Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I moved through the night with as much silence and caution as I could manage. The woods of eastern Tennessee were silent around me, and the hiking trail was dark beneath the shadows of the trees. A half-moon lit the sky, and in places, my path as well, but for the most part I walked in darkness.

I could hear sounds from far ahead, and from time to time I caught a glimpse of firelight as well. My curiosity was piqued; who would build a fire so far out here in the woods, and on this of all nights? But I was not the only one who tended in this direction: two or three others had passed me already, moving easily through the woods beyond the path. So I continued on, drawn like a moth to the flames.

These nighttime walks had become a habit with me, else I might never have touched the Mystery. Alone and out of place, finished with my studies, dissatisfied with the company of my peers, I had taken to the woods that lay just outside of town. I would walk for hours, sometimes talking to myself, sometimes silent, as the tensions of the day eased within me. There, in the wilderness, I sought peace and serenity, sought something to sooth my troubled heart.

The noises became clearer as I neared their source, but they were still so soft as to vanish on the night breeze. I slowed my pace still further, moving with all the skill at my disposal, and approached behind the cover of a massive and ancient tree. Sliding my head into the light, I set my gaze upon them.

I had attended a fraternity party earlier in the evening, though I was not a member; it was an open party. In celebration of Hallowe'en, it had been a costume party: a roomful of humans masquerading as monsters, atmosphere provided by such technological miracles as a smoke machine, black lights, and glow-in-the-dark paint. The beer was dyed red with food coloring. I did not stay long.

Alone in my room, I had stripped myself of costume (I had gone as a ghost, white faced, with dark circles under my eyes, set off against the black cloth of my shroud) and spent an hour cleansing myself, to get the smell of smokes (stage, tobacco, marijuana) from my skin and hair. Finally, myself again, I had selected loose and comfortable clothing from my closet, laced up my boots, and gone out, thinking to celebrate the holiday alone with the moon.

But now, as the firelight pressed itself against my eyes, the Revelation came upon me: there was no need. I stood, I watched, unaware that I had moved away from the tree and now stood revealed by the flickering orange light. Miracles moved before me, dark and glittering; each one a naked singularity, though some few were human in appearance.

They danced in the light of three great bonfires, or stood aside in quiet conversation or simple communion. Two or three were drumming time for the dancers, an elegant and intricate rhythm, and as I watched the rhythm changed and the pattern of the dance changed with it. I saw eyes turned my way, but such was my awe that I never thought to flee: whatever was here, I could not escape it.

Then one of the dancers turned my way, eyes flashing orange with reflected firelight. Without missing a measure, she broke from the dance and another took her place. She approached me, black furred and graceful, humanoid and feline, woman and panther in one, a beast that walked like a human being. She smiled as she came, feral and wild, but I did not back away.

It's true, I thought. The stories, the legends, the fairy tales. True. It was my first coherent thought, for I was not in a rational frame of mind. I stared as she approached, transfixed by her nudity, by the strangeness of her anatomy. A wild excitement began to grow in me, an ecstasy born of terror and an almost religious awe. Almost imperceptibly, the clearing fell silent behind her.

"Would you come among us, then?" she asked me. Her voice was low and guttural. It seemed to reach into me, caressing my spine, and I shivered at its touch. "Would you join us, perhaps?"

I could not answer her; I did not trust myself to speak. The enormity of their existence – the possibilities it implied – that a miracle could speak so casually, that there was magic in the world: it filled me with wonder. It made me burn.

Slowly, the others gathered behind her, eyes calm as they studied me. Each was utterly unique, though I could recognize certain types among them: the auburn-haired vampire with her ice-colored skin, the tall, dark-haired warlock, the shade whose body was a dark and translucent reflection of the human form, the beasts and werebeasts and stranger things still. That things like this could exist in the world, and I have never known… I still could not speak, but my silence was answer enough.

"Come," she said, and reached forward to unbutton my shirt. I discarded my clothing quickly and easily; it lay in a pile behind me, like a snake's shed skin. "Throw it on the fire," she said quietly. "You won't need it any more." I shivered, for the night air was chill, but she took my hand and drew me towards the flames. Her touch was like the fire itself: it set my nerves to dancing, warmed me, lent me a tremendous sense of vitality. Impulsively, I laughed, and kicked my clothing to the edge of the flames.

We danced for hours as she led me through the steps. I pride myself on keeping in good physical shape, but her stamina was quite simply inhuman, and by the time we left the dance, I was staggering with exhaustion. She led me to where the food was arranged (one of the drummers gave me a grin as we passed) and we rested as we ate. Then she drew me to my feet again, and led me into the forest shadows, just beyond the reach of the firelight. There she pushed me down and mounted me, still moving to the rhythm of the drums. As she moved against me, I smelt the wood smoke that had worked its way into our skin and hair, perceptible even over the smell of our bodies and our passion.

I came back to myself by degrees, aware that she had moved off of me. I smelt the clean night air, and raised myself into a sitting position. There were leaves in my hair; I combed them out as best I could. Awareness of the other couples that surrounded us grew slowly in my mind, until I wondered how I could ever have been oblivious to them. Finally, then, as I came to my feet, I became aware of the warmth in my belly, a soft feeling of... Contentment? Belonging? I had no words for it, in the aftermath of our communion.

She was waiting for me by the fire. I approached her slowly, compelled by a sense – an intimate awareness – of her presence. The night seemed to deepen around us, the air alive and surging with the power of the creatures gathered here. A silence widened around me as I advanced, and from the corner of my eyes I saw these outsiders fall into attitudes of respectful attention. There was something ritualistic to the response; even the fires seemed to flicker in time to my steps.

I stopped when I reached her, glanced once at the thick-built masculinity of the drummer who stood at her left, once at the grey-skinned humanoid whose hair and eyes were flames and who stood to her right. Then I looked back to her, as seemed expected – even demanded – of me.

"Would you join us?" she asked softly, though her voice was audible to the entire company. I managed a nod. Then, after a moment's hesitation, I managed a question.

"What is the price?"

A ripple of quiet laughter swept the circle behind me, though the trinity who faced me did not seem to notice.

"To accept this power is to be touched by the Gods," she answered. "There is always danger in asking for their judgement. The price is different for each of us. Will you join us?"

I hesitated, wrestling with my doubts. I was afraid – she asked me to step onto a darkened trail, unable to see if it led over a cliff. Or if it would lead me home, for that matter. Yet there was no way to take this slowly; to hesitate would mean being left behind.

"Three times may I ask, and three times only," she said then. "This will be the last. Will you join us?"

I was silent for a long time, but the decision was already made. Somewhere deep within me, I already knew what I would do. This answer was a part of me, a part of who I was, and while the choice was entirely mine, on another level I had no choice at all. Eventually, I made my reply.

"The moon is set," said she, "and the dawn is almost upon us. You will become as we are, blessed above all other beings, touched by the divine. You will take a new name, and leave your old life behind you."

Gracefully, she extended one clawed hand. Magic danced in her palm like a shadowy fire, cool and dark and mysterious. To look at it was to be robbed of all my ideas of size and shape, substance and form. It was beyond the realm of description as it was beyond the constraints of physics, as all truly sacred things must be. "Take the fire from my hand," she said. "I give it to you freely."

