Saturday, October 31, 2015

Unwanted Visitors VIII: Mistakes and Opportunities

‭Samina had just stepped inside the house when a small brown dog darted out of the bedroom and out into the living. "No," she said firmly. "Get back in the bedroom."

"You have a dog?" asked Jason, sounding surprised. He would be, of course. He'd let them in himself; he'd seen that they didn't have any pets with them.

"It's Iulius," said Amarie, and Samina winced. Of course the children wouldn't keep their secrets. At least when Oberon did it, he did it deliberately; Amarie was just being a child, with a child's knack for saying exactly what you didn't want said.

Jason shrugged and continued towards the kitchen. "You could have brought him inside when you first arrived. We could have put him in the garage or something."

Samina crossed to Amarie and sat beside her. The blind girl turned her head toward Samina, and Samina said quietly, "Hush. We can't let him know."

Amarie pursed her lips, but nodded. A moment later Iulius came out of the bedroom; now he was human-shaped, properly dressed, and looking sheepish. "Don't do that again," said Samina, and he nodded. They could do this. They could stay with this man, and he would help them, and everything would be all right... as long he didn't find out what they were.

She got up and went into the kitchen, leaving the children to occupy themselves. Miraculously, Seven wasn't crying yet; either he was still asleep, or one of the children was playing with him.

The Dayborn was already chopping up food and sliding it into bowls and pans. Samina stopped in the doorway, watching him work. If there'd been anyone else... but there wasn't, and for all that he was Dayborn, she was glad to have his help. It was good to have another adult around, and he would know things about the sunlit world -- thing she wouldn't recognize, or wouldn't understand. And his home was isolated, far away from others like him; they weren't likely to be discovered here.

Unwanted Visitors VII: Agreements

‭Jason made it as far as the tiny front porch before he realized that he had no idea where he was going, and only a vague idea of why he was moving at all. He could have ignored the kid, could have finished putting things away. Instead, he'd been overwhelmed by a desperate need not to hear it, and he'd... wandered off. Walked away.

Retreated.

He heard the door open behind him and turned. He'd been half-expecting Oberon, but it was the woman, instead. She was still beautiful, even with the missing arm, and he turned away so he wouldn't stare.

She didn't say anything for almost half a minute. Then she asked, "Is he right?"

Jason had been wondering the same thing. "I don't know. I don't think I know what I'm doing, anymore."

She must have stepped close, because he felt her hand on his shoulder. "You're helping us," she said. "We need your help."

The tightness in his shoulders didn't change, but Jason was suddenly very aware of just how much tension was there -- how much he'd been carrying around, not even thinking about it, as if it was normal.

After a moment, he said: "All right."

Her hand twitched against his shoulder, but she didn't remove it. He wasn't sure if he wanted her to, or not; being touched felt deeply strange anymore. He hadn't realized how much he'd gotten used to being completely isolated, either. Shit. Maybe the kid was right. It wasn't as if he hadn't thought about it.

He turned around, and she was right there in front of him. He was surprised again by her height -- her eyes were level with his own -- and by the expression of uncertainty on her face. "We'd better go back inside before Oberon starts trying to cook the food himself," he said, and was rewarded by the brief smile that lit her face.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Unwanted Visitors VI: Disappearances

It was dark again when Samina woke,‭ ‬and for a moment she couldn't remember where she was.‭ ‬She'd slept deeply,‭ ‬better than she had in weeks...‭ ‬Oh.‭ ‬Yes.‭ ‬The Dayborn took us in.‭ ‬She sat up slowly,‭ ‬and made a‭ ‬quick count of the children‭; ‬it took her three tries to locate Grey,‭ ‬who had curled up in a pile of blankets next to Amarie,‭ ‬but the only one actually‭ ‬missing...‭ ‬was Oberon.

Of course,‭ ‬she thought,‭ ‬and went out to find him.

He wasn't in the loft that overlooked the main room; he wasn't in the kitchen or either of the bathrooms. He wasn't in the master bedroom where the Dayborn slept, or the small library. He wasn't even on the back porch. She checked the back porch, becoming ever more worried, but he wasn't there either. He was gone... and so was the Dayborn.

The last traces of twilight were fading in the valley outside,‭ ‬and Samina could feel herself growing stronger as darkness returned.‭ ‬She was trying to decide if she should rouse the other children and retreat into the woods when she heard noises from the big empty room at the far end of the house. Before she could reach it, the door swung open and the Dayborn came in, carrying a large cloth bag. Oberon was just behind him, and carrying a bag as well.

"Where have you been?" asked Samina, more sharply than she'd intended.

The Dayborn looked apologetic, but Oberon spoke before he could: "All is well. He didn't kill himself."

Samina stopped, staring, while the Dayborn threw a frown back at Oberon. "We went into town to get more food," he said. "I'm sorry, I should have left a note or something. I didn't think it would take this long."

He glanced back at Oberon. "You think you can keep quiet long enough to get these groceries put away?"

Oberon cocked his head and met the Dayborn's eye, then very deliberately turned the corner into the kitchen without saying a word. It left the two of them alone and facing each other, the Dayborn in the short hallway and Samina just outside it. "Were you truly going to kill yourself?"

