Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Be nice to your friends or their ghosts will eat you

Creepy, creepy dream last night.

Basically, there was this nightmare ghost that came around at night, and it killed people. This might or might not have been a result of the earlier part of the dream, where we broke into this creepy old library. (There's nothing quite like shelves upon shelves of dusty old books and movies set up inside something that looks like an abandoned bomb shelter to make you wonder what the hell you just stepped into... and, yes, you can have that reaction even when you're dreaming.)

So anyway, there's a point that I sometimes hit in certain horror movies, where I'm tired of the suspense and I just want to go confront the monster and get it over with -- even if it kills me. Which was basically how I ended up grabbing the nightmare-ghost as it was creeping up under my blanket. (Yes, I was sleeping in my dreams. Apparently I'm ready for a starring role in Inception II.) And pulling the ghost up to where I could see it. And demanding to know what it was doing and what it wanted.

It turned out to be the ghost of the younger sister of one of my old college friends. Not anybody in particular, not anybody from real life; but in this dream-identity I'd spend a lot of time partying with this girl. And her younger sister, who was now a ghost, was the one who always got ignored and left behind. And her hands were all scarred because when she'd bring people beer bottles (in a pathetic bid for attention) she'd have to use her teeth on top of her fingers to get them open.

So I opened a couple of bottles for her, and that kind of settled her down. At least, she quit being scary, and she didn't kill anybody else. I was never entirely sure if she was going to come back, but she never did.

Now that I'm awake, I can be more flippant about the whole thing and point out that returning from beyond the grave to murder people seems a little extreme as a reaction to being ignored; I mean, it's not the sort of thing that leads people to say, "Oh, she's not a bad kid, this is just a cry for help." But in the dream, that was pretty much how it worked, and it was pretty NFBSKing creepy.

An Epicish Battle

I had a battle with Firstborn last night, and it was truly the stuff of legends.

My Hero Factory guy (who, despite the name, was actually a villain) has four legs, wings, a gun hand, and a long tail with more guns on it. However, being an evil mastermind, he didn't immediately leap into battle. Instead, he sent his minions against Firstborn's Hero Factory guy.

And let me tell you, my villain had some of the best minions ever. He recruited three Green Lanterns, a Ben Ten alien, two Transformers, a giant stuffed parrot, a small rubber scorpion, and... {drumroll} a ninjedi! (That's a ninja with Jedi training and a lightsaber. I know, right?) It seemed there was no way he could lose, since Firstborn's guy had only a single robotic dog that, well, barked very loudly.

Unfortunately, Firstborn's Hero Factory guy is functionally invincible. (Firstborn loves to battle, but he hates to lose. So he plays in God Mode, even when it's not a computer game and that setting isn't supposed to be available.) So despite valiant assaults from all these minions -- oh, and having a pillow-boulder dropped on his head -- he not only survived, but finally decapitated my Hero Factory guy.

Standing triumphant amidst the scattered bodies of his fallen foes, Firstborn's Hero Factory guy spoke boldly of the brave new world to come: "Come on, Daddy. We're not done battling yet."

Tragically, not only was Daddy's Hero Factory guy missing his head, it was also time to turn out the lights and go to bed. The Final Battle... would have to wait.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Current Writing Process

I'm trying to finish a short story so I can submit it for publication. This should not be difficult; I write short stuff for the blog all the time. And yet, it has taken me something like a full week to scrape together 4,000 words (about six and a half pages).

Part of this is a direct result of trying to write to submission specs instead of just following an idea to see where it goes. The stories in this particular anthology are meant to top out at 4,000 words; the story I'm writing keeps trying to go longer, and I keep trying to rein it back in.

But part of the problem is, well... Let's take a look at yesterday.

1:00 p.m. Finished lunch. Took Secondborn to room for nap.

1:01 p.m. Screaming commences. Secondborn has drawn a line in the sand and will not be moved. THERE WILL BE NO NAPS. FREEDOM!

1:05 p.m. Daddy cuddles with Secondborn in an attempt to get him to realize just how tired he is and just how nice it would be to take a nap and let Daddy do some writing.

1:23 p.m. Screaming continues unabated. Daddy can no longer hear out of right ear. Left eardrum will not uncringe until sometime after dinner. Stuffed animals, pillows, and blankets have been flung about the room by the typhoon forces of two-year-old outrage.

1:45 p.m. Screaming has stopped. Daddy is curled on the floor in the fetal position. Secondborn is still in the right location for a nap, but shows no sign of lying down or being still in any way.

1:52 p.m. Secondborn attempts to climb down and exit the room in search of better opportunities for mayhem. Daddy moves him back up to the Designated Napping Location. Screaming resumes.