I reached out, closed my hand around it, lifted it from her palm. It flickered and danced atop my hand for a moment. Then, slowly, it sank into my skin.

The sensation was beyond description, beyond anything I had ever experienced. Something like a mild electric shock ran up my arm, spreading through me along with a sense of warmth and power. The magic sank into meat and bone and blood, settled in heart and mind and deeper still. It ran riot through me, filled me to overflowing, and as it did so I was transfigured, reborn, utterly remade.

The others were already departing when the change-flame died away. I rose, shaking the dirt and leaves from my fur, the world screaming in my senses, and looked up to meet her gaze. She touched me once more, tracing the line of my skull beneath my fur: a valediction. Then she was gone, racing away though the woods as dawn began to gather in the east.

That first morning, I sought shelter in a cave, to rest and adjust myself to this sudden change. By evening, a hunger was upon me, and I left my newfound home to hunt. On my way, I greeted a small wood-sprite where he nested in the hollow of a tree, a tree that I had passed many times before in blind indifference. I thought again of the costume party of the night before, taking place on the one night of the year when the monsters gathered to be rid of their human costumes. Then I put the thought aside, for it was a piece of another life, and no longer part of mine.

This is an old piece of my writing - dating back to when I was, I don't know, eighteen or nineteen years old. I have firmly resisted the urge to edit or rewrite it; you're reading it exactly the way I wrote it back then.

Filler: Under my skin...

Because, honestly, this song is all kinds of stalkerish-creepy, and because the muppets are awesome.

There's another story going up tonight...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Whispering Beneath

I'm going to tell you a story. You're going to think I made this up just to scare you, but I didn't. This is true.

I first met Elijah when I was in seminary. We had some classes together, along with Jesse and Franklin, and after a while we all got to be friends. Studied together, hung out together, talked about sports and politics and personal goals. I don't know if you've ever had a group like that, but it can really help. You all sort of pull each other along, cover each other's weak spots. It makes a big difference, especially when you hit the rough spots - and seminary has plenty of rough spots. They're different for everybody, but they're always there.

Elijah, though... He was a just a big, friendly guy - curly blond hair, round face, round build. He wasn't fat, exactly, though he always sort of looked like he should be. In fact, he was actually pretty muscular. It was just a very rounded sort of muscular. And he had this big, goofy grin, and a sort of ease about him that helped put everyone else at their ease. He wasn't lazy, though; he was smart, and he studied as hard as any of us.

And then, in our final year, he just sort of... dropped out.

There was an accident. He was on his way back from visiting some family (up in Crosby, I think) hit a patch of black ice, and wound up in one of the lakes. He was clinically dead when they fished him out, and had been for a while; nobody was sure just how long. He stayed in a coma for at least four days... and then suddenly he woke up and asked to go home.

He wasn't the same after that. He was... I don't know... quieter, for one thing. Didn't ask questions in class, didn't talk much out of class. He lost that easy, relaxed way of moving and talking; what replaced it was something more watchful, more wary, more worried. He went into counseling, but it didn't seem to help; it just seemed to make him more nervous. And then one day he just wasn't in class any more. Professor said he'd withdrawn from the program. I talked to him on the phone once or twice after that - he'd gone to visit his parents - and I know Jesse and Franklin did, too. We were all just so busy finishing up, trying to get ready for the next stage of our lives, though. By the time we entered the ministry, we'd lost touch with Elijah completely.

And that was nearly it. I thought about Elijah off and on for years, then mostly forgot about him... and then technology caught up with us: email, message boards, blogs, social networking sites.

He found me on Facebook.

After I got over the shock, we spent some time catching up. I'd been putting in my time in a couple of different parishes here in Minnesota, and it looked like I might finally get my own church; I was pretty excited about that, but I was nervous, too. Elijah had moved around a lot, and finally wound up working for the Forestry service up in Alaska - manning an isolated tower in a nearly uninhabited region. I asked him how he liked it, and he said it was lonely... but it was what he needed.

Now, as it happened, I had some money set aside for a vacation, and I could afford to take a week or two off. The priesthood doesn't pay very well, but I'd never had trouble saving; I never married, and I didn't have any expensive hobbies. So I offered to come up and visit him - maybe bring some beer and catch up in person. Father Fogarty could spare me for a bit, and if I did get my own church I'd be very busy with it - so this was the best chance I was likely to get for quite a while.

Elijah was thrilled, so I notified Father Fogarty and started making arrangements.

I got off the plane in Anchorage, rented a car, and drove out to Elijah's place. (He'd told me it was on the outskirts of town, but it looked like wilderness to me.) It was mid-sized house, cozy, with three bedroom and a large central living room; apparently Elijah had gone in on it with a couple of guys from work, so they'd have a place to stay when they weren't out at their towers.

It was... well, let's just say that it was quite a reunion. We were three beers in - apiece! - when Elijah turned to me and announced that he had a favor to ask. "I'd like you," he said carefully, "to come out to the tower and try an exorcism."

That stopped me cold. Exorcism isn't something that the Episcopal Church much goes in for - and certainly not on something that sounded suspiciously like a lark. Elijah knew that as well as anyone; he'd been in seminary with me, even if he hadn't finished.

He must have seen something in my expression, because he said: "I'm not kidding. I need this, and you're the only one I can ask."

Well, I was still feeling guilty about the way we'd all just let him go in our final year of study. And I remembered what Elijah was like; I trusted him. Also, I'd just had my third beer, which meant that in our first hour together I'd drunk three times as much as I usually had in an evening. So, cautiously, I agreed to try it. "Why?" I remember asking. "Do you think the place is haunted?"

He shook his head at that. "It isn't that simple," he told me, "and I can't explain it. Could you just... trust me?"

I nodded. I could; I did.

So the next day we drove out there. The trip took half the morning, but it would have been worth it just for the landscape. We spent the time exchanging stories, and for a while it felt like we'd never parted. But when we got to the tower, Elijah suddenly became serious; he asked if I could go ahead and start the rite.

You have to understand, I'd never performed an exorcism before. I actually had to look up the instructions online before we left. I'd also never seen any evidence of genuine demonic activity. I felt the presence of God, of course, in my heart and in my life; but His touch was gentle, subtle, and natural. I saw His work manifest in the actions of people and the mundane events of daily life. The idea of evil spirits directly causing harm to people seemed... I don't know. Garish. Ludicrous. Out of place in the world of God's Creation.

But in a sense, that didn't really matter. Even if, as I suspected, there wasn't a single evil spirit around, it didn't matter. I could see just how important this was to Elijah. So I offered a quick and silent prayer that, whatever the situation, this would help him. And then I performed the first and only exorcism of my career.

When it was done, Elijah stood waiting - his back straight, his head slightly cocked. He stayed that way for almost half a minute.

And then he sagged, and I could see the disappointment on his face. "They're still there," he said. "It didn't work. They're still there."

"What's still there?" I asked, as gently as I could manage.

"The whispers," he replied. "Can't you hear them?" Then his mouth snapped shut and he glared at me suspiciously.

I waited, doing my best to look accepting. Whatever was going on, I hoped he would talk to me about it... but he didn't. Instead, he came over and put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Thanks for trying." Then he went over to his Jeep and opened the driver's door.