"No," said the Dayborn, and turned to open the door to the pantry. There was a loud thump, almost certainly deliberate, from the direction of the kitchen. "Careful," warned the Dayborn, tossing the word absently over his shoulder.

Samina hesitated, then stepped past him and went into the kitchen. She should be afraid of him, but she thought that if he'd meant them any harm he would have done something by now. "Was he truly going to kill himself?" she asked Oberon. The hallway behind her went suddenly silent, as if the the Dayborn was standing perfectly still.

Oberon turned from setting boxes on the counter to look at her. "Maybe not yet," he admitted. "But... Did you know Rustilivus? Do you remember how he was before he went into the sun?"

Samina nodded. She remembered. She still missed Rustilivus.

"It was like he was putting things away, letting go of everything." Oberon glanced towards the doorway. "I followed him outside today. He went down to the river. And he was looking at the water with that same expression, like he wasn't even really here anymore."

A rush of panic went through her, startling her with its intensity. She shouldn't care; he was Dayborn, and she didn't even know him. But... he'd taken them in, given them shelter and clothing and food, and asked nothing in return. She stepped back into the hallway...

He was gone, of course. As big as he was, he moved quietly and with a certain grace. It was little wonder that Oberon had been drawn to him, had been interested enough to speak to him out in the woods.

She heard the front door creak open, and started after him.

Unwanted Visitors V: Ideation

‭ Jason eased the back door open and stepped onto the porch. The storm had passed, and while the sky was still cloudy and the ground still wet, the air itself was dry. Jason turned and descended the wooden steps, then crossed the overlook and followed the nearly-invisible path into the woods.

‭ He'd thought he was okay with having children in the house, but he wasn't. It wasn't their fault, and he didn't want to drive them away or take it out on them, but he couldn't stay inside with them any longer. He was very much aware of how much he wasn't thinking about his last tour -- absolutely wasn't thinking about it -- and of the voice that was screaming in the back of his head, a loud and unbroken wail of shock and pain and grief and regret.

‭ There were trees. There were lots of trees out here, and he focused on them as he stepped lightly between them, using their roots to keep his boots out of the mud. There was underbrush, wide stretches of harmless leafy plants kneeling close to the forest floor, interspersed with virulent patches of poison ivy.

‭ The path wound back and forth as it traced its way carefully down to the creek. Jason followed it with the surefootedness of long familiarity, staying balanced by reflex while he carefully didn't think about the refugees in the house or anything that they reminded him of. The machete on his left hip was a solid, comforting weight; the pistol on his right hip was heavier, but less comforting. He told himself that he'd brought it along for protection, and sometimes he almost believed it.

‭ The creek was high and muddy, swollen with the rain and racing headlong to join with other waters, all equally out of control. Anything that fell into it would be swept along, helpless, tumbled and beaten and likely to drown. At the moment, it seemed like the perfect expression of his life.

‭ Jason followed the path down until he was overlooking the river. The path went further down, descending into the flood-risen waters, and Jason stood looking at it.

‭ "Are you going in?" asked a voice, and he turned.

‭ It was the oldest boy -- Oberon, the woman had called him -- standing some twelve feet further up the trail behind him. Jason blinked at him. "That would be suicide," he observed.

The kid shrugged. "Are you?"

"No," said Jason firmly. "I wasn't even thinking about it." I was very deliberately not thinking about it. With the boy there, with someone watching, the water wasn't even tempting; neither was the gun. "What are you doing down here?"

"Following you," said Oberon. "Wondering what you were doing."

For a moment, Jason just stared at him. The kid didn't flinch, though. He didn't react at all. He just waited. Finally, Jason said: "All right. Are you ready for the walk back up?" He would have to wait. He wasn't sure if he cared. He wasn't even sure if he should.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Unwanted Visitors IV: Arrangements

Jason heard the buzzer go off,‭ ‬and went to check the laundry.‭ ‬Ragged as his guests‭' ‬clothes were,‭ ‬he was sure they'd want them back.‭ ‬The things they were wearing now were outfits he had found in the upstairs closets,‭ ‬items that had been left behind over years of family vacations.‭

He pulled the dry clothes and put them in a basket.‭ ‬Then he moved the next load over,‭ ‬and started the dryer again.‭ ‬When he turned around,‭ ‬the woman was standing the in the doorway.

He realized he was staring at her,‭ ‬and looked away.‭ ‬She was exotically beautiful:‭ ‬curly dark hair,‭ ‬dusky brown skin with undertones that were almost grey,‭ ‬a build that was slender and graceful without being delicate,‭ ‬and soft brown eyes.‭ ‬Her left arm ended just below the elbow,‭ ‬but so far he'd managed not to stare at that,‭ ‬either.‭

"That's half of it,‭" ‬he said,‭ ‬indicating the laundry basket with a tilt of his head.‭ "‬The other half should finish drying in an hour or so.‭"

"Thank you.‭" ‬Her voice was soft,‭ ‬and she looked away as she stepped back.‭ ‬He wondered vaguely if he made her as uncomfortable as she made him.‭ ‬Probably.‭

He carried the basket past her,‭ ‬and she followed him up the short hallway,‭ ‬and across the living area to the longer hallway on the far side.‭ ‬He chose the larger of the two guest bedrooms and set the basket beside the bed.‭

"It's pretty late,‭" ‬he said.‭ "‬If you want to,‭ ‬you can stay here.‭" ‬He hadn't intended to make the offer,‭ ‬but everything had taken longer than he expected.‭ ‬It didn't seem right to send them on their way after they'd been up all night.

