Monday, October 31, 2016

Job Woes

You know, if there's one thing I hate, it's coming in for an ordinary day of work and finding out that the team has messed up so badly that they've opened a rift to other worlds rife with hostile intelligences and dangerous beasts, and leaving me to figure out some way to survive all these things and close the portal, so that the world can go mostly back to normal. I swear, it happens like every three weeks around here. And yet, do they budget for better equipment or even a few more batteries? No. I'll be fighting for my life and fending off extradimensional horrors with nothing more than a crowbar and an HEV suit that's still at 18% charge. Every. Single Time. It's inexcusable.

I swear, the only reason OSHA hasn't closed us down is because our work is so technologically cutting-edge that there's absolutely no precedents for safety protocols. Well, that and I'm pretty sure the administration is bribing the everloving hell out of the inspectors.

I've got a buddy over at Aperture Labs who says he can get me a job there. I may take it. I'm pretty sure it would be safer than working here.

Haunted Yard

Nick stopped and looked at the sign. THIS WAY, it said, in red paint of course, with an arrow pointing out the path through the graveyard that had, apparently, sprung up spontaneously in the front yard of what was otherwise a typical suburban home. "Really?"

"What?" asked Cedric, stopping beside him.

Nick shook his head. The front walk was just ahead, and would have taken them up to the front door. They could have strolled casually up there, said their piece, gotten some candy, and been on their way. But no, these homeowners wanted them to follow a path through the gate in the fence and into the back yard, which was almost certainly set up as some sort of impromptu haunted house. It wasn't worth it.

"Come on," said Cedric, and stepped off the sidewalk and onto the grass.

Nick was still shaking his head when Cedric turned back. "It's not worth the time," he said. "Every house on the street is lit up, and we're going to waste time because some old guy wants to scare us before he gives us candy?"

"It's Halloween," said Cedric. "It's supposed to be scary."

"It's Halloween," acknowledged Nick. "It's supposed to be free candy."

"Fine," said Cedric, and turned around. Then he just stood there, frowning.

Just when Nick was about to say something, Cedric said: "I can't move my feet."

Nick said, "What?"

"I can't move my feet. I'm trying to walk back, but I can't move." He took a step backwards, into the ersatz graveyard. "I can move in, but not out."

Nick shook his head. A chill went down his back, but he refused to acknowledge it. Nothing was holding his friend. No skeletal hands had grasped his ankles; no strange vines twined around his feet. Cedric had to be faking it, but he was doing one hell of a job: he looked terrified. "Give me your hand," said Nick, bracing himself and leaning out. "I'll pull you back."

Cedric put his hand out immediately, leaning towards Nick so they could grab each other's wrists. He should have been wildly off-balance, but his feet didn't move. A second chill followed the first down Nick's back, and settled into a frozen knot in his belly. He threw his weight back and pulled, but Cedric didn't move. He pulled again, harder.

Cedric gasped and let go of his wrist, but Nick kept pulling... and suddenly they were both lying on the grass, between the cheap plastic headstones. As you are, so I was. As I am, so you will be, said one. Mad Doctor F, said another, born ? died 1818.

Nick gathered himself and sprang to his feet, one hand raised. He wasn't sure if he needed to punch Cedric, or someone else. "Fuck," he said, and tried to walk back to the sidewalk.

His feet wouldn't move. "Oh, fuck." He shook his head. "Oh, fuck fuck fuck."

Cedric climbed to his feet more slowly. He looked back at the sidewalk, then at the gate that led into the back yard. "I guess we have to go in," he said.

"I guess," answered Nick, not bothering to hide his bitterness. How was this even possible? He could worry about that later. Right now, he needed to keep his eyes open and his fists and feet ready. Whatever was here, whatever was keeping them here, he didn't mean to let it take them without a fight.

