Fight Club! – Fringe League

Happy Tuesday, everybody. Wanted to post earlier, but got held up by errands and ran into a…well, an adventure.

Y’all, this one is fresh off the presses!

So, allow me to set the scene:

I’m with my mother at a local Grocery Outlet (one of those errands I mentioned and for previously stated reasons) doing what you might expect – grocery shopping. We’re browsing the produce and cold cuts, when a white chihuahua runs by without a leash. My mom sees it and laughs. She asks me where it could have come from, but I told her about the man I saw holding it a minute prior. He was a bigger dude (around, not tall), with stringy brown hair, and a white shirt – details that will come back later. Just picture a Brett Gelman with about fifty pounds and twenty years of heavy drug use on him.

We finish up her shopping and are heading up one of the aisles towards the checkout lanes when I see that same white chihuahua run passed up ahead. I hear a grumbled voice say…something, and then see the dog run back the way it came. What was a grumbled voice grows pretty suddenly into adversarial shouts.

My mom stops and I walk ahead to the cross-section of aisles where an older gentleman who looks exactly like Michael Harney (I’m serious, I almost stopped for an autograph) is shouting a good ol’ Mr. White Shirt.

I don’t quite hear what was said at the beginning, but the pretty unmistakable gist was that Grandpa Michael said something about Dirty Brett’s dog, and Dirty Brett wasn’t having it. A store manager walked up to the commotion and she started doing managerial things – asking what the problem was n’ so forth.

Dirty Brett, like a gentleman, starts raining F-bombs on her like it’s the Shelling of London and he’s psyched to play Germany. Grandpa Michael steps up, calling him an asshole, presumably to defend “the lady’s honour.” Dirty Brett decides he’s totally right and directs all his further barrage of cusses right at Grandpa Michael. Grandpa gives him the ‘put-up-your-dukes’ posture and Brett does the same.

A couple of things before we go on.

Firstly, I got to recognize, in the moments to follow, a particular privilege I enjoy in life. I’m 6’4″ (a question I get asked all the goddamn time by strangers) and float anywhere between 200 lbs and 245 lbs depending on motivation, the time of year, alignment of the stars (you get it). When it was “dunk a freshman in the garbage day” in highschool, I got passed right over on account of my height. For context, the only other fight I’ve been involved in or have had to break up since grade school was defending my girlfriend Amanda from a crazed neighbor (Short version: diagnosed schizophrenic off her meds, shouting “You bitch!”, charged Amanda in our apartment complex’s laundromat. I got in between them immediately and the imposing height was all I really needed to diffuse the situation – or at least keep Amanda safe.).

Secondly, in real life, people that think they’re so ready to fight do not know how to fight. This is coming from someone (me) who readily accepts that he’s utterly delusional in his martial prowess. Does the voice in my head tell me I could bite the ass off a bear and stop a charging leopard with a well-time front kick? Yes! And that’s the problem! But I accept that I’m probably incorrect here!

So Grandpa Mike takes his stance, Dirty Brett wastes no time in throwing a punch, and the two clash.

Now, when I say “clash,” I really mean- well…picture a fight between seven-year-old’s on the playground. Are you imagining how they throw “punches”? Do they have their heads way back, faces pointed away, throwing sideways hammerfists with their fingers half-curled? Then you got it. That’s precisely how the first and only “punches” of this Seniors’ League brawl were thrown.

That’s partly what made me feel safe jumping in between them to break it up. I sure as hell know I’m not trained in how to throw a well-executed punch, but now that I’m just as sure these yahoos don’t either, well…those are odds I’m happier with.

I stand between them with my back to Grandpa Mike looking at Dirty Brett. I found this moment fascinating for a couple reasons. For one, it was oddly reminiscent of the laundromat incident. Having about nine inches of height on Dirty Brett, his eyes never came near mine (I mean that in the way of eye contact, but I guess physically too- ah, you get it). Secondly, I shouldn’t be in between these two guys, but I was. Like, what the hell? I’m not the type at all to intervene in public brawls. I lay all the credit with them both being long in the tooth and little-kneed, respectively (and we’ll get to what I mean in a second).

Management and customers are around us now, and Dirty Brett tries to throw a kick passed me at Grandpa Mike and I slap it out of the way. His bones must be hollow like a bird’s, because even though he really put his body into it, there was zero power behind it (hence my theory about his little knees).

And it was at that moment that I felt my ego squirt itself into the situation. I’m not fucking kidding you when I say that Jason Stathem’s voice began narrating my thoughts. They went as follows:

“Okay, you son of a bitch. The punch was strike one. That kick? Strike two. Try something else, anything else, and I get violent.”

Now, that was about the end of the fight anyway. In total, you had some shouting, a failed punch from either side, a kick from Brittle-Bone that got swatted away, and that’s it. Management told both men they had to leave, we got in line, mom got her groceries, and we left.

The real point to this whoooooole thing, the real meat of it, was the examination of the immediate aftermath and the perceptions of the event, including my own.

Remember that Stathem soliloquy we had a few moments ago? Well, the way I figured it, I was serious. Now that I was between them, if he threw another aggressive action my way, intended for Michael Harney or not, I was going swing back. The way the mental movie played out in my head is that Dirty Brett moves forward, I plant, and front-kick him to his tummy; or the same, but I drop and take him down, swing to his back as he tries to stand, and I snatch his neck with a rear-naked choke.

“Evan,” I hear you begin with a questioning tone, “are you a fan of the UFC?”

“I follow combat sports, yeah,” I would say back. “MMA being the big one. And there are other promotions out there – Bellator, ONE Championship, Rizen, WSF, PFL, etc – but that’s besides the point. Yeah, that’s why I know some of these terms and think I could look-see-do recreate them in a street fight. But, I would also stress that earlier (and much more grounded) point of ‘I’m super goddamn delusional with regards to my martial capabilities!'”

That leopard example? That wasn’t a joke. That was a real-life reference. Coworkers and I had a MONTHS-LONG debate over whether or not I could physically fight off a mountain lion.

