Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Trainsformers

This is so wrong, and yet so very right. I don't dare show it to my kids, though - there's a fair chance that they would force me to keep playing it for years to come...

More Walls, More Shining

There's another little chunk of chapter one ("Vital Revocation") up at The Shining Walls. As usual, I'd appreciate it if you could point out any errors in spelling, grammar, or attention span (missing words, etc.) in the piece. It will get a proper run of proofreading later on, but every little bit helps.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Making Bargains With Children

So, we're potty training Secondborn. (He's three.) This is not what you'd call a high stress endeavor; it's more sort of laying groundwork for a serious attempt later. If he gets it now, great; if it turns out that he's just not ready yet, that's fine too.

But part of the process we're using is that we're offering a reward for each successful Poop On The Potty. And by "reward" I mean "toy". This has met with limited success, and therefore limited toys. (If we get to the point where he can manage his business reliably, we'll move on to stage two: earning a point for each day he doesn't poop in his pull-ups.)

So it's going reasonably well, as far as Seconborn is concerned. However, Secondborn is not the only child in our house, and he's not the only one with opinions on this plan.

Specifically, the plan has led to Firstborn complaining that he wasn't getting anywhere near the same opportunity to earn new toys. I explained that he had gone through the same process back when he was about Secondborn's age, and thereby earned his fair share of toys. To my great surprise, Firstborn was not entirely mollified by this knowledge.

So I have offered him a deal. In first grade, in his current school, Firstborn gets a weekly homework pack. It comes in on Monday, and it's due on Friday. Some of the work - spelling words, timed readings - needs to be repeated nightly. However, there are always three one-shot assignments as well. Generally we spread them out, so each night we do the nightly work and one of the one-shots, leaving Thursday night with only the nightly stuff.

If that last paragraph was absolutely indecipherable, I apologize.

Anyway, some homework gets done every night; the rest of it has to be done by the time it goes back Friday morning. The deal I've offered Firstborn is that he can earn himself a new Skylander if he gets all the "any time during the week" assignments done today. If it works - if he manages it - then all we'll have to deal with for the rest of the week is the spelling words and the timed readings.

Ideally, of course, this will serve as a lesson in the benefits of getting unpleasant chores out of the way as quickly as possible. More likely, it will serve as a lesson in Getting Toys From One's Parents. But hey, it's worth a try, right? And either way, it'll make the rest of the week a little easier...

Filler: VNV Nation

Filling in for my lack of sleep written content with some music from VNV Nation:

Darkangel:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Writer Blocked

I'd like to introduce a new term. It's similar to Writer's Block, but it's external - not internal. I'm calling it Writer Blocked. And it's basically a name for that peculiar phenomenon where, every single time you start to make progress on any sort of writing project, the Universe conspires to throw every obstacle it can find into your path.

You want some examples? Okay, as long as I'm ranting anyway:
  • Random phone calls...
  • Neighborhood kids knocking on the door...
  • Your own children, being clingy and demanding because they're sick...
  • Your children, refusing to go sleep and give you that precious half an hour of quiet time before you collapse yourself, because they're not sick...
  • Getting sick yourself... (Every single time I get into a project. I swear. Every. Single. Time.)
  • Your spouse describing her day, because you've just sat down at your computer and opened a word processor, and so are clearly available to talk...
  • Cats meowing for food...
  • Cats meowing for water...
  • Cats meowing for incomprehensible reasons of their own...
  • Children getting back out of bed because they don't want to go to sleep by themselves...
  • Friends and family calling you up for technical support...
  • Friends and family calling you up to ask about upcoming plans...
  • School book fairs, or PTA Meetings, or just good old-fashioned homework that somehow hasn't gotten done yet...
  • The sudden and inconvenient realization that if you don't stop and run some laundry, you won't have any socks to wear to work in the morning...
  • Or any pants...
  • The discovery that you're too tired to focus on the screen, let alone compose text...
  • Massive, evening-and-weekend-consuming projects at work...
...And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Now, some of this is unavoidable. And some of it could be resolved by that classic bit of advice for writers who are - as I currently am - frustrated by their lack of writing time and/or writing progress: "You have to make writing a priority." I mean yes, technically, I could do that - if I wanted to be the sort of asshole who blows off their kids and leaves their spouse doing all the work because they're busy with their own projects.