2:07 p.m. Mommy comes in to take over. Daddy hauls his shattered psyche back to his computer, and attempts to organize his thoughts for writing.

2:13 p.m. Daddy adds two words to existing, half-finished story.

2:14 p.m. New round of screaming begins in back room. Daddy loses track of all story elements as flashbacks set in.

Somewhere out there, there are people who can write wonderful prose following skillfully-depicted characters through well-organized plots, while caring for children at the same time. I am not one of them. Also, I'm pretty sure that they're hideous alien monsters who pretend to humanity just to make the rest of us look bad.

Friday, July 27, 2012

That's no moon...

So I'm walking along beside this lake at the Wichita Wildlife Refuge. I've been trying to get to this stone tower that I spotted on the other side. Unfortunately, because of the shape of the lake, I can't get to the spot I want to reach without swimming. So I decide to go back to my car and drive around.

While I was trying to find a way around, I was following the edge of the water. On the way back to the parking lot, I take a more direct route. So I'm going up this sort of low hill, with some big boulders scattered around the top. But, as I come up beside the boulders, one of them... moves just a little bit.

I've been watching my footing, so I catch this movement out of the corner of my eye and immediately stop walking. Then I look over at the boulder, I realize that it's not a boulder. It's this firk ding blast BUFFALO standing maybe eight feet from me... and it's looking at me with an expression like, "You sure you really want to do this, human?"


So I took a couple of steps back and then circled waaaaaay around the giant bloody animals.

Seriously, what do you say to a buffalo in that situation? "Oops"?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reflections on In-Laws

I tracked down Claire's parents. That was... harder than I expected, for several reasons.

First of all, they'd moved. I'm not sure why, and I really don't want to guess, but they weren't at their old address and they weren't at their old phone numbers. I wound up contacting them online, and asking them to call me; we finally got in touch through Skype.

We didn't talk long, and we didn't say much, but I'm flying up there tomorrow. It's frustrating, but I understand their concerns. Secrecy is always a concern for us, and I'm sure they want to see me in person so they can make sure this isn't some sort of trick.

With any luck, I'll have more to report next week.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual inlaws and/or ophidian humanoids is entirely coincidental.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Deconstruction: National Sunday Law

So, last week somebody left a copy of National Sunday Law in my car. Not on my car, mind you. Oh, no. I had the windows cracked ('cause, you know, Texas in the summer...) so I found it sitting in Firstborn's car seat. This was what you might call an "unwelcome development".

It could, however, have been worse. Whoever distributed the things had tucked some of them under people's windshield wipers. I'm okay with that if you're talking about a flyer or a tract or something, but this is a ninety-four page book.

Tragically, the people who distributed these things didn't leave any identifying information - like, say, a little "come to our cult meeting to learn just how crazy we are" card - nor did I manage to catch anyone in the act. So I looked the thing up on Amazon, and now I have some idea who the culprits are: it's a Seventh Day Adventist thing. Some of the Amazon reviews are pretty priceless, too:
Having read poor apologetical works by numerous groups, I had come across my share of illogical and at times illucid treatises. Yet National Sunday Law belongs in a class of its own - it may be to apologetics books what Plan 9 from Outer Space is to science fiction movies.
So I took it home and read it. My first reaction is that it's an absolute marvel of apophenia. Granted, a lot of it is just recycled anti-Catholic nonsense and run-of-the-mill doomsday predictions, but there's a level of in-depth tinfoil hat lunacy here that sets National Sunday Law apart. So -- provided my interest, attention, and sanity hold up -- in the coming weeks I'll spend some time exploring "A Shocking Glimpse Behind the Scenes" as "Forces unite amid stupendous crisis..."

Brace yourselves.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not what I wanted to hear, parenting edition

As of this evening, I have a new contender for the phrase that I least want to hear from a two-year-old:
"Mommy pee-pee noodles."
For those of you who do not speak the language of rambunctious small children, I offer the following translation:
"Pardon me, dear and honored mother, but it appears that while standing here naked following my evening bath, I have urinated onto the plate of noodles that you so kindly warmed and placed on the table in order to provide me with a bedtime snack. I am not disturbed by having done this, and only wish to bring it to your attention so that you can share my pride in this singular achievement."
He was, of course, extremely distraught when we inexplicably took his noodles away and dumped the whole thing in the trash. Fortunately, a slice of cheese was sufficient to mollify his outrage. Assuaging his hunger required a granola bar as well.

Come on, brain, work with me here...