But back to the point at hand. Let’s examine any of the outcomes Jason Stathem’s voice told me to try:

  1. I take him down and choke him out.
    Likely ways that plays out: I grab his legs, he falls, and he cracks his head against the linoleum. Now I’m part of the police report this just turned into. Or he goes down, I take his back, but since I’ve never applied an RNC, I get over the face instead of under the chin, and he bites into my arm with his dirty-ass teeth.
  2. I front kick him as he charges in.
    Likely ways that plays out: It works. He comes at me now angry, but I channel my inner Darren Till, elbow him upside the head, and he drops. That’s bad because a) if we’ve forgotten, I have my mom with me, she doesn’t need to see her son like that; b) it’s another scenario where I become part of a police report; and c) I don’t need to know what that kind of deliciously terrible power feels like just yet.
    All of that, or, I go to kick him, I slip (because I’ve never fucking done it before), and Dirty Brett soccer-kicks me in the head. Again, my mom doesn’t need to see that, plus now my glasses are probably broken and I can’t drive us home.

Now, as I’m going over all these reasons in my head as to why I’m glad the fight didn’t escalate, we pass by a gentleman who saw the whole thing standing in the parking lot talking to management.

“And here’s the young man who got between them,” he says as we pass by. “Deflected that kick, too. Like some of that UFC, eh? Ha-ha-haaa!”

(Quick side note, here. While after he said that, I just laughed politely and nodded at his joke…y’all, I wanted to hug that man, take him to the side, and start asking, “Did it really look that cool?? Was it like this? Or like this? Do you think I could have taken him?” Probably one of the best compliments I’ve gotten in months.
Anyway…)

While we laugh, another older gentleman who saw things unfold came up. “Yeah,” he says, “I was just thinkin’ that if he tried anything else, I’d jump in there and knock him one.”

“Yeah?” I laugh with him, thinking he’s joking too.

“Oh, yep. And I’d ask him, ‘how’s it feel to get punched in the throat by an old man, huh? Haha! Punch him right in the throat, yep.”

I…I just…

I solidly learned a lesson today, and that lesson is this:

As people on the street, as a whole, we think fighting is way easier than it actually is. Just like Grandpa Michael Harney, most of us think we can just walk up with the option to kick someone’s ass. If you try that, that someone will probably kick your ass right back. I am supremely confident that Grandpa Harney thought he’d crack this disrespectful prick and that’d be the end of it. I’m just as supremely confident that, if left to their own devices with no intervention, Dirty Brett – even with his light-ass bird bones – would have set his chihuahua down and gorilla whomp’d on Old Man Harney until we needed all the king’s men to put him back together.

So, just, unless you’re actually trained in self-defense, be careful about your estimation of your abilities; and I’m guessing that if you’re a trained fighter in any capacity, you don’t need me telling you any of this.

Anyway, that was today’s adventure. Take it easy and we’ll be back Thursday!

Ciao!

Speed Essay: The Lost Art of Audience

Happy Thursday, y’all.

Question: When approaching a public restroom, be it at a restaurant or even at work, do you knock first? (For best results, be honest with yourself.)

Not trying to paint myself as the star of my own show here, but I have the habit of knocking no matter what (for motivation, see past experiences 1 and 2).

Also, at the top, originally, I planned this as a poor man’s essay, but I feel a loosely-structured rant coming on, so bear with me.

I think it stems back to my high school drama teacher (that’s right nerds, theater or bust), and her emphasis on our behavior as an audience member above most everything else. Sure, we learned tricks to remember our lines, how to take and even deliver stage direction, how to emote and express our characters’ stories, but what was always emphasized was how we minded our manners when we weren’t on stage.

You might think it’s as easy as, “Sit down, be quiet, and be attentive,” and a lot of it really does come down to those three little tenets. But there’s more to it than that, there’s a consideration that comes with applying those three rules. Stage performance isn’t like a TV show, wherein the interaction is one-way. You’re not supposed to say anything and the actors’ questions (if there are any) are rhetorical, true, but it’s kind of a two-way street.

If you’ve never been to a stand-up comedy show – first off, holy shit, you owe it to yourself not to be a humorless turd, but secondly – go to one. It’s a perfect parallel to what I’m trying to get to. There’s an interaction and a tacit social contract between the performer and the audience that roughly states, “I agree to be a part of this interaction, to remain quiet, attentive, and understanding of its context; but in being attentive, I know when and how to be considerate of the performer, giving my energy to the reactions being requested by the performer at given times.”

Now, that was a lot, but the TL;DR is: When they make a joke, I’ll laugh, because if I don’t, that ruins the flow and makes shit awkward.

If a stage performance of any kind is treated as a one-way interaction, it suddenly becomes bland and just…the air gets thick. Can you imagine going to a stage play and nobody claps? No one applauds? No one laughs at jokes?

Ew.

But the opposite is just as bad. To disregard the performer and be on your phone, speak to those next to you, get up and leave on your own time, or worst of all, interject yourself into the performance by heckling or answering rhetorical questions – God! (Sorry, getting heated – cooling jets in 3…2…1…)

The point is this: I think the same instinct or lack of restraint that leads to one behaving like the above-mentioned (completely hypothetical) butt-hole (even though we’ve all been witness to at least one) comes from the same place as approaching a bathroom and just trying the handle.

I don’t know. I might be off-base here, but to me trying the handle without knocking (whether it’s locked or not) is an extension of the thought: “The bathroom is locked,” rather than, “Ah, someone else is in there,” and there’s difference, albeit a fine one.

I think it comes from a lack of basic consideration (just objectively, not lecturing you – I’m not your mom) and is from a thought that focuses on “me and my needs” rather than one’s place amid others. From there, it’s a short jump to calling it a matter of empathy.

People like to think of themselves as good listeners, right? But that doesn’t mean just being quiet while the other person talks and/or occasionally nodding and going “Mmhm.” Just like being considerate of an actor on stage, it’s a matter of being receptive and then empathetic to who you’re listening to.

Final point and then I’ll let you go (Jesus, what am I doing? You can leave at any time, this is an in-person conversation where I can hold you hostage).