"Thank you,‭" ‬she said again.

Unwanted Visitors III: Past Midnight

If you're coming in late, the story begins here.


Samina tried to get one more spoonful of mush into the baby's mouth,‭ ‬and finally gave up.‭ ‬Seven was too young to speak,‭ ‬but the way he writhed and turned his head aside was clear enough:‭ ‬he didn't want any more food.‭ ‬She did,‭ ‬but she could wait‭; ‬she'd had enough to keep her for awhile.‭

She looked up,‭ ‬and found the Dayborn sitting on a stool that he'd placed just outside the kitchen,‭ ‬near the table where he'd set out the food.‭ ‬He was watching the children,‭ ‬but not with any particular attention:‭ ‬his eyes followed them,‭ ‬but his thoughts were elsewhere.‭ ‬Oberon was right,‭ ‬she decided.‭ ‬He doesn't care about us.‭ ‬In the hours that they'd been there,‭ ‬he hadn't asked for their names,‭ ‬or where they came from,‭ ‬or why they were out in the woods in the midst of a storm like this.‭

She turned her attention back to the children.‭ ‬Oberon had found a checkers board,‭ ‬and was patiently teaching Iulius how to play.‭ ‬Amarie,‭ ‬the blind girl,‭ ‬had curled up on one end of a couch with a plate of food,‭ ‬and was listening to the others.‭ ‬Grey was nowhere to be seen,‭ ‬but that was usual with her‭; ‬Samina finally spotted her by looking for Rag,‭ ‬who‭ ‬had found a book and was looking at the pictures.‭ ‬Grey was beside him,‭ ‬reading bits of the story as Rag flipped through it.

It was past midnight,‭ ‬and the rain had trailed off to a light drizzle,‭ ‬but nobody seemed inclined to move.‭ ‬Samina didn't blame them‭;‬ she was warm and dry and comfortably full,‭ ‬and going back out into the trees was just about the least appealing thing she could imagine.‭

Seven burped,‭ ‬and Samina set him down on the floor.‭ ‬She watched as he crawled over to the couch and began trying to‭ ‬pull himself up.‭ ‬Despite the windows and all the daylight they would let in,‭ ‬despite the Dayborn who lived here,‭ ‬the children were going to want to stay here.‭ ‬Samina knew she shouldn't allow it,‭ ‬but she had the feeling it was going to happen anyway.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Unwanted Visitors II: Refugees

If you're coming in late, the story begins here.


Jason Savage stood on one side of the living room and wondered what he'd done to deserve this sort of intrusion.‭ ‬It wasn't as if he'd been friendly to the kid,‭ ‬after all.‭ ‬He'd answered his questions,‭ ‬but nothing else.‭ ‬So the kid was either oblivious to his distaste, or self-possessed enough to ignore it...

Or desperate enough.‭ ‬He turned that thought over,‭ ‬and nodded to himself.‭ ‬They look like refugees.‭ ‬The ragged clothes,‭ ‬the way they held tight to their few possessions...‭ ‬It wasn't something he would have‭ ‬expected to find in northwestern Arkansas,‭ ‬but now that he'd put a name to the impression he couldn't set it aside.

‭All right.‭ ‬They had shelter now,‭ ‬and hopefully they were getting warm again.‭ ‬If they'd been that badly off,‭ ‬they were probably hungry too.‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬it's not as if I had anything better to do,‭ ‬he thought,‭ ‬and walked into the kitchen.‭ ‬It's not as if I was doing anything at all.

‭He opened the refrigerator and started sorting out foods.‭ ‬It bothered him that he couldn't feel any real desire to help‭; ‬what he was doing now was less than a decision,‭ ‬and only a little bit more than a reflex.‭ ‬He couldn't feel any connection to it.‭ ‬He wondered if the refugees would see this as some sort of invitation,‭ ‬but he couldn't bring himself to care.‭ ‬If they became a problem,‭ ‬he'd ask them to leave.‭ ‬In the meantime,‭ ‬well...‭ ‬as long as they didn't bother him,‭ ‬he didn't care what they did.

Unwanted Visitors I: Rainfall

The rain came shortly after nightfall,‭ ‬a heavy downpour that flooded their camp and forced them out into the open.‭ ‬Samina stood watching the children gather up blankets and utensils,‭ ‬what little they had,‭ ‬and wondered what to do.‭ ‬The baby in her arms was wrapped in a wool blanket,‭ ‬but the blanket was already soaked.‭ ‬She could make shelter,‭ ‬of a sort,‭ ‬but they were already drenched and she had no way to keep them warm.