Not having much of a choice, I followed. We rode in silence for about fifteen minutes. Minute flickers of expression crossed Elijah's face; he was having some sort of internal argument, it seemed. I was deeply curious, but decided not to pry; it might do more harm than good.

Finally, he turned his head to look at me. "It's been like this ever since the wreck," he said quietly. "You remember?"

"I remember the wreck," I told him, hoping I was answering the right question.

He nodded. "I heard them when I woke up. I think I heard them when I was out. I've heard them ever since."

"What do you hear?"

"Whispers," he said. "Whispers in the ground." He checked the road, then looked at me again. "They're nonsense, mostly. A word here, a sentence or two there. Sometimes I'll hear... rants, accusations, pieces of argument... but there's no sense to it. No message. Or not for me, anyway, and they don't hear each other."

"Ghosts?" I asked, frowning slightly - not disbelief, but puzzlement. I really wasn't sure what to make of this, except that Elijah was absolutely sincere.

"It's not that simple," he said. "It's... they're... the dead. Not ghosts, just... the dead. Or maybe I'm crazy. Can't forget that; maybe something in my head is broken, and I only think I hear them. Nobody else can hear them, so how can I be sure."

I didn't know what to say, so I waited.

"It wasn't so bad, at first. It was just whispers, here and there. I didn't even know where it was coming from." Elijah frowned, remembering. "Once I realized it was loudest around the graveyards, I started putting it together. By then it was louder, and I was hearing more and more of them - even in places where nobody thought they were. I had to get out of the cities, and then the smaller towns, but... you know how hard it is to find a place where nobody has died? The dead are all around us, right down there in the dirt. I had to get way out in the middle of nowhere, and even there... there's this one spot, this one guy. I hear him. He's down at the bottom of a ridge somewhere."

I considered that. "Why don't you move him? Just dig him up and put him somewhere else?"

Elijah made a little sound that was half-laugh, half-gasp. "I can't. I don't dare. It's getting to where I don't dare talk. I mean, I can hear them - can they hear me? And what happens if I wake them up?" He drew a ragged breath. "It doesn't matter anyway. I've started hearing the animals too. Further and further back. I don't even recognize some of the sounds, anymore. Bird calls and growls and... how long ago did they live, if they don't even sound like real birds?"

He paused. "I was hoping you could help. I was hoping an exorcism would, I don't know, settle them down. Make them sleep a little deeper, maybe. Keep them quiet for a while. But it didn't work."

I nodded. That wasn't really what an exorcism was for. But then, Elijah probably knew that, even if he'd let himself forget or just gotten his hopes up anyway.

"I'm sorry," he said at last. "I'll try to be normal. Be your friend. And I'll be okay. It's not so bad when I'm working."

"It's okay," I said. "You are my friend. I'm sorry I couldn't help."

And that's the end of my story. Or maybe the end is six months later, when Elijah killed himself. He never found anyone else who could hear what he heard; I know that much. But what it was that he heard... that, that I don't know at all. Maybe it really was some sort madness, some damaged tissue or chemical imbalance in his brain that gave him progressive auditory hallucinations. Or maybe he heard something that's been there all along; maybe the rest of us are just... congenitally deaf. I don't know.

But I do know that they're down there, all around us: the dead. Layer on layer of them; years, centuries, millenia of them; laid down across the long, bloody history of the world, from the first faint stirring of life to the present day. The ground is saturated with them. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. So maybe they're just... waiting.

Fear the Morning!

Okay, so: I have a story that I'm hoping to put up tonight. To hold you until then, here are some Halloween bits, starting with one of my all-time favorite zombie films.

Join us below the cut (muwahahahahaha!) for more...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Harduk the Slayer and the Prison Cell of Doom

Harduk woke to find himself manacled to a wall. This wasn't the first time he'd awakened so, and probably wouldn't be the last; though usually he had fewer bruises and more of a hangover. The familiar weight of Frostblight was missing from his back; he noticed that before he felt the weight of the chains or smelled the cold dampness of the stone.

Nearmis Oddbottom was standing in front of him. "Do you know who sent you after me? If you tell me now, it will save us both a great deal of time and trouble."

Harduk raised his head until he could look the wizard in the eye. "You're mad," he said. "Nobody sent me. I drifted here after my boat sank."

"No." The wizard's denial was absolute. "One of my projects, even two or three, I could accept as coincidence. But you... every time you set foot outside a city, you stumble into some of my ruins. Someone has set you to trouble me, and I will discover them."

Harduk sagged in his chains. The wizard had clearly been breathing too much of the black lotus. There was no arguing with him. "Do your worst," he suggested.

"Later," said Nearmis Oddbottom. "I have builders to supervise. But once they rest..." He studied Harduk a moment longer, then turned and left. He took the single torch with him, leaving his prisoner in darkness.

Harduk waited until he could no longer hear the wizard's footsteps; then he waited longer. When he was certain he was alone, he tugged against his bonds. The manacles were heavy iron, and set firmly into the stone wall at his back. No amount of tugging would loosen them. Resigned to waiting, he settled back against the wall.

He had been there only a short time before a new voice reached his ears, this one husky but unmistakably female. "Harduk?"

"I am here," he called.

Sound and light reached him, drew closer: footsteps, and a lamp. Blinking, Harduk beheld a woman in a simple dress of gray silk. She was nearly his own height, well-formed and pretty despite an unfortunately prominent nose. Her study of him was as immediate and intense as his study of her.

After a moment she nodded. "I'm called Nissa," she said. "I need you to rescue me."

Harduk turned his head, confirming that he was still manacled to the stone wall.

"If you swear to take me with you, I'll set you free," she said.

"I swear it," Harduk said immediately.

"And you must promise to marry me."

Harduk choked and began to cough.

The woman hurried forward, pressed a hand against his mouth. "If I am betrothed, my father can no longer claim authority over me. I can go my own way, live my own life."

Harduk got his breathing under control. After a moment, he nodded. She removed her hand, and he said: "Yes."

She nodded again, sharply, and the chains fell away.

Harduk shook himself, rolled his shoulders, clenched and unclenched his fists. "I must find Frostblight."

"No time," she said. "We must find a boat."

"It is the sword of my people," Harduk insisted.

"I'll make you another."

Harduk looked at her sharply.

"We must go," she said, grasping his hand and pulling him out of the cell.

The wizard's voice rolled down the stone hallway, clear despite the echoes: "What, already? Guards! Find him. I don't care how many of you he kills, I want him back in his cell."

Harduk nodded. Having Frostblight would be a great help. Searching for Frostblight could quickly lead to capture. She was right; the blade was not worth his freedom. Following the lady's lead, he turned and fled into the darkness.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Pony For Her Birthday, Iteration 3

Confused? Iteration One is here.

"Max, what have you done?"

She could hear his surprise through the phone. "What do you mean, what have I done? I created a pony that is completely safe for Stacy to ride."

"Max, that's... not a pony. I don't know what it is, but it's not a pony."

"What? Of course it's a pony. A full seventy percent of its genetic base is--"

"I don't care about its genetic base, Max. It has wings."

"She wanted a pony with wings. That's also why it has a horn. It's not like it actually flies."