I don’t think I’m the only one on here who’s heard of Jocko Willink, but I discovered a trick while listening to an old clip of his. It kind of follows the same criticism of, “There’s no such thing as true altruism, because the good thing is being done to satisfy one’s own desire to be good; not for good’s own sake,” but what I did was this: As he spoke each word, I echoed it in my head as though I was the one saying it. But I found that by doing this, I could put myself in the place of the speaker waaaaaay more and could kind of feel where the advice was coming from. Sure, it sounds goofy and kind of like, “Well, I suddenly like what he’s saying a lot more if I’m the one saying it,” but for real, give it a try.

All of this even applies when critiquing someone else’s work of art, statement, film, book, what have you. Much like we saw with the season finale of Game of Thrones (Christ, don’t get me started), before you go on crying, “They got lazy!” or “So-and-So totally lost touch with [their own] characters,” maybe put yourself in the place of the creator; and though you might have done it differently, it goes a million miles to accept the thought process at work.

To wrap up, be it as an audience member at a performance, listening to a friend vent about something or other, or even knocking on an occupied bathroom’s door, they all come from a central skill set that I think we can all agree sort of seems to suffer at large.

So…just…be a good audience member (in life).

S’all for now. Rant’s over. Thanks for swinging by. Catch you Tuesday.

Prompt Challenge #2 – Lost in the Woods

Okay, and we’re back.

Sup everybody. Happy Tuesday to you. It’s been a busy-ass week.

But let’s skip the formalities. The last time we did this it went over pretty well, so we might as well get up to it again.

This time, the prompt (graciously given by the noble Mr. Bacchus) is as follows:

“An investigative journalist goes to a forest where people have been disappearing, and one night they’re awoken by someone breaking into their tent.”

Pfft, spoilers, right? (#kidding)

But just like last time, we’re going to set a timer for thirty minutes and just start pounding keys until it’s either done or those precious little seconds have all dripped away.

“Yaaaaas! But Evan,” I hear you cry, “how will we know you’re actually timed??”

Easy, I’m a believer in the Honor System (and you…well…you just can’t).

Anyway!

3…

2…

1…

Lost in Hoia-Baciu

Justin adjusted his camera strap. He held the straps on his backpack as he took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the fresh, mountain air. It had taken him three flights, a bus, a boat, and a rented car, but he’d finally made it.

Hoia-Baciu, nestled in the arms of Transylvania, Romania, it was known as the world’s most haunted forest was the common villain pointed to for missing persons, alien sightings, paranormal experiences, and supernatural occurrences. There was no shortage of stories ranging from the bizarre and eerie, to the ookie and strange. Urban legends even told of one where a young girl went missing and reappeared seven years later without having aged and with no recollection of her absence.

Justin hiked down the hill to the treeline. He’d been warned by his editor, the locals, and even his parents to get a story some other way, but he was set on this one. He wanted to get a lens on what all the hubbub was about. Though, for his money, he expected to spend the night, find a few tire tracks, some tags, or some other evidence of government presence, then bounce with a catchy headline. All that crap about aliens and ghosts was just…well, too easy. He stood at the edge of the dense forest and checked the time: 11:23 am.

Plenty of daylight to march to the center, set up camp, and get a good boundary before dark. So he did, and on the way saw the sights that made the woods so famous. There was a portion where the trees were strangely curved, like upside-down question marks, and arranged in neat rows. Justin always figured they might have been planted like that by someone who died a long time ago, and when the next people came around and couldn’t meet him, people cried “Aliens!”

He found a spot to set up camp and began unrolling his tent. The stories about strange lights, feelings of unease, and illusory people would probably be easier to judge once it got dark. As it was, he felt great. No lights weirder than the sun poking through the trees, no uneasiness besides a bit of an irritated colon (but that was probably the stew from earlier), and the only imaginary people were just the figments of his boss and Hot Susan from the office he normally kept around. He spent the rest of the day’s light checking his equipment and playing his harmonica.

Once dark had fallen, he ranged a bit with his flashlight. About two hours of looking for Slender Man and an alien light show, he was met with nothing, not even the quiet fart of a white-tail deer. He made his way back to his tent with a strange mix of deep-seated relief and the confidence of a debunker. He crawled into his tent, zipped up his sleeping bag, and prepared for sleep. Then he noticed something. He sat up in his sleeping bag and strained his ears.

He couldn’t hear anything.

Nothing at all, save for his own quiet breathing and small movements. There was no wind through the trees, no small brushing of leaves, or distant animal calls. The close walls of his tent suddenly felt incredibly claustrophobic.

It’s okay, he told himself. You’re out here by yourself and you’re jet-lagged. Bound to feel a little weird, but you’re by yourself – no one’s out here with you.

As he breathed a small sigh of relief, his heart leapt out of his chest.

A sound. He heard a sound.

It was distant, tough to make out. It sounded like leaves crunching. Then the sound drew closer, and Justin realized there was a rhythm to it. It sounded like footsteps- no, it sounded like someone was running.

Someone was running towards him. In that moment, the anxiety returned to the thought that was once so calming, but with a chilling new addition: No one can help you either.

He reached for his flashlight with one hand and the tent door with the other. He fumbled with the zipper as the footsteps approached faster and faster. As he hissed the zipper open, there was a splay of leaves that covered him. A figure, a person, tackled him back into his tent.

“Ah!” Justin screamed. “Get the fuck off me!”

His assailant just screamed in response, but not normally. It sounded like a loud moan, like they were screaming without parting their lips. In the fumbled light of the tent, with the flashlight flailing about in the melee, Justin scrambled and wound up on top of them. He beat his fists against the intruder until, in the chaos, the flashlight illuminated their face.

He would never forget the feeling of that moment, the regret of seeing what he saw.

The intruder was a young man with fair skin and brown hair, though it was matted with dirt and…was that blood? This observation paled in notice that they had only one eye. The rest of the man’s face was fused together, like a wax statue that had been melted and blended. The single eye was panicked and frightened, but upon being seen, seemed suddenly to turn angry and hostile.

[TIMER BUZZES]

(…nope. No, we’re gonna keep going. Adding ten minutes and restarting in 3…2…1..)

The intruder’s hands gripped Justin by the wrists. Whoever they were…whatever it was, was inhumanly strong. They wrestled Justin over and began to hit him again and again alongside his head. Justin kicked frantically and finally freed himself. He burst from the tent and ran blindly out into the dark.