And, yes, a lot of this will ease up or blow over - we're about three weeks out from the Big Event that marks the end of our busy season at work, and we're nearing the end of my wife's teaching semester, and the boys will eventually be less sick (though that doesn't always give me any more writing time), and at some point I hope to stop being sick myself.

Even so, there really does seem to be some particularly evil corollary of Murphy's Law when it comes to writing projects...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wisdom from my six-year-old...

Me: "Work hard and be good. Do what your teacher tells you."

Firstborn: "Who wouldn't do what the boss says?" {Thinks.} "Maybe if it was a good henchman and an evil boss." {Thinks some more.} "A good henchman and an evil boss would be a nasty combination."

Real Work Conversations: In Hell

My boss: (picking up the phone) "Dante's Seventh Level."

Me: "The icy center."

Boss: "Just sec." (To me) "What was that? I heard 'icy' something."

Me: "Icy center. That's what you get when you get to the seventh level. It's the icy center."

Boss: "I thought it was a gooey center."

Me: "That's a Tootsie-Pop."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nanofictions

So, there's a contest going on over on Twitter under the hashtag #VurtSF. Or at least there was; for all I know, it may be over by the time this posts. Anyway, the idea is to write an entire Science Fiction or Fantasy story in a single tweet.

I've been... enjoying this.

So, since Blogger doesn't seem to have a working Twitter widget anymore, I'm going to copy my entries over here:
Found magic sword. Monsters! Fleeing! Battle! Regrouping. More monsters! More battle! Victory! Now I'm the King. Yay me!

When the monsters followed the plagues, we thought we were doomed. We didn't yet realize what we were becoming.

There is a person writing a story on Twitter about a person writing a story on Twitter about a person writing a story on Twitter...

Dr. Erebus shocked the world when he proved that our reality is the dream of an alien god - and then told us how we could escape.

I set out to make a time machine, but only when I showed up to help myself out did I realize I would succeed.

"They had stories in which we kept them *alive* to power ourselves." 6CX dropped a screaming human into its fuel port. "So foolish."

I knew the key opened doors to strange lands. I didn't know I'd have to become so strange myself just to exist in such alien places.

Bright sparks spread across the planet below, consuming cities. Lord Xicpi contacted the Varg captain Ullo: "Care for another game?"

And, finally:
"It can't be done!" cried Dr. Sane. "You can't compress the whole SF novel into a single tweet! Your story has too many characters!"

Seriously, though - go read through the entries. Much as I love my own stuff, there are a lot of really good nanofictions there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Shining Walls, now above ground!

The next section of Chapter One is up at The Shining Walls. As usual, any input or feedback is appreciated - particularly mistakes that I might not have spotted.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Every other time I put in a Disney DVD...

About half the time when I put in a DVD, I have the remote handy. The other half of the time, well...

"This Disney DVD has been enhanced with Disney's Fast Play."

Oh God, oh no, where's the remote where's the remote WHERE'S THE REMOTE???

"Your movie and a selection of bonus features-"

DO NOT WANT! DO NOT WANT!!!

"-will begin automatically."

Remote! Where?! Couch? Shelf? GIVE ME THE REMOTE!

"To bypass Fast Play, select the Main Menu button at any time."

I'm trying, you idiotic automated message, just give me a firk ding blast minute to find the-

"Fast Play will begin in a moment."

Oh no, oh no, it's too late, HAVE MERCY ON MY SOUL NOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Terror At Brendam Docks

Secondborn, as I've mentioned before, has an ardent love for Thomas The Tank Engine, and for the Thomas and Friends videos and toys. He's even managed to infect his older brother. Granted, Firstborn doesn't have quite the same level of aficiĆ³n as Secondborn, but he will actually ask to watch Thomas DVDs.

And the Thomas DVDs are... strange. Or at least, some of them are; and there's an odd and intriguing progression in their development.

In other series - Transformers, say, just to pick an example - there's an established set of characters with an established set of qualities: skills, weaknesses, personalities, and looks. Periodically the series will undergo a reboot, and at that point the characters (and perhaps the entire setting) will be given new qualities, a new look and feel, and perhaps a new story dynamic.

Thomas and Friends, however, doesn't seem all that concerned with consistency. Insofar as there's an actual "reboot", it seems to come in the transition from the written stories to the television (and later movie) episodes. Even so, the early videos draw heavily from the stories. These are actually my favorites: they tend to be short and episodic, often with a little moral homily (but not too heavy-handed), and they're filmed entirely using model trains and tracks - no CGI. Even the people in them are just little wooden models. And they manage brilliantly using just those resources. They're also extremely consistent about the characters - their personalities, what they do, how they talk and interact.

A bit later in, you can see where the producers started cleaning some things up to make the show more appealing to American (and possibly just modern) audiences. The Fat Controller becomes "Sir Topham Hatt". Some of the more pronounced accents disappear. It's just a few little changes, and easy enough to ignore.

But you can also see where they started to run out of source material. The Rev W Awdry and his son Christopher only wrote so many stories. And the writers who produce the scripts for later episodes are very obviously not the same people; they aren't as obsessive about the details of railways, so you have some episodes where (I'm fairly sure, though I can't cite an example) engines who were previously confined to Narrow Gauge Tracks now freely roam about the standard-width rail lines. They also don't have the same feel for the characters and dialogue: Gordon, for example, is still presented as Proud and Strong (and occasionally a bit conceited), and he still pulls the Express; but the Gordon in the later episodes just doesn't sound like the Gordon in the earlier episodes.

Where it really gets interesting, though, is when you reach the feature-length movies. Because they're... different. Really different. Really, really, different. How different?

Well, despite the changes in the series across the years - and we're talking a couple of decades, here - the television episodes are consistently set on the island of Sodor. Sodor is a world unto itself, which happens to have sentient, anthropomorphic vehicles.

The first of the full-length Thomas movies, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, makes a rather radical departure in terms of both setting and story dynamic. Start with the "magic railroad" part - previously, Sodor has not had any sort of magic at all. Yes, the trains and other vehicles have faces and talk, but that's considered perfectly normal and natural. The movie introduces live-action actors, and makes Sodor into a magical other world accessible from our own - Wonderland, perhaps. Or maybe Narnia is a better comparison, since Sodor is also now threatened by the evil Diesel 10 - who was previously just a cranky, scary engine. (In the same vein, diesels and steam engines were frequently presented as rivals, but never as enemies. In fact, prior to this, the island of Sodor essentially lacked villains entirely.)

The next movie - I think; I'm a little shaky on the production sequence, here. Anyway... Calling All Engines ignores these developments entirely. It's done in the older style, with model trains, and focuses on the rivalry between the "steamies" and the diesel engines. Note, however, that there are no actual villains here; it's just a rivalry that turns into a series of pranks, which escalate until nobody can get anything done.

...And then we come to Misty Island Rescue - and we change genres again. If Thomas and the Magic Railroad is Thomas in Narnia, then Misty Island Rescue is Thomas on Treasure Island. Seriously; there's a point early in the film where Thomas is drifting on a raft at sea. He finally washes up on a beach, and his raft is perfectly aligned with a set of train tracks that run straight down the beach to the edge of the sea. This only makes any sort of sense at all once you realize that you're watching a boy's adventure story in which the boy has been replaced by a train. Even the soundtrack sounds like it's right out of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The last entry in my list - that being a list of Thomas Movies That I Have Seen - is Blue Mountain Mystery. As the name suggests, we've changed genres yet again... Thomas has taken it upon himself to investigate a tragic incident that happened at the docks many years ago. (Also, several of the narrow gauge engines have mysteriously acquired what I think are meant to be Jamaican accents.)

Now, there are several other movies in there, which I haven't seen - Hero of the Rails and Day of the Diesels, at the very least - so this pattern where each new movie places Thomas in a new and different genre may not hold together as well as I think it does. But if that really is the pattern, then I have a suggestion for what I'd like to see them do next:

Thomas puffed happily along his branch line...
Then there was trouble!
Thomas puffed as hard as his pistons would push!
The giant monster just kept coming!
Oh, no! Will our friend Thomas manage to escape?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Personalized Torment Plate

I don't normally think much of personalized license plates. I mean, sure: if you have a bit of extra money, and that's how you feel inspired to express yourself, well... don't hesitate on my account. But it's something that I don't really get. That may be because I tend to see cars not as vehicles for self-expression, but as vehicles for, um, vehicling.

