Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Days of Nano Past: From Nano 2009 - The Zombie Wrangler!

So, what do you do when you write yourself into a corner...?

One of the characters in my Nano last year was...well...Prometheus.  Or what's left of him, anyway, after all his worshippers died or forgot about him.  Now, his name is Tesla.  And his home base is an incredible museum:

Tesla turned from the storm lashing the window, and returned to his workshop.

And what a workshop it was.  The building itself was massive, but Tesla's lab covered a full three floors, end to end, of the entire building.  Two of the three floors had been almost completely removed to allow the room for display, flight, testing, or simply space to observe.  In the center of the room stood the bulk of a Cray mainframe, constantly cranking away at variables that only Tesla knew or understood.

Centuries of oddities and curiousities inhabited the shelves, from frisbees to Tesla coils, V8 engines to perpetual motion machines, items ranging from the simple and basic but interesting like a Moebius strip to the impossibilities of a half-developed scalar levitation pod.  MP3 music players shared shelves with Rennaisance instruments and Stradivarius violins.  A Gutenberg Bible leaned awkwardly against an Apple II computer, and both were balanced precariously atop a carved stone tablet dating nearly to Hammurabi.  Suspended by strings from the ceiling were a scale model of the Wright Brother's plane and a full-size model of a daVinci Ornithopter, and just between them, an artist's rendering of the fall of Icarus, complete with detached feathers drifting lazily in the air-conditioner-generated wind.

The entire room was a monument to human ingenuity and creativity, and the drive to create something new--the drive to apply science and move technology forward.  The very concepts that Tesla excelled at.

I invented this museum knowing full well that I was very likely going to trash it later in the story.  And when the time came for the fight, what other critter is a Necromancer going to send after the bad guys than a squad of zombies?

There was only one problem.  I had placed the good guys' hideout seventy stories up, and during Nano, you don't have time to go back and rework something because it would be easier later in the story.  You keep on going.

...so...how does one get a battalion of zombies to the good guys when they're hiding on the seventieth floor?


Craigslist ad for "entry level management position" with non-disclosure agreement, couple of interviews, pick the best one...voila!

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to meet...the Zombie Wrangler.


Jason had been monitoring the Machine, and called them all over.  "You need to have a look at this," he said.  In the distance view, there was nothing worth looking at, but as he zoomed the image in, closer and closer to Tesla's Museum, they could see a narrow band of black dots, looking like nothing less than a steady invasion of ants, slowly but steadily making their way to the building.

"He's finally sending out the zombies," Trevor said.

They barely had time to prepare for the zombies' arrival.  From the same storage room where Tesla had found the net gun, he pulled out a collection of handguns and passed them out to everyone.  They all filled their pockets with spare clips.

"Standard zombie rules apply?" Lewis said, expertly jacking a clip into the handle and cocking the pistol.  Unfortunately, his attempt at bravado and expertise failed miserably, as the slide of the gun came off in his hand.  He stood there for a moment, staring stupidly at the pieces of the gun, until Tesla came over and showed him how to put it back together.

"There are rules to zombies?" Tesla asked in confusion.

"Well, yeah," Lewis replied.  "No points for anything but a headshot, keep your distance or you get infected and turn into a zombie yourself."

"I don't think we'll have to worry about that part," Trevor said.  "This isn't a Resident Evil sequel.  These are magically animated, so I don't think they'll be infectious."

"Guys!" Lewis shouted, pointing.

The elevator had risen to their location, and the doors were about to open.

"Maybe it's the lobby security guards?" Trevor said hopefully.  The doors slid open, and a dozen animated corpses spilled out into the museum.  As the group opened fire on the zombies, the doors slid shut, and returned to the lobby.

Tina opened fire on the lead zombie, missed with the first three shots, and blasted out another plate glass window, before finally landing a hit.  The zombie staggered backwards two steps, half of its head missing, and collapsed.

"Cool!" Lewis shouted.  "Standard Rules!"  He pointed his gun at another zombie, pulled the trigger, and totally lost control of the recoil.  The bullet took out a light fixture on the far end of the museum.  He growled in frustration, held the gun with both hands, brought it to bear on a zombie, and fired, hitting it in the nose.  He cheered in satisfaction as the zombie's head exploded in a shower of gore.

"Tesla," Trevor asked, "I thought zombies were...you know, really stupid...?"  He gestured with his gun at the elevator display, which showed the car was rising again.

Tesla nodded grimly, stepped forward to point blank range, and fired, blasting two zombie heads apart simultaneously with a pistol in each hand.  "They must have the security guard's key card."

Stan Trimbett had decided he hated his job.

He hadn't known what his job was going to be when he applied, of course.  The Craigslist posting said "Entry Level Management" with opportunities to travel.  As an out-of-work burger flipper, he had jumped at the chance, and it wasn't until after he had signed the non-disclosure agreement that he had found out that his REAL job title was "Zombie Herder."

"Zombies are really stupid," he had explained to his girlfriend one day, after just a few too many beers.  "Oh, they're great in a fight; hack off body parts and they keep on fighting, blow out their kneecaps and they crawl after you.  But, when it comes to, say, opening doorknobs, they're totally useless.  So, every time the boss sends out a squad of zombies to take out the opposition, the squad has to have a babysitter along, someone who can open doorknobs as necessary."  He held out the special skull-shaped medallion he always wore around his neck.  "This says 'don't kill me, I'm on your side' to an angry zombie.  Well, to a moving zombie.  Zombies don't get angry.  They don't get happy, or sad, they just move forward, and tear apart anyone who moves.  Except me."

He still wasn't quite sure what he had done to end that relationship, but now that he was single, he was available for a bunch more zombie missions.  Like this one.  Somehow, the gang up on the seventieth floor had seriously ticked off the boss.  Since the boss was supposed to be some hot-shot wizard with gobs and gobs of super magical powers, Stan wasn't quite sure why they didn't just, you know, snap their fingers and teleport the zombies up there.

No, this was a job for the zombie wrangler; and Stan, supposedly the best one there (actually, the only one who had survived more than the first four months since the job was created), was now standing in an elevator, watching as a dozen or so shambled in, all facing the back of the elevator.  He hit the button, got it moving, and then started shouting orders, trying to get them all to turn around and face the door.  Half of them still hadn't gotten the right idea by the time the elevator arrived, but they were dragged along by the rest of them when the doors opened.  He delivered that load, and dropped back down to ground level for the next batch.

Yeah, Stan was pretty sure it was definitely approaching time for a career change.  Granted, he'd probably have a really hard time putting "zombie herder" on his resume, but maybe if he exaggerated just a bit, he could still figure out a way to apply it.  Camp counselor, maybe...?  He was still debating possible fibs when the next load stepped on.

When he arrived with this batch, the doors opened, and people with guns began blasting away as soon as targets were visible.  Stan dove to the floor, fingers in his ears, feeling a steadily deepening of layers upon layers of muck and gore piling up on him.  Then the doors closed, and he reached a shaking hand up to take the car back to the ground floor.

Stan had just barely managed to stand back up again, on shakey knees, when the doors opened and another batch of ready zombies tried to pile in.  About halfway through the load, though, he heard something land on the roof of the elevator car with a loud clunk.  Without even stopping to think, he shouldered his way past the mindless zombies and dove for cover behind the security guard's desk.  He was just in time; the elevator car exploded, shredding most of the remaining zombies, and splattering Stan with another layer of flying muck.

He strode to the door, dropped his skull medallion in a trash can just outside the revolving door, and headed for the local bus station.  Camp counselor in Alaska, that sounded like a decent change of pace.

"I don't get it," Lewis said, as the elevator doors closed again.  "I mean, if he's this super-hotshot wizard and all, why is he sending them up here in tiny batches like this?"

"Unless he's trying to keep our attention," Trevor said.

"A diversion?" Tesla asked.  From what?"

With a horrible sinking feeling, Trevor dashed away from the elevator door.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Days of Nano Past: From Nano 2009 - Dragon Nightmare!

Days of Nano Past

...in honor of Nano this year, he’s a clip from last year’s Nano, about an attack by an undead dragon.


It took hours to fill them in on where he had been.  He told them about the ball of foil, and the various scenes he had witnessed.  Then, there was the Zen garden where Meroving had died, and after that, the separate garden that supposedly existed inside Trevor's head.  He even told them the deep, dark secret that had so fooled the Necromancer.

"So, Meroving sent him on a wild goose chase," Lewis interjected.

"Exactly," Trevor agreed.  "Meroving hoped it would keep him so busy hunting for a mythical item that he wouldn't have time for all the world-conquering stuff."

"You've learned a few mystical tricks, then?" Kiriana said with half a smile on her face.

"Oh, I'm looking forward to showing them to you," Trevor said.

"We're not going to have any time for that," Tesla said, his face serious.

"Why?" Dorian asked.

"Because the Necromancer is here," Tesla said, with a hard edge to his voice.

Across the room, standing exactly in Tesla's contemplation point at the plate-glass window, stood the Necromancer's puppet-figure.  It was eight feet tall and appeared to be molded shadow, a cloak like dark mist hovering a few inches off the ground, eyes of fire blazing from the shadows of a hood that was itself shadow.

"Your time is up, boy," it said, in a voice from the grave.  "You will bring it to me.  NOW."  The dark figure took a step towards the group.

Kiriana began chanting her defesive spells, and Tesla and Dorian both moved to interpose themselves between Trevor and the Necromancer, but Trevor shouldered his way between the two of them.  He stood, thirty feet from the dark shadow that was the Necromancer's herald, and said simply, "No."

"You dare refuse me, child?"  The shadow grew larger, nearly ten feet tall now, and the fires in the hood blazed white-hot.  "There isn't an entity on this planet that would dare to challenge me.  I could slay all of your defenders between blinks of your eyes.  Do not defy me!"

"Of course I defy you!" Trevor shouted.  "You're nothing, just a magical puppet sent out because you're too afraid to take us on yourself!  If you had any guts at all, you'd be standing here in the flesh, challenging me to a duel in the aetherial instead of sending this stupid dime-store animated Halloween costume!"

Tesla, standing just slightly behind Trevor's left shoulder, muttered, "damn, I really hope you know what the hell you're doing..."

Trevor held up the crystal that had been Meroving's spell.  "It's right here.  In the words of 300, you want it?  Come and take it."

The shadowy figure held up a finger, a long semitransparent digit that pointed at Trevor like an arrow of doom.  "You...will die," the shadow said.

"You've been saying that for a long time, but I'm still standing right here," Trevor said.

The black shadow figure vanished, and they all started to breathe a sigh of relief.  But barely a moment later, the plate-glass window smashed inward. Shards of bullet-proof glass scattered across the room, sending them all diving for cover.  And from behind the glass, slithering its way into the room, coated with silvery shards of broken window, was an enormous black dragon's head, with one horn broken off, screaming in rage and fury.

Threosh circled the city, moving quickly, but he couldn't get a clear picture of where he was supposed to be.  He had been charged with protecting the boy, but if the boy disappeared, how could he protect him then?

This task was getting harder by the moment.

He still had heard nothing through the aetherial from the other dragons, though that wasn't necessarily a bad sign.  Elder dragons took forever to discuss and deliberate their plans; it sometimes took weeks for them to reach a consensus on what the best approach to a problem would be.  Threosh, who was still centuries away from developing the exacting patience of an elder dragon, had to remind himself of that fact; he was fretting about word that may not come to him for days...perhaps even weeks.

Threosh was beginning to consider the various humans and beings he was forced to associate with as his friends, though, and he still couldn't understand why a friend would vanish like that.  It left a very human hole in his draconic heart, and it was an unfamiliar pain to such a young being.

He went into a long, gentle arc, meaning to fly a third lap around the city.  He knew Trevor was gone, probably to another realm; he had even considered the possibility that Trevor was dead, and his mission was an absolute failure.  There was no way he was returning to the elders with that message, though, until he had seen Trevor's body for himself.

Would that be his curse, then, unable to return to the realm of his birth because he was unable to locate the body of the human he had been assigned to keep alive...?

Threosh wrinkled his nose in disgust.  That scent--that horrific odor of diseased flesh, commingled with the stench of unbridled ambition and cruelty--that was the smell of the Necomancer.  The monster was here, in the city.  That meant that the humans and Tesla were under attack, and if the Necromancer was around, then...

...then Threosh heard the noise he had been dreading...the strangled, half-dead cry of a dragon that should have been laid to rest long ago.

The dragon rammed its entire head and neck into the museum, scattering heirlooms everywhere.  Poisonous acid dripped from the burned patch on the side of its face; the Gutenberg bible caught a stray drizzle, and disappeared in a puff of flame and caustic smoke.

Lewis and Tina, both knowing they had no real chance, tried to dash for cover, but everywhere they ran, the dragon's thrashings threw wreckage in their path.  Tina screamed as the Hammurabi tablets barely missed them.

Dorian leaped into action, jumping forward and striking the dragon across the snout with his practice sword.  The blade shattered, and Dorian himself wound up being flung to the far end of the room when the dragon lunged at him in retaliation.  The dead dragon screamed in pain and triumph.

But while Dorian had kept it occupied, Tesla had managed to unlock a specific cabinet.  He pulled out a strange-looking firearm, sighted down the barrel, and fired.  A net lashed forward, opened in flight, and wrapped itself around the monster's mouth.  Several of the cables hooked over the dragon's horn.  Mouth tied shut, the dragon growled, a deep-throated noise that would have terrified an enraged grizzly.

"That won't hold it long!" Tesla shouted.  We need to do something!"

"I'm open to ideas!" Trevor shouted back.  The dragon was lashing its head back and forth across the room, smashing more and more of the museum's exhibits into expensive fragments. Trevor caught sight of Kiriana launching a magical attack of some kind, but then dodging away from flying computer components, shattering her concentration and breaking the spell.  He couldn't figure out how to attack it in the aetherial, either; his lessons with Meroving had not yet reached the point of dragging a being into the aetherial for combat, only defending oneself when they were pulled in.

The net snapped from the stress.  The dragon opened its mouth, shrieked in triumph, and shoved a table off of Tina and Lewis.  She screamed, he flinched and closed his eyes...

...and something small and greenish-brown latched onto the back of the dragon's neck.

Threosh followed the scent of the Necromancer all the way back to the god Tesla's home and museum.

There, he could see the dead dragon, claws hooked deeply into the facade of the building, head and neck buried to the shoulder through a hole in the wall.  Threosh thought long and hard about what he needed to do, and as he reached the building, he came up with an answer.  He stooped like a peregrine falcon, as fast as he could fly, trying to land his attack before his enemy could spot him.

But he couldn't do it.  The soul-mind of the elder dragon spoke to him before he was halfway there.  Little one, it said, I told you to run.  Now I must slay you as well.  The voice was morose, depressed beyond all measure, a mere passenger on a body that was no longer his to command.

Surprise lost, Threosh slowed down, rethinking his attack--and then hit on it.  He redoubled his speed, diving between the dragon's slashing wings, and planted his claws deep in either side of the dragon's neck.  Over the horns, he could just see the humans struggling to get out of the reach of the dragon, but it was no longer paying any attention to them; it was solely concerned with the interloper attached to the back of its head.

It lashed wildly to one side and the other, trying to flip him off.  Threosh hung on, doggedly, refusing to allow himself to be thrown free.  The dragon smashed Threosh against the ceiling, scattering light ceiling tiles all over the already wrecked museum, and still Threosh kept his grip, while cables and wires and bits of wreckage dangled from his wings.

I will get you eventually, the dragon's soul said to him.  You cannot help me.  I must do as my master commands.

No, Threosh answered.  Your slavery is at an end, elder one.  I will not allow the Necromancer to torture you any further.

Threosh allowed the flammable bile to lather up in his mouth, and mix with the acid-poison there.  Without releasing his grip, he reared back, spat forward, and delivered a long, thin, napalm-stream of liquid fire directly to the hollow at the base of the dragon's skull.  As it burned away the outer skin and the skull, Threosh fired again, and then again, though the heat and flames were beginning to recoil into his own face.  Only when the dragon screamed in agony and began to thrash aimlessly did Threosh finally relent, and release his grip.

Threosh allowed himself to be flung across the museum, to safety; he rolled twice and came up beside Dorian, who was unconscious and lying still, body bent all in angles that did not appear to be natural for a human.

Thank you, little one, came the voice, one final, fading time.

The flame-poison had reached the brainstem, and severed the spinal cord.  The dragon was losing all control of its extremities, and was thrashing about, slicing great rents of flesh out of the neck scraping against the sharp edges of the bullet-proof glass.  Then, it lost it's grip on the wall of the building, and begain to slide backwards, out the hole.  It thrashed sideways once, catching the neck against the edge of the window, slicing the head almost completely free; the half-decapitated head caught there, in the window, for a long moment, before the weight completed the task of breaking the window free.  The dragon fell, and as it fell, the foul magic that had been keeping it alive and corporeal far past it's time began to fail.  The fingers and toes began to crumble, to scatter into dust at the touch of the wind blasting by.

By the time the dragon had fallen twenty stories, the wings were gone.  At forty, the ribs were visible.  And at ground level, nothing remained, except a fine ash that smelled distinctly of gunpowder and brimstone, caught on the morning breeze and swept into drifts against the curbs and windshields of cars parked nearby.

Deep in his lair, the Necromancer screamed in rage and pain.  Rage, because his best and most powerful weapon was now nothing but ashes in the wind, and pain, because he had invested a lot of power into animating that dragon, and its death was now causing a backlash effect that would have blown a lesser man into molecules.

But the Necromancer was no lesser man.  He held his hands against his temples, as if keeping his head from exploding by sheer force of will.

They will pay, he screamed at the pain within his skull.  Oh, yes, they will pay!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


...if you've never been to a Zombie Walk, you have no idea what you're missing.

Well over ONE THOUSAND zombies cruised downtown Lincoln Saturday night.  They started at Pershing Center, wandered past the shops and mystified (and some terrified) onlookers, worked their way down UNL's Sorority Row, past the Broyhill Fountain, and then back to Pershing Center for a block party.

Yes, I was there, and yes, I survived the zombie onslaught...though it was close...

Many thanks to Randy and Pete, for doing the whole "combat journalism photography pool" thing; I can't claim credit for all of these pictures, there were way too many zombies to stand still and shoot!


Hey, didn't you write for the Friday Challenge a couple months back...?

...you know, when a zombie baby is ready to be born, there's just no keeping him down...

...some zombies are as afraid of you as you are of them...

Preparing for the upcoming zombie-copalypse...

Sometimes you gotta be thankful for chain-link fences...

Hey, isn't that Wil Wheaton...?

Just strolling along...splashing blood all over the town...

I think she wanted to rewrite the ending to Carrie.

...sometimes...just sometimes...you get red-eye without a flash...

Hey, there's a zombie behind--oh, never mind.

Zombification.  A Family Affair.

There's just nothing like the scent of fresh flowers from a freshly dug grave..

I turned into a zombie and I just didn't have a thing to wear...

The most popular zombie there.

Can't you see I'm having contractions here...?


...makes you wonder what's on her mind...

Keeping my EYE on YOU!

...hey, you, with the camera, lend us a hand here...?

...it's all about the attitude...oh, and the BRAINS!!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Friday Challenge: Road Trip to Heck

This post is an entry into The Friday Challenge. This week's challenge: The Road Trip.

I. Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

"How would you like to take a photography trip? All by yourself?"

This was quite a surprise. I was actually speechless for a moment, and so shocked that I missed a chunk of the description. "...and he's going to sleep on our couch for a few weeks until he gets on his feet. I thought, just maybe, you'd like to take a day to drive out to meet him halfway, and bring me lots of nice pictures along the way."

"Are you sure we can do this? I mean, money is tight, and..."

"It's a three-day weekend," she said, "immediately followed by payday. We've got enough to get you to the Colorado Springs bus station, and he'll have enough to get you back. We can do this."

"I don't know..."

"Pack your camera," she said.

I packed my camera.

II. Choose your route very carefully.

My friend--I'll call him Paul, to protect him from vengeful commentary--lives near Flagstaff, but has family in Denver. He makes the trip several times a year. I told him what the plan was.

"Don't take Highway 40 across New Mexico," he said. "It's all under construction and will add a couple of hours to your trip. Take 70 across Utah instead, there's no construction there and the scenery is even better. The distance is about the same, too, about twelve hours total."

I trust Paul. If this is the best route for a photo journey, then it was the route for me.

Isn't there a fairly famous Klingon proverb that says, "Trust...but Verify...?"

III. Anyone want a good deal on a slightly used Mustang...?

Time to leave.

Checking the inventory, I had my laptop, several sets of batteries and camera chips; a quick store trip gave me a cooler full of road munchies. She handed me her "secret stash" of money just in case things got really tight. I napped for two or three hours after work, intending to drive through most of the night, and left home right around midnight.

Barely an hour out of Phoenix, I was passed by a speeding white Mustang. Here, the word "passed" is used in a generic sense to mean "nearly sideswiped and spun off into a ditch by an absolute lunatic who had no respect for the stripes down the middle of the road." But I kept my temper, and as my blood pressure returned to normal, I saw what looked like a small fireworks display up ahead.

The Mustang had taken the next exit, misjudged the turn, run off the road, and hit a lightpole. The pole was lying across the roof of the car, and the upper end was extending most of the way across the now-dark off-ramp.

I pulled over. I left my blinkers on, and went to see if everyone was okay, and found a couple wandering around in the dark. He was trying to talk to her, calm her down, while she shrieked and screamed in two languages. As I walked up, they went up over an embankment.

...and I was alone. With a dark, blocked, off-ramp.

I did the Good Samaritan thing. I stood near the pole, waving cars around it, wondering just how much of my trip time I was going to lose to this. The fourth car I waved at blinded me with the lights on top, and I explained everything to the cop inside; while we were talking, the couple from the Mustang drifted back into view.

They went to an ambulance, a wrecker was called, I went back to my car...and needed to ask the kindly policemen for a jump start, because an hour sitting idle with the blinkers going had killed the battery.

IV. Crossing the Border

Photo opportunities abounded as I neared the Utah border. The territory around Lake Pleasant is fascinating.

Just across the border, I found a place I can't recommend enough--a fenced off park that looks like nothing more than a pull-off beside the road. Two other cars were pulled off there, and one guy was getting camera gear out. That caught my attention. Something worth taking pictures of? I pulled off and grabbed my tripod.

I started shooting the hills near the highway, and was getting some okay shots. The guy with the camera saw me, and said "are you going to walk the whole trail? There are much better formations at the far end."
"Umm...trail...? I don't know, I'm on a schedule...maybe..."

He said "You don't know what you're missing," and headed back to his car.

I shot three more pictures, and a guy walking his dog went by. He also told me to walk the trail. Okay, I can take a hint. "How far?" I asked.

"Maybe a mile. Twenty minute walk, there and back, if you walk fast, plus time spent taking pictures." I threw the tripod over my shoulder, and started hiking.

I wish I had gone back to the car for spare filmchips and batteries.

It's called Paria Rim Rocks, and has some fantastic rock formations a mere two or three miles off the freeway. I killed at least an hour there. I could have blown several more hours if the batteries in the camera hadn't died--which reminded me that while the schedule was loose, it was still a schedule, and I needed to get back on the road.

The sights from the car all along that stretch of freeway were amazing, and it was all I could do to stay on the road and not waste the whole day wandering around with my camera.

Music was a problem. The radio stations in the middle of Utah must be fairly well scattered and remote, because all I could get was static. That was fixable, though. I propped open the lid if the laptop an inch, started up the DVD I had accidentally left in the drive, and cruised across Utah with the music from Fantasia blasting as loud as the little speakers could do.

The road stretched out ahead of me, and no matter how far I drove, it felt like I wasn't making any progress. I figured I should be nearing the Colorado border by now. I found this beautiful reflecting lake somewhere near that border, and stopped for a few pictures. Colorado was beautiful. I wondered to myself how far it would be to Denver...

...and something clicked. Paul had said "I drive from Flagstaff to Denver all the time, it's the same distance."

I didn't drive from Flagstaff. I drove from Phoenix. That's an extra two hours.

And I wasn't going to Denver, either. I was going to Colorado Springs. That's another two hours at the far end.

I was barely going to get there on time.

Here ends the visually-assisted portion of our tale.

V. Hell is a cold place...

I had told She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed that I would stop and call often. We didn't have a cell phone back then, so it was a trip to a pay phone at every fill-up or leg-stretching exercise.

Something bizarre happened when I crossed over into Colorado. The pay phones refused to dial all the way through to Arizona. Multiple phones at multiple stops. I couldn't call and explain that my schedule was shot because of my directions. There was no point in turning back, and I continued on.

(Note for those who do not believe in psychic abilities: My wife sent an email to a friend at about this point. It said "I haven't heard from him for a while, but he probably got sidetracked by a big field of flowers, or pulled off to take a nap and overslept. Everything is fine, and I'll hear from him when he's ready.")

Something else strange happened in Colorado. The road started rising.

Okay, so, maybe this wasn't so strange. Perhaps a better word would be "slightly unexpected."

Paul had neglected to tell me that my route would go up...and up...and over Vail Pass.

The drive up, of course, was completely uneventful. I reached the top with just barely enough time to reach Colorado Springs by my deadline, and barely enough gas, too.

The first snowflake hit the windshield at the very top of Vail Pass.

Within half a mile, visibility was reduced to a minimum. And by "minimum", I mean "can just barely make out the two red dots that are the taillights of the semi truck fifty feet ahead of me." And with the drop in visibility, there was also a slight reduction in speed...and by "slight reduction," I mean "if I push the gas pedal another millimeter past 21 miles per hour, the back wheels will fishtail and I'll get to the bottom of this freaking mountain a hell of a lot faster than I would really prefer."

I passed a sign. A very terrifying sign, for a guy who had lived in Phoenix for the last seven years and central California for ten years before that. The sign said "Steep downhill switchback curves...Next Eighteen Miles."

I stayed fifty feet behind that eighteen wheeler, barely noticing that my last chances for arriving at the bus station in time were rapidly disappearing, because my full and total attention was being paid to those two tiny little red lights that marked the road in front of me.

Finally, the road leveled out. Finally, I could break my hands free of the steering wheel...which was nearly impossible, I had gripped the wheel so tightly that the muscles cramped. I took a deep breath, and realized that I had been holding it for the last half hour.

...and I'm sure the trucker in front of me heard me when I passed a sign that said "Steep uphill switchback curves...Next Thirteen Miles."

(Note for those who do not believe in psychic abilities: It was about this time that my wife called every police station and highway patrol number in Utah and Colorado to see if anyone had reported a blue Taurus with out-of-state plates overturned at the bottom of a snow-covered mountain somewhere.)

I put the last of my cash in the gas tank in Denver, after sitting in the gas station parking lot for ten minutes waiting for my heart rate to sound a bit slower than a Def Leppard drum solo. I followed snowplows into Colorado Springs, and wasted half an hour hunting for the bus station, and finally pulled in at three o'clock in the morning...a full five or six hours after his bus arrived. The bus station itself closed at midnight, and they unceremoniously kicked him out into the snow; when I arrived, he was a miniature snow-covered mountain made of dark green sleeping bag. Twenty minutes after he jumped in, we were pulled into a gas station and dropping the seats back for a nap.

VI. Deer in the taillights

We woke with the sun, and brushed six inches of snow off the car before setting out.

My first inclination was to point the car towards Phoenix and not stop until I hit the garage door. But She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed had told me, specifically, that she wanted pictures of Garden of the Gods. That was the whole point of routing the trip through Colorado Springs in the first place. So, while he slept in the passenger seat, I took pictures of Garden of the Gods.

...and by "took pictures," I mean "I stepped out of the car in a Phoenix winter windbreaker, which was absolutely useless against a Colorado Springs spring snowstorm, giving me exactly seventy-two seconds to snap a picture before my hands started shaking so much my pictures would look like they were finger-painted, before jumping back into the car to spend ten minutes warming back up again."

I snapped twelve pictures before pointing the car towards Phoenix. But that twelfth picture became one of my wife's favorites.

That storm followed us. That blizzard stayed right behind us all the way out of Colorado Springs, becoming a huge dark thunderstorm down through New Mexico, and finally petering out as it tried to climb the mountains that ring Phoenix. And amazingly enough, though there was some construction, we didn't see any point along the way where the opposing traffic slowed down by more than a few seconds.

Once outside of Colorado, the phones started working again, and I was able to call and explain what happened. Though, when we finally pulled into the driveway, and she came running out of the house, I wasn't quite sure whether she was going to kiss me or kill me.

I'm not even sure she knew, either.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writer's Profile

A writer's group made the mistake of asking me to write a profile piece...


By day, Allan is a meek and mild-mannered database programmer.

But...by night...he undergoes a bizarre metamorphosis, and without warning, creates worlds so the other people who live in his mind have somewhere to play. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror all come creeping out of the dark and twisted corners of his brain, with the occasional political essay or offbeat humorous work thrown in, just to keep people guessing at his true identity.

Although Allan's work has not been published for pay, he has won several writing contests, including several Friday Challenges (thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com), and the elusive annual Momwriter Halloween contest--not once but three times.

When he's not doing unspeakably horrible things to databases or playing in his fantasy worlds, Allan can be found hiding behind his camera, or chasing the kids around with fuzzy dice and air guitars.

And never, under any circumstances, allow him to sing after midnight. Or before midnight, for that matter.