He ran, breathless and without a guide of any sort. Twice he was knocked over by the trunk of a tree in the invisibly dark wood. Each time, he clawed his way to his feet. The forest that had once been so silent was now alive with sounds of all kinds: clicks, burbles, distant caws, but above all of them, the pursuing moan of the one-eyed intruder.

Then, he began to see lights. A twinkling procession of pale green lights revealed themselves between the dark forms of tree trunks. He used this as a heading as he ran with all his breath, all the time hearing the pained moans behind him. A wayward root sticking up from the ground caught his foot and Justin flew forward, landing on his face and chest. Sharp stones in the dirt lacerated his cheek and got in his eyes. He rubbed his eyes fiercely to clear them and got his left open.

With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose

[TIMER BUZZES]
(No! Fuck, spent some of that editing. We’re close. Five more minutes! Starting…now!)

With his depth-perception compromised and breathing made difficult from his bloody nose, he felt like a wounded deer being stalked by a wolf. Nonetheless, he made his way to the floating green lights. Behind him, he heard the furious moans of the monster in pursuit.

He burst from the trees onto a small, dirt path. The green lights lit the way like road flares. He followed these, sprinting with all his remaining strength.

The path curved, and near the end he saw something. Was that…a tent?

There were other campers here! He’d have help! Maybe they had a phone since he’d left his behind. Maybe they had weapons.

He gritted his teeth and ran. Just as he got to the tent, its door flew open and he slipped. Justin fell headlong into the stranger’s tent and the two scrambled into a twisting mess. They were hitting him and he tried to scream, but he found he couldn’t open his mouth.

Finally, a flashlight was rolled over and clicked on. He froze by what he saw.

[TIMER]
(No! Two minutes!)

Justin looked up with his one good eye and found he was looking at himself from earlier that night. He screamed, but all that sounded was a moan. This wasn’t happening. His doppleganger screamed back. There was a fight. Justin was kicked, and his doppleganger ran off into the woods. Stunned, the disfigured journalist sat there, but soon heard the rhythmic running footsteps come up from behind him and primal fear pulled him to his feet.

He ran back out into the dark of Hoia-Baciu.

END

The Take: Okay, technically the timer rang halfway into the word “dark” of that last line, but c’mon. Anyway, hey! We did it (mostly)! Even though we cheated just a little bit, this one was cool. I liked the prompt and as soon as I read it from him, I knew I was going to base it in Hoia-Baciu. Speaking of, if you’ve never read it before, it’s pronounced like ‘Hoya-Botchu,’ and least, I’m pretty sure. If you prove me wrong somehow, that’s okay. But yeah, I put you through a lot of set-up to get there, but that was mostly just me ‘blurrrrb’ing until I pieced together what was going to happen. I knew early on I wanted the twist to be “He runs into himself out there” but what to do with it once we’d gotten there was the trick.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it this time around, catch you guys n’ gals Thursday!

Ciao!

Almost- WAIT!! If this little appetizer whet your palate for something creepy, pop on over to the NIGHTLIGHT podcast and check out my episode with them, “The Scars of Eliza Gray” because I think that would be pretty cool. If that works, then consider also sticking around the catch and interview between me and the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson (and tell ‘er Evan sent ya!).

‘Kay, bye!

RE: The Legend of ‘MegaBoom!’

(Happy Thursday, all! By a combination of time constraints and outside distractions, we’re doing a re-post! Though, I will say, we have a cool somethin’ coming for Tuesday [if not before then, but we’ll see].)

Sorry we were absent Thursday, but celebrating Independence Day meant making sacrifices…

…like camping…and swimming in a lake…

…and s’mores.

Don’t feel bad for me.

Anyway, what I’m saying, is I missed one. BUT it’s okay, because it actually ties in.

Last Thursday saw all of the above-mentioned activities and many others. The one we’re going to focus on is one I think everyone (and especially any Lord of the Rings kids) should at least try: archery.

The lake/campground/recreation territory whatsamagidget we went to had a ton hiking trails, and of those, one that is itself a walking archery range. I’ve had my bow for about seven years and have practiced the art of flinging arrows off and on in that time. (In fact, anyone else remember that Mayan Calendar Apocalypse that was supposed to happen back in 2012? I’m not saying that I thought the world was going to end…I’m not…I am saying that I had my bow ready just in case it was the Time of Mutants and Raiders was nigh, though.)

All of that, however, is just context for what we’re talking about today: The MegaBoom.

That whole off-and-on habit of practice translates roughly to: “practicing regularly for a few weeks and then taking a few months off.” That means that, after seven years, I’m pretty good alright I can hang… I do alright. And yes, of course, I check that my grouping is good enough to hit a human-sized target in case the Green Arrow needs a break, duh. So bulls-eyes at 40-meters happen, albeit infrequently, but I’m no Robin Hood or freaky good shot.

However…

…there’s one guy out there who thinks I’m fucking fantastic.

Let’s focus on that guy.

It was one of those times where I was taking up the hobby again off a hiatus and I go to my regular shop (I would super give her a shout-out, but I’m not totally sure that what happens in the story was entirely legal, so let’s just call the shop “Maggie’s.”) I pay for my time and begin stringing my bow.

For a Friday, it’s unusually thin, with myself and two other guys taking up lanes. One of them has his son with him, who’s receiving beginner’s lessons at the firing line. The owner, Maggie, is teaching him basic form and safety, and he’s eagerly drinking it all up. It’s cute. During this time, myself and the two other guys (the boy’s father included) begin chatting it up. I explain that I’m coming off a regular layup and they both say how they’re each taking it up for the first time, roughly, since childhood. So we’re all on relatively even ground skill-wise, which was comforting (after all, it’s humbling to be on the line, shooting wide, while Katniss Goddamn Everdeen steps up and zeroes her quiver with bulls-eyes). At this point, I overhear Maggie teaching the kid the importance of a full draw:

Maggie: “Mmhm, well yeah. This time it didn’t stick in the target because it wasn’t going fast enough. If you want it to stick, it has to go faster; and if you want it to go faster, you have to pull back all the way, buddy. Okay?”

Then, bless her heart, she puts the spotlight on me. Without ever breaking eye contact with the kid, she then says:

“Hey, Evan. Step up to the line and take a shot for us, hmm?”

