Wisdom from a Vampire Hunter

Happy Tuesday, y’all.

Busily Usain Bolt-ing towards the finish line on this house selling/buying thing, so today I figured I would dive into one of my old notebooks and go quote-hunting for some wisdom of the ancients (I like to picture it like truffle-hunting and I’m the hog – *sniff sniff* *sniff sniff*). I utilized the delicate technique of flipping to a random page and turned up a bit of a gem on the first go.

If you’ve never read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” I’d SUPER recommend it. I went on a kick of reading old classics a few years ago – Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, etc. – and gained a lot from it.

A lot, like this…

“You are a clever man, friend John; you reason well, and your wit is bold; but you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplate by men’s eyes, because they know – or think they know – some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new ideas, beliefs, which think themselves new, and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young – like the fine ladies of the opera…

“My thesis is this: I want you to believe…To believe in things that you cannot. Let me illustrate. I heard once of an American who so defined faith: ‘that which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue.’ For one, I follow that man. He meant that we shall have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck. We get the small truth first. Good! We keep him, and we value him; but all the same must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe.”

-Van Helsing

The Take: First off, I saw the Van Helsing movie with my Lord and Savior Hugh Jackman before ever reading Dracula, and I was COMPLETELY THROWN when instead of a chiseled Wolverine in a trench coat, he was described as a barrel-chested, red-haired Dutchman. Confused. As. Fuck. But eventually, I embraced him.
Secondly (and arguably more important, but pfft), this was the scene where Helsing is prepping Jonathan Harker to accept the idea of vampires, and the idea of one being at the root of their troubles. And I love the lessons herein – about keeping an open mind and not thinking so rigidly you’re not able to learn.

If you’re a fan of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Farenghar Secret-Fire puts it a bit more succintly:

“A sure mark of a fool is to dismiss anything that lies outside his experience as impossible.”

Van Helsing puts it a bit more diplomatically, but the lesson, I think, is in the same spirit. It doesn’t mean “believe everything you hear” (heh-heh, the Internet, am I right?), but it does mean not to write off new ideas simply because they conflict with a previously held idea; judge it upon its own merits. Cognitive dissonance (SMART WORDS) might be uncomfortable, but it makes room for growth.

Anyway, take it easy, everybody. Catch you Thursday.

Ciao.

Fantasy Dim Sum: Ainsley and Stella

What’s up, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Today we’re at it again: serving up a couple short scenes that wind up tying together in the end. Rather than overdoing the intro, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Without further adieu…

Part 1: ‘Ainsley, Justicar of Taldastius

Ainsley stood still at the edge of the forest glade, loosing the deep breath with the slow, practiced control her work demanded. Her eyes took in the scene with that same calm measure as her plated boots clinked their tread through the soft grass. A gentle wind danced through the muted green, brushed her cheeks, tossed her hair, and carried the scent of blood – the scent of a haunting life she’d left behind.

While her task required attention, Ainsley’s focused mind would not carry the nightmares of that life. For a time, she would not be molested by thoughts of the clans her brother-and-sisters-in-arms had scattered; she would not burden herself with the memories of their screams; she would not shudder at the knowledge she held of that which corroded the earth, shattered rock, and sundered the skies. A “dishonorable discharge” it had been called, but a system of mock honor that burns and destroys the undeserving to protect its own interests held no place to judge her. No longer holding station among the zealous Elves of the Iron Fang, she had found the freedom to wander. Unwelcome by many, hated by some, Ainsley turned Nameless – finding work and a place in the darkest recesses of Mundas, thanklessly facing the nightmares that plagued its people.

And this way she lived for many years until came such a time as any for those that live the Nameless way, and she found herself ready to die as such. She had stood in a moonlit glade then as well, slowly kneeling ready to dash the lunar-gray grasses with the crimson of her life’s blood. As she had held the blade high and saw in its reflection the pale of the moon, the sight of it filled her mind and heart with a vision:

We that follow are the light that stands amid the dark and guides the helpless through its shroud.”

The Oath and its Moon Strictures now decorating the flesh of her back, her life as a Justicar of Taldastius had begun only weeks later; her stride now set with a righteous purpose beyond murky survival.

As her footfalls strode quietly through the glade, shield at her side and sword gleaming brightly in the moonlight, Ainsley heard the choking, strained gasps more clearly the nearer she drew. The girl was young, no more than twenty winters behind her, with raven black hair and eyes with blue that pierced the pallid night. The acrid smell in the air, the jagged, raking marks down the girl’s arms, and the thick, speckled quills that perforated her petite form told Ainsley more than enough: Howlers.

Normally cowardly, netherplane-dwelling beasts, something had brought them here. The girl looked up at Ainsley, lips quivering, dark trails streaking from the corners of her mouth, and unable to speak. The Justicar held the young girls gaze for a time before turning her own to a rustling in the encompassing treeline.

They were coming.

