Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Days of Nano Past 3: Undying 2007

In honor of Nano this year, I'm posting a series of snippets from my past attempts at Nano.  This one is the opening pages from 2007.

 

-=ad=-

 


He stepped onto the mountain top just as the first gleams of sunlight appeared on the horizon.  He had hiked in the dark for nearly five hours to reach this point, to prove to himself that this was the spot he wanted; and for that, he had to see how it looked as the sun rose.  He had barely made it.

Exhausted, he dropped his duffel, collapsed onto a rock, and let his eyes take in the surroundings as the dawn light illuminated them.  There were rocks and boulders galore, with a few patches of snow decorating them, the last survivors of a long, cold winter.  Further, beyond the cliff face, he could see for miles, and there wasn't a single sign of civilization.

A bright flash of color caught his eye.  Not ten feet from where he sat, an early bird of a spring flower had forced it's way through a patch of snow. 

Perfect, he thought, smiling at the bloom.  He closed his eyes, letting his body soak in the dawn light, the spring chill, and the scent of the new flower.  He was content, and in that moment he knew he had made the right decision.

This would be the perfect place to die.

-----

He had found the spot, and now time was short.  There were trips to be made, preparations that had to be in place.  Working his way back down the mountain was much easier in the light.

At the base of the mountain, as far as the road would allow, he had left his pickup truck.  When he reached it, he put the keys on the driver's seat; he wouldn't need it anymore, and whoever found it might have a use for it.  It had served him well for many a journey, and he patted the fender as he walked around it, almost like a cowboy saying goodbye to a tired old horse.

What he needed was the footlocker in the bed of the truck.  Getting it to the top of the mountain was not going to be easy, but it had to be done.  He caught the handle with his right hand, and dragged the box across the bed, almost dropping it on his foot.  No sense smashing it open, he thought.  It had to at least survive the hike.  He avoided using his left hand, and tried to muscle the crate up the path, but barely made it a hundred yards before dropping it in disgust.  At this rate, it would take a week to get it up there.

He sighed heavily, and closed his eyes, as if accepting a monstrous burden...or fighting internal monsters.  He opened his eyes, and stared firmly at the deformed thing that had once been his left hand.  It quivered, spasmed, almost fought.

Reaching down, he grasped the handle of the footlocker again, but with his left hand this time.  Effortlessly, the box came off the ground, and he made his way back up the mountain.


-----

The circle was chalked, though it probably wasn't necessary for this particular ritual.  All of the important magic would be inside his own head.  He placed tall, thick candles all around, wherever he could find a rock to hold them.  They probably wouldn't stay lit if the mountain kicked up even a slight breeze, and he knew that that probably didn't matter either.  Still, it kept him focused on what he was doing, and helped to filter out distractions.

The preparations were done, and the sun was near to setting.  The ceremony itself would involve sitting through the night, mostly silently, waiting for the next--the last--sunrise.  He would have preferred to do it alone, but that wouldn't have been right.  He wasn't even sure if the ceremony would work or not, but even if it would, it still would have been...wrong.  No, he would have company on this long, cold night...and likely unfriendly, unwelcome company at that.

He turned to the footlocker, and kicked the lock open in disgust.  He raised the lid, slowly and carefully, like a snake charmer dealing with an angry cobra, but nothing jumped out, everything was as he had left it.

With a grunt, he toppled the footlocker, scattering the contents across the mountain clearing.  Leather bags, some as small as a baseball, some as large as a grown man's leg, rolled across the ground.  He selected one, righted the footlocker, and emptied the bag on top of it.

The decapitated head that fell from the bag bounced and rolled a bit, and he reached out, and stood it aright.  It sat there, leaning slightly to the right like a drunken sailor, oozing a stain onto the lid of the box.

He gazed at it for a few seconds, and then walked a few feet away.  He settled himself in the dirt, crossing his legs Indian style, and waited.

After just a few moments of silence, the eyes opened in the bodiless head.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Days of Nano Past 2: Tangler 2005

In honor of Nano 2009, here's another snippet, another dream scene from Tangler.

 

-=ad=-


 

...he was sitting in class, and the clock was frozen...fifteen minutes until the end of class, and the clock hand just didn't seem to be moving.




The teacher was droning on in his usual fashion, and Joey was trying desperately to take notes; the teacher was moving much too quickly for him to get everything, but he was at least trying to keep up. "Node line intersections are points of great power," he wrote. "Interstitial connection lines, conversely, are hazardous to traverse."




He let his pen travel across the page on its own, and let his eyes travel to the window. The drone of the teacher's voice faded as he looked out at the sun-swept playground. It would be so much nicer to be there than here, he thought. With a sigh, he turned back to his page.




He looked, but he couldn't find the sentence he had just written. What was on his paper now was "Man, this guy is incredibly boring, I wish he would just shut up."




...it wasn't even in his handwriting...




He reached to tear out the page, get rid of it, start taking notes again, but as he did, a shadow fell across the page.




The teacher was a short, ugly man, with a long face and greasy black hair. He was frowning in quiet fury at what he saw on the page. "Up!" He pointed to the chalkboard, and Joey walked the long trail to the front of the room, passing desk after desk after desk.




His fellow students were all in shadow; there was just the walk down the aisle, only thirty more rows to go. He could hear the tittering and murmuring behind him, though.




He finally got to the front of the room, and turned around, looking at the sea of desks and students he had just swam out of. There were bright lights in his face, so he couldn't see any of the students, but he could hear the teacher's voice above the low grumble of gossiping students.




"Now, Joey," the voice said. "Why don't you tell us the history of the intransigence vector trinomial factor?"




He shielded his eyes from the harsh glare, and tried to see into the gloom. "Huh?" The classroom chatter rose, and the teacher had to raise his voice just to be heard.




"Or can you explain the significance of the frammiz massive..." The rest of the sentence was lost in the noise.




Joey tried harder to pick out the teacher among the shaded ranks of desks, but couldn't find him. Just the mocking, insulting voice. "I'm sorry, I don't understand the question?"




"Of course you don't!" This was a new voice, his father's voice, and it came from the front row. A spotlight picked out his father, calmly sitting in a desk three sizes too small for him. He was glaring at Joey over the top of a newspaper with a headline 'Idiot kid in trouble in class!'




"You don't understand because you're not paying attention," his father continued. "Break out of your stupid fantasy world, and get to living in the here and now."




'But I'm not," Joey cried. "I'm...I..."




"You're goofing off and daydreaming, and I won't stand for it!" He stood up, the desk melting away as he did. Behind him, the teacher stood with a satisfied and triumphant grin on his face. The dark eyes bored into Joey's soul, making him feel small...and defeated.




Joey wanted to run away, to hide, but there was no where to go except back through the sea of desks--and that meant walking past his father and the sadistic teacher. He turned, left to right, left again, looking for a way to get away--and another pair of eyes met his. Sparkling emerald green, in the front row, on the far side of the classroom from his father. There was concern in them, worry; someone in this classroom did care about him.




His father was raging while the teacher egged him on. "Lazy, good for nothing, daydreaming, little..." But Joey didn't look at them...he didn't take his eyes off the green ones locked on his. And then he took a shaky step towards them, towards her, and then another step, and as he walked, she smiled at him.




There was a shriek of noise, "NO!" from the teacher. The world tilted around him, classroom, desks, all crumbling away to nothing. The last thing he remembered was that wonderful smile.