I've started three or four posts today. Some were going to be brief. Others were a bit longer. Owing to a combination of allergies and outside distractions, none of them have reached a point where I'd actually, you know, show them to anybody.

So, instead, have some Elder Godly goodness, fresh from the Mountains of Madness. I figure, if my brain wants to be broken, I should just go with it.

Let's start with Cthulhu Ftagn:

If that last clip didn't devour your soul or destroy your sanity, there's more below the cut:

Monday, July 23, 2012

A certain time of life...

Did you hear about that doula who, after some twenty years of helping other women through pregnancies and births, bought herself a motorcycle and drove it all the way down to Nicaragua?

It was a midwife crisis.

Real Work Conversations: Sunglasses

Co-worker: "Any idea what these are?"

Me: "Sunglasses."

Co-worker: "Any idea why they're on my desk?"

Me: "It's possible that if you put them on, you'll be able to see the aliens through their human disguises."

Co-worker: "..."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Reflections on Meetings

Right, so... Billy informed Kate of my return. Kate, if you remember, is the Watcher who was supposed to be training me to become a Watcher... right before I disappeared. Kate came and spoke to me, and then went and arranged a meeting with the Elders.

It took place in the same room we used the last time I met with the Elders. It's basically just a small conference room with a big table in the center. I suppose I could tell you that it's in an office building, but that's about as specific as I care to get.

So there we were: in the same room, sitting around the same table, only this time there were more people. Oh, and donuts. We didn't have any donuts last time, probably because last time they were just calling me in to give me my instructions in person. This was more of an actual meeting, the sort of thing where a bunch of people get together to decide what needs to be done.

Crystal drove me to the meeting, and walked me into the building. There were four Watchers present, and my mentor Kate was among them. They checked me over pretty thoroughly when we arrived, and asked a few questions about what had happened and where I'd been. I explained about the aftermath of the experiment as best I could, and they didn't ask for a lot of detail.

There were five Elders there, including the batrachian man who kept licking his eyebrows. (I remembered him from last time.) Three of the others looked human: two women and a man. The last was woman of vaguely apelike proportions: her arms were long, and both arms and shoulders were heavily muscled. I noticed later that she had a tail as well, covered by a custom-designed pair of slacks.

They asked a lot of questions, of me and Crystal both. A few were directed to Kate as well. When they were finally satisfied that they had learned as much as they could from us, they turned to the question of what I should do now. I told them that I wanted to continue training to become a Watcher (mainly because at this point I couldn't imagine what else I could do), and explained that I wanted to look for Claire.

That last part went better than I expected. Apparently our disappearance had caused some friction with Claire's people. That wasn't surprising; it wasn't all that long ago that we were actively at war with them. The Elders wanted to avoid any more hostilities, so they gave me carte blanche to search for her... provided, of course, that I continued my training and kept Kate informed of my progress. Naturally, I agreed.

On the way out of the meeting, Kate stopped me and gave me back the silver snake bracelet - the same one Claire had given me. I'd left it with Kate when I went to the dream study, and she'd had it ever since. Having it back on my wrist was a relief, though I'm sure some of that feeling was also from being done with that meeting.

So that much is done. The next step is to get in touch with Claire's parents, and ask for their help. I'm sure they've been looking in their own ways, but there may be things we can do together that wouldn't work for any of us alone.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

50 Shades of WTF

For anyone unfamiliar with Fifty Shades of Grey, it's a book by E L James which tells the story of a charming little S&M romance between an inexperienced young literature student and a successful businessman with a thing for silk ties. The book is wildly popular[1], so naturally it has accumulated its share of critical and humorous responses.

I've collected my favorites (so far) here. Feel free to add others in the comments. Please note that NONE OF THIS is safe for work! (Or for impressionable children who are prone to repeating things that they shouldn't. Or for elderly relatives or anyone else of a delicate constitution. At the very least you'll need headphones and a place where you won't have to explain why you're laughing.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bane Capital

I can't possibly be the first person to think of this, but it struck me funny and I happened to have Photoshop open anyway. So, here you go: the secret truth of Mitt Romney's involvement with Bain Capital. He seems to be equivocating about how long he was running Bain Capital because he doesn't want to admit that he actually spent most of his time fighting against Batman.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Upside of Parenting

I was told last Saturday night that I have, through my writings here and on Facebook, helped someone to make a Major Life Decision: specifically, he's decided that he shouldn't have kids. Apparently, between discussions of sanity-devouring disgustingness, outrageous expenses, and recurrent Not Sleeping, I may have given him the impression that kids are... well... a lot of work.

That... would be completely deliberate. Kids are a lot of work.

But, in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I feel compelled to add kids are also a lot of fun. (No, really: the Secret Parenting Cabal requires me spend at least two hours a month talking about how joyous and uplifting it is to have children.) So, join us below the fold for The Rest Of The Story:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Silly Speculative Skylanders

So, a few nights ago while Firstborn was playing Skylanders, I asked if he'd found the Eternal Silly Source yet. For those unfamiliar with the game, the plot basically revolves around trying to recover various elemental sources (The Eternal Life Source, The Eternal Water Source, etc.) so that you can use them to rebuild the Core of Light, and thereby drive back The Darkness.

Firstborn has a particularly well-developed facepalm gesture. This is entirely my fault. So he drops his forehead into the palm of his hand and says, "Are you crazy, Daddy?" We went back and forth for a bit, with me insisting that I just wanted to know if he'd found it yet, and him insisting that "Silly" is not an element.

Well, Saturday morning while we were buying groceries, Firstborn started wondering if we could make up some new Skylanders, who would represent the Silly element. (The game has something like eight elements: air, earth, fire, water, life, undead, magic, and tech. So what, exactly, qualifies as an element is kind of an open question. I mean, "life" might qualify, but "tech"?)

Each element is represented by four Skylanders (so there are a total of thirty-two characters in the game, plus some special variant versions). So, in order to have a Silly element (and, by extension, an Eternal Silly Source), we needed four Skylanders to represent it. Here's what we came up with while we were pushing the grocery cart around:

Nosey The Clown: A goblin in a clown suit. Primary attack is stepping on Bad Guys with his oversized floppy shoes. Secondary attack is firing his red clown nose at bad guys. Suggested upgrades involve larger, floppier shoes; or rapid fire, bouncing, and explosive options for the nose attack.

Yap Yap: A circus dog with small wings. Primary attack is sonic - yapping at bad guys. This upgrades to improve range and increase damage. Secondary attack allows Yap Yap to balance atop a large rubber ball, which he rolls around to squash opponents. Upgrades include increased duration, better damage, and the ability to roll on water.

Dread Dodo: A large, flightless, silly-looking bird. Turns into a penguin when crossing water. Primary attack involves pecking at enemies with its beak, which can be upgraded for greater range (the beak grows when it pecks), increased damage, and like that. Secondary attack causes the Dodo to swallow a stick of dynamite and explode, damaging nearby enemies. A third ability (available as an upgrade) surrounds the Dodo with a cloud of feathers, improving armor and speed.

Tangle: A wobbly, walking piece of string. Primary attack causes noodly string-arms to reach out and tie opponents' feet together, causing them to fall on their noses. This can be upgraded for improved range, increased damage, and a longer stun period. Secondary attack causes Tangle to gather himself into a giant ball of yarn, which can roll around and bash into enemies, and also distracts every cat within a half mile radius.

So that's it. I'd play those guys. Wouldn't you?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Vacation

So, my wife and our son are heading off to Pennsylvania to visit her parents next week. While they're gone, I thought I'd take a bit of a vacation myself.

Vacations aren't just about getting away from your life; at least, not according to the brochures at the travel agency down the street. No, vacations are all about getting away from the rest of the world.

So that's what I'm going to do.

I considered interstellar travel as an option, but neither I nor any of my colleagues have a working Faster-Than-Light drive. Even if we did, the distances involved border on the ridiculous; even if I built something to provide instantaneous travel across any distance, I could spend years searching for a suitable planet to relax on. And anyway, why take the long way around?

No, I'll be taking advantage of some of the Mad Science community's recent breakthroughs in the field of Dimensional Fatigue Resonance (DFR) instead. Rather than crossing space, DFR allows you to punch through into nearby dimensions, using the Earth's gravity well as an anchor to orient your arrival point on a (broadly) similar planet. By adjusting the resonance, you can tune for different sorts of similarity. My own contribution to the field, the Dimensional Resonance Imager, allows me to preview these worlds before I attempt to set foot on them.

So I've selected a particularly attractive beach on a tranquil world which numbers, among its other virtues, a gravity equivalent to approximately .95 Earth Median Gravity. The atmosphere is as close to identical as random chance can provide, having only a minor difference in trace elements, and the local flora and fauna... well, the plants seem to favor a fern-like spray of leaves; perfect for a tropical vacation. The animals are a bit less symmetrical than we're used to, tending to have one strong side and one agile side, but are otherwise similar enough.

I haven't seen any indication of intelligent life or major predators, but I'll be prepared just in case: my travel bag includes flip-flops, Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts, two death rays, an electrified shield enclosure, and a case of scotch. In addition, I've designed a belt buckle which will remotely activate my DFR transport tube, allowing me to escape immediately to the Q&D (quarantine and decontamination) area of the crypto-zoo.

So those are my vacation plans: extra-dimensional sand castles and scotch. As long as my transport tube doesn't create a fractal array of dimensional weaknesses that provide unexpected holes between the two worlds, it should be fine.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reflections on Fallout

2012? 2012? By the Unspoken Names, how did it get to be 2012?

Oh, I know the answer. It was that moronic psychiatrist and his damned dream research, looking for evidence of hidden psychic powers and other states of consciousness. Whatever he was doing interacted with something about me, and the next thing anyone knew he was staring at an empty bed, and I was off being a... well, better not to discuss that. And then Billy found me, somehow, in his dreams; and brought me back here, back to now.

Where it's 2012, and I've been missing for the better part of a year. Where I lost another few weeks to madness and disorientation, while my brain picked itself back up by its boot-straps. Where I've been reading the blog entries I wrote when I was human, in an attempt to reconnect with my memories and skills.

I'm back, I think. Enough to function, anyway. Enough to start asking the right sort of questions. Fortunately, Billy and Crystal really are my friends. Otherwise, the Watchers would have me already - or some other, even less pleasant expression of the Elders' collective will.

They knew I'd been hacking into a blog. I don't know how they found out; I didn't think to ask about that. Maybe it's something they happened on, or maybe everybody knows, even the Elders. I've been vague enough that they might consider it harmless, another way to muddy the waters. But assuming that these writings don't have some sort of official sanction, Billy and Crystal didn't turn me in for them: an act of loyalty that could potentially get them into trouble, if anybody ever found out.

It's good to have friends.

They've also brought me up to speed on what happened after I vanished. Claire demanded to go after me, and the Watchers allowed it: possibly hoping that our personal connection would help, but more likely because of that one peculiar power we share: the ability to travel through the Place of Mists. She vanished, too, and the Watchers used our disappearances as a pretext to get the study shut down. The guy who was running it lost his funding and his job; Billy isn't sure what became of him.

My first priority, now that I'm more or less myself again, is to find Claire. That will probably mean finding the researcher and talking to him... and I should check in with Claire's people as well, to see if they have any ideas. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to contact the Elders, first. It's one thing for Billy to wait and see if I'm going to recover, so he can be sure that I'm really myself. It's something else altogether for me to return to myself without informing the Elders, and immediately head off on my own business.

So that's the plan: contact the Elders, contact Claire's people, find the researcher, and locate Claire.

I'd be an idiot to think it was going to be that simple, but what the hell. It's a start, right?

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual time travel is almost certainly a figment of your imagination.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shouldn't this require a time machine?

So basically, he taped the first half of the interview when he was twelve. Then, twenty years later, he went back and recorded himself answering it, and spliced it all together. The results are... well, watch:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Typical Family Conversations

Me: "Firstborn, please don't take that in to Secondborn. We're trying to get him to go to sleep."

Firstborn: "But it will make him feel better."

Me: "Okay, fine. Go on in and give it to him, but be quick."

Firstborn: "Here you go, Secondborn."

Me: "Look, Secondborn. Firstborn brought you a facehugger. Doesn't that make you feel better?"

Firstborn: "You can play with it as much as you want."




...Every family has conversations like this, right?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gone Fishin'

...Or I would have, if I fished. As it is, I'm taking the week off - not traveling, not doing anything in particular, just trying to relax and maybe help get the house back in shape. I will be posting, but the schedule's going to be a bit erratic.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Until the Rainbow, Part Five

This is the fifth and final (Yay! At last!) part of a five-part series. You can start from the beginning here. I wonder, are there any great stories that aren't morally problematic?

Among the things the old man left behind, I found some paper. I've been writing this while the others work -- and despite my expectations, they've encouraged it. I thought someone would rebuke me for not helping out, but no one did. Part of that, I'm sure, was because I'd made the climb into the boat... but I think that another part of it is a desire to be remembered, to have some record of who we were, and what we did when the waters rose.

Our final project is as simple to describe as it is difficult to complete: to rip the roof off the old man's house, whole and intact, and invert it. With any luck, and a lot of work, we can make an impromptu boat and put the children inside.

When the old man and his sons lowered me out of their boat, they gave me a length of rope. Once our own boat is ready, I'll make that climb again, and tie that rope to his ship. The other end will be attached to our boat, the life raft we're crafting from his roof, tying it to his floating barn.

I doubt the raft will last long. It might not even survive the arrival of the waters, but there's nothing I can do about that. Still, if it lasts until daylight... my last, great, burning hope is that the old man and his family will be forced to choose between bringing the children aboard, and watching them drown. I hope -- and, yes, even pray -- that they'll choose the former. But if they don't, let them have my curse: let their descendents be just as we are now. Just as varied, just as selfish, just as petty and greedy and warlike. If God can curse the world to death by water, surely I can curse the old man's descendents to be human and imperfect.

And if my curse has any power, then you -- eventual reader, the person who finds this record -- will know how the old man chose.

None of the adults will go with the raft. There's only barely room for the children, and the old man will absolutely ignore any vessel with any of us in it. We've resigned ourselves to dying, to give them a better chance to live. If we are truly part of the sin and iniquity that brought about the end of the world, then we'll pay for it now.

I have an empty bottle here beside me: dry, discarded. When I finish, I'll put these papers inside and seal the top as best I can. If there's any justice in the world, someday someone will find them and learn what we did. And if there isn't, you can at least consider this my last defiant act: spitting in the eye of a god who would wipe us all from the face of the Earth for being what he made, rather than what he hoped for.

Until the Rainbow, Part Four

This is the fourth piece of a three-part four-part five-part short story. (Honestly, I really thought that three would do it!) You can read part one here. Feel free to leave thoughts or corrections in the comments.

I gripped the wet, slick wood with trembling fingers, and pulled myself up to the edge so I could see in the window. It was a ridiculous position: I was fifty feet in the air, balanced precariously on an unstable structure, in the midst of the worst downpour the world had ever seen... and I was doing this mere hours after a cross-country hike (also in the battering rain) which had taken most of the day.

We'd tried to build a ladder, using anything available: bits of furniture the old man and his family had left behind, wood from a couple of outbuildings that we'd disassembled, bits of fence post, even some scrap lumber that looked to be left over from the construction of the old man's crazy boat. What we got wasn't really a ladder, let alone anything as useful as steps. It was just a very steep pile, held together by whatever we could find: bits of clothesline, belts, and as much of our clothing as we could spare.

I was the third one to try to climb it. The first attempt had been made by one of the teenage boys. Two-thirds of the way up, the pile had shifted and he'd lost his grip. The second attempt was made by the father from a young couple who had arrived with their small children on their backs. He'd made it halfway up, then came back down and refused to try again. He said that with all the rain he couldn't get a grip on the wood, but he'd also helped us with the boy who fell; he'd seen the bone sticking out of his shin, seen us force it back in and splint the leg. If his nerve had simply given out, I really couldn't blame him. The whole attempt was suicidal. Even if one of us made it up there, we'd never get anyone else up unless the old man and his family were willing to open the door, or at least lower ropes.

I couldn't blame him, but I couldn't afford to wait for daylight, either: the ground was giving the first faint hints of trembling, precursors to the unmistakable vibration that would herald the arrival of the devouring waters.

So I climbed. The gathering darkness may have helped, forcing me to feel for my next hold as I labored my way up. There was, at least, enough angle that I could stop and lean into the slope when I grew tired.

And now there I was, balanced against the driving rain, standing atop the pile and gripping the edge of the old man's ship. The exposed deck was covered by a massive roof, which was supported by a central structure (little more than a blacker area of the darkness) that probably held the stairs down to the lower decks. The edge of the roof was just above my head, forming a sort of window that went all the way around the boat. It was about a foot and a half high: enough room to squeeze through.

I shifted my arm, and got an elbow on top of the wall. Then I pulled myself up, feet scrambling against the slickness of the hull. If this didn't work, I wasn't going to be able to climb back down.

I got my head through, hooked my other elbow over, and pushed myself out over the deck. I tilted forward, then began to slip down; fortunately, it was in the direction I wanted. I crashed onto my forearms, barely shielding my head from the impact, and let the rest of my body slide down the low wall and flop to the side. For a long moment I could barely move; I just lay there on the deck, aching all over and trying to breathe.

I'd done it.

Then there were voices, and a flare of light that seemed shockingly bright. The old man's sons were spilling out of the central structure. They were just starting to spread out across the deck when one of them saw me and cried out. Then they were all approaching.

I flopped over and forced myself up to my hands and knees. I got a foot under me, then looked up. Kneeling was about as far as I was going to make it: they were standing around me now. The one in front of me held a shovel, and think one of the others had something else, but I didn't have the energy to turn my head and see. "We need--" I said, and began to cough. They just stood there, uncertain or maybe waiting. "We need your help," I said. "There are people down there. You have to get them onto the boat."

"I have to do no such thing," said a voice. The younger men parted to make way for the crazy old man. "I couldn't even if I wanted to."

I started to say, "You can--" but he cut me off.