"That's true, it doesn't fly." Samantha took a deep breath, then let it out. "Okay, fine. It was meant to be a winged pony with a horn."

"...Which will not crash into things, and which our daughter will not fall off of. The tentacles were a very effective addition, were they not?"

"Well..." Samantha hesitated. "I'll grant you, I don't think there's any way Stacy can fall off her... present."

"So what's the problem?"

"Max, she has sucker-marks all up and down her legs. How I'm going to explain that to her teacher, I can't begin to imagine."

There was a momentary hesitation. "Well, yes, I suppose that could be a difficulty. Still, a proper set of riding pants should fix that. Is Stacy, at least, happy with her new pony?"

Samantha hesitated. "Yes," she admitted at last. "Stacy's happy with it, even if it isn't a pony."

"Why do you keep saying that? I've explained the wings. I've explained the horn. I've explained the tentacles. Why do you keep insisting that Stacy's new pony isn't a pony?"

"Because ponies don't slither, Max." Samantha took another breath, and waited to hear his response.

"Well," said Maximilian Savage in his most dignified tone of voice, "this one does."

I give up, Samantha thought. I'm never going to get him to see this my way. Relenting, she said, "I guess it doesn't matter. Stacy loves it, and that's what counts, right?"

"I would think so," Max replied stiffly. There was a long pause, and then he added: "Has she spoken to you about Christmas?"

"...What about Christmas?" Samantha asked warily.

"She's asked for a gene sequencer of her own, with a two-ton growth tank."

Samantha Woodman cradled the phone and let that thought sink in. There was, she thought, no way to escape. Finally, she shook her head. "Send me the specs. Maybe we can set it up in the barn or something."

"Thank you, Samantha." Max's voice was warm. "It means a lot to me. And it will mean more to Stacy."

"Yeah." Samantha chuckled. "I don't know if I can survive having two of you doing this stuff, but I guess I'd better start figuring out how."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Building the Hand Cannon

Firstborn has no shortage of toys. Oh, he doesn't get everything he wants - but if he really wants something, he can usually get it. Despite this, he occasionally decides to make his own, apparently for the sheer love of creation. Mostly, I do my best to encourage this... though I will confess to a faint bit of exasperation on the day I came home to find my bed completely buried in paper airplanes.

Last night, though, he surprised me. He's built things with Trio blocks before (including, on one memorable occasion, a facehugger Xenomorph and a Halflife Head Crab). And he's built toy pistols out of Trio before, too. So I really shouldn't have been surprised that he'd come up with another one, and I wasn't - except that this one, unlike its predecessors, actually shoots.

It's a hand cannon.

What he's done, basically, is take the little cannon from one of the castle playsets, and mount it on a pistol grip. So he has to press a button out at the end of the barrel in order to fire, but it actually does launch the little cannonball on the end.

From the front...
From the side...
A few weeks back, in the wake of the Paper Airplane Incident, he asked for some paper and a stapler. Despite our considerable trepidation, the Beautiful Wife and I handed them over. Some time later, he returned the stapler, and showed me what he'd been doing:

He'd been making an axe. And a shield. Out of paper.

Axe-forward pose...
Shield-forward pose...
Okay, so it's not the strongest shield I've ever seen. I was still impressed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Apocalyptic Nightmares

In the realm of creepy dreams, this one came from Friday night (or, well, Saturday morning, really). It started with some sort of party, which I don't remember very well except that one of my very old friends was there. Then it shaded over into something more apocalyptic, featuring:

- A long, dark stretch of water drainage (or sewer?) tunnel, with mostly-still-intact metal catwalks above the water line. As I was moving down the catwalks, I heard a child's voice crying out for help. The child turned out to be just a head and torso; the arms and legs were gone somehow. I knew it was too damaged to survived, and since there was nothing I could do I went on. I had just jumped across a missing section of catwalk when I heard something come up behind me and eat the child.

- Another child was outside with his father when something meteorite-ish crashed into the father, killing him instantly and mostly-killing the boy. The boy reappeared from time to time throughout the rest of the dream, wielding a length of chain that acted like some sort of monofilament whip to cut people into pieces. Sometimes the child was indoors and on foot; sometimes he was outside on a bicycle. He seemed to be haunting a particular area.

Right at the end of the dream, the ghost-boy caught me and my girlfriend outside. (In real life, of course, I have a Beautiful Wife, but she didn't appear in this. Also, I'm not sure, but the girlfriend may have been played by Michelle Yeoh.) We alternated between trying to avoid him as he whizzed by on his bike, using old cars and the placement of curbs for shelter; and trying to get down into the storm drains, where he wouldn't follow us and couldn't hit us with the whip. Finally, I got close enough that I had to step in closer to him to avoid the whip; the chain, I don't know, shortened and became less sharp, and I was able to grab it. Girlfriend caught the ghost boy when he tumbled off his bike, but then he slipped into a small drain himself. I was able to coax him out (despite the really, really eerie ghost-boy laughter), and catch hold of his arm - at which point I made him stop and sit with me. I think there was a vague idea of either sort-of-adopting him, or maybe letting him haunt some part of myself; either way, taming him by giving him a home and/or family. I don't know how that turned out, though, because I woke up about then.

- Somewhere in the middle there, I was helping lead one group of survivors to shelter. (From aliens? From zombies? From collapsing cities? I'm not sure.) We'd gotten everyone into an old wooden campground building, just up the road from a similar building where another group had taken shelter. I called for some volunteers to go back with me for supplies, since the chips and hotdogs at the campground headquarters weren't going to last very long. (My brother was one of the volunteers. If you know him in real life, this is no surprise. There were also two children and one other adult.)

We'd made it just a few steps up the road when there was some sort of attack or explosion in front of us; a great sizzling orange energy-dome that started expanding towards us in steps. It was, of course, burning and/or crushing everything in its path. We ran. We ran, in fact back through our camp building - yelling for everyone to run with us - and on down the hill to the other group's camp building. The effect stopped just after smashing in the wall of the second group's building. I don't know how many of our group got out, but I didn't think it was very many.

I'm also pretty sure that that's how the girlfriend and I wound up going back to get supplies later. We were definitely circling around that effect, and the supplies were in the ghost-boy's territory. I'm not sure just how much time had passed between that disaster and the supply run, though.

So, yeah: creepy dreams. Or outright nightmares, if you prefer. I blame the nyquil and the incipient sinus infection.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Harduk The Slayer and the Explanation of Doom

Though not so powerfully built as Harduk, the master was every bit as tall and his stride was every bit as long. By the time Harduk caught him, he had entered a large building that had the look of a temple. There was only the single doorway, its high arch carved with figures angelic and demonic, and the Distractian stepped warily through it.

Harduk expected it to be dark inside, but the far left corner of the building had collapsed inward... or rather, had been built to look as if it had collapsed inward. Harduk ground his teeth at the thought. The man he sought was only a few paces beyond the doorway, inspecting a ring of carved birds around one of the columns that supported the arched ceiling high above. "You there," called Harduk. "Are you the one responsible for this place?"

"Of course I am," said the robed man, turning to face him. He had white hair and a neatly trimmed white beard, which hung beneath a prominent nose. "Nearmis Oddbottom. And you are Harduk the slayer, mercenary and adventurer. You're early; we haven't even finished building these ruins, yet."