I politely pause my conversation with the other patrons and step up to the line. I line up my feet, my hips, shoulders, and even crack my neck. I nock an arrow, grip the string, then finally look at the target. One big breath in then out, I raise my bow, draw back to my nose (a habit of form that I’ve always had weird difficulty adhering to), hold a moment, and release.

Fuckin’ bulls-eye.

Calmly, I smile and step back into conversation but on the inside I am: screaming, windmill-playing air guitar, and thinking of what sponsorships I want when I make it to the Olympics. The two other men had kind things to say, and while I outwardly received them coolly, my heart was on fire in my chest.

The rest of the day proceeded pretty uneventfully from there, but I came back the next day to practice, still riding high off my cool moment from the day before. Who do I see but the father from yesterday (let’s call him Tyler)? He greets me as “that bullseye guy” (to which I blush) and we get to practice.

That day, the store was being managed by a friend of Maggie’s rather than Maggie herself (I think she’d come down with a stomach bug). [We’ll call him] Franky watched us shoot, gave us pointers on form, made jokes – the usual. That was, until he said something about a “Mega Boom.” After a run collecting my arrows, I returned to the line and asked what that was all about.

Rather than answer me in words, his eyes just lit up and he ran around the corner to the back office. About a minute or two later, he returned holding what looked like a bike pump, a small mesh net, a clamp of some kind, and an empty 2-liter soda bottle. I watch as he assembles the whole thing and begins apparently pumping air into the empty plastic bottle. When he’s done, he’s left with a highly pressurized soda bottle fixed to a little stand, and I suddenly see what’s going on: an explosive target.

Now, for context, Maggie’s since moved to a larger location, but the range at that time was relatively small, maybe 15-meters long from target to wall. Thing was, the wall was a warehouse door that opened out into a parking lot. When he sees that we understand what he’s offering us, Franky goes, “Yeah, we might want to head outside for this.” He sets the bottle on top of one of the targets at the end of the range, opens the door, and motions us out into said parking lot. He walks us to approximately 50-meters away (approximately 160-feet, for my imperials) and gives us the green flag.

(Which, as a side note, was a bit premature because as we’re looking at each other as to who is going to try to set off this pseudo-domestic explosive first, a couple of nervous, first-time customers were just walking out the front door – next to the door INTO WHICH WE’RE ABOUT TO FIRE. They freaked out and left before anything happened though…so…all’s well that ends well.)

Anyway, Tyler looks at me and says, “You’re the likeliest to hit it, so you go first.”

I still don’t really understand his logic here, as wouldn’t you want the likeliest shot to go last? But I was too taken by the flattering reference to yesterday’s freak accident but well-time bulls-eye to say no.

Now, at that point, I’d never attempted a shot from that far away before, so my hopes were pretty low. I was also shooting at an empty plastic bottle…a thing which is TRANSPARENT. So I just adjusted my eyes best I could and focused on the blue Pepsi label that wrapped around it. I follow the form from yesterday, raise, draw, and release. Normally, at such close ranges, the sound of an arrow shot sounds kind of like “thuum-tak!” in pretty quick succession, right?

This one was different.

I release the string and hear: “thuum…f-f-f-f-f…BOOOOOM!!”

For the second time that weekend, I felt like Green Arrow, Katniss, Hawkeye, the huntress-god Artemis made flesh. And y’all, it was so loud even from outside and that far away, that I can’t imagine what would have happened to our ears or brains if we’d been standing inside.

After a few moments of stunned silence, we walk back to the wall of targets and look at the damage. I’d hit dead center of the bottle. On one side was a small hole the diameter of an arrow shaft, and the other was split and blown out entirely. I also realize then and there that my arrow itself is utterly missing. I dig into the target a little and find the front half of it and start laughing until I cry. I look around, but can’t seem to find the end with fletching until Franky calls out from the usual firing line that it had blown back to the tape. He brings it over to me and apologizes (fair enough, arrows are expensive); but I told him something I very much mean to this day: I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The next Monday, I went to work with the ruptured bottle and two frayed arrow pieces and put them proudly on display atop my locker, praying that I’d get asked about it.

I probably told this story to over twenty people that day, and I haven’t matched it with a better one since.

But Tyler doesn’t know that. To that guy, who happened to be present for the singularly best moments in my archery career, I’m a goddamn sniper.

Anyway, y’all take it easy until Tuesday!

The Legend of ‘MegaBoom!’

Happy Tuesday, all!

Sorry we were absent Thursday, but celebrating Independence Day meant making sacrifices…

…like camping…and swimming in a lake…

…and s’mores.

Don’t feel bad for me.

Anyway, what I’m saying, is I missed one. BUT it’s okay, because it actually ties in.

Last Thursday saw all of the above-mentioned activities and many others. The one we’re going to focus on is one I think everyone (and especially any Lord of the Rings kids) should at least try: archery.

The lake/campground/recreation territory whatsamagidget we went to had a ton hiking trails, and of those, one that is itself a walking archery range. I’ve had my bow for about seven years and have practiced the art of flinging arrows off and on in that time. (In fact, anyone else remember that Mayan Calendar Apocalypse that was supposed to happen back in 2012? I’m not saying that I thought the world was going to end…I’m not…I am saying that I had my bow ready just in case it was the Time of Mutants and Raiders was nigh, though.)

All of that, however, is just context for what we’re talking about today: The MegaBoom.

That whole off-and-on habit of practice translates roughly to: “practicing regularly for a few weeks and then taking a few months off.” That means that, after seven years, I’m pretty good alright I can hang… I do alright. And yes, of course, I check that my grouping is good enough to hit a human-sized target in case the Green Arrow needs a break, duh. So bulls-eyes at 40-meters happen, albeit infrequently, but I’m no Robin Hood or freaky good shot.

However…

…there’s one guy out there who thinks I’m fucking fantastic.

Let’s focus on that guy.

It was one of those times where I was taking up the hobby again off a hiatus and I go to my regular shop (I would super give her a shout-out, but I’m not totally sure that what happens in the story was entirely legal, so let’s just call the shop “Maggie’s.”) I pay for my time and begin stringing my bow.