Oberon tugged on her sleeve and pointed off into the woods.‭ ‬At twelve,‭ ‬he was the oldest of the children in her care.‭ ‬He was trying to tell her something,‭ ‬but she couldn't hear him over the steady roar of the rain.‭ ‬He moved a little bit away,‭ ‬then came back and tugged on her sleeve again.‭

Where...‭?‬ He wanted her to follow,‭ ‬that was clear.‭ ‬The other children were gathering around,‭ ‬carrying what they could find.‭ ‬Whatever they did,‭ ‬they couldn't stay here,‭ ‬and moving would help them stay warm,‭ ‬at least.‭ ‬Untangling one arm from the baby's dripping blanket,‭ ‬Samina made a‭ ‬go on gesture.

Oberon stepped past her to Amarie,‭ ‬and placed the blind girl's arm on his elbow.‭ ‬She followed when he started walking,‭ ‬using him for support as they picked their way over roots and between trees.‭ ‬Samina followed them,‭ ‬and the others followed her.‭

They stayed close together.‭ ‬The storm washed away scents and limited sight‭; ‬it drowned out every sound but its own,‭ ‬and shrank the world until nothing was left but the trees around them,‭ ‬the mud beneath their feet,‭ ‬and the cold,‭ ‬steady‭ ‬weight of falling water.‭ ‬Oberon seemed to have a destination in mind,‭ ‬but Samina couldn't imagine what it might be.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬they were going generally downhill,‭ ‬half trudging and half scrambling through the mud.‭

Her shoulders ached from carrying the baby and the children were starting to stumble when Oberon came to a sudden stop,‭ ‬then gestured up ahead.‭ ‬Looking up,‭ ‬Samina saw light through the trees.‭ ‬A heartbeat later she realized she was looking at a house.‭ ‬Built with clean lines and angles,‭ ‬set in a little pocket of cultivated land that had been carved from the surrounding wilderness,‭ ‬it was the sort of place where the Dayborn lived.‭

A breath after that,‭ ‬she realized that she was exactly desperate enough to go there anyway.‭

She looked at Oberon and realized that he was waiting on her:‭ ‬giving her a chance to object,‭ ‬she suspected.‭ ‬What choice do we have‭? ‬She motioned for him to go on.‭

The man who opened the door was almost exactly Samina's height,‭ ‬with dark hair cut close to his skull and a heavy,‭ ‬muscular build.‭ ‬He looked down at Oberon and said,‭ ‬barely audible over the rain,‭ "‬You again‭?" ‬Then he looked up at the rest of them,‭ ‬paused,‭ ‬and said:‭ "‬Jesus Christ.‭ ‬Inside.‭ ‬Come on.‭ ‬All of you.‭"

He stepped back and they shuffled in,‭ ‬Oberon still leading the‭ ‬way.‭ ‬Samina stayed back to make sure everyone was inside,‭ ‬then closed the door behind them.‭

It was surprisingly dark inside.‭ ‬There was some light from around the corner,‭ ‬but nothing else.‭ ‬They were crowded into a short entry hall which opened directly into a large,‭ ‬central room‭; ‬the light came from a small area along one side of that room.

‭Then the man turned and stepped into another hallway.‭ ‬More light spilled over them,‭ ‬the unwavering glow of electrical lighting.‭ "‬This way,‭" ‬he said,‭ ‬and the children followed.‭ ‬Samina trailed along behind,‭ ‬carrying the baby in one arm,‭ ‬exhausted and wary.‭

There were three doors at the end of the hall.‭ ‬He led them through the middle one,‭ ‬into a small room equipped with a sink,‭ ‬a tub,‭ ‬and a toilet.‭ "‬Wet clothes in the sink,‭" ‬he said.‭ "‬Kids in the tub.‭" ‬He bent down and twisted a knob,‭ ‬and a stream of water began to fill the tub.‭ ‬He was kneeling with his back to them,‭ ‬but Samina wasn't sure whether that was a deliberate show of trust,‭ ‬or whether he simply didn't consider‭ ‬them a threat.‭

He made some adjustments,‭ ‬and the flow of water moved from the lower spigot to a higher one,‭ ‬spraying down into the tub from overhead.‭ ‬Three breaths later it was warm enough to fill the air with steam.‭ ‬He straightened,‭ ‬turned,‭ ‬and met Samina's eyes before she could look away.‭ "‬There are towels under the sink.‭ ‬I'll see if I can find something for them to wear while their clothes dry.‭"

He edged his way out past the children,‭ ‬then past Samina,‭ ‬and went back up the hall.‭ ‬By the time he came back,‭ ‬all five of the children were crowded into the warm water,‭ ‬the baby was wrapped in a dry towel,‭ ‬and Samina was trying to decide whether it was safe to take off her dress.‭ ‬She was shivering with cold and exhaustion.

"Here,‭" ‬he said,‭ ‬and set down a pile‭ ‬of clothes.‭ "‬Spare outfits,‭ ‬things that got left here over the years.‭"

He looked her over,‭ ‬then disappeared down the hall again.‭ ‬This time,‭ ‬when he came back,‭ ‬he was carrying a single bundle of grey cloth.‭ "‬These should fit you,‭" ‬he said,‭ ‬and set it beside the larger pile before turning away again.‭

The children,‭ ‬now warm,‭ ‬were reluctant to leave the shower.‭ ‬Oberon was the first to abandon his comfort‭; ‬no doubt he felt it was his duty.‭ ‬As he was dressing‭ (‬there was a pair of denim trousers that fit him almost perfectly‭)‬,‭ ‬Samina said:‭ "‬You've spoken to him before.‭"

Oberon froze,‭ ‬then nodded.