END

The Take: So, there are a couple of lore points from the larger world at work here to address that might help, might not.
Ainsley is a Justicar (or paladin-variant, basically) of Taldastius, Steward of the Moon, Keeper of the Scales, Lord of Justice, n’ all else. The Moon is the Order’s totem and it represents them in the way Ainsley’s vision outlines: they fight against the dark by living in it, but without becoming it (if that makes sense). I could go on for pages, but that’s the gist and we have more to get to (this is supposed to be bite-sized, after all).
The Iron Fang are essentially a state-funded volunteer corps of defense against the dragon nests north of the Continent. They’re comprised of zealots, desperate sods, religious nutters, social outcasts – anyone and everyone. It’s members are highly revered, though, normally only after they’ve died – being criticized and berated in life by society at large. They’re organized strictly, and when one falls out of their ranks (is insubordinate, flees, or otherwise shows cowardice), they become “Nameless,” the world’s equivalent to Witchers, basically; only finding work as mercenaries and monster-hunters.

On to the next!

Part 2: Stella Fairbay, Heiress of Shale

Stella watched the diminutive ceramic dancer slowly twirl in its place within the open music box. A slight smile spread across her narrow lips as she listened to the soft chiming sung by the inner springs and coils. She watched the last of the day’s warm sunlight glimmer and reflect off its polished curves, and these feelings left her mind awash in memories – though they now seemed so distant.

The years of her youth were of gilded halls and ballrooms, long hours in formal court, and a deep-rooted yearning to part with it all, though never once betraying her family’s storied lineage. As with many of the women in her ancestry, Stella held a particularly strong sway over the magical forces of Mundas, and nothing interfered with that secret more greatly than the life of royalty. Her potential was held captive by the very privilege which provided for her, so she stole away one night to walk the wanderer’s path and develop her talents. Her only farewell: a letter addressed to her grandmother, the ruling Duchess of Shale, mentor to Stella in her youngest years, and, moreover, only living family-by-blood left in the Duchy.

Stella fluttered her eyelids to blink the memories away and she found her vision focusing beyond the now silent toy dancer to the reflection of her own eyes in the mirror of the box’s lid. She held the sight for a breath then looked up to behold the moon, feeling now that it was almost time. It had taken many months to find this place and Stella would be damned if she’d spent that time tracking down the proper charts, conferring with members of the Channelers’ Fold, and preparing the necessary charms only to miss her window distracted by nostalgia.

The young witch carefully closed the music box and stowed it within her black, silver-laced robes. She stood sharply and grasped the spear-staff at her side, an heirloom from her late grandfather. Stella marched with conviction to the edge of a summoner’s circle she’d constructed when the sun had been high, looked up to see the moon nearing its zenith, and an eager laugh escape her lips as she began her incantation, ready to open the way. Her eyes whited over with a milky paleness to mimic the moon and the ground beneath her feet felt as if to hum in harmony with her low tone.

Slowly, like fireflies drifting in the veil of night, glowing sigils began to form out of the cold air and weave together in the bounds of her circle. A complete silence took the glade before a loud snap broke the air and a bright font of light burst forth from the ground. In a matter of moments, Stella knew, if she had done her work correctly, she would be face-to-face with an angelic archon.

As the last of the arcane light faded from the circle, an unexpected darkness shrouded the glade. Stella rubbed her eyes so they might adjust and whispered a word to her staff for light. As she did so, a horrible sense of dread fell upon her like a cloak and she heard a clicking, guttural snarl. The moments of Stella’s life to follow would be remembered only as a panicked blur.

A haunting, shrieking howl pierced the still quiet.

Her chest and arms pained by slashes of unseen claws.

She was knocked breathless against the cool, damp grass.

Stella awaited the death knell from whatever infernal creatures her tragic mistake had summoned, though it never came. She could hear them, feel them encircling her, as her vision slowly darkened until a vibrant silver light beamed from the edge of the glade and the creatures retreated from it. A woman in silver and blue plate armor stood over her, beautiful and scarred, she peered down at Stella with a look of sympathy. A noise from the glade’s edge stole the woman’s attention for a moment, and when her gaze returned to the young witch her eyes burned a brilliant silver that shone against the dark backdrop of the stars.

The woman whispered a soft, chiming tone and Stella coughed. While still in great pain, she could feel a relieving warmth spread across her body where there had been agony moments before. Seeing the young woman stable, the paladin dashed across the muted gray forest floor, her blade shining white with fire. Stella craned her neck to watch as her savior cleaved down the first two beasts in a matter of moments and briefly wrestled with a third, a terrible fray of shouts and visceral crunches, while the remaining pack closed in around. With a desperate, heaving breath, Stella sat up and looked on as long, sharp quills like those that had pierced her struck the paladin between areas of her plate. Focusing through the tormenting pain and hurried anxiety of her circumstance, Stella forced herself into trance.

