Thursday, September 29, 2011

Deep in my crypt, something stirs...

Right, so, I didn't get stuck on Jury Duty, and I'm taking a bit of vacation. This means that I'm getting some much-needed R&R before the project-related insanity really falls on us at work. It also means that my Internet connection is... limited. (We're switching ISPs, because our home connection is unrelentingly horrible. So in a week or so, we should have a solid, working connection. Right now, my ability to connect depends on the direction of the wind, the phase of the moon, and whether I've just gotten completely fed up and gone over to the nearest Barnes & Noble.)

Anyway, more updates are coming for the Cell Phone Bible, and I'll try to talk the Deranged Cultist into updating as well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Cell Phone Bible, Part VII

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can start at Part I.

VII. The Gravity of Choice
Jesus Christ stepped through the pearly gates and made a sharp right, following a circular course just outside of Heaven. There were plenty of calls to be made back at the Call Center, and plenty of mortals eager to talk with Him, but they would never notice he was gone. Time was a matter of perspective here, and distance a mere formality. So a brief stroll around the outskirts would take exactly as long as he needed it to, and he would be still be there to answer the calls directed to him - even though some of them, caught as they were in a mortal, temporal perspective, appeared to be coming in simultaneously.

There were advantages to being an eternal spirit of unlimited power, and mucking about with time was definitely one of them.

He'd gone barely five paces before a voice at his elbow said, "Hail to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer, of one being with the Father, with whom all things are possible. How's it hangin'?"

This was not a voice he wanted to hear. The last time he had heard it, it had offered him all the kingdoms of the Earth. Now, he was feeling less than usually triumphant, and the presence of the Adversary - here, so very close to paradise - did nothing to improve his mood. "Hello, Satan," he said, disdaining to add any of the myriad possible titles for the Great Enemy.

"You look a little down," said Satan, who had dressed for the occasion: fiery red skin, spreading black wings, small horns on the forehead, and a magnificently groomed goatee. "Latest project not going so well?"

"What do you know about it?" asked Jesus, irked despite Himself.

"As much as you let me, of course." Satan was watching him with a devil's smile: charming but meaningless. "You're talking to them directly. That can't end well."

"It isn't," Jesus said, then stopped. He could have driven the Adversary away, but he wanted someone to talk to. He was completely divine, but also completely human - even now. And there were things he could say out here that he could never give voice to in Heaven. Things that even Metatron wouldn't understand. Letting Satan hear them wouldn't make any difference, not in the long run. "Uriel and Raphael got into a fight."

"In Heaven? Truly? I wish I'd been there to see it. There must have been feathers everywhere."

Jesus grimaced. "You have no idea."

"How did it happen?"

"A little girl opened her Bible to talk to us. She wanted to know what she could do to keep her parents together. Uriel took the call. He told her that there wasn't anything she could do. She asked him why her mommy and daddy couldn't just love each other anymore. And Uriel... he told her when her daddy slept with his secretary, he broke her mommy's love, so they couldn't be together anymore."

Satan pursed his lips. "That sounds like Uriel, all right. The proper direction of wrath, the possibility of vengeance. I suppose our dear, sweet Raphael was upset that he couldn't heal her?"

"Pretty much," Jesus admitted. "He accused Uriel of hurting her even more, called him heartless, and said he should never have been Created. I had to will them apart."

Satan nodded sympathetically. "Dealing directly with mortals is pulling down the angels. That's why I don't let my demons interact with them anymore."

Jesus came to a complete stop and turned to gape at Satan. "You don't what?"

"I don't let my demons interact with humanity," said the Devil. "It kept giving them aspirations to do better, to be better. You have the same problem, but in reverse." He paused. "Humans. I don't go near them myself, either. You'd know that if you ever thought about it. I don't even let them summon us; I've been blocking their incantations for centuries."

Jesus opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again. It had never even occurred to him to wonder... but now that it was said, he knew. He couldn't help knowing.

After a moment he started walking again. "All this time, I thought..."

Satan kept pace. "Nope. Anything they came up with, they did by themselves. Wars, pollution, the stock market, reality TV... all theirs. I have my own kingdom; what do I need with them?"

"It doesn't matter," Jesus said finally. "They'll do better with Our guidance. Their fighting is nearly extinguished already. I will make this work."

Satan lifted an eyebrow, managing to convey in that single gesture an immortal lifetime's worth of insolence and doubt. "You know what? I wish you luck. Maybe then they'll quit blaming us for everything that goes wrong." Then he grinned. "Or maybe you'll finally prove that I was right about them all along."

The Accuser was gone, then. Jesus scowled, but then he straightened and (very deliberately) turned his other cheek towards the spot where Satan had been standing. A moment later, he was back at the pearly gates. Firm in his resolve, he turned his steps towards the Heavenly Call Center. It was time to resume his ministry.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Cell Phone Bible, Part VI

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can start at Part I.

VI. Thou shalt not kill
Corporal Jason Stewart sat on his bunk and stared at the Bible beside him.

That had been a common scene for the last three days, ever since the Bibles started ringing. Corporal Steward had never been particularly devout; he'd been raised to believe that Jesus died for his sins, and hadn't given the matter much thought beyond that. His Christianity consisted mainly of the belief that he should do his best to be a good person, and trust that God would understand and forgive when he went wrong. Vague notions about attending church and tithing lurked in the background, but not with any sort of urgency. Being a Christian wasn't a particularly great burden or blessing to him; it was just something that people did.

As a result, the news that Jesus didn't approve of killing people, even in self-defense, hadn't hit him as hard as it did some of the men in his squad. Davis, in particular, was doing an awful lot of muttering to himself, and would only bring his rifle on patrol when ordered directly. No authority on Earth could convince the Private to unsling it. His Bible, by contrast, never left his side. And his was not the most extreme case that Corporal Stewart had seen; it wasn't even severe enough to justify official notice. That sort of thing was far too common just now.

