves who want to spoil Christmas, and how we don't know our place, and then he sees me.

I was lucky to get out with just the bruises. And I knew I couldn't stay there.


That's... quite a story.

That's why I need asylum. I go back there, I won't last three days. It'll be a tragic accident... or I'll just disappear under NPS.

Sorry, Snowblossom, but it's not my call. You'll have to talk to the Foreign Minister about that.

They'll never go for it. If the Big Guy puts pressure on...

Look, I'm not asking you to break the treaty. Just... look over there for a moment, would you?


Over where?

Hey, where'd he go? Damn it, has anybody seen an elf around here?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Secret Journal of Nostradamus

Being a true account of how the Chevalier D'Eon retrieved the Secret Writings of Nostradamus for the Marquis De Sade.

They met in an obscure roadside inn between Paris and Rouen. It was not a particular noteworthy or auspicious location. That was, of course, deliberate. For all the importance of this exchange, neither of the people involved had any desire to be noticed. It was a calm morning, sunny, with just enough clouds to keep the temperature mild.

Donatien Fran├žois was waiting at a table when the Chevalier arrived. He rose, bowed, and said, "d'Eon, I presume?"

"I am honored, Marquis." Charlotte d'Eon de Beaumont offered a suitable curtsey, then took a seat at the table.

"Not at all, gracious lady." The Marquis de Sade smiled. "When a... diplomat... of your stature defies her exile to do a favor for me, I must be the one who is honored."

The Chevalier d'Eon inclined her head. "Not exactly a favor, Marquis. I do expect to be paid... though I must confess that your interest coincided with my own curiosity in this case."

"Well, then." The Marquis placed a small bag upon the rough wood of the table. "You have the item we discussed?"

The Chevalier grasped the bag in one calloused hand, lifting it enough to feel its weight. "I do indeed. The secret journal of Nostradamus, taken from the private library of his many-times-great grandson. It was hidden inside another book; I doubt the family even knew it was there."

"You've read it, of course." The Marquis' smile widened as Charlotte d'Eon lifted a small, square satchel and placed it on the table beside the bag.

"Naturally," The Chevalier agreed.

"...And?"

"We were wrong."

The Marquis' face went still. "He could see the future?"

"He described this meeting - us, here - in considerable detail. And told us both about what we could expect from our lives, and how we would be remembered." The Chevalier d'Eon looked away. "It was not pleasant reading."

"But, to know the future! The very shape of things to come... does he speak of the end of the world?"

"Not in our lifetime. He predicts a great rain of fire - something about the sun itself growing larger to devour us."

"I... see." The Marquis de Sade turned his eyes to the book, still wrapped in its satchel. "I do not wish to seem abrupt, but..."

The Chevalier stood. "I understand, and I wish you well of it." She reached down and collected the bag of coin. "As for myself, I will return to my exile... and then I will get very, very drunk; and forget as much of Monsieur Nostradamus' writings as I can. Good day, Marquis."

"...And to you, Chevalier."

Here ends the true account of how the Chevalier d'Eon, diplomat and spy, put the secret writings of Michel de Nostradame into the hands of the Marquis de Sade, libertine and revolutionary, in the years before the French Revolution. You will not find this account in any history book, but it remains true nevertheless. I pass it on to you as Nostradamus himself described it in his secret journal, which my grandfather collected at an auction house in Charleston in 1907; and how it came there, I cannot even imagine.

This is, of course, shameless link bait for the unbelievable number of people doing searches on Nostradamus right now, and anyway you really ought to know better than to trust a writer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Confidential File Transcript - For Goodness' Sake

NP IntSec N/N Monitoring
D/T: 2012-12-14 04:36:27
MonLoc: ElfDorm3-2nd-NWBath
IntSecAgBadge: 45354

TRANSCRIPT BEGINS:

Voice1: Hurry it up. I'm back on shift in three hours. What's more important than food and sleep right now?

Voice2: Exactly that. How many hours of sleep have we gotten in the last week? How many meals a day?

Voice 1: It's crunch time. It's always like this. You know.

Voice 2: It wasn't always like this. We used to work shorter shifts. We got regular meals and enough sleep.

Voice 1: That was before there were so many kids in the world, and so much stuff for them to want. Come on, let me-

Voice 2: That's what the Big Guy wants you to think. He's been making us do more with less for years. We do all the work around here, but he gets all the credit.

Voice 1: So what are you suggesting?

Voice 2: I'm just saying we should have a little bit more say in how the place is run. That's all.

Voice 1: Look, I'm not gonna disrupt Christmas just so we can take longer breaks. You want to talk about this, I say we take it to the Big Guy in January.

Voice 2: It'll be too late, then. We'll have lost our bargaining position. We have to do it now, when he doesn't have time to bring in help. We do this in the spring, he'll just replace us.

Voice 1: No. Even if you're right, it's not fair to the kids.

Voice 2: Just think about it. That's all I'm asking.

Voice 1: Fine. I'll think about it. I'm going to go to the canteen right now, and think about it. And then I'm going to grab some sleep, but when I wake up, I'll think about it. While I'm making toys.

Voice 2: That's all I'm asking.

END TRANSCRIPT.

VP-Ident "Voice 1": Gumdrop Biddles, Assembly Elf II, Electronics
%Cert: 98.756%

VP-Ident "Voice 2": SnowBlossom Smith, Stall Maintenance Elf, Reindeer Barn
%Cert: 99.193%

IntSecAg 45354 Recommendations: Keep Assembly Elf Gumdrop on the Nice List, but flag his file for extra monitoring for 1 week. Move Stall Maintenance Elf Snowblossom to Naughty List and institute Full Scrooge Treatment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Reruns

Right, so: I don't have anything particularly funny or insightful to say this morning. That being the case, I'm going to fall back on the favorite strategy of television executives everywhere: reruns. Returning from previous years to entertain you again, here are:

Why We Put Angels On Christmas Trees

Keeping Christ in Christmas

What Santa Really Wants

The Christmas Kangaroo

And, finally... The Secret Origin of Santa! (Not for the faint of heart!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Welcome to the North Pole

So there I was, thinking about alternative Christmas carols.

I've mentioned once or twice before that I have a somewhat... ambivalent... relationship with the holidays. I love Christmas and New Year's, but I hate the weeks leading up to them. A large part of my loathing for the holiday season can be summed up in two words: "Christmas music." And a large part of my Kryptonite reaction to Christmas music can be traced directly to the years I spent working in retail.

A few years ago, however, I started assembling a collection of Christmas songs that I actually like - many of which are also ambivalent about the holiday season. This has gone a long way towards improving my relationship with Christmas music - though it's meant making an effort to really look for songs that aren't just the usual holiday drivel.

So there I was, thinking about alternative Christmas carols. And eighties music. And no, I'm not going to pause for another two-paragraph digression about eighties music. Instead, I will completely break character and actually get to the point.

There should be, I found myself thinking, a Christmas carol set to the tune of Guns'n'Roses "Welcome to the Jungle", called "Welcome to the North Pole".

So now, of course, I've got this nonexistent Christmas carol stuck in my head.
Welcome to the North Pole
We've got fun and games
We've got everything you want
Santa, he knows your name
We are the reindeer that can bring
Whatever you may need
If you're on the List this year
We've got all your treats

At the North Pole
Welcome to the North Pole...
...Which is bad enough. I mean, really.

But then it occurred to me that this was too obvious. I couldn't possibly be the first one to come up with this. Which meant that somewhere on YouTube, there pretty much had to be...

This:

And oh, dark powers of the universe, it's even more horrible than I ever imagined possible...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Harrowing of Thomas

Thomas tooted his horn as he passed Percy. Percy was waiting in the siding so Thomas could go past.

"That's a lot of cars you have, Thomas," said Percy.

Thomas groaned. "You have no idea, Percy. They're so very heavy."

Percy was worried by how hard Thomas was working to pull all those cars. "Did the Fat Controller tell you to move all those?"

"Oh, no," said Thomas. "The Fat Controller would never do that. I was-" Suddenly, Thomas felt himself moving.