 




Joey sat up in bed, covered in sweat and trying to catch his breath. The dream had left him exhausted, and puzzled; he had never had that sort of dream before. Oh, sure, he had had the occasional 'oops, I went to school naked' dreams, but none of them had held the malevolence of this one. This had felt like a sadistic monster had spent an hour toying with him, like a kid pulling the wings off of butterflies just to watch them squirm. And die.




This wasn't the first bad dream he had had lately, either, he realized. There was a darkness to his dreams that had never been there before. He didn't always remember his dreams...but he remembered the feelings he had from them...and the feeling from this one was not good.




He turned off the alarm clock that was due to go off in twenty minutes, and headed to the bathroom for water. He drank a full glass, and then a second one; he splashed water on his face, and tried to get his heart to quit racing.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Days of Nano Past: Tangler (2005)

In honor of Nano this year, I'd like to offer up a few tidbits...a random sampling of the random dribblings that trickle out of that word-generating subsection of the grey matter in the back of my head. This piece is from the beginning of my very first shot at a Nano challenge.

-=ad=-


There was blood on his knuckles, but not on his face.

The school bully was on the ground in front of him, eye already swollen shut, blood running from his nose and lip and tears streaming from his eyes.

Beyond the bully, Joey's little brother Mick was getting to his feet, brushing the dirt from his clothes and face. He looked up adoringly to his brother. And beyond him--

...beyond him was the green-eyed girl, and the look she gave when their eyes met was electric.

The bully got to hands and knees, and looked up at Joey with raw, undisguised hatred. His face was long and narrow, with thin lips below ice-grey eyes and greasy curly black hair. He got to one foot, and Joey put his hands on his hips, ready to square off for round two.

The bully opened his mouth to hurl some insults--the normal retreat of a defeated bully--but what came out of his mouth wasn't a voice. It was a shrill, high-pitched buzz, getting steadily louder and more annoying...

Joey smacked the alarm clock in disgust. It took three whacks to finally hit the snooze button, and he angrily rolled away from it in the dark, burrowing into the covers.

Why did he have to wake up anyway?

He tried to return to the dream...tried to find his way back to the ugly bully...and the green-eyed girl...and failed miserably. That was the problem with dreams...they only seemed to come when they wanted, not when he wanted.

The alarm went off again--was it actually louder and more obnoxious this time, or was that his imagination?--and he hit the snooze button...a bit less forcefully and a bit more resigned to the inevitable.

He lay there in the dark, staring at the ceiling, as the pre-dawn light slowly lit up the room. He was mostly covered by the ugly checked bedspread knitted for him by his aunt.

Above, more than a dozen airplane and starship models hung from lines attached to the ceiling. Some were even shooting at each other, with red and yellow yarn playing the part of tracer rounds and laser beam fire. Many of the models showed extensive battle damage...or, rather, many of them had been used as toys, and broken, before Joey's father came up with the idea of hanging them out of reach. He had gotten tired of gluing small parts back onto them when they broke. So, as they went up, Joey and Mick had painted red and black combat scars on the worst breaks, and even had two going "down in flames" with a wing hanging from a second thread. It had seemed really cool to look at three months ago, but now, he just missed their mock dogfights, chasing each other and screaming sound effects, even if it did leave sharp plastic booby-traps in the living room carpet for his parents to find.

Now it was bright enough to see the poster on the far wall, past his feet, just to the left of the window. It was a cute, cuddly kitten, dangling from a branch by its paws, with the old familiar "Hang in There!" caption at the bottom. That was his mother's contribution to the room's decor. He had much preferred his older poster--the cutaway view of a starship, showing the decks and levels and stations and their scale--but his mother, following the advice of some book supposedly written by some child psychiatrist, had found the humor and cuteness to be more "inspirational" somehow.

He thought a starship, and the idea of unlimited travel that a starship implied, was a lot more inspirational than some kitten that was too stupid to let go and drop the three feet to the ground. He stuck his tongue out at the poster, as he had done every morning for the last month.

The sun peeked over the horizon, spilling golden light across the sky and into his room...and his eyes. He flinched away from the brightness, squinting his eyes shut until they adjusted to the light. He had to blink a dozen painful times until it was bearable.

He stuck his tongue out at the sun, too, just on general principles.

The alarm went off again, and this time, he fumbled around and shut it off. He hopped out of bed, slipped on his glasses from the nightstand, found his slippers under the edge of the bed, pulled the blankets up into a semblance of a "made" bed, and headed off for the bathroom.

The glare from the lights over the sink was even worse than the rising sun, and he frowned painfully at them. Then he looked down into the sink, to avoid looking in the mirror. He brushed his teeth that way, and tried to run a comb through his hair without looking, too, but he couldn't do it. He finally gave in to the inevitable, and looked in the mirror.

The shiner was a glaring ugly purple, with the eye not quite swollen shut. The lip wasn't fat anymore, but there was a major scab where it had been cut.

At least the nosebleed hadn't lasted too long.

He hadn't yet decided which was worse; the fact that Eddie, the school bully, had decided to beat him up, or that Mick had come to the rescue. Mick--big for his age, almost as big as Joey. Mick, the athlete and brain and over-achiever...where Joey was the skinny dreamer, more interested in a book than a ball.

He finished combing his hair, and went back to his room to get dressed.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Nicky Weird: Harvest Moon

This is an entry into this week's Friday Challenge, which can be found here. I've written about Nicky Weird before. The challenge for this week? Write the Climactic Battle scene.



Xarathon's rage grew as he stalked the halls of the abandoned high school, eight lesser vampires surrounding him.

It's the Harvest Moon, he thought savagely, one of the most magically potent nights of the year. I should be sacrificing virgins, not hunting children. Indeed, it was forty years to the day since the Harvest Moon where he had cursed the entire Earth, covering up the appearance of vampires and magic once and for all. He should be ripping the still-beating heart from the chest of the leader of these savages, that Nicky woman, not wasting his time looking in closets and stalking empty corridors.

Up ahead, movement, a fleeting blur as a teenager dashed across the lobby and into the gymnasium. With snarls of impatience, his troops dashed ahead, pursuing the youngster through the open doors and onto the hardwood floor.

When they reached the mid-court line, hundred of water balloons fell from the ceiling. He had hung back, suspicious of a trap; four of his troops were hit and soaked. One other was fast enough to avoid all but a few splashes.

There were no children in the gymnasium, though, and the far doors were locked. The vampires stumbled sheepishly back out into the lobby.

"These children have never gone to such lengths before," Xarathon growled. "What are they up to?"

Vincent shrugged, absent-mindedly scratching at his face. His talon came away dripping blood, and the vampire stared at his hand, mystified. Small sparks began shooting off from his skin, and he screamed in terror.

Silver.

In moments, Vincent's body was engulfed in flames, and Xarathon backed away from the inferno. Hector ran screaming down the hallway, erupting into a fireball outside the principal's office and collapsing into ash. The other two who had been soaked by the balloons caught fire and collapsed as well.

One trap had cut his forces in half.

These children had figured out how to dissolve silver in water!

"Get them!"


Nicky outlined the chalk circle and sprinkled it with salt and other powders. Just outside of the circle was the stool upon which the statue stood. The hole in the ceiling would bring the moonlight onto the statue shortly, and she needed to have read from the scroll by then.