The paladin fought from her back, swinging this way and that to ward away the encroaching pack, when she felt the ground beneath her shake. The howlers seized the moment of her hesitation and moved to leap upon their meal, but could not feel the ground beneath their gnarled paws. She watched as the remaining pack was lifted above the grass and pulled, flailing viciously, over to the girl in black robes, now standing with spear in one hand and the other extended towards the creatures. Quills were shaken and shot forth in Stella’s direction, though they splintered to harmless flakes in the air around her. The howlers were forced to the grass, dragged by an invisible hand to the circle from which they’d emerged and, like water through cloth, disappeared beneath the ground.

From across the moonlit glade, the two women locked eyes for the second time and together shared a well-earned sigh of relief.

END

The Take: There you have it, a bad-ass, scarred up warrior lady and a reckless, mystical witch woman ruining a gaggle of otherworldly beasties. Always fun. I always liked Stella’s half for tying in and really showing off Ainsley’s badassery, plus alluding to some other world-bits we’ll explore a bit more deeply later.

Probably put up the others of this little “mini-series” tomorrow rather than waiting until Tuesday. Til then, you take it easy and stay beautiful, you.

Ciao.

“Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son” – Our First Guest Post!

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

About a month ago, I started waking up at 4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday morning to go running with my buddy Eric. I wouldn’t have voted for that start time, personally, but I asked, “What time are you consistently available?”
“In the morning before work,” said he.
“What time do you have to be at work?” asked I.
“Seven o’clock,” said he.
“In the morning?” asked I.
“Yep,” confirmed he.
“Okay,” sighed I.

That’s how it started, and I told him I refused to “bitch out” first, so now I’m pretty committed to those words, lest I eat them. It’s a thing I simultaneously think everyone should do, at least a little bit, and would not wish on someone I disliked greatly.

Anyway, on to the good stuff!

You all remember Pierre, right? (It’s kind of funny, because he initially asked to be kept anonymous when I mentioned I was going to put out his debut story, but has since become cool with using his name outside of that…but, nah. I like Pierre, so Pierre he’ll remain.) Well today’s post is both the last installment of the esteemed Amwren Chronicles series AND the first co-written feature on here. He wrote the first half, I finished up with the second to tie it into the campaign, and the result is the following beautiful literary baby.

Without further adieu…

Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son

Few men can trace their change of fortune to a specific event. Karian however can pinpoint it to a single hour on an otherwise uneventful August day. He was barely twelve years of age when he walked into his small one room home to see his father with a beaten face and his mother nowhere to be seen. He asked the question that any man of any age would ask, and was answered with a cold apathetic grunt from his father trying to drink his way out of a half full bottle of spirits. Unsatisfied and still not sure what happened Karian walked back outside to see what he could find.

Days went by before his father was willing to open up about what happened that day, and as the years progressed so did his story. The first time he told it he attacked the man he suspected his wife of sleeping with. By Karian’s thirteenth birthday his father defended her honor from a gang of savage militiamen with ill intent. Less than a year later, he was telling people the local lord challenged him to a duel for her hand. Two things remained consistent throughout his wildly growing stories: he always heroically faced overwhelming odds, and at the end she always left him coldly. He was the victim of a story that never ended, using his perceived misfortune as a crutch. He may as well have grown gills for all the time he spent drowning in a bottle.

Karian can trace his change of fortune to that mysterious day when his mother disappeared, because it was the first day he had no other option than to start believing his father’s wild stories. By the time he was old enough to start thinking for himself the damage was already done; he couldn’t trust anyone but himself, and women were nothing but backstabbing harlots. Eventually Karian got it in his mind to become a smooth-talking bard after seeing one visit a local tavern, and so he set off to join the Bard’s College of Stettin, and changed his family name from Tavistock to Nimblefinger. He dropped out after learning enough to play a lute, albeit poorly, and hum a tune. He survived by becoming a pickpocket and doing the odd job around a local inn.

These days he spends his time fast talking the pretty girls that pass through his inn. But through it all he can’t ignore the nagging in the back of his mind, the need to discover the truth about what really happened to his mother so many years ago…

*

It was the early morning crowing of a rooster that woke Karian, and he judged by the dizzying headache, lingering scent of perfume, and his utter lack of clothing, that the previous night had been a success. Rubbing his eyes to clear the dust, he looked around and decided that how he had come to wake in a barn, when he’d assuredly bed the lovely young lady in the tavern storeroom, was also best left to the imagination. He adjusted himself on the scratchy hay pile on which he was lying, folded his arms behind his head, and enjoyed the first rays of morning sun peeking through the parse planks of the barn’s walls. Anything but a typical man, this was, alas, a typical story in the life of Karian Nimblefinger.

What he was unaccustomed to, however, was waking to the presence of another man.

“Hello?” ventured a voice from the stall next to his.

“Ah, one minute, mate,” called Karian. Not that he held any shame whatsoever in the size of his manhood, or much shame to speak of at all really, he whispered a thanks to the sweet gods that left him with his bard’s bonnet, and covered himself with it. He cleared his throat with a cough. “You may approach, good sir,” he sang.