Cedric took a step, and Nick took a step. They held to that pattern all the way to fence: step, wait, step, wait. Nick tried stepping off to the side, or back the way they'd come, but nothing happened. His legs just wouldn't do it. He assumed Cedric was trying the same things, with the same results.

They reached the fence and stopped, looking through the gate and into the darkness beyond. Their flashlights showed only a black-walled passage leading back. Under any other circumstances, Nick would have assumed that the homeowners had set up a wooden frame and covered it with garbage bags; that was certainly how it looked. He glanced to his right, but the front of the house was no longer visible. To his left, the edge of the next property was no more than six feet away.

Nick had been studying Tae Kwon Do for the last four years; he'd started in middle school. That was where he'd met Cedric, and where they'd become friends. They were both young, fast, strong... and utterly at the mercy of whatever held them on this path. "I can't believe you just walked in here," he said, bitterly.

Cedric turned his head, looking hurt and surprised, but Nick pressed on. "We could have walked past, you dumb fuck. We could have been halfway down the block by now."

"I didn't--"

Nick interrupted before Cedric could say anything reasonable. "I was still safe, you fucker, until you pulled me out here..."

"Nick, stop--"

"You want me to stop? Then hit me. Hit me!" He was roaring it at the last, praying that Cedric would catch on or at least react...

...And Cedric dropped into a guard stance and through a punch.

Nick deflected it easily. "Again," he said, trying to sound as scornful as he was scared. "Harder."

Cedric threw another punch, this one at maybe eighty percent power, and Nick slapped it aside and popped him on the jaw. "Do it right," he sneered.

This time when Cedric swung, he used his whole body to drive the blow.

Nick turned his deflection into a catch, took Cedric's arm and all the force behind it, and added his own as he twisted into a throw. Cedric's feet left the ground, and he flew past nick and onto the neighboring yard. It was close; only his ankles were still in the fake Halloween graveyard that fronted this house. He might be safe.

That was when the darkness reached out from the gate, twining around Nick and pulling him in.

Cedric shook his head and tried to straighten, then realized that something was pulling at his feet. He clawed at the ground, digging in fingers and elbows, trying to pull himself loose. It wasn't just that his feet wouldn't move anymore; something was molded around them, trapping them. He twisted and flexed his ankles, pulling his feet free of his shoes... and with the last of his strength, he pulled himself all the way into the next yard.

He wasn't sure how long he lay there, but it was still dark when he finally climbed to his feet. Nick wasn't the only thing gone. His shoes were gone, too, but that was nothing: the entire house was gone. There was no fake graveyard, no hokey sign, no bland suburban home. There was only an empty lot, sandwiched between two ordinary houses, with a big sign facing the street.

He walked back up to the sidewalk, careful not to step into the former graveyard. LOT FOR SALE, said the sign. It had a company name and a phone number. There wasn't a house here. There never had been. And when he tried to explain that the house had taken Nick, nobody in the world was going to believe him.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Necromance if we want to...

Singing quietly for the benefit of my co-workers:
"Necromance if we want to
We can leave your fiends behind
because your fiends don't dance
and if they don't dance
then they're no fiends of mine...

We can go to the graveyard
We can take our shovels there
Dig up skin and bones
Hear the cries and moans
find a lock of hang'd man's hair..."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Holy Crap, We've Fallen Off The Internet

We've... had a few technical issues at work over the last few days. Strangely, my boss absolutely forbade me to send out the following email yesterday. Since this event occurred at the point where we'd been fixing things for about thirty-six hours straight and finally had most of our applications and services working again, I have absolutely no idea why he would object.
To: All Employees
From: Information Technology
Subject: Holy Crap, We've Fallen Off The Internet

At 4:42 p.m. one of our technicians set off a resonance cascade in the server room and dropped our entire workplace into the abyssal void of No Internet Connection. Until our necromancers can forcibly reanimate the desiccated corpse of the router, we have no ability to connect to the Internet, and no presence on the Internet. Also, we appear to be trapped in a realm of eternal night, and may run of out of oxygen at any time.

If you are devoured by the nameless shapes of the outer darkness, please notify the helpdesk. If there are unspeakable things dragging their claws across the windows of your office, please gather some earplugs from Human Resources. Your patience is appreciated.

Thanks,

Michael Mock
The Workplace That Shall Not Be Named
(XXX) XXX-XXXX

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Post-Apocalyptic Payphone

So, I went around on Sunday for about two hours, looking for scenes that I could photograph and use for landscapes in Surreal Situations. And, actually, I did pretty well. Someone had cleaned up the area I most wanted to use, which was disappointing personally but not a bad thing overall. However, I found a couple of nice alternatives, and got some pictures.

The difficulty, of course, is that the current setting for Surreal Situations is about three years into the Zombie Apocalypse. That means that I really need to avoid any kind of setting where someone has clearly been mowing the lawn. Also, any kind of setting with cars, unless I can find some cars that are weathered, rusted, covered in dirt, and whose tires have given way to rotting rubber.

The photo I was really hoping to get this weekend was a badly overgrown playground, but a lawnmower and a coat of paint has taken it completely out of my genre.

But, having spent about two hours driving around to grimy, overgrown areas and taking pictures of them, I decided it was time to get back to my father's house and collect the boys. I was all done for the day, I was going to drive straight back.

Then, on the way back, by the side of a major highway, I found a post-apocalyptic payphone:


I was a little later getting back than I'd expected, obviously.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Whap!

Secondborn charges into the room with a Nerf sword. Secondborn attacks Daddy, landing a flurry of blows.

Daddy feints, disarms, and tosses the Nerf weapon onto the bench behind him. Secondborn squeaks and runs away.

Secondborn returns with a Nerf axe. Daddy disarms him. Secondborn squeaks and runs away.

Daddy sits down and tries to preview some music.

Secondborn comes screaming back into the room with another Nerf sword and begins to attack with a flurry of blows.

Daddy dodges, disarms him, and sends him back out of the room.

Daddy begins to settle back onto the bench.

Secondborn makes a run for the Nerf armory in his closet...

The battle, it seems, is far from over -- but the threat of Bedtime looms ever closer.

Back at work...

Right, so:

Both boys are at school. I have already spoken with the school nurse and brought her up to speed. I finished that just in time to handle a couple of technical issues. Now, I shall attempt to catch up on my email again.

Surviving a zombie apocalypse might actually be easier.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Perfect Storm of Maladies

After considerable effort and no small amount of driving, I have tracked down some Pinworm medication and gotten it into Secondborn. I'll give his brother a dose this evening as well, just to be safe. The plan, as given to me by their pediatrician, is to wait a week after that and then give them another dose.

Meanwhile, Secondborn has developed some kind of rash, primarily on his face, so I've also given him some Benadryl. He coughed hard enough and long enough to make himself throw up last night, so he's at home with me today. It's like a perfect storm of maladies. For the moment, I've asked him to stay out of the back yard and away from the fence beside the creek when he's playing outside at school. (The rash is mainly on the exposed portions of his body, and I'm suspicious that he may have brushed up against poison ivy or something similar.)

Right now, he's building a new Lego set and generally sounding pretty chipper, albeit with occasional coughs, so with any luck we're on our way back out of this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Smells Like A Workday

Hazelnut coffee makes the hallway smell like popcorn here at work.

This is a distinctly mixed blessing.

Meanwhile, the discussion at Surreal Situations turns to the merits of guitars as a tool for survival.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday

Monday. No brain. Wife out of town later this week. May be quiet over here. Check out Surreal Situations instead.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Whuf!

Right, so: first up, the next episode of Surreal Situations is up, which means I've successfully kept up with my web comic's M/W/F schedule for an entire week. Go, me!