She hoped the rest of the team was all right. Mitch would have said "it's for the greater good, and they know what they're sacrificing themselves for," but that didn't make things any easier. The counter-curse had to be cast here, where the original spell had been cast, and the vampires had to be kept busy while she did it.

Nicky didn't have much time, she knew. The vampires could get bored of the game and come home before she was done. She could mis-read a magical word, and totally hose the spell.
...or she could fall victim to it.

She was 17, a year past the point when most other Guardians had lost the ability to see vampires and magic. Nicky knew she was living on borrowed time, and often caught herself daydreaming of things that just were not in character for her.

All of the preparations were complete. She lit the tall black candles, and began to read the words of a long-dead necromancer.

She didn't--couldn't--sense the other presence in the room, an intangible sentry-spirit whose mission it was to prevent just what she was doing. It wasn't corporeal, could not harm her or even communicate with her. The master must be informed, it thought, and left it's post for the first time in forty years.


This has got to be a diversion, Xarathon thought.

Another of his troops had fallen to the children's traps, though three of the children hadn't run fast enough and were now nothing more than bloody smears on the floors and walls of the cafeteria. Ahead, a horrible racket was coming from the band room, but the vampires were wary of stepping through the doors.

"Get in there!" he growled, shoving them through the doors, and then stepping through himself.

The children had piled chairs and instruments all around the room, forming a maze. The low ceiling kept the vampires from leaping over the walls of brass and wood.

A boy, no older than 14, stepped out from behind the mess and hurled a water balloon. It splashed harmlessly off the door, and Bruce took off after the kid--who disappeared into the maze before the balloon even hit.

There was a scream. Bruce staggered back, holding his head in his hands; he actually made it three steps before collapsing into dust. Xarathon walked forward a few steps, and found the piano wire stretched across the maze. In the dimly lit room, there could be hundreds of these little tricks.

Only two minions left, and they headed for the exit as a rain of water balloons flew over the maze. He went out with them.

Master, came the tickling at his ear, She is here.

It was a diversion. The children were supposed to keep him occupied while the girl did something.

She has the figure, the voice continued, and he screamed in rage. He grabbed Mendoza, the smarter of the two surviving vampires, and shoved him against the wall.

"I don't care if you need to burn this hell-hole to the ground," he said, teeth clenched. "Get the rest of the pack here, now. No one gets out of here alive."

Then he was gone.


Mitch turned to Steve, sitting in a closet near the principal's office. He was listening to a headset plugged into the school intercom system. "Someone get on the phone to Nicky, and tell her she's got company coming. And there are more vamps on their way, so everyone get ready."



Nicky stood in her circle, waiting. The spell had been read. Hopefully she hadn't screwed it up.

She needed to wait until the light from the moon shone full on the statue, and then she could finish the spell. She stood, silently, impatiently, absently swinging a stake.

Shouldn't you be doing something else, came a whisper in her ear. As a matter of fact, there was something else, wasn't there...? She looked at the stake in her hand, but it wasn't a stake, it was a tennis racket.

That's what she had forgotten, today was her tennis lesson.

She gave the racket a few practice swings, and spun it around her finger. Yeah, that's what she needed, go whack a couple of balls over the net, burn off this frustration over...over...what had she been frustrated and impatient with, just moments ago...? Her brain was fuzzy, she was supposed to be doing something, not thinking about tennis...

She looked closely at the racket, and noticed the logo--a golden hand holding a tennis racket.

A tear rolled slowly down her cheek. Arik, she thought. How could I forget Arik?

She spun the tennis racket a few more times, and then reversed it in her hand.

Then she jammed it backwards, under her left arm, outside the circle--below the spot from whence the whisper had come. The shriek of pain and terror told her she had hit her target.

Xarathon staggered back two steps, screaming. The stake had been perfectly on target; he was dying. He could feel his insides filling with sand and dust. But thirteen hundred years of evil wouldn't die in an instant. He could still keep her from breaking the spell. He reached through the circle at her, felt his arm catch fire for breaking the protective barrier, caught her shirt in his decaying talons, dragged her away from the statue.

"You won't break the curse!" he spat, as the moonlight fell on the horrific little statue. She fought, struggled, tried to get away--and then froze. He had her! It was time and she was too far away!

She reached under her shirt, pulled off a pendant, and held it up--a feather, five inches long, solid gold. "This is for you, Arik," she whispered. She threw it, knife-style, at the figurine, while he screamed in impotent anger.

The heavy feather caught the statue high, knocking it off balance. It wobbled, rocked, finally toppled off the stool.

His last sight, as he crumbled into dust, was the statue shattering into a million pieces too.


Nicky stepped carefully out of the crypt, and made her way through the quiet streets back to the school. She was amazed at what she saw when she arrived.

The school principal, two teachers, and seven parents were taking on a vampire on the front lawn.

Mitch was standing on the statue in the front of the school, shouting orders, and amazingly enough, the adults were actually listening to him. Clumps of adults were taking down vampires all around the school grounds. Steve was helpfully and cheerfully handing out stakes, spears, and crossbows from the tailgate of his family's station wagon.

Mitch jumped down to stand next to her. "Not bad, for a girl," he said.

They watched the chaos in silence for a few minutes. "So, what now?"

"I don't know about you," she said, "but I know what I'm doing."

She turned her back on the adults and vampires, and walked home. There was no one there; odds are her parents and brother were out stomping vampires now too. She ignored the empty house, went straight up the steps, and slammed the door behind her.

Several minutes later, the door opened again, for just a moment. When it closed, there was a sign hanging on it, freshly painted in fingernail polish the color of blood, some of the letters dripping slightly.

It said Getting caught up on sleep for the next week. If you wake me up for anything less than the end of the world, you're risking instant painful death. Consider yourself warned.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vaccine Russian Roulette

Very often, I seem to be catching flack from people who disagree with my opinions on vaccinating my kids. 

 

The school seems to think I'm exposing my kids to dangerous germs.  Other parents believe that by not vaccinating my kids I'm somehow endangering theirs--an argument that makes absolutely no sense, because if the vaccine works, and their kids are vaccinated, then vaccinating my kids would be completely irrelevant to the health of theirs.

 

Granted, there are quite a few disagreements over certain vaccines and their effects on people:

 

1.  Thimerasol (mercury):  Depending on who you ask, this is either a deadly toxin or "such a small dose as to be absolutely harmless."  Many parents blame this additive for autism.  I'm not taking sides in this debate, but I have a problem with injecting any amount of mercury into a child's body for any reason whatsoever.

 

2.  Side effects (Swine Flu, 1976):  How do you ensure that the vaccine you're providing doesn't kill more people than the disease it's supposed to be effective against? 

 

3.  Contaminants (Monkey virus in the Polio vaccine):  What do you do when you discover--years after the vaccination--that it contained a virus or other contamination, and that you've exposed fifty million Americans to a substance that causes cancer?

 

4.  Profit margin (Gardasil):  I have a philosophical/moral/libertarian problem with government passing a law that requires citizens to buy a product from a company.  Whether the vaccine works or not, ordering people to boost the vaccine maker's profit margin seems like a basic misuse of the law.