"You spoke to a Natural.‭" ‬She didn't put any particular emphasis on it‭; ‬just let the observation hang there.‭ ‬After a moment she added,‭ "‬Are we safe here‭?"

Oberon hesitated,‭ ‬but he didn't look uncertain‭; ‬he was thinking.‭ ‬Samina suspected that he was trying to put words to a decision that had been mostly intuitive.‭

"I think so.‭" ‬He glanced down the hall,‭ ‬then turned to face her.‭ "‬I talked to him yesterday,‭ ‬and he...‭ ‬he didn't want me there,‭ ‬but he wasn't mean,‭ ‬either.‭ ‬He didn't care.‭ ‬So I think we're safe.‭ ‬Does that make sense‭?"

"No,‭" ‬said Samina,‭ "‬but at least it doesn't sound like he wants anything from us.‭ ‬Go and watch him while I get the others dry.‭"

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Musics for your Brains

Nothing for this morning -- maybe some fiction tonight, if I can manage it, but for now we're putting up Halloween-appropriate songs. Let's start with some Jonathan Coulton, Re: Your Brains...

And continue with a few more below the cut...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Music Emperor's New Clothes

Another Halloween-related one, this time as a music video:

Dawn of the Ted

Right, I have nothing for this morning (spent the weekend not feeling too well), so I'm going back to an old pre-Halloween favorite: Dawn of the Ted. Enjoy!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Chaos in the Streets (version 1)

This is a prequel (and a companion piece) to this scene. Most likely, neither of them will be included in the finished work -- at least, not in their current forms, and that's assuming the work ever actually gets finished. If it does, I promise you will be the first to know.

Snow spoke a quick, sharp phrase and gestured, hauling Blaze back a good five paces to land abruptly beside her. He caught his balance, the bloodied club still in his hand, and looked around for new enemies. A dying beast, its carapace white even in the relative darkness, lay thrashing on the street back where Blaze had broken it. Slender, bony legs with tips like daggers thrashed against the cobbles, and the claw-tipped tail lashed back and forth. Snow gestured upward.

Overhead, a diamond-shaped shadow drifted past them, rotating slowly. Shimmering black dust fell from the corners, drifting across the width of the street, but Snow had done something to keep it from reaching them; it gathered in a circle around them, instead. "Kill it?" asked Blaze, lifting his empty hand.

"Leave it," said Snow. "Shelter first, battle later."

Blaze was half again her height and easily three times her weight, but he lowered his arm and nodded. "What is that thing?"

"Burn me if I know," answered Snow.

"That way," said Blaze, as the floating diamond moved on and the last of the shimmering dust settled. He gestured, and Snow moved with him, a pale shadow in the darkened street. There were other people here, still standing, but they seemed dazed and nearly unconscious; that drift of dust had done something to them. He was momentarily thankful for the thickness of his leather boots, but he intended to strip them off as soon as they arrived indoors; the gods alone knew what that dust might be doing to them. They hurried down the street, past the others who had been caught outdoors, heading for the hostelry as quickly as they could manage.

Something flapped past them, and Snow threw up a burst of light that flared above and behind them. The flying thing, whatever it was, shrieked and veered and crashed into one of the high brick walls that surrounded the street on either side. A low susurrus went through the people who stood blankly in the street, and raised the hairs on Blaze's neck.

The hostelry was still ahead, and might still be safe. They rounded a corner, and found that the people here were starting to move again. One of them threw himself at Blaze; but Blaze was larger and stronger than the people of this city, and knew how to invoke further strength with gestures instead of words; when his fist connected, it broke ribs and sent his attacker stumbling back into two others. Snow threw a burst of fire into the face of another attacker, who wheeled back wailing with arms upraised.

They ran, pulling up their matching gray robes so they wouldn't trip.

Snow raised her hand and spoke the guide words, forcing them out between gasping breaths, and for a moment the street brightened nearly to daylight. Blaze had been aware of... not pursuit, exactly, but a general movement among the people in the street to follow them. Now they fell back, the people in the street, and Snow and Blaze crashed into the door of the hostelry.

It was locked.

Snow leaned into it, muttering under her breath and lifting a hand as she explored; Blaze turned to face the ones approaching them.

They were slow and clumsy, at least for now; they moved like people dazed or in shock, not like warriors or even particularly determined enemies. He shoved them back into each other, or hit them with the club when he had no other choice. A moment later, Snow reached up to the collar of his robe and hauled him backwards through the door.

The door slammed shut behind them, and Blaze lifted the heavy wooden bar and slid it into place. He stopped, with his shoulder resting against the door, and then slowly turned to look at the hallways behind him.

Snow had her hands half-upraised, and was just lowering them. They were inside a mid-sized room, with an empty desk across from them, and a single hallway leading further back inside. Brother Shadow was standing in the hallway, watching them both. "You made it..." he said. "Where is Somber?"

Blaze exchanged a glance with Snow. "We don't know," he said. "Out in the city."