I've been reviewing my initial impressions of the process, and I'd like to share some thoughts here. (I'm basically reserving the other blog for the comic itself; I don't want to clutter it up/distract from it with discussions of how it gets built.) So, if this sort of thing interests you...

1. Despite my best efforts to keep this simple, it's taking a surprising amount of my time. The Great Conference Adventure was done on the fly, with nothing more than an action figure, an iPad, and whatever I had to hand. Any text/narrative was either typed into the iPod, which was set in the picture; or added when I posted the images on Facebook. For Surreal Situations, though, I'm aiming for something more like a "real" comic: I want the characters to look reasonably natural in their settings, even if a lot of the setup is structured more like a stage play (i.e. with some characters interacting on a stage in front of a flat backdrop).

This means either not using a backdrop (the first episode), finding images and converting them to the right feel (second episode), or taking pictures myself and converting them for feel (today's episode). I'm not real comfortable with using other people's images, even if I'm converting them and adding elements in a way that I think constitutes Fair Use, so I'm probably not going to do any more of that. Unfortunately, that limits what I have available.

The original plan was to use some playsets for the settings, and there will almost certainly be some of that. Unfortunately... A) I started off in the Zombie Apocalypse setting, and there are remarkably few playsets available for that; B) even if such things were readily available, I'm doing this on a pretty small budget; C) and more to the point, I don't have a place where I could store a bunch of playsets and set them up to take pictures. And that's assuming that the boys wouldn't immediately raid such a setup for things to play with, which... ha! Not very likely.

I've thought of some possibilities, but a lot of them involve time and attention: garage sales, secondhand toy stores, leftover aquarium decorations, and things like that. That's all doable, but none of those options are much help when I start thinking, "Aha! For this next scene, I really need some sort of farmhouse with a porch and a kitchen!" (And, again, there's the question of where in the hell I'm supposed to put such things when I'm not using them.)

Some things could be built out of cardboard (which is actually something of a family tradition), but that runs into the question of time and effort as well as storage. This is supposed to be a side project, not a day job.

For now, I'm probably going to stick with just the figures and the backdrops. That means figuring out what I need, and then looking for places where I can take the sort of pictures I can use to fill those needs. Still, sometime this weekend I really ought to hit a couple of toy stores and/or hobby shops. A handful of appropriately-sized props would go a long way towards making this easier. I would, at this moment, willingly maim someone in exchange for a colorful plastic model of a campfire, for example. Instead, I'll probably have to build something using small rocks and twigs.

2. This isn't going to be a zombie comic, though it will almost certainly continue to have zombies in it. I have waaaaaaay too many other interesting figures to play around with. I started with the zombies because that's kind of where my brain goes, and because it gave me something familiar to build from.

3. That's why I changed to this figure for the main character, instead of using the one who followed me around the conference. I wanted a guy who would look a little battered and out of place in any setting he visited. It seems to be working so far.

There's probably more to say, but those are my thoughts at the end of Week One. Any questions? Put 'em in the comments, and I'll answer 'em there.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Job Snark

Hi! So good to hear from you. Oh, you've sent me some updates. All right, they're done -- and with more than one full week to go before your event! That's right, we just dropped everything because of the clear and unmistakable urgency of this new information that I absolutely did not request from you in an email three weeks ago. No, no. No need to thank us. We enjoy these sorts of last-minute, um, challenges. Keep us on our toes, they do, and I'm sure we can all do with a bit more that, now can't we? I'm looking forward to the next one already.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I forgot the spider!

So, the cabin had its very own watch-spider to stand guard while we slept. It had set up just to one side of the door.

Also, there's a new episode over at Surreal Situations.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Camping

We took the boys on their first real camping trip this past weekend. Camping as a parent is pretty much what I expected:
1. The adults did all the work while the kids just ran around unsupervised.
2. The boys claimed that they were going to sleep out in the tents with their friends, but wound up in the cabin with us.
3. As a result, I wound up sleeping on the air mattress that was slowly deflating, so by morning it was pretty much just a tarp.
4. Fire is endlessly fascinating.
5. Rocks are much more interesting than you'd think.
6. Nature has spiders.

Wanna see the pictures?

Monday, October 10, 2016

So It Begins

I'm starting a webcomic. It'll probably run on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, unless that doesn't seem to work and I end up doing something completely else. While this project definitely owes its origins to The Great Conference Adventure, it won't be a direct continuation. It'll still be random and whimsical and occupied entirely by action figures and other children's toys, though. Welcome to Surreal Situations.

poster advert for Surreal Situations, a web comic by a guy who can't draw.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Nothin'

I got nothin' for this morning. How's your weekend shaping up? Everybody get out of the path of the hurricane? Is New Orleans still where we left it? Has the zombie apocalypse started yet?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Warrior's Legacy: The Ghosts Of Who We Were

It was my fault, the first time I saw my father kill someone. I was fifteen at the time, reassured by the blades at my side, secure in my father's training; and I was tired of the two of us being alone. My father took one look at the town and said we should pass by, but I wanted to be among people and I insisted that we stop.

It wasn't that I grew up in the wilderness, exactly. Whenever we could find a place, my father would take a room and survey the local fighting halls. If he could, he'd demonstrate his skills and take work assisting one of the local masters. He was always polite, always deferential, but if he'd chosen that sort of work it was because he respected the master, the style, and the training. We might stay for weeks, or months, or even a couple of years; and then suddenly I'd come back to our rooms and find that he'd packed our things, and we'd be out on the roads or out in the wilderness again. I loved my father, and it wasn't a bad life... but I got lonely.

This time I was very lonely.

So we slept in the trees and went into town at mid-morning, just another couple of travelers passing through. The place was so small that it didn't even have an inn, just a tavern that had a couple of rooms to rent. There were maybe three shops and a smithy, and there might have been a sawmill somewhere out beyond the edge of town. At least, we passed a wagon headed out of town with a load of evenly-cut boards, but maybe it was passing through the same way we were. The driver waved and smiled; I remember thinking that he thought I was pretty, and didn't mind the swords. I liked him for that.

I think I knew my father was right even before we got into the town. He usually was, when it came to violence and death. The people here looked... beaten. Weary, wary, and watchful, they looked at us with a hint of badly-concealed but carefully restrained anger. And then there were the soldiers.

They lounged on wooden porches or strolled down the street. There were only a dozen or so of them, all told; but that was enough. The town held no more than a dozen houses.

They saw my swords, of course: the long-handled battle saber, and the shorter indoor saber, both tucked into my sash opposite the knife. The arrangement itself probably told them something, since their swords hung in heavy leather sheaths from heavy leather belts. They watched us, but they didn't approach immediately... not until after we entered the tavern.

My father has never been good with people. He raised a hand to one of the servers in what he probably thought was a neutral gesture, but I saw her face tighten with irritation and then lower in surrender. So, when she approached, I made sure I spoke up first: "Sorry to trouble you," I told her, which was entirely true. "We're looking for a room for the night."

She looked at me, looked down at the blades, then looked up at my face again. She was probably three or four years older than I was, but she might have thought I was even younger than that. I'm pretty small, and even wearing swords isn't enough to make me look dangerous. "Why don't you have a seat?" she suggested. "Padru is still sleeping -- he's the keeper -- and won't be up for a while yet."

"Of course," I told her.

She motioned to a table, but my father ignored the suggestion and crossed to another table in the corner opposite the bar. I followed him, and found a way to sit that didn't disturb my blades. I could still be in trouble if I stood too quickly, but this way looked less aggressive than removing the sabers and setting them on the table. With all the soldiers around and the townspeople acting the way they were, I wasn't about to take the sabers out and lean them against the wall.

It didn't take long at all. One of the soldiers followed the server over and sent her away with a glance. He was tall and lean, and moved like a hunting cat. "You know how to use those swords?" he asked, without any sort of introduction or lead.