In fact, as far as Corporal Stewart was concerned, it was far too common in general. He was pretty sure that a single enemy could take out about half their platoon with a sharp stick and a sufficient amount of bloody-minded determination. Too many of the men just wouldn't fight back, not anymore. The only thing that had saved them was that everyone seemed to be getting the same message - even the locals, even the ones who hated the United States and everything its military had done. The angels didn't seem any too picky about what sort of holy books they used to talk to people, a fact which had sent the Chaplain into a marathon research session, on- and off-line. Corporal Stewart, who had started by loathing the Chaplain's self-important certainty, now felt a little sorry for the man; he must be feeling pretty superfluous now that anyone with the right sort of book could talk to Heaven directly.

The rumor mill was about to explode, of course. The top brass was going to outlaw Christianity and confiscate all the Bibles. No, they were busy printing and shipping even more Bibles, to aid in converting and pacifying the enemy. No, the President was getting ready to recall everyone, so they could deal with unrest at home; Martial Law was coming in a matter of days. No, the President was going to dissolve the military entirely, so they could spend time with their families before Judgment Day.

Corporal Stewart thought it was all nonsense. Nobody knew what was coming, because nobody had had time to plan for something as totally unexpected as this. The Brass was just as lost and confused as everyone else.

So he sat, and stared at his Bible, and after a while he leaned over and flipped it open.

"Hello, Jason," said Jesus. "You had a question?"

Corporal Stewart nodded, sure that his Savior would be aware of the gesture. "Why?" he asked.

"Why what?" asked Jesus, in that perfectly serene voice.

Corporal Jason Stewart swallowed. He was aware, suddenly, of an undercurrent of anger in his thoughts. The Messiah had to understand the question; he was only asking for clarification to be difficult, or else to make Jason articulate it to himself. "Why this? Why are you talking to us? Why now?"

"It was time," said Jesus. "I'm sorry, I wish I could give you a more satisfying answer - something you would understand, something that would comfort you - but it is not given to mortals to understand the Divine Plan."

Jason hesitated. That seemed like a reasonable point; the Lord must see history from a perspective that was, well, beyond human comprehension. But even taking that into account... "You couldn't have started this a year ago, before Cedric stepped on that IED? Or five years ago, before we enlisted? Or even..." Or even two hundred years ago, he wanted to say, before the world became such a steaming pile of crap?

"No," said Jesus, unruffled by the question. "The time wasn't right. It had to be now."

Jason bit back the first three answers that came into his mind. "All right," he said finally. "I don't doubt you, Lord." I wish I could, but I don't.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I want braaaaaaaains...

Okay, so, apparently ragweed and mold are both very high right now. This goes a long way towards explaining why my head feels like it's being pinched from the inside. (I thought maybe I'd annoyed the Great Old Ones, but apparently it's just allergies.)

Allergies and I have a funny relationship. I'm not really badly allergic to anything, but I'm mildly allergic to almost everything airborne that comes through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Also, I'm pretty sure that the pollution levels around here seriously exacerbate the problem.

Anyway, despite a fairly serious round of meds and enough hot tea to drown a buffalo, I haven't been able to focus on any of my writing projects. On top of that, I've got Jury Duty on Wednesday. Well, sort of... apparently I'm on standby Jury Duty. As far as I can tell, that means that they may not need me at all. Except, I can't find out until after 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, because the County is all about helping us plan in advance like that.

Summary: blog posts may be sparse this week. Or I may be bored and annoyed enough to create more material than usual; I never can tell.

Meanwhile, I have a plan. Once the boys are in bed, I'm taking a hot bath and then playing some more Psychonauts.

Thanks to whoever recommended that game, by the way. It's every bit as cool and fun as you said it was.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Real Work Conversations: More Lightning

Intern: "I don't know, I just don't like the way it comes out."

Me: "Yeah, that instruments-on-each-side design sounds like a good idea, but it just doesn't work. So... go find a picture with lightning, and use that for the background on the page."

Intern: "Seriously?"

Me: "When was the last time it didn't rain on that festival? Make a sample page with lightning."

Intern: "Okay..."

{time passes}

Intern: "How's this?"

Me: "Hm... the bottom's a little dark. Find a picture of one of our crowds, and put them down there."

Intern: "The boss is going to kill us both."

Me: "But it will be funny."

{time passes}

Intern: "Take a look."

Me: "You know, that actually works."

Boss: "What works?"

Intern: "This version, with the lightning and the crowd and the band towering over them. Please don't kill me."

Boss: "No, I like it. It's definitely better than that guitar thing. In fact..."

Yes, sometimes this really is how pages get designed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Cell Phone Bible, Part V

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can start at Part I.

V. The Law and the Prophets
Judge Henry Whittaker looked at Detective William Craven and frowned. "Let me see if I understand this. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ himself, told you that this little girl was being abused by her father, and that the father keeps photos and video in a toolbox in his garage." Is the Messiah a mandated reporter? The thought was slightly hysterical. Could this really be happening?

The Detective nodded. "That's correct, your honor."

Judge Whittaker fell silent, and tried to get his thoughts under control. He considered opening his Bible, but decided against it. Detective Craven had received a complaint, from someone who had no personal grudge or malice against the accused. That was enough to satisfy Probable Cause. There would be evidence - Judge Whittaker didn't doubt that. And if they needed anything more to get a conviction, no doubt the Almighty would provide...

"All right," he said. "We'll get the search warrant ready."

Reflections on Hangovers

First of all, ouch. I don’t think my head is actually going to fall off, but a couple of hours ago I would not have objected if it did. Two gallons of water, four acetaminophen, and a very cautious breakfast later, I’m feeling... well, better, anyway.

The final review of the business with the Corpsewalker finished yesterday. The coven - I never did figure out if they were actually Wiccans, or just something that looked superficially similar - is essentially gone, and we lost a total of seven Watchers. The ceremony was successful in shifting the Corpsewalker back out of our reality, or possibly the Worms took care of that; either way, nobody can find any sign of its presence. Anne and Father Peter escaped successfully; we saw them at church on Sunday, but nobody said anything. I think we were all too tired... and maybe Father Peter cautioned Anne against letting people know that she knew about anything beyond our world.

Our local law enforcement has tentatively decided that (despite unconfirmed reports of gunfire) the coven was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were buried when the earth collapsed into a previously unsuspected sinkhole. We get sinkholes in this part of the country, so nobody’s asking too many questions. The local news has mostly stayed away from the story; I’m not sure if someone is influencing them, or if they’re just distracted.