“Fair morning.” The man who rounded the corner was young, no more than twenty summers behind him, and dressed in robes of light lavender. A large medallion depicting two hands with intricately woven fingers laced with string hung low from his neck. “Are you Karian Nimblefinger?”

“My reputation precedes me. I am he, unique and true, friend. What’ll it be? Autograph or private performance? As you can see, I’m a bit without my equipment – well, my stage equipment.”

“Kindly appreciated, but unnecessary,” chuckled the priest. “I come on request of my master, as one of the Order of Bokonon. He requests your presence in Tallin in a week’s time.”

“Tallin…Tallin…Tallin…” repeated Karian tapping his chin. “Is that the one with all the…buildings?”

“A few, yes. Temples.”

“Ah, right! Well, as you can see, young master, I’m a man of professional…profession. I’m not accustomed to rendering services without payment. So, on that stricture, one of my very few, I would be remiss not to ask: will there be gold?”

“I would hazard to say yes, yes there will.”

“Then I’m in! If you’ll allow me a moment to fetch me pants, it’ll be off to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: Not that I expect the world at large to closely follow this series, but after a few darker notes in the middle with entries like Aldis and Tsal, it felt appropriate to bring it back to a lighter note with Karian. Throughout the campaign, for his part in it (he eventually sojourned at one point to become a pirate – dope), he added to the comic relief, joviality, mischief, revelry, and unfiltered fun of the whole process, but he wasn’t without a humanizing darker side. In fact, he was the member of the group I least expected to learn, much less embrace, utilizing blood magic, but shit did he.

Anyway, it was good to see Karian again. Pierre, this one’s to you.

Take it easy, everyone. Catch ya Thursday.

Why Does Anything Exist At All?

Happy Thursday, you cooky-nutters (trying something new, sue me).

It was my birthday yesterday. Not bragging, especially since 26 isn’t exactly a landmark birthday, just layin’ down some context. For more context: when I was sixteen, I went to go see ‘Inglorious Basterds‘ with my Jewish uncle (which was a pretty rad combo). Sometime around then, if not a little before, he had a birthday (I know, almost like we all get one) and I’d asked him how he spent it. “Oh, slept in a little,” he said, “picked up the house, took myself out to brunch, got a haircut, and went and saw a movie.”

“That’s it?” I asked, fifteen at the time.

He let out a big, happy sigh and just said, “Yup.”

And since then (since I was about nineteen, actually), that’s been the model birthday I’ve loved most. So yesterday, I slept in a little, took myself out to brunch, went to the library, worked on a story outline, and bought a book. The book in question: “Why Does the World Exist?” by Jim Holt. In short, so far it seems like an exploration of that at once utterly inchoate and distantly profound question. It brought me back to my own angsty wrestling matches with existentialism (the type I’m sure we’ve all either passed through or at least referee’d once or twice), and it made today’s post seem pretty appropriate.

This one started on the drive to work one fateful morning.

One thing that should be noted…well…like…have you seen ‘500 Days of Summer?’ You know how at the very beginning, the beautiful Joseph Gordon Levitt is all, “This is a love story, but they don’t end up together in the end” n’ stuff? (Fun fact: That’s the fifth ‘500 Days of Summer’ reference I’ve made this week.) Anyway, I say it because I want you to know something here at the top: this thing is unfinished. As in, truly. Does not have an end. It ends abruptly in the middle of conversation. I’d had plans a while ago to shape out an ending where Danny waxes about a dream he had wherein Milo Yannopolis chases him around one night, Terminator-style, and he uses a block party and a sympathetic sheriff to…y’know, we’ll just finish it up in a future post.

For now…

Oh! Actually, real quick, just as a note since they’re never described, I like to picture Danny as Liam O’Brien and Lloyd as Sam Riegel.

Okay. Cool. As you were. * ahem *

For now…

Little Lion Man

Danny sat in the pallid gray light that came through the cafe window that rainy September afternoon. They let him smoke so long as he left the window cracked and business was slow. He took a long drag and tapped out the ashes onto his napkin. As he let it out through the window, he ran his fingers through his thin hair, half-massaging his scalp while the nicotine coursed through his veins. He put the cigarette out in his napkin and held up a pausing finger while he took a deep drink of coffee, preparing to speak.

Lloyd sat patiently across the table from his brother, a slight irritated pursing of his lips while he waited for Danny to finish his cup. “You should have let me take the umbrella,” he said. “It wasn’t even raining when you left.” Lloyd motioned to his jacket which morosely hung dripping by the front door.

“I had a feeling it would.”

“Ah, well maybe that precognition could’a gone to buying two, or maybe calling me down here sooner. What’s this all about anyway?”

Danny laughed to himself and pointed across the table. “That’s the question, isn’t it?”

Lloyd’s face contorted with confusion at the statement. “The fuck does that mean?”