"You don't know?" asked Shadow. He sounded as if the admission offended him.

"One of the local girls collected him," Snow said. "He went with her and her friends. We were on our way back here. And then..."

"Something went wrong with the world," finished Blaze. "We didn't have time to look for him. We were lucky to make it back."

Something began to pound on the door behind him, slowly but steadily increasing in force.

"I see," said Brother Shadow. He came forward, and Blaze put a hand on the bar, feeling it shiver as whatever was outside rammed against the door.

"Pull the bar and step back," said Brother Shadow. "Once I'm outside, you guard this door and let nothing in. Not until I return, or Sister Azure sends someone to relieve you."

Blaze hesitated. "Are you sure you don't want us with you?"

"I was charged with protecting you," Shadow answered. "You stay here."

Blaze pulled the bar, and Shadow stepped out in a burst of light so bright that night itself seemed to draw back. A moment later, the door swung closed as if on its own, and Blaze dropped the bar into place. Snow stood looking at him, almost blank with shock. "Somber's still out there," she said quietly.

"Shadow will find him," Blaze said, with more conviction than he felt. On his own, he would have gone to look; but he wanted Snow safe more than anything else in the world, and that meant both of them staying here.

"We don't have any choice, do we?" she asked.

"Sure we do," he answered cheerfully. "We could go back, sacrificing the safety of everyone in this building and likely ourselves as well, to look for him."

Snow folded herself down to sit on the floor. "Yes," she said. "That's exactly what I meant."

And Blaze, who knew that already, went to put his arm around her.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Las Vegas 3-Point Recap

Right, so, we're back -- and, as predicted, happy and refreshed, though it seems clear in hindsight that "coherent" was asking a bit too much. How was our trip? In a word: awesome. So, I'd like to fill in a few things that might have been missing from last week's explanatory email:

1. It turns out we were actually flying on Spirit airlines. Spirit's business strategy is to sell their plane tickets really, really cheap -- and then charge the everlovin' snot out of you for everything they possibly can. Want to choose your seats? That's an additional charge. Carry-on luggage? Additional charge. Checked luggage? Big additional charge. Drinks or snacks on board? It'll cost you. (If you read their literature, they're very insistent that they actually do this for your benefit -- after all, you only pay for the things you want!) Fortunately, we discovered this before we packed, so we were able to limit ourselves to sub-carry-on baggage. Five days worth of clothing in a case small enough to qualify as a "personal carried item": it can be done.

2. It turns out we were actually staying at the Cosmopolitan. We had a lovely, lovely room with a balcony that overlooked the Bellagio's fountains. Now, I wouldn't ordinarily consider polyamory -- nothing against it, it's just not for me -- but by the second day we were seriously considering making the giant bathtub and the walk-in shower full partners in our marriage. We did a fair amount of just hanging out in that room, trying to come to grips with the fact that we didn't have to be anywhere or be doing anything. I think it took us two days (and in my wife's case, a massage) before that really sank in. There was also a pool area with a hot tub, and we made good use of that, too.

3. Neither of us likes to gamble, so we saw some shows instead. (The end result is the same -- you go home with less money than you arrived with -- but we actually got something in exchange for our money.) We saw Zombie Burlesque and Absinthe and I would recommend them both very highly. Zombie Burlesque was exactly what it sounds like, corny and fun and funny, with singing and dancing zombies, wise-cracking zombies, a humans-versus-zombie rendition of the newlywed game, and an instructive dance to explain the mating habits of Jello and vodka. Absinthe was... how to describe it? Absinthe was what you might get if you took a Cirque du Soleil performance and shrank it down to fit in a circus tent, so that the performers were right there on a small round stage in the middle of the audience, and then dipped the whole thing in Raunchy Sauce. The host was a perfect distillation of the quintessential Vegas Asshole, from the rumpled suit to the slicked-back hair to the sleazy demeanor; he was also hilarious. And his assistant was a sort Manic Pixie Dream Girl Of Smut. I don't think I've laughed that hard in at least three years. We also went downtown and saw the Freemont Street Experience (in daylight, though, so arguably we only got the experience and not the Experience), and visited the Mob Museum.

All in all, it was a great time -- and the Beautiful Wife and I were long overdue for that sort of vacation.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

An email to my mother...

Last night, I composed an email to my mother, who called me in the middle of the busiest day I've had in months to ask whether I had a few minutes to tell her where we would be staying on our long-weekend getaway to Vegas and perhaps chat for a bit about the events of the day. I have, finally, at 9:03 p.m., managed to assemble a comprehensive and informative answer, which should lay to rest any questions she has and waylay any and all of her concerns. It reads:
To: My mother
From: Me (naturally)
Subject: Las Vegas

I have, at this time some twelve or fourteen hours before our flight leaves, absolutely NO idea where we're staying, or what flight we're on, or when we leave, arrive, leave again, or arrive again. It's possible that we're staying in the Savoy, or maybe I only think so because I'm watching The Importance Of Being Earnest while I pack. It's possible that we're flying on Vision airlines, or maybe I just think so because that's the name of an album by Queen and it sounds comfortingly familiar. I suspect that if you really, desperately need to get in touch with us, the best route would be to call one or the other of our cell phones. Mine is XXX-XXX-XXXX. I remain passably certain that we will be in Las Vegas... somewhere. Also, I may just have packed a toothbrush and some Neosporin with which to clean my teeth.

