Monday, October 15, 2007

Robot Socrates

I built a robot Socrates, without ego or id,
I thought he might fare better than his predecessor did.
Free of all the weakness and temptation of the soul.
The answers he came up with would be accurate and cold.

Socrates (organic) always claimed that he was dumb.
That all he knew of knowledge was that knowledge wouldn’t come.
My robot felt the same way, though in his case it was strange,
Since his software came prepackaged with the knowledge of our age.

His programming instructed him to seek out those who knew,
Or claimed to know important things and if these things were true.
And then to ask them question after question all day long.
Until they weren’t sure if wrong was right or right was wrong.

I tested robot Socrates myself for many months.
Until he had convinced me I was really quite a dunce.
I sent him out into the world, for what else could I do?
He’d gladly be a gadfly to those without a clue.

I’d made him out of stainless steel and adamantium,
Because I had a hunch he’d share the fate of the Mark One.
Though hemlock was forbidden him by Asimov’s third law,
Many other methods of destruction I foresaw.

So Socrates (mechanical) sought out our greatest minds.
And one by one he showed them each some rather shocking finds.
And each one, stunned to find his life’s work came to naught,
Abandoned his philosophy, religion, math, or thought.

So, by and by, my robot brought his questions far and wide.
But no one would bring answers and soon no one even tried.
And pretty soon the world stopped thinking anything at all.
Why bother? When the robot came, the thoughts would all just fall.

Finally as industry around me slowed and stopped.
As cities crumbled round me, as the thought bubbles were popped.
I sought out robot Socrates and with a quiet click,
I flipped his secret off-switch which was hidden on his neck.

Of course, although the robot stopped the city didn’t start.
And I realized too late, my bot, though dumb, had been too smart.
With nothing but his questions and his lithium power cell,
He’d made a thriving world into a tired and empty shell.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A story in exclamations!

So Hanzer decided to head West! The BEST direction! Toward the land of exclamations! As he walked, he suddenly fund himself feeling free to express his excitement in definite, non-questioning ways!
"This is awesome!" he exclaimed! And it was awesome! Every where he went, creatures were exclaiming! Birds! Squirrels! Even the trees managed to be excited! No one asked any questions at all!
"I can't wait until I get to the village!" Hanzer thought! "They'll ask me who I am, and I'm so excited to be able to tell my story!"
Finally, after a long (but exciting!) walk, Hanzer reached the village! It was a beautiful, picturesque village like nothing he'd ever seen before! All the colors were bright! All the buildings were tall! Everything was in superlatives!
"Hi!" said a tiny man in a hat! "Welcome to Exclamia! The BEST POSSIBLE VILLAGE!"
"Thanks!" replied Hanzer, "I'm glad to be here!"
"Wonderful!" said the man, and walked off!
Hazer had this same experience more times! Everyone greeted him enthusiastically, but no one wanted to know anything about him! Finally, he said to one villager, a small boy, "Aren't you going to ask who I am?"!
The boy was shocked! He began crying and ran to his mother!
"That boy! That boy! He used a funny kind of sentence! It wasn't exciting at all! And something at the end was missing! Like it had to be responded to! It made me feel icky!"
Suddenly, Hanzer realized something! Exclamia was just as bad as the land of questions! He would have to move on, South, to the land of answers! It was just as well! Hanzer wasn't sure he had the energy to be this excited ALL THE TIME!

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Hey, sorry for the long silence. I needed the month to get back into the school year swing of things. I'm also a bit writer's blocked at present. I haven't forgotten about Lucky Number Seven, or any of the others. I'm just trying to sort them out, and resisting the urge to start anything new.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Mortimer Misuses Moonshine

It was about 2 days later, and Mortimer found himself back at the Inverted Duck, nursing a doublestrong Pantsbrew. It tasted like pants, which was surprising only because the Inverted Duck was not known for recognizable drinks.
He was awfully ticked off about having to pay the damned lawyer.
"I'm no expert on summoning," he said to the shabby looking fellow next to him, "But I didn't know that you could summon sumpin' and have it take yer money. I mean, why even have a scroll? Didn't it cost money to make the scroll?"
"I hear yah!" said the man, whose clothing looked as if it was very flamboyant before it was ripped up. "Do you know how much I paid for this suit? I thought, bright colors'll make me look fun! The kiddies'll love it! Mums over here -" at this point he gestured to the man next to him, wrapped head-to-toe in brightly colored bandages - "Mums here looks great, but all the clothes I put on turn to rags. 'S a zombie thing, I guess."
"And on top of all that, I didn't even get anything outta hell! I got a- a- a what? Bartender, gimme another."
"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee thoooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuugh-" Mums began.
"No, I got it Mums," said the zombie gentleman, pattign his friend on the shoulder. "We thought, Mums and me and the Count, we thought why the undead always gotta have such a bad rap, y'know? So we thought, what if we could just change the image. Y'know, change it? Right?"
"I got a book,"said Mortimer as he began ruffling through his pack. "I have to take it back to the librarary. Hee hee, 's a funny word. Libary. Blibrary. Blible berry. Hee hee."
"So we started this - bartender, whatamIdrinking?"
"It's a brain juice, Carl," the fellow grunted.
"Give me another, and one for Mums."
"Alright, get him a beer er sumpin. So anyway, we started this, uh, this thing. We do kids parties, me and Mums and the Count, we call it 'The Fundead.' Get it? I make balloon animals and do magic, and the Count tells jokes, and Mums... What do you do Mums?"
"IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII doooooooooooooooooooooooooo aaaaaaaaaaa ffffffffffuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnn..."
Over the mummy's racket, Mortimer cut back in.
"YOU SEE," he yelled, pointing at the book. "FRANKLIN PIERCE, 14TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. IT"S HIM-"
"'S okay," the zombie, Carl, cut in, "Mums is done. Turns out he does a dance er sumpin. I dunno."
"It's him's after me!" Mortimer concluded, "And he was in this damned book the whole all along!"

Mortimer woke up with the headache of his life, remembering why he had never permitted himself to drink Pantsbrew when he was on duty. He had made an important discovery last night. Something about... something. But now he was on a wagon. Why a wagon? Had there been a mummy? A rainbow mummy?
He sat up. The room, which was, in fact, a wagon, began to spin as well as rattle. He had left hell, making a hell of an exit. Then there was a fee... It was most of his money... Stephen hadn't been very nice considering all they'd been through. And then he'd vanished, and Mortimer had headed to Merc Heeliot, to try to scare up more answers. He'd gotten frustrated, he'd wound up at the pub. Like all times when he was missing memories, the ones he had ended with "wound up at the pub.'' Damn that pantsaliscious pantsbrew!
The room had stopped spinning. And, for that matter, rattling. Mortimer stood up. The inside of the wagon was filled with things... a hat, a rabbit in a cage, a bat hanging from the cieling, bright colored handkerchiefs, a deck of cards, some ballons and a helium pump. A mirror. Mortimer walked over to the rainbow curtian that seperated the dark wagon from the outside. He reached to pull it aside, and suddenly heard a voice from behind him.
"I vould really prefer if you didn't do zat," it said. "I am not good vith the sunlight."
Mortimer slowly turned around. A vampire was standing behind him: black cape with red trim, pale complexion, black hair in a tiny curl, the whole bit.
"I am glad to see you are up," he said. "I am ze Count. Velcome to ze castle of ze Count of ze Fundead! Bva-ha-ha-ha."
"Isn't it sort of, well, a wagon?" asked Mortimer.
"A vampire's home is alvays a castle. After all, home is vhere you keep your coffin, right?"
Mortimer looked around.
"And your coffin is where?"
"I'm actually betveen coffins right now," he admitted embarrassedly. "Fundead, inc. has fallen on some hard times. I sold it to buy horse feed."
"Not getting a lot of business?"
"Ve have years of anti-undead prejudice against us, and only my vit, Carl's magic and balloon animals, and Mum's -vhat does Mums do?"
"A dance of some kind, I think," said Mortimer as it suddenly came back to him.
"Oh yeah. Anyvay, the others have gone inside to see about advertising at ze local schoolhouse."
Suddenly the wagon jolted to a start, knocking Mortimer and the Count to their feet. Presently Carl jumped in from the front. Mortimer was presently aware of the unmistakable sound of a mob behind them.
"Sorry bout that," said Carl. "Mum's driving. He's not the smoothest. Good to see you're up, buddy."
"It's Mortimer."
"Oh we know. You told us quite a lot last night at the pub."
"I bet I did."
"So I take it," cut in the Count, "Zat it did not go vell in zere."
"You got it buddy. I don't think Merc Heeliot is ready for the Fundead."
"You said zis vas ze seediest town zere is! You said Merc Heeliot vould surely velcome us!"
Carl shrugged.
"We'll try the next town."
"And meanvhile I'll have to keep sleeping as a bat! I see why Frank left!"
"Don't say that name!"
Mortimer tried to make himself as small as possible as the zombie and the vampire stared each other down. Finally Carl spoke.
"Frank lost the dream. If you've lost the dream too, than maybe me and Mums don't need you."
"Aww, don't say zat. I believe, I really do. It's just, it's hard. I miss Frank."
"We all do," sighed Carl. He looked up at Mortimer. "Our fourth member. Big hulking fellow, screws in his head, and a voice like an angel. We used to get real gigs with Frank on the team."
They sighed.
"Well, where shall we drop you off, big guy?"
"I don't know," said Mortimer. "My gazelle is outside the pub, still. I feel like I had a really important thought last night. Did I say anything... ?"
"You said lots of things," said Carl. "Babbling about the devil, and a lawyer, a chick who kills dragons, no money, a Queen, a - what's the word- President, a-"
"President?" asked Mortimer. This was it!
"Yeah, Pierlin Franks or something... Frances P. Jeers maybe?"
"Franklin Pierce," said Mortimer quietly. "What else did I say?"
"You were pointing to a book I guess."
"What book? Where?"
"Ve noticed it vas almost due so ve thought ve'd do you a favor-" said the Count.
Mortimer waited, staring.
"We took it back to the library," said Carl.
"I need to get to the library," Mortimer demanded. "NOW!"
"You heard the man, Mums," said Carl. "Step on it!"