"The Lord himself has closed up this vessel. He has determined to cleanse the evil from this world, and only we are to be spared. You and all your kind must perish."

"What?" I shouldn't have said that; I saw his expression harden. I took a deep breath and tried again. "You know me. I run a restaurant. What have I done that's so evil that... I don't know... the only solution is to kill the world and start over?"

"That is between you and God," he told me. "I know only what He has chosen to share with me: that the world has grown full of sin and iniquity, and that He will wipe it all away."

I couldn't believe this. All this way, all this effort to save my family, and this monster was going to stand there and let us die. Anger flickered briefly through my veins, but I was too exhausted to support it. Instead, I begged: "My daughter just turned two. She's too young to be wicked. You can raise her, teach her the proper ways of worship and obedience and..." I trailed off, uncertain of what else God might find us lacking in. "Whatever else God requires. At least save the children."

But the old man shook his head. "I would not dare. If the Lord Almighty intended to save them, they would already be aboard. To bring them on now would risk the safety of the ship. If I do not abide by His commands, none of us will survive."

I put a hand on the railing and managed to stand. With nothing left to lose, I asked: "This is your idea of righteousness? To stand by and save yourselves, while all around you children die? What good and loving God would have you make that choice?"

"No." The old man shook his head. "Your mockery did not shake my faith. Your whispers did not shake my faith. Your questions will not shake it now. Go back to your family. Enjoy what time is left to you."

"Enjoy...?" I looked at his sons, and knew I couldn't take them. They were too many, and I was too weak. I had nothing left. I hadn't even brought a weapon; I didn't dare try to climb with one. "You know what? Fine. But you're going to have to lower me down." I paused, looking around me. "Or you can throw me off, and have my blood directly on your hands. I'm honestly too tired to care, at this point."

The old man stiffened. He was silent for a long moment, but finally he said: "Fetch some rope." One of his sons hurried away.

A short time later I was bumping my way down the side of the boat. They'd tied a sort of basket or harness around me, and helped me squeeze back out the window. It was not a comfortable trip, but after everything else I barely noticed.

Then I was lying in the mud, with the rain steadily battering my body: defeated, fallen, and utterly damned. There was a slight tug on the rope, and then it went slack. A moment later it began to pour down on top of me, coil after coil. They'd released it entirely rather than risk that I might try to climb back up.

Hands found me, touched me, helped up. I couldn't see the figures beside me; it was too dark for that. I could barely hear their voices over the rain. But they put their arms around me, and carried me back into the old man's house.

I should have been broken by the knowledge that we were all going to die, but I wasn't. It was as if, with my death assured, my body gave up the last of its hoarded energy. Suddenly, I had enough strength to be angry.

The others were looking at me as they carried me in the door: expectant, hopeful, sure that nobody would knowingly leave us to die in the rising waters. I stood there, not answering, and saw the knowledge and despair spread across their faces.

"One final effort," I rasped. "One last thing to try."

I knew even then that I was lying. I would keep trying one last thing until the waters claimed my corpse, or until the Almighty himself rose up to strike me down. I was only sorry that we lacked the tools to put a hole in that ridiculous, oversized nightmare of a boat. If God was really out to destroy the world, maybe that would have forced Him to renegotiate.

But we couldn't do it. So instead we tried something else. One last thing, before the waters took us.

Continued in Part Five.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Proposal: No More Mid-Week Holidays

Having Independence Day on a Wednesday has completely weirded out my sense of time. (Most of my co-workers have, quite sensibly, used some vacation days to connect the holiday to a weekend; several have taken the whole week off, which also sounds appealing.) It really feels like this should be Sunday -- especially since we spent yesterday eating hot dogs and burgers, and swimming in the neighborhood pool. Well, and being part of an Independence Day parade. So, rather than trying to come up with any worthwhile writing for today, I'm going to work on finishing up Until the Rainbow for tomorrow.

Before I go, though, I'd like to propose a bit of Federal legislation. I call it the No More Mid-Week Holidays Act. This act would mandate that whenever a Federal holiday falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, all calendar producers would be required to re-number their calendars so that the offending holiday falls on a Monday or Friday instead. How would that work?

Well, this week the calendar looked like this:
July 1 (Sun) | July 2 (Mon) | July 3 (Tue) | July 4 (Wed) | July 5 (Thu) | July 6 (Fri) | July 7 (Sat)

Under my proposed system, it would look like this, instead:
July 1 (Sun) | July 2 (Mon) | July 3 (Tue) | July 5 (Wed) | July 6 (Thu) | July 4 (Fri) | July 7 (Sat)
Bam! Three-day weekend. Short, but uninterrupted work-week. My brain: substantially less confused. The balance of the Universe: safely restored.