For a Friday, it’s unusually thin, with myself and two other guys taking up lanes. One of them has his son with him, who’s receiving beginner’s lessons at the firing line. The owner, Maggie, is teaching him basic form and safety, and he’s eagerly drinking it all up. It’s cute. During this time, myself and the two other guys (the boy’s father included) begin chatting it up. I explain that I’m coming off a regular layup and they both say how they’re each taking it up for the first time, roughly, since childhood. So we’re all on relatively even ground skill-wise, which was comforting (after all, it’s humbling to be on the line, shooting wide, while Katniss Goddamn Everdeen steps up and zeroes her quiver with bulls-eyes). At this point, I overhear Maggie teaching the kid the importance of a full draw:

Maggie: “Mmhm, well yeah. This time it didn’t stick in the target because it wasn’t going fast enough. If you want it to stick, it has to go faster; and if you want it to go faster, you have to pull back all the way, buddy. Okay?”

Then, bless her heart, she puts the spotlight on me. Without ever breaking eye contact with the kid, she then says:

“Hey, Evan. Step up to the line and take a shot for us, hmm?”

I politely pause my conversation with the other patrons and step up to the line. I line up my feet, my hips, shoulders, and even crack my neck. I nock an arrow, grip the string, then finally look at the target. One big breath in then out, I raise my bow, draw back to my nose (a habit of form that I’ve always had weird difficulty adhering to), hold a moment, and release.

Fuckin’ bulls-eye.

Calmly, I smile and step back into conversation but on the inside I am: screaming, windmill-playing air guitar, and thinking of what sponsorships I want when I make it to the Olympics. The two other men had kind things to say, and while I outwardly received them coolly, my heart was on fire in my chest.

The rest of the day proceeded pretty uneventfully from there, but I came back the next day to practice, still riding high off my cool moment from the day before. Who do I see but the father from yesterday (let’s call him Tyler)? He greets me as “that bullseye guy” (to which I blush) and we get to practice.

That day, the store was being managed by a friend of Maggie’s rather than Maggie herself (I think she’d come down with a stomach bug). [We’ll call him] Franky watched us shoot, gave us pointers on form, made jokes – the usual. That was, until he said something about a “Mega Boom.” After a run collecting my arrows, I returned to the line and asked what that was all about.

Rather than answer me in words, his eyes just lit up and he ran around the corner to the back office. About a minute or two later, he returned holding what looked like a bike pump, a small mesh net, a clamp of some kind, and an empty 2-liter soda bottle. I watch as he assembles the whole thing and begins apparently pumping air into the empty plastic bottle. When he’s done, he’s left with a highly pressurized soda bottle fixed to a little stand, and I suddenly see what’s going on: an explosive target.

Now, for context, Maggie’s since moved to a larger location, but the range at that time was relatively small, maybe 15-meters long from target to wall. Thing was, the wall was a warehouse door that opened out into a parking lot. When he sees that we understand what he’s offering us, Franky goes, “Yeah, we might want to head outside for this.” He sets the bottle on top of one of the targets at the end of the range, opens the door, and motions us out into said parking lot. He walks us to approximately 50-meters away (approximately 160-feet, for my imperials) and gives us the green flag.

(Which, as a side note, was a bit premature because as we’re looking at each other as to who is going to try to set off this pseudo-domestic explosive first, a couple of nervous, first-time customers were just walking out the front door – next to the door INTO WHICH WE’RE ABOUT TO FIRE. They freaked out and left before anything happened though…so…all’s well that ends well.)

Anyway, Tyler looks at me and says, “You’re the likeliest to hit it, so you go first.”

I still don’t really understand his logic here, as wouldn’t you want the likeliest shot to go last? But I was too taken by the flattering reference to yesterday’s freak accident but well-time bulls-eye to say no.

Now, at that point, I’d never attempted a shot from that far away before, so my hopes were pretty low. I was also shooting at an empty plastic bottle…a thing which is TRANSPARENT. So I just adjusted my eyes best I could and focused on the blue Pepsi label that wrapped around it. I follow the form from yesterday, raise, draw, and release. Normally, at such close ranges, the sound of an arrow shot sounds kind of like “thuum-tak!” in pretty quick succession, right?

This one was different.

I release the string and hear: “thuum…f-f-f-f-f…BOOOOOM!!”

For the second time that weekend, I felt like Green Arrow, Katniss, Hawkeye, the huntress-god Artemis made flesh. And y’all, it was so loud even from outside and that far away, that I can’t imagine what would have happened to our ears or brains if we’d been standing inside.

After a few moments of stunned silence, we walk back to the wall of targets and look at the damage. I’d hit dead center of the bottle. On one side was a small hole the diameter of an arrow shaft, and the other was split and blown out entirely. I also realize then and there that my arrow itself is utterly missing. I dig into the target a little and find the front half of it and start laughing until I cry. I look around, but can’t seem to find the end with fletching until Franky calls out from the usual firing line that it had blown back to the tape. He brings it over to me and apologizes (fair enough, arrows are expensive); but I told him something I very much mean to this day: I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The next Monday, I went to work with the ruptured bottle and two frayed arrow pieces and put them proudly on display atop my locker, praying that I’d get asked about it.

I probably told this story to over twenty people that day, and I haven’t matched it with a better one since.

But Tyler doesn’t know that. To that guy, who happened to be present for the singularly best moments in my archery career, I’m a goddamn sniper.

Anyway, y’all take it easy until Thursday (for real this time)!

Confessions of a Criminal, pt. 1

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

The other week, I went to a local event in my area called “Coffee with a Cop” as part of an attempt at character research for a novel I’ve got cooking (I actually sort of chickened out then had to come back after being light-heartedly berated by a department clerk, but that’s a story for another time). Point is, it’s a really cool shin-dig wherein members of the local police department convene at a designated coffee shop and are available to the public for questions, conversation, and general hang-out.

Reflecting on it and my notes, it got me thinking about the, precisely, two times I’ve been at odds with The Law – both simple traffic violations.

The first was a simple speeding ticket, and not worth mentioning besides this note telling you it isn’t worth mentioning.

The second was a bit more fun.