“I just don’t understand this.”

“What?” Lloyd muttered. “Understand what?”

“I don’t understand this,” Danny repeated, punctuating the statement with hands motioning to the surrounding air. “I don’t understand what this is all supposed to be or be for and I keep going back and forth on whether I’m okay with it or not.”

Lloyd readied a quip in reply to his brother’s nonsense, but on a second thought, left it unsaid.

“It used to be,” Danny continued, “I would just say I was feeling contemplative, right? Lately, lately it’s more like I’m coming up for air after being denied breath for a time, or like I’m finally waking up but I was never asleep.”

“Poetic,” Lloyd said simply.

Danny chuckled under his breath. “You remember that trip to Yosemite that Sam and I took?”

“Of course.”

“Well, in a lot of ways, it was the same when we went there. She’d tell the story a bit different, but when we made it to the top of the Upper Falls I went to look over the edge and she about lost her mind. You know, telling me to ‘back the hell up’ and ‘Jesus Christ Danny you’re gonna fall’ and stuff. She hated it but I shrugged her off and leaned to get a real look at the valley floor. The trees were so small they just looked like bristles on a brush. There’s no guard rail so I got to sit down and hang my feet over the end, lie back, and just feel the wind and sun. It was so beautiful to just kind of meditate and really feel where I was, y’know?”

“I’ve been before. It’s nice and high up for sure.”

“Exactly. When you look over the edge, it’s twenty-six hundred feet – that’s half a mile straight down. And maybe it should have, but it didn’t scare me. I told her then what I still believe now, which is that the full gravity of the height didn’t settle on me for some reason.”

“Because you’re an idiot.”

“Thanks.”

Lloyd motioned a bow with his head and hand.

“Not you. Thank you,” Danny said again, to the waitress refilling his coffee cup.

“Could I,” Lloyd ventured with an embarrassed smile, “perhaps get one of your lovely raspberry scones to go with my refill?”

“Of course,” the waitress replied sweetly.

“Thanks. Anyway,” he said returning to Danny, “you were saying?”

“Yeah. Looking down I guess I was more fascinated, really mesmerized, at the view of the valley than I was cautious. I just couldn’t grasp the idea of the sheer height I dangled my foot over and what a misstep would mean. I couldn’t fully grasp it. I was too focused on everything I was feeling.”

Lloyd ponderously chewed his freshly delivered scone as Danny continued.

“When I get in these moods now, it’s similar.”

“How so?”

“Like, as far as we know, this all exists. You and I exist. Can you really tell me that you understand that? That you have a fully realized, thorough underlying comprehension of that idea? Just physical existence in general. A comprehension so thorough that there are no further angles to explore.”

“I’d have to understand you first.”

“We have names for the things around us. We presume too much. Just look around as if you don’t have a name for it, as if you’ve never seen it before, like it’s completely alien to you – no attached association for function or purpose or origin, totally new.”

Lloyd finished another bite of scone and leaned back in his chair, examining the cafe space acutely. “I see,” he began, “several odd wooden arrangements, squares of stone laid out decoratively about the floor, and a lovely young female that…oh, clearly goes to Pilates.”

“You could almost take it serious,” Danny said, his expectant smile belied the tone of disappointment.

“I just don’t know what you want from me on this,” Lloyd said, laughing.

“Some company, I guess.”

“In this misery of yours? Would you shut that damn window!”

“More or less, yeah,” Danny answered, closing the window. The rain was starting to pick up again outside. “I’m just starting to feel these ideas beginning to strangle me a bit. It’s that squirming feeling you get when you can’t remember a song title or the name of an actress, the ones you can feel rip you apart until you have it. Except, I can’t just Google this. This is something there isn’t an answer for. Everyone has their explanations, for sure, but nobody has solid answers.”

“Huh,” sounded Lloyd through his last bite of scone. “This really has you turned around, doesn’t it? You been sleeping alright? Everything not okay at work or something?”

“Work’s been…interesting since about a week ago.”

“Oh God. What now?”

“It’s just something stupid.”

“Usually is. What happened?”

“I challenged a friend and coworker to out me.”

“To out you?”

Danny grunted a sigh while he searched for an explanation. “A few months ago, we got into a long, deep chat while trying to kill time during one of our shifts and-”

“This story have a point?” interrupted Lloyd.

“You’re the worst goddamned audience member, you know that?” Danny pitted his lips and held up a finger to preemptively silence his brother’s protest. “Anyway, we talked about evolution because I mentioned Darwin and it came out that I don’t quite believe the popular theory.”

“Told you that shit would get you in trouble, didn’t I?”

“But why should it?”

“It makes you too friggin’ contentious.”

“People could have and in fact did say the same thing about today’s world religions at their origins or Darwin in his day. Not that I’m at all a comparison, but why should it be wrong to not subscribe to something you don’t understand?”

Lloyd shook his head in confusion. “How do you not understand it? We started as soup, to fish, to monkeys, to folks.”