Harduk slowed his steps. "These ruins?" he echoed.

The master nodded. "These won't be the first of my ruins that you've destroyed, after all."

Harduk came to a stop, still several paces too far away to run the man through. "I've been to other ruins of yours?" he asked, thinking back over all the strange places his life had taken him.

"Ohhhh, yes." Nearmis Oddbottom pursed his lips. "I first noticed you in the City of the Dome. You were being chased by Duke Decantar... after a particularly lascivious night with his formerly-virginal twin daughters, I later learned... and you sought shelter in the ruins."

"...With the blood-hungry bat-men," Harduk said, remembering.

"Just so. You and the duke contrived to drop one of the great bridges into the course of the underground stream, which flooded the ruins and collapsed the dome."

Harduk nodded slowly, considering. The City of the Dome had been an ancient ruin, well outside the borders of civilized Learnandia. There had been treasure there, and danger; the remains of an entire ancient civilization, albeit one whose race had long since degenerated into primal savagery in the darkness. And if that had been one of Oddbottom's projects, then what of... "The great citadel in the sand, where I came following the pirate-woman Kandra? Where I fought the forgotten god who meant to take her for a sacrifice, and watched the city sink forever beneath the sands with its death?"

"Mine." Master Oddbottom studied Harduk calmly.

"And the black temple in the swamps of Nitere, guarded by those man-eating frogs?"


"The jeweled caverns beneath mount Killemal, whose stony guardians only moved when touched with light?"


"The towering spire in the foothills of the Vanidy Plateau, where mysterious lights tried to lure me to my death and the constant whispers of unseen voices drove my sanity to the breaking point?"


"The worshippers of the great spider-serpent in the sewers of Whiitvash, who took only the babies of bankers and highborn nobles for their sacrifices?"

The master hesitated, but shook his head. "That one belonged to the mage Kelinna -- their high priestess. She had some ideas about how a society should properly be run." After a moment, he added: "And if I recall your escape, you cut her in half, set the halves on fire, and fed them to the spider-serpent."

Harduk nodded slowly. "More or less. I salted them first. It seemed like the thing to do."

There was a momentary pause, then Nearmis Oddbottom pursed his lips. "I can see where it might," he admitted. "Be that as it may, the rest of the ruins you have visited were mine."

Harduk felt himself begin to relax. If these were true ruins, to be filled with monsters, traps, and treasure, then what did it matter that this man had built them? They were still ripe for the plundering. Still... "Why?" he asked. "Why do you build these places?"

Nearmis Oddbottom snorted dismissively. "I'm a seven-hundred-year-old wizard, boy. Have you any idea how hard it is to find a hobby that still entertains after even half a century? Should I take up knitting, instead?"

Harduk chuckled. "I must surrender my complaints," he said. "It seems the world would be less interesting without these projects of yours. Fetch me a boat, and I'll be gone from your island."

"No," said the wizard.


Nearmis Oddbottom was scowling. "I've lost a good two centuries of work in the last nine years, all of it because of you. You're a menace. You must be stopped."

He lifted one robed arm, but Harduk had the reflexes of a hunting cat. He was already springing forward, hand reaching up for Frostblight's hilt. Too late, he saw that Oddbottom had moved his other hand to one of the birds on the column. The floor opened beneath him, and he tumbled into darkness.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Pony For Her Birthday, Iteration 2

Confused? Iteration One is here.

Four hours later, Samantha was back in her parents' kitchen, listening to the phone ring again. Max picked up himself this time: "Hello again, Samantha."

"Hello, Max."

"What went wrong this time? ...I presume that's why you're calling."

"Well, we found the second pony -- I have to admit, I wasn't expecting you to air-drop Stacy's present, but it worked. And we got Stacy all suited up, and took her out to the pasture, and put her on the pony."


"And the pony took off at about Mach Two. Stacy tumbled right off the back, but she's okay -- just a little bruised."

"The armor did its job, then." Max sounded relieved.

"Yes, yes it did. But the pony took off so fast that it couldn't turn, so it crashed into the woodlot and exploded. Which, again, is not exactly what Stacy was hoping for from her present. Not to mention that if she hadn't fallen, she might have exploded along with it."

"Yes," Max answered slowly. "That is disappointing. Though the armor would have--"

"I'm sure. Look, the Cowans have an ordinary, natural pony that they might be willing to part with. I could arrange to have them bring it over this afternoon, and--"

"No," said Max. "I'll take care of it. Ask Stacy to be patient, and tell her I'll have a new pony -- one that won't crash, and one that she can't fall off -- ready for her in the morning."

"Are you sure, Max?"

"I'm sure. Today's project requires a bit more work, so this will be a nice break from it."

Samantha repressed a sigh. "Okay. I'll tell her."

"Thank you, Sam."

Proceed to Iteration 3...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Squirrel-Ninja Update

As of this morning, Firstborn has revised his opinion of what squirrel-ninjas actually do. Forget battling porcupine ninjas; according to Firstborn, squirrel-ninjas spend their time "running around naked in trees."

That is all.

Survey Question: Portal Preparedness

Am I the only one who keeps a certain number of items (pocket knife, cigarette lighter, etc) on his person in case an interdimensional portal suddenly opens up and sucks me through? I mean, everybody does that, right? We just don't talk about it. Right?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Squirrel-Ninjas On The Roof

So I'm driving Firstborn to school this morning, and there's a little clunk on the top of the car. From the back seat, Firstborn says: "I know what that was."

"Oh?" I ask, though I have a pretty good idea of what it was already.

"It was little branch and maybe an acorn." This is pretty much spot-on. Our neighborhood has a lot of trees. Having acorns fall on the car is the price we pay for shade. So...

"That's true," I say. "Or maybe... maybe that's just what the squirrel ninjas want you to think. Maybe they've been trained to sound like acorns when they land. So we think it's nothing but a falling acorn, but secretly there are a dozen squirrel ninjas riding on the roof of our car!"

Firstborn considers this. "What kind of masks do you suppose squirrel ninjas wear?"

I should say something about holes for whiskers, but I don't think of that until later. "I don't know. What kind of weapons do you suppose squirrel ninjas carry? Little squirrel ninja swords? Maybe squirrel ninja whips?"

"Rockets," says Firstborn. "They probably have rockets on their back so they can fly up to the tops of buildings and things."

"The probably do," I agree. "They're probably just riding on top of the car so they can save their rockets for when they really need them."

"Maybe they're riding on the car so they can take electricity from it. Maybe they're using electricity from the car to power up their rockets."

"Possible," I say, considering this. "It wouldn't hurt the car if they did."

"It would just have less electricity," says Firstborn.

"As long as the engine was running, it wouldn't matter. What sorts of missions do you think squirrel ninjas go on?"

Firstborn thinks about this. "They probably battle ninja porcupines."

"Probably. Ninja porcupines are pretty nasty."


"All those spikes. I'll bet they're really hard to fight."

"Yeah," says Firstborn. "Their only weak spot is their face." He considers further. "And their bottoms. And their legs."