"Her training isn't finished," my father told him, looking up from where he sat.

I had just opened my mouth to answer, but I sat back and stayed quiet. I'd been in the cities enough to know that someone his age shouldn't be addressing someone my age directly, and especially not with my father sitting right there... and I was just old enough to understand why. Watching him, the way he stood, the way he moved, the way he turned to look at my father, only reinforced my awareness that my father had been right all along: we should not have come here.

"It's a pity," the soldier said. "You should bring her up to the top of the ridge. Lord Arilom is rebuilding the old fort, and she could finish her training there." He wasn't quite leering as he said it. He wasn't quite looking at me, either. "We could use some new blood."

My father tilted his head. He was small and wiry, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and dressed in a simple tunic and pants. He never carried weapons. "How much blood do you have there already?" he asked.

The soldier scowled, and his hand dropped to his sword. "If you were armed..."

My father stood up, slowly. He didn't look at me. He didn't have to. There had been two other soldiers in the tavern when we'd come in; now there were at least six. I was certain that my father knew exactly how many there were, and exactly where they were standing. "Yes?" he asked, and his voice had turned... empty, like his stance, like his expression. "If I were armed...?"

"Uppity--" I watched the soldier start to draw his sword, watched my father slam a hand down on his forearm and drive the blade back into its sheath, watched the blow that sent the soldier onto his back on the floor. Slowly, I stood up.

"Let it go," my father said. "We'll be gone, and nobody will hear of--"

Two of the other soldiers threw themselves at him. They hadn't drawn their weapons. I think they meant to beat him down.

It didn't happen that way. There was a brief tangle of limbs; then they both went flying, and my father was still standing there.

That was the moment when somebody grabbed me from behind. I should have seen it coming, but I'd been watching him fight instead. It was one of the soldiers, and he was puissant enough to pin my arms to my sides.

My father turned, and that was the moment when one of the soldiers pulled a knife and lunged at his back...

...And fell to the floor, dead.

My father didn't even glance at the body behind him. He just said, "I didn't intend that. I didn't intend any of this. You should all go... now." There was something horrible in his voice, a mixture of regret... and glee. There was a force to it, a command.

The arms around me let go, and then all the soldiers were backing out the door. "Tell this Lord Arilom to mind his dogs," my father rumbled, and his voice was like distant thunder. "We might be back."

They left in a rush, dragging anyone who didn't or couldn't move fast enough.

My father turned to look at me, and his face was stricken.

"I'm sorry," I told him.

"We'll find another town," he said. "We'll spend time with people again. Not here." Over his shoulder, I could see the server. Her face was blank, pale, shocked. When she recovered, she would be terrified. Everyone in the town would be afraid of us.

I hated that. For a brief moment, I hated him: my father, who had protected us and driven the soldiers away, who had made it necessary to leave again. Then I swallowed, and agreed: "Not here."

So we left. Just another pair of travelers passing through. We never went back... but later that night, and much further down the road, my father took a walk through the trees. He didn't return until nearly dawn. I didn't think much of it at the time, but maybe things changed while he was gone. Maybe Lord Arilom moved on as well. Or maybe he reigned in his soldiers, and they all settled in to help the community.

I like to think that was what happened to them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Martial Arts: Speed Hitting

This is actually a very effective technique, but it takes a lot of practice to master it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Oh, um, yeah.

Working on something. Forgot I should probably post on the blog. Need to figure out some logistics.

Also, my son keeps demanding that I give him his toys back.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Dig

It wasn't just that the archaeological dig had released some sort of disease.

It wasn't just that the disease turned people into bloodthirsty cannibals.

It wasn't just that the infected were being kept in a special home, where their behavior was controlled with a combination of medications and behavioral modification techniques.

It was the fact that the staff were infected also, and sooner or later they were going to stop restraining themselves and the whole thing was going to break open.