Loyally Yours,

Michael
Perforce, there were very likely be no further posts on this blog until at least the middle of next week. Still, you're all lovely people, and very bright and capable, and I'm sure you'll all find ways to muddle through without me. You are welcome to assume that I shall be thinking of you fondly, or even missing you desperately, while the Beautiful Woman and I finally take a well-earned vacation together, but I'm afraid that simply won't be the case. Do take care of yourselves while we're away, though. With any luck, we'll both return happy and refreshed and perhaps even coherent.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Unwilling Contestants

James was walking in to work when the door of the van slid open beside him and the men jumped out to grab him. For a moment, he thought he was being robbed; then he thought he was being kidnapped. By the time he realized what was really happening and began to scream for help, it was too late: the door was closed and the van was speeding away.

The host was a tall, cadaverous man in a tuxedo, who stood in a circle of bright light on a dimly lit stage or dais. James had his own spotlight, but his spot was in front of the host and slightly below him. Everything else was completely dark, so black it might have been void, and that was what kept him from trying to run: a primal, creeping fear of what might find him if he left the light.

"Welcome, welcome, one and all!" The host had his arms spread wide, the gesture emphasized by the extra length of a black cane in his right hand and the top hat in his left. "Today's contestant is James!"

A soft whisper went through the blackness around him, and James shivered.

"What do you have to say for yourself, James?"

He swallowed. "Please," he said. "I just want to go home."

The host's smile widened, transforming his face from cadaverous to skeletal. "Hear that, folks? He wants to go home. Well, James, that depends on how you do today." He turned to the audience, and rolled his top hat up his arm so that it fell into place atop his head. "Now, we all know how the game is played... but I want to remind you not to distract our contestant. An interruption could result in a forfeit, and there's nothing less entertaining than a forfeit. Got it, folks?"

The same low susurrus went through the darkness, soft and inhuman, and James shivered again.

As the sound died away to stillness, the host gestured with his cane. "Come, James! Let's get started!"

A new light appeared, spearing down to illuminate a wide, round table with handles around the edges. "It's time to spin the wheel!"

James took a cautious step towards the table. For a moment he was afraid that he would have to cross the darkness, but the small circle of light moved with him. He took another step, and another, until his spot of light merged into the larger spot around the table. As the host had indicated, the top of the table was actually a sort of wheel. He looked up at the host. "Do I have to?" he asked, quietly, desperately.

"James, James, James," said the host. "It's the only way to find out what happens next."

Reluctantly, James took a grip on two of the wooden handles that extended like spokes. Looking down on the table, he could see the way the surface was divided into slices of color, each with its own bit of text. Cranky Co-worker, read one. Traffic Jam, said another. A third one said Tornado! in a cheerful-looking script, and at that point James quit reading and squeezed his eyes shut.

"Don't hold back," advised the host. "Give it a good, strong spin." His voice was rich with anticipation.

James wrenched on the handles, throwing his weight to the side to get them spinning. Then he flinched back; the top of the table turned with a horrible, loud buzzing, like the noise of a hungry insect magnified to the volume of jet engine. He caught himself with his foot on the edge of the darkness, and turned back towards the table.

The initial buzzing dropped to a rapid, mechanical clicking as the wheel slowed. James watched, mesmerized, as it spun. It slowed further, clickclickclick becoming click-click-click and then click... click... click... A wide stretch of crimson with the words Fatal Accident rotated towards the pointer on the far side of the table, slowing, slowing... but the wheel clicked past it and stopped on Seasonal Illness instead.

There was another whisper of sound in the darkness around him, almost a sigh. There was an audience out there -- there was something out there -- and whatever it was, it sounded disappointed.

The host, however, never missed a beat. "Seasonal illness!" he cried. "That takes us today's challenge..." he drew the words out, building anticipation, then gestured with his silver-headed cane. "The dartboard of diseases!"

The large light went out, taking the table with it and leaving James still in his own small spot of light. A new light came up, this one angled down to show the dartboard. It looked like every other dartboard that James had ever seen, but it was taller than his head, and each little area was -- of course -- inscribed with long words in a cheery script. A second, small light came up to reveal a low table or podium.

For a moment, James hesitated... but then the light that was shining on him started to drift towards the podium. Suddenly terrified of being left behind in the darkness, James hurried to keep up with it.

On the podium, he found three darts. They were large, like lawn darts, but balanced differently; not so heavy towards the tip.

"Go on," said the host. "Take your first throw."

James made a throwing gesture, testing the weight of the dart in his hand. For a moment, he had a wild vision of throwing the dart at the host and making a run for it, but he knew what would happen: the lights would go out. The lights would go out, and the darkness would claim him.

Instead, he looked at the dartboard again. The bull's-eye was empty of text.

"Very good," said the host, smarmily encouraging. "If you can land a bull's-eye, you -- or someone in your family -- won't become sick. But, of course, the spaces closest to the bull's-eye are filled with the worst diseases, while the ones around the outer ring are the mildest. And your first throw... will be for your daughter."

James nodded to show he understood. He considered for another moment, then made his throw.

The dart slammed into the outer ring.

"Stomach virus!" cried the host. "Looks like James is in for a rough night! Let see what he does next, with his wife's health on the line."

Soft whispers floated through the room, then died away. James lifted the second dart. It was identical to the first, and he had a feel for it now. He took careful aim, and threw...

"Bull's-eye!" cried the host. "Ladies and gentlemen, you saw it yourselves! No illness for James' wife!"

A soft whine or groan spilled through the darkness, still so quiet as to be barely audible. The sound of it raised the hairs on James' neck.

He lifted the last dart and took aim at the target again. He took a moment to focus... drew back... and threw.

For a moment it looked like a perfect shot. Then it struck the dart that was already in the bull's-eye and bounced off to the side.

"Oh," said the host. "That's too bad. Looks like it's pneumonia for you, James. Well, thanks for playing... and, for the rest of you, I hope you'll join us again next time!"

All at once, the lights went out above the dartboard, the podium, and the host himself. James occupied a single, small circle of light with nothing but darkness around him. Cautiously, he put a hand out, but the podium wasn't just hidden in the darkness; it was actually gone. Something brushed against his hand, and he yanked it back into the light.

A moment later, a whole series of small spotlights came on, making a path across the polished concrete floor. A final light came on, illuminating a narrow metal door with a bar across it. James hurried over to the door, aware that the lights were going out behind him, and pushed on the bar. The door swung open, and he stepped out onto a concrete sidewalk. The door swung closed behind him, and he realized he was standing outside his office.

He coughed, feeling drained and weary. The day was gone; he could see Bob, an accountant from the office across the hall, coming out of the building with his briefcase in hand.

Resigned, James started towards his car. It was going to be a rough couple of weeks. He hated this time of year.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015

A small collection of links...

...Because I still don't have anything of my own written. Pretty much the entire family was sick this weekend, and while I seem to have escaped the worst of it -- so far -- I've still had to do nurture and cleanup and keeping everybody occupied in the house. That... doesn't lend itself to writing.

So, here are some interesting things I've been looking at recently:

1. The Dynamics Of Jamaican Lottery Scammers (Caution: there's a video, with audio, that will auto-play when you follow that link.)
More than 200 Jamaicans a year are killed in connection with lottery scams -- a fifth of the killings in the island nation, which has the dubious distinction of being among the most violent countries per capita in the world.

Scammers who sell names and numbers to callers expect a cut of their profits; if they find out they're being cheated, they'll hunt down and kill the caller or a member of his family. Other killings occur when rival gang members steal caller lists.

"It's a cancer in the society," says Luis Moreno, the U.S ambassador to Jamaica. "Gangs escalate armed competition with each other over who is going to control these lists and who is going to get the best scammers, the best phone numbers, the best phone guys. Even children as young as 10, 12 years old are tied in as couriers."
2. Last week, an online Christian group called the eBible Fellowship predicted that the world would (probably) end on Wednesday, October 7. They were following up on the, um, "work" of Harold Camping, the preacher who claimed that the world would end on May 21, 2011. I've written about him before. Naturally, they were quite surprised when it didn't happen... although, I maintain, nowhere near as surprised as they could have been.

3. Apparently, the acquisition of a new clay tablet by the Sulaymaniah Museum has added twenty lines to the Epic of Gilgamesh, and quite possibly corrected the order of the chapters as well. If you're interested in ancient mythology and/or storytelling, you should not only read this article, but explore all the links too.
The tablet adds new verses to the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu slew the forest demigod Humbaba. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, gets the idea to kill the giant Humbaba, guardian of the Cedar Forest, home of the gods, in Tablet II. He thinks accomplishing such a feat of strength will gain him eternal fame. His wise companion (and former wild man) Enkidu tries to talk him out of it — Humbaba was set to his task by the god Enlil — but stubborn Gilgamesh won’t budge, so Enkidu agrees to go with him on this quest.
...And that's what I've been reading.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Approval Process

So, one of our pieces of software has an approval process built into it. Unfortunately, it's one of those systems where people tend to open something, work on it for a bit, and then get distracted and forget to come back to it. As a result, we now have over 150 items in the approval queue. That means that it's time to send out an email reminding people to go in there and either approve their items or remove them from the queue.

I'm thinking of going with this one:


Think that'll work?

Final Horror Short Film Of The Week

Right, so, since we've gone this long, I'm going to put in one last horror film to round out the week. This one's called "The Cut", and it's arguably the scariest thing I've found so far.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

One more movie: Thresher

I know I put this one up a while back, but I still like it... and since apparently this is Short Horror Film Week (if I'd been expecting to do this, I'd have made an announcement or something), here's another one:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Closet

Another short horror film on our way to Halloween. I promise, I'll try to get some of my own content up at some point; I just need more sleep and fewer sinus headaches.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Hi

Well, it's October. Are you ready for Halloween? 'Cause I have some things to help you get in the mood. This one's called "Hi".

Thursday, October 1, 2015

We are the rational ones...

You know, every time I think that human beings are basically sane, I remember that when they tested the first atomic bomb, the scientists still weren't entirely sure that it wouldn't light the atmosphere on fire.