...And then we turned off at the school, leaving me with a brain full of visions of little ninja squirrels, scampering here and there in their long-standing competition with the porcupine ninja clan. In my mind I can see the battles... the training montages... the sneaking along tree branches... the explosive acorns... the young squirrels following at the tail of the master to learn the innermost secrets of fuzzjutsu... and, of course, the secret squirrel ninja village in some unsuspecting human's attic.

Maybe I'm just nuts.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

So, I took last week off work. (I'm lucky; I can do this.) It was meant to be a nice, quiet, stay-at-home vacation - a chance to get some rest, catch up on my reading, maybe play some video games, and get some writing done. Admittedly, there were also some useful/practical activities planned: sorting laundry, getting my car checked over, cleaning dishes, and like that.

The thing about vacations is that you're supposed to come out of them feeling relaxed and refreshed - or, possibly, tired but satisfied, in the wake of a particularly fun or interesting time. This time... not so much. I was exhausted when I went into the vacation, owing to the lovely game of Musical Diseases which has been a family pastime for waaaaaay too long now, and which finally caught up with me just as I started my shiny new vacation. And I'm just about that tired now; I think I slept about fourteen hours the night before last, and then another seven hours last night. It's not that I'm sick, exactly - it's more like I can't seem to completely recover from having been sick.

So, for most of my things-I-was-going-to-be-doing, what I actually accomplished was "some of it." Getting rest? Some of it. Catching up on my reading? Some of it. Playing video games? I started The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, so - some of it. Sorting laundry? Some of it. Getting the car checked out? Done, but now I'm waiting on a replacement for the catalytic converter, so - some of it. Sorting laundry? Some of it. Actually, most of it.

The big exception is writing. Writing requires uninterrupted time and unbroken energy - at least for me. Maybe there are people out there who can just keep plugging away at their writing projects, and get decent results. Personally, if I don't have enough energy, then it's hard to be enthusiastic about whatever I'm working on - and if I'm not enthusiastic about writing it, odds are it's not going to be very interesting to read. So I end up with basically two choices: work on little things (like blog entries) while I wait for my energy to come back, or else dig in and refuse to do anything except rest and relax until I have enough energy to write. The second option, unfortunately, generally means putting off things that really need to be done - laundry, for example - and is further complicated by the existence of two boys who really want to spend time with their Daddy and/or really need to be supervised.

Which is why my progress on my longer writing projects has totaled about three sentences over the course of this week.

And so but anyway, I think I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. (I'm not holding my breath.) Meanwhile, here's a picture of one of the more compelling distractions in my life:
You can see why he's compelling, right?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Harduk The Slayer and the Ruins of Doom

The platform indeed held a ruined city... but in addition to empty and half-collapsed stone buildings, it held a swarming multitude of workmen. For a moment, Harduk thought that they must have come to loot the ruins -- he had known some treasure-hunters who used crews like this, though never one so large -- but it could not be so. Everything they were doing was entirely wrong.

Here, a group of men were using a wooden frame and a complicated system of ropes and pulleys to haul a stone entablature into place atop a series of columns. There, a stonecutter was chipping one corner off a rectangular stone block. And here, a sculptor was putting the finishing touches on a series of disturbing bas-reliefs atop a doorway. To one side there were piles of cut and quarried stone, neatly stacked against their eventual use, and beyond them a small city of tents that would house the workmen when they rested. These men were not looting; they were *building*.

A pair of men stood not ten paces away, consulting over a piece of parchment. From his place just below the top of the water stair, Harduk's wilderness-keen ears could pick out bits of their argument. It seemed to center on the proper position of a certain building in relation to a central boulevard. They spoke in the tongue of hard-working Pithya, which was known for its extensive public works projects.

Harduk considered for a moment longer, then rose and approached them. None of the workers were armed. Though less soft than most city people, they were laborers and artisans; he could see no warriors among them. He had never yet found a ruin in the wilderness that was safe, but he supposed there must be a first time for everything.

"...Can't let it block the Royal Way," the shorter man was saying. "Just keep the footprint small. Make it taller, instead. If the master asks, we'll tell him it's a grain vault."

"Guess we'll have to," agreed the taller man, who was stick-thin and wore the sleeveless robe of a Pithyan scholar. "Maybe we can leave off one wall, scatter some rubble..."

His words trailed away as he caught sight of Harduk. His companion turned with him, and Harduk observed broad shoulders above a broad gut. He wore a simple tunic and leggings, which were tucked into plain boots: the sort of man who had once been a laborer, and now led teams of them. "Listen, fellow," he said evenly. "I know it's hot out, and the work is hard; but keep your pants on, or I'll have to dock your pay. The Ma--"

Harduk frowned at him, an expression that conveyed a very strong impression of a gathering storm. "What transpires here, fellows?"

The two men exchanged a quick glance. "We're constructing a set of ruins on this island," said the taller scholar. "Very picturesque, don't you think?"

"You're not one of mine, are you?" put in the work-leader. "With the sword, I thought... but never mind. What brings you here, warrior?"

Harduk stopped, close enough to converse with them but not close enough to threaten. "A serpent grew scared during last night's storm," he said, "and clung to my ship for comfort. The ship did not survive. I did, and washed up here."

"A castaway?" asked the scholar, surprise evident on his face.

"You'll be wanting for food and drink, then," said the work-leader.

Harduk waved such considerations away. "Later," he said. "Just now, I would learn more of your purpose here. You are building these ruins?"

"Just so," said the scholar. He looked around with pride. "Aren't they lovely?"

"The world," Harduk said, "is full of ruins. Why add more?" In truth, he'd spent a good deal of his own life reducing various parts of the world to ruin, usually for pay, but sometimes for fun. This, however, was different. These ruins were meant to look ancient, though they were newly built. The very idea offended his sensibilities. If he couldn't trust ancient ruins to be the last remnants of vanished civilizations, how could he trust them to be full of fabulous treasures and incalculable dangers? Half his life had been spent pursuing such things, by accident or apurpose. Constructions such as this could ruin everything.

The work-leader shrugged. "Because we're being paid."

"If you want to know what they're for," said the scholar, "you'll have to ask the master."

"And where," Harduk asked, "is your master?"

The scholar glanced at the work-leader, but the work-leader just shrugged. "As it happens, he's right there."

Harduk turned and beheld a man in dark robes, inspecting a statue from which one of the artisans had just removed one extended wing. Even at a distance, there was a certain magnetic vitality about the man. Unlike the scholar, his robes had full sleeves and his belt appeared to be woven silver.

He glanced at them, then turned and strode away.

Harduk started after him.

"Don't kill him," called the work leader. "He's the only one who can call back our boat!"

Harduk nodded, but it was acknowledgment -- not agreement. By the cold wastes of Distractia, he would have answers from this man... and put an end to the making of these false ruins.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Some Days there's nothing to say...

Working on a writing project, so today I'm officially neglecting the blog. There are plenty of things going on - Halloween's coming up, my vacation is almost over, and pretty soon the holiday season is going to fall on my head like a ton of bricks - but I haven't a thing to say about any of that.

I do, however, have one big reminder: the Mock Gathering is tomorrow! I've had a few people tell me that they're planning to be there; I don't expect a huge group, but this is at least actually happening.

So, what's going on with you?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ask the Hive Mind: Haunted Box of Switches

Okay, so... Barry Andrews (of Shriekback and various other projects) put out an album called Haunted Box of Switches.

It was released in the U.K., and this was back in 2003, which probably explains why the American version of Amazon doesn't seem to know it ever existed. Neither does iTunes. This is a source of considerable frustration to me, since I'd like to get a copy of it.

So, since the standard consumer channels have failed me, I turn to the Internet. Does anybody out there have a copy of this album, or know somebody who does? I'm okay with picking it up secondhand, though obviously I'd prefer to purchase it in some way that actually benefits the artist.

And while I'm at it, why the hell isn't Haunted Box of Switches more available? How the [Expletive Deleted] does an album like this appear and disappear before I even manage to discover its existence?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cashews. (Gesundheit.)

Warning: Children are foul and disgusting creatures, capable of creating noxious effluvia that no sane or loving God would permit to exist. If you are in the least bit squeamish, you should perhaps reconsider your apparent intent to continue reading this post.

Cashews. The child wants cashews. The child has asked for cashews. Dear God... please... not the cashews. The very mention of the word (especially in that childish, quavering voice) fills me with existential dread. But how can I avoid the horror?

Look, I know what you're thinking. What's wrong with cashews? They're a perfectly good snack: tasty, filling, reasonably healthy. There are plenty of parents who would be grovelingly grateful to have their offspring ask for cashews instead of, say, Chocolate Covered Cheesy Poofs.

I understand that. Really, I do. But... well...

Okay, here's the thing: it's not the cashews. It's the child.

See, if Firstborn was asking for them, I'd be fine with it. But it's not Firstborn. It's Secondborn. And Secondborn isn't even two and a half yet. And... well... Despite his deep and heart-felt love of cashews, he can't actually digest them.

At all.

He chews them happily enough; they fill the emptiness in his tummy and bring a happy light to his eyes.

And a day or so later, I find them in his diaper. Their passage through the human body has not changed them. Stomach acid has not marred them. The varied flora and fauna of the intestines have found no purchase in their nutty composition.

They were cashews when he ate them, and they were cashews still when he pooped them out.

And that is why I fear the call for cashews.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Harduk The Slayer And The Hidden Stair Of Doom

Two hours later, Harduk stood at the edge of the stream. His belly was full, and his thirst was assuaged. What meat he hadn't eaten immediately, he had stuffed into a crude bag fashioned from the boar's hide.

Though occupied by one last task, Harduk remained wary. He listened to bird calls and slight movements in the trees. He looked back over his shoulder, at the fallen tree where he had made his meal, then across the stream to the trees on the far side. Upstream, the water was cold and clear, the flat stretch where he stood fed by a small waterfall made up of short, regular steps. Downstream, the water was warmer and faintly golden, though the current carried that away quickly enough.

Turning his head, Harduk looked again at the waterfalls. That series of steps seemed very regular -- almost too regular. As if...

Yanking his loincloth back into place, he followed the stream to the base of the falls. He was not imagining things. Either someone had cut steps into the streambed, or the water was following the course of some ancient stairway. He considered, but only for a moment: strange as they were, the steps were both a sign of civilization, and a path to higher ground. Mounting the stairs, he began to climb.

Tucked away in its narrow cleft, the water stair hid the rest of the island from him, but also kept him out of sight. Harduk considered that a fair trade. The way was slippery and irregular, worn by the steady passage of water, but Harduk's steps were swift and sure.

The ascent seemed to take hours, and indeed it was hours later that he began to hear voices over the constant trickle of running water. He slowed. Voices should mean people, but in his experience that wasn't always the case. Ahead, he could see a break in the steps: perhaps it was only another landing, but it seemed he had finally reached the top of this mountain. Harduk mounted the remaining steps as swiftly and silently as a tiger. Crouching just below the top, Harduk carefully raised his head above the edge.

He had half-expected to find himself looking at the city whose inhabitants had built these ancient stairs. And that was so, after a fashion. But...

"By the Grim King," he breathed. "What deviltry is this?"

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mock Gathering This Saturday

The long-awaited [1] and much-lauded [2] gathering of friends [3] of the blog is scheduled for this coming Saturday! Be there, or... well... be somewhere else, I guess. But I hope you'll be there. I promise, I don't have footnotes in person.

There will be signs with pics of Cuddles The Zombie Velociraptor on the table, so we shouldn't be too hard to find.
This isn't any sort of themed event; I'd just like to catch up with friends and iFriends, and maybe meet some of you in person (if we haven't already). So if you're in the area and it sounds like fun, please come by.

Time & Date: Saturday, October 13, 1:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Location: Trinity Hall at Mockingbird Station off Central Expressway (Highway 75).
Who's Invited: Anyone who's in the area (or happens to be passing through) and thinks this sounds like fun. Children are welcome (mine will almost certainly be there).

 See you there!

[1] least by me...
[2] ...ditto...
[3] ...real and imaginary...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

...And now it's my turn...

So, apparently my body has been waiting for me to get to my vacation before it let go and finally got sick. Because yesterday marked the start of my week-and-a-day off, and at four in the morning this morning... well, it was pretty grim. And then it was equally grim in a completely different way at about eight o'clock. And then I went back to sleep - sick and dehydrated, no less - until about eleven fifteen.

Remember last Thursday, when I was complaining about being inspired by a new story idea because it meant that everything else would promptly fall on my head? Well, there you go.

On a related note: I have weird, weird dreams when I'm really sick. The ones from this morning involved being trapped in an unstable, partly-collapsed, and partly-collapsing old mine complex. And in those brief moments when I sort-of woke up, I was so far gone that I wasn't sure where I was. I mean usually, I know which bed I'm in... and what direction I'm facing... and whether I'm lying face-up or face-down. This time? Not so much.

But I'm up, and I'm going to sit in a hot bath and read, and try to drink liquids (and hope that doesn't court any new disasters). Hopefully I'm now past the worst of this.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Pony For Her Birthday, Iteration 1

Samantha Woodman held the phone to her ear and listened to it ring. It picked up on the fourth ring, and the familiar voice of her ex-husband's lab assistant said, "Savage Inventions, what can we make possible for you?"

Sam shook her head. It wasn't even dawn yet, and they were already at work. "Hi, Pete," she said. "Can you put Max on for me?"

"Oh, hi Mrs-- Miss Samantha. Sure, I'll get him. Hang on a sec."

There was a brief pause, and then her husband picked up the phone. "Samantha," he said by way of greeting. "May I assume that Stacy's present has arrived?"

Samantha paused, her suspicions confirmed. "Why don't I tell you about my morning, and you can tell me what happened?"

"Sam--" Maximilian Savage paused, then apparently reconsidered whatever protest he had been about to make. "Go ahead."

"To start with, there was this godawful shrieking right outside my window. That was what woke me up. By the time I fought my way out from under the covers, it was fading back down to nothing -- but by then I could hear Stacy, crying and screaming outside my window."

"Is she...?"

"She's fine, Max. Just upset. So I ran outside, and found her sitting on the ground beside a giant wooden crate. I tried to ask her what was wrong, and she just says that her pony flew away. Any of this sound familiar?"

"It does."

"Humor me and explain."

"Well..." Max's voice turned distant as he considered. "Stacy asked for a pony for her birthday. I arranged to have it delivered last night, as a surprise."

"...And she woke up very early, and went outside and found it." Samantha took a deep breath, and reminded herself to be patient. "I got that part. How did a pony manage to fly away from my parents' ranch?"

"Jet engines, of course." Max sounded impatient, as if he thought this should be perfectly obvious. He probably did. "The wings are cybernetic, but even so it takes more than wingspan to get something size of a pony off the ground."

"Wings," repeated Samantha. She shouldn't be surprised; she'd known what Maximilian was when she divorced him. "You gave our daughter a pony with jet engines and wings."

"Impressive, isn't it?" He sounded pleased. "Actually, getting the horn to shoot rainbows was more of a challenge."

"Rainbows?" Samantha echoed dubiously.

"Don't worry. The default setting is non-destructive."

Samantha decided to ignore that. "Our daughter just finished first grade. She isn't ready for a driver's license, let alone a pilot's license. And even if she were, I am not ready to have our daughter flying around on her own."

There was a long silence.

"...Very well," Max said stiffly. "I have an earlier iteration, non-flying, that I can send in its place. And I'll dispatch... something... to make certain that the original pony does not return on her own. Will that satisfy you?"

"Yes, Max. Thank you, Max." Samantha took a deep breath. "That will do very nicely."

Then she hung up the phone, knowing full well that the day's excitement wasn't over yet.

Proceed to Iteration 2...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Spiritual Awakening

I achieved enlightenment yesterday.

No, really.

I was helping someone with a computer problem, and the user asked something so completely stupid - how to press the Any Key, or something, I don't even remember - that my mind just snapped. Suddenly I lost all sense of self; for the first time, I truly and fully understood the futility of striving. My mind opened, and it was like a great rush of fire and water, everywhere. This tremendous, deep sense of peace settled over me, and I became aware that I was a part of all living things.

...Except ragweed.

Ragweed... is not my friend.

And apparently I can't be at one with a Universe that contains ragweed, because all of a sudden I was back in my body: trapped once again in the illusion of Self. And sneezing. A lot. My eyes were watering so badly that I could barely find the Benadryl.

The experience wasn't a total loss, though. I mean, now I know exactly what is holding us back: it's ragweed. Ragweed is the enemy of human advancement.

So join me, friends. Let the Great Crusade begin today. Together, we will wipe ragweed from the face of the Earth - Ahrimsa be damned - and open the way to a new age of peace and enlightenment for all humanity!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Electric Octogator

The response to last year's offering of Home Defense Systems was truly gratifying. Sales were solid, and only a handful of buyers contacted us with complaints about our products. However, one additional request did come up with surprising frequency: apparently we overlooked the vital importance of water-based defenses.

You would not believe the number of responses we received on this topic. Let me read from my favorite: "Dear sirs: carnivorous shrubberies are all well and good, but how is a privacy-oriented individual supposed to keep intruders out of the waters around his uncharted island in the South Pacific? Provide me a product that can manage that, and I will guarantee you an immediate sale."

Very well, Grand High General Moore. Your wishes are heard and understood - and now, at last, they are answered. I present to you the Electric Octogator: a devastatingly efficient anti-intrusion measure which requires no maintenance and very little supervision. Though they rest on land, octogators are tremendously fast in the water, and they are instinctively drawn to movement and noise. Once awakened, they are ravenously hungry, strong enough to lift a grown man into the air with their tentacles, and capable of delivering a bio-electric shock twice as strong as any taser currently available on the market. Their jaws can chew through a fiberglass hull in minutes, and they are unbelievably tenacious.

As a failsafe, each electric octogator comes equipped with a small implant which can alternately slow its metabolism (effectively putting it back to sleep), stimulate the beast's pain center, or (as a last resort) release a lethal dose of neurotoxin directly into its brain. These features can be activated using a small radio transmitter; for a small additional fee, we can also install a cellular connection which links to a dedicated iPhone app.

So you see, we here at the Mad Science Consortium are always attentive to the needs of our customers. We welcome your feedback, and look forward to supplying all your security needs. Don't forget, we're also having a clearance on exploding sunflowers through the end of October. Place your order today!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cheerier Parenting Stuff

Here's a pic of the two boys in a tree. Yes, the two-year-old climbed up there all by himself. This is from, I don't know, a couple of weeks back.

I just thought it would be a nice break from talking about illness, exhaustion, and the unbearable grossness of being.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fun New Game: Musical Diseases!

So, as of this afternoon, Secondborn is officially sick with whatever Firstborn had late last week - which has been both unpleasant and extremely messy. Which means that the tummy problems that Secondborn had earlier (a week before Firstborn came down with this) were something else entirely. Either that, or they're now passing their diseases back and forth.

The Beautiful Wife insists that we're actually all sick with more than one thing, which certainly seems possible. I seem to have the lightest case of it it/them, but that probably just means that the other shoe hasn't dropped on me yet.

One of the problems with being sick is that it makes it ever so much easier to get infected with new things. And once that cycle gets started, it's really hard to break. On the plus side, if we we can just manage to get everyone healthy, we'll probably be okay for a while.

So, my project for this evening is to cleanse our house. With bleach. Or fire. Or bleach that's been set on fire. Actually, that sounds pretty good. Burning bleach: because some days, over-the-counter disinfectants just don't cut it. Why the hell doesn't Target carry that?

Anyway... lots of cleaning. A lot of baths. Lots of laundry. Nowhere near as much sleep as I'd like.

...And, a small boy who just started whining again, because even though he's completely exhausted and more or less asleep, he's also very thirsty.

* * *

Well, that went just about exactly the way I expected. Remember, friends:

"Greater love hath no man than this, that he let himself be covered in the foulness expelled by his offspring." (John 15:13, Revised Parenting Edition)


Harduk The Slayer and the Forest of Doom

An hour later, Harduk crouched in the brush beside a massive tree. A stone's throw away, a wild boar drank at the edge of a narrow stream. Here was water, and proper food; not like the tribbil-fruit he had found earlier. Though considered a delicacy in the nighted city of Ordur, tribbil-fruit was neither large nor filling, and Harduk's belly cried out for something more solid. Could he but catch it, the boar would do nicely.

Drawing his great blade, Harduk considered the tree beside him. Then, with a single blow, he hewed through the trunk. No narrow sapling, this; it was one of the elders of this jungle, grown tall and strong with the passage of centuries. It was no match for the keen edge of Harduk’s blade, however, for Harduk carried Frostblight, the Sword of Chiefs, which was said to hold the battle-rage and bloodlust of all Distractia.

The great tree shivered with the blow, and the boar started. Then the tree creaked and began to fall, and the boar froze in panic at the growing roar of collapsing greenery. Harduk nodded in satisfaction as the ancient trunk dropped squarely onto his prey. The thunder of its impact shook the forest, silencing bird and beast alike for as far as the ear could hear.

The boar, he thought, was now as flat as the wrapping-breads in the marketplaces of the distant city of Schaterdore, where his people sometimes went to trade, when they weren't trying to attack, burn, and loot the place. He needed only to remove the tree and prepare a fire, and he would have his meal.