I start back to work tomorrow, so it’s time to finish sobering up. And probably time for a long soak in the bath. And definitely time for more Tylenol.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. I am not actually hung over.

Why Adults Can't Play Minecraft

On a strictly personal level, this may be the most depressing thing I've read in a long time:
The Hardest Game. For Adults.

I don't really miss being a kid. I like the adult I grew up to be (and, quite possibly, am still growing up to be). But there are things that I miss, and being able to just sit down and lose myself in a world of my own creation is one of them. I don't know how much of that is neurological, and how much is lack of unstructured time (and energy), and how much is lack of practice, but I miss it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


So, I was feeling a bit down over the weekend... which culminated in a bout of being unmistakably sick on Monday. I'm better, but this thing - whatever it was - really flattened me. As a result, I'm behind on several things that I'd intended to be writing. So, updates will resume as the neurons needed to create them become available.

In honor of my gradual resurrection, let's enjoy a bit of Biblical zombie raising:
Ezekiel 37:13 "And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves..."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What's a Cthulhu and how do you spell it?

So apparently at Firstborn's school they have a program where the children draw, and then they show their drawings to adult volunteers. The volunteers ask them for stories about their drawings, and then write down the stories. Only sometimes, it's painfully clear that the background education of the adult volunteers is tragically lacking.

For example, yesterday Firstborn came home with one of these pages. On one side was this image:
Despite the use of yellow crayon on white paper, to subject of this portrait is easily recognizable. But even with such a glaringly obvious clue, the adult volunteer was clearly unable to grasp the topic of my son's picture. So, on the back of the page, we have the following drawing. Note the explanatory text in the top right corner:
Gofulu? You thought he was playing with a "Gofulu"? ::sigh:: You realize that I'm going to have call the school about this, right? I will probably have to take time off work, borrow the cafeteria, and give all these benighted volunteers a quick course in Remedial Lovecraftian Spelling.

It's for their own good, really.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Cell Phone Bible, Part IV

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can start at Part I.

Part IV: Scientific Analysis
"Gentlemen, I'd like to hear your reports. Dr. Myers will go first."

"Thank you, Mr. President. You know the broad outlines, of course: two days ago, a selection of holy books started behaving like two-way radios, offering direct communication with Heaven - or so the people contacted consistently claim. These conversations appear to have a physical component: that is, the words spoken are ordinary sounds. In some cases the text appears to rearrange itself to match the words being spoken. These effects can be recorded using standard audio-visual equipment. In addition, there appears to be what, for lack of a better explanation, I'm going to call a mental effect: anyone who participates in these conversations comes away absolutely convinced that they've been speaking to Jesus, the Voice of God, or one of the angels. You can suggest alternative explanations, and our test subjects seem to be able to consider them, but none of the test subjects has any doubt about what actually happened. No matter how plausible the alternative explanation, nobody who has had one of these conversations can be convinced to doubt that they were actually speaking with Jesus, or one of His appointed representatives."

"I see."

"Mr. President, I hope I don't have to explain to you how dangerous this is. We're talking about mind control on a scale that staggers the imagination. As far as we can determine, it's 100% effective - but so far, we haven't been able to determine even a hint of a mechanism for it. In other words, we don't know how it works. We don't know how it might work. We don't even have any good guesses. And, as a result, we have no idea what other sorts of beliefs or commands may be implanted at the same time."

"Do you have any idea where it might be coming from?"

"Well... All of our test subjects insist that they've spoken to Jesus; that is, to an aspect of an eternal creator who is all-knowing and all-powerful and exists outside of space and time. Galling as I find the idea personally, from a scientific perspective it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility that that's really all there is to it. Such a being could do anything it wanted to, including this. If that's the case, then it doesn't really answer any of the obvious follow-up questions: Why would such a being choose to do this? Why now? Why this way?

"...Mr. President, I know you were raised as a Christian. I assume you were taught that not only does such a being exist, but He takes a direct interest in His Creation, and has a personal relationship with His worshipers. I want you to set that aside, and consider for a moment what it means to have a personal relationship with something so completely alien. What would humanity even look like to something that exists outside of time? What do our choices mean to a being for whom, in a sense, everything is always happening at once? How do you understand an entity like that?"

"That's a rather disturbing perspective, Dr. Myers."

"If it makes you feel any better, Mr. President, it disturbs me, too. The next possibility is that we aren't dealing with anything divine, but rather with a technology so advanced that we can't tell the difference. I'm sure you've heard that any sufficiently advanced technology..."

" indistinguishable from magic. Yes. Please continue."

"Well, if we are dealing with aliens, their cloaking technology is as advanced as their communications. SETI, NASA, and about a billion amateur astronomers around the globe have found exactly no evidence of anything out of the ordinary. Of course, many of the people involved have already opened their Bibles, so there's always the possibility that they've been commanded to overlook an alien presence, and aren't even aware of the command. We're doing what we can to check that, but we're running out of people who haven't been exposed yet. And it seems equally likely that if there is an alien presence, our equipment simply isn't capable of detecting it."

"So whatever this, we're completely at its mercy."

"Yes, Mr. President. That's pretty much it. If this is being done by aliens, and if we can isolate a mechanism for it, and if we can locate them, then maybe we can do something... though if they're that far ahead of us, it's hard to imagine what; I'm pretty sure we won't be able to hack into their mothership's mainframe using a stolen space-fighter and a Macbook."

"Very well, then. Is there anything else, Dr. Myers?"

"One thing more, Mr. President. The... mental effect... appears to be restricted to direct contact. That is, you can listen to a recording of someone talking to their Bible without necessarily being persuaded that you're hearing the voice of Jesus. Some of my colleagues have experimented with asking questions through an intermediary - that is, trying to get answers without exposing themselves directly - but they haven't received much in the way of explanations. The Jesus-voice simply insists that it is, well, Jesus, and that the people He speaks to become convinced because this is true. As scientific answers go, that isn't much help. But you might be able to use that method to get answers on other subjects without being exposed yourself."