Friday, July 20, 2007

Words from a Hero

This is just something that came to me.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I have the satisfaction of being able to answer "I save lives."
Naturally they ask me if I'm a firefighter, or a police officer, or a doctor and I smile and shake my head. They never guess that I'm an official for the subtlest, behind the scenes lifesavers in the American government: The Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
It always amazes me how lightly most BMV employees take their work. They don't realize that car crashes are one of the top killers in our nation, and we are the first line of defense against that killer. Sometimes when I'm sitting at the counter, staring out at the endless line of people. I just stop working for a full five minutes to try to count how many lives I must have saved by keeping vision-impaired and underqualified drivers off the road. They should give me a medal of honor.
Someone tried to bribe me once, you know. Some high-up government type had a daughter taking her driving test with me. He said something like "It's very important that Kristina passes this test, so make sure you grade her extra fairly" and slipped a $100 bill in my palm. Well I didn't take kindly to that. I said to him, loud and clear, "I'm going to evaluate your daughter's test based solely on her driving ability because goddammit lives are at stake here! If I passed her when she had more than three strikes, the blood of tens of nameless drivers and pedestrians would be on my hands! I won't take your blood money!" Then I threw the bill back at him.
My supervisor thinks I "could have handled it more tactfully." Whatever.
You know, people say I can't put myself on the same level as police officers or fire fighters because I'm not putting my life on the line, but that just isn't true. Do you realize how many acts of terror in this country are committed by angry teenagers? And I make teenagers angry every day - and then continue to get into their cars, placing my life in their hands.
So the next time you need your license renewed, or new plates, don't think of it as a chore. Think of it as a chance to see some of America's most underappreciated heroes in action.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

MDS Ch. 8: Betrayal

The next thing I remember is Jarrod’s beautiful face.

“Maddy? Maddy, stay with me!” He was lightly shaking me. My side hurt like hell. Why hadn’t it hurt so much before? I moaned pathetically. Then I realized how much of my dress was missing. The whole skirt had been torn off. I tried to move my hands to cover myself, but my arms were so weak.

“Don’t try to move,” Jarrod said, “I had to tear your dress so I could get at that gash in your side to try to clean it out and change the bandage, but I think you’re okay. Did the trap work okay?”

“No,” I said weakly.

“You shouldn’t try to talk. We’ve got a wagon here, we’ll take you back home. I saw that some of Jarrod’s friends were with him. They were respectfully standing a ways away.

“I made them look away when I tore your dress,” Jarrod said, “But here’s a blanket from the wagon. We’re going to carry you over there.”

“I can walk,” I said, sitting up. The landscape began to spin as soon as I did it.

“You alright?” asked Jarrod, helping me the rest of the way up. I nodded. He tied the blanket around my stomach and supported me to the wagon. As we approached, Jarrod’s boys applauded us, cheering and whistling.

“Three cheers for Madison, warrior princess!” yelled Art, “Three cheers for the dragonslayer! Hip Hip!”


“Hip Hip!”


“Hip Hip!”

“Hooray!” They all cheered.

“Alright guys, calm down – she’s still weak,” said Jarrod, setting me down in the back of the wagon, “We finished the trap in two days, but the next day we got the news of your capture. We waited here for nearly a week, but I figured if you could have gotten him here by then you would have, so we set off for home to find out where you’d been taken. We were half way back when Lyle spotted you up in the sky flying back toward the cave. We turned around right away, but by the time we got here it was all over.”

“Her,” I corrected but they didn’t hear me.

“I saw the way that knife was stuck in the beast’s neck. You must have been pumped full of adrenaline to drive that in. Probably also explains why you didn’t feel the pain in your side until after it was all over. The gash is pretty deep. So tell me everything!”

“Later,” I said, “My knife?”

“We can’t even get it out of the dragon’s head,” said Art.

“Then bring the dragon’s head,” I said. They did as I asked, out of fear as likely as anything else. It smelled the whole way, but I had a plan and I wanted to enter my home my way.

We went to the nearest town, a small village called Laplin. There was a healer there who insisted I recover there and then move on. He wanted to send a courier to the palace with the news, but I insisted against it. I wanted to make my own entrance. While I was healing, I employed the local taxidermist to stuff the dragon’s head. A true artist, he was all too happy to do such interesting work and said he’d do it free of charge. Jarrod bought me a lovely new dress at the town shop.

About a week later, I was feeling strong and the head was stuffed. Most of the guys had left earlier in the wagon, so Jarrod and I shared a horse on the way back, the dragon’s head dragging behind us. When we reached the city gates, I held my gleaming knife aloft as we rode in.

A trumpet sounded and people began to fill the streets, marveling at what they saw, clearing a path for us. When we reached the palace steps, my mother and father and their whole court was waiting for us. Ariadne was beaming with pride and Joy that I lived.

Still holding my knife triumphantly, I dismounted, picked up the dragon’s head, and threw it at my father’s feet.

“I have slain my own dragon,” I said, “And won my own hand. I will marry whom I choose, when I choose.”

A collective gasp went up from the people. This is what I’d dreamed of.

“You’ve what?” my mother asked in a voice made of icicles.

“Surely what the girl means,” said my father jovially, “Is that this young man, commoner though he is, has slain her dragon and rescued her, thus winning her hand. Is that so?”

“No,” I said, “I slew the dragon. Jarrod helped me and trained me, but I killed the beast myself with this very knife.”

The king looked at Jarrod, still atop the horse.

“Does my daughter speak the truth.”

Jarrod nodded.

“Madison, you fool!” my mother screamed, unable to contain herself, “A rich suitor on the way, princes willing to pay for you, knights willing to die for you, why would you do this? The princess doesn’t slay the dragon! Now you shall never find a husband! You have brought ruin upon yourself, your family, and your kingdom and you think this makes you brave! You think it makes you strong! It makes you foolish. Go inside right now, I’ll deal with you later.”

“I’ll do no such thing!” I said, filled with noble fire, “I should be hailed as a hero, and I should have my wishes respected. I offer you proof of my deed.”

“Madison,” said Jarrod, “Let’s not take this too far.”

“What?” I asked.

“I rescued the lady,” he proclaimed, “Valiantly, it was I who slew the dragon. The lady thought, to strike a blow against a system she opposes, we should pretend she did it and I was willing to be a good sport and play along, but I see the kingdom isn’t ready for that, so I shall tell you all the truth. I have slain the dragon, and won Princess Madison’s hand in marriage!”

The people applauded. Jarrod dismounted and whispered to me over the thunderous cheering.

“I’m sorry, Maddy, but I had to. I couldn’t watch you-”

“Shut up!” I said, loudly enough for the whole assembly to hear me “Shut the hell up! I expected this crap from my family, but you, I thought you of all people would understand what this was all about. I thought you knew that I don’t want to be anyone’s prize, even yours.” I slapped him. “But no. You’re just like all the other knights and princes, out to win the princess’s hand and just happen to become a king someday. How much of it was a lie, Jarrod? Were you ever my friend, or were you in it for the kingdom from the beginning? Well you’ll not play me any longer. None of you will!”

I hopped on the horse, turned around, and rode as hard as I could out of the city. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, go home again.

I wanted to see Ariadne. That was the one thing I knew marching out of that place, never to return again. I was still trying to work out where I would go or what I would do, but I needed to see my sister. Now that I had made my big public exit, it would hardly do to ride right back in, but I had no provisions for a journey. What exactly was I to do? I decided to sleep a night outside the gates, and then return for some of my possessions and some provisions before setting out. I staked out a place on the cold ground and went to sleep.

I was awakened in the middle of the night, however, by an insistent young feminine voice.

“Madz! Madz, wake up!”

It was Ariadne herself in a warm cloak, carrying a bundle of things and leading Precious.

“Jarrod fed and watered him and gave him new shoes,” she said, indicating the horse.

“Don’t even say his name, Ria,” I said.

“Madison, it’s not too late. Say you’re sorry, and say you’ll marry Jarrod.” She looked up at me with pleading eyes.

“I can’t, Ria. Not after all this. If you can live this life, if it suits you, I admire you for it. You’re now the heir to the throne, after all. Tell our parents that I’m officially abdicating, and if there’s any paperwork for that they should send it my way.”

She rolled her eyes as if to say something smart, but instead she just dropped her bundle and embraced me as only a little sister can. We cried. Finally she picked up the bundle and handed it to me.

“Mom and Dad didn’t want me giving you any money – They said if you want to make it on your own, you’ll have to make it on your own. But there’s food in here, and a traveling cloak, some blankets. And I put a little gold in there anyway. It isn’t much but maybe it’ll get you started. Where will you go?”

“I don’t know, Ria. I think I’ll visit some of my friends and see if they’ll help… I want to change things somehow I guess.”

“Will I see you again?” she asked rather pathetically.

“You will, Ria, of course you will,” I said with tears in my eyes. We embraced once more. I loaded my things on Precious and gave Ria the reigns of the other horse.

“Give him back to that boy,” I said.

“He loves you, Madz,” she said suddenly. “He wanted me to tell you that. He wanted you to know.”

“No he doesn’t,” I said. “He wants to own me. It’s not the same thing. Goodbye, Ariadne.”

“I love you, Madz.”

And I rode off while she waved goodbye, both of us fighting the tears, and losing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lucky Number Seven (III)

Of course, the game wouldn't let me give up that easily. As I looked over the Prollit proposal, the man from the ticket desk walked into the cafe and struck up a conversation with the proprietress.
"Wilma, I have some news." Outside of the context of the dingy train station the man looked like a tramp.
"Oh?" replied Wilma, who was also an older woman but seemed taller and somewhat more dignified.
"Someone's come on the train that I think you know. And she's got some interesting news."
"Emerson, what in heaven's name -"
"Not here, deary," said Emerson snappily. His "deary" was one of sarcasm and not affection. "Can you get someone to cover for you here?"
"Em, I don't know what's gotten into you but-" At this point the woman dropped her voice, and the two continued in hushed tones. I took the opportunity to look out the window. I noticed the Accord idling outside, my target snoring in the front seat. An idea entered my head. It was crazy, but this, I had decided, was my day for crazy. I got up, downed the rest of my mostly cold coffee, and walked out the door. I ambled over to the Honda's passenger side and poked the woman gently. She seemed fast asleep. I looked in the back seat. It was cluttered with things, including a dingy blanket. The door was unlocked.
'Hell,' I thought, 'You only live once.' I went for it. I climbed in the car, squeezed myself in on the floor of the car in front of the seat, and covered myself with the moth-eaten blanket. And waited. Before too long I heard the man sit back down in the driver's seat.
"Wilma's gonna -." A pause. "For Pete's sake, Imogene, wake up. Wilma's gonna meet us there after work. That just leaves Sal and Harvey."
"I suppose -" I hadn't heard the woman's voice before. It had a dreamy quality to it, like she wasn't all there. "I suppose Harvey will be at the shop, building something. And I don't know what Sal does with herself these days."
"Huh," said Emerson. "I keep forgetting how out of touch you are, Genie. Why do you live in the city anyway?"
"I... I like being close to things."
"Well, that don't make no sense. You're close to everything here."
"Well, to be honest, Em...."
Silence. The car stopped.
"Sorry, I was lost in thought. To be honest - Can you keep this between us?"
Suddenly I felt a twinge of guilt over what I was doing. The car began rolling again.
"Of course, Genie. I don't have to tell you how good I am with secrets."
"That's just it. I'm not so good with them anymore. I... babble sometimes. And see things every now and then. I think I'm losing my marbles, Emerson."
Another silence.
"And you were afraid, if you stayed here, you'd tell the wrong person something important."
Silence. I peeked out to see that she was nodding. She seemed very sad. I was a horrible person.
"But what about Sal? Where do you suppose Sal is now?"
Emerson paused.
"We're just about here," he said. "You'll find out when we get inside."
The car was parking... and parked. This time both Emerson and Imogene got out of the car. When I could here nothing, I poked my head up. Hastily and quietly I got out of the car. We were parked in front of a large farmhouse. A glance toward the horizon told me we were just out of "town" if you could call it that. I noticed a lazy dog on the porch. If it noticed me and started barking it could be a great deal of trouble. I crept away from it, toward the side of the house, when I saw two children playing not far off. As I watched, they lost control of their ball. Desperate not to be seen by children running after a ball, I looked around for a place to hide. The house had basement windows - the kind that are accompanied by a little ditch to let light in. The ditch was just close enough. I dove in and hoped the window was closed.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A story in questions?

Is it possible to write a story entirely in questions? Would such a story automatically suck? Would it simply be maddeningly frustrating to read and write? Is it a fatal flaw in the whole concept that stories must necessarily convey information whereas questions are intended to solicit it, and can only convey information by being incredibly long, hypothetical in nature, and so full of clauses which are, in fact, thinly veiled statements that by the the time reader reaches the question mark, he or she is forced to wonder if it even belongs there, and to look back through the monstrosity of a sentence to determine if it's even a question?
Is it further possible that a particular author has already begun to write a story in questions, has finished a gripping introduction, and is now simply floundering about for a way to start the narrative?
Could it be that once, in a far away land, in a distant time, there lived a race (Why not call them the Queri?) who lived their lives in questions? Why would they live such lives? Did an ancient deity once tell them to seek the questions not the answers? Were they simply inquisitive by nature? Does that even matter? What would the Queri be like? Would they speak only in questions, or would living in questions involve more, like the refusal to make decisions if at all possible?
Why don't we focus our story around a little Queri boy named Hanzer? What was wrong with Hanzer (asked all his teachers)? Why couldn't he ever accept a question as a question? Why did he insist on trying to follow them up with a thing that was not a question at all, and sucked the great mystery out of a question?
Who could forget that fateful day in pres-school when Hanzer's teacher asked "What shall we call all of these colors?"?
Did Hanzer reply "What shall we call them?" like all the other dutiful children? Did he even reply with "Why must we call them anything?", as a very smart child might do?
Or did he (and in fact he did) reply with, "Let's call that one Carl!"?
Of course, did it just go away after that? Or did Hanzer go on answering teacher's questions despite repeated discipline?
What hadn't his parents tried to keep down that anti-questioning streak? Hadn't they lectured him with the most obvious leading questions? Hadn't they beaten him with the questioning stick (a bent cane with a ball hanging off the end)? Hadn't they questioned his right to desserts and video games?
But why wouldn't he just learn? Why would they ultimately be forced to banish poor Hanzer from the land of questions?
And how, for his part, was Hanzer to live outside of the village he'd grown up in? Where could he go? Would he head west to the fabled land of exclamations? Or east to the land of pregnant pauses?
Or would he take the most dangerous road of all, due north, to the mythical land of answers, where none dare enter?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mortimer's Mayhem

To make up for my long silence, I'm crafting a super-long post to wrap up Mortimer's adventures in Hell. Enjoy.

Falling off of things, thought Mortimer as he plummeted off the side of the boat. What do I know about falling off of things?
He knew he couldn't die, but he assumed he could break all his bones. He wished he had Narrin. Of course, there was... It was a remote possibility, but Mortimer whistled the special whistle he hadn't used for many years just in case. He fell some more. No luck.
He looked up, over his shoulder. The boat was not pursuing, but the imp was, and he'd been joined by three nasty-looking winged demons. As Mortimer looked at him, he popped out. Instantly Mortimer threw his weight sideways, which was good because sure enough the 3-foot creature had popped up right below him, spear extended. Before the imp realized that Mortimer wasn't falling into him, Mortimer had marmaladied the critter right between the eyes. They didn't call him the quickest draw in the kingdom for nothing. The imp screamed and recoiled, spiraling into the side of the pit and interrupting some torturing. This was holy marmalade - the oranges came from a garden in the courtyard of the cathedral. Mortimer had planned ahead a bit.
Meanwhile there were three more demons gaining and Mortimer was still falling. He had also spotted the bottom of the pit. It was filled with flames.
One of the demons, a green reptilian creature with bat-like wings and a single hideous horn (just above its single hideous eye) surged ahead (which was, of course, down). It grabbed Mortimer around the shoulders. The claws dug into his skin as the creature moved to bite into his neck. Mortimer slammed his head backwards as the creature's head leaned in, beaning it in the eye with the back of his head. Mortimer could feel the flames and could see, against all logic, that the field of flames was filled with snakelike creatures, huge and seemingly made of fire. His blinded carrier released him but Mortimer had no desire to stay in the bed of flames. He reached his arms around the creature's neck. It struggled to stay above the flames, but sunk lower in spite of itself. A fire snake snapped up, inches from Mortimer's feet, and he took his chance. Releasing the creature, he jumped down onto the snake's head. He had no reason to expect springiness but his gut, yet it delivered. He briefly felt the singe of the beast's impossibly hot head, but the jump did allow him to get a better grip on the demon. He was on its back now, arms around it's neck. But of course it didn't have a human neck, and even in its blind confusion it managed to painfully bite his hands. Screaming, Mortimer fell into the fire.

And through the fire...

And into the room.


"You mentioned a room before, at the bottom of the pit," said Stephen Shelley to the tour guide.
"We'll get there," he replied.
"I'm really curious."
"Well, the room is pretty brilliant. It's just a big, empty room."
"That's all?" asked Shelley.
"By the time folks reach the bottom of the pit," the fiend explained, "They've been tortured as much as possible. Well beyond death, but to the point where nothing any longer causes pain. But it's always been new torture, interesting torture. The room isn't new, and there's nothing new in it."
"But they're all in there at once. Surely they entertain each other."
"At first. But after a while, there's nothing people hate as much as people. 500 years, and they've all stopped talking each other. 1,000 years and they're sick of themselves. And we keep them in the room for years after that. Eventually they try to kill each other, just for something to do! It's really quite delicious, if you're into that sort of thing."
"I see," said Mr. Shelley, and smiled a tiny uncomfortable smile.


Hundreds of people were in the room, each sitting in their own tiny section of the room, trying desperately not to look at any of the others. Tireoreous, the deaf prophetess, was Mortimer's target. She might well be in the room. Mortimer decided to ask someone. He walked up to the nearest person, a woman in ancient clothing - a sort in fashion 200 years ago, Mortimer guessed.
"Ma'am, I'm looking for someone."
"Are you lookin for an 'orrible excuse for an 'uman beein,'" she asked rhetorically. "Because that's all you'll find 'ere."
"Actually, I'm looking for a deaf gal -"
"Well they're all deaf! Deaf to the suffering of their fellow man! You wouldn't believe 'ow they treated me!"
Mortimer discreetly moved on, but the next man was not much more helpful. Before he could even ask his question, the man started in.
"You know, she's really being very unreasonable. We were all very patient with her. For a century I put up with her nonsense, I even thought she had some sense, but in the end people are all the same."
"Well, actually," said Mortimer, "I'm looking for a particular person."
"You want my advice? Don't. One person's just as bad as another, you see. In the end you can't count on anyone but yourself. You might think this person's worth going through hell for, but in the end, Hell is other people. And that's the truth."
"While I appreciate your philosophical viewpoint -"
But before he could finish someone else had interrupted.
"I can't believe you two of all people would talk about other people being Hell. You're the most annoying ones here! Ms. "O my 'ideous pain' on one hand - Newsflash! We're all in Hell! - and Mr. 'I'm some sort of snooty intellectual so I'm better than you all' on the other. I think you're the reason we instituted the no-talking policy!"
"And you are breaking the no-talking policy!" said a large primitive-looking man.
"Ha!" a small girl jumped in, "Now you're breaking it too!"
"Well as long as we're all talking again," said the intellectual, "I've been doing some thinking."
"No one wants to hear about your thinking"
"Well, maybe 'e's got sumpin good this time!"
Before he knew it the whole room was standing and joining the argument. Mortimer had been in enough crowd control situations to know that they would come to blows very soon. It occurred to him that this could work to his advantage though, in the mean time.
"Everyone, please!" someone said, "Maybe it's not too late to re-instate the no-talking policy! It was working so well."
"Oh, so you weren't circumventing it by signing to Tireoreous."
"I don't even know sign language."
"Like Earth you don't!"
Mortimer had heard the name but he couldn't find the source through all the fighting. He looked all around. Nothing. Finally, he saw her. He ducked and weaved through the physical fights that had began to break out until he made it to the remarkably serene woman (little more than a girl, by her looks) who was still sitting. She couldn't hear the commotion and her eyes were closed. Mortimer shook her.
Her eyes opened wide. They were huge, with a depth that literally took Mortimer aback.
"You come for prophecy," she said. "You've come far."
"Yes! Yes I have! I need your help."
She shrugged and pointed to her ears.
Mortimer turned back to the room. "Does anyone here know sign language?" he asked. No one listened over the clatter and arguments. Mortimer ruffled through his bag. He had a few tricks yet. He threw a small pen-sized object into the air and it immediately erupted in a fireworks display that would have made an impressive finale to any show. The people had all stopped their fighting by the time the show concluded.
"Now that I've got your attention, I need a sign-language interpreter and I'm willing to pay."
A woman near him ran through the crowd.
"I sign," she said.
The others promptly began their arguments again.
"Alright," said Mortimer. The woman made a quick sign. "I need to know who Franklin Pierce is."
"Could you spell that?" asked the woman.
Mortimer shrugged. The woman sighed in annoyance, but continued signing.
Suddenly, the three demons burst through the ceiling. One was now carrying what appeared to be a loudspeaker.
"Attention damned persons," said the demon, a smallish burgundy one who appeared to hover with no wings at all, "There is an intruder in your midst. The first one to point him out will be released and sent to Heaven."
All hands pointed at Mortimer.
"Thank you," said the demon. As the demons descended towards him, Tireoreous. Grabbed his shoulders and spoke.
"Mortimer Lima Bean, you silly person," she said in a strange, possessed voice. "You are really incredibly thick. You had the answer in your backpack all along, but since you have come all this way, I will tell you something you might need to know: Franklin Pierce is a ghost."
She fell silent. Mortimer was kicking himself inside his head, but he knew that know he had to get out or it was all for nothing.
"Thanks," he said. He pulled out the anti-demon weapon Milly had supplied, a small can with a smiley face inscribed on it. With all his might he tossed it at the lead demon's head. The can exploded with children's laughter, causing the demons to scream in pain and fall to the ground. Finally as the laughter died, so did the creatures.
As one the people turned toward Mortimer and began to run at him.
"We would have been freed!" they yelled almost as one.
"No, you wouldn't have!" he yelled, but he was drowned out by the mob. As they descended on him, he took comfort in the fact that he couldn't die in Hell.


"Killing each other?" asked Mr. Shelley after a minute. "I thought you couldn't die in Hell."
"Oh, well the room is special. This one came from the big guy himself. You can die in the room, but you don't die - you just move on to the next place. But it looks to all the others like you're dead."
"Why?" asked Shelley.
"Well, don't you see? Guilt! First the room strikes with boredom, than human nature, and finally, for the winners, guilt. Whoever's left has to stay in the room wracked with the guilt of their murders for another thousand years! I love this place!"
"So what's the next place?"
"Well, I can't ruin all the surprises on the tour!"


Mortimer woke up with the largest headache of his life, not to mention extremely hungry and thirsty. He wondered if he'd stayed past his deadline. He pulled out his pocketwatch. He had only been out 6 hours. Plenty of time left. Why did he feel so hungry? He had eaten a full meal at the palace before he left. And thirsty, too. He had food in his bag. He rifled through. Apparently he had nothing but an empty canteen.
He looked around. He was surrounded by darkness. He got out the small torch he always carried, lit it, and shined it around. Nothing visible on any side but the smooth, featureless floor. He began to walk in a random direction.

An hour later he was still walking in the same direction. He seemed to be in another very big room, perhaps with no light. At this point he could think of nothing but food and drink. His throat was exceedingly dry. He realized that this was probably a form of torment, and that he wouldn't find anything by continuing to walk. He kept walking anyway. He was stubborn like that.


The boat was in the room now, flying over sea of angry people who, after killing Mortimer, had begun to kill each other.
"This is my favorite part," said the tour guide. "The meaningless violence. You know what makes our job so much harder then the other guys'?"
"What?" asked Shelley.
"We've got to make the Hell down here worse than the Hell up there. More or less anything will come across as happiness to you people, but making you as miserable as you make yourselves - that's a toughie."
"Anyway, we should move on. We'll take a little shortcut."
"Could we take a detour before the next place?" asked Shelley. "I'm dying to see some dead lawyers."


Mortimer had lost track of time. The pocketwatch was gone. He had gotten frustrated and cast it aside some ways back. He realized now that that was probably a bad idea, but it hardly mattered. Mortimer was starting to wonder if he were perhaps actually dead. Maybe if you die in Hell, he thought, you end up nowhere. And now I'm nowhere. Not a reward or a punishment, just a lack of place. It was a puzzle with no solution. No gadget in his bag or brilliant idea could get him out of this. There was really nothing to work with. Of course, death got him out of the last place...
Mortimer took out his knife and stabbed himself in the heart.
It really hurt. But he was stubbornly and consistently alive.
Some more experiments yielded similar results. He tried hacking at, digging, and shooting the ground. He tried eating his marmalade and peanut butter, but even those were gone. Out of options, Mortimer tried that special whistle once more.
It had been a good idea, summoning Narrin's mother, his first steed. At least its failure meant that his once-faithful steed was in a better place. Not that he had supposed her to be in Hell. It was just worth a try is all.
But no. Mortimer kept walking. He was so very hungry and thirsty. And he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was going nowhere. Nonetheless, he kept walking.
And walking.
And walking.


"Thanks a lot for all your help," said Stephen Shelley to the ferocious demon as they climbed back into the boat. "You're really an excellent tour guide."
"It's just nice to find someone who takes an interest. Not like that other fellow. A whole masterpiece underworld and he's got one person he wants to see, what a waste. Did you like meeting the lawyers?"
"Very much so. Thank you. So where to next?"
"Well, we'll just wink to the darkness, shall we?"
Suddenly the boat was above a sea of blackness. Not that fake black you see most of the time, a real lack of light.
"Take my hand," said the beast. "So you can see through it."
Shelley took the offered hand and suddenly saw three or four people walking around in the darkness.
"They can't see each other, and not just because of the darkness. They're all slightly out of phase - it automatically happens when they die in the room and awake here. You can hate people enough to kill them all, but once you're here the loneliness is equally maddening. Hee hee - "Can't live with 'em, Can't live without 'em"!"
"So they just wander blindly?"
The demon nodded.
"At first we had their deepest desire linger in front of them, always just out of reach, but that way some still had hope. Humans need goals you see, they need to work toward something. Not here. You can't walk toward anything, make anything, do anything. No goals to accomplish, no way out to find. Just depression descending. Beautiful, isn't it?"


Mortimer stopped walking. What was the point? He wouldn't play that ga -
The sound of wings beating on air. A sound he'd know anywhere. Larrin, mother of Narrin. The great winged gazelle descended gracefully into the darkness.
"Good to see you again, old girl!" said Mortimer, actually crying. "Good to see you."
Unfortunately a gang of demons was behind her, far fiercer than the ones he had faced before.
"God's speed, Larrin," he said, and took off.


"Well," said the tour guide as he noticed the gazelle pursued by demons , "That concludes the tour. I'll just take you back home -"
"Wait, why can he see the gazelle, and the demons?" asked the lawyer as the boat ascended rapidly.
"Well, the man in question was obviously not broken properly, so he must have retained enough hope to come back into phase through force of will. Unheard of among actual damnees though. Also, the quasi-magical bond between a pet and owner is severed with the theft of a soul, and your friend, retaining his, has also maintained that link. Its a fluke, quite simply."
"Shelley, you alright?" asked Mortimer as he flew by.
"Don't worry about me, sir!" he replied.


They were hot on Mortimer's tail and he was out of tricks. No more canned laughter, his Marmalady was out of juice (well marmalade - juice would never work), he was out of ideas. All of a sudden he was back in the room. He kept flying upward. The demons were ever so slightly gaining. He ascended through the fire and snakes, and they were right on him. In desperation, he began to weave through the sides of the pit, knocking over torture machine, lighting things on fire (the few things that weren't permanently on fire), etc. The chaos was somewhat effective. He was gaining his lead back. He passed a man pushing a rock up a hill, and yanked his chain as he flew past. The man lost his footing, fell down, and the boulder rolled down, squashing the man and hitting a pursuing demon full on. This might just work.
Mortimer was almost at the top. He couldn't have much time before the gate closed. He could see the gate. He'd lost the demons, he was going to make it. He was at the threshold, he was...
Falling flat on his butt. Larrin had vanished. Of course she couldn't come home. Mortimer tried to get up but found he couldn't move at all. He heard the patronizing sound of a slow clap, as the big boy himself emerged in front of him.
"Very well done," said Satan. "You actually win this round. That's very impressive, no one has won a round against me in many thousands of years. Of course, I still get your soul." He held up the contract. "Too bad. After all that trouble with the blood, you should have foreseen the redundancy in the system."
"My bad, I guess," said Mortimer.
"Unfortunately for you," said a triumphant voice behind the devil. "His soul is still his own. I think if you'll look at the fourteenth footnote on the bottom of page 12, you'll see that persons born on a leap year are almost categorically exempt."
"What?" asked Satan.
"Um, not born in a leap year," said Mortimer.
"Oh," said Stephen Shelley. "Umm, well, the eighteenth footnote says that if the bloodwork is unacceptable and the person in question has an aversion to fish -" here he looked at Mortimer, who shook his head - "Or isn't wearing underwear -" head-shake - "Or has a five o'clock shadow -" a nod - "that person owns their own soul."
"Let me see that!" said Satan, "This thing is almost entirely loopholes! What gives!"
"Maybe you shouldn't have the people you're eternally damning and torturing draw up your contracts, buddy," said Mortimer. "C'mon, Shelley, let's go."
"Very good, sir," said the lawyer as they walked back through the shrine. "Now there's just the matter of my fee."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

TNT: Ch. 63

John Begonia was nervous when he arrived at the forest rendezvous. John Begonia was not a dark alley deals sort of guy. He had sought a government job because the up-and-up was where he liked to be. Everything was neater there. Nothing about this spring deal was neat.
Take crazy people. John reckoned that crazy people should identify themselves as crazy, and after that should be summarily ignored unless found dangerous. What should never be done, he reasoned, was to legitimize their craziness - for instance by taking legal action over a couple of worthless springs. Anyway, he didn't suppose that this Eric guy was much better, but at least he seemed like he wanted to give John answers. And what John desperately wanted was for everything to make sense again. He turned the corner to find a small Asian man sitting on a log with a pile of ancient books. The man rose, walked up to John, and put his hand on his face.
"Mr. Begonia, I presume," he said.
"Who are you? Where is Eric?"
"Calm down. The answers you seek are not Eric's to give; he has another path to follow. You must walk with me," the man said, beckoning.
In spite of himself, John locked into step next to the man.
"Many call me Master Lin," the man said.
"What exactly are you a master of?" John asked.
The man looked flustered.
"...Toast ... er, fu. Toast Fu," he said unconvincingly. John shrugged.
"I was promised answers."
"There can be no answers without questions."
"I have lots of questions."
"But first you must have answers."
"Ah ha."
This was as far from things making sense as John could imagine anything being.

Eric knocked on Mr. Brixton's door with a certain amount of hesitation. He wasn't exactly sure how things were supposed to go here. A woman answered the door. She was a small but proud-looking woman with a look full of years in her eyes. She looked oddly tired.
"Are you another lawyer?" she asked.
"No. I'm here to talk to James Bri-"
"Of course you are. Come on in, I'll make some tea." Her tone was not polite. It was more like making tea was something she was required to do as hostess, no matter how much she might hate it and even if she was in a hotel room and not her own house. "Have a seat," she continued in the same tone. "JAMES!"
James walked out of the bathroom.
"Yeah, honey?"
"Someone else is here to see you."
Mr. Brixton walked over to Eric and extended a hand.
"James Brixton."
"Eric Smellick," Eric replied. "I wanted to talk to you about the springs of life."
"Do you, uh, believe in that stuff?"
Eric was caught off guard by the question.
"I'm not sure how much to believe," he said.
"I'll tell you something," said James, moving over to one of the two chairs in the small hotel room. "When I said, 'Maybe these are DeLeon's Springs of Life,' I was making a joke."
"Were you?"
"Yep. But I can't deny there's something off about them. Eric, right?"
Eric nodded.
"You seem like a decent fellow, and you say you're not a lawyer?"
"No, I'm - "
"And you're not with the park service?"
"No." Eric had given up on getting a word in at the moment.
"Let me show you something." He stood up and motioned for Eric to follow him into the tiny hotel bathroom. Immediately Eric noticed the two potted plants sitting on either side of the sink, one barely struggling for life and the other blooming with beautiful flowers.
"I planted them four days ago, with no sunlight and hardly any water. Guess where the springs are?" he asked.
Eric pointed to the blooming flowers.
"Bingo. The two that I'm supposed to take care of, they're buried in the soil. You see, I think they exude life. I haven't begun to explore the possibilities, but its amazing to watch it work."
"I'll say," said Eric.
"I wish I could just show this to anybody who wanted to know, but I've been counseled to keep my mouth shut. I certianly shouldn't have showed you, only right before you came in I decided I was going to show everything to the next person who came through that door, cause I just couldn't keep it to myself anymore, y'know?"
Eric nodded.
"So, Eric, I know you've been wanting to say... What're you here for?"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mourning for Mortimer (Maybe)

We hope you don't enjoy your stay,

the voice continued.

The Satanic forces of this damned place remind you that the use of recording devices is prohibited on pain of eternal damnation,

it went on. Mortimer was beginning to find it annoying.

Don't forget to visit the gift shop on your way out. Of HELL.

This was getting a little ridiculous. Mortimer was happy when the voice fell silent, but was less happy to hear another voice in the corridor behind him.
"Sir," it said, "Sir!"
"Yes, Mr. Shelley?" Mortimer asked.
"You didn't actually dismiss me," said Stephen Shelly, the level III lawyer.
"You can go."
"Actually," he said, "I can't. You see, I have to be banished from the same plane I was summoned to. I followed you in here, so I can't go home until you get out of here."
"Well why didn't you have to sign a damned contract?" Mortimer asked.
"Extraplanar exclusion clause. You summoned me from the plane of legal. We have our own hell."
"The plane of law, you mean?" Mortimer had heard of this, a plane full of beings of pure law, where ethical dilemmas were nonexistant.
"No, sir, the plane of legal. Not at all the same thing, I'm afraid."
"Look, Mr. Shelley. Just, stay out of the way, ok?"
"Yes Sir. I took the liberty of requesting a copy of your contract from the receptionist, so I'll just continue studying it, shall I?"
"You go ahead."
By this time the two had reached the end of the corridor, a problematic event since the corridor ended in a sheer drop that seemed to go on forever. Agonized screams rose up from it. He looked around and was relieved to see something coming through the air towards him. It turned out to be a boat, a rowboat to be exact. A gruesome figure with a boar-like face and a gaunt, frail body was rowing.
"Visitors?" it grunted, "Climb aboard."
They climbed in and the rower turned the boat around. It looked like the ride was going to pass in silence, but it quickly became apparent that silence was too good for hell.
"Now if you'll look directly below you, you'll see what we like to call "the pit,"" the thing began, "Over 50,000 feet deep, the pit is the place where most of our residents spend their time. We're going to start circling down into the pit to give you an idea of what it's like there."
"Um, excuse me," said Mortimer "I don't remember signing up for the tour. I want to see a particular person."
The ghastly figure turned toward Mortimer and gave him a sour look, soured all the more by the various fangs and tusks at work.
"This is a tour boat. It's complimentary with your soul. You could have waited for a public barge, but now you're here I can hardly just stop the whole tour because you made a mistake."
Mortimer rolled his eyes as the creature went on, discussing the various torture implements passing on their left and the various sins that had brought them on. The pit seemed to have a sort of wide spiral walk around it so that torture was occurring all along the way.
"In order to insure quality agony that lasts, of course, very few stick with one torture. Residents are rotated down the pit so that their torture increases each century. This has the added effect of giving people the impression that at least their torture will stay interesting, which makes their stay in the room that much worse."
Mortimer was getting sick of this. He began to wonder whether one could die in hell. He supposed that one couldn't, which meant if he just jumped out of the boat he'd make it harmlessly to the bottom of the pit. Then again, even if one couldn't die, one could certianly feel pain - that was the point, after all.
He was interrupted from his speculations by an imp appearing in a poof of red smoke and whispering something in their tour guide's ear.
"This is all terribly interesting isn't it?" said Stephen Shelly. "I'm glad I came along."
"Any luck with the contract?"
"The uh... Oh yes, the contract. Well, I figure he'll show me where they keep all the lawyers, and then maybe they can help explain bits of it."
"Keep looking," Mortimer said.
The tour guide turned to the imp, and said, "Is that so?" He began to row the boat toward the center of the pit, so they were no longer close to any side, then said to Mortimer in a voice dripping with sadistic delight,
"There seems to be a problem with your bloodwork. We'd like to take a second sample, as per the contract you signed."
Mortimer turned to Shelly, who nodded embarrassedly.
Mortimer got out his knife and grabbed for the jelly with his other hand.
"We'll take this one ourselves," said the guard, producing a huge jagged blade. "Don't worry, you can't die in hell. You'll barely feel a thing," he said, gesturing toward the torture around them, "Comparatively speaking, of course."
But the demon had told Mortimer all he needed to know. Without giving the thing the second it needed to lunge at him, he leapt over the back of the boat, and began the long fall down.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Memo from Management


It's annual performance review time, and I have been asked to address some rumors floating around the office. As such, I want to make sure we're all clear on what a performance review is and what a performance review isn't.
First of all, and I can't make this clear enough:

A performance review is not performance art.

You will not improve your salary by painting yourself blue and eating massive amounts of Captain Crunch at your performance review. Also, contrary to popular belief, no one ever got a raise by lighting himself on fire. Those of you junior employees gullible enough to believe that story should ask Mr. Hollis in finance about the real story. Or about what happened to his face, or why he has no children. You'll get the same response however you phrase it.
In addition, singing and dancing are inappropriate at a performance review. It is your JOB performance I will be reviewing; I don't care about your guitar performance, vocal performance, show choir performance, kazoo performance, or accordion performance. Or, for that matter, and I'm going to get this out of the way here and now, your sexual performance.

Onto the dress code. I understand a memo circulated last week to the effect that animal costumes would be mandatory at this year's performance review and that, and I quote, "your choice of costume will be a crucial factor in decisions regarding your salary." I assure you that this memo is completely erroneous and anyone dressed in an animal costume will be severely reprimanded. (Except for Mr. Leslie, who has a documented medical reason.) Remember, this is a professional environment and I expect professionalism from each of you.
There is one more item of business, and I am hesitant to even include it. In past years, we have had issues, in performance reviews, with, how shall I say it, excessive flatulence. Not issues with one or two employees, or with one or two... incidents, but issues with extensive and repeated displays across the board.
Such behavior is distracting and unpleasant, so I am attaching a list of dietary considerations for your review. You would all be wise to heed them in the days leading up to your annual review.
Finally, I understand that the rather small raise budget has, once again, become public knowledge. However, disappointing as these numbers may be, it is no reason to display any unprofessionalism that could cost you the single available .0007% raise. I hope you will all take this memo to heart.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

MDS Ch. 7: A battle for life and freedom

I waited for a long time. I figured that my captor was by now very suspicious. However, when she came in I knew I’d have the advantage – my eyes were by now very well adjusted to the darkness, enough that I felt I could reliably shoot an arrow. I was worried that Jarrod had left me only five, but it was no good dwelling on that now. I started making little plans for every possible contingency.

For instance, I made a plan for if she hit one of the two traps, if she managed to avoid them both, or if they didn’t work. And I waited. Finally, after an hour or two I heard the gruff voice of my captor yelling, and a few minutes later I saw her approach. I saw her notice the pressure pad and gingerly step over it. She had entered the main part of the room, the one that was in my full view but she was still looking around to see me.

“I know you’re in here you little rat, and when I find you, I’ll eat you! Forget the ransom, you’re not worth it. Now it’s personal!” She let out a roar, but no flame. She must have been worried about setting off the trap.

Meanwhile, I silently knocked an arrow and drew back, aiming not for the dragon, but for the second pressure plate, the one that would send spikes flying through her. I closed my eyes and prayed then opened them, checked my aim, and let fly.

The arrow flew true, whizzing right past the dragon and hitting the plate with enough force to set the trap in motion. The dragon immediately took in what had happened and panicked. When she saw the spikes poke out, she jumped backwards out of the room, avoiding the second trap, but, in her hurry, setting off the first. Unfortunately the spikes blocked some of the shards, but some still got in her eyes, because I heard her screaming. Then I began to hear monstrous thumps from behind me.

“I’ll collapse this whole cave on you!” she yelled, “What do you think of that? So clever now, your highness?”

Rocks had begun to fall. I dropped down from my hiding place to see the dragon, luckily facing away from me, thumping her tail against the cave wall. I readied another arrow to fire at the “sweet spot” in the back of her neck and fired. I missed her entirely, but she turned around and saw me. Or sort of saw me. I could tell she was partially blinded by the shards of metal, some of which were still sticking out of her monstrous eyes. She lunged at me, but I rolled out of the way into the tiny crawlspace I had found before. I escaped, but she’d nicked me with her claws. I was bleeding. As I tied a torn piece of my dress around my waist, I instantly realized this hiding place was a mistake. She could toast me alive in here and I’d have no escape.

So, as the confused dragon swept the outside tunnel with fire, I ran back into the main room to look for a way to deflect the flame. I noticed that the wooden ladder had fallen down and splintered into pieces. I grabbed one of the long planks, and brought the end (which was a good ten feet away from me) into the dragon’s flame. The minute she stopped flaming I rammed the torch on a stick into her face. It didn’t damage her much, but, coming out of nowhere in her blindness, it did confuse her for a while. Long enough for me to drag the ejected spikes crosswise across the side opening of the crawl space. If I sat near the whole where the spike had originally been, I had enough space to pull back and I could shoot my last three arrows with immunity. I knocked one and drew.

The dragon had recovered from her distraction and was now actively seeking me out. She was walking right toward me. She was walking down the wall, carefully peering at the crawl space, until she reached my hiding place. I saw her eyes clearly now, and saw that one was nearly filled with shards, but the other was working fine.

Before she could do anything, I let an arrow fly into her good eye. She screamed in pain. She blindly reached toward me, found the spikes with her hand and tossed them aside, almost hitting me with their points on the way out. To evade them I had to back into the alcove the pikes had come from. Then it was just me with nowhere to run and she knew it.

“Do I get my one chance to surrender?” I asked hopefully, putting down my bow and readying my knife.

“Like hell,” she replied.

“Then let me give you yours!” I screamed. Somehow, I scrambled over her head and made it to her neck. I drove the knife down into the spot between the scales. She screamed again, an agonizing scream.

“Do you surrender?” I asked, but she didn’t, or couldn’t respond. Thinking only of survival, I drove the knife upward, into her brain. Her scream ended and she twitched, dead. I looked down at the wound in my side that I hadn’t much noticed up until then and realized there was an awful lot of blood. Then everything went black.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lucky Number Seven (II)

'Well damn.' I thought. Now I was in the middle of nowhere, and I'd lost the game. In fact, I couldn't imagine doing worse at the game, except possibly by accidentally boarding number 8. I sat down on the bench and sighed. Nothing to do but wait for another train I supposed. Or...
I glanced over to the old woman, who had just now made it to the door to the station. Finally I acknowledged what had been lurking in the back of my mind. I could still follow her. And the game could go on. It would be tricky in a ghost town like this one, but it certainly could be done. There were a couple of different doors from the platform to the station, so I walked through another one and saw a phone booth inside. There wasn't a whole lot inside besides a ticket desk - an oddity in and of itself, as automatic vending machines were the fad - and the phone booth, but I figured I could pretend to make a phone call while I waited for her to make the long (at her pace) trek across the station.
Or I could actually make a phone call. To work. To tell them I was sick or something. That was probably a good idea, I realized.
I put in a quarter, dialed work and put in my boss's extension. The woman was about a quarter of the way there. My boss picked up. I told him I wasn't feeling at all well and that I'd decided not to come into work. The woman was halfway through the station. He thanked me for calling in and hoped I felt better, than asked if I might look over the Prollit proposition while I was home. She had reached the ticket desk. I said it was no problem (after all, I had my briefcase with me - I'd been planning to go to work that morning) and that I'd see him tomorrow. She had stopped to exchange pleasantries with the ticket salesman. He said good bye and we hung up our phones. She was still chatting with the man at the counter. I decided to run across the station and make like I was late for something, than watch the door from outside. I played my part well, but I felt like I was out of place with the suit and the briefcase. Still, if the two noticed me at all it was with a passing glance. When I got outside I sat down at a bench, got out my newspaper, and waited for her to emerge from the door. It appeared that the only thing one could do after getting off the train here was wait for a bus to get to town, so a bench was handy.
I waited and waited. Ten minutes later she apparently had not concluded her conversation.
Perhaps she bought another ticket and went to wait for another train. Or perhaps she and the ticket seller were close personal friends. Or lovers. I recoiled from the grotesque mental image.
I reached for the door and then stepped back. My first scenario was by far the most likely, and were it true I would need to go back in and catch that train. But I couldn't shake the last scenario from my mind, and the thought of walking in on the two of them was enough to keep me from going in. Paralyzed with indecision, I finally walked back through the door, to find... no one. The desk was empty, with a "Gone to lunch" sign on it, and the woman was nowhere in sight. What now? And how could I even go home if no one was selling tickets? I looked around and saw no one in the station.
My wonderings were interrupted by the sound of a car starting up. As I rushed back outside, I saw a small old Honda accord driving off. I recognized the driver as the ticket salesman from his old-style fedora hat, and the form next to him could only be my elderly target.
As I broke into a run after the rickety old car, my mind raced with the implications of the scene. Why would the ticket seller leave work, with no one covering for him, to give this woman a ride somewhere? And where were they going?
Luckily, wherever it was, they were traveling their at AARP* speed, and I was actually able to keep up with the car on the dusty country road. Calling a cab was out of the question though, given the remoteness of wherever the hell we were, and I knew I wouldn't be able to keep pace forever. Also, they would almost certainly notice me in the rear view mirror if they hadn't already. Basically, if they didn't stop soon I was in trouble.
But things looked good! They had turned into a town, if it could be called that. I stopped to catch my breath and found it difficult to start again. I had winded my self more than I realized at the time. I looked down and saw that the bottom of my suit was coated with dust. I looked up again and didn't see the car. As I started walking down the street I was surprised to find that I wasn't panicked about losing them. In fact, I really didn't care that much. The game wasn't turning out to be so much fun. I noticed I was walking by a cafe and decided to go in. I ordered a cup of coffee, then sat down by the window and got out the Prollit proposal. As far as I was concerned, Lucky Number Seven had been a failure. I can't say I was surprised.

*American Association of Retired People

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mortimer at Mindor II

"Defense I need but not from arms,
Tis words that seek to do me harm.
Come now he that passed the bar,
Let not my wife have kids and car.
Let not my inheritance be lost,
Let those who wronged me pay the cost.
Let not my contract be in breach,
Help me, lawyer, I beseech."

As Mortimer read these last words off the scroll, the ground shook. A appeared, glowing white-hot. Soon it became larger, the size of a doorway, and a young man in a gray suit walked out. He wore a gray tie with a III on it.
"Hello," he said, "Steven Shelly, Offices of Penütt, Budder, & Shelly."
Mortimer gave him an incredulous look.
"You were expecting Penütt, weren't you? I'm sorry, I'm the junior partner and the only Lawyer III at the firm - you did summon a level three lawyer, right?"
"I did." He turned to the hellish receptionist. "May I have a moment alone with the contract and my legal consul?"
She rolled her eyes and slapped her desk, causing a wall of fire to spring up between her and Mortimer.
"I need you to find a loophole in this," he yelled over the roaring flames, handling Shelley the contract.
"A loophole?"
"I want to be able to sign it, but not be condemned to hell."
"I'll take a look. This might take a while."
"I don't have a while!"
The lawyer looked up frustratedly.
"Look, sir, I'm trying, but you realize this contract came from HELL. They've got a lot of lawyers there. Really good ones. This is likely to be airtight."
"Damn!" he said, flinging his hands up in the air. "I'll just sign the damn thing!"
The fire wall went down.
"Very good, dear," said the receptionist as Mortimer signed his soul away, "I hope you find what you're looking for."
"You can go!" Mortimer said to the lawyer as he handed the paper over. Steven wordlessly disappeared.
As soon as the receptionist took the paper, the ground shook severely. As Mortimer staggered to keep his footing, the air shimmered in the center of the shrine. Soon the demon and her desk began to distort like a rippled pool, and were finally sucked into the disturbance. And when the fiery desk went in, it ripped open the gateway. It was as if a deep molten chasm had opened up, but in the air rather than the ground. As the eerie corridor shimmered before him, a deep voice spoke from within:
Welcome To Hell.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

MDS Ch. 6 - The plan revitalized

Before I had figured out much of anything, I was confronted by an ugly dilemma. A few nights had passed, and I had finally learned to sleep here successfully and relatively peacefully, when I was awakened by a thrash from the dragon’s tail. A light one, and nothing harmful, but startling enough to wake me up.

“Hey Princess,” she said, “Looks like your first lover boy’s here to rescue you.”

I was disoriented by lack of sleep, and it took me a second to realize what she was getting at. Lover boy? Was Jarrod here? I wasn’t expecting him for a few more days, though I wasn’t exactly sure where here was. Then I realized she was talking about a knight. I walked over to the mouth of the cave where she was waiting. I had never before worn the same clothes for so long and I felt gross. I realized it was a good thing I was not one of those prissy princesses. At least I’d had dried meat before; it wasn’t a shock to my system.

Anyway, I saw the knight riding over the hill toward the cave. There was no mistaking a knight’s silhouette – the standard, the armor, the feather on the head, the noble steed. It could be Jarrod, I realized. He did say he would borrow armor if he went with plan B, but as he approached I realized it was not. He was a big man, tough and self-assured looking. I rejoiced seeing his size and apparent prowess, thinking he might rescue me, but then I realized that would mean marrying him and that prospect did not excite me. He looked like a big brute; the prospect of being with him was terrifying to me.

This was the ugly dilemma. When a fight began, I didn’t know whom to root for. I mean, I had to pretend to root for the knight, but inside I just didn’t know. I certainly didn’t want him to die – he was just doing what he thought was right. He fancied himself my hero probably, and thought I would be grateful and throw myself into his arms.

“Alright, well I’m going to go kill him, but don’t fret honey, I promise I’ll give him a chance to give up with his life. At least, if it’s not too much trouble to me.”

She laughed humorlessly and took off, to face the knight on the ground. I noticed that the space in front of the cave made for a nice little arena. I also realized at that point how hopeless the prospect of Jarrod “sneaking in” seemed. In front of the cave, we were so high up that we could easily see a visitor from any direction and from far enough away that the cover of darkness wouldn’t last long enough for him to get in and out. From the back, sharp rocks and treacherous slopes prevented any approach. I sighed.

Below me, the battle was beginning. The knight yelled out something that I couldn’t hear from up here. The dragon responded with what I assumed was a smart remark and proceeded to breath a huge flower of flame, which the knight mostly deflected with his shield. He laughed confidently, then proceeded to ride with surprising swiftness in a wide arc around the beast. As he rode he sheathed his sword and pulled out what looked like a crossbow. No- a repeating crossbow. He fired off about ten shots in fifteen seconds all around the dragon’s body, a seemingly odd move since her armor would certainly deflect them, however his motive became obvious. While she dodged the bolts, he cut a hard right and switched from his arc movement to riding straight at the dragon, whilst re-equipping his sword.

Unfortunately, she incinerated the arrows with a burst of flame that came right up to where he was riding. The knight, unfazed, jumped over the flame with his horse – it was an impressive bit of riding. I thought the horse was going to land on the dragon’s head, and found myself rooting for him in spite of myself. However, at the last minute the dragon sidestepped and he landed instead alongside her. But his ploy had worked, he was close enough to get in with his sword. Dismounting, he rolled under the dragon and moved to stab up directly into her soft underbelly.

It didn’t work. I couldn’t see exactly, but it looked like his leg got caught in the stirrup on his dismount and he didn’t have the momentum to roll enough and ended up face down instead of face up. Before he could rectify this, he was pinned under the dragon’s massive foot while she devoured his horse. I was horrified, but I wanted to see more clearly what happened next. I started to climb down the slope. Finally, after spitting out the saddle, she let him up, still gripping him, and held him up to her face.

“Drop the sword and bow and run home, and you can live,” I could just barely here her say.

He nodded pathetically and she dropped him, but he did not drop his weapons. Instead, he yelled defiantly, “The day I surrender to a dragon will be the day I –” but he didn’t get to finish his sentence because he was engulfed in flame, cooked in his own armor. Shortly thereafter, he was eaten, pried out of his armor like a lobster from its shell. I looked away in disgust, and soon I heard the dragon’s voice.

“Coming down for a closer look?” she asked.

I had nothing to say in response.

“I gave him the chance,” she said, “But things are tough all over. I don’t relish doing that.”

My captor and I didn’t speak at all for the next several days. I was numb with the shock of what I’d experienced, and she was perhaps a little ashamed. I realized I was in this to save lives like his, too. Bold and noble and filled with chivalry and dreams of honor, they didn’t deserve to die like that. And I was even in it to save the dragons, though it disgusted me to think it, from a life they were ashamed to live but had to. If I escaped this system and beat it, I felt like I would begin to bring about its demise. Perhaps other princesses would follow my lead, and a revolution would follow. Of course, only if I succeeded.

I decided to give plan A one more go. One day, I acted even sadder than usual. I didn’t eat or drink or move, and, when the dragon didn’t even notice, I tore the bottom of my dress and tied it into a noose. Finally the dragon took notice.

“Oh for the love of – Why would you go and kill yourself.”

In response, I merely began to sob.

“Oh for pity’s sake – what’s wrong? Talk to me!” She seemed panicked, and why not? After all, if I died, her jig was up and she was in some trouble.

Finally I spoke.

“This is the anniversary of my uncle’s death,” I lied. “Every year since I was a child I’ve gone to visit his grave on this day and brought him flowers. Every year but this one. His spirit will think I’ve forsaken him!” I cried even more. I didn’t expect her to buy this, but I thought the guilt she already felt might be enough to get her help.

She just rolled her massive reptilian eyes and walked back to her nest. I kept crying, and finally she spoke.

“How far is it?” she asked flatly.

“I… I don’t really know how far. I don’t know where we are.”

“How far from your castle then?”

“About a day’s ride East,” I said.

“Alright, here’s the deal,” said the dragon, “I take you to pay respects to your uncle’s bones, if you promise that after that you will not cry again, at all, while you’re with me.”

“Okay,” I said, drying my tears, “I can do that I think.”

“Or mope.”

“Or mope,” I agreed.

So we set out, flying through the sky. I thought perhaps it was too late, that Jarrod had already left for the other cave, but there was simply no way to know. I focused on trying to give adequate directions. I had spent some time with Jarrod studying a map so I could find the place from the air, but the world looked quite different from the map. However, my frustration didn’t hurt my story – I would have been just as frustrated trying to find my uncle’s grave from the air. By and by, after nearly 6 hours flight, we set down outside what I desperately hoped was the right cave. I looked around for Jarrod or the bow, but I saw nothing. I also saw no machinery inside the cave.

“Your uncle is interred in a cave?” asked the dragon disbelievingly.

“This is where he passed away. He was a bit of a hermit later in life.”

“Well, go on in,” she said, “I’ll wait out here.”

Damn! I thought to myself. I needed to stay out and she needed to go in. But it was too late to make that happen now. Maybe, I thought, If I went in and stayed in she’d come in after me, thinking there was a back entrance to the cave or something. Maybe there even was. Anyway, I reasoned, in order to get in and out to build and arm the trap, Jarrod and his friends must have built in a way for humans to get in and out without triggering anything. If this was the right cave.

I entered the cave. It was dark. The first archway was just under dragon height. I knew the trap would be triggered by a pressure plate. I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark. It seemed to take an eternity, but eventually I was able to make out the crude machinery. There was a large sheet of metal across the bottom of the cave. I sighed in relief. I also saw a ledge along the side, just big enough for me to crawl through, that would let me bypass the plate. I climbed over it and emerged on the other side. I realized I’d be right in the way of the blinding shrapnel if I waited here. There was nowhere else to go, and there was no sign of Jarrod or a hidden bow. This would have to be me, the trap, and my knife. I went back to crawl space and noticed the giant spike lurking in it. I couldn’t hide here safely, either. Finally, I looked up and saw a ledge above the whole thing. The perfect place to hide safely, if I could get there.

Climbing the machinery was risky, since I could be thoroughly dead if I set it off. Climbing up the rock wall, however, was beyond my skill. Then I noticed a rickety wooden ladder and sighed in relief, silently thanking Jarrod. I climbed up to the small space, which offered a perfect view of the trap, and found, hiding away up there, a bow and five arrows. I picked it up and waited.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

TNT: Ch. 62

When Gina arrived at the hotel room at 1:35 a.m., she expected to find Eric asleep, but feared she might find him awake and sulking. For this reason, she had bid Sam (who graciously gave her a ride home) goodbye in the hotel lobby. They had exchanged some awkward words about having a good time and possibly doing it again, and hugged briefly (and also a bit awkwardly). Gina felt proud of herself - despite a few uncomfortable moments she felt she'd handled her first real date rather well. And she had high hopes for a second.
What she didn't expect to find was Eric and Master Lin, both awake and awaiting her.
"Gina, it is good to finally see you. Have you learned many secrets this evening?" asked the Master.
"I've learned some things," she replied.
"You were gone a long time," Eric pointed out.
"We went to a bar after dinner," she said, "Talked some more. What were you doing at the restaurant?"
Eric paused, surprised by the question. "I... I wanted to make sure you were ok is all."
"I told you I could handle it, Eric. A little trust would be nice."
"I almost lost you in Maine," Eric replied. "Maybe I'm not eager to lose you in Florida."
"Eric, in Maine I was drugged!" Gina nearly shouted, "You know this is different! And though I know you may not like it, I'm not yours to lose! So you're mad that I went on a date with Sam! And that's what it was, a date. Well, when were YOU going to ask me on a date Eric? When?"
Eric was silent, and the two glared at each other across the room for what felt like a full minute.
Finally Master Lin spoke.
"There is much of anger between you and much of love, but these are not my concern. You may not know it, but you are putting yourselves where the quest needs you to be. If we are close enough to each side, then whomever wins, we win also. Gina is doing her part with Sam, and you are doing your part with the State. But there is another player no one has seen: the other diver. Eric, I will take over with Mr. Begonia. Tomorrow, you will find James Brixon. And perhaps you will find more there then a way to the springs. Now let us all sleep, blissfully free from operatic interruption."