Naturally, I'll be starting petitions and seeking Congressional sponsors immediately. Or, well, I would, if my brain didn't still think it should be Sunday.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Blog Filler: Independence Day

I think, on these historical holidays, that it's important to reflect not only on our nation's past, but on its current course and what that says about its - and our - future. I must therefore ask you to consider your duty as an American citizen:

Remember: a prepared citizenry is a citizenry that does not get eaten by the shambling hordes. And the Founding Fathers did not create this great country just to see it fall to the hungry dead.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blog Filler: Pre-Independence Day edition

Right, so, I'm working this week. I'm apparently one of about five people in the entire Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex who are working this week. Everyone else is visiting relatives, relaxing at home, or driving like complete and utter lunatics.

That being the case, I'm not getting a lot of writing done. And, honestly, I'm not entirely recovered from being sick for nearly all of last week -- though I am a lot better than I was!

So, rather than offering any of the written whimsy you all know and love, here's a picture of some baby platypuseses. Platypi. Platypus.

Those guys.

In hats.

You're welcome.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Supervolcano Prevention

It's been a busy weekend. How to explain...? Well, one of my, er, colleagues has lately become concerned with the dangers of global warming and its potential socio-ecological effects. This, to be fair, is a reasonable concern.

Where it became a problem was, more or less, the point at which Max Cognate (not his real name, obviously) decided that the solution was as simple as it was obvious: he would find a way to trigger an eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano, thus hurling enough dirt and ash into the atmosphere to create a miniature Ice Age. At that point, Global Warming would seem like a happy memory.

Now, Mad Scientists aren't generally noted for our restraint; and we certainly admire Alexandrian solutions. (Though, to be sure, no Mad Scientist worth his salt would have been satisfied with using a mere sword to cut the Gordian Knot; a spinning wheel of scythes attached to the front of a chariot seems more likely.) So, upon hearing about this project, my initial reaction was mainly admiration for the elegant simplicity of Max's plan. But, well...

Do you have any idea how hard it is to clean up volcanic ash? It's horrible, horrible stuff, it sticks to everything, and it takes an industrial-grade washer to get it out. That wouldn't be a problem, except that my industrial grade washer is solar powered. So a gigantic cloud of volcanic ash is pretty much my sartorial Achilles' Heel. Therefore, I could not allow Max Cognate to follow through on his plan.

I hope you won't think me sentimental if I tell you that I didn't want to kill Max. Granted, that was the simple and obvious solution, but Max was simply trying to avert disaster. A gruesome death didn't really seem warranted. (It would have been another matter altogether if he had been competing with my research, obviously.) Also, I wasn't entirely sure that killing him was possible. Max and I were among the few surviving members of the 1999 graduating class at the Victor Frankenstein School of Natural Philosophy; which is to say that each of us had failed to kill the other on several occasions already.

So, I sent a cyberspider to, ahem, "bug" Max's secret laboratory. That allowed me to discover what his initial attempt would look like: deep-burrowing mutant gophers.

No problem. The shark-toothed wombats burrowed in behind them, and ate them before they got deep enough to be a danger. Round One: me.

His second attempt was more interesting: an orbital micro-laser which would punch a hole in the rock and allow all that pressurized magma to come rushing to the surface. That would have been trickier if the satellite had already been in orbit. As it happened, the satellite finished its launch with a small, but exceedingly powerful, electromagnet attached to it. The magnet immediately pulled in two weather satellites, which sent the laser spinning off-course. I think it was the collision with the CIA's spy-satellite that finished it, though. Round Two: also me.

At this point, Max Cognate realized that someone was actively interfering with his work. He located my cyber-spider, which immediately self-destructed. That should have prevented him from tracing the signal back to me, but I couldn't count on that. So...

I called him. On the phone. Pathetically twentieth-century, I know, but it was the easiest way. Max was reasonably gracious about the whole thing, though I can fairly expect a couple of my own projects to go mysteriously awry over the next couple of years. In any case, Max Cognate is now working on a new project: a network of geothermally powered Weather Control Stations across the globe. That will keep him busy for a while, and won't spread ash all over my solar collectors.

So, all's well that ends well. Unless, of course, he was lying when he said he wouldn't try to kill me...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Movie Recommendation: Shining

Another Sunday morning, and -- since I'm still recovering from being sick last week -- I'm not going to try to produce any worthwhile writing. Instead, for the benefit of anyone who hasn't see it already, I'm just going to recommend one of those heartwarming, uplifting movies that you can watch when you're feeling down. It's called Shining: