Thursday, July 29, 2010

For You: A Short Story

A friend of mine is testing out an iPad for work, and I was able to liberate it from her for about half an hour. The word processor it comes with is very VERY basic, so I kept my project simple. I didn't think much while writing it, but the friend was so happy when she got her iPad back that she sent me a copy of the story and suggested I post it here. So here you go - Enjoy!

The Roman Dead

The heat reflecting off the asphalt was enough to peel the bronze of the Collosus' crotch. The heat would have caught the thatch roofs on fire if the humidity would have allowed it, but instead the adhesive merely melted and exposed whatever hid inside the houses to the pounding rays of the sun. Among them huddled Portia and her two sons, Marcus and Gaius, all three sweating profusely before the sun had spent three hours in the sky.

Portia had watched her husband march of with the rest of the Roman legionnaires last week, and grew sick with worry when word would not come of their victory. When word did come, it was of the armies being overrun, and the blight's continuous progress toward Rome, and she was nearly mad with fright. Soothsayers declared that Apollo would give his people mercy and guide them to the River Styx before the horde could claim them, and watching her neighbors collapse under the sun maddened Portia, for she could not discern why her own sacrifices had been ignored by the son god. By the time the Undead arrived and began feasting on what survivors risked being outside, Portia had gone so mad that, when compared to the calamities that surrounded her and her family, she acted perfectly sane.

Marcus squirmed as another tuft of thatch slid off the roof and exposed another area of floor to sunlight. Portia didn't know what the boy wanted to do in response, it wasn't as if the monsters outside cared about the state of the lands they were conquering, only the state of their "prisoners." Perhaps that is why the legions had proved so helpless against them, she supposed; every enemy they'd faced before had wanted Rome, be it for its fertile lands or prodigal architecture or tomes of wisdom or the peerless beauty of its women, and for this they were predictable. The horde outside only wanted food, and was oblivious to the uniforms that food wore. Rome could outsmart just about any foe, but against such mindlessness there was no defense, except perhaps Portia's, if only she could keep young Marcus and Gaius still.

For four days the Undead scourged their land, and for all that time Portia and hers had hidden still as the Parthenon, hoping to wait them out. Where the horde had invulnerability they still had to work, still had to search, and for that they might tire before finding them - it was small chance, but more than the Caesars had apparently. The stench outside was killing whatever appetite they might have had, and they'd more or less gotten used to the moans, but thirst was breaking them apart. Portia was checking her arms for veins she could open so that her sons might have some moisture to sustain themselves when a new sound assaulted them and gave her new plan pause.

From outside could be heard a hundred clumsy butchers and prophets dropping their entrails on the floor. The soothsayers may have told truly that Apollo meant to assault the lands, but as to His purpose they were in grievous error, for in the oppressive and constant heat, the flesh of the Undead could not hold and sloshed off the bone. Portia heard the pounding of wet meat onto the dirt, then of bone without the means to support itself, and it was only after an hour's silence did she then risk a look through the window. Surely, what she saw she could only call a miracle, and did with what strength remained took a pail to the nearest well for water. Though a few Undead remained mobile, this mobility was so reduced that, after enduring their threat for so long Portia found herself laughing among them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The More Things Act Like They Change

After fits and starts, my contract with Butler is signed and I am officially going to teach in the fall. My main stressor with that development is getting all the material read and some notes taken before the class begins in earnest. I know I'm not going to have time to read it with the students, since I'm going to work full time in the Mail Center as well, but I figure if I've read it in the past year, that's good enough. I'm almost done with Dracula, which may be the densest book of the course.

It doesn't help that a friend of mine just got me hooked into the Dresden Files series. If you've never heard of it before, it's Sam Spade meets Harry Potter (to put it vulgarly) - Harry Dresden is the world's only practicing magician that advertises his services for private investigations, for $50/ hour plus expenses. The premise may not seem phenomenal, but the execution is very well done, it treats itself smartly without coming off as pretentious. It treats cliches well while adding twists where appropriate. Basically, it's fun reading that soaks up hours and days of your time, and when I didn't have many of them free to begin with, I can say freely that I hate my friends sometimes.

I've been focusing on my novel project (when my digestive system isn't invaded by legions of viral centurions), and I'm getting deep enough into it that I'm having to go back and forth in the story to set things up for later payoffs. As I do this, I find out more things about the world the characters live in that I have to go into other documents to record and explore, and then go back to the text and rewrite one scene or start another. It gives me a whole new respect for the people that do this full-time - there really is enough work to be done to constitute calling this full-time work.