"How much more blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe... Yes, I see. That does seem the safest course. Thank you, Dr. Myers."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Morning Hymn

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this song is that it's theologically sound.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reflections on the Worms of the Earth

Hi! It's Claire, again. My boyfriend is drunk - so drunk that he's actually watching Adam Sandler films - and I'm, well, keeping him company. Somewhat. And since he's been asking, and I'm sure some of you have been wondering, I'm going to say a little about the Worms of the Earth.

Don't ever, ever cross them. Seriously. Not that it'll ever be an issue for most of you, I hope - they retreated under the earth, and then deeper still, so long ago that not even legends remain. Once, they were part of my people - hybrids, worshipers of the Father of Serpents - and sometimes we still see them in dreams. But their retreat from humanity wasn't just geographical. As they moved from under the earth into the spaces that aren't spaces, they changed. They turned in on themselves, and they became something... else.

Look, my grandfather has scales and sheds his skin every few months. So when I say that the Worms of the Earth are foul, loathsome, and degraded... just take my word for it, okay? I'm not talking about any simple physical abnormality. I'm talking about a deep and profound sort of wrongness that even bothers their distant kin.

We still do favors for them. It's rare, but it happens. They don't care much about the surface world, but there are certain places that they still cling to, certain items they still covet. And in exchange, sometimes they do favors for us. Like taking care of the bodies that the Walker had taken, and removing them in a way that would carry all traces of its presence out of our world and into... somewhere else.

Under the circumstances, I can't blame my kin for calling on them. I'm sure none of them expected me to be out there with my, um, boyfriend and his people. Still, we were lucky: we got out of there before they turned on us. And they were too busy with the Walker to turn on us immediately. But I'm afraid it's going to cause trouble - five of their Watchers, dead? Maybe more? I don't know. Maybe their Elders will understand. I'm not sure ours would, but maybe they will.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

You know this is all made up, right? Good.

The Cell Phone Bible, Part III

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can start at Part I.

III. The Word Spreads
The news spread like wildfire. Only a few people received calls at first, but they were quick to spread the word - and friends and family were equally quick to investigate. Faithful, doubtful, or scornful, they opened their Bibles and found themselves connected Heaven's Call Center. Everyone who tried it came away convinced.

In southern California, a street preacher collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital, where he was found to be suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. His initial disappointment at finding that his tracts were nothing special had been completely overtaken by his joy in learning that the Bible in his hands could convince anyone of the existence of Jesus. By the time he collapsed, he'd been on his feet for forty-two hours - this, despite repeated Biblical warnings that he needed to stop and rest, or at least drink some water.

In Ottawa, there was a chemistry teacher - who, as an avowed atheist, had only opened his Bible to refute a particularly obnoxious commenter on his favorite message board. When his conversation with Jesus was finished, he sat in thought for a few minutes. Then he went next door, to visit his Jewish neighbors. In a matter of minutes they'd confirmed that the Torah worked just as well. Half an hour and several phone calls later, they'd discovered that the Q'uran, the Gitas, and the Book of Mormon all connected to the same unearthly voices. Within an hour of his conversion, he'd discovered that he could get the same effect on a computer or e-reader, by opening one of the sacred texts there. That, in turn, allowed him to record the conversation electronically.

And that put the story in the media. It jumped from national to international news, and for two days world events effectively ground to a halt as humanity struggled to come to grips with the effects of direct communication with the Divine.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cell Phone Bible, Part II

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can read part I here.

II. The First Calls
Senator Samuel Martin III was sitting at his desk when his Bible rang. The Bible was inches from his hand - he kept it on the corner of the desk, where his visitors couldn't miss it - and the sound it gave off was a clip from the Hallelujah Chorus, which repeated itself at a comfortable volume.

Senator Martin had been expecting this in about the same way that he expected the family dog to discuss economic theory. He started so badly that he nearly fell out of his chair, then turned to gape at the persistently ringing book.

His son, Samuel Martin IV, was sitting in one of the comfortable leather chairs on the other side of the desk, reading a letter that had come for him this morning. It was from Harvard, and he'd been accepted for the Fall. He was too be busy being relieved to be surprised, so he voiced the first thought that came into his mind: "I guess you should have set it to vibrate, Dad."

His father gaped at him. Sam shrugged, reached over, and flipped the Bible open. If this was a joke, it was a good one - he had no idea who could have pulled this off, or how. Seeing his father caught so completely off-guard was a rare pleasure, though.

The chorus ceased immediately, and a voice said: "Senator Martin? Jesus Christ, here."

"Jesus Christ," mouthed the Senator. At least, his lips formed the words; he didn't seem to have the breath to make them audible. Sam wasn't sure if his father was cursing, or just repeating the name.

"Yes, that's right," said the voice from the Bible - and it was, unmistakably, coming from the Bible. Sam reached out and flipped the pages, but they were the same thin onion skin paper that they had always been. If there was a speaker, or any other sort of electronics, he couldn't feel it.

"We need to talk," the voice continued. Sam nudged the Bible, and found nothing on the desk underneath it. The book itself was clearly the source of the voice, which continued: "It's about that measure you introduced to cut government aid."

Senator Martin was starting to regain his composure. He straightened in his chair, and looked quickly around the room - for hidden cameras, Sam supposed. "It's not about cutting aid," he said. "It's about not letting the government take money that it has no right to. Charity should be voluntary, not forced." He drew a quick breath. "Listen, I'm always glad to hear from a constituent, but I prefer to do so at my office, using conventional means of communications. This sort of publicity stunt is ina-"

"I'm not a constituent," the voice interrupted smoothly. "I'm your Lord and Savior."

There was nothing different about the voice, no change in emphasis or tone, but suddenly Sam believed it utterly. He couldn't explain where it came from, this sudden and absolute conviction that this really was Jesus, but he couldn't deny it, either.

His father believed it, too. Sam could tell by the way he sank back down in his seat.

"...And this is not a publicity stunt. Government is your business, and it's up to you to run it. But if you're going to prevent your government from helping the needy on your behalf, then I expect you to pick up the slack. This is your duty as a Christian."

There was a pause. "But..." The Senator swallowed. "Surely we have a choice..."