For a bit of context, let’s rewind. You all remember Pierre, the roommate who ignited the apartment-wide Cold War? Well, maybe six years ago, he had a girlfriend who’s father had the following belief: “Eh, I just use the carpool lane year-round and whenever. Whenever I get caught, I just treat the ticket like my membership fee.”

As a 19-year-old, I thought this philosophy was goddamn brilliant.

So that’s what I did. For years, I was “that guy,” the one who blazed passed you losers caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. I did this as a renegade road warrior for years; and you know what? I was always on time (sort of kind of not really not the point).

Well one day, I hopped on the freeway, scooted over to the fast lane like usual, and was on my way. Except this time was different. This time, I got a little funny feeling in the back of my brain. A little tingle like ESP that told me, for some inexplicable reason, today was the wrong day to do this. Some would call it paranoia, some would call it guilt, others might call it an impending sense of divine CHP justice (I’d probably side with the latter). But whatever you want to call it, in that moment I was certain I’d made a bad move. So I started trying to merge back in line. Thing was, my plan worked TOO WELL.

I was flying passed columns of barely-moving vehicles, making really good time to my next job (yeah, by the way, it was during a summer where I was working a second job to help teach an English class – well, tutor, but you get me), but all the while thinking that today it was a bad idea, and for the life of me I couldn’t find a spot to merge back into line.

Well, about five minutes into this master class of seeing the future, that’s when I saw him: Officer Powers.

And no shit, I’m not making his name up either to make him sound cool or ‘protect his identity’ or anything. His name was legitimately Officer Powers (like, I’m sure he had a first name, but you know what I’m saying).

Anyway, the freeway passes under an overpass and time…just…

Well, you ever have one of those experiences where you experience a single second of time, but it feels slowed down and stretched into fifteen? That happened here. As I drove under the overpass, I turned my head (slow-motion eyes blinking included) and saw a motorcycle cop that had been hidden on the other side of the barrier. I watch his eyes (behind his badass sunglasses) slowly rise from his radar gun and – y’all – I could feel the eye contact. With our eyes alone and all in an instant, we had the following conversation:

Me: “You see me, right?”
Him: “Oh, yeah.”
Me: “And you see me seeing you, right?”
Him: “Mmhm, most definitely.
Me: “And you can tell I’m seeing you seeing me, right?”
Him: “Totally.”
Me: “Shit.”
Him: “Yup.”

Then, just as quickly as it had slowed, time resumed its usual pace, and as it did, my heart started thumping. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap!” it kept saying.

Then OF COURSE a spot opens up in a regular lane, I scoot into it and start hoping, “Well, maybe that whole thing was imagined. Maybe that badass hawk-eyed cop lost track of me.”

Nope.

A few seconds later I heard the ‘Whoop-Whoop’, saw the lights, and he pulled up behind lil’ old me.

Now, here’s the problem. Like I mentioned up top, I’ve been pulled over precisely once before on the freeway. That time, it had been a complete piece of cake. Freeway, nighttime with no other cars, just before an off-ramp that pulled directly into a gas station. Super safe, super easy, no mess, no fuss.

This time, it was on a hot, bright, busy day, with the Great Migration of Southern Traffic happening, and I didn’t know to/how to pull over onto the shoulder.

So…I…just kept driving.

Like, I was in the right-hand lane and trying to choose and exit to take, but couldn’t find a similar, utterly perfect one; so I panicked and stayed on the freeway.

I took so long to pull off that the car driving in front of me must have had a guilty conscience over something and pulled off to the shoulder themselves (or they were demonstrating for me, I don’t know). Point is, I take so long to pull over, the guy rides up to my window.

Him: “Hey, are you gonna pull over or what?”
Me: “Um, erm, I, uh, um…downtown exit?”

I can’t see his eyes roll behind his shiny-ass aviator glasses, but I felt it.

I finally pull off the freeway at the designated exit, but then I encounter another problem: where to park?

I come up to a stop light, and take a right because I know it goes into a neighborhood with, normally, plenty of street parking where I can proudly receive my traffic citation. Except today, the curbs are all super busy. So I come up to a 4-way stop intersection thinking this: “Well, I mean, there’s a little bit of space over there, but it looks like it’s a bit of red curb and, ho-ho, I don’t wanna double down. That spot looks open, but- oof, looks like a yellow curb…”

Meanwhile, Officer Powers has again approached my driver’s side window as three other cars have approached the intersection, but are all awkwardly sitting there since it’s my turn to go and nobody wants to go out of order while a cop is present. I roll my window down.

Me: “Hi again.”
Him: “Yeah, hi. You see that patch of curb over there?” -he points-
Me: “Yessir.”
Him: “There.”

He holds his hands up to hold the three other cars back as a way to direct traffic for me as he waves me forward to my parking spot.

The [French accent] piece de resistance?

I smirk and nod at one of the cars I pass. Y’all, I felt like such a pimp getting my very own police escort that I chest-pumped at a stranger.

Anyway, once I park, it was nothing but a (further) pleasant experience. He told me I come off like I’m new to this sort of thing, to which I confess I am, to which he responds that he guesses that’s probably a good thing.

In the end, I was late to work, got my ticket and a story, and I haven’t violated the rules of the carpool/HOV lane since. #thesystemworks

Also, I told my mom about the whole thing, and she laughed with me. I told my girlfriend and got my ass chewed plum off for it. Learned a lot that day.

Catch you guys Thursday!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

ALSO I HAVE MORE NEWS!!

My episode with the NIGHTLIGHT podcast dropped last Friday!! It features a horror story of mine: “The Scars of Eliza Gray“. Go, it’s free, give it a listen, and if you wanna, stick around after the 25-minute mark to listen to my interview with the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson. It was a TON of fun to do and I’m sure we’ll have more news like this in the future.

F*ck it, we’ll do it live!

Happy Thursday, everybody.

Normally I try to plan these out at least a little bit, but about half of them have been the result of me looking at the clock on a Tuesday or Thursday and going: “…hmm, was I- oh, shit!”

Today’s one of those, but we’re going to put a spin on it. Rather than frantically digging through files to grab a story, quotes, or whatever, we’re going to do a prompt on the fly (sort of).

A couple of weeks ago, friend and fellow blogger over at Writing up a Sanctuary and I traded writing prompts. Since then, I’ve been making empty promises to flesh it out and make something of it.