“A classmate said the same thing once. That he’d read the Origin of Species and that it was all plain as day.”

“It is!” exclaimed Lloyd with a laugh and a clap.

“Have you read it?” asked Danny flatly.

“Ah, come on, Danny.”

“Have you?”

“No,” Lloyd capitulated. “But the logic behind the theory is all there. The process makes sense.”

“Of course it does!” Danny shouted. The look from some members of the wait staff reminded him where he was. He collected himself and, in a quieter voice, continued. “Of course it makes sense, or else positively nobody would follow it. That doesn’t make it necessarily true. In the end, all thinking follows a path of logic. Scientific theories, mythologies of old, even observations of children all follow logical thinking.”

“You’re saying that the birth of Aphrodite and The Big Bang are on the same level?”

“What?” Danny scoffed. “Alright, yes and no. They’re both explanations for how things came to be, right? I just haven’t been convinced that either of them happened the way they were described. They totally could have been, fuck it, but I can’t say that I know that’s the case. Why is that so wrong?”

“It’s not wrong, really. Just weird. Makes you seem kind of…”

“Uneducated, right?”

“Well, uh…”

“And isn’t that part of the problem, too? For scientific communities boasting these reputations for being inclusive of new ideas, willing to contest and incorporate them – which, at large, they don’t, by the way. Just ask John Anthony Hopkins – why is it such a high social crime to say you’re not quite convinced?”

“It’s not criminal, Danny. I just don’t see how you can’t be persuaded to give it a second look, you know? Or if not that, then what happened?”

Danny rubbed his temples and ran fingers through his hair. “It isn’t about proposing an alternative. It’s about contesting what we have in front of us. You don’t need to propose another suspect just because the first guy has a solid alibi. Maybe, as the analogical police, you need to reshape your theory of what happened.”

“Kind of a weak analogy.”

“So long as it demonstrates my point, that’s fine. That being, why do we need an alternative? I’d rather live with the comfortable uncertainty of accepting that I don’t know what happened, than to agree to the popular theory in lieu of an alternative. Just, here-” Danny got up from the table and walked over the chalk board on which the available daily brews were written. Using his sleeve, he started erasing the list and picked up a piece of chalk from the rail.

“Hey!” shouted one of the baristas.

Danny quickly brandished his wallet and made a show of depositing a fifty dollar bill in the tip jar. “For the trouble of rewriting it,” he said.

The young man’s eyes widened as he gave a quick nod and went back to his work.

“Now,” Danny said as he addressed Lloyd with the chalk. “Humans have, for ages, used themselves to measure their surroundings. Mountains aren’t big, just as ants aren’t tiny. They just are the size they are. We only describe them and think of them as huge or minuscule because of their relation in size to us, right?”

“I suppose,” Lloyd agreed with a disgruntled sigh.

“Don’t be embarrassed, the shop’s pretty much empty, alright? Just suffer me this.”

Lloyd waved his hand for his brother to continue.

“Then,” Danny pressed on, “consider how goddamn immense the earth beneath your feet is. Try and wrap your head around how freaking gargantuan it is, yeah? Now, if we’re right about where we fit in relation to the other objects in our universe, this-” Danny paused to make a painstakingly small dot in the center of the large chalk board, “is still way too big of a representation of our planet compared to known, or rather visible, existence.”

END

The Take: Hmm, you know, reading this back for the first time in a few years, I still like it. I’d probably edit down some of the phrasing and workshop the flow a little bit, but I think this was one of my first exercises in a mundane, single-location, dialogue-heavy work. Not so much a story, but a think-piece. Anyway, food for thought, yeah?

Catch ya Tuesday, you beautiful bitches (and ladies).

Ciao.

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!

Anecdote from a Gentleman

Happy Thursday, everybody.

Did you know that people with a sensitive enough sense of smell can actually detect storms because of the change in atmosphere and creation of ozone? Apparently it wasn’t just a Kyle XY thing.

Anyway, um…today…okay, I’m just going to say it: Skip over this one.

If you’re a regular follower of these, I’m sorry; if you’re just passing through and happened across it, look the other way. I went digging a little bit for today’s post and came across this gem.

I’m…I’m not proud of it. Just know that about five years ago, I popped this little gem out of my noggin’ and was overly proud of myself.

Okay, enough gabbing. Just…-sigh-

Anecdote from a Gentleman

“Have I ever been at odds with the law? Well yes, there was a time, once. I had been caught, red-handed mind you, surpassing the established limit on vehicle speed for that particular stretch of the road. You must understand, however, that I was not without my reasons. If you’ve the time, I would be glad to recount the tale, as it was quite an experience; one, I should challenge, that does not take place every day. Mind you, it is not without certain graphic nature. You’re sure? Splendid! It went as thus…

“’Yes sir,’ I greeted the uniformed officer as he approached my window and inquired as to whether or not I was aware of my offense. ‘Yes, I realize I was speeding and I fully deserve and accept the ticket you are prepared to write, as doing so is part of your duty. If I may ask you to, as a servant of the public and of the common good, postpone its scripting and simply follow me to my home, a short three miles from here, where I may use the restroom; the need of which is the primary reason for my haste.’