"Of course you do. I'm not taking away your free will. I'm just giving you enough information to let you choose wisely." There was a brief pause. "Well, that's enough for our first conversation. Feel free to consult your Bible - any Bible - if you have any questions. Oh, and Sam? That work you're doing with Habitat For Humanity... look, I know you're mostly doing it because it looks good on your transcript and because sometimes it helps you get laid. But it really is helping people, so keep it up."

The Bible fell silent, and after a moment Sam watched his father reach out and close it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reflections on Narrow Escapes

Anne stood in the parking lot and begged her fellow coven members not to go out to the field where the High Priestess was waiting for them. The night was hot - even at eleven o'clock, it was ninety-five degrees - and most of the coven was already there. Now that we knew what to look for, the difference was at least visible: the ones who had arrived early were all standing with a sort of unified patience. They looked like people, moved like people... but, with one possible exception, they were all puppets moving on the same set of strings.

And when a pair of the new (human) arrivals actually stopped to listen to Anne, three of the Corpsewalker's bodies came out - leaving the rest of the group without consultation or conversation - and encouraged everyone to come inside. Anne refused, of course, and they started to grab her.

That was the point where Father Peter shot them both. He'd been sitting in a van in a darkened corner of the parking lot, with the window rolled down and a loaded rifle at the ready. Unfortunately, the old woman in Russia had been right: he didn't know, or hadn't been able to find out, enough about what was going on. The bodies he shot weren't animated by anything even remotely resembling a normal human physiology, and the bullets had almost no effect at all. Well, I say that - they did do one thing. They sent the two newcomers running for cover... right into the field where the High Priestess and the rest of the Corpsewalker were waiting.

Anne had made some preparations of her own, though: she'd picked up a baton, one of the ones that looks about eight inches long until it snaps out. Fully extended, it was about two feet long: long enough for her to get in some solid strikes and, I think, break some bones. In any case, she was able to wrench herself free from the two who held her, while the third was trying to locate Father Peter.

Right about then, one of the bodies dumped its guts on the pavement and started wrenching back and forth as great furrows opened in its flesh. I'd love to be able to take credit for that, but I don't know that trick. It came from one of my fellow Watchers, though. Maybe she thought it was time for us to start, or maybe she just couldn't stand the idea of watching the Corpsewalker take another life. I'll never know; she died a few minutes later.

Whether she intended it or not, that was the signal that sent the rest of us into motion. The idea, as the Senior Watcher had outlined it to the rest of us, was to incapacitate the bodies while another group of Watchers (and possibly some of the Elders) invoked certain forces to brush the Corpsewalker out of our world. We had all spent several days preparing ways to do our part, and not all of them were esoteric: I saw two of our people beating down one of the Corpsewalker with axe handles.

Anne darted away towards the van as the rest of us converged. We all wore masks, because we knew the Church was involved, and Father Peter seemed content to let us handle it: he started the engine, and - once Anne was safely in her seat - roared out of the parking lot at about three times the posted speed limit. I was impressed; I didn't think the old guy had it in him.

Claire and I went into the field together. I hadn't initially intended to bring her along, but she'd insisted. In the event, that turned out to be a very good thing.

We'd dressed for this, with jeans tucked into boots, so the high grass didn't bother us. The moon was just a faint sliver overhead, so we were making our way by starlight. Fortunately there weren't any obstacles, and the Corpsewalker didn't think about seeking cover. It just spread its bodies out, looking for threats... or, at least, it started to.

Because just about the time that we reached it, a massive sinkhole opened in the center of the field. I have no idea how much of it was engineered conventionally, and how much relied on more extraordinary methods, but the High Priestess - the only one who'd had the sense to drop down into the grass - and the entire coven were swallowed by it. So were Claire and I, along with a half-dozen of the other Watchers.

It was completely unexpected. Even Claire didn't see it coming. We were two strides away from one of the bodies, and then the ground dropped away and we were falling.

When I sat up, it was completely dark. I can't begin to describe how disorienting that was, but a moment later I heard a muffled curse - followed by a vague, orange light. Then there was a sudden grunt, and the light was gone again. I dug a flashlight out of my pocket and twisted it on.

Claire was sprawled a few feet away from me. I started to stand, and immediately filled my hair with soil: the ceiling overhead was low, and loose. Claire stirred as I approached her, but I was suddenly distracted:

There was something behind me.

I heard it first, I think: a vague, obscene scrabbling sound. I turned, but I couldn't see much of anything except spilling dirt. I crawled over to Claire, still shining the light behind me. Calire shifted and groaned, then sat up. Her eyes widened, and she drew a breath; then she hissed something, low and threatening.

From somewhere, some space in the loose dirt tunnel behind me, something answered. I don't have any idea what it said, but that voice raised every hair on my body.

"They called the Worms," Claire said quietly. "We have to go. We can't be here. They called on the Worms."

I nodded as if I understood, and started crawling. The tunnel curved ahead, and I found one of the Watchers half-buried in the dirt. Claire grabbed my leg. "We have to go," she said, more urgently. Then a hint of silver mist covered her body, and she was gone.

Oh, I thought. Oh. I grabbed the Watcher, and yanked us both into that strange realm of hexagonal landscape and drifting, misty life. We emerged a moment later in... well, in the place where I went with Kate, for my training as a Watcher. The man I had pulled out was unconscious, but didn't seem to be injured; I made sure he was one of ours, and not a member of the coven. Then I made another check, to be sure that he was human, and hadn't been taken by the Corpsewalker.

Claire was nowhere to be seen, but I assumed she was safe. And, much later, when I returned to our apartment, I found that I was right: she'd been there the whole time, worrying about me.

I sat in the shower for a long, long time - drought be damned, I needed it - and finally I crawled into bed. I should have written this first, but I had nothing left. So I slept, and now I'm writing, and now that I'm done I'm going to get good and drunk. Possibly for a couple of days.

All is well. The world endures. We should celebrate, right? Right?

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No actual covens came within minutes and inches of destroying all life in the galaxy. That sort of thing absolutely cannot happen.

The Cell Phone Bible, Part I

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed.

I. The Sales Pitch
Jesus Christ reverently approached the Throne, wishing (as usual) that he could draw a deep breath. The rarified flesh of angelic bodies had no need to draw breath, and there wasn't any air in Heaven anyway, but drawing a deep breath had been such a profoundly reassuring gesture back on Earth...

"MY SON?" The voice of the Father filled the room. It filled everything, actually, all the time. That was its nature. But here it was... inescapable. "YOU HAVE ANOTHER IDEA?"

Jesus nodded, wishing he could sigh, and launched into his explanation. The Father might expect praises and florid greetings from mortals, and even from the Host, but as the Son, Jesus was His equal and therefore exempt from such things. "I was looking at Facebook, and..."

On the Throne, the Father frowned. The room darkened perceptibly. "YOU KNOW THAT IS A BAD IDEA. IT IS BEST IF WE IGNORE WHAT THEY DO THERE." There was a pregnant pause. "THOUGH I DO LIKE FARMVILLE."

"I know-" Of course Jesus knew. He couldn't help knowing; knowing was part of His divinity. "I know, but listen to this: 'What if we treated our BIBLE like we treated our CELL PHONE; – We CARRIED it in our purse. We flipped through it throughout the day. We went home to get it if we FORGOT it. We RECEIVED messages from the text. We COULDN’T live WITHOUT it. We GAVE it to KIDS as gifts. WE used it in case of emergency. One more thing, it would NEVER be disconnected. JESUS has already paid the bill.' "


"Okay, so it's sucking up a bit. It's still not a bad idea. What if we made the Bible work more like one of these cell phones of theirs? Direct two-way communication?"


"Not at all, Father. The message is perfect. Unfortunately, a lot of people - well, actually, all of them - have a problem with reading comprehension."


"Yes, but that seems to be one of the parts they have trouble understanding. Anyway, I was thinking - if We set their Bibles up for two-way communication, then they could contact Us when they had questions, and We could let them know when they were missing something important."


"Prayer is unreliable - and their perceptions are limited. They can't always tell when they're getting an answer, and even when We do respond directly, they frequently garble the message." Jesus held up a spreadsheet. "I have some statistics here..."


Of course. The spreadsheet vanished as Jesus stopped paying attention to it, and he continued: "Using the Bible would formalize the process. They would be far more certain about when We were communicating with them, and far less likely to misunderstand Our responses."


"Yes, Father. Thank you, Father." Triumphant, Jesus departed the Throne. Already he was making plans to create the first angelic Call Center. The Metatron traveled at his side, and Jesus was glad of its help: no being in Creation knew more about talking to mortals than Metatron.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back... sort of...

I got run over by some sort of bug during the weekend. I'd love to know what it was, but it was basically just "a bug" which hit me with "flu-like symptoms." You know: exhaustion, all-over achiness, queasiness, and the general sense of having been run over by a mid-sized truck. Fortunately, it wasn't any more serious than that; and fortunately, I have a job where I can afford to take some time off.

So I did. After dropping Firstborn off at school yesterday morning - Operation Lone Wolf is still on track, and this makes the third consecutive day that he has left the car and gone into the school all by himself - I went back home, had breakfast, read for a bit...

...and then keeled over and slept for another five hours. This, after going to bed at about 10:30 Sunday night. Nice, pleasant dream about a summer vacation at a coastal resort went slightly off the rails when half the teenagers at the resort declared war on the other half, and tried to lock them up. By the time my wife came home and woke me up, I was in the middle of a gang battle and fighting with a pair of screwdrivers. The whole thing would have been going a lot better if one of the gangs hadn't managed to install cyborg conversions while they were locking the other gang up.

So, yeah, apparently I needed the sleep.

Anyway, I took it easy for the rest of the day and now I'm more or less back.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Friday summarized in videos

The Wizard of Oz:

Or, MC 900ft Jesus:

Read this: it's an essay on authoritarian personalities.

This is from July 29, but I only saw it this morning. So, for anyone else who missed it, here's Mrheartland exploring some Meandering Thoughts.

Photoshop Rap

One of my co-workers showed me this. I was perfectly appalled, of course.

Not so much by the thing itself, but rather because it's actually a useful training video for Photoshop - done as a rap song. Or two. Which is apparently sufficient to break my brain.

Embedding is disabled, so you'll have to go to youtube to see this:
Photoshop Rap
Photoshop Rap Part 2

Got any suggestions for things that people really ought to see? Help make everybody's Friday a little cheerier by leaving 'em in the comments.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I don't do people things

Personal Failure recently told the story of a young man who helped her out during middle school, because (A) he was kind enough, and (B) he could see what needed to be done, when everybody else in the room was caught up in their own fears and embarrassments and shaming and other reactions. His name was Kyle.

I'd like to claim to be Kyle. I'm not, but I wish I was. I think I may have played a similar role, here and there, for a couple of people; but I'm not telepathic, so I can't be sure. And the thing is, it wasn't just a matter of kindness; it worked because I was so deeply strange as to be essentially unfazeable. I don't really understand people; I don't do people-things. Or at least, I didn't use to. I've gotten better at it as I've grown older. But there have been points where this oddity, this same quality that makes it so hard for me to relate and interact in normal social situations, allows me to react usefully in situations where normal social etiquette has run screaming from the room.

And the fact that it did sometimes work that way was one of the things that eventually helped me decide that what I am isn't broken, it's just different. There's a story there, but you can probably fill in the details for yourself; odds are you've lived through some version of the story.

Reflections on Complicated Situations

Humor me for a moment. Imagine that you've just come home from a day of... well, of working on projects that required your complete concentration. Imagine that your girlfriend has been working at her job and studying for a new license, because she unexpectedly had to change careers. Imagine that you came home, had a nice dinner together, and maybe had a couple of glasses of wine or scotch, or whatever you prefer, while you're at it. Imagine that you're taking a well-deserved and long-overdue opportunity to get reacquainted as a couple.

Under those circumstances, what is exactly the absolute, worst possible moment for the phone to ring?

That's right. That's exactly when Kate decided to call me.

No, I wasn't annoyed by that at all.

In Russia there is an old woman. She isn't one of our Elders, but she's that kind of old and they consider her a peer. Whatever's going on with this group of Wiccans, she noticed it. That's right: she noticed it from wherever she lives in Russia. Quite possibly, she noticed it before it actually started happening. So she sent us a letter.

That's why we're only just now receiving it: it's taken weeks for paper-in-an-envelope to get from her remote little corner of the globe to our major metropolitan city. She could have sent an e-mail, but she predates the entire concept of the Internet by centuries... and maybe that wouldn't have been secure enough, who knows? She didn't use more esoteric means, either, and I don't know why not. I know they exist, but maybe she doesn't know them or doesn't trust them.

Apparently she knows - she has known - exactly what this little local coven made contact with. And it's... bad. Not they're-out-of-their-depth bad, not this-could-go-horribly-wrong bad, but something more like if-this-isn't-stopped-immediately-all-life-on-the-planet-is-extinguished bad.

This old woman in Russia, she says the High Priestess' husband is dead. She says that after he died, this woman dug out an old, old text... something the High Priestess inherited and maybe only partly understood... and used its instructions to prepare him for burial. And sure enough, three days later he came back to her. Or rather, something else came to her in his body.

I don't know how much the High Priestess knows. Hell, I've been watching them for weeks, and I didn't realize that her husband wasn't a living human male. But the people she's brought in, the older members of the coven that she's convinced and the new ones they've recruited, have all undergone something that's supposed to be a ritual death and rebirth. Instead, they really die; and the entity that occupies her husband's body occupies theirs as well. They aren't reanimated individuals; their corpses are all finger-puppets for the same entity. Except, not even fingers. Hairs would be a better analogy: the finest, tiniest filaments of its existence, intruding into our world.

The old woman in Russia said that the Church was involved in this, or would be soon, but they wouldn't see the problem well enough by themselves. All of the host bodies had to be destroyed, as thoroughly and immediately as possible, and the source text had to be found. We had to act.

Kate was calling to see if I could confirm or deny any of this. I didn't do much of either; I hadn't been aware of the nature of the problem, and I didn't dare admit to knowing anything about why the Church might be involved. That omission might be damning if anyone witnessed my, um, interference, but confessing everything immediately didn't seem like a very good strategy either.

I mentioned last week that one of the coven members had grown fearful, and that I put her in touch with Father Peter - the semi-retired Catholic priest whom I suspected of knowing more than he should. Well, guess what? He does know more than he should. The girl - Anne, let's call her - got in touch with him. And the first thing he did was pass me a letter as Claire and I were leaving church last Sunday. It had a picture of the High Priestess, along with her name and address; it suggested that she was doing things that she shouldn't be doing, things that I might want to tell certain sorts of people about.

Damn it.

The coven is supposed to meet again for a major ritual on Tuesday. If the old woman in Russia is right, about two-thirds of them are all the same being. I've told Kate my opinion - that we should recruit Anne, and obliterate the rest - and I think she's making things ready. There's some possibility of Church interference, and possibly intervention from other quarters as well. I told Claire about the situation, and she's informed her people; war or not, if they have any sense at all they'll want to coordinate with us on this. Reanimated corpses will be hard enough to deal with. If The One Who Walks In Death extends more of itself into our reality, it could be the end of everything. We have to keep that from happening.

Even if it means exposing ourselves to the Church, and/or other groups of believers? I'm not sure what our official position is, but I think so. Secrecy does us no good at all if all life on Earth - or in our galaxy - is wiped out and taken over. Still, we'll keep our involvement secret if we can.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No extradimensional contacts or blasphemous cults were consulted in the writing of this entry. Seriously, the FBI would be far better off to spend its time elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Difficult Transitions

We've finished the second week of Kindergarten. To date, I have been taking Firstborn into the school, going with him to the cafeteria, and then walking him to his classroom. This is fine for him - once he gets to the classroom, he has plenty of things to distract him from the fact that his daddy just slipped away. Unfortunately, for me it means traveling to work at speeds from 1 - 2 R. As a result, I've been arriving anywhere from five to fifteen minutes late. That's fine every once in a while, but I can't make a habit of it.

So I'm working on getting Firstborn to go into the school without me. This effort has been met with mixed results.

Yesterday morning, he went ahead to the cafeteria while I was getting my "Visitor" sticker, which pleased me immensely.

This morning, he waited with me while I got my sticker, and then went to the cafeteria. Once he had his breakfast, I left. This made him a sad, sad boy - but I explained that he was big enough to do this without me, and that I had to get to work. And I made it to work on time, too - not early, but on time.

I think I'll try the same thing tomorrow - get him into the cafeteria, then go - and then on Friday I'll see if I can drop him off from the carpool line and let him go in entirely by himself. Wish us luck...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Some kids get normal stuffed animals...

Last night, my wife sat down with a set of reading flash cards and started going through them with Firstborn. Since I'm trying to encourage him to read, I told him that if he could get all of them right, I had a prize for him: a stuffed-animal monster who would be a buddy for Ithaqua.

He missed three of the cards on the first pass. Each time, we explained to him how to work out those words, and then shuffled them back in. Each time, when he came to them again, he sounded them out and got them right. Which was way, way better than I'd expected.

So I went and fetched his prize, and he opened it up and put it on his bed with the other stuffed animal monsters. (He has some stuffed animals that aren't monsters - a couple of wombats, a monkey, a koala, and a pirate's parrot - but they're distinctly outnumbered by the monsters.) So now, in addition to Cthulhu, Ithaqua, Nyarlathotep, a facehugger, and a giant scorpion, we now have Gug:
(Or, really, a gug, but since gugs don't actually talk, we're just calling this one "Gug.")

Ithaqua was happy to find another buddy who was about his size, so the two of them spent the night hanging from the underside of the top bunk. Firstborn, who spent most of the day at the science museum with his grandparents, slept soundly underneath them.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Holiday Horror Movies

In honor of the holiday weekend (and, y'know, the fact that I expect everybody to be out having fun elsewhere), I'd like to hear your ideas. There are some monster movies - not many, but some - that are set in particular holidays. (Halloween is the obvious one; Gremlins was set at Christmas; those are the two big examples I can think of offhand.) So, with that in mind, which holiday most needs to have a monster movie taking place? And what sort of monsters are best suited to that holiday?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Comparing Nightmares

Somewhere around five in the morning, I woke up from a nightmare. I'd been standing outside, in some sort of campsite (I guess), and there was a large hollow log down at one end of the area. (The rest of the setting was unclear; I have a vague impression of rocks and trees around the edge of things, but that's all.)

"Do you hear that?" I asked.

"It sounds like breathing," answered my wife.

"Yeah, but it's really {something technical}. It's caused by the difference in air pressure. Caves do it, too." Only in the dream I actually had a word for that. (I just looked it up, and apparently it's called "cave breathing." Go figure.) "We could totally sleep in there."

So I crawled into this log, and it did seem like pretty decent shelter, except there's this sort of stick poking out a little further back in, and it looks like a skeletal hand. But for some reason I'm all like, "That's not a hand, it's just a stick, see!" and I crawl up and put my hand on it.

...At which point the fingers close around mine. And I kind of freak, and I start digging around the base of the stick, where's there's a little skull-shaped lump. A moment later I'm back outside the log, and I'm holding this... thing... that looks like a malformed, skeletal baby, maybe twelve or fourteen inches long and kind of curled up. Oh, and it's still holding on to my hand, but it isn't moving.

I was getting ready to try to throw it on the campfire so it wouldn't wake up and come after me when I woke up. Also, I woke up thinking that actually it would have been smarter to just put it back in the log, apologize quietly, and back away.

So that was my creepy dream.

Then, when I woke Firstborn up this morning, he told me about his creepy dream: "I dreamed about bugs. Only they bit people, and then the people turned into bugs, and then they got really big."

I told him that that didn't sound very nice, unless maybe the people wanted to be turned into bugs.

He shook his head. "I don't think they were very nice bugs."

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure whose dream was creepier. Thoughts?

Impermance, Balance, and Peace

DoOrDoNot recently asked about Impermance, and how it affects our lives.
We are not wired to accept impermanence, at least not as adults, which is ironic given the impermanence in which we are steeped. It's a constant challenge for me to rest easy in an awareness of impermanence. What about you? Are there areas where you embrace impermanence?
I responded:
I would think that embracing impermanence is the very essence of parenting - at least, that's been my experience so far. Every time I think I know how they'll react, or what they can do, they move on to something new. It seems like I have to find a new equilibrium every couple of weeks.

I visualize the process as something like surfing (which I've never tried) or Aikido (which I have): the goal is to keep your balance and move with the things that are trying to upset it.

...And having said that in the comments, I went on to other topics. Then, this past weekend, the Beautiful Wife and I were talking about our rash of recent difficulties. One of the thoughts that came up (I don't remember which of us introduced it) is that at moments like that, it's easy to understand the appeal of systems like Buddhism or Taoism. Both beliefs - or at least, some versions of both beliefs - teach that striving is vain and futile, that the only way to be at peace is to give up striving. I don't entirely agree with that, but recently it really has felt like the more we try to get things back in order - the more we strive, in other words - the harder we get slapped down.

I realize that isn't a terribly complete or nuanced view of Buddhism or Taoism, either one; so let me offer another memory to fill that in a little bit.

About five years ago, I went to Australia to attend a sword camp taught by a Tai Chi instructor named Scott Rodell. The person who was hosting this camp was someone I knew online, and I'd been partly responsible for her decision to study under Laoshi ("Teacher") Rodell - which was why I was down there. (Confused, yet? Don't worry, the background isn't critical.)

During the camp, while we were trying to catch our breath[1], someone asked Laoshi Rodell about Taoism and how it related to his Tai Chi. He explained that he'd been studying Taoism for several years. For him the two studies were intimately related. And he talked about this idea that striving was unnecessary and unhelpful, and about the stories you hear of great Taoists just sort of waiting and letting things happen for themselves. "It kind of makes the ancient masters sound like a bunch of lazy bastards," he explained[2], "but I don't think that's it, exactly. What I've learned from Taoism, and from doing Tai Chi, is this: the world has a grain." He motioned one of the students forward, and had him take a balanced stance. "Like this. I know, if I try to push against him this way..." and Laoshi Rodell leaned into the student's shoulder, "...he won't move." Sure enough, because of the angle at which the student was standing, he didn't move at all.

"But if I push against him here..." This time Laoshi Rodell placed a palm against the student's chest. "...he'll go right over." And he gave a very slight push, and the student had to step back to catch his balance.

So, back to the original question. How do you deal with impermanence in your life? For me, the immediate answer is "reflex." You learn how to approach things, and when to cut your losses and try something else. After a while, those responses become easier, more automatic. You cultivate those reflexes - the ones that work - and after a while they're almost effortless, and that feels like peace. It isn't - it's more a sense of balance that's well-trained enough to ignore everyday turbulence - but it feels like it is.

[1] Tai Chi is actually a martial art. Though it's frequently not taught that way, it can be a startlingly effective fighting system. Also, part of the purpose of weapons training is that swinging chunks of wood and steel around is really good exercise.

[2] I'm writing this from a five-year-old memory, so don't trust my accuracy too far.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My brain is weird (Linguistic Association)

Back in college I had a professor... well, he was more like a P.E. teacher, but skip that... whose last name was Pizza. He pronounced it "pie-zah", and took great umbrage at the suggestion that it really ought to be pronounced the way it was spelled. Unsurprisingly (perhaps), my brain simply refused to process the word as a name; I had to make a conscious effort, every time, to say it right. It didn't help that I didn't have a high opinion of the guy; I suspect my brain would have cut him more slack if I'd respected him more.

I was reminded of this a week or so back, when we received a note from the teacher for Secondborn's Mother's Day Out program (which is basically a shorter version of daycare). She introduced herself as Ms. Ally, and once again my brain insists that it obviously must be pronounced like the word ally - "owl-eye".

But there's a difference: it turns out that Ally is actually the teacher's first name. Which means it's almost certainly a short form of Allison, and pronounced more like "alley." Suddenly I have no trouble whatsoever remembering the correct pronunciation, apparently because it's her first name rather than her last.

My brain is weird.