 

5.  Risks versus Benefits:  There have been 1500 cases of polio, annually, worldwide, and the WHO calls the entire Western Hemisphere "Polio Free."  Every case of polio in the United States over the last twenty years is directly related to the polio vaccine itself.  90% of the people infected with polio brush it off like a case of the flu, and nearly 98% of the people infected with polio have a full and complete recovery.  Do the dangers of the vaccine--five different doses for kids before they turn 12--outweigh the risks of even being exposed to the disease, let alone being harmed by it?  The mortality rates for flu, measles, whooping cough, and chicken pox are negligible; are the side effects from the vaccinations worth it?

 

6.  Expiration dates on vaccination immunity:  The vast majority of the vaccinations children receive provide only temporary immunity.  Only Tetanus antibodies survive in the body for thirty or forty years.  The Hepatitis B shot?  Gone in 7 to 12 years, at most. 

 

7.  Can we compare against non-vaccinated kids?  For example, the Amish don't vaccinate, and strangely enough, there are no recorded cases of autism in Amish communities.  And Dr. Eisenstein, a Chicago pediatrician, doesn't believe in vaccinations--and the 35,000 kids who have moved through his practice have remarkably low statistics when it comes to autism, asthma, diabetes, and other problems.

 

I'm sure other people can easily add to this quick list if they wished.  But these are all side issues that don't touch on my real opposition to the concept of vaccination in and of itself.

 

Basic biology says that the heart pumps blood into the arteries; they carry it to the capillaries, which then feed the cells they touch with the oxygen in the red blood cells before sending the empties back up the veins.  Capillaries in general are barely big enough to allow red blood cells to march through in single file.  Call it a blood-cell bucket brigade to the cells.

 

A vaccination is meant to kick the body's immune system into overdrive--crank up white blood cell production, and "program" the body to recognize this particular virus and attack it with massive force, should it ever be encountered again.  The needle contains millions or even billions of virus particles for the body to identify and destroy.

 

Here is a question, then.  What would happen if the body ordered five hundred white blood cells to pursue a microbe into a capillary?

 

After the first dozen or so arrive, stuffing themselves like marshmallows into a garden hose, nothing else gets through.  And after a very short while, whatever was supposed to be fed by that capillary...dies.

 

Now, granted, this might only be a handful of cells fed by this one capillary, and there are billions of capillaries.  But at the same time, there are billions of virus particles in one injection; how many of those actually make it down to the capillaries?  Two?  Two hundred?  More?

 

Perhaps the cells that die are the brain cells that would allow this person to learn to play Mozart.  Or perhaps they are the ones that allow a kid to sit still and pay attention in class.  What if those cells are involved in the processing of Vitamin D or insulin?

 

I will fully accept the risk that my child might spend a week in bed with measles--in return for their ability to learn to play Mozart.  I would much rather risk exposing my child to chicken pox than chance destroying some critical cell in their body and ruining their future.

 

Every virus particle is a microscopic bullet, with the potential to kill something small but critically important in the body into which it's injected.

 

There are billions of these bullets in every needle.

 

And the average child gets, what, fifty needles before they turn 12...?

 

 

For more information, read the work of Drs. Andrew Moulden, Mayer Eisenstein, and Shari Tenpenny

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nicky Weird's Summer Vacation

Note: This is an entry into this week's Friday Challenge. The assignment: "What I Did on my Summer Vacation only make up something cool."

----------

Thirty years ago, an evil sorcerer cast a spell on the Earth. Under it's influence, humans can no longer recognize magic; vampire slayings become "teen runaways," magical storms and disasters are "freak unseasonal storms." Even history isn't immune; show a human a picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with the wizard robes and auto-writing quills moving, and they'll see a bunch of stuffy white men in the style of the 1700s standing around, powdered wigs and all.

Magic just doesn't register on human senses, and even if it does, it's instantly rationalized away.

But there was a glitch in the spell, a mis-spoken word in a long forgotten language...a loophole, if you will, in a spell that was supposed to be eternal law.

The spell only works on adults.

And so, the future of the world lies in the hands of children, like Nicky Ward, who try to fight the demons and vampires as best they can, hoping that some day, the spell will break...


Dear Mom and Dad,

...yeah, I know, when you read this, you'll see "I'm having a lot of fun on my summer vacation!" instead of what I'm really writing...

I'm really glad you agreed to let me come down to Florida with my Guardian group--um, I mean, my "church youth group." The bus ride down was nice and quiet; we had a close pass from a Kansas storm demon. The bus driver called it a small tornado, and we parked under an overpass until it went by. Good thing storm demons are stupid.

Once we got here, we hooked up with the local Guardian club, and started sharing notes. That's really big with the Guardians, you know. When you're twelve and decide to hunt vampires for a living, you've got a life expectancy of maybe six months. If we didn't get to be neurotic about writing down everything we know and sharing copies with everyone we know, then no one would remember how to go about killing vampires and demons, you know?

So, once all the braindraining was out of the way, we helped the local group clear out a vampire nest in the swamp. Bright sunshine, couple of kids go inside and make sure the coffins are full while the rest of the team pours gasoline on the outside...if you're really lucky, the coffins are bonfires before the bloodsuckers are done wiping the sleep out of their eyes...

...we weren't lucky. We lost two, both local kids, and they said we burned up at least six or seven vampires when the plantation went up. Some people might be happy with those numbers, but they can crank out new vampires by just biting someone, and we have to teach even more kids everything we know about staying alive...doesn't seem like a fair trade to me.

After that, we celebrated with carbonated cider, if you can call it a celebration and not a wake.

We spent the next two weeks researching some pretty gruesome murders. Finally, Jim hit on it; it was some kind of possessed-alligator-half-human-half-swamp monster...thing. Dunno, we never really had a name for it. It had an appetite for small pets, but when the supply of Yorkiesnacks ran out, it moved on to the main course--people.

We cornered it in an old warehouse downtown, and Jim hit it with a de-possession spell he found a couple of months ago. It worked; the thing turned into a two-foot long normal alligator, except that it was purple, and one of the local kids was going to keep it as a pet. At least we didn't lose anyone this time, though Bobby will be bringing home a big ugly scar on his leg.

Unfortunately, Jim messed up the spell, and his hair turned white. You get that when you try to do magic without years and years of training. He told me about a friend of his last year who tried to use a spell to burn up a trio of bloodsuckers--but stumbled over one of the magic words and melted into a puddle of goo, instead.

Jim said the worst part was hearing the voice from the bucket when they took the goo back to HQ, but I don't know if he was kidding or not. Jim's like that.
Anyway...

Tomorrow, we're going to try to chase down a possible were-something or other near Miami Beach. The adults think we're doing a community service project, and we're actually going to do some painting on an old house as a cover while Mitch sets up his wolfsbane trap.

Tonight, though, we're going to try to have a barbecue on the beach, if the storm demons will leave us alone. Seems like the hurricanes move in every time we light the bonfire.

We'll be hopping on the bus to head home in time for school next weekend, and I'll see you then.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that last sentence is probably the only one that will get through to your brain...that's okay, though.

Your daughter...

Nicky



Okay, a quick overview/introduction on this one.

I'm fascinated by this character because she defines herself.

I came up with this ridiculous, bizarre, black-humor story, "The Night of the Inflateables," where a kid's Halloween/birthday wish turns balloon animals in a mall into vicious monsters. The lead character, Nicky Ward, sets out to protect the people and kill the balloons; the fight spills out into the mall parking lot, where the inflated Sumo wrestler in front of the auto dealer next to the mall is wreaking havoc in the parking lot...

I hadn't even finished my notes for the story when the character of Nicky started letting me know who she was. And the one biggest character trait...was *jaded*. She's thirteen years old, but talks and acts like she's been doing this for a really long time. That one factoid led into the definition of the world she lives in--and sparked the ideas for more than a dozen (so far) short stories, chronicling her life from about age 10 to 18. Three stories are half done, some of the rest are nothing more than one-sentence ideas; I've also got notes on at least a half-dozen supporting characters...

So, when Bruce asked for "what did you do on your summer vacation," my brain threw a "...Nicky Weird?" on the end of the sentence, and this is what came out.


-=ad=-

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Ten Thousand Nickel Challenge

It's all Jerri's fault.

Jerri read something I wrote , and declared "I'm impressed. You can write funny; I can't do that."

Now, Jerri is a "real" writer, with over a dozen tech books under her belt; I'm strictly amateur, with a handful of unpublished and mostly unread short stories and poems. To have impressed someone I admire as much as Jerri had an impact on me.

Thus was NickelAtATime born.

The concept is simple (and right there in the EULA, and everyone reads those, right...?). If you laugh at a joke, you pull up your Paypal account and send in a nickel. You can send more if you like, but the MSRP of these jokes is exactly five cents. It started out as a mailing list, but the job I was working at the time went away shortly after I sent out the first issue, and it...kinda died. Once life stabilized again, I turned it into a blog, and lately, I've been trying to bring it completely to life--and pack it full of fun and humor.

Why am I writing about another blog here on my fiction and photography blog? Easy. I'm trying to replace my broken camera. The one I want is still a ways away, and I'm asking for your help in getting there. Besides the Redbubble pictures that are up for sale, I'm also posting jokes and pictures to NickelAtATime, and many of those will be going up on CafePress as well. And with the economy the way it is, I figure not everyone will want to spend "the big bucks" on a photo print or poster...but I figure everyone can spare a few nickels here and there.

How many nickels do I need to get the camera I want...?

Um...well...

Ten thousand.

(Why am I having Star Wars flashbacks here...? "All in advance.")

Yes, between the money I've got stashed away, and the Redbubble sales I've had so far, and the nickels I've pulled in, I'm about ten thousand nickels away from my new camera. So, I would like to invite everyone I know, to invite everyone they know, and stop by NickelAtATime, pull up a rock, and (hopefully) have a good laugh.

And if you DO have a good laugh...kick in your nickel. Comments and criticisms are, of course, always welcome.

Thank you for your time.

See you in the funny papers!

-=ad=-

Friday, September 04, 2009

Southern Knights Rocks!

Note: This is an entry in The Friday Challenge, which can be found here. This week's challenge? Explain how Hollywood would screw up a perfectly good comic book--the independent Southern Knights.

-=ad=-


Nickolas Geekzinski, NYT Movie Critic

Southern Knights Rocks.
Honestly, I can't say it any clearer than that. From the opening scene with the giant robots, to the final fight featuring magical lighting against superhero lightning, this movie keeps you on the edge of your seat. I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but there are so many cool things to say about this cool movie that some things are just going to leak out.
Whenever you take a book or comic book to the screen, there's a lot of baggage that comes with. Superhero movies have to acknowledge the things that came before. One of the funniest quotes in movies comes from Scott Summers/Cyclops in the first X-Men movie: "Would you prefer yellow spandex?" For a new Superman or Batman movie, there are years upon years of baggage to take into account, and a thousand nitpicking little details that the rabid fans of those franchises want to see. That's why the first words Superman speaks to Lois in "Superman Returns" are the same as the first line he says to her in the original "Superman: The Movie."
However...if you build your movie from something that doesn't have all that baggage--say, a lesser-known comic book, with a much smaller legion of rabid fans--then you have the chance to create your own baggage, and define these characters anew. So, let's take a look at the characters.
David Shenk/Electrode: The leader of the team, played to brooding perfection by Chris Pine, fresh from Trek. The comical moment where he works out a battle plan, calls out instructions to his teammates--and then watches them totally ignore his plan and rush off to do their own thing--is absolutely priceless.
Connie Ronnin: Rumor has it Paris Hilton offered to finance the movie for a shot at this role, but fortunately, it fell to Summer Glau instead. The intensity she brings to the role is astounding. It must have taken weeks of fencing practice to make her look that good.
Dragon: The one piece missing from the film is some kind of backstory on a man who can change into a dragon. I mean, did Shia Lebouf just suddenly wake up one morning and realize he could change into a dragon? And what's with all the anachronistic speech--he sounds like he learned to talk by watching Masterpiece Theater, for crying out loud.
Kristin Austin: This is the role every comic book fan knows about--because of Jessica Simpson storming off the set halfway through production. Scrambling for a last-minute replacement, all of her scenes were re-shot with Hayden Panattiere in record time.
Brian Daniels: And the show-stealer of the year award goes to...Jeff Foxworthy, for his portrayal of the robot-suit wearing comedy sidekick of the team. Purists may complain about the amount of screen time granted to what was essentially a minor character in the comic book, but his sub-plot--featuring him losing everything to his ex-wife (played to shrewish perfection by Drew Barrymore), then the commiserating drinking party with Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy, and finally figuring out the answer to all his problems--all of these things made the movie. And the final fight, seeing his battle suit covered with more corporate sponsor stickers than the average Nascar vehicle, just brought everything together.
And finally, Morrigan, the villain. Other reviewers have already sung her praises, so I don't need to go into any more depth here. Suffice it to say it's terrific to see a true, villainous villainESS for a change.
The action was stupendous; not even Michael Bey could have done it better. The robot battle at the beginning which totally destroyed the freeway into Atlanta? For the first time, really, audiences get a glimpse into just how much collateral damage superhero combat entails.
And it's really rare to see a superhero movie with as much humor. Having Kristin join the rednecks at the bar was a stroke of genius, and the barroom brawl to follow--while predictable, "when there's a scene in a bar, there will be a fight"--was one of the coolest scenes in the movie, as Kristin spun at least a dozen drunken men through the nearest available window...or wall...without once spilling her drink. The sex scene that followed, when she rushed off drunk into Dragon's apartment, was more touching and warm than even the one in Watchmen.
There are nitpicks, of course; you can't film a superhero movie without them. Why Connie's psychic lightsaber could cut through some things and not others is one. And Morrigan's lightning bolts--why didn't they short out Brian's sticker-encrusted battlesuit at the end of the movie, the way it did at the beginning when the enemy robot dropped power cables on it? Did the stickers give it protection against magical lightning or something?
All I've got to say is this. The Southern Knights movie may not have been true to the word of the original comic, but with the massive injection of Southern humor, it was very true to the spirit of the original, and adds a whole new chapter to what will eventually become a dynasty of...
...hey, what are you doing in here? Aren't you the guy who invented the Southern Knights? What do you think you're doing with that butter knife...?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

July 4, 2049: The Days


This is an entry into this week's Friday Challenge, which can be found
here. The challenge: Look back from the year 2049, and figure out what's being celebrated on July 4.


"Grampa! Grampa! Did you see the fireworks?"

The old man bent down, and handily scooped up his youngest grandson. "You bet I did. Were they good?"

"They were cool!" The boy hopped down, and ran off to get munchies. "Gramma! Gramma!"

"Pop," James said, "Jim's got a report coming up. July 4 essay. He's got all the ancient history in there, but the tutor wants him to cover the Days, too. Think you can help him out?"

"I'd be glad to. Where's he at?"

"Stuffing his face, where else...?"


An hour later, a well-fed child and his equally well-fed grandfather sat across from each other in the big overstuffed chairs by the fireplace. A video fire burned on the overlay screen, for the cheery appearance without the heat. The screen would roll down into the floor in winter when the heat would be welcome.

"So, your dad wants me to tell you about the Days, is that it?"

"Yeah. I know from my reading that the people got tired of the government, but they don't go into much detail..." The boy's voice faded off.

"I'm not surprised," the man said. "History books have a bad habit of expecting you to already know some things and glossing over some others. Tell me what you know so far."

"Well...after 2000, the government was getting big and scary--not like now, when the whole government is a hundred people. Some people were actually afraid of the government."

"And with good reason," Grampa added. "Here's what happened. After 2000, the government decided it was going to get a lot bigger a lot faster. They kept people afraid as much as they could. That way, people would be too busy being afraid to notice how big the government got--and the people who complained, well, then they could just say 'we need this to protect you.' But everyone was afraid, and everyone was upset with the government, and all it took to set off the Days was a spark."

Jim grabbed his notepad and stylus, and started taking notes furiously. The notepad would grab an audio capture, of course, but he was highlighting the important parts.

"The men in charge of the government started passing lots and lots of new laws. 'You're not allowed to own this,' they would say. 'You're not allowed to eat that.' They kept taking more and more power from the people and kept it for themselves, and the people were so afraid that they just sorta went along with it. Even when the government said 'no one is allowed to own guns,' most of the people grumbled and complained and went along with it. It just wasn't big enough to set off the spark."

"Well, something must have set it off," the boy asked, glancing up from his pad.

"You'd be surprised what sparks things sometimes," he said. "And that's probably why it got left out of your history book. The spark that set off the Days...was a television show. National Idol, where people would compete to see who was the best singer. That year, right from the beginning, everyone knew it was either going to be Nikto, or Barada, right from the beginning.

"When it came down to the finale, one of the judges was out sick--and the vote was a tie. I mean, two judges each in the studio, AND the call-in voting from around the country was dead even, too. They did a recount, and came up with a tie. It became this national feud--you were either for Nikto, or you were for Barada. There was a no-ties-allowed clause in the Idol contract, and the show couldn't figure out how to break the tie."

Grampa let out a huge sigh. "Lots of people wanted to give it to Barada. He was this black kid from the East Coast, single father with a cute little kid at home. But just as many thought that Nikto should win, because she was an Asian from California. The feud went on long enough that the government decided to step in."

"It was a TV show, Grampa. What does the government have to do with TV?"

"Good point, and you already understand. See, there was this one Senator who was running for election that year. In one of his speeches, he said something about 'passing a law that gives the Idol win to Barada, where it should be.' As he was getting ready to leave, his microphone was turned back on accidentally, and the audience heard him mumble something about "bumpkins and rubes" under his breath. People started talking, and before you knew it, someone had posted to Youtube where he had given the same speech the day before--rooting for Nikto!"

"He didn't care what the people really wanted?"

"That's right. Government doesn't care what people want. The people in government just want more power." Grampa sat back in his chair with a smile. "Anyway, that was the spark. People who normally sat around watching TV suddenly sat up and realized that their government didn't care a whit about what they wanted, or thought, or needed. Enough people finally woke up. The government tried to quiet things down, but they didn't understand what they were dealing with. They still thought they were dealing with a National Idol feud, and tried to get the two into the Supreme Court to settle things. But that only made things worse, because a hundred thousand protestors gathered outside complaining about how the government was trying to meddle with things they shouldn't. And once enough people realized that that's all government does, well, everyone sorta...quit listening to the government. There were...riots. The government tried to call out the military, but a bunch of the soldiers agreed with the people and not the government.

"Finally, things started quieting down when a new president was in charge. He at least understood what the people were upset about, and he set out to repeal a bunch of the laws that had everyone mad. And when enough people called for a new Constitutional Convention, we got a new government. One Senator per state, one representative per 10 million people, only specific things the government can pass laws about, and any law can be vetoed by a national referendum vote among the people."

"My instructor says this will only hold back the government for a few years, they'll find ways around it."

Grampa chuckled. "You've got a good teacher. Yes, governments always find ways around their limits."

"So...what happened to Barada and Nikto?"

"They agreed to split the difference. Barada took the official win and the prize money, Nikto got the recording contract, they both retired with more money than they could ever spend."

"Thanks, Grampa! I think I've got everything I need now."

Friday, July 03, 2009

Three Movie Trailers

Please note that this is NOT an entry into the Friday Challenge, which can be found Here. Due to the demons of Otogu (that's "other things of greater urgency"), this entry is well over twelve hours past the deadline, so it is not eligible for this week's Challenge. However...that's not an excuse to not share it.


Trailer One:

Camera pans across Italian countryside, with voice-over, "...in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, two star-crossed lovers..."

Sunset, with camera pausing on Italian village. Sunset. Fade to black. Text: "The legendary love story, retold..."

Fade in on brick wall. Voice-over screams. Blood sprays across the wall.

Text: "...with a modern twist."

Juliet is in the tub in her chambers, with bubbles all around. She's speaking to the nurse, behind her, across the room and over her shoulder. The nurse has her back to both Juliet and the camera.

Juliet: ad-libbing, and ending with "...so, how do you know when it really is love?"

While she talks, the camera pans across the room, and the nurse's face slowly drifts into focus in the mirror. She has a zombie face, with steel gray eyes and skin missing, and she's gnawing on a woman's severed hand.

Cut to: Swordfight, Romeo vs. Tybalt. Romeo lops off Tybalt's arm.

Romeo: "Tybalt, how many times do I have to kill you?"

Cut to: Juliet, trying to get away from the zombies. She appears cornered, swinging a torch.

Juliet: "Where the hell are you, Romeo?!?"

Black screen with text: Megan Fox as Juliet

Cut to: Romeo and Juliet vs. Zombie. Juliet chops off the head of a zombie while Romeo stares open-mouthed.

Juliet: "What, you think I'm just going to stand around and be eaten waiting for you to finally show up and rescue me?

Black screen with text: Nicholas Brendan as Romeo

Cut to: Romeo and Juliet on the run from zombies, pausing to catch their breath.

Romeo: "One hell of a first date, huh?"

Black screen with text: Michael Clarke Duncan as Tybalt

Cut to: Big terrifying zombie face smile.

Black screen with text: And featuring Bruce Campbell as the King of the Zombies

A film by Quentin Tarantino

Romeo and Juliet and Zombies



Trailer Two:

Black screen with text: Prophecy and Ambition are a bad combination, but when you add in zombies...

Cut to: Macbeth's chambers.

Lady Macbeth: "I'd have done it myself, if he hadn't looked so much like my father while he slept."

Macbeth walks in, blood on his hands.

Macbeth: "It's done."

Lady Macbeth stares in terror as a dark figure comes stumbling into the room behind Macbeth.

Cut to: Macbeth with the Witches

Witch: "You shall be King, until the very dead of Birnam do rise and march on Dunsinane."

Cut to: Zombies crawling out of the ground, working their way towards the castle.

Cut to: Macbeth, on a balcony. Camera rises behind him so the audience can see what he sees--thousands of zombies like a scene from Lord of the Rings moving in his direction.

Cut to: Lackey reporting Lady Macbeth's death.

Lackey: "Highness! Lady Macbeth has killed hers--"

The rest of the line is cut off as Zombie Lady Macbeth rips the lackey's head off.

Black screen with text: Jack Black, as Macbeth

Cut to: Macbeth vs Macduff

Macbeth: "How many times do I have to kill you, Macduff?" Plunges his sword through Macduff's chest and out the back.

Black screen with text: Gwyneth Paltrow as Lady Macbeth

Cut to: Zombie Lady Macbeth

Zombie grin close-up, while she licks blood and gore from her fingers.

Black screen with text: And Bruce Campbell as the King of the Zombies

A film by Don Coscarelli

Macbeth versus the Undead


Trailer Three:

Camera pans across flowers, with voiceover: "A new version of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew."

Quick scenes, each a few seconds long, depicting scenes from the play.

--"Bianca can't wed until Katherine does."
--Petruchio boasting that he can tame her.
--Petruchio blowing a trumpet over Kate's bed.
--Petruchio, ripping an incredibly expensive dress off of Kate's body.

Cut to: Petruchio, at the end of the play, declaring that he has completely tamed Kate.

Petruchio: "We'll each send a messenger for our wives, and whichever bride arrives first will win the wager."

Camera follows Kate as she walks up behind Petruchio. The other wedding guests see her and run in horror. Petruchio starts talking before he turns around.

Petruchio: "How many times do I have to--"

Petruchio screams in terror as the zombie Kate attacks him.

Black screen with text: Hayden Panattiere as Bianca

Cut to: Bianca, looking at the camera with her head tilted to one side and a bright and cheerful smile on her face. With it is a smear of blood, and blood is trickling out of her mouth.

Black screen with text: Jennifer Aniston as Kate

Cut to: Kate, zombie, with an evil grin on her face, shaking a severed hand at the camera.

Black screen with text: and Bruce Campbell as Petruchio

Cut to: Petruchio screaming in terror as Kate bites his hand off.

Black screen with text: A film by Ron Howard

The Taming of the Zombie



Shakespeare...And Zombies


Coming next summer




-=ad=-

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wizard and Wing - Hatchling

Note: This story is an entry into this week's Friday Challenge, which can be found here. The challenge: Get the fifth chapter out of the way--after your world has been defined, your major characters introduced, the basics of the general plot laid out--you know, all that stuff that gets rewritten and thrown out sixteen times before you actually get on with the actual story. So, we join our plotline, already in progress...


Trage settled into his new home.

He had no idea if he was doing the same thing that other wizard's apprentices did. His duties mostly involved cleaning up after the wizard and his friends. He cleaned up after the animals, swept out the house, and cleaned and dusted the entire place, every day. Most days, the wizard sat in his room, poring over books and carrying on odd and mysterious experiments. There were strange-shaped boxes and other things stacked in one corner, and every time he dusted them, he noticed Midge was right there watching.

The wizard had caught him trying to steal something, so obviously this was a trial period to see if he really could be trusted or not. He set out to prove himself by doing the best he could, without a complaint.

His days settled into a kind of routine.

In the morning, breakfast. Eggs for the humans, fruit and vegetables for the lizard, and whatever animal the bird brought back for herself. Sometimes she only ate a little bit of a large rabbit, and Trage would take the rest to put in stew for the evening. Dishes, dusting, then lunch, which seemed to be more of an "eat if you're hungry" break than an actual meal. After lunch, sweeping, and any specific projects the wizard set him to do. After dinner, the wizard went back to study his books by candle light, and Trage was left to himself.

One evening, the wizard walked out of his study, and heard Trage halfway through a lesson. "Mack..."

"Silent 'E'," Midge said.

"Oh," Trage answered. "Make?" That got him a nod of approval from Beck.

"You're teaching him to read?" Steve asked.

"Why not?" Beck answered. "You're sure not teaching him very much." He stammered, stumbled his way through an apology, and went back to his study.

No, Trage did not understand the wizard and his friends.


The argument came out of nowhere.

Trage had been there for nearly four tendays. He seemed to be reading the wizard's language quite well, though many of the words they gave him to read didn't seem to translate. He was seated in the big comfortable chair with Midge nearby when Steve walked past Beck's room--and froze. He didn't say a word, he just stood there, and his mouth slowly opened. Beck looked up at him.

"Something you want to say?" she said.

"That's...that's an EGG," he said.

"Well, duh," she answered.

"...I thought you were MY girlfriend...?" he said quietly.

She made a rude noise. "Do you have feathers?" She stood up, so he could get a good look at the egg; it was mostly white, mottled with some darker brown spots, about twice the size of the hen's eggs they had for breakfast every morning.

His mouth moved a few times, but no sound came out.

"Or have you figured out how to change me back? Or how to get us back HOME?" she said sharply.

"Becka, I..."

"Don't 'Becka' ME!" she said. "I want my life back. I want my make-up and jewelry and shopping malls!" Her wings were out, and the feathers on her neck were sticking out. "I want a spa treatment, manicure, pedicure, mud mask, and a massage. And most of all, I want an apartment that doesn't smell like the cows up the street!"

Trage looked over at Midge. "Malls, Midge?"

He blinked a few times, and then said "Church. Women go there to worship gold, silver, and furs."

"Ah," Trage said, still confused.

"And it's 'Mitch,' not 'Midge,'" he added. "Short for 'Mitchell.'"

"Midge-elle?" Trage said, fighting the unusual syllables.

"Never mind."

Becka was just getting warmed up. "So, if you can't figure out a way to undo what you screwed up, I figure I'm on my own here. There's this hunk of a condor two mountains over. Totally useless for conversation, of course, but that's not really what I was looking for."

"Hey!" They both paused, and turned to look at Mitch. "Does that condor know any female Komodo Dragons, maybe an iguana...?"

He shrank away from the dual glare of sheer fury, and stepped away mumbling. "...aren't any other lizards on this freaking planet..."

"I'm TRYING to figure it out!" Steve shouted. "I can't get anyone to teach me, and I don't know how to make it work. Nothing I try actually does anything!"

She completely ignored him. "Did you even notice when I started building my nest?"

He blinked in confusion. "You're a bird. Birds build nests. What was I supposed to think?"

"Hello! Birds only build nests for one reason!"

He closed his eyes, and made a very visible effort to calm down. She straightened her ruffled feathers, and settled down on the egg.

"Beck," he said finally, "you're not a bird. You're a human who's been changed into one. I have no idea what that means for your DNA. What's inside that egg could..."

"Could what?" she said.

"Could be something you don't expect. We have no idea how magical cross-breeding is going to work out."

"So, if there's something wrong with it, you'd want to get rid of it? What if it had Down's Syndrome, like your cousin?"

"No, not like that," he said. "I mean, it could be human with a bird head, or..."

"Or, whatever. Doesn't matter. Something wrong with it, we deal with it. Or I deal with it, since it's my egg." She turned her back and started preening herself; it was obvious to everyone that the conversation was over.

The wizard stood there, silent, for a long moment, and then strode back to his library. He closed the door behind him.

-=ad=-

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Follow Your Dreams!


...even if no one else can see what you see...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Nightmare Begins

Note: This is an entry into the Friday Challenge, which can be found here.


"Doctor!" the nurse shouted. "His eyes are open!"

A flurry of activity, lights in his eyes, hammer to his knees. Blood pressure cuff tightened and removed. Where was he? Why was he here? Thinking was fuzzy.

"You've been in a coma," the doctor said at last. "But you're going to be all right now. Your nightmare is over."

He was wrong.


Cassidy stood by the corner of the building, peering around. He thought he had lost his pursuers, but he wasn't quite sure. He had ducked into a doorway, turned his reversible jacket inside-out, and put on a baseball cap to cover his eyes, and now he was trying to see if any of them had caught on.

There.

Two guys in business suits and shades, standing in front of the laundromat. They were talking quietly, turning their heads from side to side. Looking for him.

Cassidy took a step back, and a deep breath. Then he stepped boldly into the street, walking like he owned the place, walking right past them.

It worked. He turned the corner and ran four blocks, turned two random corners and walked five more, and finally started breathing easily again.

Okay, he thought. You've lost them. Again. But they always seem to home in on you. How do you get away and stay away?

Cassidy didn't have an answer to that question, but he wished he could meet someone who did.


He paid cash for a motel room, and flopped on the bed without getting undressed. He had called his mom to let her know he was all right, and seen the first shades within an hour. That had to be it. Government agents, perhaps, didn't they run around in suits and shades, or was that just in the movies...?

They had first appeared after he posted his...vision? Prophecy? Whacked out dream?

Whatever you wanted to call it, he had posted it on his blog, and the next day, he was running and hiding. He was running out of time, though. Cash was getting harder and harder to come by, and using a credit card would be a sure way to call them to him. He couldn't risk contacting friends, and didn't have anyone to turn to.

Slowly, with many twitches and panic moments, he drifted off to sleep.


Cities burn.

Cassidy stood on a tall hill overlooking San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge was gone, fallen into the bay; what little was left was burned and melted. Lights flickered in the sky, and a moment later, a tremendous lightning bolt crashed from the sky, hitting a skyscraper thirty floors up. Above the damage, the rest of the building toppled.

"Remember." The voice was deep, and echoed through his skull.

Cassidy knew this wasn't the only city under attack. This wasn't a dream, it was a memory.

One of the soldiers marched up the hill towards him. He couldn't move, couldn't run; he was only a spectator in this vision. The creature stopped in front of him. Humanoid, at least six feet tall, it carried a bloody sword in one hand--a hand that had far too many fingers. It had no eyes or sockets.

"Fear."

The soldier strode away in search of victims. Behind it, a man approached, much shorter. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet with a silver face screen, and in his hand was a lightning bolt, nearly as tall as he was.

"Trust," came the voice.

The motorcycle helmet came closer and closer. When he was standing right in front of Cassidy, he could see his own face reflected back at him. The man reached up with both hands to remove the helmet, and the vision went away, before he could see the face behind the helmet.

"Hold your freedom!" echoed in his ears.

Cassidy came awake instantly. He was up and packed and ready to leave in moments.


His blog post had attracted the attention of someone, that was certain. Except for a couple of downloaded songs, he had never done anything illegal in his life--certainly nothing worth the chase these suits were giving him. Maybe changing cities would put some more distance between them, give him some breathing room. He wandered the city for hours, doubling back on his trail, watching for shades, and finally felt safe enough to walk into the bus station.

It was a mistake.

The suit was hiding in the crowd near the ticket counter, and Cassidy didn't see him until he was within arm's reach. He froze, eye to glasses, panic rising; he thought he could feel the sheer hatred emanating from the man. Then he turned and ran, shoving people out of his way, heading for the exit. There was another suit there, blocking his way out, so he doubled back and went out one of the doors to the loading bay, then down to the end, where the bus drivers would stand and smoke their cigarettes. He stopped there, waiting for his heart to stop pounding, knowing he couldn't have lost them that easily.

A hand covered his mouth and dragged him backwards. He fought, bit the hand, struggled--and froze when a suit came around the corner. The shades blocked his eyes, but he knew the man was looking right at him. The agent reached into his pocket--

...and collapsed to the ground.

Cassidy stared at the woman who had been standing behind him. She gave him a wink, knelt down, and put her taser to the chest of the man on the ground. He jerked and spasmed and made noises that couldn't have come from a human throat. The hand over his mouth loosened, and then released him. "Go, take a look," he heard whispered in his ear.

He walked up to the suit, lying motionless on the ground. The glasses were out of place, and what was behind them looked...odd. He reached down with a trembling hand and flicked them away from the face. The eyes behind them weren't even human; they were red, and faceted like a gemstone, or a bug's eye.

"They can almost look like us," the woman said, "except for the eyes." She held up one of his hands, pointing to the scar along the bottom. "Extra thumb removed." She stood up, brushing dirt off her knees, and zipped up her leather jacket. "They have a weakness for electricity, though. Zap 'em enough, and they melt into goo."

The man who had pulled him aside was nursing a bleeding hand, but he didn't seem upset with Cassidy. "Come on," he said, "let's get him to safety."


The bus headed into the night, far from city lights.

"I went out with some friends," he heard himself say. He hadn't told this story to anyone. Well, not the full story, anyway. Marnie, the woman with the leather jacket, was listening intently.

"Ken was driving, Jay was riding shotgun. I was in the back. Ken lost control on an icy bridge. Well, that's what they tell me, anyway, I remember getting in. The car went into the drink, Ken and Jay washed away; they fished me out of the ice about two hours later. I closed my eyes, lost two friends, three months of my life, and woke up...into a nightmare."

"You had a near-death experience," she said. She didn't make it a question.

"Yeah," Cassidy sighed. "Cities destroyed, people under attack." He still shuddered at the memory. "Prophecy? Warning? I didn't know what to make of it, so I wrote it up and put it out on my blog for anyone to comment on. And that's when the agents showed up."

"They're advance scouts. They know that psychics will warn people that their main attack force is coming, so their job is to scan the 'net and find people trying to give warning."

"Not that it matters," Victor said. He turned around, putting his bandaged hand over the seat. "The human race is pretty much made up of sheep who don't care who's in charge as long as the beer keeps flowing. Giving the warning would get you labelled a crackpot at best--and if the warning was true, you'd get blamed for the disaster when it was all over."

"Get some sleep," he said. "We'll be home in the morning.


"Ladies and gentlemen, let me be the first to welcome you to..."

Cassidy struggled awake, yawning over the rest of the sentence. They were somewhere in the middle of nowhere, flat land all around. Victor was still talking.

"...on an abandoned missile silo, giving us one hell of a basement. The buildings are concrete domes, six or seven inches thick--which keeps down the utility bills, letting us live off the grid, and hopefully playing hell with any thermal scans." Cassidy could see the dome now, painted to look like the surrounding scrubland. "Over there, we've got a nice big bank of solar cells, also camouflaged. We've got food, weapons, whatever we need to last quite a while, and we're far enough away from any cities that we probably won't even notice the war."

"I'm sorry," Cassidy said, "I was just waking up. What did you say the name of this place is?"

Victor smiled at him. "Welcome to Freehold," he said.