“To this point, the officer had not said a word since his opening question and had simply allowed me to explain myself. He preserved this condition by quietly giving me a look that on its own granted that I continue onto voicing my reasoning. ‘For if you must know,’ I began genially, ‘ I currently need to shit like a wildebeest. There is a pain in my colon at this moment so severe I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. I’ve never before engaged in intercourse with another man before, sir, but if I may only illustrate my point by telling you that I feel as if I’m being penetrated as a virgin, and every slight bump and imperfection in the road is yet another thrust for which I am unprepared.’

“The lawman graciously accepted my appeal and from there escorted me to my home where I put some water on for tea before excusing myself for my task. My trousers were around my ankles whilst I was still a solid ten feet from the restroom’s threshold, forcing me to hop the rest of the way. Not to worry, for I crossed that distance in a few short, albeit tortuous, bounds. My bottom touched the seat to the sound of a chorus of angels’ resounding hallelujah. The smell was at once both atrocious and the sweetest scent of relief ever to grace my senses.

“’How do I know it was the voice of angels’, you ask? An astute question to be sure, one I undoubtedly would have been remiss not to ask myself. You see, it was the precision of the song with the almost crippling light-headedness and dizziness that took place at the time of my hearing it. I believe, as a respectable, God-fearing man, that an experience such as that is reserved alone for direct communion with the heavenly host.

“With the completion of my ordeal, I reentered my home’s living space to the kettle’s whistle and found my lawman friend had departed. In his place there was the written citation which had brought us together. Curiously, I noticed that on its backside something was written, which made me smile. It read: ‘I didn’t believe you at first, but I’ve heard things in war that shocked me less. Any day you can take a shit like that is a good day. Just watch your speed and stay safe. -Jeff’”

FIN

The Take: I mean, what I WILL say for it is that it was a nice opportunity to work out a thought experiment (but that’s really goddamn generous). I’ve only ever gotten one speeding ticket, and in the moment I didn’t want to try anything like this on account of being sort of nervous and not actually an idiot, but I HAVE always wondered – if sold just right – if a move like this could get you out of a ticket. If you’ve done it, successfully or otherwise, God, please let me know. If not, well…try it sometime?

Anyway, after that, I’ll see you guy Tuesday.

Ciao!

Today’s FableFact source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/storm-scents-smell-rain/

RE: The Leap of Faith Principle

(Full disclosure, been a busy week, so today’s is a re-post from Tuesday.)

Did you know that giant tarantulas will often keep frogs as pets? Apparently they’ll keep them safe from predators and in return the frogs eat insects that would threaten the spider’s eggs before they hatch.
I guess that means Aragog probably chose a toad for his Hogwarts pet, huh?

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

I don’t know where you live, but in the areas around my neighborhood, people put up these signs in their front lawns a lot. They’re black signs with white lettering and they all sport famous historical or motivational quotes. One of my favorites is by poet and activist Maya Angelou, which says:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
-Maya Angelou

I guess in that way, her quote has a lot in common with Papa Kratos (check out the last post for the reference). It’s terrific because it, like Kratos, doesn’t expect perfection, doesn’t even expect success. It just expects that you’ll apply yourself the best that you can – The. Best. You don’t need to apologize for failure or coming up short, you can keep your apologies and save yourself the time and words. Instead, observe what’s happened, the effects of your efforts, and fold that experience into your next try.

Because of a lot of life events recently (short version: helping my mother renovate her house, retire, and move), I’m still feeling pretty sensitive to motivational sentiments. So that’s what today’s post is. Like some others, this one came together a while ago in probably a single afternoon on the back of a napkin one day at work. We’ll get into more in The Take.

Without furter adieu, I present:

Lindsey’s Dream

I was standing on a cliff by the ocean. There was a rocky precipice about twelve feet out and there was a small crowd of people standing on it. They all looked happy, fulfilled, and whole. I looked down at the space between our places and saw bodies. They were lifeless, broken, bobbing with the ebb and flow of the waves against the rocks. They were the people who had jumped and didn’t make it. I looked behind me and saw an ocean of people. They stood dressed in rags like me, cold, shaking with anxiety and fear. They were the people who never jumped because they had also seen the waves.

I wanted to jump because I wanted to be where the happy people were, but was afraid because I didn’t want to fall. I looked down at the waves again and, this time, saw something I hadn’t noticed before. It was a hand, then another, then another. They were people who had survived the fall and were climbing back up. So I stood and I watched. Not every climber finished, many fell, but one made it and stood next to me.

“What will you do now?” I asked him.

Breathless, he answered simply: “Rest and jump again.”