Friends warned me against playing Final Fantasy 13 for various reasons. I won't go deep into my personal experiences, mostly because the game isn't worth the space. There was an essence the Final Fantasy games had, something that made you dump days and weeks into them without giving you the sense that you wasted your time. The gameplay may not have been extraordinary or the stories captivating in any special way, but it was enough that you felt you got a good return on your investment. Whatever that essence was, the series has lost it.

I'm going to visit my sister next week, and it's going to be awesome! She lives near a beach on the West Coast, so it'll be a cool bit of role-reversal from the time she visited me in Cornwall. Less Arthurian sightseeing, more boozeries!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Major Delinquency

Okay, so it's been a long while since I posted. I apologize, but I also really have to pee, so this won't be long.

The screenplay is done. It's in LA. At least one reader likes it. We'll see where it goes from here.

My section at Butler was approved and put on the books yesterday. Today it was filled up. No getting out of it now, I'm an adjunct. It should be fun!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two Things

One: I just saw Iron Man 2. Overall I really liked it. Enough explosions and comic geekery to satisfy just about anyone (and in the case of myself and another comic nerd, to make them bounce up and down the walls of the theatre, though the caffeine might have had a part in that). Some issues with how they played Tony vis a vis his father figures, but I won't spoil anything. Awesome popcorn flick, and PLEASE stay after the credits. A third of the theatre walked out when they started, and it should be common knowledge by now that there are great kickers in Marvel movies for those who are patient.

Two, and perhaps the more critical: Unless something drastic happens between now and then, I will be teaching a class at Butler this coming fall. This will not interfere with either my other job there, nor will it affect my other writing projects. If anything, the effort of building and teaching a class will sharpen and enhance my output. This is an exciting (and sudden) development, not least of all because it'll give me a chance to put my Masters to work. I'll be taking a workshop for the rest of the week, and by the end of it I believe I'll have the backbone for a solid and lively course.

But I'll settle for fewer butterflies in my digestive system, thank you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


It woke me up at 4:20 the other morning.

I knew something was wrong before I even woke up. My consciousness sprinted to play catch-up with my senses, some of them screaming that if I didn’t figure out what the wrong thing was, I might never fully wake up. The sheets on my bed were dry and smooth, they reassured me that all was not lost. I could see nothing in the dark of my room, so fire probably wasn’t it. I was hearing something.

It was the wrong thing. It growled like a swarm of bees trapped in candy bar, hundreds of primal minds full of energy and a desire to expand and conquer. I was alone with them.

In the elapsed seconds, I’d figured that I was in my bedroom, and in the direction the sound was coming from were a lot of my more expensive electronics, my desktop computer being the biggest and best of them. I’d lost my external hard drive a few weeks ago, and had only recently gotten new copies of the material on it saved on my main drive. In those files were days of media and years of my own creative works, files I would not be able to recover a second time, and if they were lost, so to would be lost a part of my soul. If the sound was coming from there, a device that was supposed to be completely off, that would be very wrong indeed – raping God’s sister level of wrong.

But the wrong thing wasn’t my computer. It was sitting right next to it, watching it. Watching me. It wanted to know what would cause the most damage: hurting me directly, or hurting what had most of my work in it. I should have known.
It was my electric razor, and that night was the night it would try to kill me.

Seeing the opportunity, it leapt from the dresser for the quick kill, and if I’d been fully awake it might have worked. Too much instinct was in control, and like my ancestors catching snakes in the trees, I caught the sound in mid-air, and its source along with it. Now as most men know, once you get an electric razor in a good grip, there’s a pressure point you can hit that will put the thing to sleep, and that’s exactly what I did.

It didn’t pass out. It just kept screaming. I pushed and I choked and I beat at the point but it just kept screaming. The wrong thing had become clear: the razor had moved its pressure point to a spot I couldn’t get at. I was dealing with the Malcolm Reynolds of electric razors, and it aimed to misbehave.

Since technique wasn’t going to carry me through the night, I had to switch tactics. Me being an adult male human, and it being a small object, I had some advantages. The ones I elected to use were my size and that mainstay of man-vs-everything: opposable thumbs. I ripped the teeth off the head so I could get at the rotary mechanism, and held it back with my thumb and forefinger, figuring that if I could make it work hard enough, it would run out of juice and give up that much quicker.

To anyone that might find this chronicle, I must warn that such a maneuver is not easy or gentle. The mechanism will strain and jolt relentlessly, and even if you manage to wedge the thing tight enough to wear it down, whatever you wedge it with will hurt. It will tear through paper and fabric, and anything strong enough to not suffer is going to be too big and unwieldy to jam into the small opening. About the only thing that works are human digits, and the only ones I had access to were mine.

I had to change my grip a couple of times a minute to prevent my mind from breaking. The sensation of so many oscillations a second going from the tips of my fingers up my arm was not one any brain was meant to handle. It was only after I gave a fingertip a break that I could detect the threat those vibrations posed to my flesh, but in the face of a homicidal shaver I had no choice. Five minutes passed and the beast showed no sign of slowing down. I cursed myself then, cursed myself for insisting on a waterproof razor; how much quicker and simpler my current task would be if I had the option to drown this monster.

Three more minutes left, and by then I had no finger that was not shaking for the stress. Though my boys were strung out they could not be allowed to rest here. They were my only line of defense against this traitor, and like the heroes of old they braced up and carried the fight.

I thought I could hear the thing losing strength. Experience had taught me that the first signs of fatigue are followed swiftly by the last. My fingers wanted nothing but to let go then.

“It is weakened, surely we can let it die on its own now. Another minute by our efforts or another five to let it bleed out on its own, not so big a difference, is it?”

I nearly acquiesced. I came so close to listening to passivity that looking back I think I must have been mad. As I considered the option, the razor’s life flashed before my eyes. It had behaved itself, if not admirably at least adequately. It removed my hair as it was told, usually careful not to nick my skin. Especially around my neck, where a few millimeters of skin are all that separates my life’s blood and the cold, unforgiving harshness of the open air. It wouldn’t take much to breach that, this was common knowledge.

I made my decision. This would be the final push. Though they moaned and cried, my fingers kept pushing, past their own pain and past the wailing of the razor until, two minutes and inches of raw skin later…

…the wrong thing finally died.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

All We Want is Life Beyond...

Thanks for waiting, everyone!

It’s not possible to live in the US these days without being inundated with talk of reform. We just passed healthcare reform, we’re currently up in arms about nuclear defense reform, immigration reform, banking reform. I’m a little sick of the term at this point, but I also understand that the most effective solutions are themselves types of reform, and thus perpetuating the problem.

We need a way to mold the reform process, and I think the best step forward is to take a step back. I suggest we adapt our legal system to incorporate that most effective of decision-making policies: Thunderdome.

First effect: efficiency. From months and months of arguing, debating, drafting, redrafting, and votes that these days usually end in filibustering (the political term for “I’m going to bitch and whine until everyone else gives up because they’re not doing exactly what I want”), laws are written, champions are chosen, and a few minutes later we have a winner. The merits of the issue so rarely enter into the debate itself in the current climate, so completely abandoning them in favor of trial by combat only makes the grievance official. Also, by making the decision-making process centered on the fight itself, there will be less interest in compromise, ensuring that the bills do not suffer from being weakened in their potential to change the system by being watered down in committee to make an attempt at compromise.

While political activism in general is building, actual popular attention to Washington proceedings remains low. The only people that pay scrutinous attention to the actual proceedings are shows like The Daily Show, and then only so that they can find new reasons to run the same people over coals. The entire democratic system is built on the principle that citizens must not only be aware but be active in the political process. My Thunderdome proposal does not limit the United States to one giant dome, but a series located throughout the country. Not only will major federal laws be decided this way, this policy would go right down to concluding how fiscally responsible a neighbor is for his dog’s digging into another neighbor’s property line.

Which brings me to my next point: abuse of the system. One of the great travesties present in our current legal system is that so many people are willing to use it not to seek justice, but to earn livelihoods from the absolute minimum amount of work. There are people who make their livings through lawsuits – mostly lawyers, but also their less empathetic clients – and even worse are people who are willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars less for the potential payout but more so that their face can get on television. The day said people have to defend their cases with their fists, such abuses will end, either via forfeit or with hilariously painful displays. My system will allow a party to arbitrate their spot in Thunderdome to another party, but with restrictions: one cannot have a second more than a decade older or younger, must be able to prove relationship for at least a year, must be within a similar earning range. This should allow anyone sick, injured, or otherwise impaired to take part in the system and yet avoid the immediate creation of a professional legal-fighting institution.

While costs for the construction of facilities to enforce this new infrastructure may be intimidating, it is important to take into account the long-term savings and additional revenue streams to be enjoyed through this level of justice. Professional wrestling has done it best, and I think theirs is a model we should learn from. Allow free admission and viewing of the municipal-level arguments, things like small claims court and misdemeanors. Main events like capital or federal offenses, with more at stake and thus demanding a higher-caliber champion, will draw bigger audiences. Legal battles like, and I’m just being hypothetical, a trade dispute between California governor Arnold Swarzeneggar and former governor Jesse Ventura, would need to be pay-per-view simply to control the overwhelming demand. Revenues from such events could fund things education, energy concerns, public transit, whichever department could prove their need best in the ‘dome.

Modern day problems are coming at the public faster than ever, and immediate action has to be taken. The lines are being drawn in the sand as to which direction this country should head. Given the benefits I’ve outlined above, I believe the only people being hurt by my proposal are those who lack the courage to truly put themselves on the line for what they believe.

Thunderdome may not be the most enlightened method for seeing us through this conflict, but I continue to believe it is the most effective one.

I really needed to get that off my chest. Thank you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Do Not Complain Too Much

The other day I was having lunch with a friend I haven't seen much of lately, and I figured she was doing alright with the situation because, as I said at the time, "you don't have to put up with my brain abortions." This was a statement in poor taste, and not a good use of time together that has gotten rarer and rarer, and I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize.

I should have gone with "neural abortion," since there's closer symmetry in the number of syllables in each word, and "neural" has gentler tones to lead into another word, not to mention being closer to an adjective. Still, this is why I prefer writing over speaking; I can edit my writing much easier.

I've been loaded with extra physical labor at work lately, which is bringing me down a bit, but I've had a couple of good ideas that I hope to play with when I take some time off soon. I also spent today training someone that might take some of that burden off later on. As much as I taught him, I don't think he learned what may be the most crucial thing: do not bring up the "Back to the Future" series in my presence. Those who know will be proud - I did NOT go into my full rage mode - but it was a close call.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coming Down Off of Everything

In the past two weeks, I have been sick, overseas, drunk, driven mad by the rabid brain-children of a true sociopath, and then sick again. I've also helped log in several hundred packages at work, entertain my little brother, and celebrated mine and my father's birthdays. The Colts lost the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics started, and I got some new shoes.

I have renewed spirit to finish my screenplay and novel. I just wish I had the physical energy to follow through.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Another Matter of Perspective

For this blog entry, I thought I’d vent an idea that’s been in my head for a while. You see, horror monsters, in particular the kind like Jason Vorhees or Freddy Krueger, are largely frightening (if you react that way towards them) only because they don’t fall down when perforated. Their single-minded, nonnegotiable, relentless pursuit of a goal gives them some distance from humanity, as well as the way they can travel without leaving footprints for all the dead bodies in their wake, and their extra-special attention to details whendealing with the opposite sex, but these are qualities just as easily attributed to “normal” people like politicians, obsessives, and mass-murderers. So what is so different about these particular characters that allow them to go from sick individual to unbelievable horror monster, except for the fact that any other person would drop after a 300cc injection of hot lead, but immunity to same gets you a movie deal.

Now for the above paragraph, replace “horror monster” with “action hero”, and notice that it still works.

I present to you one John McClain of [i]Die Hard[/i] fame. For brevity’s sake I’ll only go through the first film, but think about what he goes through. Once he notices that people with guns are threatening his wife, he’s determined to secure her no matter how long it takes or who’s in his way. Between all the people killed by the robbers and the robbers killed by McClain, you could just about fill an Olympic swimming pool with the blood spilt, and what’s worse is that a good share of that IS McClain’s blood. He is stabbed, slashed, beaten, burned, blown up, shot, thrown off of buildings, and while this is about the same as any slasher flick villain goes through, any slasher villain has shoes.

While the “slash” term is fresh in your mind, my next examples are Riggs and Murtaugh from the [i]Lethal Weapon[/i] franchise, and I’m going to treat them like a single entity. Whenever a criminal with greater ambition, impressive resources, and a better-than-average success ratio comes into town, Riggs and Murtaugh focus on stopping them at the sacrifice of family, regular meals, and at least two cars. Between them, they can count on being run over, kicked in the face, multiple bullet wounds, broken bones, smoke inhalation, and being crushed in any number of somewhat creative ways. Bad guys wind up strewn about the city like a bomb went off made out of corpses, the property damage is about the same too, now that I think about it.

But maybe the most perfect example is one James Bond. His capacity for ending life is so amazing that rather than attempt to prosecute him, the government of Britain decided they'd be better of licensing him, and they gave the same license to a few others so that it all looked right. He's also good at taking hits from hammers, bullets, and hats, but as if that weren't good enough he's possibly better at avoiding those same hits. Freddy liked to show off by crawling out of seemingly inescapable instruments of death, but there's something disturbing about the was James Bond can stare one in the face, find a way to make it kill everyone except the person it was aimed at, and pass it off as something casual like fixing the back of your own collar. Getting back to my point about women, both James and horror monsters face the prospect of leaving every woman they encounter dead, but where the horror monsters can't think of anything more to do with women than decorate the walls, James has trained women the world over so that they come to him willingly. That, to me, elevates him above the most vicious slasher movie star any way you put it.

So from now on, I'm going to write my action heroes like slasher villains and my slasher villains like action heroes, and I'll bet you I get praised for my efforts.