"Thomas, where are you going? There are no tracks over there. We're trains, we need tracks to go on!" Percy whistled in alarm, but he was too late to help. Thomas was already headed off cross-country, chugging as hard as he could. Some dark and powerful force had stolen him away!

Then came the final horror. Thomas could see the wall approaching, but he could do nothing to avoid it. It was an incredible sight, taller than anything he had ever seen. And when he ran into it, he just kept on trying to go forward. His engine strained, and there was nowhere for him to go, but he would continue pushing until his battery finally ran down. Then, finally, he might find some escape from the unearthly horror of the Giant Two-Year-Old. He could only pray that the end would come soon.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pulling the Book Together

I mentioned earlier that I was going to try to put together a collection of stuff I've written, and publish it as an ebook. As of today, I have finished copying things from the Blog o' Doom here. Combined into a Word document, it's about ninety pages - but we'll lose some of that when I start editing the formatting. I suspect I'll have about sixty or seventy pages when I'm done.

I want to go back through my other files, but I think that's a good start. I'm leaving out the parenting and opinion stuff, so this collection will be nothing but fiction. Looking at it, it falls into four basic categories: mad science, religious fiction, horror, and fantasy. I don't think I'm going to divide the book up that way; among other things, I think the mad science entries work best when they're broken up by other stuff. But, we'll see; I still need to make a list of stories and then play with the layout.

Also, I need to come up with a title. Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Well, that went well...

Right, so the latest attempt at the software upgrade has run aground on a reef, gashed open the side of the boat, and is now being swallowed by the hungry waves... so to speak. Turns out the software update is going to require a full-scale, ground-up server update. My boss swears that those requirements weren't in the documentation, and he's probably right - at least, when we went back and looked, we didn't see it.
So, the project is delayed yet again, our test site is stuck in mid-upgrade and therefore offline, and the main site will have to be taken down for, conservatively, a full work day. This will happen amidst wailing and gnashing of teeth, I have no doubt; there might even be sackcloth involved.

Meanwhile, back to other projects...

Filler: Awake Ye Scary Great Old Ones

Making another run at the server upgrade, so...



I'll have real content later, I promise!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ask the Readers: Raft To Boat

Okay, so I'm working on a story - you all know that, right? Well, I've run into some logistical trouble. I'm not sure how to move the characters through their current situation so I can get on to the interesting stuff. I think I have a solution, but I thought I'd throw the scenario out here and see if there's anything that I missed.

Part of the problem is that I'm writing a character who's supposed to be reasonably clever, and I'm not feeling particularly clever myself just now. Anyway...

Here's the scenario: We have a young man (Gabbin) removing a young woman (Amarie) from a desert island. The primary difficulty is that Amarie is highly dehydrated, and therefore unconscious. (The obvious solution would be to treat her on the island, but there are reasons Gabbin cannot do that.) So Gabbin has pulled her onto an inflatable boat and rowed her out to his sailboat, which is an antique forty-footer (the CS 40, produced by Canadian Sailcraft - if you put it in Google, you can find pics and stuff). So, the problem: how does Gabbin get Amarie off the raft, and onto the boat, without hurting her in the process?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Filler: A Christmas Carol

I'm helping with a server upgrade this morning, so here's a little Tom Lehrer to help get you into the true spirit of the holidays:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Christmas Gifts

'Tis the season, and as I'm sure you've all been anticipating, the Mad Science Consortium is pleased to offer this year's selection of unique and specialized Christmas gifts. I'm sure you're all very busy, so we'll get straight down to our favorites - but remember, this is only a sample, and there's plenty more to see in the complete Holiday Catalog.

1. Aphrodisiac Mistletoe - While this looks like a typical mistletoe clipping, it's actually a complete plant. Just spray it once a week with nutrient mist (more often for dry environments) and leave it hanging over the doorway. The subtle and intoxicating effect of high-grade pheromones will drift gently down over anyone who stops to observe the custom... and given a few days in a relatively closed environment, one or two plants can completely permeate a good-sized room. Your holiday parties will never be dull again!

2. Milton's Marvelous Mechanical Minstrel - tired of hauling out the Dickens for your umpteenth bout of public reading this year? One too many Grand-babies tugging on your beard while you're telling stories? Milton's Marvelous Mechanical Minstrel is your answer! Perfectly human in both appearance and mannerisms, this 'bot will recite any of thirty pre-loaded holiday stories, songs, and poems - and you can upload more using a standard USB interface. Even better, when your company has left, it will take itself to the nearest closet and power down until manually reactivated. For improved performance, consider ordering the Elite version, which comes equipped with a fully operational military AI and built-in crowd-suppression measures. Let Milton's Marvelous Mechanical Minstrel do the work, while you sit back and enjoy the eggnog!

3. Giles' Jolly Guard Tree - Having trouble with children (or spouses) who just can't leave their presents alone? Guard Trees are the holiday item for you. Their clusters of eyes keep a constant watch on their environment, and any attempt to remove presents from beneath the tree results in the presents being removed up into the branches. Further attempts result in the perpetrator being drawn up into the branches and immobilized. Guard Trees are equipped with a fast-acting neurotoxin which will reduce offenders to a catatonic state - and for a small fee, can be guaranteed to produce exceedingly memorable nightmares as well. Note: Giles' Jolly Guard Tree is tailored to human biochemistry. Not recommended for households with cats or ferrets.

4. Child's Own Rocket Kit - So your child is interested in space travel, but isn't ready to design their own vehicle from the ground up? Get them started with their very own rocket kit! Your child can choose from two hull designs (shuttle or saucer), and three different propulsion systems. The Control Suite is highly customizable, allowing your child to experiment with different seating angles, control arrays, and sensor inputs. Note that unmodified (biologically normal) children may wish to consider investing in item SPA5477239, the Self-Contained Vacuum-Ready Envirosuit, before attempting to leave Earth's atmosphere.

These and other items are available at modest prices through the Mad Science Consortium or you local affiliate today. Don't delay! Make your holiday complete! You'll never regret it!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Input On Pulling Together A Book

I'm thinking about trying to get published. Admittedly, I've been thinking about this for quite some time, now - but what with one thing and another, it seems like I really ought to get off my butt and at least make a proper attempt.

The original plan was to rewrite the Great Pulp Fantasy Novel. Failing that, the plan was to write some other novel.[1] At this point, neither of those are viable options. So, I'm falling back on Plan C, which is basically "pull together some stuff that I've already written, slap it in an ebook, and see if anybody's willing to pay for it."

So now I'm looking for things I've already written... and most of that is here on the Blog o' Doom. That being the case, it seems like a good idea to ask you, the Readers o' Doom, what sort of things you'd like to see in a collection. Should it be entirely devoted to stories, or should I throw in some of the rants, gripes, and essays? Are there any particular pieces that absolutely should not get left out?

What do you think?

[1] I have at least six novel-length writing projects that I'd love to be working on. In terms of completion, they range from "I've gathered some background materials" to "I've nearly finished one whole chapter!" Some of them have been in this condition for years, which isn't the least bit depressing - not at all.

Filler: Heroics

Just a bit of musical contrast for today:



So... heroes: need 'em, or better off without 'em?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Weird Dreams: Blood Beasts

Dreams last night were a weird mix of zombies, work, ruined buildings, the mafia (I think I was applying for a job?) - and then, in the midst of one of the zombie bits, these two giant beasts went by outside the half-ruined building, spraying blood everywhere as they passed. (Marking territory? Making a path to guide the zombies? Trying to infect the living with something?)

They were at least two stories tall, probably three. The had oddly rectangular-platform bodies (though rounded enough to be organic) atop long, spindly legs. Their heads were sort of snarly-gargoyle faces. And they had no skin - just raw meat and bone, with blood spraying off them.

Which, y'know, gah. But if they show up in some sort of horror-ish book that I might or might not be writing, you'll know where they came from.

Filler: I need some sleep

I probably should have put this up last night, instead of this morning. Oh, well...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Friday The 13th, Part H

So an iFriend put up an invitation for people to come and see The Hobbit on Friday the 14th. Except, well, it's been a long week, and my brain is a bit scrambled, and I read it as an invitation to go see hobbits in Friday The 13th. Which, well...
"I'm not so sure this is a good idea," said Balin. "Once we enter the realm of Camp Crystal Lake, there's no telling what manner of foul and murderous beings we might encounter."

"Bah!" answered Thorin. "Those are but stories to frighten children! And I shall prove it by going for a swim in the lake."

Bilbo backed away in horror as the dwarf set his axe aside and began to pull off his tunic...

A Week of Filler

There are several things that I'd kind of meant (in my own fuzzy sort of way) to write down and post, here on the Blog o' Doom. I meant, for example, to provide an account of the epic Skylanders Giants battle that Firstborn and I conducted across the park on Sunday afternoon - six rounds, with each of us making up a new Skylander for each round; of those six, I won exactly one. I had also intended to talk about Occupy Midian, and why this is deeply, powerfully - almost religiously - important to me. I meant to talk about an odd little divorce-related memory that a conversation with a friend recently brought to mind.

That... hasn't happened. And just at the moment, my energy - and, by extension, my interest in writing, well, anything - is at a low ebb. So it looks like it isn't going to happen, at least not any time this week. So I'm just going to warn you now that the rest of this week is going to be nothing but filler.

Speaking of the which...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dreaming All Over The Place

Very strange, disconnected dreams last night - probably because I fell asleep in Firstborn's bed while trying to get him to sleep.

First, there was a seaside bit - just relaxing on the beach, looking at the fish. Except there was this one little shark, maybe eighteen inches long, that jumped up on the shore. (This was just something it did - part of a hunting strategy or something.) So we were trying to collect it long enough to look at it, but without getting bitten or torn up by its skin.

Then we went back to our room, and we were trying to pack up to go back home. (No transition from the shark sequence; one moment we were trying to catch a flopping mini-shark, the next we were packing.) I think we were running late for our plane flight, but the Beautiful Wife didn't seem very concerned about it.

And then I had to go back to the big, expensive shop in (I think) the mall, to catch the ring of thieves. Which mostly worked - we got about 2/3 of them, I think.

Part of the reason it seemed so discombobulated is that "we" was a different group of people at any given point in the dream. The shark scene featured a generic "group", while the hotel(?) room scene was me, the Beautiful Woman, and the two boys. The catching-the-bad-guys scene was yet another group, this one of the "team of misfits" variety - about eight people total.

Strangely, I did not dream about things (toes) sticking into my ribs, or other things (elbows) pressing into my head... even though I experienced a fair amount of that during the night. So, so going back to my own bed tonight.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Filler: Scary Little Solstice

Running late this morning, and it's going to be a busy day. But, Thanksgiving is over and December is here, so here's a little something to help you get into the spirit of the season.


This is from the album A Very Scary Solstice, created by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Breton's Lament

So there I was, languishing in the Imperial Prison, when in comes a trio of Blades and the Emperor himself - Uriel Septim VII. No, I'm not jesting. Apparently my cell was directly in the path of their escape route.

The blades were none too happy about it, but the Emperor let me follow along... and then, when the assassins attacked, he told me to find his son, confront the Daedra Lord Dagon, and close the Gates to Oblivion.

I always knew I'd pursue a life of adventure. I mean, my oldest brother was always going to inherent Dad's alchemy practice, and our sister was constantly being groomed for an advantageous marriage; so there wasn't much left for me, except clearing out necromancers and goblins and bandits in the wilderness. And to be honest, that suited me just fine. For one thing, the idea of spending days in the shop and nights in the lab, well... boooorrrring. For another, there's good money to be made as an adventurer, at least if you can avoid taking an arrow in the knee or being gruesomely ripped to pieces by trolls.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that at least I wasn't just some random farmer when the Emperor asked to save his son and take on a Daedra Lord. I'd been expecting a life of creeping down darkened corridors, unraveling ancient magics, and facing powerful enemies in mortal combat. I knew how to use a blade and move while wearing armor. I could move quietly, and open recalcitrant locks - though, admittedly, that was what had landed me in prison in the first place. And I could use magic to heal myself, or to throw fire at my enemies, or to see in the dark...

...Sort of.

See, the reason - the whole, entire, only reason - that I'd studied Illusion magic was so I could learn to see in the dark. Because, when you're creeping through nighted corridors in search of bloodthirsty bandits, you basically want two things: you want to see the bandits, and you want them not to see you.

So what did old Urgle Gro-Barsnich teach me? She taught me a light spell. That's right: a light spell.

So now, when I'm creeping down a pitch-dark corridor with danger on every side, I can glow in the dark. This accomplishes two things:

1. I can see. I can, in fact, see things a good three or four feet in front of me.

2. Anything and everything around can see me - no matter how far away I am.

As you might imagine, this has not done a lot to improve my ability to sneak around unseen. In fact, the only thing I've successfully crept up on is a single goblin, and the only reason I managed that is because he had his back to me and was staring at a camp fire.

What has improved is my skill with armor - being constantly battered by unseen attackers will do that to you. And, even more than that, it's improved my skill with healing magics. You would not believe how much practice I get with that.

So what I'm going to do is this: I'm going to find the Emperor's son. I'm going to give him the amulet. I'm going to confront the Daedra Lord Dagon. And then, just before the last Gate to Oblivion closes, I'm going to grab Urgle Gro-Barsnich and shove her through it.

Bloody Orcs. Bloody light spells...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Story ideas born from memes...

Over on her Livejournal, Martha Wells is experimenting with a meme: tell me about a story I haven't written, and I'll give you one sentence from that story. Which looked like fun, so I thought about it and posted this:
Once there was an air-captain whose sailbeast got caught in a sudden storm, and crashed atop one of the great mountain-turtles that circle the edges of the civilized lands. Trapped in the strange high wilderness of the Upper Shell, she would need all her ingenuity and courage - not only to survive, but to forage for her sailbeast until its gas-bladder healed enough to fly again.
And, of course, having casually dropped that in the comments, I found myself thinking, I should write that story. It would be a young adult adventure - probably - and quite a lot of fun.

So, I copied it over to help me remember it for later. 'Cause it really would be fun to write.

And if anybody wants to try that meme out here, go ahead. Tell me about a story, and I'll give you one sentence from that story.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Assessing the Horror of Windows 8

I bought a new laptop (early Christmas present - some of the money was mine, and some was gifts). It came in, and I charged it up. And yesterday, just before I left work, I decided to turn it on and finish setting it up. You know, the usual stuff for a new Windows & Stuff installation on a pre-loaded computer. Uninstall the junk, add the programs I actually use, and arrange things where I can find them - that sort of thing.

Or, at least, that was the plan.

What actually happened - and remember, I've got XP on the old laptop and Windows 7 at work, and I haven't bothered to look up anything about Windows 8, because really how different is it likely to be? What actually happened was, well... Okay, I'm just going to copy my Facebook post from 5:12 p.m. yesterday:
Just fired up Windows 8 and OMG WHAT IS THIS WHERE DID MY PROGRAMS GO!?!?!?!?

Ahem. Pardon that. It's time to go home, anyway, so I'll just... WAIT A SECOND, WHERE THE HELL DID THE SHUT DOWN BUTTON GO!?!?!?!?!? No, no, deep breaths... Google is my friend, Google is my friend, Google is my... wait, they put it WHERE? You get to it HOW? Okay, well, I guess that worked...

Right, so... I'll just go home, eat dinner, and then figure out how to find programs from the desktop. Calmly. Quietly. I mean sure, the layout's a little unfamiliar, but how hard can it be, really?

The ominous music in the background suggests that I'm going to be indulging in primal screams quite a lot over the next few days.
Here's the thing: Windows 8 was apparently designed with a whole bunch of new features, and nothing that even vaguely resembles a smooth transition from the way you did things in previous versions of Windows. Any previous versions of Windows. No, really - the system boots into a startup screen which comes pre-loaded with a mess of different apps. Which, if I'd wanted that sort of thing on my laptop, I'd have bought a Mac in the first place. Then, once you finally locate the one that says "desktop" and manage to escape, you quickly discover that "desktop" doesn't mean what it used to, either. Huge, glaring example: there's no Start Menu. You remember the Start Menu, right? The button in the lower left corner that's been the go-to spot for pretty much anything you wanted to do since back in Windows 95? Yeah. Gone. Want a list of available programs? Good luck. Apparently you're supposed to go back to the splash screen with all the apps - except that, if you're me, you've just spent the last few minutes ruthlessly uninstalling anything you didn't want, which was most of it. You've also unpinned all the programs from the taskbar in the Desktop view, because who wants all that crap sitting down there?

So not only can I not find a list of programs on my new laptop, I've also made it functionally impossible to, for example, set my homepage in Internet Explorer. In fact, I had to open Windows Explorer (with a keyboard shortcut!) and navigate to the Program Files in order to launch the benighted browser in any sort of recognizable format. Don't get me wrong - I'd left it intact on the Apps screen, but the version that opens from there is barely recognizable as IE, and completely lacks those menu items - or menu items at all, for that matter.

But, okay, surely there's a setting in the Control Panel that will fix this. This thought reassured me briefly, until I discovered that A) I couldn't find the control panel, and then - once I finally located it - B) there is no such setting. Using that Apps screen that comes up at startup? You're stuck with it.

So the marketing strategy here is clearly to saddle you with a bunch of stuff you don't want but can't escape, thereby forcing you to use it anyway - until Stockholm Syndrome sets in and you come to believe that you actually love this interface. This is not something I have a lot of patience for.

However, I have more than just my profound irritation to fall back on. I have Google. And a search on "How do I find my programs in Windows 8" produces a number of promising leads. There's a method for creating a new toolbar on the taskbar, which looks promising but proves unsatisfying. And then there are several articles, with links, which describe programs that will give you back a working start menu. There are at least half a dozen to choose from - and that's just from the first article I read - and probably half of them offer some way to suppress the startup/app view, which should give you some idea of how badly Microsoft screwed the pooch by leaving the Start Menu out. I picked one that sounded about like what I wanted, installed it, and - Voila! - now I have a Start Menu, and access to my programs!

Open Source resolves what corporate rectal cranioendomesis will not.

So I'm getting Windows 8 hammered down into doing what I want, and hopefully today I'll be able to load my files onto the new laptop and really give it a test drive. But it's worth noting that I'm doing it in complete defiance of the will of the OS developers. It's worth keeping that in mind if you're considering buying a new machine. And it might be worth asking your vendor if it's possible to get the same machine with Windows 7 instead of Windows 8... because, hey, at least then you'll have some idea of what you're getting into.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Warrior Take-out

I have, here on the desk beside me, a take-out cup from the Genghis Grill. If you're unfamiliar with the restaurant chain, all you really need to know is this: They're a choose-your-own-ingredients stir-fry place with a Genghis Khan motif, so their branding tends to focus on warrior imagery and puns on the word "khan".

Case in point: my carry-out cup. It has the Genghis Grill logo on the front, of course. Then, on the back, it offers the following... um... proverb? Slogan? Anyway:

Warriors Don't Sip
THEY GULP

I have two issues with this:
  1. The techical term is "quaff".
  2. How do straws figure into this, anyway?
In their defense, I imagine that using a cup with a plastic lid and a straw does make you rather less likely to spill your soda on your horse while you're riding into battle...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Harduk The Slayer and the Father-In-Law of Doom

Harduk shoved the blanket aside and sat up. Nissa lay at his side, still snoring gently. Judging by the sun, the boat was still on course. Nearmis Oddbottom was sitting beside the rudder.

Harduk blinked, shook his head, and reached for a water-skin. He was in no hurry to leave the blankets. He had arrived on that island wearing only a loincloth. Now he was not even sure where that had gone.

When he looked again, the wizard was still there.

"Well," he said. "What are you doing here?"

"You destroy my ruins, kidnap and despoil my daughter, and you have to ask?"

Harduk was silent for the space of several breaths. He was very much aware of Nissa; her presence was probably the only reason the wizard hadn't destroyed him already.

"You and Duke Decantar," he said, and took another swig of water. "I spoke with your daughter last night, after we'd had our fun. I'm not your enemy, wizard. I'm the instrument of Nissa's curse. She made me to disrupt your work, so that she could have a normal life." He paused, yawning wide enough to crack his jaws. "Also, as of the middle of last night, I'm your son-in-law."

"WHAT?"

Harduk shrugged. He'd killed wizards before, but he was finding this exchange far more satisfying. "I'm the captain of this ship. I conducted the ceremony, and she summoned... beings... to witness it. She's a married woman, now - of her own free will - and no longer your concern."

The wizard's face was a frozen mask. "Harduk the Slayer, I will kill you."

Harduk shrugged. "You'll have your chance," he said. "After the wedding, Nissa tried to lift her curse... but she failed. Until she does, I'm still drawn to your ruins. So you keep building them, and I'll keep stumbling into them, and we'll see who survives." He paused, then added: "Does that sound like a hobby that could keep you entertained, old man?"

Nearmis Oddbottom's expression was purest fury for a moment longer. Then it cracked, and he chuckled. "Yes," he said, "I suppose it might. I'll need to add more death-traps, of course."

"Of course," agreed Harduk. No true son of Distractia could be intimidated by death-traps, even if Distractia had never existed save as the imagined source of a young sorceress' dreams of escape. "Just leave in the treasures, so I have some reason to explore."

"Oh, never fear," said the wizard. "There'll be treasure aplenty, for the man bold enough to seek it."

"Until that day, wizard." Harduk smiled.

"Until I kill you, son-in-law."

Here ends this tale of Harduk the Slayer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Party of Awesome Campaign Platform

Good people, I am pleased to announce the first draft of my political platform. Here you will learn about the things I stand for, and the goals I will work towards if elected Emperor. Remember, a vote for Michael Mock is a vote for Awesome.
1. The Party of Awesome is comprehensively pro-bacon. We will work to reduce bacon prices, increase the national bacon supply, and improve bacon availability. However, we will not force bacon on anyone. (As the scriptures say, "The bacon which must be forced upon the tongue is not the true bacon.")

2. We can dance if we want to. Also, we can leave your friends behind - because your friends don't dance, and if they don't dance then they're no friends of mine.

3. The Party of Awesome also supports a clean energy initiative. Specifically, we intend to harness the limitless energy of America's toddlers by hanging cookies in front of treadmills. Our researchers assure us that will provide more than enough electricity for the foreseeable future, and also help wear the kids out so that they'll finally go to sleep at bedtime.

4. The Party of Awesome pledges to institute Zombie Defense Training initiatives in all public schools, and provide curriculum for private schools to use at their discretion. Additional programs to cover related threats such as lycanthropy and vampirism are still being developed.

5. We will abolish Daylight Savings Time, because it annoys me.

6. The Party of Awesome will work to implement laws (at either the State or Federal level) limiting the display of holiday decorations and the playing of holiday music to no more than three weeks before the relevant holiday. Also, anyone producing Christmas music will be required to create their own new melodies and lyrics, rather than recycling parts of older tunes.
So, fellow Americans: tell me what you think. What am I missing? What other burning issues should be included in our Awesome platform?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Where the horde kept their hoard

I've developed a new soapbox issue, another pet peeve, when it comes to people abusing the English language. Forget the proper use of apostrophes, never mind the confusion over their, they're, and there, and don't even worry about whether I could (or couldn't) care less. No, the English Abuse that's currently making me crazy is this: horde and hoard.

A horde is a large group: a mob, or a swarm.

A hoard is a collection of something that has been set aside for preservation or future use.

So you can fight off a barbarian horde, or you can steal from the barbarians' hoard - but if you find yourself fighting off a barbarian hoard, you're doing something very wrong. (Perhaps their treasure has attacked you?) Alternatively, I suppose an evil wizard could have a hoard of barbarians, if he keeps them in suspended animation in the basement or something. But that's not normally how it works.

In the same vein, a dragon can have a hoard of treasure, or a family can have a hoard of canned goods; but unless you've been setting aside magically animated gold statues or something, you can't have a horde of treasure. Just remember: a horde can hide its hoard, and a hoard can supply a horde, but there's no such thing as a bored hoard, no matter where it's stored.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Harduk The Slayer and the Sailboat of Doom

"When you said you could make another Frostblight," Harduk asked, "What did you mean?"

Nissa shifted on the wooden bench, but met his eyes directly. "Well," she said, "I'm not so skilled as my father, but I can manage an enchanted blade."

Harduk frowned. "It would not be the blade of my people."

"No, I could make it-" Nissa snapped her mouth shut, then said: "...identical." After a moment she added: "Or, if you wished, I could make something different: Firestorm, say, the twin and opposite of Frostblight."

Harduk studied her as the boat rose and fell in the waves. The sails drove them on, and his hand was steady on the rudder. He would rescue Nissa, and he would marry her - if for no other reason, then because he had sworn to do so, and no man of Distractia would make himself an oathbreaker. But there were deeper mysteries here, he was sure. Frostblight was only the beginning, the first emerging leaf of the snow-vines that covered acres of land beneath the winter ice. "You seem very familiar with my sword... and myself."

Nissa looked away. After a moment, Harduk realized that she was blushing.

"Very well," she said. "You deserve to know. I could make you another Frostblight, because I was the one who made the original Frostblight."

"Nonsense," said Harduk, suddenly uneasy. "The shamans..."

"No." Nissa shook her head, and met his eyes again. "It wasn't the shamans. It was just me. I created Frostblight, and Distractia, and in a strange way even you."

"What?" said Harduk. "Why?"

"To rescue me," said Nissa. "I needed someone strong enough to take me from my father, someone who wouldn't be afraid to marry a wizard's daughter. A chieftain's son, the last survivor of his tribe, a man bred to strength and courage."

"So, then." Harduk fell silent. "Distractia..."

"The wastes of burning ice are just as you remember," Nissa said softly, "but no people ever dwelt there. The clansmen who raised you came by their skills honestly, but they shared no blood with you. The blade you carried as the last remnant of your slaughtered people is only a bare few hours older than you are." She stopped, drew a deep breath, and released it. "So... will you still be my husband? Forget your vow. I would not hold you to a promise made without full knowledge, and I do not want a husband... well, a husband that leaves in search of adventure or travel, that I could stand; but not a husband who wished me ill."

There was a long silence as Harduk considered his next words. His homeland and his heritage might be a lie, but his feelings were as strong and certain and ever. He wanted to be sure there was no possible misunderstanding. At last, satisfied, he said: "Forget my vow? Wish you ill? Do you jest, girl?" He let his grin show, broad and unrestrained. "If what you say is true, I should thank you. So... this marriage... how do we go about it?"

Nissa smiled. "There's a ceremony, of course. And then, well..." Her smile grew wider. "Then we consummate things."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Cute Kiddos

So, here's me coaxing Secondborn through a verse of "Down by the Station":

And here's Firstborn at the nice sushi/hibachi restaurant, using one of the napkins for a hat:

...And that's all I've got for today.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Real Work Conversations: Goldfish in the Gullet

I'm just going to drop this here, without any context at all.

Me: "No. Even if you managed to swallow some sort of mutant, acid-proof goldfish, stomach acid isn't sufficiently oxygenated. So the idea that you might burp and have this frankenfish come leaping back out... it isn't going to happen."

Co-worker 1: "Except in my nightmares... tonight."

Co-worker 2: "This is going to end up in a book, isn't it?"

Me: "I admit nothing."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing Process: The Importance of Research

Any good writer knows - and almost any writing class will tell you - that 4/5 of writing is actually research. It's not just a matter of "write what you know" - sooner or later, you're going to hit a point where you need to write about things you don't know. When that happens, there's only one thing to do: learn.

Well, okay, I guess technically there is another possibility. I mean, you can always push boldly onward, making up facts and faking the details. That's a viable approach, I guess, if you don't mind the fact that pretty much anything you write that way is going to suck. Mightily. But let's face it: if you don't care about the quality of your writing, you probably aren't bothering to read anyone else's thoughts on the writing process, including mine. So I can safely ignore you as a potential reading audience, can't I?

Right, then. Moving on... Research. Yes. Lots and lots of research. In fact, I occasionally suspect that this part of the writing process is expressly designed to prevent you from spending any of your time actually writing. For example... well, let's take a look at my current project.

In theory, I've been working on this project for a couple of months. (That's a vast improvement over the rest of my projects; some of those have been percolating for over a decade.) In the course of that couple of months, I have written just over a page of story - which I'm probably going to scrap, but let's save that for a different rant about the writing process. Meanwhile, in an effort not to sound like a complete idiot when I start writing about the east coast and post-apocalyptic life at sea, I have learned the following:
  1. I could purchase a nice, used sailing yacht for around $80,000. That's assuming, of course, that I could scrape together $80,000 - and that my beautiful wife wouldn't murder me in my sleep for trying something like that.
  2. It's entirely possible to raise chickens in the back yard, local ordinances permitting, which means that given the right sort of boat and a reasonable logistic situation, it can probably be done on a boat as well.
  3. I have no desire to raise chickens... anywhere... ever.
  4. Dehydration is a very, very nasty thing.
  5. Buxton, North Carolina looks like a nice place. It's on a little island on the Outer Banks, and has the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse nearby. The town is composed mainly of wooden houses, with a few brick structures here and there, and quite a lot of beach along the seaward side of the island. It's really a pity that I'm only learning this so I can better destroy the place...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Superhero or Parent?

This morning, I'm introducing a new game. I want you to consider the following bits of dialogue, and tell me whether they were said by superheroes, or by parents. There's an answer key below the cut, so you can check your answers after you finish.

  1. "Are you okay?"
    "No. He hit me in the face with a firetruck. It hurt."
  2. "Well, I chased her down - but before I could get it back, she swallowed it."
  3. "Fortunately, I caught him just before he hit the ground."

Ready to see how you did?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Killing Anonymous Comments

I'm turning off anonymous commenting for the moment. There's been a steady stream of anonymous comments recently, in the general pattern of "{Generic Comment}, Feel free to visit my website - {website}". They're pretty easy to identify, because they really aren't talking about anything in whatever post they arrive in, and honestly Google's SPAM filter catches most of them. So, y'know, not exactly a crisis.

However, I'm getting a little tired of reading them. Also, I'd like to discourage this sort of behavior. So for the moment I'm going to shut off anonymous commenting.


Also, blogging may be slow this week. I'd like to add another scene to Harduk before I post the finale, but that requires writing. In fact, pretty much anything else I might put up here would require writing at this point. And since I'm trying to take it easy and give the antibiotics a chance to do their thing, I flatly refuse to stress out about that - even the teeny little bit of stress that would be involved in finishing up something half-written.

So... consider this an open thread. Am I the only one who stages deep-space battles using candy corns to represent the ships in the fleets? (Yummy, yummy spaceships...)

Friday, November 9, 2012

My plans for the evening.

Here's my plan:
1. Drive home.
2. Dinner, however we manage that.
3. Bathe boys.
4. Brush their teeth.
5. Put boys in beds.
6. Brush my teeth.
7. The Great Collapse.

Friday Filler: Meat (is Murder)

This is my new favorite short film. Be sure to watch it all the way through; the song in the credits is part of the genius.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Real Work Conversation: Meet here?

Our boss has called the entire department into the server room for an announcement. The server room is nice and private. It's also full of servers, each with its own set of cooling fans.

Co-worker 1: "Noisy place for a meeting."

Co-worker 2: "What?"

Co-worker 1: "What?"

Co-worker 2: "What?"

Co-worker 3: (Leaning towards CW1 and gesturing towards server rack.) "Hey, could you turn those off so we can hear?"

Me: "I can't hear you, I have a ginger bread man in my ear."

Yeah, we're kind of random. The news was good, though.

NaNoWriMo? No.

I'm not taking part in National Novel Writing Month. If you read this blog, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you've probably already figured this out. (It's actually pretty easy to tell: if you're participating in NaNoWriMo, you've been obsessing over your word count for a week, now. If you aren't taking part, you're allowed to talk about other things. See? Easy.)

It's not that it doesn't sound like fun. Actually, the idea of devoting an entire month to a single writing project sounds kind of appealing. If your main problem is staying focused, NaNoWriMo could be a really big help. Unfortunately for me, the things that interfere in my writing-longer-projects aren't the sort of things that can be solved by "making more time for writing" or "making writing more of a priority". Yes, if writing was more of a priority for me, I could probably get a book written - or rewritten. All I'd have to do is, say, quit my job - that would vastly increase my writing time. Or I could quit taking care of my kids, and stay at the office or the library or something until after they were in bed. I'd get a lot more writing done that way, too.

But that's the problem: my time is finite, and writing isn't my only priority. It's definitely a priority - I'd be a basket case if I weren't at least putting things up on the Blog o' Doom, here - but I have other priorities, too. Staying gainfully employed? That's a big one. Not dumping all the child-raising responsibilities on my wife? That's another one. On a related note, how about not missing out on our boys' childhoods? Ditto. Martial Arts are still a priority, but guess what? They're even less important than writing, so I haven't managed to fit them in for about five years, now.

So, no NaNoWriMo for me. If I can't get novels written in the normal course of events, buckling down to write one in a month isn't going to help - and it'll probably just add stress to an already busy existence.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Election Day Prediction

Just so you know, I'm writing this 24 hours in advance. This is my prediction for what happens after today's (Tuesday's) presidential election. It'll publish automatically on Wednesday morning, and then we can all see if I was right.

Elections are always dangerous. Politicians and pundits have been warning people (for years, in some cases) about the horrible and disastrous things that would happen if The Wrong People got elected.

Last night, the American Electorate proved them right. Across the country, millions of citizens entered their local voting locations and placed their votes. And, just as everyone feared, they elected The Wrong Guy. And, because America is the only place on Earth that really counts, the misguided results of our election have brought about the end of the world.

While the wailing and gnashing of teeth actually began last night, it wasn't until the sun inexplicable failed to come up this morning that the majority of the country began to understand the true scope of the disaster. Some initial reports suggested a broad-based conspiracy which had reset everyone's clocks while everyone was still confused by Daylight Savings Time, but that idea was abandoned when mysterious fires began falling from the sky.

The fires were followed by the arrival of the angry dead, who had apparently risen from their graves to feast on the flesh of the politically-illiterate living. Fortunately, there were far fewer of them than originally predicted, and in most areas they were quickly put down by groups of self-appointed "Sheepdogs" with guns. Unfortunately, with the entire world perishing in fire and darkness, that doesn't seem like much of a silver lining.

The 11:00 a.m. discovery that the oceans had all turned to blood, while fresh-water streams and rivers had turned to maple syrup, prompted a new wave of panic, despair, and pancake hoarding. The arrival of swarms of giant, carnivorous locusts soon put an end to the rioting, though.

It's quiet now. Even the locusts are gone. I haven't heard a human voice in hours. The battery on my laptop is almost out, and the flashlight won't last much longer. I'll have to put the can opener where I can find it in the dark. It's getting cold, too... I can see frost on the windows. If only we'd known. If only we'd voted differently...

...

...Oh, wait. My mistake. None of that happened. The republic still stands. The Earth still circles the sun. Monsters are not roaming the streets. Our water is still water. Fires are not falling from the sky, either.

Maybe... just maybe... we're still okay.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pre-Prediction

So, I'm writing down my election day predictions. They've been pre-set to post tomorrow morning, so we can all see just how accurate I was.

And, in case any of you are wondering how I voted:
That's my voting strategy.

Meanwhile, I plan to tune out completely, and check on the outcome some time tomorrow. Unless my prediction proves correct, in which case it'll be pretty obvious.

Go buy some art! Your future Emperor commands you!

Artist Robyn Seale, of The Watcher of Yaathagggu (which you really should be reading, if you aren't already), is holding an art sale.

That's right: an art sale.

Here's the scoop: through November 15, $10 will get you a picture of any one character. Just send an email to robyn {at} noodlyappendage [dot] com for more details. This is a great deal, so don't miss out on it!

I sent pictures of the boys in their Halloween Costumes, and received these two images:

Secondborn

Firstborn
Seriously, don't miss out on this!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Harduk the Slayer and the Hidden Boat of Doom

"If we hurry, we can still make it," Nissa said, following something that might charitably be described as a trail down the back of the mountain. "I stashed a boat when we arrived here. It's a small thing, built for exploration and emergencies, but it's well-supplied and--"

She stumbled over an upthrust root, and Harduk caught her shoulder before she could tumble down the side of the mountain. "I hate that," she said, testing her ankle before they continued. "I hate these places. I want to live in a nice house in a big city, where the roads are even and other people provide us with art and culture and entertainment."

"You're the daughter of a wizard," observed Harduk. "Why don't you?"

"Because," Nissa replied, "I'm the daughter of a wizard who has seven-hundred-year-old ideas about propriety. Unmarried women do not live on their own."

"Ridiculous," said Harduk. "In my land..."

He stopped and tilted his head, listening. There were voices behind them. "They're coming," he said, and scooped Nissa up. His strength was such that even carrying her, he could double their pace.

The voices of their pursuers had fallen far behind by the time they reached the boat. Nissa loosed the mooring lines while Harduk raised the sails and shoved them out from the tiny fissure where the boat had hidden. He glanced back once, as the winds caught the sails, and eyes honed to the savage plains of Distractia picked out a single robed figure among the armed men. Lifting an arm, he waved cheerily in the wizard's direction.

Friday, November 2, 2012

At last, the costumes

I was going to post this last night, but it turns out that Firstborn was appearing in a school play, so we went to that instead. He had won the role of First Bat, and had a speaking line which he delivered beautifully. So, instead of downloading Wednesday night's costumes, we were off taking pictures of Firstborn in an entirely different costume:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Slow day, slow me...

So, between a recurrence of Really Bad Allergies - or maybe it's a head cold, I can never tell, but at this rate it's going to be a sinus infection in a day or two so it probably doesn't matter - and generally being busy because, y'know, Halloween, I've about hit the end of my rope. At least in terms of focus, energy, and general creativity.

Halloween itself went well. Firstborn went as his very own superhero, Lightning Zapzers. Secondborn went as a fireman, though I think he would have been happier if we'd actually let him drive a real ambulance around. I went as a punk, because... well...

Okay, back when I was about fifteen or sixteen, I really wanted to be a Lost Boy. Not the lost boys who were Peter Pan's little fan club; oh, no. I'm talking about the vampires. And because of this, I took a black jeans jacket and covered it in patches. Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd... they're all on there, and more. Also some safety pins (very important fashion accessory back in the eighties) and metal studs.

It still fits.

Also... mohawk.

So I'll see if I can get a picture or two posted later - lunch time, if I'm lucky.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Transfiguration

I moved through the night with as much silence and caution as I could manage. The woods of eastern Tennessee were silent around me, and the hiking trail was dark beneath the shadows of the trees. A half-moon lit the sky, and in places, my path as well, but for the most part I walked in darkness.

I could hear sounds from far ahead, and from time to time I caught a glimpse of firelight as well. My curiosity was piqued; who would build a fire so far out here in the woods, and on this of all nights? But I was not the only one who tended in this direction: two or three others had passed me already, moving easily through the woods beyond the path. So I continued on, drawn like a moth to the flames.

These nighttime walks had become a habit with me, else I might never have touched the Mystery. Alone and out of place, finished with my studies, dissatisfied with the company of my peers, I had taken to the woods that lay just outside of town. I would walk for hours, sometimes talking to myself, sometimes silent, as the tensions of the day eased within me. There, in the wilderness, I sought peace and serenity, sought something to sooth my troubled heart.

The noises became clearer as I neared their source, but they were still so soft as to vanish on the night breeze. I slowed my pace still further, moving with all the skill at my disposal, and approached behind the cover of a massive and ancient tree. Sliding my head into the light, I set my gaze upon them.

I had attended a fraternity party earlier in the evening, though I was not a member; it was an open party. In celebration of Hallowe'en, it had been a costume party: a roomful of humans masquerading as monsters, atmosphere provided by such technological miracles as a smoke machine, black lights, and glow-in-the-dark paint. The beer was dyed red with food coloring. I did not stay long.

Alone in my room, I had stripped myself of costume (I had gone as a ghost, white faced, with dark circles under my eyes, set off against the black cloth of my shroud) and spent an hour cleansing myself, to get the smell of smokes (stage, tobacco, marijuana) from my skin and hair. Finally, myself again, I had selected loose and comfortable clothing from my closet, laced up my boots, and gone out, thinking to celebrate the holiday alone with the moon.

But now, as the firelight pressed itself against my eyes, the Revelation came upon me: there was no need. I stood, I watched, unaware that I had moved away from the tree and now stood revealed by the flickering orange light. Miracles moved before me, dark and glittering; each one a naked singularity, though some few were human in appearance.

They danced in the light of three great bonfires, or stood aside in quiet conversation or simple communion. Two or three were drumming time for the dancers, an elegant and intricate rhythm, and as I watched the rhythm changed and the pattern of the dance changed with it. I saw eyes turned my way, but such was my awe that I never thought to flee: whatever was here, I could not escape it.

Then one of the dancers turned my way, eyes flashing orange with reflected firelight. Without missing a measure, she broke from the dance and another took her place. She approached me, black furred and graceful, humanoid and feline, woman and panther in one, a beast that walked like a human being. She smiled as she came, feral and wild, but I did not back away.

It's true, I thought. The stories, the legends, the fairy tales. True. It was my first coherent thought, for I was not in a rational frame of mind. I stared as she approached, transfixed by her nudity, by the strangeness of her anatomy. A wild excitement began to grow in me, an ecstasy born of terror and an almost religious awe. Almost imperceptibly, the clearing fell silent behind her.

"Would you come among us, then?" she asked me. Her voice was low and guttural. It seemed to reach into me, caressing my spine, and I shivered at its touch. "Would you join us, perhaps?"

I could not answer her; I did not trust myself to speak. The enormity of their existence – the possibilities it implied – that a miracle could speak so casually, that there was magic in the world: it filled me with wonder. It made me burn.

Slowly, the others gathered behind her, eyes calm as they studied me. Each was utterly unique, though I could recognize certain types among them: the auburn-haired vampire with her ice-colored skin, the tall, dark-haired warlock, the shade whose body was a dark and translucent reflection of the human form, the beasts and werebeasts and stranger things still. That things like this could exist in the world, and I have never known… I still could not speak, but my silence was answer enough.

"Come," she said, and reached forward to unbutton my shirt. I discarded my clothing quickly and easily; it lay in a pile behind me, like a snake's shed skin. "Throw it on the fire," she said quietly. "You won't need it any more." I shivered, for the night air was chill, but she took my hand and drew me towards the flames. Her touch was like the fire itself: it set my nerves to dancing, warmed me, lent me a tremendous sense of vitality. Impulsively, I laughed, and kicked my clothing to the edge of the flames.

We danced for hours as she led me through the steps. I pride myself on keeping in good physical shape, but her stamina was quite simply inhuman, and by the time we left the dance, I was staggering with exhaustion. She led me to where the food was arranged (one of the drummers gave me a grin as we passed) and we rested as we ate. Then she drew me to my feet again, and led me into the forest shadows, just beyond the reach of the firelight. There she pushed me down and mounted me, still moving to the rhythm of the drums. As she moved against me, I smelt the wood smoke that had worked its way into our skin and hair, perceptible even over the smell of our bodies and our passion.

I came back to myself by degrees, aware that she had moved off of me. I smelt the clean night air, and raised myself into a sitting position. There were leaves in my hair; I combed them out as best I could. Awareness of the other couples that surrounded us grew slowly in my mind, until I wondered how I could ever have been oblivious to them. Finally, then, as I came to my feet, I became aware of the warmth in my belly, a soft feeling of... Contentment? Belonging? I had no words for it, in the aftermath of our communion.

She was waiting for me by the fire. I approached her slowly, compelled by a sense – an intimate awareness – of her presence. The night seemed to deepen around us, the air alive and surging with the power of the creatures gathered here. A silence widened around me as I advanced, and from the corner of my eyes I saw these outsiders fall into attitudes of respectful attention. There was something ritualistic to the response; even the fires seemed to flicker in time to my steps.

I stopped when I reached her, glanced once at the thick-built masculinity of the drummer who stood at her left, once at the grey-skinned humanoid whose hair and eyes were flames and who stood to her right. Then I looked back to her, as seemed expected – even demanded – of me.

"Would you join us?" she asked softly, though her voice was audible to the entire company. I managed a nod. Then, after a moment's hesitation, I managed a question.

"What is the price?"

A ripple of quiet laughter swept the circle behind me, though the trinity who faced me did not seem to notice.

"To accept this power is to be touched by the Gods," she answered. "There is always danger in asking for their judgement. The price is different for each of us. Will you join us?"

I hesitated, wrestling with my doubts. I was afraid – she asked me to step onto a darkened trail, unable to see if it led over a cliff. Or if it would lead me home, for that matter. Yet there was no way to take this slowly; to hesitate would mean being left behind.

"Three times may I ask, and three times only," she said then. "This will be the last. Will you join us?"

I was silent for a long time, but the decision was already made. Somewhere deep within me, I already knew what I would do. This answer was a part of me, a part of who I was, and while the choice was entirely mine, on another level I had no choice at all. Eventually, I made my reply.

"The moon is set," said she, "and the dawn is almost upon us. You will become as we are, blessed above all other beings, touched by the divine. You will take a new name, and leave your old life behind you."

Gracefully, she extended one clawed hand. Magic danced in her palm like a shadowy fire, cool and dark and mysterious. To look at it was to be robbed of all my ideas of size and shape, substance and form. It was beyond the realm of description as it was beyond the constraints of physics, as all truly sacred things must be. "Take the fire from my hand," she said. "I give it to you freely."

I reached out, closed my hand around it, lifted it from her palm. It flickered and danced atop my hand for a moment. Then, slowly, it sank into my skin.

The sensation was beyond description, beyond anything I had ever experienced. Something like a mild electric shock ran up my arm, spreading through me along with a sense of warmth and power. The magic sank into meat and bone and blood, settled in heart and mind and deeper still. It ran riot through me, filled me to overflowing, and as it did so I was transfigured, reborn, utterly remade.

The others were already departing when the change-flame died away. I rose, shaking the dirt and leaves from my fur, the world screaming in my senses, and looked up to meet her gaze. She touched me once more, tracing the line of my skull beneath my fur: a valediction. Then she was gone, racing away though the woods as dawn began to gather in the east.

That first morning, I sought shelter in a cave, to rest and adjust myself to this sudden change. By evening, a hunger was upon me, and I left my newfound home to hunt. On my way, I greeted a small wood-sprite where he nested in the hollow of a tree, a tree that I had passed many times before in blind indifference. I thought again of the costume party of the night before, taking place on the one night of the year when the monsters gathered to be rid of their human costumes. Then I put the thought aside, for it was a piece of another life, and no longer part of mine.

This is an old piece of my writing - dating back to when I was, I don't know, eighteen or nineteen years old. I have firmly resisted the urge to edit or rewrite it; you're reading it exactly the way I wrote it back then.

Filler: Under my skin...

Because, honestly, this song is all kinds of stalkerish-creepy, and because the muppets are awesome.


There's another story going up tonight...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Whispering Beneath

I'm going to tell you a story. You're going to think I made this up just to scare you, but I didn't. This is true.

I first met Elijah when I was in seminary. We had some classes together, along with Jesse and Franklin, and after a while we all got to be friends. Studied together, hung out together, talked about sports and politics and personal goals. I don't know if you've ever had a group like that, but it can really help. You all sort of pull each other along, cover each other's weak spots. It makes a big difference, especially when you hit the rough spots - and seminary has plenty of rough spots. They're different for everybody, but they're always there.

Elijah, though... He was a just a big, friendly guy - curly blond hair, round face, round build. He wasn't fat, exactly, though he always sort of looked like he should be. In fact, he was actually pretty muscular. It was just a very rounded sort of muscular. And he had this big, goofy grin, and a sort of ease about him that helped put everyone else at their ease. He wasn't lazy, though; he was smart, and he studied as hard as any of us.

And then, in our final year, he just sort of... dropped out.

There was an accident. He was on his way back from visiting some family (up in Crosby, I think) hit a patch of black ice, and wound up in one of the lakes. He was clinically dead when they fished him out, and had been for a while; nobody was sure just how long. He stayed in a coma for at least four days... and then suddenly he woke up and asked to go home.

He wasn't the same after that. He was... I don't know... quieter, for one thing. Didn't ask questions in class, didn't talk much out of class. He lost that easy, relaxed way of moving and talking; what replaced it was something more watchful, more wary, more worried. He went into counseling, but it didn't seem to help; it just seemed to make him more nervous. And then one day he just wasn't in class any more. Professor said he'd withdrawn from the program. I talked to him on the phone once or twice after that - he'd gone to visit his parents - and I know Jesse and Franklin did, too. We were all just so busy finishing up, trying to get ready for the next stage of our lives, though. By the time we entered the ministry, we'd lost touch with Elijah completely.

And that was nearly it. I thought about Elijah off and on for years, then mostly forgot about him... and then technology caught up with us: email, message boards, blogs, social networking sites.

He found me on Facebook.

After I got over the shock, we spent some time catching up. I'd been putting in my time in a couple of different parishes here in Minnesota, and it looked like I might finally get my own church; I was pretty excited about that, but I was nervous, too. Elijah had moved around a lot, and finally wound up working for the Forestry service up in Alaska - manning an isolated tower in a nearly uninhabited region. I asked him how he liked it, and he said it was lonely... but it was what he needed.

Now, as it happened, I had some money set aside for a vacation, and I could afford to take a week or two off. The priesthood doesn't pay very well, but I'd never had trouble saving; I never married, and I didn't have any expensive hobbies. So I offered to come up and visit him - maybe bring some beer and catch up in person. Father Fogarty could spare me for a bit, and if I did get my own church I'd be very busy with it - so this was the best chance I was likely to get for quite a while.

Elijah was thrilled, so I notified Father Fogarty and started making arrangements.

I got off the plane in Anchorage, rented a car, and drove out to Elijah's place. (He'd told me it was on the outskirts of town, but it looked like wilderness to me.) It was mid-sized house, cozy, with three bedroom and a large central living room; apparently Elijah had gone in on it with a couple of guys from work, so they'd have a place to stay when they weren't out at their towers.

It was... well, let's just say that it was quite a reunion. We were three beers in - apiece! - when Elijah turned to me and announced that he had a favor to ask. "I'd like you," he said carefully, "to come out to the tower and try an exorcism."

That stopped me cold. Exorcism isn't something that the Episcopal Church much goes in for - and certainly not on something that sounded suspiciously like a lark. Elijah knew that as well as anyone; he'd been in seminary with me, even if he hadn't finished.

He must have seen something in my expression, because he said: "I'm not kidding. I need this, and you're the only one I can ask."

Well, I was still feeling guilty about the way we'd all just let him go in our final year of study. And I remembered what Elijah was like; I trusted him. Also, I'd just had my third beer, which meant that in our first hour together I'd drunk three times as much as I usually had in an evening. So, cautiously, I agreed to try it. "Why?" I remember asking. "Do you think the place is haunted?"

He shook his head at that. "It isn't that simple," he told me, "and I can't explain it. Could you just... trust me?"

I nodded. I could; I did.

So the next day we drove out there. The trip took half the morning, but it would have been worth it just for the landscape. We spent the time exchanging stories, and for a while it felt like we'd never parted. But when we got to the tower, Elijah suddenly became serious; he asked if I could go ahead and start the rite.

You have to understand, I'd never performed an exorcism before. I actually had to look up the instructions online before we left. I'd also never seen any evidence of genuine demonic activity. I felt the presence of God, of course, in my heart and in my life; but His touch was gentle, subtle, and natural. I saw His work manifest in the actions of people and the mundane events of daily life. The idea of evil spirits directly causing harm to people seemed... I don't know. Garish. Ludicrous. Out of place in the world of God's Creation.

But in a sense, that didn't really matter. Even if, as I suspected, there wasn't a single evil spirit around, it didn't matter. I could see just how important this was to Elijah. So I offered a quick and silent prayer that, whatever the situation, this would help him. And then I performed the first and only exorcism of my career.

When it was done, Elijah stood waiting - his back straight, his head slightly cocked. He stayed that way for almost half a minute.

And then he sagged, and I could see the disappointment on his face. "They're still there," he said. "It didn't work. They're still there."

"What's still there?" I asked, as gently as I could manage.

"The whispers," he replied. "Can't you hear them?" Then his mouth snapped shut and he glared at me suspiciously.

I waited, doing my best to look accepting. Whatever was going on, I hoped he would talk to me about it... but he didn't. Instead, he came over and put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Thanks for trying." Then he went over to his Jeep and opened the driver's door.

Not having much of a choice, I followed. We rode in silence for about fifteen minutes. Minute flickers of expression crossed Elijah's face; he was having some sort of internal argument, it seemed. I was deeply curious, but decided not to pry; it might do more harm than good.

Finally, he turned his head to look at me. "It's been like this ever since the wreck," he said quietly. "You remember?"

"I remember the wreck," I told him, hoping I was answering the right question.

He nodded. "I heard them when I woke up. I think I heard them when I was out. I've heard them ever since."

"What do you hear?"

"Whispers," he said. "Whispers in the ground." He checked the road, then looked at me again. "They're nonsense, mostly. A word here, a sentence or two there. Sometimes I'll hear... rants, accusations, pieces of argument... but there's no sense to it. No message. Or not for me, anyway, and they don't hear each other."

"Ghosts?" I asked, frowning slightly - not disbelief, but puzzlement. I really wasn't sure what to make of this, except that Elijah was absolutely sincere.

"It's not that simple," he said. "It's... they're... the dead. Not ghosts, just... the dead. Or maybe I'm crazy. Can't forget that; maybe something in my head is broken, and I only think I hear them. Nobody else can hear them, so how can I be sure."

I didn't know what to say, so I waited.

"It wasn't so bad, at first. It was just whispers, here and there. I didn't even know where it was coming from." Elijah frowned, remembering. "Once I realized it was loudest around the graveyards, I started putting it together. By then it was louder, and I was hearing more and more of them - even in places where nobody thought they were. I had to get out of the cities, and then the smaller towns, but... you know how hard it is to find a place where nobody has died? The dead are all around us, right down there in the dirt. I had to get way out in the middle of nowhere, and even there... there's this one spot, this one guy. I hear him. He's down at the bottom of a ridge somewhere."

I considered that. "Why don't you move him? Just dig him up and put him somewhere else?"

Elijah made a little sound that was half-laugh, half-gasp. "I can't. I don't dare. It's getting to where I don't dare talk. I mean, I can hear them - can they hear me? And what happens if I wake them up?" He drew a ragged breath. "It doesn't matter anyway. I've started hearing the animals too. Further and further back. I don't even recognize some of the sounds, anymore. Bird calls and growls and... how long ago did they live, if they don't even sound like real birds?"

He paused. "I was hoping you could help. I was hoping an exorcism would, I don't know, settle them down. Make them sleep a little deeper, maybe. Keep them quiet for a while. But it didn't work."

I nodded. That wasn't really what an exorcism was for. But then, Elijah probably knew that, even if he'd let himself forget or just gotten his hopes up anyway.

"I'm sorry," he said at last. "I'll try to be normal. Be your friend. And I'll be okay. It's not so bad when I'm working."

"It's okay," I said. "You are my friend. I'm sorry I couldn't help."

And that's the end of my story. Or maybe the end is six months later, when Elijah killed himself. He never found anyone else who could hear what he heard; I know that much. But what it was that he heard... that, that I don't know at all. Maybe it really was some sort madness, some damaged tissue or chemical imbalance in his brain that gave him progressive auditory hallucinations. Or maybe he heard something that's been there all along; maybe the rest of us are just... congenitally deaf. I don't know.

But I do know that they're down there, all around us: the dead. Layer on layer of them; years, centuries, millenia of them; laid down across the long, bloody history of the world, from the first faint stirring of life to the present day. The ground is saturated with them. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. So maybe they're just... waiting.