That said, I saw one this morning that I really did think was funny:
If you can't make that out (it was a rainy morning, and I was taking the picture at a stoplight), someone has taken the "T For Texas" custom license plate, and made it spell out TORMENT... on their Pontiac Torrent.

I have no idea, of course, whether this represents a private protest against having to live in a state run by the likes of Rick Perry, whether it's simply a complaint about the car, or whether the owner is a hardcore Planescape fan. Whatever the case, I like it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New post at The Shining Walls

The next little chunk of Vital Revocation (i.e. Chapter One) is up at The Shining Walls. Because sometimes I actually can get things done on my lunch break.

As usual, feel free to point out any spelling errors, missing words, grammatical SNAFUs, textual inconsistencies, or anything else that needs fixing. Thanks!

Back at work

So, I'm back at work. Naturally, my inbox looks like it's been hit by an avalanche. So, um, yeah. That's pretty much all I have to say this morning. Maybe I can pull something together during lunch...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Recuperation Day

So, yes, it was pinkeye - for me and Firstborn both. Complicated, in my case, by a massive sinus/ear infection. So I'm spending today pretty much like this:
I'll try for real content sometime later in the week.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Air Is Trying To Kill Me

So, I have lovely little cough, a huge amount of mucus, and one eye that's particularly red and gunky - it's either pinkeye, or it's something that's doing a fairly good impression of pinkeye. On top of that, I went swimming yesterday, so right now everything that comes through my right ear is a tinny little echo, coming a half-second behind the actual sound.

All in all, I have felt better.

So, while I'm waiting to see the doctor, I'm going to tuck some Abney Park below the fold:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scenes from a Zombie Apocalypse

Derrick zipped the duffel bag closed and lifted it onto the center of the stretcher. The gas station didn't have a lot of food in it, but it was more than he'd expected. Especially after they'd found the grocery store looted completely.

"You ready?" Trent asked softly.

"Hell yes," said Derrick. "Let's get this shit back to the truck."

They squatted, one at each end of the stretcher, and lifted it up. Moving quickly and quietly, they went out the front door.

Jimmy was standing by the gas pumps, watching the street. He glanced back at them, but only briefly.

"How's it look?" asked Derrick, when he was close enough to speak quietly.

Jimmy nodded up the street, towards the center of town. "Just shamblers, so far."

Derrick looked at the slowly milling crowd. He recognized the slow, shuffling movements and the occasional lurching stagger. "Oh, no. Shamblers. Run for you life."

Behind him, Trent said: "Or just stroll. Stroll for your life."

"Mosey," corrected Derrick. "Mosey for your life."

"Can't," said Trent. "I'm not from Texas. I'll have to saunter and hope for the best."

Jimmy looked back at them, but didn't object to the banter. "Couple of the outliers are starting to drift this way," he said softly. "Let's get moving."

"Ambling," corrected Derrick automatically. "Let's get ambling."

"Or traipsing," suggested Trent. "Can I traipse?"

"As long as it takes us away from the zombies," said Jimmy, "I don't care what you're doing."

"So, no dawdling?" Derrick shifted his grip on the stretcher and started forward. At that moment he heard footsteps behind them: louder, faster, coming closer.

Jimmy heard them too. He looked back: "Shit. Hunters! Run!"

Derrick risked a glance back as he started to run. The hunters were unmistakable; six of them had broken away from the horde, and were loping towards them. He turned his attention back to running: this would be a bad, bad time to trip. The stretcher tugged at his arms, but Trent was matching his pace smoothly enough.

He hated running. He hated the way his lungs burned. He hated the way his heart pounded and his muscles dragged. He hated the stitch in his side. But most of all, he hated that he didn't have enough breath to suggest sprint, flee, or abscond.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday?!

Thursday? How did it get to be Thursday? Wasn't yesterday just... Oh, right. Wednesday. Still, how did Thursday get here already? I'm still trying to catch up on Tuesday.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's spring, so the weather's erratic and the pollen is up. (But hey, who needs air you can actually breathe, am I right?) We're barreling uncontrollably towards the end of the school year, and Beautiful Wife is getting ready to give her final exams. Meanwhile, May - with its avalanche of festivals and related emergencies - creeps inexorably closer. The idea of An Unbroken Night's Sleep is sliding out of its position as a happy memory, and starting to take on the appearance of myth - one of those things that people like to talk about, but doesn't really exist. Or maybe it does; after all, your roommate's cousin's best friend's sister saw one, once.

Oh, and did I mention that we're trying to get ready to find a new house?

Filler: Cargo (Zombie Short Film)

Short film: Infected father tries to get his daughter to safety before he turns into a zombie...

Let's see... some warnings:
1. Gross stuff
2. There's a baby - nothing horrible happens to the baby, but there is a baby in a zombie apocalypse setting, here.
3. May leave you bawling.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Real Work Conversations: Mosquito Death Map

So we're working on our mosquito control page, incorporating some new features...

CW1: "All right, so where do I put the link for the map?"

CW2: "Just put a text link in the middle of the page. That's what that department does on all their pages anyway."

CW1: (typing) "...Mosquito... tracking... map..."

CW2: "Don't call it that. We're not tracking mosquitoes."

CW1: "Yes we are. I mean..."

CW2: "It's not like we're putting little tags on their legs and tracking them. Come on."

Me: "How about Mosquito Death Map. Everyone would click on it if it said Mosquito Death Map."

CW1: "Not helping."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Alphabet Without Beginning Or End

Firstborn: "Why'd they put Z at the end of the alphabet, anyway?"

Me: "Seemed like a good place for it, and something had to go there."

Firstborn: "If there wasn't a letter at the end of the alphabet, there would be no alphabet. If there wasn't a letter at the beginning of the alphabet, there would be no alphabet."

Me: "Or maybe it would never end. Maybe it would be like, abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzhelpmeIcan'tstop."

Firstborn: (Laughs.) "Maybe helpmeIcan'tstop could be a letter." (Pauses.) "I will draw it."

Updated: Behold! The letter helpmeIcan'tstop:

Superhero Bar Stories: A Trainee Hero's Guide To Drinking

Hey, kid. No, it's fine, pull up a chair. Think of it as part of your training. How you handle yourself off-duty can be just as important as what you do when you're in costume. You drink?

You sure? It's Glendronach. Scotch. Not to everyone's taste. Okay, if you're feeling brave - Dana, another one for me, and one just like it for the kid, here. Yeah, I'll stand for him.

So - you're new. How long you had your trial license? Oh. Brand new, huh? No, don't worry about it. I'm not one of the regular trainers, but I don't mind pitching in. Who'd they pair you with?

Good for you, kid. 'Tania's good - sharp, careful. You follow her lead, and-

You what? And they paired you with Titania? ...No wonder she sent you over here. Yeah, I'll help out. Energy beams, huh? Man. Either they've been really busy, or one of their case workers really screwed the pooch on this one.

But, all right. Tell you what - look me up tomorrow, we'll head down to the range, and I'll run you through some of the exercises that helped me. No, no trouble - I could use a day of practice myself. For tonight...

Okay, first piece of advice: sip, don't gulp. You okay there, kid? Keep breathing.

Yeah, well... it's an acquired taste. Anyway, that's my first bit of advice: watch your drinking. You ever read about Madman? Normal guy, except he had an alternate form. A big, strong alternate form. Well, he was out on a business trip when his wife called to tell him she was leaving him. No, I don't know the story there. But Madman, he went down to the hotel bar, and he had a few drinks, and then a few more drinks. And then he got into an argument with somebody, and pulled the entire hotel down on their heads. It killed him - not the impact; he suffocated under the rubble. Nobody knows whether it was deliberate or not. We only know what happened because the investigation recovered some security video.

What? No, I'm not saying you shouldn't drink. What, I'm going to sit here in a bar with a scotch on the rocks in my hand, and tell you you shouldn't drink? Look, this is a rough job, and sometimes you need to blow off steam. I'm just saying, be careful how you do it.

Okay, let's take Madman as an example. As upset as he was, he shouldn't have been drinking in the first place. If he was going to drink anyway, he should have worn an inhibitor. You know what those are? They suppress your powers. And the office has some that you can set with a timer - it won't open until the countdown finishes. You put on one of those, you're no more dangerous than a normal. You can still get in trouble, but you're a lot less likely to risk your license, you know?

Then Madman got into an argument and used his powers. That's grounds for a suspension right there, but... look, we're going to make mistakes. I have, and you will too. The bad guy is going to move at just the wrong moment, and you're going to hit the hostage or clip some innocent bystander by accident. If something like that happens - if anything like that happens - I want you to own it. You can't blow it off, and you can't pretend it didn't happen. Do what you can to make it right, and notify the office immediately. Or in your case, tell Titania. Whatever you do, don't try to hide anything.

Got it? Good. Finish your scotch. It's time to head home.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Filler: Brass Goggles

I have absolutely nothing to put up this morning, so here's Steam Powered Giraffe with Brass Goggles:

Friday, April 5, 2013

Snippet: Dark Storm

I'm just going to drop this here while it's fresh in my head. I'll probably come back to it later.

The storm came out of the west like a wall of darkness, pushing a wave of dark clouds ahead of it. Advancing relentlessly, it swallowed the mountains and crawled down the plains.

Jacob Maddox stood on his porch and watched it come. It was an amazing thing, not so much a front or a system as a single, massive storm. A hurricane, but forming over land. A typhoon... He could see the leading edge of it, a clean line where the rain began - and behind the rain, darkness.

Behind him, Buster nosed the door open and made a break for the yard. "Hurry it up, mutt!" called Jacob, fondly exasperated. He turned back to the house to get a towel; there was no way on Earth that the dog was going to finish his business before the rain hit, and he didn't need wet paw-prints all over the house.

He heard the rain hit the edge of the porch as he pulled open the door, heard it march steadily across to the other side of the house. The transition between not-rain and rain was so precise that he could actually follow its progress by sound, as the edge of the storm crossed from west to east. As it reached the far edge of the roof, he heard something else: a faint cry from Buster, almost drowned out by the drumming of the rain.

Turning back, Jacob saw that Buster had rolled over. For a moment, it looked as if the mutt were just rolling around in the mud, but no: there were too many legs. And even in the darkness and the rain, he could see that the body was too long for the half-collie mongrel that had been the family dog. It wasn't rolling, either; it was rippling its way back towards the porch like some giant, furry caterpillar. Sweet Jesus, no...

He stumbled back into the house, heading for the bedroom. His mind was on the pistol in its drawer beside the bed. As he passed the living room, Sara called: "Honey?" Behind her, he could hear the announcer on the television: "...lost contact with everything behind the storm front. F.E.M.A. is urging everyone to stay indoors until the storm passes or we know-"

The power went out.

Jacob kept going, slowing only slightly. After ten years of living here, he knew the floorplan well enough to navigate blind.

Then the floor twisted under his feet, and he stumbled. He hands came down own something ridged and irregular: roots? There was something soft and mossy over the top of it, but it was not the carpeted floor he'd been walking on a moment ago.

The bedroom was just ahead, so he climbed back to his feet. His knee twinged, but held; he hadn't twisted anything in the fall, thank God. The substance of the house might have changed, but the layout was still the same; Jacob stepped through the doorway and slowed. Two careful steps, and he found the bed; it seemed to be unchanged. He circled it, found the night table - also unchanged. The gun was still in it, and so was the flashlight.

He switched it on.

The walls were layers of plant fiber, as if they'd been completely grown over... or as if the house had never been built, and had been grown instead. It was still their house, though: the pictures on the walls were unchanged, the furniture untouched. What the hell was going on?

Flashlight in one hand, pistol in the other, Jacob retraced his steps. As he neared the living room, he heard Sara ask: "Buster, is that you?"

A sudden fear flashed through him, plowing into and tangling up with everything else that was spinning around in his head: a vision of the thing that had been Buster inching towards Sara in the darkness. "Hang on, Sara," he called back, and stepped through the door.

The flashlight threw a circle of light on the far wall, which was now as thoroughly fibrous as the rest of the house. It touched the darkened television, swept over the back of the couch, and lit up the mantle above the fireplace. He tilted the light down so as not to blind Sara, and moved cautiously around the couch.

Buster was now a knobbly, golden-furred snake, stretched from the door to the corner of the couch. It wasn't quite within reach of Sara yet, and it didn't move like a snake: instead of slithering, it flowed in a series of vertical ripples, gathering and extending. "Buster?" called Jacob.

The... dog... stopped, and its head twisted around atop a foot of furry neck. It was looking at him, head slightly cocked. The gesture was achingly familiar. Then its mouth opened, and instead of the familiar pink tongue, a bundle of thin red wires extended. It made a sort of urf sound, a wounded echo of the old familiar bark of greeting.

"Buster?" asked Sara, and suddenly scooted away across the couch. Her voice was loud and high.

"It's okay," said Jacob, forcing the words through a deep certainty that he was lying. "C'mere, boy."

Buster wound around and began its horrible limping flow towards Jacob.

That was when the roof caved in.

Whatever was happening outside, it wasn't done yet. Jacob stumbled back, and the light strobed wildly across the room. He caught flickering glimpses as he steadied himself and tried to rise: slim, branching tentacles prying apart the rippling vines of the roof; Buster, twisted back, barking wildly as he had when he was still a dog; dark rain pouring in to cover Sara as she fell out of sight in front of the couch. It was the tree, the big old oak in the front yard: transformed, animated, and thrashing wildly.

Then a splash of rain fell across Jacob's outstretched hands.

For a moment there was only the cool touch of rain. A moment later it felt as if he'd thrust his hands into a pot of boiling water. The gun and the flashlight twisted in his hands, and he tried to drop them as he threw himself backwards towards the bedroom.

Neither item left his hands. The flashlight seemed to be dissolving, but the light was still there: it seemed to be flowing into his hand, without bulb or battery, until his hand itself was glowing. He barely saw that, though, before the gun twisted and bloomed... and then clamped down in a block around his hand. A moment later it had entirely surrounded his fingers, turning his hand into an oddly-shaped lump of metal.

The pain died away into tingling, as if he was suddenly getting his circulation back.

His left hand was intact, but glowing brightly from his fingertips to a point about two inches past his wrist. Softer traceries of light were visible beneath the skin, going almost to his elbow; they seemed to follow his blood vessels.

He looked up as Buster wiggled towards him. A second exposure to the dark rain hadn't changed the dog any further, but behind him...

Sara had been drenched by it, and she wasn't Sara anymore.

He didn't shoot her, didn't shoot the skeletal, eight-foot tall humanoid as it crept forward, hunched over to keep its head beneath the ceiling. Buster seemed to have retained something of his memories and personality; maybe Sara had too. So Jacob stepped back, and gestured with his glowing left hand for them both to enter the bedroom. Buster slipped easily through the tree-trunk doorway; the thorns on Sara's exoskeleton tore chunks out as she squeezed through. She pushed the bed back to make more room, and huddled down between it and the inside wall. She tried to speak, but what came out was a horrible, unintelligible screech.

Buster curled up beside her. Jacob settled in the doorway, watching the lashing tentacles as they tore up the rest of the living room and pulled down part of the front wall. There was light outside the hole, and similar light outside their bedroom window, but Jacob couldn't see where it was coming from. The window glass had become a soft, greasy membrane; and he couldn't get close to the whole for fear of what had once been a tree.

They waited for hours in the darkness, and eventually - inevitably - they slept.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ode To Sleep Deprived Parents

This... this is awesome:

Speak to your children like (nineteeth century) adults

In the dropoff line at school this morning...

Me: "Work hard and be good. I'll see you tonight."

Firstborn: "You always say that."

Me: "Very well, lad. Strive for excellence, and mind your manners; for verily, I shall behold your visage upon my return this evening."

Firstborn: {closes car door}

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Update at The Shining Walls.

There's a new post over at The Shining Walls. Bear in mind this is what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft, and let me know if you see any glaring errors that need to be fixed.

Cuddle-Muffin

So I'm putting the boys to bed last night. Firstborn has pretty well settled in on his own - he doesn't like to go to sleep on his own, but he'll do it. Secondborn has just finished watching Blue Mountain Mystery, and has asked me to, well...

"Daddy, can you come in my room? Daddy, can you get a book and a flashlight and come in my room?"

So I stretch out on the bed with my Kindle Fire - which is sort of a book and a flashlight all in one - and start reading. Secondborn snuggles up against me with the whole-body fluidity of a cat, just really burrowing in. So I shift around and smooch him on the top of his head. "Are you my cuddle-muffin?" I ask.

And Secondborn, in that particularly decisive little-boy way of his, says: "Yes."

Five minutes later he's asleep.