And he did. He was old and gaunt, he saw there was reason to be afraid, but he jumped. The man fell short, but he clung to the side of the rocky precipice. Eventually, he pulled himself onto it and was folded in among his new peers. I decided to name him ‘Murphy’.

That was when I jumped too. I had seen others jump with a timid step and that lack of conviction made them slip. I jumped with strong legs and a clear mind, but still I fell. The waves were hard, shocking with the cold, and threw me with overwhelming strength. I saw the lifeless forms around me and felt the seduction of giving into the waves. But I remembered the man’s conviction. It was that conviction that drove him to jump, fall, and yet never drown. I looked to the cliffs. The rock up to the precipice was impossible – sheer, flat, and held an imposing slant. The climb I witnessed the old man make was jagged and sharp, but doable. It started with grabbing the first hold.

So it was that I jumped, fell, climbed, and would jump again. Now those sad faces were watching me. Some were silent, others bid me cease my efforts and join them by their heatless fires. I shuffled off their hindering grasps and made another leap. I had learned. I knew how to run, where to step and where not, and which rocks to spring from. I reached my hand out as I had so many times before, but this time found purchase on the precipice. I allowed myself a smile at a few of the successful who took notice, but the rock I held broke and I fell.

This was the first time I’d felt so frozen by the waves in my many leaps from the bluff. I had done everything correctly. I had made my leaps, I had learned from my falls, I had persevered the pain, the cold, the rock. Yet this time it was the rock that had let me go. It was not my fault, but I still fell. So I began to sink, and as the deep blue grew darker the seduction of the bidding cold returned. I felt my feet touch the inviting, slick, uneven bottom and the light began to close in around my vision of the precipice I had been so near.

I would have let the water take me to join the other fallen if I hadn’t seen it. There, from the bottom of the waters at the base of the cliffs, I saw handholds hidden in the flat stone column of the precipice. They were folded, narrow slits in the stone like gills on a fish, only to be seen from an angle the bottom of the water provided. So, I pushed off the bottom, ascended toward the light, and took a filling breath after I broke the surface. The air tasted of old salt, but I had a love for it. I swam to the base of the column and placed my hands upon it. It was flawlessly smooth, like the surface of polished marble, and it was warm.

I soon found the small pockets hidden in the stone, scarcely wide enough for my fingers, and began to climb. It was terribly demanding, but not unlike what I’d endured in my efforts anyway. I climbed, with aching muscles, burning lungs, and quivering joints, but I climbed. I made it to the edge of the precipice I’d leapt for so many times and pulled myself onto it.

“I knew you would make it,” came a familiar voice. I turned and saw Murphy standing there. I smiled in return, looked about my new peers, and was confused. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“They’re the same,” I said.

I inspected the community atop the precipice. Everyone stood dressed in rags, and while there were those who wore a contented smile like Murphy did, many others frowned or shook with their own cold. I walked between them, wondering what could bring them displeasure when we had made it. I wondered this until I came to the other edge of the precipice and saw.

I looked around me and saw many with discontented faces. I looked down and saw still bodies, bobbing with the ebb and flow of the waves. I looked up and saw another precipice with a small crowd waiting on the other side, all with happy, wholesome faces.

“Will you stay?” Murphy asked, who had followed me.

I looked at him, then back to the precipice. I smiled at him, placed my steps carefully, and I jumped.

FIN

The Take: “Lindsey” is really kind of an arbitrary name for the perspective in this. Ultimately, what it comes down to is the picture of the various aspects of a leap of faith. I think it originates from an old military turn-o’-phrase, but: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Back in September of 2018, I left a comfortable manufacturing job to write full-time and put myself on a sabbatical. About two weeks after my last day, my mom got sick, and since then, it’s been a lot of hospital visits, phone calls with insurance, realtors, etc etc.
It was a leap of faith and that turned from coffee-house-bohemia right to dumptruck-of-life-events very quickly, but that’s what a leap of faith is. I think that’s what I’ve come away from this having absorbed, mostly because of this: I’m still here.
I’m still here, my mom has seen better circumstances but I think she’s happy, her house is coming along, I love my family and friends probably now more than ever, and writing has been a lot of wheel-spinning, but it’s gathered bits of traction here and there (check out Hidden Histories by ThirdFlatiron Publishing now and keep an eye out for my episode with the NIGHT LIGHT podcast coming soon! *plug plug nudge nudge*).
It began as a leap of faith, has NOT gone according to plan, but that’s alright. And I guess just try to bear that in mind the next time you’re faced with a choice that comes with a jump (or if you’re in one now). People treat it like a coin toss with Success/Failure being like Life/Death and I just don’t think that’s true. Especially because even though this jump’s come up Tails, a lot of good has come from it and I can always jump again.

Anyway, that’s enough lecturing. I’ll catch you guys Thursday!

Ciao.

Today’s Fable Fact source: https://roaring.earth/tarantulas-and-frogs-are-friends-with-benefits/