Empty…until now.

There’s no way for you to know this besides trusting me, but at the time of writing THIS line, I’m setting a clock for thirty minutes and am just going to try and get this thing out. If time runs out before I’m done, you’ll know because it will just…end. But we’ll see how it goes!

Okay, so, first things first, the prompt: An inmate is found dead in his cell. He’s covered in burns and blisters, but nothing else in the room shows damage from a fire. What happened, who dunnit?

Sweet, now that we’re all caught up, we hit the timer and start seeing what the hell to do with it, starting in…

Oh! And it should be noted I’m not going to edit this. So everything here will be as it was first written down and left like that. So if there are some typos that I sped past…I mean, c’mon.

Anyway,

3…

2…

1…

Now.

The Burned Man

“Hey, Jeff. You might wanna see this.”

The prison guard motioned to his coworker and the two stood over the body. Still in his prison orange, the corpse of inmate #2471 (known as “James” to his mom and “Pipe Wrench” to his fellow inmates) lie curled in the middle of his cell like a dead spider. His skin was bright red, peeled, and cracked. Blisters covered his neck, the back of his hands, and other exposed (former) areas of skin.

The thing that both men found strange was that while he looked badly burned, the rest of the room – even the clothes on his body – were untouched. The other thing was, neither guard mourned his loss.

Inmate #2471 Pipe Wrench was kind of a dick.

“You find him like this?”

“Yup.”

“You radioed it in yet?”

“Nope.”

“Think we should?”

“Yup.”

Ninety minutes later, Detective Alvarez was standing at the edge of the cell while the crime scene photos were taken. He was chewing on a toothpick and switched sides of his mouth every time the camera flashed. This one was new: a man covered in burns with no evidence besides.

The guards had given their two cents (each, so not even a nickel in all). Their theory was that he was beaten to death, probably burned with grease from the kitchen where he was often stationed to work as “torture or something”, then dumped back in his cell.

When Alvarez asked why his clothes were perfectly clean and untouched, the two guards just looked at each other then back to Alvarez with blank looks. “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumbass, were better off checking clocks and counting cocks, in the detectives mind, but they might have had something with the relocation aspect of their (stupid) theory.

The camera flashed, and something caught the detective’s eye. He gave the photographer the sign to take a break and stepped over Pipe Wrench’s body to his cot. The thing which had caught his eye was the reflection off the camera’s flash that came from a metallic clip under the inmate’s bed. He held it between his thumb and forefinger. “Suds n’ Buds Laundry” was decoratively engraved on the clip. He walked back to the Tweedles.

“You guys ever seen one of these?”

“Um,” said Tweedle Dee, scratching his chin. “In the laundry room, I think.”

Tweedle Dumbass just nodded in agreement.

Alvarez sighed and rubbed his temples. “Anything else you want to add? Did the inmate ever work in the laundry room?”

Both Tweedles shook their heads.

Detective Alvarez shook his head, pocketed the clip, and headed to the laundry room. As he left, Tweedle Dumbass called out, “Oh wait! He was in the laundry!”

Alvarez spun around with interest.

“He just got his jumpers cleaned. That’s all. But he WAS there.” The guard looked proud of himself.

Alvarez gave a weak spirited thumb’s up and made for the laundry room. Once there, he asked around, made his inquiries, and poked in all the corners. Nothing. He combed through the equipment to look for blood-covered murder weapons, smoking guns, confession notes – anything. Eventually, he came to the detergents and big industrial washers and noticed something off. One of the containers had a blue lid instead of white. He dug it off the shelf, sifted some through his fingers to see if the marked container had hidden contraband or evidence, but found none. He put the detergent back and inspected the washer beneath it.

“Hey,” he called to an inmate working nearby. “Any chance this washer or detergent was used to clean Pipe Wrench’s jumpers?”

“Dunno, man. Pro’ly.”

“Cool, thanks.”

And like that, Alvarez was out of luck. A mysterious case that had gone cold right as it started. A burned man with no fire damage to his cell. No smell of smoke. No fires on prison grounds around the time of the murder. The only thing he had to go on was motive, but the problem there was that most everyone had motive.

Inmate #2471 was kind of a dick, after all.

As he got back in his car, he reached for the AC. Mid-July in Georgia meant it was hot as hell. Soon, Alvarez started itching at his hand. Then started wiping it with his shirt. It went from itching to burning. Then from burning, to burning bad. He reached for a bottle of water under the passenger seat (his car was cluttered) and poured it on his hand in a panic, but that only made the pain explode. Just shy of screaming, he reached for a bottle of Muscle Milk he’d picked up that morning but hadn’t finished, and dumped it on the sizzling skin. Soon, the insane burning subsided and Alvarez’s eyes went wide.

He knew what happened.

Whoever had laundered Pipe Wrenches jumpsuit had “powdered” it with some kind of dehydrated sulfuric acid after it dried, hidden in a detergent container. After Pipe Wrench put it on and started to sweat, he burned up just like that.

Alvarez ran back into the prison to present his findings and round up a suspect list of inmates working in the laundry room, but those efforts proved fruitless. It seemed that while he knew how the deed got done, who did it- [END TIME]

FIN

The Take: Aaaaaah! Right up to the end. But you get it, basically the killer gets away because “Pipe Wrench was a dick,” but overall I think we did okay here. I was going to go for a [SPOILER ALERT TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ‘MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS’] Murder on the Orient Express take wherein the whole prison was in on it, just with a suuuuper cheesey and dumb motive. The thought process in the beginning went something like this: “Type, just type. Whatever comes to mind, go with it. Fill time while we think on what happened. Fire? Nah. Relocated? Eeeeh, nah. What burns withou- ah! Chemical burns. Cool, cool. Now how’d he get them? Aaah, shit. His clothes are untouched for the mystery, so…detergent? No! Detergent gets SWAPPED! Aha!” so on and so forth until we got the weird thingy here.
So…yeah…that’s “The Burned Man”. Taaaaa-daaaaa.

Haha, I’ll see you guys Tuesday.

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up! Also keep an eye out and an ear open for the episode where we discuss and give our takes on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us”! Yaaaaay!