Sometimes, being a parent just rocks.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

House Hunting: The Beautiful Disaster

So, the Beautiful Woman and I have been thinking about moving. This is... involved. Complicated. Difficult.

If it were just a matter of changing houses, it wouldn't be all that complex. Hideous and painful, sure, but not especially complex. But, of course, we're not just selling our house and looking for a new one on a whim; we have priorities. And criteria. And scruples. And probably a few other things that also make this more difficult than it strictly needs to be.

The desire for More Space is what got us off our butts and into the process of doing this, but it isn't actually the most important quality in any prospective New Homes. No, that honor goes to school placement. Firstborn, you see, doesn't attend the school that happens to be closest to our (current) house. Oh, no. We looked at that school, and while its Principal was making a valiant effort to clean it up, it was still extremely chaotic and hugely disorganized. So I camped out like the world's most rabid fan in search of concert tickets, and got him a transfer to another school, also nearby but vastly better run. And, honestly, I have no compunctions about doing that again...

...But no amount of willful self-sacrifice will help if there aren't any transfers available when Secondborn's time comes around, and the number of available transfer slots has been decreasing year after year.

So our ideal situation is a house for sale, in the neighborhood that feeds directly (and automatically) into that particular school, with enough rooms for the four of us and - if needed - my parents, and a small but serviceable pool.

To that end, we've been working with a realtor and keeping an eye on the listings. Last night, we went to look at our first... prospect...

The listing looked pretty good. It mentioned that the place needed some work, but the pictures were sharp and flattering, and showed a lot of nice features: built-in shelves in the living room, a central patio/picnic area, brand new fence, and like that. So we showed up to tour it.

Oh my stars and garters, I don't even know where to start. Well, okay - the doors don't fit right. It took our poor realtor five minutes to gimmick the front door open, and she had a key. Which might have been embarrassing if it had been in any way her fault, but the moment we got the door open... No. Just no. The living room had the nice built-in shelving in place. It also had great gaping lines where the decorative ceiling beams had been torn out but not replaced. The door to the pool took me three tries to open; I had to find the right way to shove it so that I could open the deadbolt - and when we went to leave, I was seriously worried that I was going to tear the latch off trying to get the deadbolt closed again.

One of the bathrooms was... "unfinished". No wallpaper... no sink... no bath... no toilet... just a small, blank, L-shaped empty room.

There was a small wet-bar area. On one wall was an intriguing little wrought-iron decorative grating. The wall behind it was deeply indented - I think the term is "punched in". Somebody had looked at that, um, "dent" and just hung the decoration over it and hoped nobody would notice.

The pool was like a demilitarized zone. Okay, I exaggerate... but only slightly. But, you know, a really lovely fence only makes up for so much of a pool that needs to be completely resurfaced and probably replumbed as well. The water was, at least, basically clear - so I assume the pump was working. Mostly. Probably.

The crowning touch, though, was after we'd looked through the house and discussed both What We Liked About The Layout, and What We Found Perfectly Appalling About The Condition. Our realtor, by the way, agreed with our basic assessment and actually added a couple of points that we hadn't even considered. We'd come back to the living room, which - on further inspection - appeared to have some water damage in one area of the ceiling. It had a nice big fireplace, which I liked, and I'd gone to look at the built-in shelving. (I'm an English Major. We accumulate books the way Philatelists accumulate stamps. Shelves are very important to us.) I wanted to see if it had been added by the current owners, or if it was original.

So, while I was looking at the way it fit against newly-repainted wall, I felt something drop down against my ankle. It was my own fault; in the course of looking, I'd brushed against it.

It was a brick. Well, it was half a brick. Apparently my presence beside the edge of the hearth had caused it to make a break for freedom.

I fitted it against its other half, and set the whole thing back on the mortared surface. It sat there quite amiably; apparently it only moved if you happened to, say, breathe in its general direction.

Here's the thing: if I were a fixer-upper sort of guy, and if the owners were willing to accept a bid at roughly one-third of their asking price, this might be a reasonable deal. But I am soooooooo (SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO) not a fixer-upper, and I'm sure they're hoping to make back more of what they (likely unwittingly) paid for the place, and on the whole I just don't need the grief.

So this one's a no-go.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Filler: Senakah

Okay, so... Irish band Senakah, because that's what I'm in the mood for.

First up, their latest single, Ugly: